Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 17th December 2003.

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Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords 3:25 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should say a word or two of clarification, particularly with regard to the proposals for Thursday sittings. The Procedure Committee sent a short questionnaire to all Members of the House to determine the preferred pattern for Thursday sittings. The clear majority of those who returned the form wished the House to sit at 11 a.m., with Starred Questions at the start, and the House to rise at about 7 p.m. Accordingly, the committee makes that recommendation.

The committee made a further tentative recommendation that, when the main business of the day is the Committee or later stages of a Bill, the House should break for one hour at 1.30 p.m. in order to give those involved in the Bill a break. Other business, such as an Unstarred Question, would be taken in the lunch break. No break would be taken where the main business was a Second Reading, a debate or a series of different items. As at present, it is not the intention that the House should simply adjourn during pleasure without business of any kind.

The committee was divided on that issue. Therefore, the report was written with the option of omitting three paragraphs so that the House itself could decide. If the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is agreed to, the House will normally consider the main business of the day from 11.30 a.m. until about 5.30 p.m., when an Unstarred Question or other business could follow. If the amendment is disagreed to, the House will break for an Unstarred Question or other business at 1.30 p.m., but only if the main business is the Committee or later stages of a Bill. That will mean that the main business of the day will conclude at about 6.30 or 7 p.m.

The report also makes proposals regarding the rotation rule and written ministerial Statements. I hope that those items are self-explanatory. However, if any noble Lord so wishes, I am happy to provide further explanations.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 6).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

1. THURSDAY SITTINGS

In our Fourth Report of last session we recorded that we were circulating a short questionnaire to all members of the House, to be returned by Friday 10 October, seeking views on the timing of Thursday sittings.

By the closing date we had received 368 responses, expressing views as follows:

Option 1 (Thursday sittings to continue as at present): 63 (17.1 per cent)
Option 2 (House sits at 3.00 p.m., rises by about 10.00 p.m.): 100 (27.2 per cent)
Option 3 (House sits at 11.00 a.m. with Starred Questions at the start, rises by about 7.00 p.m.): 200 (54.3 per cent)
Other: 5 (1.4 per cent)

In view of the clear majority for option 3, we accordingly recommend that, from the start of 2004, the House should sit from 11.00 a.m. to about 7.00 p.m. on Thursdays. Starred Questions should be taken at the beginning of business.

We recognise that, when the main business is a committee or later stage of a bill, it may be unreasonable to expect those involved to continue all day without a break. One suggestion made to the Committee was that the business concerned should end at 5.30 p.m., and be followed by an Unstarred Question or other business until 7.00 p.m. Other suggestions were that there should be a one-hour break for other business at 4.30 p.m., or that there should be a break of 1½ hours from 1.30 to 3.00 p.m.

Our recommendation, however, is that where business is of this nature there should be a lunch break of about one hour for other business from about 1.30 p.m. We recommend that, as in relation to dinner breaks, it should be possible to take an Unstarred Question, limited to one hour, during this break. No break would be taken when the main business was a Second Reading, a general debate, or a number of short items of business.

Note: If the House wishes there to be no lunch break on Thursdays then an amendment to the motion to approve this Report to leave out this paragraph and the two preceding paragraphs would produce that result.

The proposed change would require judicial sittings to be moved from their usual time of 2.00 p.m. on a Thursday. The Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary has indicated that he sees no difficulty in this.

We recognise that taking Starred Questions at 11.00 a.m. on Thursdays could cause difficulties for those asking and answering topical questions. Accordingly we recommend that the topical question now taken on Thursday should be moved to Monday, with the ballot drawn at 2.00 p.m. the previous Thursday.

2. THE ROTATION RULE

The Committee recommends that the Chairmen of the Constitution and Economic Affairs Committees should be exempt from the application of the rotation rule for up to three sessions. This would bring these committees into line with the Science and Technology Committee and the sub-committees of the European Union Committee.

3. WRITTEN MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS

The Committee recommends that the House should adopt, from the start of 2004, the practice of the House of Commons, introduced at the start of the last session, permitting the publication in the Official Report of Written Ministerial Statements. These would replace "planted" questions for written answer, removing the need for a Lord to be asked to table a question. They would be printed separately from written answers in the Official Report, thus eliminating any possible confusion between "planted" and other written answers.

In the Commons notice has to be given on the Order Paper of such Statements. We see no need for such a provision in this House.

We propose that Written Ministerial Statements should be placed in the Library as soon as they are received, so that they are available to Members before they appear in the Official Report.