HL Deb 11 March 1992 vol 536 cc1329-31

3.27 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I beg to move, That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House be agreed to. Perhaps I should mention just one or two items in the report. The first concerns references to the House of Commons and its Members. There is a suggested redraft of the Companion to the Standing Orders. The redraft contains very much what was in the previous Companion but adds one or two sentences for greater clarification.

The committee also considered the matter of referring to MPs and suggested using their names and not their constituencies, or, in the case of Ministers, using their ministerial titles.

On another matter, the committee recommends that no noble Lord should be entitled to have more than one Starred Question on the Order Paper on any one day. On Third Reading amendments, we endorse the present guidance: that it is undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided at a previous stage of the Bill should be reopened by an amendment at Third Reading. We recognise that certain difficulties have arisen in respect of groupings and a suggestion is made for anyone who feels himself badly treated by that rule.

Finally—it is not in the report—we have had a number of points made to us about late sittings and time-limited debates. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said yesterday, it was decided to set up a special sub-committee to look into the position at the next Session.

Moved, That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report:


REFERENCES TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AND ITS MEMBERS 1. On a number of recent occasions, doubt has arisen over what degree of criticism of the House of Commons and its members is appropriate in the House of Lords. The Committee decided that the current guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders (pp 42–43) should be expanded to clarify the situation, in particular to stress the distinction between political and personal criticism. This distinction will never be clear-cut, but the Committee recommends that every effort should be made to ensure that personal criticisms are not expressed. The current text also makes no mention of Lords' freedom to quote from Commons parliamentary papers, and does not define the extent to which criticisms can be made of Parliament and of the House of Commons as an institution. We recommend the following redraft:

(ix) House of Commons

(a) Quotation of speeches The content of a speech made in the House of Commons or a committee of the House in the current session may be summarised, but it is out of order to quote from such a speech unless it is a speech of a Minister in relation to Government policy. This rule has been established for the purpose of avoiding anything which might bring the two Houses into conflict, and to prevent a debate in the House of Lords becoming a continuation of a debate in the House of Commons. The House of Commons committee reports and the Vote may be quoted.

(b) Personal criticism of Members of the House of Commons It is undesirable that any Member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal, rather than a political, nature. Public activities by members of the House of Commons outside their parliamentary duties may be referred to.

(c) Criticism of Parliament as an institution Criticisms of proceedings in the House of Commons and of Speaker's rulings are undesirable, but criticisms of the institutional structure of Parliament or the role and function of the House of Commons may be made.

2. The principle behind this revised text has been to make the rules for references to MPs and the House of Commons made in the House of Lords broadly similar to the rules governing references to peers in the House of Commons (as laid out in Erskine May). One feature of Commons practice not mirrored here is MPs' freedom to reflect upon the conduct of Members of either House in a substantive motion, such as an Early Day Motion. The Committee expressed deep concern at the inequality of treatment accorded to the members of the two Houses in this respect and will continue to pursue the matter.

3. The Committee also considered how MPs should be referred to in the House of Lords. Past practice has been to address MPs by their names, and not by reference to their constituencies. In the case of Ministers, there is also the option of using ministerial titles. It is not the practice to use "Right Honourable", "Honourable" and "Learned". The Committee recommends that guidance to this effect should be included in the next edition of the Companion.


4. The Committee considered a proposal that no Lord should be entitled to have more than one Starred Question on the Order Paper on any one day. It was argued that this proposal would improve both the variety and the topicality of Question Time. The Committee recommends that this proposal be adopted from the beginning of next session.


5. The Companion to the Standing Orders (p 111) gives the following guidance concerning third reading amendments: It is considered undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided upon at a previous stage of the Bill should be re-opened by an amendment on Third Reading. The Committee endorses this guidance, in the interests of avoiding repetition in the House.

6. The growing use of groupings of amendments has made interpretation of this rule more difficult. Amendments are commonly grouped together which are not consequential on the first amendment of the group, but cover the same subject area. If there is a decision on an amendment in the group, it might be presumed that all amendments in the group would be caught by the third reading amendment rule. However, groupings are compiled in haste, and there are occasions when Lords find that their amendments have been placed in a grouping with amendments which they do not believe cover the same issue.

7. In such a case it is still open to the Lord to move his amendment separately at the earlier stage. The grouping of amendments is purely informal. But if Lords who disagree with the grouping do not take this opportunity, they should make clear in debate that they consider their amendment to cover a different issue. This can be taken into account when amendments are tabled for third reading. Otherwise it is likely that any Lord seeking to re-table the amendment at third reading would be advised that the amendment was in breach of the third reading rule.


8. In recent sessions, there have been a number of cases where several closely linked bills have been introduced to consolidate legislation in a particular area. When such bills are considered by the House at the same time, particularly at committee stage and third reading, there is a need for a succession of repetitive procedural motions. The Committee therefore recommends that the Lord Chancellor should be free to move stages of linked consolidation bills en bloc. Notice should be given by means of an italic note on the Order Paper, and any Lord should have the right to propose that a particular bill should be moved separately. On the rare occasion that a committee stage on re-commitment is required, we recommend that the House should be able to resolve itself into a committee on more than one linked consolidation bill, and that the committee should only report when all such bills had been considered. The procedure should be applied by a business of the House motion.


9. In its 2nd Report, 1990–91, the Committee recommended an experimental induction course to help new peers to learn about the House and its procedures. A course took place earlier this session, and the Committee considers that it was a success. We recommend that such courses should be held regularly.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the Chairman of Committees for explaining the contents of the report. Perhaps I may refer briefly to paragraphs 1 and 2 of the report which I noted with interest. I refer to the last sentence in paragraph 2. It states: The Committee expressed deep concern at the inequality of treatment accorded to the members of the two Houses in this respect and will continue to pursue the matter". It means that the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will pursue that rather important matter. We wish to make it clear that we on this side will give him full support.

On Question, Motion agreed to.