Following a general debate on 22 February, the House resolved 11 motions without a vote giving effect to many recommendations in the First Report of the House of Commons Reform Committee, Session 2008-09, “Rebuilding the House” (HC 1117). On 4 March 2010 after a further debate on outstanding issues, further motions were approved. In the words of the Committee, “significant and welcome steps have now been taken on the path to reform.”
In order to give effect to these resolutions, I have tabled motions which appear in today’s order paper to create and amend Standing Orders to give effect to the recommendations relating to the establishment of a Back-Bench business committee, namely to set the process for election and procedural conduct of the committee, to allocate time for Back-Bench proceedings and to define Back-Bench business.
The Reform Committee has proposed its own motion following the decisions of the House on 4 March. The Reform Committees motion differs from the decisions of the House in the following ways:
Election of Back-Bench business committee members—The Standing Order proposed by the Committee provides for this to be by single transferable vote. No voting system was agreed to by resolution of the House. The Government’s Standing Order provides a method analogous to that agreed by the House for other Select Committees, allowing for a balance of parties and to guarantee some representation of women and men.
Adoption of the agenda—The Standing Order proposed by the Committee provides for the Back-Bench business committee’s report to be agreed to by the House on a Question put forthwith. This was not agreed to by resolution of the House. The Government’s Standing Order provides for the Back-Bench business committee to schedule business directly within the time allocated to it (as the Opposition does on Opposition days).
Number of allotted days—The Standing Order proposed by the Committee provides for thirty-five days or its equivalent to be allotted in each session for proceedings in the House on Back-Bench business. The Government’s Standing Order provides for one day a week or its equivalent, which reflects the specific wording of the recommendation (30) of “Rebuilding the House” to which the resolution agreed by the House referred.
Topical Debates—The Standing Order proposed by the Committee would remove current limits on speaking time for Front-Bench spokespeople. This was not agreed to by resolution of the House. We would seek to retain them but to remove the requirement for a Minister to open the debate so that a Back-Bencher can do so.
Westminster Hall —The Committee proposes that Thursday sittings in Westminster Hall should be available to the Back-Bench business committee, subject to 20 days being at the disposal of the Liaison Committee. The scheduling of business in Westminster Hall is currently a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, not the Government. As the Committee’s proposal was not specifically agreed by resolution of the House, the Government motion maintains the status quo for business off the floor of the House.
Private Members’ Bills—The Committee Standing Order would allow the Back-Bench business committee to programme Private Members’ Bills. This was not agreed to by resolution of the House. This provision is therefore not included in the Government’s Motion.
Because these changes to Standing Orders do no more than give effect to the changes the House has agreed by resolution, I recommend the House to agree them without further debate.