Motion to Agree
That the Report from the Select Committee Leave of absence; Committee rotations; Changes to procedure relating to legislation; Deletion of Standing Order 76; Wording in the Companion relating to “the closure”; Changes to Standing Order 64; and Legislative consent (4th Report, HL Paper 140) be agreed to.
My Lords, the report proposes a number of recommendations to the House for changes to the Standing Orders and the Companion to the Standing Orders. As we explain in the report, these were agreed at the committee’s meetings on 27 January and 9 March this year. At the time of those meetings, new editions of both the Standing Orders and the Companion were thought to be imminent, and the committee decided to present all the changes to the House when these new editions were ready. Work on the new editions was, however, paused when the coronavirus pandemic started, and the procedures underpinning the virtual and hybrid proceedings became the focus. More recently, on 6 October, the committee agreed changes to procedures regarding legislative consent Motions and we have decided to wrap up all the outstanding changes in this one report.
I shall briefly explain each of the changes outlined in the report. The changes to the process for taking a leave of absence from the House are to avoid any ambiguity in the use of the leave of absence procedure and to safeguard against Members using a leave of absence as an alternative to retirement from the House.
With regard to committee member rotations, we recommend that from January 2021, all Select Committee member rotations should take place at the start of each January. We recognise the unique situation of the European Union Committee and recommend that any “normal” rotation of EU Committee membership should be deferred until any changes to the structure of the EU Committee are implemented.
The Lord Speaker, Leaders, Chief Whips, Deputy Chief Whips, the Convener of the Cross Benches, the Senior Deputy Speaker and the chair of the EU Committee are already exempt from the rotation rule. We recommend that this exemption should be extended to any Member serving as a substitute for the Leaders, Chief Whips, Deputy Chief Whips or the Convener of the Cross Benches.
We recommend that Standing Order 64 should be updated to reflect the new committee names following the Liaison Committee report Review of House of Lords Investigative and Scrutiny Committees: Towards a New Thematic Committee Structure.
At our meeting on 27 January, we considered a paper proposing a number of modest changes to procedures relating to legislation. We agreed a number of those changes, and the details are set out in the committee’s report.
Noble Lords will recall that, on 24 September 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Prorogation of Parliament was not itself a proceeding in Parliament but was a prerogative act of the Crown. The committee therefore recommends that Standing Order 76—
“Proroguing the Parliament at close of session”—
should be deleted to avoid the implication that prorogation is a proceeding of Parliament. We also recommend a number of changes to the Companion contingent upon this.
We recommend clarifying the guidance around the use of the closure Motion to make it absolutely clear that there must be a Question before the House before the closure can be moved, and to get rid of the wording suggesting it is a “most exceptional” procedure. On the Motion “That the noble Lord be no longer heard”, the committee recommends making it explicit in the Companion, first, that this Motion prevents a Member speaking only on the specific Question before the House, rather than on the wider substantive Motion or stage; and, secondly, that it is not necessary for a Question to be before the House for “That the noble Lord be no longer heard” to be moved.
On the length of balloted debates on Thursdays, we recommend that the Companion should be amended to give the House greater flexibility to determine the length of balloted debates to more than the currently available options of two hours, two-and-a-half hours and three hours.
Lastly, I turn to legislative consent, which the committee discussed on 6 October. We recommend that when legislative consent has been refused or not yet granted by the time of Third Reading, a Minister should orally draw it to the attention of the House before Third Reading commences. In doing this, the Minister should set out the efforts that were made to secure consent and the reasons for the disagreement.
Noble Lords will no doubt have noticed a second Motion in my name on the Order Paper today, immediately following this one. That Motion seeks the House’s agreement to changes to the Standing Orders that are consequential to the recommendations in this report. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for the work that he has put in and the very many suggestions that he has made. I am sure the whole House will support them. However, there is one issue that has arisen; it is entirely due to the situation we find ourselves in with the coronavirus and is no reflection on the House or the noble Lord. Recently, people have sometimes been scheduled to be in two places at the same time—for a Grand Committee debate and also on the Floor of the House. Will the noble Lord look at that and see whether there is a reasonable alternative to the current situation?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his remarks and I will most certainly look into this issue which has arisen subsequent to our proposals for changes. I will consult with the usual channels, including himself, and I hope we can get a remedy to the legitimate problem he has earmarked.