HL Deb 20 October 1994 vol 558 cc330-2

3.35 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Motion covers two reports from the Procedure Committee, the first of which was made by the committee as long ago as 23rd May. The delay in bringing the report before the House relates to the main item in it, namely the report of a sub-committee on the procedures to be adopted for scrutinising deregulation orders made under the special procedures laid down in Part I of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. The Motion has been delayed while the Committee and Report stages of that Bill have been taken, and I am glad to be able to say that the sub-committee's recommendation for a change in the Bill—namely that there should be a 60-day period for scrutiny of proposed orders—has been adopted by means of an amendment agreed to in Committee.

The other recommendations made by the sub-committee are based on the assumption that Chapter I of the Bill will pass into law. Briefly, it is proposed that in the first instance the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee should take on the task of scrutinising proposed orders and that the same committee should take on the functions of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in relation to final drafts of such orders. It would be open to any noble Lord to table a Motion in respect of the report of the committee on a draft order. Such a Motion would be taken immediately before the Minister's Motion to approve the draft order and the two Motions would be debated together. If the outcome were a resolution of the House to the effect that the order should not be approved, the Motion to approve the order would not be moved.

I should like to express the Procedure Committee's warm thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and his fellow members of the sub-committee for their expeditious but thorough completion of their task. I hope that the House will agree that the sub-committee's recommendations, which have been endorsed by the Procedure Committee, provide a good framework for enabling the House to exercise effective scrutiny of and control over orders proposed to be made under this novel procedure. The other recommendations contained in the committee's two reports are much more limited and I shall touch on them as briefly as possible.

The committee has recommended that three procedures which have operated experimentally should be made permanent. First, there is the procedure for postponing business without notice. This was introduced as long ago as 1985 and has been used only twice. Its main use is on those rare occasions when the dinner hour is reached before the House has reached the business which was planned to have been interrupted. On such an occasion the new procedure is undoubtedly useful, and so the committee has recommended that it be made permanent.

Secondly, the committee recommends that the arrangement whereby Unstarred Questions may be taken in dinner breaks should be made permanent. The procedure has proved valuable in providing an additional opportunity for Unstarred Questions to be taken, when otherwise the House might simply have adjourned during pleasure, and the time limit of one hour has been respected.

Thirdly, the committee recommends that the arrangement whereby the fourth Starred Question each Thursday is a topical question, chosen by ballot on the previous Tuesday, should be made permanent. This procedure too has worked satisfactorily, although it did not in fact occur today.

In three areas the committee has recommended no change. First, the committee considered a proposal for an Early Day Motion procedure along the lines of that which exists in another place. The committee concluded that such a procedure was less appropriate in this House, where points of view are customarily expressed in debate rather than in the terms of Motions.

Secondly, the committee considered a proposal for a restriction on references to members of the European Parliament along the lines of the restriction on references to Members of another place. In the absence of any similar restriction in other Parliaments, and of any restriction in the European Parliament on references to other Parliaments, the committee concluded that it would be inappropriate to introduce any formal restriction.

Thirdly, the committee considered a proposal for modifying the procedure governing the presentation of public petitions to the House. In another place petitions are referred to the relevant government department, while in this House no action is taken after the petition has been presented to the House. The committee noted that it was open to the noble Lord presenting a petition to send a copy to the relevant department where appropriate and recommend no change.

The committee has also considered the problem which may arise when a Commons Private Member's Bill is before this House and it appears that any amendment made to it may prevent the Bill being enacted because of lack of time in another place. The committee was informed of arrangements to ensure that there was adequate time for Bills to be amended by this House before the last opportunity for consideration in another place. These arrangements seem to have worked as there has been no difficulty this Session.

The committee has concluded that a vote cast in a Division by a noble Lord who has not taken the oath should be treated as invalid and that such a noble Lord should be excluded from the record of those attending the House. The committee has recommended that Standing Order 67, governing the laying of statutory instruments, should be amended so that they may no longer be laid on a Saturday. This would bring the House into line with another place.

Finally, the committee has reviewed the operation of the Special Standing Committee on the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and made some observations and recommendations, including a proposal that in future such a committee, which is in no way a Standing Committee, should be termed a "Special Public Bill Committee".

I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

Moved, That the second and third reports from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Papers 58 and 81).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following are the reports referred to:

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