The way timetabling of debates is currently managed means that both Government and backbench amendments sometimes require a decision with little or no opportunity for debate first, says a report published today. The Procedure Committee’s new report, "Programming", proposes changes to the current system which would solve the problem and improve parliamentary scrutiny of Government legislation
Programme motions are used in the House of Commons to determine the amount of time spent considering legislation. The effective use of programming meets the Government’s need to manage the legislative timetable whilst ensuring sufficient opportunity is available for Parliament to scrutinise legislation. However, the inquiry found that the way programming is currently managed means that there is often insufficient time to consider all of the amendments tabled at Report stage. Consequently many measures pass into law without any scrutiny at all.
The Report makes a series of recommendations:
- It suggests that the Government should make greater use of “recommittal” procedures—sending all or part of a bill back to Committee— when large numbers of Government amendments have been tabled, to ensure they receive sufficient scrutiny. This procedure was used for the Health and Social Care Bill in 2011.
- Looking at the report stage itself, the Committee recommends a revised procedure for the tabling of supplementary programme motions which would adjust the way scheduling of debate is carried out in advance. This would ensure that no group of amendments need be left unconsidered.
- Finally, the Committee makes two further recommendations designed to ensure that the House has the opportunity, where appropriate, to vote on alternative, non-Government, propositions for the timetabling of legislation and on consideration of Lords Amendments.
The Chair of the Committee, Charles Walker MP, said:
"The report stage of a bill is the point at which the whole House really engages with draft legislation in detail. However, programming as it currently works allows some amendments to pass the House with little or no scrutiny. Our recommendations are designed to rectify this by ensuring that all measures are given at least some debate, so that MPs can make an informed decision on whether they should become law."