When the Backbench Business Committee was set up in 2010 to give control of some Parliamentary time to backbench MPs, it was agreed that it should be reviewed after the first session (2010–2012). The Procedure Committee has reviewed its first two years, and concludes that while there is no need for major substantial change to the practices or procedures which have developed around backbench business and the work of the Committee, a number of proposals could improve and refine the framework within which it operates.
Noting the widespread approval of the Backbench Business Committee’s innovative approach in hearing representations from MPs pitching for debating time in public, the report recommends a change to the Standing Orders to regularise that approach.
The report concludes that there is scope for the Government to allow the Backbench Business Committee a legitimate expectation of a backbench business slot, in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, in every sitting week, with exceptions at certain times of the parliamentary year (for example, the debate on the Queen’s Speech and the Budget). Such an expectation would ensure a more even spread of backbench days over the year, and enable the Backbench Business Committee to plan ahead more effectively. The report also recommends that the Committee be given the power to table business motions to regulate the time for which it is responsible.
Recognising the success of the Backbench Business Committee’s approach to selecting matters for debate, the report proposes that responsibility for scheduling one of the four 90-minute adjournment debates that occur each week in Westminster Hall be transferred from the Speaker to the Backbench Business Committee, on a one-year trial basis.
It also endorses the Liaison Committee’s recent proposal for statements in the House on the day of publication of a select committee report, adding the suggestion that such statements could also be taken in Westminster Hall.
Charles Walker MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:
"We congratulate the Chair and members of the Backbench Business Committee for opening up more time in the House to backbenchers and for the transparent way in which they conduct their determinations.
The Committee has firmly established itself as a key tool for backbench MPs during the first two years of this Parliament. We now have the opportunity to make some small improvements and refine the framework in which the Committee operates, to ensure that this success continues."
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