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Lord Butler of Brockwell (Crossbench), a former Cabinet Secretary, has tabled a question for short debate to ask what steps the Government is planning to take to include statistics on the time spent on parliamentary proceedings on each part of an Act in the explanatory notes on Acts of Parliament. A proposal along these lines was put forward by Daniel Greenberg, a former Parliamentary Counsel, in a paper published by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank in April 2016. Daniel Greenberg argued that line-by-line scrutiny of legislation in both Houses had “become diluted to such a degree that it can no longer be described as taking place”, and as a result there were “often lengthy and significant parts of a bill that receive no detailed scrutiny at all at any point in its parliamentary passage”. To address this, he suggested that the following information should be published in respect of each bill, in both the explanatory notes issued when the bill arrived in the second House and in those published once it received royal assent:

  • The number of hours spent in committee on each part or group of clauses
  • The number of hours spent at other amendable stages
  • The number of amendments tabled by the Government
  • The number of amendments tabled by others, and the percentage of those amendments that were given substantive consideration
  • A list of those clauses on which no substantive discussion took place in committee and at each other amendable stage (whether because of the descent of a programme motion knife or for other reasons).

Different arrangements apply in the two Houses of Parliament for the timetabling of proceedings on legislation. In the House of Commons, the majority of government bills are subject to programming. Programme orders provide a timetable for the conclusion of proceedings on a bill. They may specify by what date a stage should be completed, or how long is to be spent on a stage. A programme order may contain ‘knives’, or deadlines relating to business on particular parts of the bill; when a ‘knife’ falls, only specified decisions may be taken, and it may not be possible to debate or decide on certain clauses or amendments. In the House of Lords, there is no formal equivalent to programming. Informal negotiations take place through the ‘usual channels’ on how much time to allocate to legislative business, but their deals are not set in stone and can be altered if the House deals with business more or less quickly than expected. There have been criticisms that programming in the Commons means that not all amendments and clauses are necessarily debated, and that there is too much legislation to allow time for proper scrutiny in either House.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the legislative process one part of which will focus specifically on the passage of legislation through Parliament. The Committee intends to take evidence on this topic in the 2017-18 parliamentary session.

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