Basis and nature of the Government's control

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18.11The basis of the Government's control over the business of the House lies in Standing Order No 14, which gives the Government's business precedence at every sitting, except on 13 Fridays when precedence is given to Private Members' Bills, 20 other days at the disposal of the opposition parties, at least 27 days1 allocated by the Backbench Business Committee for backbench business, and (under Standing Order No 54) three days allotted for the consideration of Estimates recommended by the Liaison Committee. This, coupled with the provision in Standing Order No 27 allowing the Government to arrange its business in any order it thinks fit, gives the Government substantial control over the time of the House. (This far-reaching control can be further extended by the Government, if the need arises, by inviting the House to agree to a motion suspending the relevant standing orders under which certain time is allotted to private Members or by making a special order for the purpose.)2

It should, however, be stressed before going on to describe the formal arrangement for allocating time that the actual time spent in debating a particular matter, or one particular aspect of a matter, is frequently determined by the wishes of the Opposition, and on other occasions by the wishes of groups of private Members or even of a single private Member. While certain days are specifically allotted to the opposition parties, there are a wide variety of other ways in which the official Opposition, and to a lesser extent other parties, are able to influence the amount of time spent by the House on particular matters. For example, the opposition parties can expect to debate subjects of their own choice during the debate on the Address in reply to the Queen's speech, much of the time spent debating public bills will be on opposition or backbench amendments, it is open to parties and backbenchers to table amendments to government motions and so forth.

Similarly, though specific time is allotted to backbenchers in every session, and although numerous instances occur in government time in which the matter under debate is in practice raised by a backbencher, backbenchers may intervene at any juncture during the discussion of public business. This right is exercised daily by backbenchers in all parts of the House. The Speaker plays an important role in the use of parliamentary time by the use of discretion to call representatives of majority and minority views.

Footnotes

  1. 1. Standing Order No 14(4) allocates 35 days to backbench business in the Chamber and Westminster Hall combined, but requires that at least 27 shall be in the Chamber.
  2. 2. Conversely, the priority accorded by SO No 14 to government business can be set aside by the House agreeing to a motion suspending that standing order so as to give priority to other business. For such cases where priority was given to a specified category of business, with power for the Speaker to select amongst different motions within the specified category if more than one such motion was tabled, including a Private Member’s Bill, see Votes and Proceedings, 25 March 2019 (giving priority to such business on 27 March), ibid, 27 March 2019 (giving priority on 1 April), and ibid, 1 April 2019 (giving priority on 3 April). For a case where provision was made under a motion moved under SO No 24 to give priority to a Private Member’s Bill, see Votes and Proceedings, 3 September 2019 (giving priority on 4 September).