Consideration by the House of select committee work

38.86There is no automatic process for select committee reports to be debated in the House (and indeed the number of such reports would make this almost impossible). But, particularly since the establishment of the departmental select committees in 1979, a number of changes have progressively allocated more time to the debate of select committee reports in recognition of the increasing salience of their work. Where they consider it appropriate, committees can seek to bring a report either to the attention of the House or formally onto its agenda, in three ways:

  • by means of a select committee statement under Standing Order No 22D;
  • by having a report scheduled for debate on a Thursday in Westminster Hall, or through use of, for example, days available for Backbench Business, Opposition Days or Estimates Days in the Chamber; or
  • by having a report (or evidence) ‘tagged’ on the Order Paper as being relevant to other business before the House.

Arrangements for select committee statements were introduced in 2013 and are described at paras 19.29 and 23.7. Such statements can be scheduled in Backbench Committee time either in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, though the former is more frequent. As well as enabling presentation and limited questioning on the publication of a report (within five sitting days of publication of the report), such statements can also be used for the announcement of a new inquiry.

The principal opportunities for full debates on select committee reports are in Westminster Hall. Standing Order No 10(7) provides that broadly half the time available on Thursdays in Westminster Hall is for business determined by the Liaison Committee. Debates may in principle take place on substantive (that is, amendable) motions, but in practice are held as general debates in the form of motions ‘That the House has considered the Xth report of the [name of ] Committee on [subject ]’. Most debates on select committee reports are held after the government reply has been published.

Additionally, three days each session, known as Estimates Days (one of which may be taken as two half-days), are formally set aside for debate on individual Estimates selected by the Liaison Committee.1 Until recently, the Liaison Committee allocated these days, selecting Estimates which would allow debate on chosen reports from select committees. In 2018, it was agreed between the Liaison Committee, Backbench Business Committee and the Procedure Committee that the Backbench Business Committee would allocate the Estimates Days and that the Liaison Committee could allocate debates on select committee reports on three of the days allotted to the Backbench Business Committee in the main Chamber.2

Reports may also be considered on substantive motions in government time. This will most frequently be in respect of motions approving appropriate reports from some of the internally focused select committees, in particular reports from the Committees on Standards or of Privileges, and many reports from the Procedure Committee.3

The ‘tagging’ of documents relevant to a debate—that is, inclusion, with the agreement of the Member in charge of the debate, of their details as a note on the Order Paper and the ensuring of their availability for Members in the Vote Office—has been in place since 1979. Select committee reports, or oral or written evidence to a committee, are frequently tagged using this process.

Footnotes

  1. SO No 54.
  2. See Procedure Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Debates on Estimates days: piloting new arrangements, HC 739; the objective was both to encourage a greater emphasis on Estimates Days on debates on the selected Estimates themselves (rather than related select committee reports) and to give a better opportunity for debate on select committee reports to take place on substantive motions.
  3. Until 29 June 2004, it was also the practice for a one or half-day debate to take place in government time each year on the reports from the Committee of Public Accounts.