Proceedings of the Standing Orders Committee

43.10According to the usual practice of the committee, written statements are prepared by the agent for the bill, and in opposed cases by the agent for the bill on the one side, and on the other by the agents for memorialists who have been heard by the Examiner. The statements are circulated by the agents to members of the committee and copies are deposited in the Chairman of Ways and Means' office in advance of the meeting. The committee, if it thinks fit, hears the agents or parties before deciding whether the standing orders ought or ought not to be dispensed with, and whether the parties should be permitted to proceed with their bill, and upon what terms and conditions (if any). The parties are called in and acquainted with the decision of the Committee, which is afterwards reported to the House.

Under Standing Order 107A the committee is authorised, if it thinks fit, to hear only certain parties. If the Committee is considering an Examiner's report or special report referred to it under Standing Order 104 (see above), it may hear the promoters of the bill and any memorialist who has appeared before the Examiner. If the committee is considering a petition praying that any of the standing orders be dispensed with (see para 44.3 ) or that a petition for a private bill be reinserted in the General List (see para 43.7 ) it may hear the petitioner and any parties who have presented petitions in opposition to the petition. Standing Order 107A allows parties to be heard by themselves or to be represented by their agent, but the resolutions of the committee normally limit the number of speakers to one from each party in support of their statements, if the committee thinks fit.1 In some inquiries of a special character which have been referred to the committee, however, it has also examined witnesses before it has agreed to its report.2

In 1986, in the case of a hybrid bill with regard to which the Examiners had reported a non-compliance, certain parties opposing the bill who had not appeared before the Examiners were allowed to appear before the Standing Orders Committee, their petition against dispensing with the standing orders having been specially referred to the committee by the House.3

In its report to the House the Standing Orders Committee does not give reasons for its decision; but it is guided by certain principles and general rules. The report of the Examiner is conclusive as to the facts, and it is the duty of the committee to consider equitably, with reference to public interests and private rights, whether the bill should be permitted to proceed. Broadly speaking, the committee takes into account three questions: first, whether it is in the public interest, apart from that of the promoters, that the standing orders should be dispensed with; second, whether the promoters have been negligent; and, third, to what extent parties other than the promoters will be adversely affected. The committee will take a general view of the whole of the circumstances, and report either that the standing orders ought not to be dispensed with, or that they ought to be dispensed with and parties be permitted (subject to any conditions) to proceed with their bill.

If the Standing Orders Committee reports that the standing orders ought to be dispensed with, the House, by agreeing with the committee's resolution, gives the parties leave to proceed. Where any conditions are specified in the committee's report, the necessary compliance with them is required to be proved, in ordinary cases, before the committee on the bill,4 or, in some special cases, before the Examiners,5 or partly before the committee and partly before the Examiners.6 It is the practice of the House for its agreement to reports that the standing orders ought to be dispensed with to be given formally, without the need for a motion to be made.7

If the Standing Orders Committee reports that the standing orders ought not to be dispensed with, its decision is generally acquiesced to by the promoters, and is fatal to the bill. But in order to leave the question still open for consideration, the House agrees to those resolutions only which are favourable to the progress of bills, and passes no opinion upon the unfavourable reports, which are instead ordered to lie upon the Table.8 In 1986, the Standing Orders Committee declined to make a recommendation on whether the standing orders should be dispensed with, on the grounds that the matter ought to be decided by the House; and the House subsequently agreed to a dispensation.9

The Standing Orders Committee has on occasion made a special report to the House. In 1959, a special report in respect of the Humber Bridge Bill was made by the committee recommending that Standing Order 146, in so far as it related to the height of fences, should be re-examined.10 In the same session, the committee made a special report about a letter which had come to its attention in connection with its consideration of the British Transport Commission Bill.11 In 1976 the Examiners made a special report stating that they felt doubts as to the due construction of certain standing orders in relation to the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill and to a memorial complaining of non-compliance. In view of the complexity and unusual nature of the problems raised by the Examiners the committee embodied its conclusions in a special report.12

Footnotes

  1. 1. The minutes of speeches delivered before the Standing Orders Committee have been reported to the House and ordered to be printed, CJ (1985–86) 371.
  2. 2. Edinburgh and Perth Railway Bill, CJ (1847) 226, 293; Edinburgh and Northern Railway Bill, ibid (1849) 37, 48, 70; Great Central Railway (Grimsby Fish Dock) Bill, ibid (1912–13) 134, 155, 162.
  3. 3. CJ (1985–86) 345 (Channel Tunnel Bill); cf ibid (1900) 320 (Military Manoeuvres Bill).
  4. 4. CJ (1854) 78; ibid (1904) 38, ibid (1945–46) 169; ibid (1980–81) 333.
  5. 5. CJ (1849) 70 (as to deposit of amended notices); ibid (1849) 81, 84 (of estimate, etc); ibid (1886) 205 (of amended plans).
  6. 6. British Tramways (Extensions) Bill, CJ (1904) 99, 105.
  7. 7. Speaker's ruling, HC Deb (1988–89) 148, cc 509–10; for example, Votes and Proceedings, 20 November 2017.
  8. 8. Cardiff Bay Barrage (No 2) Bill, CJ (1990–91) 570.
  9. 9. CJ (1985–86) 371, 386–87.
  10. 10. CJ (1958–59) 205.
  11. 11. CJ (1958–59) 208.
  12. 12. CJ (1975–76) 195, 217–18.