Mark and Ruth look at the growing fashion for re-writing Bills mid-air as they pass through Parliament, adding on all sorts of policy bells and whistles at the last minute.
The Government’s legislative programme has made some high-profile progress in recent weeks but a considerable ‘last heave’ of legislative heavy-lifting remains to be done after the Summer recess, in what are now only a few sitting weeks before the end of the extended Session.
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society
Dr Brigid Fowler
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society
Brigid joined the Hansard Society in December 2016 to lead its work on Parliament and Brexit, as well as contribute to its ongoing research on the legislative process, parliamentary procedure and scrutiny, and public political engagement. From 2007 to 2014 she was a Committee Specialist for the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, where she led on the Committee’s EU-related work. In the first six months of 2016 she was on the research team of Britain Stronger in Europe. She has also worked as assistant to an MEP in Brussels and as an analyst and researcher on EU and European affairs in the private sector and at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London.
After completing BA and MPhil degrees at the University of Oxford in PPE and European Politics, respectively, she spent the first part of her career focusing on the politics of post-communist transition and EU accession in Central Europe, and completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham on the case of Hungary. She has given media comment, appeared before select committees and published several journal articles and book contributions.
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When the 2022-23 parliamentary Session passed the one-year mark in May, we highlighted just how badly the Government’s legislative programme had fallen behind schedule, owing to a combination of political and economic instability and poor Bill preparation and parliamentary handling.
The most obvious sign of legislative progress for the Government since then is that, of the Bills it has introduced in the 2022-23 Session, more than half have now achieved Royal Assent. In May, the figure was 43%; but, especially after four Government Bills – including the flagship Illegal Migration Bill – received Royal Assent on 20 July, the figure has jumped to 61% as Parliament goes into its Summer break. This percentage represents 34 of the 56 Bills that the Government has introduced so far in the 2022-23 Session (which include five Bills carried-over from the 2021-22 Session. Our figures for Government Bills include Hybrid Bills.).
However, having set out a highly ambitious programme of Bills in the May 2022 Queen’s Speech, the Government has effectively accepted that a significant share of them will not pass in the 2022-23 Session – by never introducing them, dropping them, or carrying them over for passage in 2023-24.
Furthermore, there are still 10 Bills to be disposed of before the Government can finally bring the 2022-23 Session to an end. Of these, nine must be passed: eight Bills which are already in their second House and so no longer eligible for ‘carry-over’, and the Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill, which is set to be passed speedily after the Summer. The tenth Bill is the Renters Reform Bill, which is still in its first House and so eligible for potential ‘carry-over’.
After 7 November 2023 was announced as the date for the start of the next Session, there are probably a maximum of 22 remaining sitting days in the Commons and 24 in the Lords in which to finish proceedings on these Bills (on current sitting-day plans, and if Prorogation were to take place no earlier than 2 November). The Lords is highly unlikely to be able to adhere to its normal practice of not holding divisions during the September sitting. However, if proceedings on the remaining Bills go relatively smoothly from the Government’s perspective, it may have scope to bring the 2022-23 Session to a close more quickly.
When the House of Commons went into recess at the close of business on 20 July, and with no further proceedings on Bills expected in the House of Lords in its remaining two pre-summer sitting days, the status of the 56 Bills that the Government has introduced so far in the 2022-23 Session was as shown in the following chart:
Figure 1: Status of Government Bills, 2022-23 Session, as of 21 July 2023 (56 Bills)
The 56 Bills that the Government has introduced so far in the 2022-23 Session break down, on our count, into 31 that were included in the May 2022 Queen’s Speech and 25 that were not. (The 25 include Finance and Supply Bills, which are so routine that they are not mentioned explicitly in the Speech.)
In our overview of the state of the legislative programme in May, we highlighted the low proportion of Queen’s Speech Bills that had achieved Royal Assent by that point (28%).
The two charts below show the status of the Bills in these two groups separately, as of 21 July, breaking down the data presented in Figure 1 above:
Compared to the situation in May, the proportion of Queen’s Speech Bills that have achieved Royal Assent has now risen (to 45%); but so has that of non-Queen’s Speech Bills (from 64% to 80%), so the gap between the two groups has barely narrowed. The continuing relatively low figure for Queen’s Speech Bills partly reflects the fact that the Government has introduced a new tranche of Queen’s Speech Bills since March and almost immediately made most of them subject to carry-over motions.
The focus in the remainder of the 2022-23 Session will be on the 10 Government Bills that have yet to pass and for which a carry-over motion has not been agreed.
Of these, there are two Bills that are still only in their first House but otherwise in very different positions:
the Northern Ireland Budget (No.2) Bill received its Second Reading in the Commons on 10 July and is set to complete its further proceedings in a day each in the Commons and Lords respectively, on 4 and 14 September;
the Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced in the Commons on 17 May but has yet to be scheduled for a Second Reading; it will presumably need to be carried-over to the next Session if it is to survive.
The remaining eight Bills are in their second House and so are beyond the point at which they could be made subject to a carry-over motion: they must pass by the end of the Session.
These eight Bills can be placed into two groups reflecting the stage they have reached in the legislative process:
1. Bills that are already in ‘ping-pong’ and can therefore be expected to conclude relatively quickly, probably during September (three Bills). These are:
the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, on which ‘ping-pong’ is scheduled for 5 and 6 September;
the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, on which ‘ping-pong’ is scheduled for 4 September (Commons) and 11 September (Lords); and
the Procurement Bill, a Bill that started in the Lords and of which the Lords is due to consider the Commons’ version for the first time on 11 September.
2. Bills that have yet to secure a Third Reading in their second House (five Bills).
Of these, three will definitely need to return to their first House once they have finished in their second, because the second House has amended them:
The Energy Bill is a Lords Bill which is now scheduled for its Report stage and Third Reading in the Commons on 5 September. The Lords have pencilled in their consideration of Commons amendments for 12 September.
The Online Safety Bill completed its Report stage in the Lords on 19 July and is scheduled for Third Reading there on 6 September. Having been carried-over from the 2021-2022 Session, the Bill missed the default deadline to complete its proceedings (one year since its First Reading in its first Session) and has seen the Commons agree two motions to extend the deadline, which now stands at 31 October.
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is only due to finish its Report stage in the Lords on 13 September, and no date has yet been published for its Third Reading there.
The remaining two Bills in this group are the Non-Domestic Rating Bill and the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill. These await their Report stages and Third Readings in the Lords during September, and have not been amended in Committee there. If the Lords amend them on Report or Third Reading, these too will need to return to the Commons.
So far, six Bills are being carried over to the 2023-24 Session. These comprise:
1. Two Hybrid Bills, the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill and the Holocaust Memorial Bill. Hybrid Bills are subject to a different legislative procedure than Public Bills and can take very much longer to reach the statute book. (Indeed, provision has already been made for the High Speed Rail Bill to survive the end of the current Parliament.)
2. Four regular Government Bills, all of which were included in the May 2022 Queen’s Speech and, as carried-over Bills, must complete their passage during the 2023-24 Session: the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill; the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill; the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill; and the Victims and Prisoners Bill.
Prime candidates to be either introduced after the Summer and carried-over into the new Session, or included in the November 2023 King’s Speech, are three Bills that in draft form have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny:
the draft Media Bill, on which the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its first report today (21 July); and
the draft Mental Health Bill, on which a Joint Committee reported in January, and on which the Minister “hope[s] to be able to respond fully shortly after the summer recess”.
There are also Bills that were included in the 2022 Queen’s Speech but either never introduced (Higher Education Bill, Modern Slavery Bill, Transport Bill), or introduced and abandoned (Schools Bill). The Conversion Therapy Bill has been promised in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny “very shortly”.
Among new legislative items, the Explanatory Memorandum on the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) notes that the move requires UK primary legislation in three areas (technical barriers to trade, Government procurement and intellectual property).
Fowler, B. (21 July 2023), What is the state of the Government’s legislative programme as Parliament enters its Summer break? (Hansard Society blog)
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