What is a Grand Committee and what does it mean for Welfare Reform?

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After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn’t expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.

This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament’s own web page states:

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.

So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a “committee of the whole house” rather than a “grand committee.” As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)

The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here’s the official description of the committee stage:

Line by line examination of the Bill

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.

Before committee stage takes place

The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.

What happens at committee stage?

Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.

All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine – on discussion of amendments.

What happens after committee stage?

If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.

At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.

Here is the critical part though:

Grand Committee

The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.

As compared to:

Committee of the whole House

In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.

So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing.

However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can’t let up now. Details are in my previous blog post.

***Important Update***

As Sam points out below, in the Grand Committee there is no voting on amendments, which would enable a majority vote to fix some of the worse points. Instead, the committee must agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.

 

 

  • http://godlessfaith.blogspot.com/ Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Thing is, if the procedure is like the commons committee stage, except that there’s no formal membership to the committee, I’m really unclear what the effect is – votes are normally held on any amendment for which the author pushes a vote, and then a vote for each section to stand. The parliament website sections I read said that all decisions of a grand committee must be agreed by all present – so does that apply to the vote to stand as well? Or does this simply mean that the whips decide what amendments are made, if any? Neither makes sense.

    • http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/ Steven Sumpter

      I’d love to hear from someone knowledgeable about this but all the experts I know only know about the commons not the lords. It looks like we are stuck trying to glean information from the website.

  • http://godlessfaith.blogspot.com/ Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Ah, I see here:

    36.2 In both Committee of the whole House and Grand Committee, all
    members can attend, table amendments and speak. The proceedings in Grand
    Committee are identical to those in a Committee of the whole House
    except that no votes take place – decisions to alter the Bill may only
    be made with unanimity. Thus when a Question is put, a single voice
    against an amendment causes the amendment to be negatived and amendments
    can only be made by general agreement. If there is opposition to an
    amendment, it should be withdrawn in Grand Committee, to enable the
    House to decide the matter on Report.

    I believe that the committee timescale cannot be controlled by government, but the report stage can, I think, so this basically means “as long as the govt fit one person in the room, no amendments can be made against govt plans”. They’re castrating the Lords as far as the biil is concerned, basically…

    • http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/ Steven Sumpter

      Oh, crap. :(

      • http://godlessfaith.blogspot.com/ Sam Barnett-Cormack

        The page linked seems to suggest that amendments not made go to report, but the next page in that guide covers report stage, and it isn’t clear which amendments are considered in the report, or who decides this.

  • http://twitter.com/polleetickle Pollee Tickle

    Having had over a decade of the ‘welfare experts’ spending £billions of taxpayers money I understand the concerns outlined above.

    But where was the investment in correct targeting and proper (if any) assessments? Who raised concerns about bloated handouts landing on peoples doorsteps with no regard for accountability? Where has all the money gone to assure perpetuity for Britains welfare after Gordon Brown brought an end to boom and bust?

    Continuing as UK did; like a safety net not only for the nation but worlds needy, was unaffordable. It is this unfettered position that now impacts on Britains citizens.

    Clarity that correct benefits are received by the right people is essential. But if anyone needs to hear about the cuts and blame apportioned, look closely at the woefull Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Al Darling and the toxic Labour Party.

    I wish it were different, but the sooner welfare is reformed the better.

  • Frankie

    I have received a reply from Lord Kennedy who urges us to write to Crossbench members of the House of Lords. 
    “It would be very helpful if you were able to make representations to these members in particular during the passage of the bill, as they play a crucial role and bring much independent thought to proceedings in the House of Lords.”
    The following link provides their contact details
    http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/

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  • Piongley

    Despite writing to all the key people both in the Conservative and Labour Party, the majority failed to respond but I am not surprised as I have come to the conclusion they are not prepared to listen. My son has been physically disabled from birth (cerebral palsy), he will not get better and his condition gets worse with age (now 31). He has been award DLA until his 70′s, this includes the motability element, which is used to obtain a car under the motability scheme, as this enables him to visit family, go on holiday, visit hospital, etc.

    He recently moved into a care home due his condition, so under the proposals he will loose the car but the car home does not have sufficient transport to covet my son’s needs nor the rest of the residents, so he will become trapped.

    I don’t see much hope of changing the situation but does anyone have suggestions? Who could I write in the Lords as the PM and his ministers do not appear to be listening.

    Thanks Peter Ongley

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