Parliamentary Business and Timetables

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Barclay A.A. Stanley
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Parliamentary Business and Timetables

Post by Barclay A.A. Stanley »

Parliamentary Business

There are three primary mechanisms of business in the House of Commons: bills, ministerial statements, and motions. Each of these has a different purpose and should engender a different response by Opposition. Additionally, there are special debates and specific ministerial statements that will occur throughout the course of Parliament and are detailed here. From this guide, we hope you understand the differences between bills, ministerial statements, and motions, as well as the special types of debate and ministerial statement that will occur from time to time, and how to respond to them.

Bills, statements, and motions: what to choose?

Bills, statements, and motions have unique functions in the Parliamentary system. Bills, or primary legislation, are used to establish new powers, amend existing primary legislation, or grant powers to groups. Ministerial statements ("statements") can be used to announce new programs, provide an update to the House, announce a policy, or implement secondary legislation - these distinctions will be discussed in more detail shortly. Motions are used to provide the sense of the House or to obtain the backing of the House for an action that does not necessarily require legislation; early day motions are a special class of motion. The choice between these options can be confusing. Here we hope to provide some examples.

Bills are used in the absence of primary legislation or to amend primary legislation. In general, an existing Act of Parliament can only be amended by another Act of Parliament. Creating new bodies, especially if they have enforcement powers, generally requires an Act of Parliament. Changes to the UK constitutional structure generally require an Act of Parliament (this includes creating new tiers of local government, devolving powers, abolishing the House of Lords, or altering Royal Prerogative). Developing new powers (eg, the power to seize a passport or detain a suspected terrorist) also generally requires an Act of Parliament. Requiring governments to do things on a regular basis (ie, require a report be issued) can be accomplished both with primary and secondary legislation - but primary legislation is harder to repeal.

Statements are used for a number of purposes. The four that we focus on are to announce new programs, provide an update to the House, announce a policy, or implement secondary legislation.
  • New programs that simply spend money do not typically require primary legislation - ministers have broad authority regarding how to spend money. If you are making a new program, you can do so in a statement. You should address why the program is necessary (the problem), how it will work (and solve the problem), and whether the Chancellor has allocated new money for it (or whether it is coming from your departmental budget); you are welcome to include commentary on how your opponents caused the problem. Existing program can also be altered in this manner.
  • Announcing new policies can be accomplished in the form of releasing a white paper. We do not insist on a full white paper. A 1-2 page summary can be used, with bullet points, to announce a new policy or set of policies that the Government will be pursuing. If you want to provide more detail, feel free to. Generally, a white paper will trigger a topical debate on the policy area that the minister presents.
  • Providing an update to the House is typically done in the form of a statement (and can be done in the form of an emergency statement if responding to a scenario). These statements are the most straightforward: you are simply providing an update on something that has occurred and outlining what the government has done/will do, and apportioning blame (if necessary - especially if your opponents are at fault).
  • Implementing secondary legislation mostly just means that you have a power outlined elsewhere in primary legislation that you wish to utilise. An example of this is the ability to reclassify drugs; if you want to reclassify cannabis, you simply do so in a statement. Likewise, if you want to amend or repeal other secondary legislation, you do that with secondary legislation. We do not require secondary legislation to be formally written out, but we ask that you provide the authorities that you are utilising to implement your secondary legislation.
Motions are used to express the opinion of the House or amend the Standing Orders of the House. It's that straight forward. They have no statutory authority - though some have constitutional relevance (those will be discussed further). Governments should rarely use motions. When they do, it should be to seek approval of the House for a potentially contentious action (eg, renewing the nuclear deterrent, approving a third runway at Heathrow) or amend the Standing Orders of the House (think English Votes for English Laws).

If you are the Opposition, you should seldom present bills. Opposition parties very rarely present legislation for an Opposition Day. That falls under the heading of, "just because it can be done, doesn't mean it should be done". It is recommended that the Opposition primarily author motions for consideration on Opposition Days. If you choose to draft a bill, please note that it will be drafted without Civil Service support and that failure to account for details that the Civil Service would normally identify will likely be pointed out. In conclusion, if you are in the Opposition and debating which of these mechanisms to use, here are two good rules:
  • You can't use ministerial statements, so you can rule that out as an option.
  • Motions, you want to use motions.*
    *Unless the circumstances are extremely exceptional (consult an admin for what constitutes exceptional).
Bills: the process

The process for debating bills is very straightforward - once a bill has been timetabled and introduced, a twenty-four hour clock will start, in which the designated speaker from the Official Opposition will make remarks responding to the bill. Typically, this individual will be the shadow minister for the minister that introduced the bill. After the Official Opposition speaker gives their response, debate will open for 4 days. At the conclusion of debate, the bill will move to a vote.

During debate, bills can be amended. An amendment can be accepted by the government - this is a friendly amendment. An amendment can also be rejected by the Government. In this case, the Leader of the Opposition or the Shadow Leader of the House can move that the amendment be sent to a vote. The Speaker will decide whether to send it to a vote: in general, this will only be done if there is evidence of a rebellion that could cause the Government to be defeated (during majority governments). If a government rebel wishes to see an amendment voted on, they can indicate privately to the Speaker (ie, a member of the A-Team), that they intend to rebel or may state their support for the amendment on the floor of the House.

Some bills may be referred to the House of Lords. This process will be managed by the A-Team.

--Special Bills: The Budget

The Budget is a special bill (the Finance Act) presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in October or November IG. The budget will result in a unique timetable for the month it is presented: it will be the only action before Parliament for that month. The Finance Act is also a unique bill in that it is presented in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.

The budget debate is unique. After the budget is presented, the Leader of the Opposition (not the Shadow Chancellor) has 24 hours to respond. After the Leader of the Opposition responds, there are 4 days of debate on the budget. It is expected that all frontbench members will participate in the budget debate. Absences will be noted. Unlike other bills, amendments to the budget are not allowed (for game purposes). Following the debate, the budget will move to an immediate vote. The budget is a vote of confidence. If the budget fails, the Government falls as it will have failed to secure supply.

For the budget debate, we are looking for the Chancellor to outline the current macroeconomic position (claiming credit for the successes and blaming the Opposition for bad figures) and announce key changes in tax, spending, and some economic (ie, minimum wage) policy. The best speeches will tie changes into set of broader narratives (for example, "making work pay" may encompass changes to income tax and national insurance, the minimum wage, and social security spending) and show, not tell (the rate of child poverty decreasing is a number that tells, expanding on how government policies reduced or will reduce child poverty shows if you focus on the human impact). For the Leader of the Opposition, we are looking for you to rebut the macroeconomic position (blaming failures on the government, claiming credit for the successes or saying things could be better - and offering evidence for that) and then show us that the tax, spending, and economic policies announced in the budget will not benefit people. The best opposition response to a budget that Blakesley has seen is attached below (note: it was not given by the Opposition Leader, but exemplifies what "show, don't tell" means).

If the Government wishes to present a budget outside of October or November (ie, a Summer Budget, as George Osborne did in July 2015), they should contact the admins to make arrangements as soon as possible.

Ministerial statements: the process

The process for making a ministerial statement is also straightforward - once a minister has been given time by the Leader of the House they will give their statement, a twenty-four hour clock will start, during which time the designated speaker from the Official Opposition will make remarks responding to the statement. After the Official Opposition speaker gives their response, debate will open for 2 days (at least - this can be extended at admin discretion). At the conclusion of debate, Speaker will thank the member for their statement and the House will move on.

--Special statements: emergency statements

Emergency statements are meant to detail the Government's response to emergency situations. They are not timetabled. Instead, they are given with the express consent of the Speaker. Emergency statements open immediately for debate to all members and will be open for 3 days of debate. At the conclusion of debate, Speaker will thank the member for their statement and the House will move on. In the event that the a minister does not make an emergency scenario to the House in response to a scenario, the Opposition may call the minister before the House for emergency questions - which will occur on the forums or live, depending.

--Special statements: Spring Statement

The Spring Statement, or Pre-Budget Report, is a special statement that the Chancellor can give in April or May of each year. During this statement, the Chancellor will announce the updated economic forecasts and can make changes to spending plans that were previously announced at budget, but cannot change tax rates (those require legislation). Typically changes in spending will be announced as a result of changes in economic figures: more tax revenue for the fiscal year might see the Chancellor spend a little more, a lowering performing economy might see the Chancellor announce reductions in spending. This statement will follow the normal rules for a ministerial statement, except the debate will last four days (1 day for a response by the Opposition, 3 days for a debate). The Shadow Chancellor is expected to lead the Opposition response.

One week prior to the Spring Statement, the Chancellor will be provided with updated growth figures for the fiscal year (based on the budget pack presented in the spring). The Chancellor may also use this statement to present the results of a Spending Review, which sets expected spending levels per department for the coming three fiscal years. It should be noted that, in 2015, there is a keen interest in the Spending Review, as both parties have promised to eliminate the deficit. While the Chancellor is not required to present a Spending Review, it is encouraged and this functionality does exist in the budget pack. The Opposition is not required to present a Shadow Autumn Statement or Shadow Spending Review, unlike Shadow Budgets. As there are no tax changes, the stakes of the Spring Statement are significantly lower than the budget debate.

--Special statements: Strategic Defence Review

The Strategic Defence Review (also known as the Strategic Defence and Security Review or the Integrated Review, depending on its components) is a special statement that the Defence Secretary (or minister responsible for the Ministry of Defence) can give regarding the long term structure of the Armed Forces and major purchasing that is set to occur over the coming years. This will typically take the form of a white paper and it one of the most substantive documents produced by the Ministry of Defence. As such, for a Strategic Defence Review (or a review offering an integrated national security or defence strategy) the debate will last four days by default (1 day for a response by the Opposition, 3 days for a debate). The use of the Strategic Defence Review is meant to be an alternative to announcing military purchases in a piecemeal manner - which is discouraged.

Motions: the process

The process for introducing a motion is also straightforward - generally, any member of Parliament may introduce a motion. This can be done without timetabling. After the motion is introduced, there will be 4 days of debate. At any point during those four days, the Leader of the House can announce that time will be allocated for division - in which case the motion will be voted on. If the motion is open for debate during an Opposition Day, the Shadow Leader of the House may announce that time will be allocated for division. If time is not allocated for division, then the motion will die after 4 days. As a general rule, motions that get voted on will be worth more momentum than motions that are not voted on.

The rules are slightly different for the government. If a government minister is introducing a motion on government time (for a substantive debate on, say, renewing Trident), that must be timetabled (the topic posted 1 day in advance) and will be subject to a 4 day debate (with the first day reserved for the Opposition response).

For a motion that is introduced as an Opposition Day, the Shadow Leader of the House will announce the topic of the motion and lead Opposition spokesperson 1 day in advance and the motion will be subject to a 4 day debate (with the first day reserved for the Government response).

In general, the momentum available for markings of motion debates will follow the following schema: Timetabled Opposition Days = Government Motions > General Motions that are voted upon > General motions that are not voted upon.

--Special motions: The Queen's Speech & Address in Reply

The Queen's Speech consists of two components: the speech itself and the Address in Reply (the actual motion).

The Queen's Speech will be presented each May or June (to be determined between Her Majesty and the Prime Minister). The Queen's Speech is meant to detail the Government's legislative programme for the coming year. As such, it is not a laundry list of every issue under the sun. Governments will not be penalised from excluding items from the Queen's Speech unless it is particularly egregious (eg, if a great deal of flooding occurred recently, you may want to announce something about a plan for flooding) or unbalanced (a speech that is only about public services will raise eyebrows). What do we expect to see in the Queen's Speech? We expect to see at least eight to ten bills outlined for the coming IG year and we expected an equivalent number of ministerial statements or policies to be previewed. While some generic lines are welcome ("we will meet NATOs 2% defence requirement", "we will promote economic growth"), we expect fifteen to twenty lines that can be directly associated with actions the government will take. Failure to achieve the policies laid out in the Queen's Speech may become fodder for the Opposition and for pundits. The overall speech itself does not have to exceed twenty-five lines.

The debate on the Queen's Speech will follow the following schedule. The Speech itself will be read, at which point the Speaker of the House will open the debate on the Address in Reply. After the Speaker opens the debate, the Leader of the Opposition will have 24 hours to respond. After the Leader of the Opposition speaks, the Prime Minister will have 24 hours to respond. After the Prime Minister speaks, the debate will open for 3 days, followed by a vote. Like the budget, the Address in Reply is a confidence vote.

The Leader of the Opposition should view the Queen's Speech as an opportunity to critique the Government's record over the past year, highlight items that the Government responded poorly to, and lay out why the Government's agenda is the wrong agenda for Britain. It should be noted that, in the Queen's Speech, omission means the status quo is being maintained. If the nuclear deterrent is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that means that the nuclear deterrent is being maintained (or being renewed if that policy was previously announced) - criticising the Government for not mentioning it is not likely to be successful. Saying that the government is misguided in focusing on rehabilitating criminals instead of being tough on crime with increased sentences would be a fair attack - however, you are focusing on why their agenda is wrong, not that they excluded something unrelated.

The Prime Minister should view their response as a chance to rebut the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition (the Leader of the Opposition says the last year was bad, this is why he's wrong and it was actually good...) and promote the Government's agenda as a positive agenda for Britain. After the Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister, it is expected that frontbench members from both parties will speak. Their goal is to take the strategies for their respective bosses and relate it to their portfolios (eg, for the Shadow Home Secretary and the Home Secretary: "this is why crime was bad...", "this is why the situation with crime is improving...", etc). Speeches by frontbenchers are a free for all. Speak when you can, where you can. Like the budget debate, participation is expected and absences will be noted.

--Special motions: Motion of No Confidence

A motion of no confidence is a privileged motion that is used to bring down the government of the day. Should a motion of no confidence pass, the government is expected to resign immediately, either triggering an election or resulting in a new government being formed if one can command the majority of the House of Commons. Motions of no confidence, as one might expect, are therefore confidence votes.

The process for triggering a motion of no confidence is unique. Typically, only the Leader of the Opposition will be able to move a motion of no confidence. Motions of no confidence are privileged and therefore not timetabled. However, in tabling one, the Leader of the Opposition will be foregoing their party's next scheduled Opposition Day. The Leader of the Opposition should be careful in tabling a motion of no confidence. Typically, they should only be tabled when the Opposition has an expectation of winning (ie, in a minority government) or after a major event, such as a series of government resignations, a major loss in the House of Commons, or a botched response to a serious event (Theresa May faced a motion of no confidence after losing yet another meaningful vote; Margaret Thatcher faced one during the tumultuous period that led to her resignation). One of these conditions should generally be met, otherwise the press may ridicule your choice to hold this debate.

To trigger a motion of no confidence, the Leader of the Opposition or Shadow Leader of the House must give 1 days notice (24 hours) of their intent to open a debate on a motion of no confidence. After that period has elapsed, the Leader of the Opposition will be free to introduce the motion (and will have no more than 24 hours to do so - miss this window and you're out of luck). After the Leader of the Opposition introduces the motion, the Prime Minister (or a designee, but ideally the Prime Minister) will have 24 hours to respond. After this, debate will open for 4 days. After four days have elapsed, the vote will be called.

--Special motions: Early day motions

Early day motions (EDMs) exist. They do not get debated. Members simply sign them to express agreement with the statement made in the motion. As a general rule, frontbenchers do not sign EDMs. If a frontbencher does sign an EDM, it is not unreasonable to assume that the party of that frontbencher is endorsing that policy. This will be the position of the media and (likely) the opposing party. So be careful out there.
The Best Opposition Budget Response Blakesley Has Ever Seen: Credit to Mack
Mr Deputy Speaker,

Thank you for calling upon me to give remark on this bill placed before Parliament.

Let me summarize my remarks by saying this budget is the continued zombification of British society.

Now, I do not presume to you share my affinity for films featuring the living undead, so let me explain what I mean.

The right hon Chancellor and the right hon Prime Minister rose in this House today to give soundbite to a growing economy. Economy grow! More work! Bigger bottom lines! Low inflation! No deficit! Sounds great, eh? But at what cost has this government achieved these things, Mr Deputy Speaker?

At extraordinary and, in my humble opinion, unjustifiable human cost.

In just the past four months, over 1,000 people needed to rely on the Islington Foodbank that serves my community to avoid living in hunger. That is one thousand people that this government has failed, Mr Deputy Speaker. Poverty and homelessness continue to grow in my constituency, and this government seems to be stripping further away at the very few sources of support they have access to. They continue to drag their feet on the six-week waiting period for first payment on their universal credit system as they seem to demand penance from those who find themselves in poverty. These problems are getting worse, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is not just limited to my constituency.

This government has replaced the moral assumption that we should care for one another in our times of need, that there are basic standards of human decency that we will all assume to replace it with a system whose only measure of success is in how fast it can push them out. Imagine if an NHS hospital was assessing its performance not on the health of its patients but on the number of people its able to throw back out on the streets. Unfortunately, it seems our imagination might not need to be stretched too far if this government continues to have its way. But, I digress.

This government is corroding away at the very social fabric that makes this United Kingdom so united. It is pitting us against each other: use this anonymous number to tattle on your neighbor for not paying their TV license, text this number to say there's a dark-skinned man on the bus who seems a little bit too Muslim to be safe, keep more of your money for yourself in your bank account while that low life sleeps rough tonight. You've got those curtains you finally could buy with that nice tax cut from the Tories!

This government is so desperate to focus on the macroeconomic indicators because they know that as soon as we checked for a genuine heartbeat for the British nation...we're nearing a flatline. And God forbid we need to pay for another AED machine from the public purse!

We are no longer the society we once were. We no longer show the same compassion to each other in the street. Not even in the corridors of Westminster. I see you with your convenient 'text message' that just came in as I walked past you. But, I have to admit, I do it as well! We have simply stopped caring for each other, and this government, in what measure of leading our moral compass as a society that they hold, are driving further in this direction.

This government says I should think about my money. My house. My job. My family. But what about our community, our nation, our parks, our hospitals, our schools, our future?

So let me return to the zombies. By macroeconomic indicators, a zombie is much like a human. They both walk on two legs. They both groan first thing in the morning. They both eat solid foods. But they are not the same if you measure from the heart, Mr Deputy Speaker. This country is not the same country I came to call home as a young girl. This government's consistent resistance to adequately funding social welfare is zombifying this country's moral spirit.

I know that I will not call out a moral awakening overnight from this government. That is not why I am here, and that is not why I sought your eye for the opportunity to speak today, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not offering myself as a spiritual guru for the right hon Prime Minister, even if she were to ask me. I am here to hold her to account, and I stand today to say she and her government are failing to keep this country alive.

They have brains! Great, brilliant ones! Tasty ones, if you ask the zombies. But they also have blinders on, Mr Deputy Speaker. They are so narrowly focused on business performance that they are actively ignoring and now neglecting our very human nature.

I am alarmed that the right hon Chancellor starts his remarks on homelessness by talking about the number of new police officers he will employ to harass them off the streets and into more vulnerable spaces rather than focus on affordable housing. Because 10,000 new homes is nice, but not every person in this country needs a full house: some of us just need a few rooms to call our own and feel safe.

I am alarmed that this government continues to treat public sector staff like fixed assets rather than the greatest resource they hold. I express solidarity with those who have resolved industrial action was their only recourse available.

I am alarmed that the only remarks given by members of this government so far on improvements to the welfare system are that they think it's a fixed cause with a little more money. It's not just about the money, Mr Deputy Speaker, it's about the compassion that has been eroded away from the spirit of public service and the public good.

I will oppose this budget because I do not have confidence that this budget is the necessary intervention of economic resource into jump-starting this nation's moral core once more.
Lt. Col. Sir Barclay A.A. Stanley, Rtd., KBE
Member of Parliament for Macclesfield

Armed with nothing but a pint of gin, Sir Barclay went to battle against the forces of Communism, Socialism, and Liberalism.
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Re: Parliamentary Business and Timetables

Post by Barclay A.A. Stanley »

Parliamentary Timetables

In order to ensure that parliament operates predictably, consistently, and that marking can be undertaken in a more methodological manner, the A-Team has decided to introduce a system of parliamentary timetables which will limit and guide the introduction of parliamentary business.


The Government will be expected to introduce up to 3 pieces of Parliamentary Business per period (corresponding to one IG month). Debate on each will last for the extent of that month, and then will end and go automatically to division. Governments will not be allowed to introduce additional Business on an already-filled timetable except as authorized by the A-Team in order to deal with emergency situations.

This will have the effect of requiring the government to organize and plan ahead all of their initiatives, and put them on a schedule in order to have the greatest positive impact. It will also have the effect of requiring the government to strategize, since they cannot spam out countless statements. Instead of quantity, the focus will shift to quality and, as a result, the expectations will be higher.

Debate on the three actions will be more heavily controlled as well, with the opposition party appointing a first responder. This should, usually, be the frontbench member responsible for the topic in question (e.g.: the Shadow Home Secretary should respond to the Home Secretary’s Ministerial Statement), but that is not strictly necessary and can be overlooked depending on the circumstance. The point, however, is that at least one statement must be given, and the person who is going to give it must be signaled to the Speaker in advance so that he can call on them when the time is right.

The legislative agenda for the IG month is to be given to the Speaker no fewer than 24 hours before the period for which it is introduced. So, for example, if we are entering the IG month of May on Thursday, then the Government must provide the Speaker with, at a minimum, the topics to be addressed and the people responsible for introducing them on Wednesday. This information will then be given by the Clerk to the opposition party so that they can organize their responses. Topics for this purpose need not be incredibly specific so “Immigration Policy” is as acceptable as “Hostile Environment Policy.”

Once the opposition party’s first responder has responded, the floor will be opened for general debate. Parliamentary Business will be debated for the remainder of the month. The Government must introduce all Business in a Period on the first day of that Period to allow adequate time for debate; failure to do so will result in penalties and a ticking off from Mr. Speaker.

The Government is ultimately expected to fill the period’s time table, and will be viewed negatively for failing to do so on a regular basis. The idea here is to promote a consistent and constant stream of parliamentary business as opposed to a series of mad dashes. Planning and scheduling will be key to be successful.

Opposition Days

Once every RL month, the Opposition will have the chance to control a period. In these cases, the rules which apply to government apply to the Opposition including the ability of the government to fill an empty space, should one be left.

Example Timetable:

Period: May 2016

Business 1: Local Government Act of 2016 (introduced by Environment Secretary)
Business 2: Statement on Repainting All Government Buildings Green (introduced by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster)
Business 3: Statement on Immigration Policy (introduced by Home Secretary)

Once received, the opposition simply need to alert the Speaker within the 24 hour period of the Member responsible for responding first:

Bill: Shadow Environment Secretary
Statement 1: Backbench MP 1
Statement 2: Shadow Home Secretary
Lt. Col. Sir Barclay A.A. Stanley, Rtd., KBE
Member of Parliament for Macclesfield

Armed with nothing but a pint of gin, Sir Barclay went to battle against the forces of Communism, Socialism, and Liberalism.
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