Normal procedures mean that, after Second Reading, there is virtually no opportunity in practice for our legislators to return to the principles of government legislation, even where its justification may have become altered or even removed by external events in the real world. Parliament's legislative procedures appear to be driven by the macho desire of government business managers to get their business through whatever. It is relatively rare for a major Bill to be withdrawn. More likely, if changes are to be made, amendments will be introduced at some late stage or in the Lords and driven through en bloc, without any substantial opportunity for a debate in principle. Committee stages (even those taken in the Chamber), Report stages and consideration of Lords' Amendments operate under restrictive rules of procedure, which seldom permit or encourage wide-ranging debate on a Bill as a whole.
Even Third Readings, which are supposed to be a final opportunity for a general debate, tend to be tacked on to the end of Report stage, and to last for little more than an hour or so, often less. How often do potential rebels warn that they will vote against a Bill at Third Reading, if amendments they desire are not made by then, and how rarely do such threatened revolts materialise]
Is it too optimistic to hope that the Maastricht debate may be the prototype for a more formal 'further consideration in principle' stage in Parliament's legislative process?
BARRY K. WINETROBE
Department of Public Law
27 OctoberReuse content