Carry on Freedom of Speech Bill

A rare and politically risky vote to disapply a Standing Order may give the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill a new lease of life.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

On – or shortly after – 25 April 2022 the government will introduce a motion to the House of Commons to disapply paragraph 13 of Standing Order No. 80A with respect to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

This would disapply the rule that a bill is lost if it has not gained Royal Assent (the last stage in the legislative process) one year after introduction. As the bill was introduced in the Queen’s speech on 11 May 2021 – it would otherwise be lost on 11 May 2022 (the day after the State Opening of Parliament, scheduled for 10 May 2022).

Of course, the bill would usually be lost anyway at the end of a session – so by passing the No. 80A (13) motion, the government would then be free to introduce another motion – a “carry over motion” (these motions could be combined into a single motion).

Carry-over motions most usually happen at Second Reading in the Commons – with respect to bills introduced part way through a session. If it happens after that, the motion to carry over generally requires 90 minutes of debate.

Carry-over facts from history

From a magnificent House of Commons Library briefing we learn that “carry over” is a fairly recent thing – introduced experimentally in 2002 and made permanent in 2004. The ability to disapply Standing Order No. 80A(13) has been used just seven times since then – and never for a bill introduced at State Opening.

The last time this route was used was for the Environment Act 2021, which was carried over and extended for an extra year on 26 January 2021. This was for a bill that had broad cross party support (though members from all parties were keen to amend and improve the legislation) – the bill proceeded to Report on the same day.

What happens next?

The end of a parliamentary session is a busy time – and the week commencing 25 April is likely to be the week of prorogation ahead of the State Opening on 10 May 2022. This period is colloquially known as “wash-up” – and sees a lot of urgent business transacted as the Commons responds to Lords amendments in order to get bills passed before the prorogation ceremony (where these bills are symbolically approved of by the Crown, via the medium – of course – of Norman French).

Couple that with the likely need for action concerning the war in Ukraine and – hopefully – on the cost of living crisis and it seems likely that this will be a very busy week. Taking 105 minutes out of that time (I’m assuming a division on this controversial and poorly designed Bill) feels like a hostage to fortune.

It would be easier, and simpler, to introduce a new – better – Bill that touches on this topic in the next Queen’s Speech, if it were still felt one were needed. The procedural arguments I laid out in February have been shown to be correct – though I underestimated the political will to spend parliamentary time doing stuff like this rather than literally anything else.

Update – a further thought:

If you are wondering whether section 2 of the 1911 Parliament Act would apply – it would not.

That section provides that a bill sent up to the House of Lords one month before the end of the session and rejected cannot be rejected by the Lords in the next session. As the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has not yet reached – much less been rejected by –  the House of Lords with less than a month to go before prorogation it will still receive the kicking from peers it deserves if it gets there in 2022-23.


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