New business rule
Standing order 33 provides that no new business may be taken after the normal time of adjournment unless the House otherwise orders. The normal time of adjournment is the latest time specified for the House to adjourn on any sitting day—that is, from September 2016, 8 pm. New business was defined by Speaker Johnson as a proposal relating to a matter not before the House.
The following points are relevant to an understanding of the rule:
as a general rule the only business which the House should proceed with after the normal time of adjournment is the matter which is immediately before the House or business of a formal nature;
the rule has a purpose in protecting the minorities in the House from the introduction, perhaps by surprise late in a sitting, of new business upon which a vote may be taken;
in cases of urgency or necessity the House may determine, prior to the normal time of adjournment, that new business be taken after that time, by suspending the standing order.
The following business, on which the House does not have to make a decision of substance, may be transacted after the normal time of adjournment without infringing the rule:
a message from the Senate agreeing to a bill without amendment or requests may be announced by the Speaker;
a message from the Senate returning a bill with amendments may be reported and an order agreed to consider the amendments at the next sitting;
a message from the Senate forwarding a bill for the concurrence of the House may be announced by the Speaker and the bill read a first time; the second reading must be made an order of the day for the next sitting and no debate on that motion is permitted;
a Minister may provide information, or additional information, in response to a question; and
a statement may be made by the Speaker.
A motion to suspend standing orders moved after the normal time of adjournment in relation to a matter which is before the House—for example, to enable the remaining stages of a bill to be passed without delay—is not regarded as new business.
The House on occasions suspends the new business rule (sometimes together with standing order 31—automatic adjournment) to enable new business to be taken after the normal time of adjournment. In order that the motion to suspend the standing order is not itself classed as new business, the motion must be moved before the normal time of adjournment. Although the standing order has been suspended after the specified time with the concurrence of an absolute majority and the motion has been moved after the specified time by leave of the House, Speaker Mackay stated the correct procedure to be followed:
It would be well, however, that the Government, being in charge of the business of the House, should realise that a motion to suspend the Standing Orders is, in itself, ‘new business’ in a strict reading of the Standing Order.
Earlier practice was that when a cognate debate was before the House at the time the new business rule cut in, bills in respect of which questions had not yet been put from the Chair—that is, the second or subsequent bills of the group—were treated as constituting new business for the purpose of the standing order (even though debate on them may have already occurred) and the new business rule was suspended. More recently, consistent with Speaker Johnson’s view, and bearing in mind that the House has agreed that debate on the second reading of such bills should be taken together, cognate bills have been called on and dealt with without any suspension of standing orders.
In 1931 the Speaker was questioned, during a division on a motion to suspend the new business rule, as to whether the vote would be effective if not completed before the specified time (then 11 pm). The Speaker replied that, as Members had crossed the floor and tellers had been appointed before 11 pm, the vote was to be regarded as having taken place within the specified time.