Management of priorities when providing services
OPC is required to give priority to Finance Bills and similar “Budget” Bills and to Bills that have been the subject of successful bids for inclusion in the Government’s legislative programme of Bills and draft Bills. The following priorities also apply in practice—
- Bills already in the House are likely to take the highest priority, because they are usually on timetables that are more inflexible.
- Bills for presentation and hand-out Bills are given priority over draft Bills.
- Bills and draft Bills are given priority over SIs.
Further decisions about priorities are made by 1st PC, who is accountable for the decisions to the Government’s business managers and PB Committee. In the usual case (where PB Committee authority is required for work on a Bill), OPC will keep PB Secretariat informed about services provided before authority is granted.
PB Committee expects 1st PC to ensure that the highest priority amongst Bills that have been granted a place in the legislative programme is given to the Bills for which the department have prepared a full and realistic delivery plan. Full drafting on a Bill should not begin until there is one.
It is important to note that the workload of OPC is significantly influenced by four factors.
- The Government business managers invariably insist that the vast majority of Bills in the legislative programme must be ready for introduction in time for second readings in the first House before Christmas. In a normal year (viz when the Session starts in November) the first week of the Session will be the target date for almost all Bills until comparatively late in the day.
- Draft Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny normally have a publication target date before the Easter recess. This allows time for scrutiny to take place before the Summer recess and for modifications of the Bill as a result of consultation to be made in time for a November introduction of the Bill in one or other House.
- Finance Bill drafting is subject to a very similar timetable but with the deadlines for drafts and for provisions for introduction reversed. Draft Finance Bill provisions are prepared in time for the Pre Budget Report (“PBR”) in the Autumn. The provisions for the annual Finance Bill are prepared in time for the Budget Statement in the Spring.
- OPC is kept very busy throughout the Parliamentary Session by work on the handling and amendment of Bills in Parliament. There is likely to be intense pressure in advance of each amendable stage; and the stages of “ping-pong” between the Houses - as the Bill approaches Royal Assent - are often very time-consuming. Where the final stages of a Bill are left until the “spill-over” - ie until the part of a Session after the Summer recess - work on that can seriously interfere with the preparation of other Bills for the new Session.
A consequence of these factors is that Counsel in OPC often take much of their annual leave in Parliamentary recesses, and during the summer recess in particular. This means that planning should usually allow for Counsel to be unavailable for a period during August and September. An OPC team working on a Bill will understand the need to give the departmental team as much notice as possible of their leave plans.
The other factor that must always be kept in mind is that drafting takes time and invariably involves several “rounds” of drafting: with, in each round—
- the OPC team providing a draft in response to instructions — possibly after some discussion with the department about the instructions,
- the department then taking time to consider the draft and, if necessary, to consult stakeholders;
- the department responding with comments which, whatever form they take, expressly or implicitly amount to further instructions for additions or other changes; and
- the OPC team then needing more time to consider and possibly discuss the further instructions and to respond with a new draft that starts another round.