Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)
David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)
With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This has been a wonderful opportunity for a short debate about the dates of private Members’ Bills. We are always happy to have a debate when the House demands one. Equally, we are always happy for there not to be a debate when the House agrees to something without objection. That always strikes me as a sensible use of time in the House, which, as we have already heard in previous debates, is at a premium.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for making clear the value of being given the earliest possible notice of dates when they are available to us. We always try to accommodate the House as best we can by providing early notice, and that goes for the printed calendar as well. That too is provisional, but it helps Members to identify how the timetable fits in with their personal and political arrangements. They can then notify us if there are difficulties, although on this occasion no one has mentioned any problems with the dates that have been allocated.
This is provisional in the sense that any decision by the House can be rescinded by the House. Not so long ago, the House was invited to rescind a motion that it had passed only two days earlier. I cannot say whether at any time in the next year the House may wish to rescind the dates that it has chosen for private Members’ Bills, but I hope that it will not do so, because it makes sense for us to be able to plan.
We are also in the hands of the Select Committees, including the Procedure Committee, which examines the proposals for private Members’ Bills. I have no idea what the Committee will say, and it would be improper if I did. If it produces recommendations and they are put to the House, the Government will of course respond, and the House will determine whether there is to be a change. Again, that would not be a matter for me, as a Minister, to determine.
As for the question of whether adequate time is provided by the procedures governing private Members’ Bills, we are bound by a Standing Order of the House, but within what that Standing Order sets out, we try to provide the days that seem to us to be most suitable. The Fridays in September have been included because it has been suggested that it would be helpful for Back Benchers to be able to make progress with their legislation then, but if the House were to recommend otherwise, we would obviously pay attention to that view.
The arrangements for money resolutions and the like are normally determined on a Bill-by-Bill basis with both the Member responsible for the Bill and the Minister who would have an interest in it. There is not a Government
position on that. That often involves complex negotiation, because we all want good private Members’ legislation that the House can support where appropriate, while also ensuring proper scrutiny. That is our intention, and the intention of the House.