I beg to move,
That Private Members’ Bills shall have precedence over Government business on
The purpose of this motion is to provide 13 days for private Members’ business, in line with what is required under
This House must balance the needs of Members to proceed with private Members’ business with Members’ other priorities. Members value time spent in their constituencies on Fridays, and scheduling additional sitting Fridays for private Members’ Bills in 2019, with no regard to what pressures might exist at that time, could cause avoidable inconvenience. This motion is a proportionate way to deal with this being a longer Session, and I encourage the House to support it.
I beg to move amendment (a), after ‘That’, insert
‘, subject to the House agreeing before Thursday
I thank the Leader of the House for moving her motion. I should like to speak to the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I will not go over some of the arguments that I have made previously, but clearly, to our constituents private Members’ Bills are a very important part of parliamentary business. Given what has been said previously, we do not have any confidence that the Government are actually going to provide us with the extra dates that the Leader of the House mentioned. That is why we tabled our amendment to provide for an extra 13 sitting Fridays.
I am sorry to cut the hon. Lady off so early in her speech, but if she wants 13 extra days will she clarify whether she is also campaigning for another ballot to be held in a year’s time? If private Members’ Bills from the existing ballot were given 26 days, that would double their chances of success compared with an ordinary Session. That strikes me as unfair. Her proposal would work only if there was another ballot in a year’s time.
I really would like that ballot, and at the top of the list would be a request that the hon. Gentleman did not disrupt private Members’ Bills.
Private Members’ Bills are an important means for Back Benchers to bring issues before Parliament. Many outside organisations and charities also wish such Bills to be debated. I am deeply concerned that it has been very difficult for members of the public to submit petitions, partly because Select Committees, especially the Petitions Committee, have not yet been organised. As I have said previously, we have already picked our Select Committee members, but the Leader of the House has said that the Committees will not be sitting or even organised until September.
That is why it is important, for the confidence of Parliament and for democracy, in the interests of all our constituents, that time be allocated to private Members’ Bills in line with
I had not intended to speak in this debate, but given that Valerie Vaz failed to answer my very simple question, it seems that we need to explore this subject a bit more deeply. Her amendment merely asks for another 13 sitting Fridays, while that tabled by Chris Bryant goes a bit further and names an additional 13 Fridays. Neither of them, however, addresses the issue of whether they want an extra ballot in a year’s time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comment, but the problem with ten-minute rule Bills is that they go to the back of the queue. The Bills that get precedence are those that come out of the ballot—they are the ones that get the best slice.
Of course, I understand why the hon. Member for Rhondda has tabled his amendment. Obviously, if I were in his shoes I would make the same argument: he wants 26 days rather than 13 because his Bill is top of the list and that would enhance his chances of getting it through. He is arguing out of natural self-interest and I do not blame him for doing so. If I had come top of the ballot—
It is an ugly rumour but it also happens to be true: I do support the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill. It seems to me, therefore, that he does not need 26 days to get it through. This, however, might be his tactic in reserve, in case things do not go so well on the first day and he needs more days. I hope he will declare his interest when he moves his amendment.
The hon. Member for Walsall South has not given an explanation for her amendment. The House’s Standing Orders are clear that there shall be 13 days for private Members’ Bills in a Session—not a minimum or a maximum of 13 days, but 13 days. That is it. That is what is in the Standing Orders. If people want to meddle with those Standing Orders, they have to meddle with the whole thing. It is not acceptable to say, “We will have one ballot in this Session of Parliament, and we will have 26 days for that ballot.” That does not wash.
The hon. Members for Walsall South and for Rhondda could have come along with an amendment to the effect that over this two-year period we need to have a second ballot in a year’s time, with 13 extra days for that ballot. That would be a perfectly respectable position to hold, and I would have a bit more sympathy with that argument, although I am not saying that I would support it. The argument that they are making—that we should have 26 days for one private Members’ Bill ballot—is completely and utterly unreasonable.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the Standing Orders, but the Leader of the House just announced that the Government may come forward with additional sitting days for private Members’ Bills throughout the Session. Would he oppose those, and for what purpose would he suggest they should be used?
I think the Standing Orders are perfectly adequate. There should be 13 days for private Members’ Bills in a Session; that seems to me a perfectly reasonable number. I do not really see any justification for saying, in effect, that those who enter this ballot of private Members’ Bills in this Session deserve a better chance of getting their Bills through than they would have done in any previous Session of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. If I recall correctly, there was a motion in the 2010-12 Parliament to extend the number of private Members’ Bill days on the basis of the Session being extra long. I cannot recall him calling for an extra ballot when that motion was passed.
Just because something happened in the past, it does not mean that it was a good thing. The example that the hon. Lady has given falls into that category. If she looks at my voting record, she will notice that an awful lot of things that happened during the coalition years were not particularly to my taste. I used to vote accordingly, as the record will confirm. Praying in aid something that happened during the coalition years is not necessarily the best way to win my support.
My point is that this is a matter of fairness. Everybody enters a ballot in each Session of Parliament knowing that there will be 13 days in that Session when private Members’ Bills can proceed. We are being asked today to agree that in this particular ballot from this particular Session, MPs will have a better chance of getting their private Members’ Bill through than they would have done in any previous Session.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but surely if this was a normal, year-long Session, the chances of getting a private Member’s Bill through would be less even than with the 13 days. I have some sympathy with him about the idea of having another ballot, but does he really think it is fair that the number of days should be limited when the Session has been increased to more than a year?
As I have said, I think there is an argument for saying that there should be 13 days for this ballot, and that in a year’s time we should hold another ballot for which there would be another 13 days. That would give people 26 days within the Session. That would be a perfectly reasonable thing to request, and I would have a great deal of sympathy with that. But nobody in the Opposition appears to be making that case. Why can we not have another ballot in a year’s time if we are going to have double the number of days? The hon. Member for Walsall South has not been able to answer that question. No doubt the hon. Member for Rhondda will have a crack at answering it, but I do not think that there is much of an answer.
The hon. Lady seemed to be making the point that we should be trying to replicate what would normally happen over the course of two years. What would normally happen over the course of two years is that we would have two ballots, so why has the hon. Lady not included in her amendment the extra ballot that would normally have occurred during that time? She seems to be cherry-picking the bits that she wants.
I say to the Deputy Leader of the House that he should beware such requests for supposed fairness, when they would actually introduce a very unfair system in this Session of Parliament. He should stick to his guns and say that for each private Member’s Bill ballot, there should be 13 days. That is plenty of opportunity for people to try to get their legislation through. If people want another 13 days, there must be another ballot—something that nobody, as yet, seems to have called for.
I wish I could say it was a pleasure to follow Philip Davies. I am very fond of him, as he knows. He is a regular visitor at Perth races and we enjoy that. I say to him, in all candour, that he is everything that is wrong with the private Members’ Bill system as it is currently constituted. His filibustering—his attempt to destroy honest attempts by Members of Parliament to bring legislation forward—is the thing that our constituents hate most about sitting Fridays. I wish at some point that he would just stop.
What the hon. Gentleman ought to reflect on is that the first Bill that appears on a Friday needs just 100 people to turn up to support it. He is guilty, like many other hon. Members, of complaining that a Bill did not get passed when he could not be bothered to turn up and support it. If he bothered to turn up, some of the Bills he claims are so important would get through. Perhaps he should tell that to his constituents.
Yes, of course it is a matter of 100 Members turning up, but we have had 100 Members here and private Members’ Bills have been thwarted not by the hon. Gentleman, to be fair to him, but by the Government. There is something wrong and rotten in the way we deal with private Members’ Bills in this House. We waste our time coming down from Scotland to participate in these debates, only for him to drone on, sometimes for two hours, to ensure that they do not proceed.
The Procedure Committee has produced dozens of reports over the years—at least two in the last couple of years—outlining sensible reforms to the private Members’ Bill system, many of which reflect the eminently sensible system in the Scottish Parliament, where a Bill that has cross-party support can continue to make progress. Should not that system be adopted here?
My hon. Friend is utterly right. The Procedure Committee has looked at the issue on several occasions—four that I can remember—and each time has made strong and sensible proposals, suggestions and recommendations on how we should address it.
The time is right, given that we have the two-year Session. Let us vow to resolve the outstanding issues in our private Members’ Bill system and ensure that we get something that is fit for purpose, something that ensures we have the respect of our constituents and something that enables us to work across the parties. I would love to work with the hon. Member for Shipley on horse-racing issues or on another interest that he and I share, but we cannot do that because he would probably filibuster a Bill so that I could not get it through. I am most surprised that he is a sponsor of the Bill introduced by Chris Bryant. Perhaps that suggests a change in attitude and approach—a mellowing over the years. He might actually be constructively engaged in some of these issues. [Interruption.] I hear, “Don’t hold your breath,” from one of his colleagues and I will not do so.
I am actually a great fan of the speeches by the hon. Member for Shipley. He has a unique talent for filibustering. I just wish he would not do it on private Members’ Bill days, when we are trying to get things through the House. He seems to be able to speak for hours and hours on these things. It is something that new Members of the House might have to look at to see how to do it.
We will support the amendments put forward by the hon. Member for Rhondda and the Labour Front Bench. We fundamentally and profoundly agree that we must have a routine for private Members’ Bills that respects the fact that this is a two-year Session of Parliament. To have 13 days for private Members’ Bills is clearly insufficient. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Shipley that the Rolls-Royce solution is to have another ballot next year. That is something that the Government will not do, so what should we do in the face of the Government’s refusal to do that? Surely the sensible approach is to ensure sufficient time for the private Members’ Bills that we already have, which would possibly allow more to progress through this House than we would normally expect.
How about the hon. Lady and I campaign to ensure that we get that in place? If she agrees with me—some of her hon. Friends look like they might also agree with her—let us do it, because that is surely the solution we need. Now, we will not get that—the Government have made it clear that it will not happen—so what we need is an arrangement for the existing private Members’ Bills that properly reflects the two-year Session.
We have a long affection for private Members’ Bills on these Benches. We had the first SNP private Member’s Bill last year, when Eilidh Whiteford, the former Member for Banff and Buchan, got her private Member’s Bill on the Istanbul convention through the House—it was probably opposed by some Conservative Members. Last year we had four private Members’ Bills in the top 10 —there were some fantastic ones proposed—but we were really pleased for our former colleague Eilidh Whiteford and proud that she managed to get hers through the House last year. We also have two this time round, and I look forward to the fantastic private Members’ Bills to be proposed by my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil and by my hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald—they are no longer in their places. I look forward to hearing them support their Bills in the House.
We need certainty about private Members’ Bills, because while it is quite easy for some colleagues on the other side of the Chamber to get back and forth to the House of Commons on Fridays, it is not so easy for Members from Scotland. Getting down to the House of Commons to take part in these debates involves getting on a plane which takes probably in the region of four to seven hours. We therefore need certainty about when sitting Fridays will be, and we are grateful to the Leader of the House, who has listed the seven sittings we will secure over the next year.
I declare an interest as the person who came fifth in the private Members’ Bill ballot—the highest on this side of the House. By the hon. Gentleman’s logic, he is arguing for more sitting Fridays, when it would be even harder for people from Scotland to come down here, and nowhere in his argument does he acknowledge the fact that the most important stage of a Bill’s progress is Committee, which can go on for weeks and weeks and is not subject to any of the criticisms of what may happen on a Friday. Surely that is an important part of a Bill’s progress, yet he is making no proposals about that, and it is not being curtailed.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he makes a very good point about the Committee stage of private Members’ Bills—there is one that I particularly support and I hope to be a member of the Committee. What I am asking for is not to abandon these sitting days, but to have certainty about when they will be available. We are grateful that the first ones have been listed, but if we are to have further days for consideration of private Members’ Bills, as the Leader of the House seemed to suggest, surely it is only right, proper and appropriate that they are listed now, so that we get that certainty. We have to make a massive effort—maybe not the effort that the hon. Gentleman has to make—to get to this House readily and easily. It is not easy to get down here and back from Perthshire on a Friday. This is about ensuring certainty about the dates. The Leader of the House suggested that there might be further days; all we are asking is that we get them in place.
I will end by saying a little about private Members’ Bills and their importance to the House. Our constituents like private Members’ Bills. I can tell new Members that they will probably be lobbied on private Members’ Bills more than on any other pieces of legislation in their time as Members of Parliament. People like that private Members’ Bills are usually cross-party and consensual, and they like the way that private Members’ Bills are usually on issues that they feel are important to them, so let us make sure that we respect our constituents’ wishes. Given the vacuity of the Government’s legislative programme, it also has to be said that private Members’ Bills will probably be the most interesting and exciting Bills that we will consider in this Session, so let us make sure that we get the necessary time to consider them properly.
I will end with one plea. Of course we will support the amendments, but let us get the whole issue of private Members’ Bills properly resolved, so that we do not have my friend the hon. Member for Shipley continuing to talk them out.
I am grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a new Member, I hope you will excuse me for not being entirely au fait with all the rules and procedures of this place. When it comes to the big principles, however, I can say that I was elected by the people of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport to create action, and to shine a light on some of the historic procedures that we have in this place.
The motion strikes me as incredibly sound and reasonable. It proposes that in a normal parliamentary Session, which is generally a year, a set number of days should be allotted to private Members’ Bills, as should happen in the case of Opposition day debates.
If the procedures are to be changed in such a way that a year becomes two years—the Session becomes larger and the aeon, or era, goes on for longer—we should reflect that in the way we operate in this place.
I am frustrated because I did not come into Parliament to talk about procedure, and part of me really dislikes my standing up and speaking in this way. I was elected to come here and deliver action. If the Government are not able to implement their manifesto because of the arithmetic of this place and the unpopularity of some of their policies—both on their own Benches and among the public—Back Benchers on both sides of the House should be able to introduce legislation that will make a difference, be it small in some cases or large in others. It is the promise of Westminster to all Back Benchers that they will be able to change the law of the land to help their constituents, and that is what I think we should be discussing here today.
Having watched the proceedings of the House on television, I am now part of those proceedings as a new Member. The idea of filibustering on Bills is something that the majority of our electorate find abhorrent. They want to see politicians achieve change by having debates. The possibility that we will not have opportunities to introduce legislation is something that I imagine people in Plymouth and elsewhere will find a little curious.
I do not want to play procedural games, if only because I am surrounded by people who are, I fear, much better at it than I am. Let me simply say that if we are to have a Session that lasts for two year, not one, it seems logical and fair to me—both as a new Member and as someone who is trying my best to represent the people who elected me—for the number of private Members’ Bills to be scaled according to the length of the Session.
Is it not also an issue that our constituents who are watching all this expect us to come here for a certain number of days? The fact that Her Majesty’s Opposition are absolutely totally useless, and would really rather we were not here at all—[Hon. Members: “Her Majesty’s Opposition?”] I am happy to replace the word “useless” with a number of other adjectives. But is it not also true that our constituents expect us to be here for 13 sitting Fridays, when we can discuss private Members’ Bills?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. As someone who fought the 2010 and 2015 general elections, I spent seven years trying to get to this place, and I do not mind spending a few more on sitting Fridays, helping legislation along the way.
What worries me about this debate is that, to the average folk in Plymouth, it looks as though we are playing procedural games. We are not spending the time debating food banks or the crisis in our national health service. We are not looking into why the M5 stops at Exeter and does not extend to the Tamar bridge and Plymouth. We are not discussing the issues that arise on the doorstep. We are discussing procedural games because the Government have chosen to play those procedural games, cancelling the Queen’s Speech and elongating this Session without correspondingly carrying over measures in a fair way. That tactic strikes me as a 1970s throwback and something that should have been consigned to the past. We should be striving for a 21st-century Parliament with 21st-century procedures and policies, which would enable Back Benchers to introduce legislation if they so chose.
Has the hon. Gentleman told the Opposition Chief Whip that tonight will mark the end of procedural games in Parliament? According to my experience of being on the Opposition Benches, procedural games are one of the few things that Oppositions have at their disposal to try to cause trouble for the Government. Has the hon. Gentleman clarified with the Chief Whip that the Labour party is tonight ruling out the use of procedural games during the current Parliament?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention—I think that is the polite response I am supposed to give. I want to talk about food banks and the issues that really matter. I appreciate that he has strong views on the matter, but so do I. My view is that the opportunity that Back-Bench Members have to bring forward legislation in a two-year Session should be proportionate to that which they have in a single-year Session.
My name was not drawn in the private Members’ Bills ballot, but if it had been I would bring forward legislation to extend the voting franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, which I think would be a perfect antidote to what is happening in this debate. Instead of locking ourselves in the past with procedures that do not reflect the everyday, common decency of the pub that would say, “If you have a one-year Session, you have this number of days for private Members’ Bills; if you extend the Session by this much, you extend the numbers of days by this much,” we could talk about how to get young people involved in politics, which would hopefully shine a light on the workings of this House and make them better and fairer.
When I go back to Plymouth for the recess, I want to be able to hold my head up high and say that I was defending my constituents’ rights and responsibilities in this place. As a lowly Back Bencher, I want to be able to support other Back Benchers bringing forward legislation that could make a difference. The Government seem to be caught like a rabbit in the headlights of their party’s right wing, unable to bring forward the manifesto that they were elected on, unable to propose the solutions that we really need, and unable to stand up to scrutiny on various issues. Let us bring forward those debates on WASPI and the public sector pay cap, and the private Members’ Bills that would allow each and every one of us to adjust something along the way. For a baker’s dozen of extra private Members’ Bills, I hope that the House will support the amendment.
The Opposition’s view on the motion is not about causing trouble; it is about maintaining an important democratic principle of this House, which is that in a two-year Session that has already been declared it is perfectly legitimate and fair that the Government should allocate a proportionate number of days for private Members’ Bills. They could do that tonight if they wanted to. That is why we support the amendments on the Order Paper.
I want to refer briefly to some of the successful private Members’ Bills that reached the statute book in 2016-17, to illustrate the importance of that route and of sitting Fridays. The Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Act 2017, introduced by John Glen, is really important legislation that omits from the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 the sections that make homosexual acts grounds for dismissal from the crew of merchant ships. It makes society fairer and eliminates very serious discrimination from the statute book.
The need for that legislation came to light when we were passing the Armed Forces Act, when we were able to remove that provision in relation to the armed forces but not in relation to the merchant navy. That came forward as a private Member’s Bill, rather than the Government using their time to do it.
My hon. Friend strengthens and enhances my point. We need the route offered to us by private Members’ Bills to correct failures by Government to deal with such important issues.
The Scottish National party Front-Bench spokesperson, Pete Wishart, has already referred to the very important measure introduced by the previous Member for Banff and Buchan, Eilidh Whiteford, the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017, which relates to ratification of the Istanbul convention. The House overwhelmingly agreed to that on a sitting Friday through the private Member’s Bill route, yet even now the Government have not acted upon the instructions of the House. Rather than denying the democratic rights of Members of this House, the Government would do better to spend their time ensuring that the democratic will of the House is observed in letter and in spirit.
Finally, I want to refer to two measures predating 2016-17. My Bill did not immediately make it on to the statute book but became law when the dangerous dogs legislation made it possible to prosecute people for dog attacks that occurred on private property. It took about five years to get it on to the statute book, but we got there in the end. The private Member’s Bill route—the Friday sittings—made that possible.
The co-operation of both Front Benches in the closing months of the 2010-15 Government made possible the Control of Horses Act 2015, introduced by Julian Sturdy. Why can we not have that co-operation now? If the Government believe in consensus, they should act on it and give us the time on Fridays.
I will be brief. Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Philip Davies. We are perpetuating the myth that we as individual Back Benchers are legislators; other than in very rare cases, we are not. The reality is that if any Bill does not attract the veto of the hon. Gentleman or of anyone who cares to join him and does not have Government approval, it will most probably be procedurally talked out by a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box and making sure it does not pass. Unless and until we as a House decide we want to make this system work, it is a sham, and we are fooling the public into believing that Bills will be passed that never stand a snowball’s chance in hell of doing so.
I started the day, as perhaps did some others, by listening to an excerpt of “Night of the Living Dead” to commemorate the passing of George Romero, the creator of the modern-day zombie, and now, twice in one evening, we are discussing the zombie Government that those on Treasury Bench have become. While they have lost their majority, and some would say their authority, they do have control of the parliamentary timetable and are turning the screws on that. We have heard about the disappearing Opposition days, and now we turn to the topic of private Members’ Bills.
I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said, but it was vague in the extreme. We are still no clearer on whether we will have the commensurate increase in the number of Opposition days that this unusually long two-year Parliament demands; it should be 26 days, not 13, and nothing less.
Let us think about some of the contents of the ill-fated Conservative manifesto that did not make it into the Queen’s Speech, such as the dementia tax. I remember the Prime Minister was in my constituency when she came a bit unstuck; all the TV pictures were of one of my constituents arguing on the doorstep with her about the detail of that. The 25-year environment plan does not seem to have made it into the Queen’s Speech either, and nor do grammar schools or foxhunting; all these bits of the manifesto are on the scrapheap. The First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office said the other day that the Conservatives do not have a “monopoly on wisdom” and the Prime Minister was inviting suggestions; if they are bereft of ideas, private Members’ Bills on a Friday are a good way of plugging that gap.
It has been said before that our constituents send us to this place because they want us to debate issues and vote on legislation. In the last Parliament, I cut my teeth in Opposition days and private Members’ Bill debates on Fridays. The first topics I spoke on were our Wednesday debates on the NHS. I was never lucky enough to have my blue-sky thinking translated into anything that would get on to the statute book, but I did attend Friday debates on private Members’ Bills promoted by hon. Friends: the Off-patent Drugs Bill of my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill of my hon. Friend Ms Buck, and the Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill of my hon. Friend Julie Cooper. None of them saw the light of day as they were filibustered out of existence by certain Members; I will not name names—although they are on the Government Benches. [Interruption.] Yes, the Bills that did make it were the ones that had the Government’s fingerprints all over them—the handout Bills. I remember being involved in a complex radio services Bill in which someone was going on ad infinitum about their favourite radio stations and pop groups. To the public outside, this looks like a denial of democracy; it looks really bad.
When private Members’ Bills are given the time they need and properly debated, they represent Parliament at its best. People remember September 2015 when we debated the Assisted Dying Bill. A lot of Members came in on that Friday. The numbers for the vote were 118 and 330, so it is possible to get Members here on a Friday if things are given time. Okay, the Bill did not change the law, but the debates on both sides had a good airing.
Pete Wishart, speaking for the Scottish National party, mentioned the vote on the Istanbul convention, which also took place on a Friday, as did a vote this February on vital legislation on violence against women and girls. The zombie Parliament is carrying on, however.
We can construct a long list of things that have changed the way in which modern society operates, the origins of which were in private Members’ Bills. Examples included the decriminalisation in 1967 of homosexual acts between two consenting adults over the age of 21, the ending of the death penalty and the legalisation of abortion. All those changes came from private Members’ Bills. Hunting with dogs has cropped up a number of times; it was under a Labour Government that foxhunting was outlawed. The plans for a free vote on that under this Government seem to have bitten the dust as well.
Members have said that the Procedure Committee has recommended reforms to private Members’ Bill procedures. However, the Government do not appear to be entertaining the idea of reversing the filibuster farce and the curtailing of debate. They have dismissed those concerns out of hand. During this Parliament, we have seen how my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) have secured the revenge of the Back Benchers. That is what happens in a zombie Parliament, and it should be encouraged by allowing the commensurate amount of debate on private Members’ Bills for a two-year Parliament. We need 26 days, and nothing less.
This is part of a pattern. No Select Committees are to be constituted before the autumn. We saw the withdrawal of Short money in the last Parliament, and the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto had a lot of really illiberal constitutional stuff in it. For example, they were soldiering on with their boundary reviews for 2015 registrants for an election that will not happen until 2022—or will it? Do they know something that we do not? This has gone beyond an issue solely for constitutional anoraks. An e-petition on the reform of private Members’ Bill procedures last year got 50,697 signatures. I urge everyone to support the amendment calling for a pro rata allocation of the time to debate such Bills. We need 26 days, and nothing less. Do not let the zombies win, because democracy will be the loser.
I want to speak to my amendment, but first I want to respond immediately to Philip Davies, who said that I should declare my interest. I would argue that of all Members in the House, I probably have the least interest in extending the number of days this year, because I came top of the ballot. It is those Members who came further down the ballot—at No. 5, No. 10, No. 15 and No. 20, for example—who perhaps have a greater interest in this. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman and all other hon. Members will unite on
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the Standing Orders provide for 13 private Members’ Bill days in a Session, but that is not true when we have a short Session, is it? We just curtail in those circumstances; we do not say that we have to have another six private Members’ Bill days before the end of the Session. The truth is that this is a bit of a conundrum, but it is the Government who have the power to decide the length of the Session. That is why it is only fair play for the Government, when they decide that a Session is to last for two years, to provide two years’ worth of private Members’ Bill days.
The hon. Gentleman says that there should be a second ballot. That might be a great idea, but only the Government can table an amendment to that effect—
No, no. If we had tabled such an amendment to today’s business, it would not have been selectable. There is no way that we could have tabled it today. The only thing that is open to us is to table the extra 13 days.
To be absolutely clear, my amendment would add another 13 days and therefore give many hon. and right hon. Members a further opportunity to get legislation on the statute book. Why does that matter? The first thing that we get asked by every sixth-former is, “If you had a chance to change the law, what is the one thing that you would do?” We are all used to answering that question, and we sometimes get that chance. I just think that more of us should have that opportunity. In this two-year Parliament, we could have ten-minute rule Bills or presentation Bills or Bills from people in the private Members’ Bills ballot.
I am not going to give way, because I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman just say yes on
If the Government wanted, they could make a Session last five years. Would there be only 13 days for private Members’ Bills then? In theory, yes, but according to the laws of moral justice in this House, I would say not. Why do I not trust the Government on this? The Leader of the House has said a couple of times on Thursday mornings that she is minded to look at adding extra days, but she then tabled a motion that allows for 13 days through to
When Richard Crossman introduced the Standing Order that we are dealing with today, he allowed for 22 private Member’s Bill days a year, saying:
“This reflects the increasing importance which Private Members’
Bills have assumed in the last year or two;
and I am pleased to see from the reports so far published about the subjects likely to be selected by Members successful in this year’s Ballot that hon. Members are still prepared to come forward with bold proposals for the solution of social problems of the day.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 754, c. 259.]
That was in 1967, when they had just passed, as my hon. Friend Dr Huq was right to say, a Bill that partially decriminalised homosexuality. It did not go the whole way, and it took a considerable period for that to happen. It was not until a Labour Government had to push it through the House of Lords using the Parliament Act that we ended up with an even and equal age of consent. However, it started as a private Member’s Bill and then became a Government Bill. As my hon. Friend also said, the end of the death penalty came through because Members battled month after month, and votes for women happened because people tabled private Members’ Bills year after year and made Parliament make up its mind. In the end, it was a Government Bill that allowed women the vote in 1918—100 years ago next year.
Tomorrow will be the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. Every single one of us would like to have done something as historic as that, and if we hung up our boots or the voters chucked us out at the next general election, that is absolutely fine. All we are trying to do today is say, “You know what? We could make private Members’ legislation better. We could make good Bills that don’t just depend on Ministers.” The Government Members I know are real parliamentarians and would desperately love to do something as significant as the things that we are talking about tonight, which is why I beg, urge and implore them to vote for my amendment tonight. They will know that they will have done a good thing.
In the previous debate, my hon. Friend Chris Bryant talked about the power of the Executive not only over controlling the agenda, but over ensuring that laws that are in manifestos get through. However, we are in a unique position in this two-year Session of Parliament. As my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Rhondda said, the important thing is that private Members’ Bill are sometimes big pieces of legislation that are too hot to handle—too hot for the Government to put through.
Many private Members’ Bills have gone through this House that make a real difference to people’s lives. I introduced the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, which means that large shops cannot open on Christmas day —the Act was good for shop workers who were forced to work on Christmas day. In the same Session, Jim Sheridan,
I am a bit concerned that the Leader of the House says she is minded to announce additional days. How many additional days would she like to propose, and what are the criteria for introducing them? The current logic is that 13 days will be spread over a two-year Session. Philip Davies made the argument, with which I have some sympathy, that it is in the Government’s hands to move an amendment if they wish to have another ballot for private Members’ Bills in the second year.
As my hon. Friend Angela Smith said, in the 2015-16 Session, 20% of successful private Members’ Bills did not come through the ballot but came through the ten-minute rule procedure and other routes. The hon. Member for Shipley is arguing that, somehow, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda and others who have been successful in the ballot will have an unfair advantage, but I am not sure that will be the case. Other hon. Members will have a chance to get their private Members’ Bills on the statute book.
The hon. Member for Shipley thinks of himself as a great filibusterer on a Friday, but he pales into insignificance compared with the former right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the great Eric Forth, with whom I successfully did a deal to pass my private Member’s Bill because he wanted to stop a Bill lower down the Order Paper.
Pete Wishart mentioned the proposal to move debates on private Members’ Bills to Tuesday and Wednesday nights, thereby getting round the travel difficulties of Scottish National party Members on Fridays. Are private Members’ Bills an area ripe for reform? Yes, they are. We must not only show our constituents that we are listening to them but must enact Bills that are relevant to them. Private Members’ legislation is important.
I am not sure whether the Government have limited Friday sittings by mistake, or because they want to keep the decks clear or to ensure that nothing controversial is introduced in the next two years, as some Government Back Benchers might vote against the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda made the fundamental point that there are few opportunities in this place to change legislation, but we can do it in Bill Committees.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge mentioned the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the merchant navy, which was originally raised during the passage of the Armed Forces Act 2016. We managed to get the discriminatory legislation on the merchant navy changed through a private Member’s Bill with the Government’s agreement. Again, the issue had been overlooked for many years, and it was only because of our scrutiny in this House that we could get rid of that discriminatory legislation on the military and the merchant navy. So I would support the amendments. It is nonsense to suggest that by giving these additional days the world is going to stop—it is not. It is going to allow Back Benchers, either through the ballot or through private Members’ business, to ensure that their voices are heard and that they can make a real difference in trying to get some of those Bills past even the hon. Member for Shipley.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 285, Noes 315.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: (b), leave out from ‘That’ to end and insert:
‘, notwithstanding the provisions of
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 287, Noes 316.