It is good of the Leader of the House to arrange a debate lasting nearly, but not quite, one and a half hours on private Members’ Bills. It may be helpful to Members who are staying for the debate to have copies of the current Standing Orders. I draw their attention particularly to Standing Order 14 (8) and (9), on page 19.
Private Members’ Bills are the only way in which Members who are not in the Government can get legislation through the House and also through the other House, and enable it to become an Act of Parliament. Last year I did that myself, removing some unwanted EU regulations, and I have done it on a number of other occasions. The problem tonight, Madam Deputy Speaker, lies in the dates that have been announced. You will tell me that the Government have to produce 13 sittings in which private Members’ Bills have priority, and that is correct: Standing Order 14(8) says so, and the Government have listed 13 Fridays on today’s Order Paper. I find it regrettable that we do not have a business of the House commission to decide this, but at the moment it is the Government’s privilege.
By the way, before the Whips panic, let me say that I am not seeking to divide the House, so if Members wish to leave—although I am sure they will want to stay and listen to this—they can do so. However, I will ask the Leader of the House to clarify the position. He may have some very good reasons for what the Government have done, but if not, I should like him to think again.
During covid, there have been occasions when the dates for private Members’ Bills have been moved, quite rightly, because of problems with sittings of the House, and I am going to ask the Leader of the House to look at some of these dates again. We also had the absurdity of a Session that went on for two years when only 13 days for private Member’s Bills were listed; the Government eventually had to give us some more. Perhaps I should ask this question straight away. If the current Session goes on for much longer than expected, will we be given extra days for private Members’ Bills?
The crux of the matter, the important part, relates to
This Wednesday, the Members whose names have come up in the ballot will be able to list their private Members’ Bills, and they will do so for the first seven sitting days that are listed. I will apply for maybe one or two—or 20 or 30—private Members’ Bills the following day, as other Members will. However, we are going to be very restricted, even if we can get support from both sides of the House, and the Government and the Opposition, and we might not have enough time to get our Bills through.
Let me point out what the effect of the
The Leader of the House might have a very good reason for doing this, and I would be happy with that. I hope it is not because some of the names that came out of the ballot were those of Opposition Members who might have nasty Bills that the Government do not like but that the House does like. Could the Leader of the House explain, in his response—if he is able to respond—why he has scheduled six of these Fridays for next year? We have always had them earlier so that we had time to get the Bills through this House.
After Second Reading, we have to get the Bills into Committee—and by the way, we can have only one private Member’s Bill in Committee at any one time, so there will be a delay there—but then we will not be able to bring them back until
We are actually making the private Member’s Bill process difficult. I know that the Government love private Members’ Bills, because so many went through last year, so could the Leader of the House put me at ease and assure me that this is not some Machiavellian thing that has been thought up in the Whips Office or anywhere in the Leader of the House’s office? Perhaps he could look at bringing forward some of those dates so that we could have more time for private Members’ Bills.
This is an important aspect of what we do in this House. Some private Members’ Bills go through. Mine did last year, which was important but minor. However, some are massive Bills—I mean, gosh, there might be one on assisted dying or something like that this time. I am just guessing, but there are huge issues that this House wants to debate, and it seems to me that this small motion before us tonight is hindering that process.
I am disappointed by the lack of optimism from my hon. Friend Mr Bone. Thirteen colleagues got private Members’ Bills through both Houses last year, despite covid affecting their progress, so it was a great success. It is constructive to work with the Whips Office, which can assist and advise Members on both sides of the House.
My hon. Friend says the Government might be motivated by trying to stop Opposition Members’ Bills that we do not like, but I suggest there is far more danger that he and my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope will block the progress of those Bills.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough says we will not get through all the private Members’ Bills. He might be able to enlighten the House on the date of the next Queen’s Speech, but I am not in possession of that information. I encourage him to be optimistic and to work with the Government, Back-Bench colleagues and the Whips Office. I am sure right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will have huge amounts of success.
Question put and agreed to.