Business of the House (private members’ Bills)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 13 June 2022.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 8:42, 13 June 2022

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 Standing Order No. 14(9). It is not until after the seventh sitting Friday—in other words, on the eighth sitting Friday—that anyone can bring a Bill that has had its Second Reading back to this House for Report and Third Reading. Once they have succeeded in doing that, it has to go off to the House of Lords. It has always been the Government’s position that they bring forward the private Member’s Bill days early enough so that that process can happen. I am very concerned that, because this is back-loaded, many people who get their Second Reading through will struggle to get the whole process through, because the Bill has to go to the Lords.

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 Standing Order No. 14(9) will be. Looking at the list of dates, we see that no one will be able to bring a Bill back to this House for Report and Third Reading any time this year—in fact, the date is 20 January next year. This has never happened before. For the benefit of Members who might not have been following what is happening on the Order Paper, private Members’ Bill days are listed for 15 July, then two in September, one in October, two in November, one in December and that one in late January. Then there are two in February and three in March. Well, what if we finish in April? That does not give us enough time.

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 20 January. If we bring them back on 20 January, they will not automatically get through. We might get one Bill through, but if my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope and I do not like that, there will be a bit of a problem on 20 January.

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.