Private Members’ Bills — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 10:27 am, 13th April 2016

It is a pleasure to serve with you as Chair, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeff Smith on securing such an important debate.

As a new Member, I was delighted to be drawn in the ballot for private Member’s Bills in June 2015 and to introduce the Off-patent Drugs Bill, the central aim of which was to bring about more consistent access to drugs for which new indications had been found. That Bill was talked out on 6 November, as hon. Members have said. Since then, I have been delighted to work on a cross-party basis with the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences to make progress in obtaining pledges from the Government and achieving legislative change through a different private Member’s Bill.

None the less, the events of 6 November 2015 did a great deal of damage to Parliament’s reputation. It is simple to see why, if one looks at what happened that day. Parliament starts at 9.30 on Fridays, and the first Bill under discussion was the NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc.) Bill, a laudable but simple Bill to allow Great Ormond Street hospital to continue to benefit from J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” royalties. The exchanges on that day sum up the issue. Wendy Morton, who introduced the Bill, said:

“The Bill is purely about 16 NHS charities and their move to independence, and about Great Ormond Street.”

Madam Deputy Speaker responded that

“the hon. Lady is right to point out that the Bill is narrow.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2015;
Vol. 601, c. 1257.]

Yet it took from 9.30 am until 1.08 pm to discuss that Bill. So uncontroversial was it that there was not even a Division. My Bill was then discussed, and things proceeded very quickly until just after 2 o’clock, when the Minister for Community and Social Care got to his feet and said:

“In the time available before half-past 2—and I make it very clear that I will talk until then, because that is the procedure here”.—[Official Report, 6 November 2015;
Vol. 601, c. 1304.]

There is no doubt about it: the Government were deliberately talking out the Bill.

I believe in the private Member’s Bill system. It is very useful, because we have an Executive fused into our legislature and the Executive dominate parliamentary business. This procedure gives Back Benchers an opportunity to make a difference. Also, there were social changes in the 20th century that were regarded as being better brought about by this route than by Government business. As my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth pointed out, the 1960s changes came about because the Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, Roy Jenkins, either tacitly or overtly supported the Bills. Therein lies a double problem: first, there is the Executive dominance of the system, but secondly, there is the filibustering. The fact that the Executive exercise their dominance in that non-transparent, arcane way is equally a problem. The time has come for reform.