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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Labour, Burnley 10:31 am, 13th April 2016

I am grateful to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Jeff Smith for raising this very important subject, and grateful just to have a few minutes in which to speak. It is ironical that when my name was selected and I was given the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill, five hours were available, but some Members took the opportunity to speak for more than 90 minutes on that occasion, with the deliberate aim of talking out the Bill, and the Minister who responded talked to the very last minute, half-past 2, so that there could be no possibility of a vote.

I chose a very serious subject that mattered to a lot of people in this country. I was trying to help, in a small way, the carers who give so much to so many, and 1 million carers and their families would have benefited had my private Member’s Bill progressed. However, from the outset that was not to be. There was no pretence even of serious debate on the Government Benches. The opportunity was taken by three Members—the same three Members, I note, who regularly attend private Member’s Bill debates on a Friday, so I have to ask the question: do they feel so strongly about every private Member’s Bill? That was hugely disrespectful to the public who watched the proceedings. It brings Parliament into tremendous disrepute. Hundreds of people contacted me. They just could not believe it. They did not understand the system. How can the great British democratic system behave in this fashion, sometimes week after week?

The point has been made that if a private Member’s Bill is introduced and is against the will of the Government, it cannot hope to succeed. I accept that; we live in a democracy. But should not we have the opportunity of a democratic vote? What is happening is dishonest. Members from across the parties gave their support to my Bill privately. I spoke with Conservative Members, Scottish National party Members, Liberal Democrats and the representative of the Green party, and they all said, “This is a fantastic Bill and we would like to see it implemented,” but they, more experienced Members than I, had seen how the system works. Some of them were not able to be here on a Friday, and quite understandably. How could I expect an SNP Member to stay and have a long journey afterwards, knowing full well that the Bill would be talked out?

It is particularly dishonest when Government Members pledge support for carers to their constituents and out in the wider community—that is fine; they are entitled to their opinion—but then come into Parliament and deliberately deny the public the knowledge that they are not delivering on that pledge. If the Government did not want the Bill to proceed—they clearly did not—let us be honest about it. Let us have a vote. Let the Government say, “We do not support carers,” which was what really happened on the day. If there is a will to sort this, we can do it.