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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:35 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran 10:35 am, 13th April 2016

I add my congratulations to Jeff Smith on initiating this important debate. It has been said by many hon. Members that private Members’ Bills perpetrate a deception on the public. We need to think hard about how to address that, because we know that people are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics and this system does nothing to remedy that; in fact, it simply adds to it. There is no silver bullet to restore trust, faith and engagement with this place, but we could do something about this issue to help to address that problem. Addressing the outmoded, outdated, convoluted and obfuscatory way in which private Members’ Bills are dealt with in this place could restore a little bit of faith in the Westminster parliamentary system.

Like my colleagues, I cannot help but look at this system through the prism of the Scottish Parliament. We look at it as new MPs, admittedly, but with utter bewilderment because it makes no sense, and perhaps—I throw this out just as a suggestion—that partly explains why the people of Scotland feel much greater affinity with, and ownership of, the Scottish Parliament than they do with this place. Like the rest of the UK, the people of Scotland are very detached and disengaged from what happens in this place. There is much that this system can learn from the Scottish Parliament if it is serious about addressing the disengagement that constituents feel.

We have talked a lot today about the NHS reinstatement Bill—the National Health Service Bill. Like my colleagues and, I suspect, the hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who are concerned about that Bill and the wider issue, I watched what happened in the debate. There is no point in blaming it on procedure and saying, “That is how it works.” We looked at the response to the debate and what we saw was what very much appeared to be contempt and disregard for the very important issue that that private Member’s Bill was trying to address. What that tells those of us who were frustrated on that day and what it tells the public is that there is little or no opportunity for MPs or groups of MPs to introduce a meaningful debate on something that does not have the support of the Government, so I ask: where is the balance between the Parliament and the Executive? We watched the debate that day on the NHS reinstatement Bill with utter despair, because we know that all it takes is three or four MPs to filibuster, chunter, ramble and obfuscate in order to throw the entire issue that the private Member’s Bill is trying to tackle into chaos—into the long grass.