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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th April 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:30 am, 13th April 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the procedure for debating and voting on Private Members’ Bills.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank the good number of MPs who are present and who have expressed an interest in speaking. I also thank the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and my hon. Friend Melanie Onn, who will be wrapping up for the Government and the Opposition respectively.

A debate on parliamentary procedure would not normally generate much interest outside this estate, but the level of interest may be rather different this morning, because many members of the public have become disillusioned with some of the things that we do in Parliament, and no more so than with the charade of those Fridays when we discuss private Members’ Bills.

Some of the most progressive legislation by Parliament in recent decades has come through private Members’ Bills: the suspension and then abolition of the death penalty, the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 and the Abortion Act 1967—all the result of private Members’ Bills advanced by Back Benchers and given time by the Government. Between 1997 and 2015, however, across four Parliaments, of the 1,977 private Members’ Bills introduced, only 103 became law. Since many of those were Government handout Bills, the number of private Members’ Bills with which an individual Back-Bench Member was able to make a difference to law and society by bringing forward a Bill was tiny.

That is no surprise when we see what happens to private Members’ Bills under the existing system; when a small number of MPs are present in Parliament to discuss Bills because MPs know there is only a very small chance of them being enacted; when Bills are talked out by an even smaller number of usually Conservative Members, whose only aim is to stop them being voted on; when serious Bills about serious issues are not given serious consideration or the chance to become law; and when most private Members’ Bills do not get discussed at all and those that do rarely get a Second Reading vote. The system is broken.

The procedure for debating and voting on private Members’ Bills is dishonest and misleading. It is an expensive and frustrating waste of time. What happens on Fridays in this place not only brings Parliament into disrepute, but feeds the cynicism that increasing numbers of people feel about politics and politicians. It does us no good service.