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

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

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

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come to some of those issues shortly. He is right, which is why tackling the matter is important, as he says.

I will try to be brief, because a lot of Members who want to have a say are present, some of them with extensive experience of this issue, and because my suggestion is quite simple: if we want to do something in this place, let us do it properly. If we are going to allow a system in which Members may bring forward Bills, we should have a system that allows those Bills to be debated properly and voted on.

The Procedure Committee is looking at this issue, and I hope our debate will help to inform its deliberations. In its current review, the Committee has taken evidence from a whole range of people: the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, Back-Bench Members, parliamentary officials, journalists, charities and the Hansard Society. When the Committee reports, I hope that this time the Government will act on the findings, because as hon. Members might know, the Procedure Committee also discussed the issue in the last Parliament. The Committee accepted that the system was flawed and came up with some proposals for change, so that private Members’ Bills would at least be put to a vote at the end of Second Reading—not as much of a change as I would have liked, but progress nevertheless. It was disappointing, however, that the Government found no time to debate or endorse the Committee’s proposals in the last Parliament.

I hope that the Procedure Committee will have more success this time around. Last time, the Government rejected the first proposal and did not even respond to the second proposal, so perhaps this will be third time lucky. I also hope that better progress will be made in this Parliament, because it is now widely agreed that the system is flawed. I do not often quote a Conservative MP, but I completely agree with what the Chair of the Procedure Committee, Mr Walker, said:

“In their current form private members’
bills are a cruel deception that we play on our electorate.”

I agree, because the existing system gives a false promise to the public—that the procedure for private Members’ Bills will result in meaningful legislation and make a difference to their lives.

I do not want to get too bogged down today in talking about the technicalities of parliamentary procedure. We could talk for a long time about process—I will make a couple of suggestions about that—but other hon. Members present also have suggestions, and I look forward to hearing them. What is more important is the wider principle: the false hope that the process gives members of the public, who think that they might be directly affected by what is being debated, and the impact not only on constituents, but on the reputation of Parliament, as the existing system fails the public.