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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:01 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 10:01 am, 13th April 2016

May I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeff Smith on securing this debate? It is a great pleasure to follow Sir Alan Haselhurst.

Members of the public who are following this might think it is a self-regarding, inward-looking debate about what we do as the House of Commons. That is perhaps understandable, but I argue that this debate actually strikes at the heart of our role as elected Members of this House. Erroneously, we are considered to be legislators, but the reality is that we are not legislators at all. Back-Bench Members of Parliament have little or no control over legislation and the progress of it in this House.

As the right hon. Gentleman just said, all Governments —I have served under Conservative Governments, Labour Governments and coalition Governments—take control of the legislative process. It is perfectly natural for Governments to want to use the time available in this House to their benefit, but that ignores the role of Back-Bench MPs altogether. The Government, in my view, hold far too many cards.

In my hon. Friend’s opening speech, he talked about some of the successful private Members’ Bills in the late 1960s. They were mostly social reform measures. He referred to them, so I will not repeat that, but the important thing about those Bills was that they were all Government handout Bills, mainly associated with Roy Jenkins.

I want to say a word about a solution to this problem that would put more power in the hands of Members of Parliament and take power away from the Government in controlling the process, but first I want to talk about the role of the Procedure Committee, to which reference has already been made. I am a great admirer of Mr Walker, who chairs that Committee, but I detect a singular lack of will on the part of that Committee to resolve this issue. I do not want to criticise any members of that Committee, and certainly not the Chair; but this issue has been outstanding and urgent for a long time, and yet the Committee has failed to come up with a solution.