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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I simply observe that we are no further forward on the issue. Despite the frequent and lengthy deliberations of the Procedure Committee and everybody else, we are still in the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington described, whereby the public look askance at what we do on a Friday in this House. Frankly, we need to do something about that. My argument is that no Committee of this House seems to have the will or the drive to bring the matter to a conclusion. We, as Members of this House, have to take control of this issue and determine a course of action that will resolve the problems.

The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden and I have been looking at this problem in parallel, from different points of view. We have, between us, some of the solutions to the problem. I thank the Clerks in the House of Commons for their advice. I have been working to try to bring a solution. Certainly in terms of when private Members’ Bills are considered, there is a solution, in principle. We could amend Standing Order No. 14. Unless we reduce the number of Bills, we would need to sit on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings—26 of each—for a three-hour period to make up the necessary time. There are other consequential amendments, but with time being at a premium, I will not go through them. For example, we would need to amend Standing Order No. 12 so that the House would not sit on Fridays unless otherwise ordered to do so, and we would have to repeal Standing Order No. 19 altogether.

The right hon. Gentleman and I, between us, have some of the solutions, but other issues would need to be resolved. How would we timetable? I certainly would not be averse to the Backbench Business Committee taking control of the timetable. One thing that has not been mentioned yet is that any Back-Bench Member who had a serious prospect of bringing legislation to a conclusion would need advice about the drafting of private Members’ Bills. We all think that we could sit down and draft a perfect Bill. In reality, having been a Minister responsible for legislation in the past, I know that that is not the case. Any of us, in order to do that properly, would need advance advice from parliamentary draftsmen, to ensure we had a competent Bill.

If the House wants to control this issue, it is in our hands. One way forward might be for Mr Speaker to establish an advisory committee as to how to deal with private Members’ Bills. If he was minded to do so, I would certainly be happy to be part of that, and I am sure other Members would also. This issue can be resolved if we, as a House, have a will to resolve it.