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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Health) 10:09 am, 13th April 2016

We can see the interest in this issue from the attendance today, and we are not going to have a lot of time to air our thoughts. The Procedure Committee is looking into the matter for the third time, yet nothing appears to have changed. Personally, I have experienced the problems with private Members’ Bills on two occasions. One was with the Off-patent Drugs Bill, on which every Member who spoke did so in support. The responding Minister then stood up and said, “I will speak for 27 minutes and this will be finished.” The other occasion was with the recent National Health Service Bill, which has been referred to. That got 17 minutes of debate after four and a half long hours on the previous Bill. People have written to me asking me to speak on a Bill that is 17th down the list and will never be aired. We are being disingenuous, and the system brings us into disrepute.

There are things to be said for timetabling private Members’ Bills on a different day, because for all of us who live outwith a commutable distance, Friday is our time in the constituency. We cannot do a surgery on a Monday morning before coming to the House, and we cannot attend meetings in the evenings. Therefore, this is a big deal. Members must give up time to attend on a Friday, and the fact that it is such a farce, with Bills not coming to a vote and perhaps not even a debate, means that most Members simply do not attend. After they have attended a few Fridays, that is it—it is over.

We are often given the impression by the Chair that it cannot set time limits, yet when I attended the excellent debate on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, a time limit was set. Filibustering was not used and the Bill came to a vote. It was a really honest debate and the public response to it was incredible. The Bills that are looking for time tend to be on social reform issues and things that everyone would benefit from, which ought not to be controversial, and I feel that the procedure is partly about the Executive keeping Parliament under control.

In the Scottish Parliament, every Member has the option of two private Members’ Bills in an entire Parliament, and they must get support from a minimum of 18 other signatories from at least half the parties. Once that has happened, a Bill is given time and there are time limits on speeches, and it must be brought to a vote. The Non-Government Bills Unit provides the support to bring it through. Private Members’ Bills that come purely from a Back Bencher therefore result in legislation. I think we all recognise the many different things that could be done, but the time is now to actually do something.