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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:23 am on 13th April 2016.

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Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 10:23 am, 13th April 2016

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate Jeff Smith on bringing forward this important debate.

For me as a new Member, the past year has been a steep learning curve. I have had to become educated in not only the rules and procedures of the House, but the unspoken courtesies and quirks. Tradition is evidently important, and it is not hard to see why. The parliamentary estate is impressive and rich in historical significance, and it perpetuates tradition and keeps some of that history alive. However, there are signs that the House is unafraid of moving with the times. The widespread availability of live and on-demand video feeds show not the willingness to do that but an earnestness to make the process of democracy more transparent. The example of ParliamentLive.tv is apt, as it is a wonderful illustration of how an emerging technology can wonderfully complement the existing Hansard without replacing it.

Coming to this place with a fresh perspective, I have also found myself growing frustrated with some of the more time-honoured traditions. The most frustrating procedure has been that for debating and voting on private Member’s Bills. My chagrin seems to be shared by the wider public, because social media has recently become alight with talk of Bills being talked out, and the word “filibuster” seems to be used more frequently.

There seems to be greater public awareness of the democratic process. In Scotland particularly, it seems that the Westminster system is observed by the public in almost forensic detail like never before. The independence referendum had the wonderful effect of engaging many people who had come to feel disfranchised from politics but who now tune in regularly to parliamentary proceedings at Westminster. Comparisons are also being made with the Scottish Parliament, from which important lessons can be learned. The private Member’s Bill system in Edinburgh could be adopted and adapted for this place.

Some private Member’s Bills have led to wonderful moments of consensus recently. Video footage of the successful passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill, with unanimous support from the parties, went viral. The public gallery, which was filled with people whose lives would be made profoundly different by the legislation, erupted with joy. However, in this place, I am disappointed that some Bills have been the victim of what can only be described as party political pursuits.