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Private Members’ Bills

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2011

I beg to move,

That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14(4), Private Members’ Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 9 September 2011, 21 October 2011, 25 November 2011 and 20 January 2012.

Briefly, the purpose of the motion is to provide extra days for private Members’ business, in line with the Government’s intention to continue this Session until spring 2012. The House will be aware that the Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into sitting hours. This is not a debate on the wider issue of process and timings for private Members’ business, which I know the Committee will want to consider.

The previous Government brought forward no extra days in the first Sessions of previous Parliaments. Indeed, in the final Session of the previous Parliament, the then Leader of the House brought forward a resolution that reduced the number of days for private Members’ business. This House must balance the needs of Members to proceed with private Members’ business with other priorities. The Leader of the House has received Back-Bench representations calling for fewer sitting Fridays, to allow Members to spend more time in their constituencies and to reduce the costs of this place. If the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is agreed and we move to annual spring-to-spring Sessions, we will no longer be faced with the issue of increasing or reducing the number of days.

I cannot recall any previous Government bringing forward a motion to increase the number of sitting days. In the interests of Back Benchers, particularly those who have been successful in the ballot and wish to see their Bills taken forward, I am very happy to do so today. That is a proportionate response, and I hope the House will support the motion.

We welcome the motion that the Leader of the House has tabled. This is a greatly extended Session of Parliament, certainly longer than any that I can remember, and it is therefore right that more time should be allowed for Back-Bench business. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, there are other things to consider about how the House deals with private Members’ Bills and how Members can get a fair hearing for them, but they should and will be dealt with at another time.

Members who table private Members’ Bills deserve the chance for those Bills to receive proper debate and, if they get the necessary support, for them to pass into law. As with all matters before the House, however, we need to ensure that there is a little common sense and, if I may gently say so, a little consideration. Some Members have tabled an amendment to extend the amount of time available for private Members’ Bills, but at the moment a small group of Members are introducing a great many such Bills, which is unhelpful to the House as a whole and to other Members who wish to have their own Bills debated.

Has my hon. Friend noticed, as I have, that the same group of Members are the ones who seem to speak the most on a Friday? Perhaps if they spoke slightly less, we might have more time to make progress on Fridays.

My hon. Friend tempts me into a matter that is one for Mr Speaker and his deputies. I am sure that if hon. Members were filibustering, Mr Speaker would not allow them to do so.

When I last counted, I think the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) had about 20 Bills on the go, and the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) had 13 each. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of those figures, because my eyes started to glaze over as I went through the list. Frankly, I started to lose the will to live after a while.

The problem comes down to the fact that Members who are successful in the ballot for private Members’ Bills and wish to introduce legislation should have a fair chance to have their Bills debated and voted on. It is up to them to gather enough support from all parties to get their Bills through, but I say to the hon. Members who have tabled the amendment that that cannot happen if others table so many Bills that they block up the system entirely. It is neither fair nor proportionate.

But that cannot happen in the second part of this extended Session, because there is not going to be a further ballot to allow private Members to take part in the process. Does the hon. Lady agree with the coalition Government that there should not be a further ballot?

We will wait to see what the Government bring forward, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that his Bills do not have a chance of getting through, one wonders why he tabled them in the first place.

I hope that we can agree to the motion, so that Members who wish to pursue their private Members’ Bills have a proper opportunity to do so and get a fair hearing from the House.

I am very grateful to Mr Speaker for having selected my amendment, but having heard what the Deputy Leader of the House said in his powerful speech, with your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will not move the amendment. I should instead like to speak to the main motion.

Ooh, my pager has just pinged.

I do not know whether to cheer or boo—I have heard some booing tonight. I was slightly disappointed that the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) wished to carry on the old Executive’s way of controlling private Members’ days and having as few as possible. The enlightened view of the Deputy Leader of the House has encouraged me to support the motion, and I am looking forward to the reform of private Members’ business.

Can the hon. Gentleman quote back to me anything I said that suggests I want the Executive to have control of private Members’ Bills?

I cannot—I do not have that sort of memory—but I got the impression that the hon. Lady was saying, “No more extra days,” whereas the previous Government did not support Standing Orders and reduced the number of private Members’ days in a Session, and I shall talk about that briefly later on. That is a key issue. I was hoping she would stand up and say, “Actually, the previous Labour Government got it wrong on that particular point.”

While I am dealing with the hon. Lady’s remarks, I wanted to talk about the process and the number of Members who have tabled private Members’ Bill. She gave the impression that only three Members had tabled Bills.

What does my hon. Friend think would have been the attitude of our late, great friend, Eric Forth to all this? He killed more private Members’ Bills than most of us have had hot breakfasts. Would he have welcomed more days for private Members’ Bills so that more people could indulge their fantasies of adding to the nanny state?

Eric Forth was perhaps one of the best parliamentarians ever, and I rather think he enjoyed Fridays, so he probably would have liked more.

I saw a wonderful quote from the Leader of the House, who is not in the Chamber, about how wonderful it was to be selected in the ballot. The main obstacle to getting his Bill on the Order Paper was Eric Forth. Eric will probably be looking down now and saying, “Yeah. Actually, we would like more power for Parliament”—he certainly believed in that—“and therefore more power for Fridays.”

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman needs to search his memory, because what I remember most about Eric Forth, for whom I had a great deal of admiration, is that he spent most of his time on Fridays killing off private Members’ Bills rather than allowing them to get through—[Interruption.] As the Deputy Leader of the House says, he would certainly have enjoyed that.

The hon. Lady has misunderstood my comments. Eric Forth killed off hopeless Labour private Members’ Bills, which he did with great relish. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has now taken on that role, and does it extremely well indeed—no doubt we will see some more Bills killed.

As legislators, MPs have the opportunity only on a Friday—on a private Members’ Bill day—to put forward their Bills. I should like to counter the view of the hon. Member for Warrington North. She said that only three Members put down private Members’ Bills on the days that we are discussing. In fact, on 9 September, my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) will promote the Consumer Protection (Postal Marketing) Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) will promote his Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation Bill. On 14 October, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) will promote the Police Terms and Conditions of Service (Redundancy) Bill.

The hon. Gentleman will admit to slight support for the case of the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). Of the 112 private Members’ Bills before the House, 51—nearly half—are in the names of the hon. Members who are signatories to the amendment. In fact, their legislative programme is about twice the size of the Government’s.

There are two things wrong with that. First, when Front Benchers agree on something, it is almost certain not to be the correct way forward. Secondly, the alternative Queen’s speech proposed by certain Members had a reason behind it beyond thinking that all those Bills would be debated.

There are three ways in which private Members’ Bills get debated. Most people think that that happens only through the ballot, but there are also ten-minute rule Bills—they must be debated in the Chamber, when they get an opportunity for Second Reading as a private Member’s Bill—and, of course, presentation Bills. I shall not speak to my amendment, which was not moved because of all the wonderful things that the Deputy Leader of the House said. That is a shame, because I could have quoted what he said in his previous guise as an Opposition spokesman. I will not do that, but he was certainly much more in favour of additional days then than he is now that he is in the Government.

In his intervention, the Deputy Leader of the House seemed to imply that the large number of private Members’ Bills was a bad thing, but actually, it is a very good thing. Parliamentarians are coming forward with proposals for legislation to improve our country and the way of life of our people. Having only four days in the extended programme in which to cram all those Bills is a totally inadequate allocation of parliamentary time.

My hon. Friend puts that argument much better than I could have done.

I want to go back to the list of Bills, to give the House a flavour of the matter and to show that it is not just three or four Members who are involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has not been mentioned so far, has a non-controversial Equality and Diversity (Reform) Bill before the House on 21 October. The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) has his Master’s Degrees (Minimum Standards) Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has his Waste Recycling (End Use Register) Bill. I could go on and on, but my point is that these Bills are important to the Members concerned, and they might well be important to their constituents and to the country. They should be heard, and we should not try to restrict debate on them.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be good enough to note that if a Member introduces and prints a presentation Bill, that will demonstrate to the country what they intend to do. My Prevention of Terrorism Bill, for example, would unwind the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and give us a proper terrorism law. Does he also appreciate that it is possible to attach signatures to such Bills by tabling an early-day motion? On one occasion, there were as many as 350 signatures attached in that way. That provides ample evidence of the support that a Bill has, even though the Government, by their continuous diminishing of the opportunities for the House to vote on matters that are important to the people at large—

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Just to cheer him up, I can tell him that if Friday 18 November had been one of the days selected by the Government, there would have been a Referendums Bill introduced by hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, which he might have been interested in.

Sometimes, private Members’ Bills serve the purpose of getting the issue discussed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has just demonstrated. They also serve the purpose of getting the matter into law. There are a great deal many difficulties involved in getting a private Member’s Bill through the House, and that is why we should not reduce the number of days available on which to debate them. I shall give the House an example of someone who knew how to do all this. Anthony Steen, the former Member for Totnes, got his Anti-Slavery Day Bill through in the dying days of the last Government when no one was watching what he was up to. That was a very important Bill, and we now celebrate anti-slavery day on 18 October. He has changed the national law, and well done to him, but that was only possible because he used the procedures. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) will agree that this is all about knowing the procedures, and that that is what we, as parliamentarians, should be doing.

I must tell the House why I have a problem with the Deputy Leader of the House. He knows of my admiration for him. We have, in the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, two superb parliamentarians, supported by an equally superb Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell). Selfishly, I hope that they will remain in their posts on 6 May, or whenever the next reshuffle is going to be. We are lucky to have them, and that is why I am slightly disappointed. I cannot remember what the Deputy Leader of the House did before he came to the House. I had the unfortunate problem of being a chartered accountant, and I am therefore used to adding sums up and getting wrong numbers. I think that the hon. Gentleman might have been a chartered accountant, too, because he has added the sums up and got a wrong number. Standing Order No. 14(4) clearly states:

“Private Members’ bills shall have precedence over government business on thirteen Fridays in each session to be appointed by the House.”

There is no question about that.

Now this is where I was a little disappointed by the hon. Member for Warrington North, who I guess is shadow Deputy Leader of the House. In the last Session of the last Government, there were only five private Members’ days. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady mutters—she could have acted properly and intervened—that that is because it was a short Session. She well knows, however, that that is not allowed for in the Standing Orders. We must have 13 days.

If I were to be generous to the last Labour Government, as I always am, I would say that they quite properly argued that the eight days lost because it was a short Session should be added on to the longer Session that would run from the election in May—not to the November of that year, but to that of the year after. I am happy to accept this argument, which gives us eight more days for a start.

The Government have given us the 13 days that we would normally have in a Session—there is no argument about that; they are absolutely correct—but there are, of course, the eight that have been missed. That takes us up to 21 already. Because the Government are moving towards a five-year, fixed-term Parliament, which I agree with, and there will be one-year parliamentary Sessions, they have added from November 2011 to May 2012—I reckon that is six months—and assumed that to be half a year. What we need, the Government have said, is half of 13, which seems to come to four.

Now I reckon half of 13—as an accountant, I have to round up—comes to seven. What we should have, then, are the 13 days the Government have given us, the eight that the previous Government took away, plus the seven for the additional term. If I add seven and 13, I get 20 and if I add eight, I get 28. This is my problem; I think we should have 28 days.

My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a very powerful speech. Does he agree that, on that basis, the amendment—I fully understand the reasons why it was not moved—is a compromise? It might almost be described as the third way.

As always, I was trying to be helpful and considerate towards the Government. In fact, on the day before yesterday, I had a fine meeting in private with the Leader of the House. After our conversation, he was very clear. I had impressed him so much that he said, “Peter, I have not given you a wink, nod or any indication that the Government have moved from their current position”, which is, of course, exactly what happened. They did not move and they slapped this motion down for tonight.

Let us get back to the number of days: the 13 plus the seven that we should get under the Government’s own very generous thought, as they are extending the Session. If we add the eight, we get 28 days. I would have accepted 28 days, but I thought, “Let us look at it another way, as accountants always do it twice”. If we are moving towards one-year parliamentary Sessions—from May to May— we are going to have 13 private Members’ Fridays in each year. That is very clear, and that will kick in in May 2012. From May 2010 when this Parliament started—on 18 May, I think—to May 2011 would provide us with 13 days. From May 2011 to May 2012 would provide another 13, making 26. As a chartered accountant, I have done the sums and come up with two different answers. We should have either 26 days or 28 days.

Unfortunately, when the Deputy Leader of the House came up with his calculations, he came up with 17 days, which is the 13 days that we had to be given, plus the extra four. That is why I wonder whether he is another chartered accountant. He has clearly come up with a completely different result from that most people expected.

On a serious note, I just think that this was a great opportunity to fix broken promises. I re-read the Prime Minister’s excellent speech of 26 May 2009 when he said he wanted to return powers to Parliament and to Back Benchers. He wanted MPs to be independent. I have taken that to heart and tried to be independent and tried to be a parliamentarian, but the lack of days will restrict my ability to do that.

I encountered another difficulty today when I received a text message from a constituent saying “If you do not get this amendment through, it will mean that you will be at home more often.” I want to know what the Deputy Leader of the House will say to Mrs Bone about that, because it seems to me that parliamentarians should be here scrutinising the Government. The provision of a private Members’ day once a month—which is what this amounts to—is surely not a problem, and I feel that we have missed an opportunity.

I know that there are pressures on those in government, I know that the Executive want to control everything, and I understand that that is the old way. I also know that the Prime Minister wants to get away from that, and wants a new politics that will make the House of Commons more important. I did not move my amendment for precisely the reason given by the Deputy Leader of the House: we are moving towards the establishment of a Business of the House Committee, and once we have such a Committee, none of these problems will arise. Everything will be sweetness and light, because Parliament rather than the Executive will allocate the days.

I was so encouraged by the fact that reform of the private Members’ Bills procedure was being considered seriously that it would have been absurd for me to argue for the provision of 13 extra Fridays. In a few months’ time the Leader of the House will stand at the Dispatch Box, announce that private Members’ Bills will be debated on Wednesday evenings, and say “We have thought about this, and we are going to grant such-and-such a number of extra days.” I see this as a holding debate in anticipation of those reforms. I am encouraged by what has happened today, and I will therefore support the motion in the hope of seeing the reforms introduced a little later.

I am disappointed by what the Government have done tonight. My starting point is to ask why they are doing this at all. Why is this something that we had to let the Government propose? It seems to me that it is a matter for the House—that the House should decide how many days it will devote to private Members’ Bills. I should have thought that a sensible discussion between the Leader of the House’s office and the Backbench Business Committee would have come up with a far more sensible procedure.

The way in which time is allocated for private Members’ Bills has serious implications for the Backbench Business Committee. Despite the best efforts of the Deputy Leader of the House, who is doing a very good job in the absence of the Leader of the House—I am disappointed that the Leader of the House is not present, given that he told us that this was such an important issue that it had to be debated tonight—we have not heard how he calculated the four extra days. We heard a superb analysis from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) of how the Government might have arrived at that figure, but that is only the best estimate of my hon. Friend. It is not actually the process employed by the Government, and it is the Government who allocate time to the Backbench Business Committee.

I should like to know whether the same process of calculation, which is so obscure and opaque that none of us knows what it is, will be applied to the allocation of Back-Bench business time. The Backbench Business Committee, and, I would hope, all Back Benchers, will be extremely concerned if, in an extended parliamentary Session that is the equivalent of two normal parliamentary years, Back-Bench time is not also equivalent to two full parliamentary years. I should welcome an intervention from the Deputy Leader of the House if he wishes to reassure me that my fears are unfounded, but I fear that we could be running into trouble.

The other thing that we have not heard from the Deputy Leader of the House is why he has chosen these particular Fridays. What is special about 9 September, 21 October, 25 November and 20 January 2012? Why have they been chosen rather than any of the other Fridays? I would have hoped the Deputy Leader could give us an explanation for that.

The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) criticised those of us who have tabled quite a large number of private Members’ Bills, and she was generous enough to mention in passing myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. She might find reassurance in the fact that none of the Bills my hon. Friend or I have tabled has reached the top of the list for discussion in this parliamentary Session. Despite our best efforts, we have not had the opportunity of parliamentary time to test our ideas in the Chamber. I do not believe we should be criticised for trying, however; we are doing our best on behalf of our constituents to put forward ideas to improve our nation, and that is entirely laudable.

I have a lot of time for the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), but I, too, was a little disappointed in her statement that Members who thought they had no serious chance of making progress with their Bill should just withdraw it.

The hon. Lady did say words to that effect, as the record will show. I have paraphrased, but that is essentially the meaning of what she said: that Members who thought they had no serious chance of making progress with Bills should withdraw them. I have been trying for seven years to get food labelling legislation on to the statute book. The fact that I have now had to introduce a Bill four times, and that at each stage people have said I have very little chance of succeeding, has never stopped me trying.

I commend my hon. Friend for his efforts with his private Member’s Bill, and I am delighted that this coming Friday it is listed fourth on the Order Paper. I hope that by some magical intervention it might rise further up the Order Paper and we therefore get a chance to debate it, scrutinise it and vote on it so that it can make further progress in this place. I will be making a special effort to be here on Friday to hear my hon. Friend discourse on his Bill, and I know other hon. Friends will also make a special effort. I do not share the view that being here in the Chamber on a Friday is not an appropriate use of a Member of Parliament’s time. I do not know where the idea that every Friday has to be a constituency day came from. I think it is probably a new Labour invention. They tried to persuade Members of Parliament not to turn up to this place so we did not scrutinise the Government and instead let the Executive get away with quite a lot.

A number of incredibly important private Members’ Bills have got through in the teeth of Government opposition, such as those on the abolition of capital punishment, the beginnings of the whole of the suffragette movement—that can be read about in the Library—the removal of obstacles preventing women’s enfranchisement, and at present, of course, the United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill. The important point is that these Bills were proceeded with in the teeth of Government opposition. That shows why we need to have this time.

My hon. Friend is a far greater expert in parliamentary affairs than I will ever be, and I would willingly give all 13 days in a parliamentary Session to him so he can bring forward sensible legislation to improve the life of our nation. The point he makes is incredibly powerful.

I am a bear of little brain—I am not, I am afraid, an accountant or a lawyer—but I believe that there are 52 Fridays every year, while 13 Fridays are normally listed for private Members’ legislation. Members therefore have plenty of Fridays to devote to tending to the needs of their constituents. The idea that we have to sacrifice a large proportion of those 13 Fridays to enable more constituency days is misguided. The real reason for this is that the Executive do not want Members bringing forward ideas that the Government do not control, and which, according to them, might possibly get out of control. That is a big mistake.

Surely for those people introducing Bills and legislative change the proceedings on Fridays are an extension of representing their constituents here and making the changes they want.

Those wise words from across the Irish sea are extremely welcome, and it would be great if more Members of this House thought that way. I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender, who stands up and speaks up in this place on behalf of his constituents. He is not frightened of scrutinising legislation, and private Members’ Bills are all part of that parliamentary process. Each of us, no matter what party we represent, is the only person from our constituency entitled to sit in this Chamber and speak up on behalf of our constituents. If we can do that to good effect on those 13 Fridays, more power to our elbow.

Mention has been made of the late, great Eric Forth, who was an outstanding parliamentarian. One of Eric’s great attributes was that although he did try to scrutinise private Members’ Bills in great detail, he would not have been in favour of reducing the number of parliamentary Fridays. He would have said that it is everyone’s right to try to introduce legislation, but that legislation must be scrutinised effectively in this place. We heard a comment earlier about the difficulties of Bills making progress, but the point of this place is not to make progress with Bills: it is to scrutinise them and to allow their passage once they are in a fit and proper shape. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) will demonstrate that to good effect this Friday, given the years of work he has put into honing his legislation in fine detail, and ensuring that every nook and cranny has been explored and every possible difficulty ironed out. If Parliament did not exist, we would not be able to scrutinise legislation in that way, which is why these private Members’ Fridays are so important.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way in which good ideas in private Members’ Bills reach the statute book, even if they are not successful in reaching it on a Friday through the normal procedure, is by being adopted by the Government and, on occasion, by being fitted into Government Bills?

My hon. Friend speaks wise words, and I can give him an exact example of what he describes from this very week. I have sponsored the non-controversial Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill. It is one of my Bills that has not reached the Floor of the House, but on Monday the Home Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the Government were looking into the difficulty of controlling all the yobs in these riots who cover their faces. My Bill would make it an offence for someone to cover their face for the purpose of obscuring their identity. I was pleased to be able to draw that to the Home Secretary’s attention this week, and I very much hope that she will look at my Bill and see how it might be best adapted to meet the Government’s needs. The quickest way to facilitate any advantage to this country in that becoming law would be to introduce the Bill in Government time in this place.

However, in response to my hon. Friend, may I say that I have a feeling that one reason why the Government are nervous about granting too many private Members’ Fridays is because they have recently had a bad experience in this place with the Daylight Saving Bill? Lots of hon. Members were determined to see that Bill make progress and they gave up their Friday to attend in numbers to ensure that its Second Reading passed, despite Government opposition. Governments do not like getting their fingers burned, which may be one reason why they have, in effect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said, reduced the number of days to which this House is entitled.

I am sorry, but the House of Commons does not exist for the convenience of Her Majesty’s Government. The House of Commons exists to hold Her Majesty’s Government to account, because without Parliament the Executive would be able to run amok. On these Benches sit centuries of tradition and scrutiny of the Executive, and the private Members’ Bill process is part of that process of trying to improve the life of our nation. I am disappointed that the Government are being so mean as to allow only four extra private Members’ days, because at the very least the number should be 13. I very much hope that when the House Business Committee is up and running, we will have a proper sensible allocation of days for private Members’ Bills.

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond. I am grateful to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and particularly to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for the way in which he approached it. I know from having argued this case with him, often in similar terms, that it is something he cares passionately about and feels should happen.

I have indicated that a number of things will affect how the House deals with this matter in future, such as the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which will bring more certainty and uniformity to parliamentary Sessions. Also, as the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said, there is the prospect of the Backbench Business Committee being evaluated and the Government are committed to bringing forward proposals for a business of the House Committee, which will take on the difficult role of making sure that the interests of all Members are properly taken into account, as far as possible, given that some of them compete. That seems proper.

We also have the Procedure Committee doing something that the Wright Committee suggested but did not have the opportunity to see through. The Wright Committee recognised that there was a problem with how we deal with private Members’ Bills, but it could not come up with a solution in the tight time scale within which it was operating. It therefore suggested that this Parliament should look into the matter, which is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House asked the Procedure Committee to look at the process for private Members’ Bills. We look forward eagerly to its report.

Various things are in motion and we have attempted to respond to the legitimate request for more time. Let me emphasise that this is the first time that a Government have provided more time for private Members’ Bills in a long Session to enable those who have been successful in the ballot and whose Bills are receiving consideration in Committee to make progress if that is the will of the House—it is the House that decides whether that should be the case.

Is the Deputy Leader of the House going to enlighten us as to the calculation by which he arrived at four extra days?

It is a matter of balance. It is about looking at the time available and the competing pressures on Members. We came up with a proposal that the House could consider this evening and that proposal is certainly a lot better than anything that has been suggested before. I think the hon. Member for Wellingborough accused me of being an accountant, but I really am not.

Neither am I a lawyer—that is even worse. I was formerly an optician, which is perhaps why I want to focus on the interests of all Members of the House in finding what suits them best.

Let me deal with an issue that the hon. Member for Kettering raised, which is not directly related to private Members’ Bills but is within the same context—the time allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. He said there was some arcane or obscure formula, but there is not: the formula was determined by the Wright Committee. The Government were committed to introducing the reforms proposed by the Wright Committee and that is exactly what we did. We have been clear throughout that we will continue to allocate time to the Backbench Business Committee to enable it to do its work and to provide time for Back-Bench Members of the House. We have done so throughout this Session on the basis of about one day a week. We will continue to do exactly what we have done, and most people believe that the allocation is fair and has been used sensibly.

We must remember the interests of Members who have been successful in the ballot and want their legislation to proceed. If they are to succeed in putting something on the statute book, they need time at the end of the process. This is a bicameral Parliament. The Commons must do its work, but another place must scrutinise and revise legislation. It does not make sense to have days for private Members’ Bills abutting the end of the Session, effectively preventing worthy pieces of legislation that have completed scrutiny in the Commons from making further progress. There is a rationale behind the proposals, but that is a matter for the House. I hope that the House will take a view on the matter. I am satisfied that we are making another significant reform to the way in which the House works, again taking time away from the Executive and giving it to Back-Bench Members, which is right, proper and proportionate. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.