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Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)

Volume 677: debated on Wednesday 10 June 2020

Motion made, and Question proposed,


(1) the Resolution of the House of 16 January 2020 (Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)), as amended by the Orders of the House of 25 March, 22 April and 12 May 2020 (Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)), is further amended as follows:

Delete from “13 March 2020,” to end and insert “10 July 2020, 11 September 2020, 16 October 2020, 23 October 2020, 30 October 2020, 13 November 2020, 27 November 2020, 15 January 2021, 29 January 2021, 5 February 2021, 5 March 2021 and 12 March 2021.”

(2) the Orders for Second Reading of Bills on each of the days listed under Day 1 in the table below are read and discharged;

(3) each such Bill is ordered to be read a second time on the corresponding day listed under Day 2 in the table; and

(4) those Bills are set down to be read a second time on the appropriate Day 2 in the order in which they were set down to be read a second time on the corresponding Day 1.

Day 1

Day 2

12 June 2020

10 July 2020

26 June 2020

11 September 2020

10 July 2020

16 October 2020

11 September 2020

23 October 2020

16 October 2020

30 October 2020

30 October 2020

13 November 2020

(James Morris.)

It is a great pleasure to rise to support the Government’s motion. It is to the great credit of the Leader of the House’s Office that it revised the original schedule for the benefit of the House and—I am finding these words very difficult—I congratulate the Whips on their help in this matter.

What we have today is a Government who have allowed private Members’ Bills to proceed. The last time a Government attempted to stop private Members’ Bills—and I fear the original motion would have had the effect of ending private Members’ Bills in this Session —was in 1945, and for a very similar reason. The Government had a lot of Bills to get through following the war, just as the Government have a lot of Bills to get through now, with very limited availability and space in the House.

In those days, private Members’ Bills were written out by hand with a great deal of time and effort, put in red tape and placed on the Table. In due course, there was a ballot for them. The Government decided in 1945 that they were not going to do that, but one Member— Sir Alan Herbert, the Member for Oxford University—was very unhappy about that. In a speech on 16 August, he said:

“I have worked very hard. Hon. Members may laugh at my little Bills, but I believe they will be a little more popular with a great many people than some of the proposals which will later be laid before us. I presented them in due order at the Table yesterday. I am not quarrelling with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but you said that they must not appear on the Order Paper. But look at what this House is doing to me after all the things I promised to my constituents, and all the things I have promised to the constituents of other hon. Members. I get a hundred letters a week, not from my own constituents but from poor people who are worried about their divorces.”

That was followed by laughter. He continued:

“There is no laughter about this. They write also about the Poor Persons’ Procedure. I have a Bill here dealing with the provision of legal aid and assistance for the poor. That is something fundamental, but there is not a word about it in the Gracious Speech. What am I to say to all those people who write to me? I must tell them to stop sending their letters and to save their stamps, because I can do no more to help them if this Motion goes through; I might just as well be a Member of the German Reichstag or a stuffed exhibit in the Natural History Museum. If the House will not have my Bills on the Table I cast them on the Floor, as a monument to Parliamentary liberty and a challenge to despotic power.”—[Official Report, 16 August 1945; Vol. 413, c. 143-144.]

With a great flourish, he chucked his Bills on to the Floor of the House. Unfortunately, he had not tied them up properly, and they fell apart, only to reveal that every single one of them was blank. That speech got the Government to reverse their position on trying to kill off private Members’ Bills in 1945. Thankfully, this Government have not followed that and have listened.

By the way, I should say one other thing about poor old Mr Herbert. Although he got the private Members’ Bills back and it became part of standard procedure, which most Governments do not like, the Government got their own back—they abolished university seats thereafter, and he was no longer a Member of Parliament.

I am happy to engage in a conversation about reform of the private Members’ Bill process. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a big fan of bringing forward presentation Bills under the auspices of Standing Order No. 57. If we are having that wider debate about reform of private Members’ Bills, surely we need to move away from the ridiculous lottery that exists where, in the equivalent of buying a scratchcard, 20 Members have the opportunity to bring forward a private Member’s Bill and realistically get it through. A great many of us, including the hon. Gentleman himself, will bring forward Bills under Standing Order No. 57, and they will never see the light of day or get on to the statute book.

We are definitely not going to have that debate, because it is not part of this. That is for the Procedure Committee, and I might well support some of those changes. The hon. Member is actually wrong. In the last Parliament, some of the ballot Bills became law, but a number of presentation Bills also became law. I got an Act of Parliament. [Interruption.] No, it was about half of them. There was one Act that you might remember, Mr Deputy Speaker—it was called the Hilary Benn Act, and it rather changed the course of history, so people who say that private Members’ Bills do not matter are wrong. The procedure is very clear. We do not now have the archaic position of having to lay the Bill on the Table. All we have to do now to get a presentation Bill is sleep for a week under Big Ben upstairs. Some things never change, but it does work, and presentation Bills, ten-minute rule Bills and ballot Bills do raise very important issues.

The first private Member’s Bill Friday sitting of this Session went ahead before the lockdown, and three Bills got a Second Reading. The only one that unfortunately did not was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). For some reason, the Minister seemed to not want to sit down and let the House vote. The result of that Friday sitting is that three Bills need a Committee stage, and they can get a Committee stage.

But the problem with private Members’ Bills is the ruling that we have to get to the eighth Friday before we can get a Bill from Committee back to the House for Report and Third Reading and then try to get it through the House of Lords. The problem with the original motion was that the eighth Friday would become 5 February 2021, about a year after those Bills were introduced. The original eighth Friday was 11 September. Because of the coronavirus—I understand entirely the thought behind this—the Government have changed it so that the eighth Friday is now in November, but that still gives time for the Bills to become law.

I enjoyed serving with the hon. Gentleman on the Procedure Committee. Was it not the case in the last Parliament that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) had Bills before the eighth Friday, but the Government refused to bring forward a money resolution? That is another issue—if the Government do not bring forward a money resolution, that essentially kills a private Member’s Bill, which is why we need reform.

I am not going to fall foul of the Deputy Speaker, because that is exactly a procedure that I would approve of. The idea that a Government do not lay a money resolution to allow the House to decide whether to pass a Bill is outrageous, but that is part of the problem of getting private Members’ Bills through.

I want to congratulate the Government on doing a very sensible thing. We will now sit on 10 July, hopefully, for the second private Member’s Bill Friday. We have one Friday in September and then a series in October—I think it is every week—and one in November. It is to their credit that the Government have moved on this issue. Unfortunately the Leader of the House will no longer be sitting on the Back Benches arguing for hours on end as to why some private Member’s Bill should not get through, but perhaps he will turn up and sit at the Dispatch Box to listen.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this. I am very pleased to be able to say that the result of the change to the motion has meant that I do not have to speak for three and a half hours and I do not have to throw my 40 Bills on to the Floor of the House.