Procedure Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 188-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Procedure Committee

on Wednesday 30 January 2013

Members present:

Mr Charles Walker (Chair)

Jenny Chapman

Nic Dakin

Thomas Docherty

Sir Roger Gale

Helen Goodman

John Hemming

Mr David Nuttall

Jacob Rees-Mogg


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, Chris Bryant MP, and Martin Horwood MP, gave evidence.

Q134 Chair: Thank you for joining us, gentlemen, for our ongoing investigation into Private Members’ Bills, which has been trundling along for about four weeks. We are taking evidence from some who think that the system is, if not perfect, difficult to improve, and others who are concerned that the process is opaque, disingenuous and leads to public disenchantment with the process of politics.

Before we start and open it up to Members of the Committee, would any of the three of you, Chris, Sir Alan, Martin, like to say a few words? We have received submissions from you, and thank you for that. Is there anything that you would like to say? Sir Alan, would you like to say a few words?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Thank you, Chair. Not really. I penned my submission originally as a very informal document that was not intended to be prescriptive. It threw out an idea, a pattern, which the Committee might like to consider, but there are details within it that I think could be played around in different ways, whether it be application of time limits etcetera. The broad thrust is to maintain and enhance the opportunity for colleagues to raise matters, to get an airing for some of these things, while maintaining a filter for those colleagues who feel that a particular Bill is wholly inappropriate, offensive or not adequate in whatever way; at the same time to use parliamentary time for further enhancement of backbenchers and therefore perhaps to entrust the detailed regulation of it to the Backbench Business Committee, which now exists.

Q135 Chair: Sir Alan, just for the sake of the record, how long have you been a Member of Parliament for?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: With a break of three-and-a-half years, 40-and-a-half years.

Chair: You were Chairman of Ways and Means.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Yes.

Chair: So, Senior Deputy Speaker. You cannot be called a moderniser in the pejorative sense. You have been around. You have been around the course; you have seen it close up. I suppose that is why I am interested in your evidence that you do think there is room for improving the process. It seemed in your evidence that you were concerned about the impression the current system gave to the wider public that Parliament really is impenetrable and perhaps not for them.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I have always, Chair, regarded myself as a moderniser, because nothing is ever perfect. I once had the opportunity to introduce a Private Member’s Bill myself way back in 1974, and that did not get too far. I think it is a good opportunity for Members to be able to be heard on many of these things. Some of them will be perhaps considered wacky, but many, as I said in my letter to you, sometimes contain the seed of something that grows subsequently and might even reach the statute book, not necessarily straight away. I said to you that I must have listened to more of these debates on Fridays perhaps than any other Member around, and it is a travesty. I would like to think that your Committee might come to the conclusion that what is there at the moment, the way it is done, is most unsatisfactory and there has to be some way of improving it, if not necessarily the way I have suggested.

Q136 Chair: Before I bring in my colleagues-I hope this is going to be my last intervention in this part of the inquiry because I know colleagues have lots of questions, but Chris, and then Martin. Chris, can I just ask you very quickly to describe what motivated you to contribute to our inquiry and to appear before us today?

Chris Bryant: Because I think it is a transvestite travesty on a Friday: it is pretending to be something that it is not. It is pretending to be a legislative process, and it is not; it is a grandstanding occasion. It is deliberately written into the rules so that filibustering works. I think it brings the whole system into disrepute and is bad. I think that the problem started a very long time ago. It started in 1811, when the Government decided that it was going to have Mondays and Fridays for Public Bills, in other words their Bills, and that ordinary Members were not going to have any opportunity to advance Bills. Then in 1835 they decided to take Wednesdays as well, and by the end of the century, guess what, they had taken the whole the week.

I would merely point to the Bill that we are going to start considering next Tuesday, the same-sex marriage Bill, as the kind of Bill that I believe should be a Private Member’s Bill. It should not be Government legislation on a partisan basis. If you look at the major kind of social changes that were brought about in the 1960s: abortion, legalising homosexuality and changing the laws on the remarriage of divorcees, all those sprang from Private Members’ legislation that was given time by the Government. In the end, I think we have to find a completely new system that works.

Chair: If we are going to get into 19th century dates, thank God we have Jacob Rees-Mogg with us today.

Chris Bryant: I was going to go into the 18th century, because the other problem is that Edmund Burke in 1790 complained that there were far too many placemen in Parliament and we changed the law so that an Officer of the Crown could not sit in Parliament. He complained that the number was too high because it was 150. There are now more than 150 people on the payroll, and that is another part of the problem.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I have to say, Chair, that what Chris has said makes my near 40 years pretty inadequate.

Q137 Chair: That was not a blasphemous citing of God. I am delighted that we have Jacob Rees-Mogg here, because he is an extremely valuable Member of the Committee with his historical knowledge.

Mr Horwood-Martin-what has motivated you to come before us, beyond our invitation?

Martin Horwood: I made a submission because I thought this was one of those classic issues where people fulminate in bars late at night and complain about the process and never do anything about it. I very much welcome the fact that you are having the inquiry at all, and I hope you make strong recommendations, because I think it is a very inadequate process at the moment. I think some of the things that have been highlighted already I would echo absolutely. Squeezing Private Members’ legislation on to a Friday is inappropriate and means that it is unrepresentative, even when the votes do manage to take place. It is inadequate that it can be filibustered; that Ministers can deliberately talk it out and therefore dismiss an issue from further consideration just by a procedural device. I think it would be best moved to exploit the slot now that has opened up in the parliamentary week on a Tuesday evening, when many of the issues about non-attendance would disappear. I think in other respects it should be treated as far as possible like other legislation. I think it should not be possible for people to torpedo the entire procedure by producing millions of Bills, as has been done by one or two honourable Members in the last couple of years.

I was quite supportive of the idea in your consultation questions about restricting much more the number of Bills that can be put forward by any one person, and I don’t see why that should not be just one at any one time.

Q138 Chair: I am going to open up it up to colleagues. Mr Rees-Mogg, are you champing at the bit?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I was not particularly champing at the bit, but, as you have come to me, the question is the fundamental one of whether it is ever realistic to expect backbenchers to get through legislation that is against the will of the Government that controls the Parliament of the day. If backbenchers use Private Members’ Bills as a means of getting publicity for a cause that they like, they must expect the Government to oppose them if they are not in line with their policy. That can be done in one of two ways. One is whipping everybody to be here to vote down Private Members’ Bills, and the other is to allow for procedures that make it easier for people not to be here and for the Bill to be stopped.

I just wonder whether the Government is going to agree to any proposals that come from this Committee that make it easier for us to get Bills through that Governments don’t like, and that is just a reality that we have to deal with.

Martin Horwood: Sorry, I don’t know if anyone else wants to go first, but I would say that is a question not really about Private Members’ legislation but about perhaps the research and preparation that goes into any legislation and also about the Whip. Not all votes on Government business are whipped. I suppose, if you are going to take Private Members’ legislation more seriously, you have to acknowledge the risk that the Whip will be used more often and that Government amendments might sometimes come forward. I think that would be not unreasonable for Members to expect that, if their legislation is being taken seriously, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that all Private Members’ legislation will be whipped and that the whole independence of it will be lost. I do not think the real reason for it is to get publicity for a cause. I think it should be as with things like David Steel’s Abortion Act, to make an important contribution to legislation in a way that is not always appropriate for Governments to do.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: It is realistic that the Government of the day has a majority and will wish to exercise that majority according to its view. What can be done, however, is to bring transparency to the whole process; that there is an opportunity where Members are required to cast a vote on whether a Bill should get a Second Reading, rather than its being done by the means of a single objection coming from a source which is not always identified-although you can guess. That would open it up, and these issues can be discussed. There will be many colleagues, whatever the subject might be, who will regard something as unsatisfactory and wish to block it. There need to be opportunities for that to happen, but I think you cast light on the whole proceedings, and Parliament would appear to be a better place for that.

Chris Bryant: I would draw a distinction between the will of Parliament and the will of the Government, because quite often the Government does not necessarily know its own will when it comes to many of these Bills. Quite often, they are Bills that are quite close to what the Government was thinking about doing, but because the Government is not doing it they have decided to take umbrage and try to prevent it from going through on the back of some Private Member’s legislation. Sometimes it is not the Government itself that has a settled view, it is some civil servant somewhere who has decided that the Minister should be put up on the Friday to talk it out.

I think we should strive towards a system where more often the House can come to a view, partly because I think that would just improve the quality of some of the legislation. It would make us, as individuals, more precise about the way we operate as individual Members, but I think it would also probably improve the quality of how Government drafts legislation. One of the things that I am sure you all know that the Government does is produce these handout Bills every year for Private Members’ Bills, and what is particularly sad is that even remarkably few of those got through in recent years because of the filibustering elements of what can happen on a Friday. I think one should be able to say that, once a matter is on the table, it has to be resolved before it can be taken off the table.

Q139 Sir Roger Gale: I share Sir Alan’s view that more than 50% of the House is now probably bitterly regretting changing the sitting hours on Tuesdays and that the sooner we change that back to something sensible the better, which leads us to Wednesdays logically. I am persuaded also by Sir Alan’s view that the time has come to make a reasonably radical shift, insofar as anything in this place is radical, and move Private Members’ Bills’ Second Readings to Wednesday evenings. I also share his view that we cannot reasonably dispense with Friday mornings, because to do so would simply be seen to be, yet again, trying to shorten the working week. That would not be what it was, but it is how the press would present it. That creates the opportunity, as Sir Alan suggests, for further proceedings on Bills, which have already been through part of that stage, on Friday mornings.

What I want to ask is do we see this as Committee stage, Report and Third Reading all in one go, or do you see that as Committee stage in Committee, followed by Report and Third Reading on a Friday?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: My own perception was that there would be the normal type of Committee proceeding so that a Bill can be seriously examined. I suggest that maybe-and again if one gave the power to the Backbench Committee-that there could be more than one channel for these Private Members’ Bills, but anything that gets through the Committee-stage channel is surely worthy of being reported to the House and dealt with then on a Friday, with a further opportunity for amendments and Third Reading.

Sir Roger Gale: It would be possible, presumably, to take a Committee of the whole House if the House felt it was necessary to get something through quickly?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Maybe the same criteria would need to apply as what would normally be taken on a Committee stage of the whole House. Again, why not allow the Backbench Committee the power to decide whether that is appropriate or not?

Chris Bryant: I think you would have to allow some kind of programme motion if you were going to do that, because otherwise the filibuster rule-as long as that remains on the table, anybody can talk anything out. I don’t know how many Andrew Dismore speeches I sat through that went on for five hours, and I don’t know that that was a constructive use of anybody’s time. The number of Ministers who are forced to stay in London on a Friday just to be able to vote in that first vote on the Friday morning, and shadow Ministers and all the rest, preventing them from their doing their proper job, is another crazy part of it. I would quite welcome Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. If the Whips then start to whip, so be it, but that might mean that the Government has decided to take a stance rather than just, "We can’t be bothered with this. Let’s just knock it into touch".

I think the one other thing that we could do is revisit the rule that it is only Government legislation that gets to start its processes other than through the Private Members’ Bill. If you just take an instance at the moment, I think it is the settled view of two political parties-three political parties-and certainly a majority of the House, that there should be legislation to follow on from Leveson. I know that is not everybody’s view, but it is a settled view of everybody other than the Prime Minister’s party. But there is literally no means of progressing that; absolutely no means in Parliament of progressing that. That must surely mean that somehow or other the Crown, the Government, has complete hold over the legislature, and I can’t think that that is in the finer traditions of Parliament.

Chair: Martin, do you wish to add to that?

Martin Horwood: That is quite a good argument for allowing the Backbench Business Committee the freedom to give time for legislation to be brought forward, which in my submission I rather objected to, because I thought it gave too much power to the Backbench Business Committee, but perhaps Chris has persuaded me on that.

I think in most respects, if we are going to take Private Members’ legislation seriously, it ought to be treated as much like other legislation as possible, including having a normal Committee stage. I do not think Committees of the whole House are very satisfactory, especially when they are rushed, as we saw only a matter of days ago, so I would treat the Committee stage in the normal way. I do not think the Friday slot-and certainly if it was only a Friday morning slot-would be very satisfactory in any circumstances. I just think it is a really odd and unrepresentative bunch of-sorry, not bunch of people who turn up, which is disrespectful to colleagues-but an odd and unrepresentative way of looking at legislation, to have a self-selected group of 150 of us only there on a Friday, who have been lobbied hardest. I think we should just ditch Friday sittings. To be honest, I think if there is any kind of issue in the media about having a shorter working week, then we should stand up and explain what a constituency is and how we have to spend time there. I don’t think we should be shy about that.

Q140 John Hemming: I had the experience of a Private Member’s Bill on 26 October, and the interesting thing in terms of the balance and challenge between Parliament and the Civil Service is I still don’t have a written explanation about to what was wrong with my Bill. It was bounced by the Whips, and the Whips came to me afterwards and said, "What has happened to your Bill? We supported it" but it had been bounced by the Whips, which is interesting. A lot of this comes to this question of the balance between the Executive and, particularly, the Civil Service. One thing that was raised with us was that the civil servants don’t like having to write a detailed explanation of why a Bill is wrong. They can’t be bothered and therefore ask for Bills to be stopped.

You probably have not gone through all the details of each other’s evidence, but Chris particularly proposed that the whole House determine what Bills have priority. Do you think that is a good idea rather than it being done through a lottery?

Chris Bryant: Should I just explain what I suggested?

John Hemming: Yes.

Chris Bryant: None of this is fixed in stone in my mind; it is just that it seems to me that part of the caprice of the system at the moment is that we have a lottery to decide who gets to do a Private Member’s Bill and then sometimes people who are No. 1 and No. 2 go, "Bugger me, I hadn’t thought what I was going to do. I just put my name in a lottery". It would be much better if we were to adopt a system, because there are clearly things that large numbers of Members would like to advance through legislative means, and maybe people should put their name in with the title of a Bill that they want to do and say what it wants to do and then we have a vote.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I have no strong view about the ballot arrangement. What I was trying to point out was that you would get more Second Readings, therefore more Bills, through my proposal that you use perhaps up to 30 Wednesdays, and if those are selected by another means that you as a Committee believe to be superior to the lottery, as Chris describes it, fair enough, because there are other avenues by which Bills can come into the queue. Again, the Backbench Business Committee, in arranging its business, which it does in public-therefore that is also open-can decide whether one Bill is so self-evidently short or whatever that it can programme another one to be available to be debated that evening if the time allows. So, there could be quite a number of Bills that way that come through. At the moment, under the ballot arrangement, it is really only the first seven that have the best chance, so my proposal opens it up very considerably.

Martin Horwood: I was quite in favour of retaining the random ballot as the least-worst system, just because I worry that the process of having a vote among Members on named Bills would be very open to manipulation, either as a shameless popularity contest, where some external campaign could quite easily bounce Parliament into doing what it thought was most popular rather than what it thought was best, but it would also be quite open to manipulation by the political parties, who would get everybody to vote for the same one Bill and put pressure on people to do that.

The one modification to the random ballot that could easily be made, which might thin it out considerably, is not have the rather strange system where at the moment we put our names down without knowing what on earth we are going to put forward but make people go to the effort of producing a Bill and publishing it before the random ballot takes place. I think that would narrow it down to a very much smaller number.

Chris Bryant: Can I just suggest one other reason why I am now persuading myself that mine is a very good idea-or relatively, anyway-is that the other problem is legislation that feels as if it is just one person’s good idea in the House of Commons also has to get through a process in the second Chamber, and that is one of the difficulties that we also face. Anything that starts its process more than two months into the year is almost certain of failure in terms of getting on to the statute book. I looked back. I could not find anything that had started after two months into the parliamentary Session that had managed to get on to the statute books in the Lords.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Can I just add, Chair, that there is a procedure called carry-over that might, in certain circumstances, be extended to Private Members’ Bills.

Q141 John Hemming: If I take on Chris’ point a bit further, obviously there is pre-legislative scrutiny for Government Bills. Is there merit in bringing the whole process forward and starting a process whereby the decisions as to which Bills are carried forward occurs to some extent after it there has been some consideration of the merits of the Bill? Do you have any comment on that?

Chris Bryant: I suppose another thing you could do in Committee to allow the cold light of the greater world in is, you could have at a Committee stage, if it was upstairs in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House, evidence sessions-

Q142 Thomas Docherty: I will give my apologies now to you, Chairman; I am also doing horse meat in the EFRA Select Committee, and I have a couple of laps of the track today.

All three of you have talked about Private Members’ Bills, I think it is fair to say, purely from the perspective of the ballot Bills. There are also 10-Minute-Rule Bills and Presentation Bills. Both Charlie Elphicke and I are, at a minimum, likely to get five hours on one subject and hopefully, with the grace of some colleagues, maybe two and a half on two. So, do we focus too much on the ballot, so not enough colleagues understand that the presentation option is there and the 10-Minute-Rule Bill option is there if the goal isn’t to get a piece of legislation on to the books, but to craft a Bill?

Secondly, particularly to Chris with his role as former Deputy Leader of the House, following on from the point about Leveson, should the Opposition parties be able to take some or all of their Opposition days and turn them into Second Reading, and perhaps, if by some fluke, they got through Second Reading, the later stages of Bills?

Chris Bryant: I find it exceptional that in the UK Parliament, the British Parliament, we do not have a system whereby anybody other than Government in the normal course of things can advance a legislative proposal-completely unlike the United States or France or Spain or Germany or Italy or anywhere else you choose to think of-and I think that is where we have surrendered too far over the last 200 years. Whether that is the specific way of doing it, whether it should be the Opposition or whether it should be-I don’t know where the proposals are now in terms of a House Business Committee. I gather that some people are less enamoured of it than they were two years ago. I personally would prefer to see a House Business Committee, because then I think that kind of decision can be taken out of the sole hands of the Executive and can be rendered back to the legislature.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I feel relaxed, Chair, about how Private Members’ Bills come into existence. I was simply trying to outline a process for those that do come into existence. It is your Committee that might want to give that much more careful thought.

Chris’ point about the Executive in Parliament: we are not exactly in a totally tiny minority on this. That is a model that is copied in many other places, and while the Executive is in Parliament, I am afraid the Executive will want to exercise its majority. It would be a fairly radical change for us to move to something like the French or the Americans, but I think that probably is outwith this particular inquiry.

Chris Bryant: I agree with that, obviously, and in the end if the Government has a majority, it has a majority, and if it chooses to summon up the blood, and stick to the sinews, it can push things through. It is just that the 10-Minute-Rule Bill-it is a nice little debate, but again, after a certain point in the year, it is a completely futile exercise, other than as a means of making a speech that you might have made in Westminster Hall or anywhere else, to be honest. I just think that we need a system that is not deliberately futile. I can accept the nugatory, but the deliberately futile seems pointless.

Martin Horwood: 10-Minute-Rule Bills at the beginning of the year are not entirely futile, and there is a theoretical possibility that they can turn into law. They have done so in the past, though not for-I think-several decades.

Chair: My predecessor, Marion Roe, got one in on female circumcision, I believe.

Martin Horwood: Yes, that is right.

Chair: So, not to be entirely dismissed.

Martin Horwood: No, not at all, and the one I brought forward was on the pub tie, and it was partly as a campaigning tool, because of course this was something that was under consideration by Government, but part of the discussion was about whether the Government might support the Private Member’s Bill as it went forward. It was only kiboshed in the end because the honourable Member for Christchurch had a dozen Bills in front of it on the day that it was supposed to go up for consideration.

Chris Bryant: But you could allow that slot to be either for 10-Minute-Rule Bills or for a 10-minute, either-side speech on a petition. It is a long time ago that we did away with debates about petitions, but you could, halfway through the year, for instance, once there is no prospect of it turning into legislation-or you could just allow the Member to decide, "I have this slot. I get to make a 10-minute speech. Somebody is going to make a 10-minute speech in opposition if they want to". It could be a petition or a legislative procedure.

Q143 Thomas Docherty: We have understandably focused on these Bills as a way of getting on to the statute book. But following on from Chris’ point there at the end about having the debate and kicking things on-and I think Graham Jones in the last session had a 10-Minute-Rule Bill on scrap metal thefts, which directly led to where we got to in this session with the handout Bill-do you think therefore that we are focusing too much on the goal being to get a Bill on to the statute book, rather than have the debate and, in a future Session, the Government might do something?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Personally, no. I don’t regard it as of necessity one should consider it as a means of getting something on to the statute book, because there will be varied opinions, depending on the subject matter of the Bill, as to whether a majority feel that is remotely a good idea. But it airs the topic, I think that is the important thing, and then the wheat will be separated from the chaff through the processes. Once something is out there in the open and people have to make a decision, because they are going to give a recorded vote on a deferred Division, they will give it more thought. Therefore there is going to be more chance for the better ideas, as judged by a majority, to make progress.

Chris Bryant: That is my problem with the present system: that it does not separate the wheat from the chaff. It just throws all the grain up in the air and it lands back on the ground, and nobody has got any further forward.

Q144 Jenny Chapman: Thomas stole my thunder a bit there, really, but that is okay. I was thinking that with the process, more or less the three of you seem to be working towards something similar. Necessarily, would it mean that fewer Bills got any scrutiny at all-if you can call what they get now scrutiny-in that Members would not get the opportunity, in the way that they do now, to present them perhaps through the 10-minute-rule process, because you would have to somehow whittle it down before that?

Martin Horwood: No, I do not think it necessarily means that. I think it probably means there will be fewer Bills overall, certainly if you limited each Member to one per session or something like that. People would then have to go through a serious process of thought as to what they were going to try to get through and try to gather support for it. As Chris said, if there is a whittling process, I mean, even if it starts with still a relatively large number, as long as you have some kind of rigorous and fair process by which it is whittled down to a much smaller number of really genuine prospects for legislation, I think that would be very satisfactory.

Q145 Jenny Chapman: I think one of the values of what we have at the moment is that a backbencher gets 10 minutes of air time to say whatever they want. The problem with that is it is called a Bill, and that misleads their constituents. We are complicit in that. We encourage that to be believed, and do you think we need some way of maintaining that ability to get your 10 minutes of air time in the Chamber?

Martin Horwood: Yes, I think that is valuable. As Chris said, if you have the ones that might one day become Bills at the beginning of the year, when it is just in timetabling terms a serious prospect, you could have the slot continuing, replacing it with either debates on petition or even Private Members’ motions. You could have very small debates on in the main Chamber. That slot and those opportunities to air an idea are valuable, you are right, but I do not think that should distract you, as a Committee, from trying to provide a proper process for Private Members’ legislation.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: The process that I am suggesting would give rise to that, and if Members are casting a vote on a deferred Division, that may attract the attention of their constituents who have an interest in the matter. There may be correspondence generated by that, which then further gives a profile to the subject. At the moment you hide, don’t you, because there is an anonymous objection that stops something perhaps getting a hearing?

The other thing I could say to the Committee is that if you were minded to cast your eye on what happens in certain other Parliaments for opportunities for a Member to raise a topic, it does not have to be in the framework of a 10-Minute-Rule Bill. It could be done by a statement that they are allowed to make for 10 minutes or quarter of an hour. There are some examples around the Commonwealth Parliaments in particular where you could find interesting ideas if you felt that the 10-Minute-Rule Bill was not the ideal format.

Chris Bryant: I wholly agree, Jenny, that the great thing is that it is prime-time. It is 10 minutes in the Chamber, and also you get a vote or you can end up with a vote. That can be very politically useful for either side of the argument, like people falsely forcing a vote yesterday. Maybe the best thing is to call it the 10-minute-rule debate, and it can either be a process starting a legislative process or debating a petition or, for that matter, a Standing Order change.

Jenny Chapman: So what you call it does not matter?

Chris Bryant: Then it would be up to you, as the Member who has that 10-minute moment, to decide what you want to call it. I think there is a problem about the vast quantity of Presentation Bills. It is not a cheap business, producing all these Presentation Bills, and if they are never going to go anywhere, I am not sure what the value of that is to the great British taxpayer.

Q146 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Is there some magic about it being a law that people are proposing, and that both Members and the organisations they are associated with would much rather have a Bill before Parliament than 10 minutes discussing something else or having a backbench business session? Is that what pushes us always to be looking at Bills as being particularly special?

Martin Horwood: There is a magic to its being a Bill, because we are a legislature.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I agree with that.

Martin Horwood: As Chris quite rightly said, why should the Executive be the only place that originates legislation? We are duly elected at the general election as a Parliament, not as a Government, and you should have alternative methods by which legislation can be brought forward.

Q147 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Is this both the magic and the conundrum, that we all want to get Bills through but we do not ourselves have a majority because we are not the Government, and therefore the Government will oppose them, and therefore we are always looking as if we are proposing Bills that we know in our heart of hearts will fail, but we want to propose them because that is what MPs are for?

Chris Bryant: Let me make another suggestion. One of the things you cannot use the 10-Minute-Rule Bill or Presentation Bill for is a charge on the taxpayer or to vary a tax. I could see that many Members would want to use such a slot, if they were allowed to, to propose a change in a tax rate. It would not necessarily be binding on Government, but I think that would be an additional freedom, and of course it leads to a vote, which might be a valuable thing for us to have.

Q148 Nic Dakin: Just listening, it seems to me there are two main concerns that you are highlighting with the current system. One is around opaqueness and things being called things that they are not-your transvestite travesty, to use Chris’ words. The other is about it being quite an incredible waste of time, particularly on a Friday, and effort and energy of a whole variety of people. I just want to check that those are the main things you are drawing attention to. But then to pick up on Chris’ evidence, he draws attention to EDMs, and that is something else that is a bit of nonsense in terms of opaqueness and relationship. Is there a way here of linking that up in some way?

Martin Horwood: I disagree that those are the two main problems at the moment. I think the main problem at the moment is, I think you would call it, the unfairness or the lack of democracy. It is the fact that perfectly legitimate attempts at legislation, with the support of many Honourable Members, can be defeated effectively by tactics, either tactics by Government or tactics by rogue individuals with malicious intent. I think at times it is not very opaque what is going on; it is all too bloody obvious what is going on. The time spent on it would be time well spent if it wasn’t subject to those kind of vulnerabilities and to people maliciously sabotaging it.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: This is one with a twist. I do think it is a waste of time, and I do not think it does Parliament any good, because it is not seen as serious debating, and more and more people are tuning into the Parliament channel to get an opportunity to see that.

One of the other tediums one has to endure is when constituents write to you and say, "Please support Mr So and So’s Bill for the Second Reading", and it is 8th, 10th or 26th in the order of batting. You have to write a letter to explain why you are not going to be there, and that it will not make any difference that you are not there, because you have priorities to be in your constituency. If one concentrates the further proceedings on Bills-Report and Third Reading-on Fridays, fewer will reach that particular process, and there will be less badgering by constituents because there is a much tighter schedule for that particular day, whereas the Second Readings will of course have been on a different evening and they will in fact all have the chance of your participation.

Chris Bryant: Just in case anybody looks up the record, I do not want to come across as a hypocrite, because I did filibuster once on a Friday. I mean, obviously I couldn’t have done, because Sir Alan would have been in the chair and he would not have allowed me to do so, but I did. I spoke for an hour on the contents of a lemon meringue pie in a debate on a food labelling Bill. It is easy to do. Any Honourable Member can do it. There is a whole chapter in Jeremy Paxman’s book on Friday mornings and how this is done.

So my biggest complaint is that you can talk things out. It is the only part of our system where you can still talk things out, and I don’t think that is a strength of our system. I think that is a weakness, and I think if we were to move to Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, or both, you would still need the other paraphernalia that we have in all other legislative processes in terms of limiting speeches, a cut-off and so on, because otherwise you still end up with the same problem.

Q149 Sir Roger Gale: I want to toss you a thesis and then ask you to skirmish around it just a little. It seems to me that Parliament, the House of Commons-and I will come back to that in a minute-is thoroughly dishonest about this. It is dishonest in collusion with lobbyists and significant national charities, who lead people right up the garden path in believing that in some way legislation is going to happen when patently it is not, and that is dishonest. So, it seems to me that we have to try then to separate out flying a kite, which is a perfectly honourable parliamentary practice, or genuinely trying to legislate and deciding what we want out of private legislation or private time. If we want the former, that is easy. We just have a series of statements, private debates, debates on petitions, or whatever. If we are serious about wanting to create an opportunity to legislate, then we have to devise something like Sir Alan’s suggested procedure for taking this forward in a logical way and denying the worst effects of filibustering, so that a Bill, if it is a Bill, has a chance.

One thing that none of us has discussed is any co-operation with the Upper House. The last Bill to go through the 1997 Parliament-the very last Bill-was Douglas Houghton’s amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which was a House of Lords Private Member’s Bill. It went through all its stages in the House of Lords. It was picked up by a Commons Member and literally went through under the wire just before the House was dissolved for the election. It may be that you might feel that we ought to be talking to the House of Lords as well to devise a legislative process that could work in the round for private legislation.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I certainly would not want to discourage you from talking to the House of Lords, taking evidence from the House of Lords, as to what they feel about this, but I think the merit in my suggestion that the Backbench Business Committee be given a role in overseeing the whole process of Private Members’ Bills would help flush out the abuse that Sir Roger was hinting at, in terms of the pressure being put on by some outside organisation. One would be able to make an assessment of that in public by questioning and so on. I think this could make the Backbench Business Committee a very much more significant Committee than it has already become, and that that would be helpful

They could decide, if there was a satisfactory understanding with an equivalent body or with the powers that be in the House of Lords, that there might be-at a certain point in the parliamentary year, which is now more settled-the opportunity for one or two slots that might come from a Bill that originated in the House of Lords.

Chris Bryant: You might want to negotiate an agreement between the two Houses that something that had been considered through all its stages in one House would automatically be granted either carry-over or adequate space to be able to be properly considered in the other House. That seems to me an eminently sensible suggestion.

Incidentally-and I cannot remember his first name-Plimsoll, the guy who tried for years and years to change the legislation, and he had a bee in his bonnet about it, because so many people died in ships that sank below what is now known as the Plimsoll Line, because of his legislation. He is the kind of politician who everybody hated, because he only had one thing that he banged on and on and on about, but in the end he probably saved millions of peoples’ lives.

Chair: I am so tempted to identify a politician who we are expecting great things from, who is also so hated, but I will not. He is simply a politician not in this room.

Q150 Mr Nuttall: Chairman, can I just try to pull a few strands and themes together? First, can I see whether we can all agree that fundamentally all the witnesses feel that all legislation, whether it is Government legislation or Private Members’ Bills, ought to go through broadly the same stages and that it should not be easier for Private Members’ Bills than for Government Bills to get on to the statute book?

Chris Bryant: I do not think it should be easier, and it certainly isn’t. It is considerably more difficult. But it should be easier to initiate or it should be as easy to get the first stage, unless it is-

Mr Nuttall: It is pretty easy already, isn’t it, because you can just turn up with a Presentation Bill and get on the list?

Chris Bryant: That is not really a first stage. That is sort of-not your fib, but it is a fib of the system, isn’t it, really, that that is really starting the process?

Mr Nuttall: You mean your first stage is to get your debate going on the Floor?

Chris Bryant: To have a Second Reading debate, to be honest.

Mr Nuttall: To get a Second Reading, yes; everybody else okay with those two fundamental things?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Yes.

Q151 Mr Nuttall: The second fundamental problem as I see it, and everybody seems to identify with, is the fact of life that what goes on is that a lot of Bills do not proceed because they run out of time in the Session and they are not voted on. In other words, they die not because of a vote but because of lack of time.

Chris Bryant: Yes. There was plenty of time-

Mr Nuttall: Lack of time because of the rules. If you run out, you go to the back of the list; lack of time.

Chris Bryant: Some Members have developed new ways for sabotaging things that don’t involve talking them out.

Q152 Mr Nuttall: Let me put it this way. For example, if the rule was that, instead of going to the back of the list, you went to the front of the list the week after, most people would think, "Well, do we have another five hours of this?"

Chris Bryant: Except that at the moment you only need two people to sink a Bill.

Mr Nuttall: Yes, but anyway, the fundamental point is that it is done by talking rather than voting.

Chris Bryant: Yes.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: What I would say is you can’t completely open it up to the point that any Bill that is produced, by whatever means, is going to go the full course or indeed get a hearing. But under a system such as I am proposing, many more will get there. At the moment, the seven Bills that get the chance of the first pick on a Friday-that is, seven out of the 13 Fridays-could take by design-or simply because of their substance-the whole of the time, in which case, all the rest of the Bills that are queued up behind are subject to a quick death on the sounding of one voiced objection. Under my proposal, many more of those Bills will at least have some opportunity for debate to take place.

Mr Nuttall: Sixty-five hours and seven Bills; roughly, you are talking about nine hours a Bill.

Chris Bryant: But how many were resolved in that time?

Mr Nuttall: Most of those will have been debated, won’t they?

Chris Bryant: They will have been debated, but not resolved. That is my point really. So you just keep on debating until you stop, and then it is adjourned until some other time.

Mr Nuttall: Seven do get on the statute book, is that what you are saying?

Chris Bryant: No, no.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: No, seven have a good chance of getting their Second Reading-

Mr Nuttall: Oh, I see what you mean.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: -but for those that are waiting behind-

Mr Nuttall: If we look at this Session, lots of Bills have gone through to the other place and are waiting.

Chris Bryant: Private Members’ Bills?

Mr Nuttall: Yes. There have been quite a few.

Chair: Quite a few are handout Bills.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Yes.

Chris Bryant: In the last session, three or four.

Q153 Mr Nuttall: I think that comes back to the point that we have made many times in this inquiry: the only Bills that really do stand a chance of making progress are the ones that have the Government’s backing.

Chris Bryant: My point is that my experience of being in the Leader’s Office, which was all about the Legislative Committee and deciding what attitude we were going to adopt to any Private Members’ Bill, is that quite often Government-and I do not think the new Government is any different from the old Government in this respect, or the one before it-did not really come to a view. It just thought, "This is a bit of a pain. We don’t want to upset anybody by saying no, so we will just enable it to be talked out". That is, in the end, a fundamentally dishonest process.

Q154 Chair: I would like to come in on that point. I think it is important to recognise that getting legislation on the statute book-as Mr Nuttall has said, and I think Mr Rees-Mogg has hinted at-should not be easy, but the process, if the Government wants to stop a Bill, has to be transparent.

Chris Bryant: Yes, or the House wants to stop it.

Chair: Yes, or the House wants to stop it, and you have to be accountable for that. You are accountable in this place through the Division lobbies, and then you can answer to your constituents for your actions.

Martin Horwood: I think what we are not saying is that it should be much, much easier for a Private Member’s Bill to get through the process, it is that it should not be any easier to stop than any other form of legislation; that you should not be able to use tactical devices or publishing lots of Bills to stack up the day before to stop it, and I think that would improve the process enormously.

Chris Bryant: It is not a sign of greater success that 50 Bills are passed in one year compared with 40 in the previous year. Indeed, it might be quite the opposite.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I think the important thing is a Bill can gain momentum. It may fail in a Session, but at least it has been heard; people then are thinking about it. There may be correspondence generated about it, debate in the media about it, and that will lead to it coming back again on another occasion in a slightly modified form possibly, or even the same. Therefore, an idea is born and may prosper.

Martin Horwood: Just one last thing, because David mentioned it, that does not necessarily mean that only Bills with Government support will ultimately progress. Government can be neutral, as it was on something like the Abortion Act, or it can be nudged into it, as it was on something like the Sustainable Communities Act, which passed with wide party support.

Chair: We have another panel sitting patiently behind you, and we do not want them to start disappearing. Jacob, last question; brief answers, gentlemen, thank you.

Q155 Jacob Rees-Mogg: So, you want it to be difficult in a different way, and I just wonder if this Committee would be thanked if what we ended up doing-though I rather approve of us doing this-was getting everyone here on a Friday to be whipped, to vote down a Bill that the Government did not like that had previously been talked out by two people, put up to it by the Whips?

Martin Horwood: I think you should get rid of Fridays anyway, because I think that is part of the problem.

Chris Bryant: I rather disagree with Sir Roger, because I think that in the end we have to grasp this nettle. To my mind, as somebody whose constituency is some way away and so I cannot just decide to go there of an evening and come back the next day, if I lose a Friday in my constituency, I have lost a very substantial part of serving my constituents.

Chair: It is fair to say, and I might be wrong, that whatever recommendations this Committee makes will have to go before the House, so if we do start suggesting that people need to be dragged here on Fridays, we perhaps will not be so successful in getting our recommendations adopted.

Can I thank you all. I am fascinated by the Plimsoll Line, and there is a Member of Parliament whom I believe greatness awaits. Thanks a lot; I would like to thank the three of you-very considered evidence-and thank you very much for advancing our thinking on this.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr David Hamilton MP, Barbara Keeley MP, and Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, gave evidence.

Q156 Chair: Thank you very much for sitting through the evidence of the previous colleagues. Shall we leap almost straight in? Does anybody have anything burning to get off their chest before we start?

Dr Coffey: Who, us?

Chair: Yes.

Dr Coffey: I will not say it is burning. I fundamentally agree; I do not think it should be easy to get a Private Member’s Bill through Parliament, because you do not have the mandate. I would make that point. One of the points that Sir Roger started along about the Lords I thought was quite interesting, because even though I shepherded a handout Bill effectively that I chose from a list-I weighed up the rights and wrongs; one of them I thought, "Oh, that might mean job losses"-when it was going up to the Lords, you were basically left on your own. So, I was trying to find a Peer. The Peer then had a struggle to lobby interest, basically. So, some Peers have extensive outside interests. That is when it all piled in, and whereas it had been quite easy for me to get it through the Commons- relatively straightforward-for the Peer at the other end, it was quite hard. So it was quite an interesting dynamic on that and we were both new girls, and now she is in Government, so she did well, obviously. I just thought I would share that.

Chair: Barbara?

Barbara Keeley: Yes, I can share that I was third in the Private Members’ ballot this year and brought a Bill forward, which I can talk about more. However, I got so far as identifying a Peer who was going to take it through the House of Lords if we had got that far. Baroness Pitkeathley agreed. The subject of my Bill was carers-and I can go on later or I can say it now-there had been three previous pieces of legislation taken through the House on carers. In fact, for 10 years the only legislation giving carers rights was done through Private Members’ legislation, by Malcolm Wicks, Tom Pendry and Hywel Francis across the 10 years, with both Governments in the end agreeing to support those Bills. So it may be on certain subjects that there can be cross-party support and support in the other place, and if what happened to my Bill had not happened-and I feel quite strongly about it-I think it could have gone through the House of Lords.

Chair: David?

Mr Hamilton: Chairman, this is the first1 time I have ever written to the Procedure Committee. I used to be a Member of the Procedure Committee, but I felt quite strongly that as Parliament changes-and it has changed quite a bit, even in the short time I have been here since 2001-we have to change some of the rules that apply in it. I was not one who agreed we should change the hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, but if that is to remain, then we have to adapt to accommodate that. I think one of the reasons I wrote is because I, like every other MP, get a bit fed up getting letters from constituents who believe that Friday is an important day, and I find it difficult on every single occasion to explain to a member of the public, a constituent of mine, that this Bill is not going to see the light of day, it is No. 10 or something on the list, and constituents find it very difficult to understand why you are not down there.

Just on the last quick comment that was made, I am from Scotland. If I am here on a Friday, and I do now and again come down on a Friday, that is two weeks I will not be in the constituency; two weeks of work is all backlogged, and I have to try to work that through. Therefore my view is this is about transparency, it is about perception, and it is about how we can actually deal with the business better. If they choose that the hours are to remain the way they are, I strongly believe that we should be seriously looking at the Fridays moving on to a Tuesday/Wednesday. But I do accept the point that Sir Roger made earlier, about the perception that the press take: that we have a four-day week. We would have a job to do about that, but I do think that recording votes is important-and I listened to Sir Alan Haselhurst, and there is not much that I disagreed with in what he said. I think Members have to be seen to be accountable-that is really important.

Q157 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very interested in the paper you have presented, and agree that constituents are bemused about the listings on Fridays and expect all of them to be considered, even when they are Presentation Bills that have been put on so late in the day that it would be almost impossible to get debated in any system we devised. Do you think, beyond the Procedure Committee, there is a responsibility-and you discuss this a bit in your paper, Mr Hamilton-for MPs to be more limited in what they seek to do with Private Members’ Bills, because some Bills are just put down to make a political point, to get a bit of publicity for it, that is it, with the Member promoting it having no expectation it will ever come into law. I wonder whether there is a responsibility for us as MPs, as well as for the procedures.

Mr Hamilton: My answer would be that one of the changes that came in over the last few years has been about the petitions that we can deliver in the House of Commons. A lot of Members are unaware of that. If there are populist issues that are out there, that is one mechanism you can use. The 10-Minute-Rule Bill allows you to get up and argue an issue. On the Fridays, when we talk about the Bills that are being put forward, many of them are brought to the attention of the individual after he or she puts their application in. Then you get the lobby groups coming in saying, "I want you to deal with this". So, in many cases, they don’t even know what the Bill is going to be when they make the application. It is the transparency part of it. There are other mechanisms that can be used if you want to publicise a specific issue. The petitions is one and the 10-Minute-Rule Bill is another, and I think in that sense, yes, there are other areas that you can use.

But on this question about sitting on Fridays, how we can go through a Friday and you never got off the No. 1 mark-you might be four or five down the road and you are never going to see the light of day after that-many of us have suffered through that. I suffered last year under that system when the Bill was talked out. That happens. My view is I would rather we had fewer proposals being put forward, fewer Bills being put forward and the chance of getting through them, but having a mechanism that shows the people making a determination of yes or no, so that people are held accountable and cannot hide behind the fact, "Well, I do not agree with that, but I am not going to tell you I don’t agree with that because it never reached the light of day anyway". I believe that there should be a Division on issues such as that, and I think that is one way of doing it. There are three avenues, in my view, that you can use over and above business questions and so on, to publicise issues that are relevant to your constituency.

Q158 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I just want to follow on from that, and bring all three of you in, and ask whether you feel that when people apply for the ballot they ought to have nominated the Bill that they would want to bring in, and, Dr Coffey, having taken a handout Bill, it might be helpful if you explain how that worked in a bit more detail.

Dr Coffey: Sure. I think it was one of the great ceremonies when we arrived as Members of the new intake to have the opportunity to participate in the ballot, and it is still a bit of an institution. My predecessor, Lord Deben, commented that he was never successful in all his years here in securing a place. I suppose you realise very quickly that only the first seven are guaranteed a debate because of the way you can get to present it and be first on that day, and I suppose there is the opportunity with a Bill, when you are successful in the ballot, to either try to get something or use it as a way to try to understand how Parliament works and get something through Committee and similar. So that is why I agreed to take a handout Bill. I think there was a list of about 15, because I spoke to one of the Whips who was in charge of this, who said, "These are the things we’re looking at; some quite interesting stuff. Some stuff, it’s a bit dull" and I went away and looked at all of them and I chose the one that I thought would be useful, or was that easily explainable, as it were, to my constituents, because I am in a coastal constituency.

After that process, I think one of the interesting things is about timing-that was referred to earlier-that on the day when you are coming to do your whatever, you are busy waiting to see which are the most controversial Bills that might get held up and get talked out. So, you do not want to be No. 2 or No. 3 behind them, and there is this running calculation behind the Speaker’s chair while the person in front of you takes one of the slots and then you recalculate. It seems a bit haphazard, if that makes sense, but, dare I say it, that is also part of the fun, the agility of Parliament. The reason I like the idea of the 10-Minute-Rule Bill or the Presentation Bill, although I prefer one at a time-you can only have one of each-is that if you miss out on the ballot, there is no other way to get any legislation underway, and I think there have been some other Bills that have come through the 10-Minute-Rule Bill and the Presentation Bills and become law. So I do not think we should exclude from backbenchers an opportunity to do that.

Barbara Keeley: No, and in entering the ballot I could have probably named the Bill that I wanted to introduce. I had brought, across five or six years, three 10-Minute-Rule Bills on the identification of carers. So, the Bill I brought forward after the ballot was the identification of carers plus a new aspect to it, some new clauses. But in fact part of the Bill was already written anyway, and, in fact, each time I brought the 10-Minute-Rule Bill I had a printed Bill that could have gone through, because I think that that is important.

I agree with Dr Coffey; it is a really good way to open up a debate on a particular issue. The Minister sits in on the debate usually. The other thing I think that is important is that in each case, even with 10-Minute-Rule Bills, it opened up a channel of communication to the Minister and each time, I had discussions and meetings with him, and prior to introducing my Private Member’s Bill after the ballot, I had had a number of meetings with the then Minister. I think the thing that really scuppered it in the week of the Second Reading debate, apart from people wanting to talk it out, was the reshuffle. In fact, the Minister I had spent all the time meeting and discussing the Bill with was reshuffled out of his job three days before the Second Reading debate, which is just one of those things that happen, but it was useful in building that channel.

I have now just come down the corridor from the Joint Committee on the draft Care and Support Bill, where I am trying to take forward certain aspects of the Bill that I introduced. So, I think on certain subjects it can be-I mean, clearly the experience is very variable, depending on the subject.

Mr Hamilton: I think the question was also on the point about handout Bills, as opposed to perhaps doing the work before you go for the Bill. The only problem with that is that the organisations that lobby you would find that out anyway and you could end up with 20 or so Bills coming through that are exactly the same, because they would try to find out if you had put in for a Private Member’s Bill, and they would then spread their argument. They may go and get 20 or 30 MPs and say, "Would you put that Bill forward?" and it could end up with the first five coming out exactly the same.

The benefit of the handout Bill is that although you have an idea in your mind what you want to do, you can change your mind, because you know what is coming through and you can discuss with the Clerks what the best opportunities are. You may have two or three different ideas, and if you accept a handout of a lobby, you also have the support of that organisation helping you get through. So, I am quite okay with the system; I just think there is a downside to doing a Bill, and I can imagine MPs being lobbied quite heavily if you were going to be doing that.

Dr Coffey: Mr Chairman, the deluge of phone calls was extraordinary. Campaign groups knew before I did that I had been chosen in the ballot, and the e-mails and the phone calls were extraordinary.

Chair: You heard our last evidence session. I think there are some ideas around Members of Parliament entering the ballot only when they have a Bill to take through, and I know you touched on that, David, but I do think it is not unreasonable to expect Members of Parliament to be motivated by the desire to make changes that come from within themselves. I mean, we are not sort of empty vessels to be filled.

Mr Hamilton: Mr Chairman, just on that point, the other way you could do it of course is that you could submit the ballot with a couple of reserve issues, and that would allow you the flexibility to come through. That may be a way to do it.

Chair: Yes.

Q159 Sir Roger Gale: First, I apologise as I am going to have to leave in a minute, but before I do I want to try to get your impression of whether you think this is about legislation or whether it is about flying a flag, because I remain very concerned that the public, by and large, are misled by the process. They believe that something will happen, and a lot of them believe very passionately that something will happen. There are other ways of making changes. Very few Members bother to ride a Government Bill and seek to table a new clause, for example, which effectively can be a one-clause Bill, rather than pretending that you are going to take a Bill through Parliament.

The House of Lords route-I heard what you said, Thérèse and Barbara, about having Peers lined up, but-the other way round-it is my perception that it seems to stand more chance: that if you can get a Bill through the House of Lords, which appears to be a more reasonable place, then our House treats it with slightly greater respect because it has already had a hearing in another House. However, what I really want to know is whether you feel that we can be fish and fowl or whether we ought to be honest and say one or the other: either beef up the legislative process so that it can work, or accept the fact that it is not going to be legislation and use it to discuss business. What do you feel?

Barbara Keeley: We need to be clear about it, you are right. I think the thing that is very unfair in terms of public perception is that people are not clear about it. I had the argument-I think it was either yesterday or the day before-with somebody who wanted me to sign an EDM, which I do not sign. The EDM was related to a Bill that is scheduled for this Friday, and I had the argument, "You don’t care about this and I think this is an important issue. Why aren’t you there?" and all that type of thing, despite the fact that I have a very heavy day’s work in the constituency lined up on Friday that I was not going to abandon for a Bill that probably will not go through. It is the same with EDMs, I think. We are not honest about EDMs. We are not honest about a lot of the Bills.

But in terms of can it really be a Bill as well as flying a flag, as I said, no carers’ legislation came from Government at all across a period of 10 years, and without Private Members’ Bills, 6.5 million people would not have had the rights that Malcolm Wicks, Tom Pendry and Hywel Francis gave them through those three Bills. So if we say, "You can never get a Bill through", we are saying that sometimes groups of people that are wrongly ignored by Governments have no hope really, and I think that is important. There were difficulties around the timing for me, and there were issues in the Second Reading debate itself, which we can touch on, but I think it is possible to take through legislation.

A very good piece of legislation went through the last Parliament in the last few weeks about the control of tanning salons, after I think a child in Wales-I don’t know if it was in Wales; it was a Welsh MP who took the legislation through-had been very badly burned on slot machines for tanning in salons. That went through very quickly. Sometimes Bills can go through and actually do a lot of good. There was a big campaign around that, but it went through the House quite easily because it was a simple piece of legislation about control of those things. So, sometimes good can be done even very late in a parliamentary Session. But we have to be honest about it and have a procedure that works, which we do not have at the moment.

Dr Coffey: Sir Roger, in the last session I shepherded a ballot Bill, then I also had a 10-Minute-Rule Bill, but I deliberately did not then do the legislation bit of it, so it fell, I guess. Thinking about that in the future, perhaps what I could do-or should do in the future-is to use backbench business time. Although now I am a PPS, I can still table a 10-Minute-Rule Bill but I can’t get backbench business time. So there is a bit of an aspect there. When I started off the 10-Minute-Rule Bill, I did think, "This is something where I’d like to progress the legislation", but then I realised quite how complex it was going to be to draft, and that is why it finished there.

On your bit about the Lords, the only Bill I can remember coming through in the very recent history since I was elected is the music Bill piloted by Tim Clement-Jones and then by Don Foster here. I do not remember any other Lords Bills coming through.

Sir Roger Gale: It was never debated, that Bill, I do not think.

Dr Coffey: It was debated. That was another example of a Bill where there were more than 100 people in the Commons ready to do that procedure. The only other one I can remember is the Daylight Saving Bill.

Q160 Chair: Very briefly, on handout Bills. I can understand that, as a new Member of Parliament you come up in the ballot, the whole place is a mystery to you and you get pushed into a corner by a Whip-I am exaggerating slightly-and a Bill is thrust at you. However, it does disturb me that Members of Parliament who have been here for many years score highly in the ballot and end up taking a handout Bill through. It pains me. Do you think that handout Bills are a slight abuse of what is a Private Member’s Bill process; that handout Bills produced by Government-"Here, we couldn’t get it in the Queen’s Speech. Take it through for us"-is a healthy way to approach Private Members’ Bills? David?

Mr Hamilton: I thought I had already answered that earlier.

Chair: I know, but let us explore it further.

Mr Hamilton: I am genuinely nonplussed about that. I will come back to that point, but I would like to answer Sir Roger’s point. I believe we’ve got to beef up what is there. I believe we are being disingenuous when we tell people that there is a possibility of things going through. I think organisations that fight these issues are really quite crude and cruel in how they do it, because they get their 10 minutes of glory by pressurising MPs, go back to our constituents and tell them, "That MP is going to fight your fight", and you know full well it is not going to go anywhere. I think I would rather take fewer Bills through with more chance of them going through, rather than more Bills going through and it doesn’t work. I just think we’ve got to beef up that system. The last 10-Minute-Rule Bill that went through Parliament I think was 10 years ago: Andrew Dismore, who is not unusually shy on a Friday. That was the last one that got through. So, the 10-Minute-Rule Bill-the chances of it ever getting through are very, very limited, and I think as a Committee we have to maybe look at what can be done, what is practical and what is the outcome; what is it you want to get? If it is a presentation-you want to highlight an issue-there are other avenues you can do that in, and we should perhaps be more restrictive in relation to Fridays.

But the point I think about the handouts is there is a benefit, and the benefit is it is what is happening at the time when you put your Bill in. When you put your application in, there is a time lapse between the time that you do that and when it comes out. I have no problem. I am really nonplussed about it. As an individual Member who has been here 11 years, I do think you should be doing a bit of spadework before you go in there. I am aware that some Whips put pressure on if you are gullible enough to listen to them when they ask you, but you should not listen to a Whip on Private Members’ Bills. It is an issue that should be near to your heart. It should be something that you see good in, and generally it should relate to your constituents.

Barbara Keeley: Yes, I think the same thing. I would not ever have taken a handout Bill through. The Government can put simple Bills together and put them through, if that is what it wants to do. It is not as if, when we look at all the Thursday general debates and other debates, which are not in Government time, that we are short of time or have a lot of legislation. We do not. Simple Bills can go through quite quickly, so I do not think there is a reason. I do think that the 10-Minute-Rule Bill can-particularly if you produce a Bill-be a good learning vehicle, and I think they should continue. But I think the important thing is we have to start being more honest with the public about what they are. Perhaps we could be helped-I noticed watching Borgen, the political programme from Denmark, they have debates and they call it Bills. So, the Prime Minister presents a Bill and she changes her wording while she is in there and the Opposition present a Bill. I do not know how accurate that is. But in some areas, like the social care/carers area that I had the Bills on, it is absolutely crying out for change. It is an area of policy that is both very contentious because it is expensive but there is a great deal of need, and it is not right, in my view, to lift people’s expectations that something is going to happen.

Dr Coffey: I was new to Parliament and-

Q161 Chair: Say in 20 years’ time you score highly again in the ballot; what are you going to do?

Dr Coffey: If I scored highly, I think-

Chair: Again, now you know your way around.

Dr Coffey: -I would not need to, necessarily. I think if I came in at 20 again, I would have to decide myself, "Do I want the hassle of take a Bill through?" or now I have done that learning experience, because I think just doing 10-Minute-Rule Bill you only get part of the way, you do not actually get into Committee and go and find Committee members and all that side of it.

Chair: You would not need to do what again? You said you would not need to take a handout.

Dr Coffey: I would not need to do the learning. No, I would not need to do that.

Chair: Right.

Dr Coffey: One of the things that I find a bit bizarre is that the 10-Minute-Rule Bill-you don’t have to give the title of your Bill when you go and book your slot. You can put in this holding thing, and that seems a bit odd to me. I know the Whips try to divvy the times up on these things, but I did not for mine. I just turned up and got my slot, but I am not sure that I encourage colleagues to do that. So would I do it again? Not particularly. But did I value the experience? Yes, I did.

Q162 Mr Nuttall: I want to explore, first, the time element. At the moment we have 13 Fridays and five hours on each Friday, so 65 hours. How much time do you feel the Bill should be debated on the Floor of the House, and how much time would you like to see it have?

Barbara Keeley: Can I answer?

Mr Nuttall: Yes, Barbara.

Barbara Keeley: If there were time limits, I think three hours, three-and-a-half hours, even for a-

Mr Nuttall: For a Second Reading?

Barbara Keeley: For a Second Reading. My Bill-the full Bill was actually six clauses, leaving out all the technical clauses at the end. I think something like that, something like three, three-and-a-half hours, would be fine; longer than the 90-minute debates that you get in Westminster Hall, but I think with discipline by the sponsor and the shadow Ministers you could do that. But I think it is really important to have time limits. You were involved in that debate.

Mr Nuttall: Yes, I remember.

Barbara Keeley: You need programming obviously to set three, three-and-a-half hours or whatever.

Mr Nuttall: Or just a fixed time limit in Standing Orders?

Barbara Keeley: A shorter Bill could be 90 minutes. There is no point allocating three-and-a-half hours for something that could be done in an hour.

Q163 Mr Nuttall: Yes, but the point we made before about the shorter Bill is that the length of the Bill will not necessarily give any indication about the issue involved. We used the example in the previous evidence session of you could have a one-line Bill saying that, "We repeal the 1972 European Communities Act". It would only be one line long, but it would be a fairly lengthy debate. So it is difficult to say just by looking at the length of the Bill how long the debate might be.

Barbara Keeley: From my earlier experience of the 10-Minute-Rule Bills, the Bill I drafted was five clauses, but it was fairly simple in that it was one concept, the identification of carers. For the Bill that I brought in September, there was an added element of the complication around sufficiency of local care. So there were two ideas there to be debated. That is why it needed to come in longer. But I think some things-

Mr Nuttall: Three-and-a-half hours.

Barbara Keeley: Yes, three, three-and-a-half hours.

Mr Nuttall: Is that similar to you?

Mr Hamilton: I think the practicality is if you talked in terms of moving to, say, a Tuesday/Wednesday night from a Friday, the practical sense of that would be that you would not get started until 7.30 at night and finish at 10 o’clock. That is two and a half hours. Therefore you would have to put a time limit on. The key to me is that there should be a Division at the end of that, or a deferred Division, so that people can then be seen to be accountable for the decision they have taken.

But you are right in the sense that that might not be enough time to talk about it, but that is why we have Committees. The Committee can talk about all the details, and then of course you can get the meat on the bone, if you like, and that can take as long as it takes. It is a matter of taking it, moving it to the next stage, but of course always having the right to come back again. The House will have to make a decision, a determination of whether they support or not. If that is the Government line on that, then that is fine. I take the view that the Government have a majority. Every Government has their view. If they want to vote that position, then they will do that. But I think if it has been to Committee, it is then much easier for arguments to be put against or for, because you will have a detailed report coming back from Committee.

Q164 Mr Nuttall: How long did your Bill spend in Committee?

Dr Coffey: Seven minutes in the Commons.

Mr Nuttall: In Committee?

Dr Coffey: A lot longer in the Lords.

Chair: Fourteen minutes, 21 minutes? Days?

Mr Nuttall: At the Committee stage?

Dr Coffey: Multiple hours. It was a non-contentious Bill. It was a treaty ratification that had been done by the previous Government, so it was not contentious. What happened in the Lords is that the Lords were trying to put other things into it, amend it and make it more complicated. I do not know why Fridays are not longer than they are now. I think it would make it harder for the Government to stretch it out, for a start. I do not know why they are just five hours. What I do not like is the bunching of Fridays; that they seem to be regularly in a row.

I slightly have a different view from Mr Hamilton. If Parliament is sitting and this is an opportunity to try to get a Bill through, I am happy to say to my constituents, "This is the reason I’m in Parliament on this day", and I accommodate for it. What is difficult is when it feels that they are four or five Fridays in a row, or within two months, because then you are not home. If it was more like one a month or occasionally two, then I am happier to have that discussion. I appreciate I am not as far away as either of these two, but it still takes on a Friday afternoon three-and-a-half hours to get back to the constituency.

Chair: We are going to try to wrap up at 4.30pm, so you can be away in good time.

Q165 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I want to ask about the Divisions on these Private Members’ Bills, because I absolutely agree that it would be right to have Divisions. But if we moved to Wednesday evenings, and it is a Division in favour of a Second Reading of 18 to 17, is that enough for a Bill to proceed? Ought there to be a hurdle, as there is for a closure, of 100, assuming these Bills are opposed? I would not be in favour of Bills going through on very, very small numbers. I think there needs to be some support. I wonder whether the three of you would agree with that.

Dr Coffey: I personally think if it wins by one vote, it does not matter how small that is. If Members are bothered enough, they should turn up to vote, and I fundamentally disagree with deferred Division voting.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Below 35 it would fall anyway; 35 is-

Dr Coffey: Whatever the current rules are, I think.

Q166 Chair: You disagree with deferred Divisions?

Dr Coffey: Yes. If you want to have non-mandated legislation go through the House, you have to put that extra effort into it. The Government has a mandate on a general philosophy of manifesto. An individual Member does not on a Bill.

Barbara Keeley: I think it really depends on this question of Tuesdays or Fridays: whether we stick with Fridays; whether we open up the possibilities of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. I would support that. I think for quite a lot of people they are a long way from home. They are here on Tuesdays anyway. I think it is very difficult indeed to get 100 people together to be here on Fridays. I know it happens. So I think that is very important. I think anything above the 35; I agree with Thérèse on that.

Mr Hamilton: I agree with a set number as it stands at the present time, not just a majority. I think that would be fine, because by my calculation there are a substantial number of Scots-40 Labour MPs. I think I know their feelings-they are all here anyway, and on that basis it would be relatively easy to get to that number. The other important factor is if you have the vote, people are accountable for the vote, and if they are not there, they will have to explain why they are not there on that issue.

I would also make the point, depending on what the issue is that is coming up on the Tuesday or the Wednesday, a lot of local MPs who might be away early that night could decide, "No, I want to be involved in this one", so I think that would generate an interest also.

Q167 John Hemming: Thérèse was saying she does not like deferred Divisions for this particular area. What about the two of you?

Mr Hamilton: I am okay with deferred Divisions. People are still accountable.

John Hemming: You are happy enough with deferred Divisions?

Barbara Keeley: I am okay. I think there are so many variables here. It depends if we move to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

John Hemming: Yes, but obviously if you have a deferred Division at some stage to determine the will of the House, that is reasonable?

Barbara Keeley: It may be that it should be used in later stages, to be honest. I just want to say, as we are finishing, it could have made a lot of difference to the group of people that we were trying to do something for. I had 11 sponsors and a lot of support for my Bill. What we wanted to do was take it through to Committee, start some campaigns and be able to raise awareness, and push those issues across the whole cross-party group of 11 MPs that supported my Bill. Talking it out took that away and I think that is a shame, because we had a plan that we had worked up. We spent time on it; we worked with Ministers; I had worked on drafting it. To finish it on the basis of it suiting a small group of MPs and the Minister to talk it out is, I think, tragic, and tragic for an issue that affects 6.5 million people.

Q168 Chair: I would say that if the Government wanted to kill it then they should have whipped the payroll and others to go and kill it, and people could have then held those Members of Parliament to account through the roll-call.

Barbara Keeley: Yes, but they will do that with deferred Divisions.

Chair: What I am saying is if you talk a Bill out and the Government talks a Bill out because it wants it talked out, it is avoiding being held accountable for that decision because people do not understand the process. If a Government wants to kill a Bill, it should absolutely be allowed to kill a Bill, but it should be done openly and honestly, as opposed to using parliamentary procedure to sort it out, so they can say, "We supported it, but there were these terrible MPs who talked it out", when the MPs were acting under orders from the Whips Office.

Mr Hamilton: I agree with that.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: That is if all parties are willing to be Whip’s patsies in this regard. I always tell everybody if I have been a Whip’s patsy, but anyway-

Chair: We are always at fault. We are Members of Parliament. I thank the three of you: really, really well-thought-through evidence. You have prepared well. We have had two fantastic sessions, and that is only made possible by the diligence of those colleagues who have come before us today. Thank you for your patience, being the second panel. Thank you very much, all three of you.

[1] Witness correction: This was actually the second time that I have submitted written evidence to the Procedure Select Committee; in March 2011 I submitted a paper for the Committee’s inquiry , Sittings of the House and the Parliamentary Calendar.

Prepared 28th August 2013