6 Conclusion |
86. As the process currently operates, the term "private
Members' bills" is a misnomer. In terms of the legislation
emerging from the process onto the statute book, it is Government-dominated.
In terms of the debates which are held on private Members' Fridays,
the position is a little better, in that at least private Members
are largely in charge of them; but the process is dominated by
a small number of Members who understand how to use the system
and are prepared to play the Friday games necessary to do so.
Meanwhile, the process allows the House's business papers to be
filled with "bills" which have no prospect of debate,
let alone of becoming law, and which generate confusion and unrealistic
expectations amongst the interested public. In short, the private
Members' bill process has lost its way.
87. Our aim is to restore the private Members' bill
procedure as a means of securing debate, scrutiny and decision
on genuinely backbench legislative propositions. We recognise
that the Government, which is responsible for putting legislation
passed by Parliament into effect, has a legitimate interest in
private Members' proposals for legislation, and the right, indeed
duty, to oppose it where it considers that necessary. Our proposals
aim to enable the Government to express any such opposition openly
and to defeat a bill, where necessary, by division in the House
rather than by talking it out and denying the House the opportunity
to come to a decision. Our recommendations are also intended to
encourage Members to bring forward well-thought-out, well-supported
proposals for new legislation which will be worthy of debate,
scrutiny and, if it is the will of the House, passage into law.
88. Our recommendations are also intended to make
the process more transparent and understandable to the outside
world. The Order Paper should not be cluttered with bills which
barely exist except as an intention in the mind of their promoter,
and which will never be debated. Opportunities for debate should
not be open to monopoly by a single Member prepared to queue overnight
for the chance to present several bills at one point during the
session. The Government should be made to declare its position
in a published Ministerial statement on any private Members' bill
which a Member has taken the trouble to get printed. And the nonsense
of starting each private Members' Friday with an inconsequential
division on whether the House should sit in private should be
89. As one of our witnesses reminded us, not every
happy thought which occurs to a Member of Parliament deserves
to reach the statute book.
But those Members prepared to work with colleagues and interested
parties within and outside the House, to discuss their proposals
for legislation with the Government and others who would be involved
in putting it into practice, to gather support for their proposed
bill, and to bring up a substantive legislative proposition for
debate and scrutiny, deserve to have their bill properly considered
and put to a decision by the House. The reforms of the private
Members' bill process put forward in this report are not intended
to make it easier for a private Member's bill to become law. What
they are intended to do is to ensure that serious legislative
propositions are treated seriously. The private Members' bill
procedures are important to the House in both practical and symbolic
terms. They help to demonstrate that it is an independent legislature.
It is time to ensure that they are enabled to do just that.
71 Q 2 Back