Private Members' bills - Procedure Committee Contents

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 stopped.

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.[71] 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.

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Prepared 2 September 2013