5.The Procedure Committee in the previous Parliament inquired into the PMB procedure in exhaustive detail. In its initial report, published in September 2013, it set out a number of proposals for reform of the process. The Government responded in December 2013, generally accepting that Committee’s recommendations which aimed to increase transparency and the comprehensibility of the system. It nevertheless rejected a key recommendation—that it should be possible to ‘programme’—or timetable the progress of—a private Member’s bill.
6.The Committee thought that it ought to be possible to set a specific end time for debates, to ensure that the further progress of a bill could be tested, if necessary, through a vote in the House. Without this provision, a Member in charge of a bill has to rely on being called to debate their proposal sufficiently early on a PMB Friday that the Chair may accept a motion for the closure, and allow a vote on the proposal, after a full debate. If the closure is opposed, the Member in charge also needs to muster 99 further supporters, and two further members to act as tellers in any division, to stay on that Friday—far more than the number of Members likely to have any chance of being called in the debate.
7.Following discussions with the then Leader of the House, and an evident lack of support from within the Government, our predecessors decided not to proceed further with the full package of proposals for ‘programming’ of PMBs. That Committee instead recommended that ‘the House should agree that there should be a convention that the question on second reading of a private Member’s bill should be put to the House at the end of a full day’s debate’. It also recommended, or repeated recommendations for, technical proposals designed to bring more certainty and clarity to the Order Paper.
8.Our predecessors were extremely disappointed that, in the light of the lengthy discussions held to agree a way forward, the previous administration did not find time to allow the House to debate and decide upon the revised proposals, which we consider represented a measured and sensible reform. We share their concern, and therefore return to the issue in an attempt to bring greater credibility to an increasingly discredited process.
9.We endorse the general principles which underlie our predecessor Committee’s two reports on private Members’ bills. We too find it regrettable that successive administrations have not responded effectively to concerns about the process, even when workable solutions have been proposed. The proposals in this report provide an opportunity for a new beginning to the PMBs process which, as it presently operates, brings increasing discredit on the House because of the way it is now largely reduced to an exercise in futility.
10.We acknowledge that there are calls for the thirteen sitting Fridays devoted to PMBs to be abolished and for all Fridays to be designated formally as constituency days. If Friday sittings were done away with, and no alternative time for consideration of PMBs made available, backbenchers would of course have no more than a symbolic route to initiate legislation through presentation bills and bills introduced under the ten minute rule.
11.While this is not a change which we can advocate at present, there can be little future for a process which, unreformed, can be so visibly susceptible to sabotage. In our recommendations we have tried to strike a balance, offering a number of implementable reforms which will increase transparency and purposefulness and begin to restore some public and parliamentary confidence to the process.
4 Procedure Committee, Second Report of Session 2013–14, , HC 188
5 Procedure Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013–14, , HC 1171, Appendix.
6 Rt Hon William Hague MP, now Lord Hague of Richmond
7 Procedure Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013–14, , HC 1171, para 6.
8 See, for example, evidence from Professor Sarah Childs (PMB 10).
15 April 2016