Private Members' bills Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Our predecessors’ inquiry and reports

1.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. (Paragraph 9)

A guaranteed vote on second reading

2.We recommend that Standing Orders should be amended to provide that the Question on second reading of a bill which is the first order of the day on the first seven sitting Fridays in a session should be put from the Chair at the moment of interruption, if that business has not already been disposed of. (Paragraph 36)

Prioritising certain bills on merit

3.We consider that the time has come for the ballot system to be supplemented with a scheme which encourages better preparation of legislation, on the basis of a sound case which can command widespread support across the House. Under our scheme, the Backbench Business Committee would have the responsibility to consider bids from backbenchers for bills to have their second readings debated in no more than the first four backbench legislative opportunities in each session. (Paragraph 41)

4.We consider that a legislative proposition which has support on all sides of the House, backed by support from the public, will be more likely to result in engaged debates on sitting Fridays; and the criteria for the selection of such bills should be drafted to encourage Members to bring forward substantial and well thought-out measures for the House to decide upon. Realistically, the first opportunity for this system to be introduced is in the 2017–18 Session, but should the House approve the principle of the system early in the 2016–17 Session, then it would in practice allow parliamentarians, or groups of parliamentarians, to use the remainder of that session to lay the ground for well-founded legislative proposals to compete for the attention of the Backbench Business Committee at the beginning of the subsequent session. (Paragraph 46)

5.We recommend that Standing Orders be amended, initially for the 2017–18 Session, to provide that the Backbench Business Committee shall determine up to four bills, to be set down as first order of business on the earliest sitting Fridays adopted by the House; and that a ballot then be held to determine Members to bring forward additional private Members’ bills, up to the total number of such bills to be allocated priority in each session. (Paragraph 47)

Consequences for the Backbench Business Committee

6.We recommend that, in the event that the House adopts the proposal on the role of the Backbench Business Committee outlined above, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee elected for the 2016–17 Session should continue to serve on that Committee for the 2017–18 Session, and that the relevant Standing Order be suspended accordingly. (Paragraph 49)

7.We recommend that Standing Orders should be amended to provide for a maximum number of priority legislative opportunities allocated to Members on sitting Fridays. We further recommend that the total number of bills selected for priority consideration be reduced from 20 to 14. Of those 14 slots, up to four are to be filled by bills to be chosen on their merits by the Backbench Business Committee, and such bills shall have priority over ballot bills. (Paragraph 55)

Demonstrating support for a bill

8.We recommend the introduction of a system by which Members in charge of ballot bills and bills chosen by the Backbench Business Committee may, if they wish, demonstrate cross-party support for their bill by having the names of additional supporters published on the Order Paper on the day that the Bill’s second reading is set down as an order of the day. This would require no change in Standing Orders. (Paragraph 58)

Clarifying the status of bills

9.We endorse the recommendations of our predecessors set out below:

a)We recommend that Future Business list private Members’ bills only when they have been set down for a day on which private Member’s bills have precedence.

b)We consider that what appears on the Order Paper should be only actual bills which a private Member desires that the House should debate.

c)We recommend that the expectation be removed that a bill will be immediately brought in if leave is granted after a motion is passed under the ten minute rule.

d)We recommend that the possibility of a monopoly of the limited opportunities for debate of private Members’ bills by a single Member be reduced by amending Standing Orders to permit that a private Member may present only a single bill on any one day.

e)We recommend that the deadline for printing a bill—that is, producing a fully drafted piece of legislation, in place of a “long title”—be brought forward to the Wednesday of the week prior to the day of second reading.

f)We recommend that the Government engage constructively and at the earliest opportunity in discussions on money resolutions with Members actively seeking to get bills through the House, and demonstrate accountability for its undertaking to table such resolutions by responding fully to Parliamentary questions on such matters.

g)We recommend that the Government give a clear commitment that, where requested by a bill’s sponsor, it will normally expect to table a motion to allow a public bill committee on a private Member’s bill to be nominated while public bill committee proceedings on another private Member’s bill are still active.

h)We recommend that, in the Standing Orders and elsewhere where reference is made to them, the term “private Members’ bills” be replaced with “backbench bills”. (Paragraph 62)

10.In addition, we recommend that the following changes to the practice of the House on giving notice of bills should be made:

a)Following the last sitting Friday of each session, Future Business should no longer carry notices concerning any private Member’s bill, and a list of bills not disposed of should be separately published on the Bills before Parliament website.

b)After the last sitting Friday of a session, any ten minute rule bill introduced should be ordered to lie upon the Table, and should not be printed.

c)All unprinted private Members’ bills should be clearly indicated as such on Future Business and on the Bills before Parliament website. (Paragraph 63)

11.In the longer term, we consider that the House should reassess its tolerance for Members introducing bills in dummy form—that is, presenting bills with a short and long title and list of supporters only. With the exception of the Finance Bill—the drafting of which is dictated by the timetable for preparation of the Budget—the presentation of legislation in dummy is a practice long denied to the Government in respect of primary and secondary legislation. (Paragraph 64)

A decision by the House on the Committee’s proposals

12.In cases where the outcomes recommended above may be achieved by administrative action alone, we recommend that the necessary measures be taken with effect from the start of the 2016–17 Session. In all other cases we recommend that the House be given an early opportunity to express its view on the proposed changes. (Paragraph 65)

Time for consideration of private Members’ bills

13.We make no recommendation here about alternative times for PMBs to be taken. Instead, we plan to address the sitting hours of the House in a separate exercise, taking the views of Members on existing sitting patterns and, like our predecessor Committee in 2012, proposing a series of neutral motions which will allow the House to come to a decision on its sitting patterns for the remainder of the Parliament. (Paragraph 70)

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15 April 2016