What would be your top priority for those Lib Dem private members’ bills?

by Stephen Tall on December 12, 2008

Via Jennie Rigg and Jonathan Calder comes the news that four Lib Dem MPs were drawn in the top 20 for the Private Members’ Bills ballot for the 2008-9 session. The lucky four were: David Heath (2nd), Evan Harris (5th), Jeremy Browne (13th) and Charles Kennedy (17th).

So, then, here’s a question for LDV readers to ponder: what are your suggestions for the bills which they might present to the Commons?

The most famous Private Member’s Bill of them all, was probably David Steel’s 1967 Abortion Act, which (with the assistance of Labour’s home secretary Roy Jenkins) legalised the practice for the first time. However, it was the exception not the rule – Wikipedia gives us the low-down on how unlikely it is that a Bill (especially a liberal one) will ever become law:

In principle, Private Members’ Bills follow much the same parliamentary stages as any other bill. In practice, the procedural barriers to passage are much greater.

Time is allocated for Private Members’ Bills on 13 Fridays a year in the House of Commons. Five hours of time are available on each day and Several Private Members’ Bills will be scheduled for each session.

Unlike Government bills, debates are not timetabled and there is no guarantee that the debate will finish within the time available. MPs opposed to a Private Members’ Bill, including Government ministers and whips, will routinely attempt to talk out the bill, stopping further progress by preventing a vote. The bill’s proponent can force a vote only with the support of at least a hundred members (and a majority of those voting)[1]. As many MPs return to their constituencies on Thursday night, this has the practical effect of blocking all Private Members’ Bills without solid support.

It is quite possible for the first bill to take up all five hours, preventing any other bill on the agenda from being debated. Any bill not debated may receive second reading without debate at the end of the session, but a single shout of “object!” will delay consideration to a future date; Government and opposition whips routinely block contentious Private Members’ Bills in this way. Another date for second reading will also be set for bills which have been talked out. This is a formality; the bill will be put to the bottom of the order paper, will likely be objected to on each future occasion and has no practical chance of success.

Even if second reading is passed, a bill is likely to need the support of the government to become law. The bill will be referred to standing committee, which may make amendments. The amended version of the bill will then return to the Commons. To become law, it must also successfully negotiate report stage and third reading, as well as the House of Lords. Contentious bills are likely to run out of parliamentary time unless the government allocate some; any pending Private Members’ Bills lapse at the end of each parliamentary session.

Private members bills may also originate in the House of Lords. To become law, these bills must be adopted by an MP and passed in the same way as a Commons originated bill.

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The Liberal Democrats should push Propotional Representation for the next General Election!

by Irfan Ahmed on December 12, 2008 at 8:07 pm. Reply #

I’d ask for a bill that gives co-habiting couples the same rights (particularly towards inheritance and children) as married couples (and civil partners).

by Dan on December 12, 2008 at 8:21 pm. Reply #

STV hands down. We can sort the rest out later. 😛

by Thomas on December 12, 2008 at 8:26 pm. Reply #

Inquiry into Iraq, although I think the SNP tried that before.
Something should be done to help leaseholders of ex-council properties who are being forced to pay extortionate level of service charges for the major works programs currently taken place.
Demanding that people on low incomes have to pay £30,000 in 3 years is scandalous.

by Geoffrey Payne on December 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm. Reply #

How about the Confiscation of the Assets of the Duke of Westminster Bill?

A lot of Tories would go for that one, certainly in Central London.

by Sesenco on December 12, 2008 at 8:44 pm. Reply #

The thing that strangely works in Holyrood, Cardiff, Belfast, Brussels, Oslo, Paris and Wellington but mysteriously will destroy London if attempted – Fixed Term Parliaments.

by Greg L on December 12, 2008 at 9:02 pm. Reply #

A decent social issue that could actually get passed, something we can use to show our MPs are in touch and useful.

I’d love STV, but there’s no way the Labour majority would let it through.

I’d hope for something like removing the two doctors+health requirement for abortions under 12 weeks (a rule that’s only followed on paper anyway).

Or equalising civil partnerships with marriage on all terms.

I’d want something that could actually get passed, and I strongly doubt MPs would vote for a Lib Dem proposed constitutional bill. A lot of Labour MPs would vote for a free vote social issue, and that’d be good for us–using Divorce and Abortion as examples of what our MPs have done really good in Parlt is a little dated, but both were Steel, and both are bloody good examples.

A modern update to marriage or abortion law would be good and get us good coverage where it matters to us.

by MatGB on December 12, 2008 at 10:12 pm. Reply #

Trying to get STV through would fail, and therefore would be a waste of a Private members bill. The suggestions for co-habitating couples, or any social bill that could get a free vote would be interesting.
I’m not sure what the procedure is for opposition days, but the Tories are now calling for an Iraq war enquiry, so perhaps that is the best avenue for it, not a PMB.
Geoffrey Paine, do you have any further details? That sounds shocking.

by James Schneider on December 12, 2008 at 11:23 pm. Reply #

The creation of an independent statistics ombudsman?

by James Schneider on December 12, 2008 at 11:24 pm. Reply #

speed limits? changing traffic lights to a countdown instead of orange? altering the license plate system for cars?

by James Schneider on December 12, 2008 at 11:26 pm. Reply #

I always thought the first six were the ones generally reckoned as being in with a chance. Remarkable that this year of them are Lib Dems.

Evan’s choice in particular will be very interesting – it will undoubtedly be something very science-related – perhaps the presumed consent for organ donation which he has been enthusiastic on in the past and apparently has support from the Prime Minister.

As a backbench MP from the third party that’s probably the best chance you’ll get in an entire Parliamentary career to influence the country’s future.

by Jeremy Hargreaves on December 12, 2008 at 11:56 pm. Reply #

Sunday elections.

by Andrew Duffield on December 13, 2008 at 12:09 am. Reply #


Presumed consent would be very interesting indeed and on a free vote might well pass.

by James Schneider on December 13, 2008 at 12:28 am. Reply #

Re-regulation of the bus services in Greater Manchester.

by Steve Cooke on December 13, 2008 at 8:37 am. Reply #

I’d go for presumed consent.

The description of how unlikely a private member’s bill is to become law (without proper Government support) reminded me of the private member’s bill that restricted the application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on MPs. It apparently did not have Government support and yet got all the way to the Lords (where it thankfully died a death).

by Grammar Police on December 13, 2008 at 9:21 am. Reply #

Democratic Renewal Bill

STV, Fixed Term parliaments, fixing the postal vote disasters, banning certain kinds of letterboxes…

Okay, not the last one, but yeah, let us try and fix the democratic system in this country.

by Liam Pennington on December 13, 2008 at 9:28 am. Reply #

Liam, but that would never get through, so what’s the point? We’d have to get elected into government for that. PMB’s should go for something feasible. Be pragmatic, get the change through that you can.

by James Schneider on December 13, 2008 at 10:00 am. Reply #

If I could press a big red button marked ‘guarantee passage of bill’? Disestablishment of the Church of England, abolition of the blasphemy laws and the complete removal of religious representatives from any and all bodies that make public policy decisions at any level from national to local.

Given the chances of getting a bill passed, though, I’d go with the people here who suggest something liberalising abortion laws or redefining marriage to include gay couples.

Agree that Evan’s subject choice will be interesting. Also suspect that David Howarth’s will be very clever – and probably fail because it requires too great an intellectual capacity for the average minister, MP or journalist to understand.

by Andy on December 13, 2008 at 10:05 am. Reply #

For James re leaseholder charges:
Thanks to the glorious revolution that was right to buy, lots of people on fairly low incomes bought the flats and houses they lived in. With flats, you could only buy the leasehold as many of the other properties remained with the local authority. You became liable for your fair share of the maintenance costs on the building as a whole. With large blocks of flats, these can be very considerable and many people bought their flats without really considering whether the concrete carbuncle might need fairly extensive works at some point in the future. So when major works are needed, the local authority gets them carried out and bills the leaseholders accordingly. Some LAs take the p*ss but most are pretty accommodating. If you had a builder come round to repair the roof on your house he would not give you three years to pay.

by alex on December 13, 2008 at 11:48 am. Reply #

If CK gets to propose a bill, I’d like to see him propose a referendum on Europe, be it the Lisbon Treaty, the Euro or continued membership.

That may set a cat among the pigeons!

by Oranjepan on December 13, 2008 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

Alex, sounds harsh but “so what”? When they bought the flat service charges would have been explained to the new owner. They got a cheap property (great) but have to pay their share of the upkeep. If this cost is too much, sell up and live somewhere else. I’m not so sure this is a big deal. Correct me where I’m wrong.

Oranjepan, that might upset some in our party (oh the embarrassment of the European policy debacle) but would be ineffectual. Nick would have to back an “in – out” debate. The tories would reject (don’t say europe around a Tory they either boil with anger or remember how much they fight over it) and so would labour. An utterly worthless PMB.
Now if he could get Clegg to change policy (a bit awkward) then a Lisbon treaty referendum could happen with enough labour support. Does it exist?

by James Schneider on December 13, 2008 at 12:21 pm. Reply #

Abolition of the oath of allegiance and replace it with a commitment to serve the citizens of these united kingdoms. A lot of Labour backbenchers and minor parties would support this.

by Al on December 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm. Reply #

Government wouldn’t be able to support it in any way. There aren’t enough backbenchers around to push it through and the Tories would oppose it entirely. The bill has to be something others will support.

Of course, the abolition would be a great thing. But that’s not the point.

by James Schneider on December 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm. Reply #

If I recall correctly Mark Oaten had a mini referendum in Winchester when he got this oppertunity and allowed constituients to vote on a short list of three Bills. All of them were sensible options which had a chance of cross party support. he then got though an adoption reform ?

Although I’m personally completely opposed to it if I were Evan i’d go for presummed consent.

– non partisan

– reasonable chance of success with pre existing government support

– a real legislative legacy.

f i have leaned anything in this bussiness ” Its go things when you get the chance”. the circus aspect of politics will look after its self.

by David Morton on December 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm. Reply #

With regards to maintenance charges for leaseholders, I believe that the problem is that Local authorities are not permitted to have sinking funds that leaseholders pay into to insure them against major structural work. Locally this has effected a number of council blocks, most notably Trellick Towers. Not sure if that’s something that would require legislation to remedy, might be.

In terms of private members bills, something sensible about Party funding would be nice, possibly David Howarth has something in mind along those lines. It might not pass, but if nothing else it might force Labour and Tory MPs to explicitly oppose popular recomendations.

by Painfully Liberal on December 13, 2008 at 5:00 pm. Reply #

I think if leaseholders were forwarned that buying their council house would make them liable to pay bills at around £30,000 in 3 years, then they would not buy the property in the first place.
It is easy to say they should sell and move elsewhere, but who would buy a property now knowing the risks involved in terms of how much they could be charged?
If these people could afford £30,000 in 3 years, they would not be living in a council house.

by Geoffrey Payne on December 13, 2008 at 8:02 pm. Reply #

What we should really have is a single referendum, across the whole of Europe, on the Lisbon Treaty. It should stand or fall on a single aggregate vote.

The practice of holding separate single-constituency referenda in each of the 27 European nations is grossly undemocratic. In principle, Lisbon will be accepted if it wins the vote in 27 out of 27 constituencies (nations), rejected if it wins in only 26 out of 27. No wonder UKIP are so keen on this blatant gerrymander in their favour!

We should not force or allow Ireland to repeat the farcical project whereby one small offshore island tries to determine Europe’s future single-handed. We should get their second referendum replaced by a Europe-wide referendum.

If the pan-Europe referendum gives a yes, fine. If it doesn’t, also fine. No crisis, no divisive angst, just a necessary rethink, and a search for closer understanding between Brussels and the people of Europe.

And, so what if Lisbon gets a yes in the overall vote, while the local vote in the “constituency” of Ruritania is a no? Well, first of all, it’s not for Europe to tell the Ruritanians what to do about it. It’s for them to decide. They could grin and bear it, or they could hold a second vote about leaving the EC, or they could go back and demand better trading conditions for the Ruritanian kvyjdget manufacturing industry, or whatever. Subsidiarity rules!

I don’t know if this could be a PMB, but it might be as good a way as any to take the first step, and get this idea onto the political map!

by David Allen on December 13, 2008 at 10:46 pm. Reply #

Come on, we are Lib Dems aren’t we?

A Bill that says the following should be our first priority:

1. All post boxes should be at waist height.
2. If your house is more than 10 metres from the road, you should have a post ox on the edge of your property.
3. Dogs should not have access to the fingers of people delivering.
4. If you must have a driveway full of stupid stone chippings, you must also have a post box on the edge of your property.
5. All houses must have a number, so I don’t spend half my life trying to find a house called ‘Fen View’ like I had to for our by election last Thursday in the middle of the Fens!

Good practical measures of benefit to me – that’s what I want to see in a private members bill.

by Martin Land on December 13, 2008 at 11:09 pm. Reply #

I’d strongly encourage this:


A reform that means that the country can get better access to the laws being made in Parliament? Yes please!

by Huw Dawson on December 14, 2008 at 12:31 pm. Reply #

Yup, free our bills looks like a winner.

by James Schneider on December 14, 2008 at 2:09 pm. Reply #

This isn’t a personal suggestion, but I’d like to throw it out there anyway.

Means-testing for MP’s pay.

It’d subject our representatives to similar levels of scrutiny as the worst off among us and remove some of the class-based arguments.

by Oranjepan on December 14, 2008 at 4:42 pm. Reply #

I’m voting for Free Our Bills. Great idea, might actually enthuse some people, more or less impossible to oppose once it gets some traction. Go for it!

by Andy Hinton on December 14, 2008 at 6:16 pm. Reply #

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