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.