Private Members' Bills: proposals for reform
Private Members' Bills (PMBs) represent one of the few opportunities for backbench MPs to set the agenda in Parliament and address matters of public concern. However the PMB system is not fit for purpose, with popular bills regularly scuppered by archaic procedures and executive control of the timetable.
The Parliament & Government programme has produced a new briefing paper examining PMBs and setting out the options for reform. We have a long-standing interest in Private Members’ Bills (see below), as key area
where the work of backbench MPs could be significantly improved.
PMBs should provide an important opportunity for backbench MPs to initiate legislative proposals as well as policy debate, to check the executive, and to respond to issues of public interest and concern. However in recent decades the number of PMBs receiving Royal Assent has largely been in decline. Executive control of the timetable has strangled many, and procedural vulnerability has thwarted others, including many that enjoyed broad parliamentary support and commanded public interest.
The paper gives an overview of the procedural obstacles in the PMB system which inhibit its effectiveness:
- Friday sitting times cause difficulties in relation to the attendance of Members;
- the procedural mechanisms facilitate filibustering rather than effective debate and scrutiny;
- the existence of low yet complex procedural and voting thresholds enable even limited opposition to thwart popular bills; and
- the resources made available to Members to develop and promote PMBs are limited.
It then presents a series of recommendation for reform, including moving the PMB sitting times, establishing formal timetabling and carry-over motions for PMBs, and setting time-limits on speeches. It also includes a set of draft Standing Orders that could form the basis of an improved system.
Download a copy of the paper here.
The launch event for the briefing paper was a panel discussion involving Lord Steel of Aikwood, Natascha Engel MP, Chris Bryant MP, Christopher Chope MP and the authors. It was filmed by BBC Parliament and can be seen here. For more details about the launch event and the full audio recording click here.
Other Hansard Society publications which cover PMBs:
Law in the Making: Influence and change in the legislative process (2008)
Parliament, Politics and Law Making: Issues and developments in the legislative process (2004)
Issues in Law Making - Briefing Paper 1: Private Members' Bills (2003)