HC Deb 28 June 2001 vol 370 cc890-1

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 26th October, 2nd, 23rd and 30th November 2001, 11th, 18th and 25th January, 15th March, 12th and 19th April, 10th May, 21st June, 19th July 2002.—[Mr. Heppell.]

6.56 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

This is an important matter which—I am sure that you agree, Madam Deputy Speaker—signals an interesting departure from the long-established means of dealing with private Members' Bills. It will not have escaped the notice of the House that, unusually, this year it is proposed that the private Member's Bill cycle starts as early as 26 October and runs through November and January and on to July.

For some years, the precedent has been established that the final day for the consideration of private Members' Bills is on or about 19 July. In that sense, nothing new has been proposed, but there is a departure in the motion. I am rather disappointed but, frankly, unsurprised that nobody from the Government Front Bench has sought to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to explain to the House why that change has been made. I do not want to read anything sinister or conspiratorial into that—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. If Members wish to remain in the Chamber, perhaps they could remain quiet while the right hon. Gentleman proceeds.

Mr. Forth

I should have thought that a change on that scale would require a certain amount of explanation. A small number of us take an interest in private Members' Bills. Indeed, if I remember rightly, when we last dealt with private Members' Bills just before Dissolution, as many as 26 Members were present, which gives an idea of the interest in such Bills in the House: out of 659 Members, 26 took the trouble to attend the House on a Friday although, regrettably, they witnessed a Bill fall because of the lack of a quorum.

At least 26 people, therefore, are potentially interested in the motion. I am glad that a few more are here today; perhaps we can engender greater interest in private Members' Bills. However, there is an interesting question to which as yet we have no answer—I hope that I will be able to elicit one from the Minister. We usually expect the cycle for private Members' Bills to start in January. That is a proper procedure which, once the ballot for such Bills has taken place, allows an appropriate period for the legitimate consultation that Members wish to undertake with outside interests—but not, I hope, with the Government. Far too many Government Bills are smuggled through via the process for private Members' Bills, although usually they are pretty obvious and few of them survive. Those Members who are fortunate enough to come high in the ballot may wish to have a legitimate consultation with outside interests and incorporate their suggestions in their Bill. My question is whether, given that someone—surprisingly and out of the blue—is suggesting that we accelerate the process and bring it forward to 26 October—

It being Seven o clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Monday 2 July.—[Mr.Heppell.]