HC Deb 02 December 2003 vol 415 cc369-70
33. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab)

Whether he has examined the feasibility of increasing the time allocated to consideration of private Members' Bills in the current Session. [140763]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

Many Members, and outside commentators, have proposed alternative to the current system for private Members' Bills. The Procedure Committee has recently reported on this matter. The Government will consider its report carefully.

Hugh Bayley

I have been a Member of the House for almost 12 years, yet I have never been fortunate enough to have my name come up in the ballot for private Members' business. Private Members introduce important legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) introduced a Bill on high hedges and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) introduced important legislation on fireworks this year. It appears that the House has the opportunity, given the new hours, to provide more time for private Members' business. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House talk to the Procedure Committee to see whether more time could be made available so that people such as me might also be able to put legislation before the House?

Mr. Hain

I share my hon. Friend's desperate plight of never having had a private Member's Bill as a Back Bencher and I agree that such Bills are important. I am keen to uphold the rights of Back Benchers in this respect. He mentioned Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I asked for work to be done on that point. If we take the 13 sitting Fridays and convert them into hours on, say, Tuesdays, we require 22 evenings to achieve the rough equivalent of those Fridays. The Procedure Committee, to which he referred, looked at that, but did not recommend it. However, when we conduct the review of sitting hours, which we are obliged to do before the end of this Parliament, we shall be able to return to the matter.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North -East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Is not half the trouble the large number of Government handout Bills each year, which squeeze genuine private Members' Bills? This year, the Government, in breach of convention, have not included in the Queen's Speech eight Bills that they wish to introduce. We have to go through a ludicrous game whereby I ask the Leader of the House, "Is this Bill coming forward?" If he can identify it, we find out whether a Bill is going to go ahead. So far, I have managed to find three.

Has that ludicrous situation arisen because the Leader of the House and his colleagues want to propose as handout Bills the Government Bills that they feel they cannot fit into the timetable? If so, will not that squeeze genuine private Members' Bills from Back Benchers even more than usual?

Mr. Hain

Not everything is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. None of the Bills additional to those listed in normal fashion by Her Majesty the Queen is a private Member's handout Bill. The hon. Gentleman seeks to deprecate the Government's record in this matter, but 13 private Members' Bills received royal assent in the previous Session. That is a pretty good achievement. Hon. Members are able to choose which private Member's Bill to take forward. Many choose to exercise their right to take forward a handout Bill that they feel pretty confident they can get on to the statute book, but it is equally their right to propose some other provision.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab)

I appreciate that some private Members' Bills are off the shelf, and that others are off the wall. However, the excellent private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), which would have allowed motor cyclists to ride in bus lanes, represented the House at its finest. Does my right hon. Friend accept that private Members' Bills are a unique contribution to the tapestry of the nation, and that they should be encouraged, even when—heaven forfend!— they are a tad inconvenient on occasion?

Mr. Hain

I strongly endorse the sentiments so eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend, who I know is an enthusiastic motor cyclist. I am sure that everyone will listen carefully to his plea.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have fewer private Members' Bills, but that they should be given a much greater chance of success? In the 21st century, is not it totally irrational to subject such Bills to the luck of the draw, the raffle, or the bran tub that is sitting in the No Lobby today? Should we not have sensible criteria for such Bills, including the requirement that any proposal has support in all parties?

Mr. Hain

I should be happy to listen to any practical suggestions that the hon. Gentleman might have. As he knows, the Procedure Committee has considered the matter, and its report is available to the House.