HC Deb 07 January 2003 vol 397 cc17-9
32. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

To ask the President of the Council if he will bring forward proposals to allow for private Members' Bills to be debated on a day other than Friday. [89167]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The Procedure Committee has already announced an inquiry that will include the procedures for private Members' Bills and the time made available for debates on them. My right hon. Friend the President of the Council looks forward very much to its report.

Mr. Lazarowicz

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I urge him and his colleagues to support positively the idea that private Members' Bills should be debated on a mid-week evening to take advantage of the time available under the new timetabling arrangements? If that were to be done, it would encourage a much bigger attendance by Members at private Members' business and it would make it easier for Members from further afield to take part in such business. If the business were properly programmed, it could also allow more private Members' Bills to be discussed and dealt with. That would therefore allow more hon. Members to enjoy the success that I had last Session when I took a private Member's Bill through the House.

Mr. Bradshaw

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his success. He and I belong to the small and privileged club of those Members who have managed to get a private Member's Bill on to the statute book. I urge him and other Members who feel strongly about the issue to make their representations to the Procedure Committee whose deadline for evidence is at the end of this week.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I commiserate with the Minister, who seems to have had an accident during the recess. I ask him to be totally even-handed on this matter when he considers the Government's interests and those of Back Benchers. He will recognise—and I hope that the President of the Council will too—that, since the Jopling reforms, both private Members' Bills and private Members' motions have disappeared as an effective way for Back Benchers to make their presence felt in this place. The opportunities for Back Benchers have been grossly discouraged and, to a large extent, extinguished. While the Procedure Committee is considering the specific issue of private Members' Bills, will the Minister undertake to make representations to the President of the Council that the Modernisation Committee should also be looking at the wider issue?

Mr. Bradshaw

I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman's constituents. As I understand it, he has announced that he will not be standing at the next election. He will be sorely missed by them.

The Government will certainly be even-handed. We believe strongly in the principle that Back Benchers should be allowed to initiate legislation and to get it on to the statute book. Before I came into the Chamber, I took the trouble of checking the historical record, and it is not true that there is currently an historic low in the number of private Member's Bills getting on to the statute book. The number goes up and down from year to year and from decade to decade. However, the Government adhere to the principle that Back Benchers should be allowed to initiate legislation and, when the Procedure Committee's report is published, we shall consider it very carefully, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Council will take the hon. Gentleman's comments on board.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that many hon. Members are effectively barred from attending Friday debates on private Member's Bills because that is the only day of the week in which they can undertake constituency duties when offices, factories and schools are open? It is essential that we have that right on a Friday for 52 weeks of the year, other than when we are on our annual holiday.

Mr. Bradshaw

I do take that point on board and I urge my hon. Friend to make it to the Procedure Committee in any evidence that he may care to give to it.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

I first wish the Minister a full and speedy recovery. I presume his injuries are a lesson to us all about the dangers of cycling.

Does the deputy Leader of the House agree that if a Member of Parliament wishes to change the law on a subject about which he or she feels strongly, that Member should be prepared to come here on a Friday? Is not the issue part of a wider campaign by some Labour Members to get yet more time off so that they have to work only a four-day week? Does he accept that the requests for change have little to do with modernisation and are more about malingering?

Mr. Bradshaw

No, and by the look on the faces of some of the right hon. Gentleman's Back-Bench colleagues it is clear that a number of them certainly like to take time off to do second jobs. It is worth reminding the House and, perhaps, the outside world that this Westminster House of Commons sits for more days than virtually any other legislature in the developed world. In fact, according to a survey on the number of days that legislatures in Commonwealth countries sat in 2001, this House sat on more days than any other with the exception of the legislature of the state of Borno in Nigeria.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the review look wider than the day on which we deal with private Member's Bills to consider the procedure as well? If we are to make the most effective use of our time, should not we look at all the rules governing private Members' Bills because in my experience most of the time is sadly abortive?

Mr. Bradshaw

That, I imagine, is why the Procedure Committee decided to have not a narrow, but a very broad review into the system of private Members' Bills, including their procedure and when they are debated.