Private Members' Bill system broken and discredited, says committee


The parliamentary system allowing backbenchers to try to get their own Bills on to the statute book is "broken and discredited" and needs a major overhaul, a Commons' committee has insisted.

The Procedure Committee called for MPs to be banned from "killing" Private Members' Bills by talking them out of time, as the body accused ministers of "dodging" reform so that only Government-supported measures have any chance of becoming law.

The committee expressed "concern" about then prime minister David Cameron's muted response to their last push for change in April, as they warned that if Theresa May follows suit, the present "18th century procedures" should just be scrapped anyway.

"If the response to our recommendations is a further period of Government inaction, we believe the House should simply abandon the pretence that there are meaningful opportunities for non-Government legislation to be made when that legislation does not have the active support of the Government of the day, no matter what the merits are of the legislation proposed, or the level of cross-party support it has," the report states.

The committee noted that an online petition calling for an end to parliamentary filibustering, where MPs talk-out a Bill to stop it progressing, received the support of more than 50,000 people.

Reforms recommended by the Commons' report called for the backbench Business Committee to select four bills each session for priority treatment, and impose time limits on speakers in the debates on them.

The committee called for Private Members' Bills to be renamed Backbench Bills, to make them more understandable to the public, and the number of them debated on special Friday sessions reduced from 20 to 14 in order to give more time to them.

Procedure Committee chairman and Tory MP Charles Walker, said: "The Private Members' Bill process as it stands is too often an exercise in futility that manifestly misleads the public. The Government is defending procedures and practices which would not have looked out of date in the nineteenth century, let alone the eighteenth.

"It is rare for a truly backbench bill to make it past its initial debate, let alone pass into law; they're either handout bills or talked-out bills.

"Private Members' Bills are the only method for backbench MPs to initiate legislation, but they are no longer taken seriously due to the Government's refusal so far to make any changes which would risk power leaving their hands for those of backbench legislators.

"The current ballot system actively works against those who aspire to be serious-minded and thoughtful backbench legislators. The chance to propose law needs to be more than purely a game of chance, as is currently the case."