In Parliament, most Fridays are taken up with Private Members’ Bills (PMB). These are Bills put before Parliament, not by the government, but by backbench MPs like me.
A few Fridays are allocated for backbench business, so there is not enough time for all of these Bills to get through. Sometimes a Bill is voted out and it falls. On other occasions the debate gets to 2.30pm when the House closes for the weekend, and if there are not enough MPs present, no vote is taken and the bill drops to the bottom of the list.
There is limited time for all 20 Bills, so very often that’s pretty much it - the Bill is still active, but there is no time for it to be considered and voted upon. At the end of the Parliamentary year, it falls.
Recently however, these Private Members’ Bills have stirred up controversy. A group of Conservative MPs on the right wing of their party have made it their goal to scupper any PMBs using all manner of parliamentary trickery. For example, Julie Cooper, the Labour MP for Burnley, recently introduced a PMB to abolish hospital car parking charges for carers who visit hospital regularly. The group of wrecking MPs talked and talked until 2.30pm and left no time for a vote.
More recently, Nick Thomas–Symonds, MP for Torfaen in South Wales, proposed a law to make it easier for the NHS to prescribe drugs after their patent has finished, saving the NHS millions. Nick was wise to their games and had arranged for enough MPs to be present to force a vote. But the wreckers were wiser: they spent all their time talking on the previous Bill, so Nick was left with only an hour to debate his proposal.
When he came to ask for a vote – knowing there were enough MPs there to support him – the Deputy Speaker ruled that there had not yet been enough debate to move to a vote. So Nick’s Bill also fell.
Very clever by the wreckers, but why do they do it?
In truth I am not sure. There is a long-standing strand of Conservatism called Libertarianism, which sees all laws as essentially a bad thing, and believes the fewer laws we have, the better. I wonder if these wrecking MPs are libertarians who just don’t want there to be any new laws. Maybe they feel that new laws should have better scrutiny than they get on a Friday morning. Whatever the reason, in a democratic system, surely the best way is to put Bills to a vote – the ultimate test of democracy. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.