Libertarians and Private Members Bills

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.

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  • commented 2015-11-28 13:12:49 +0000
    I saw this in the paper the other week so I thought I’d take the opportunity to put my own point of view across. It is a bit long winded I suppose – definitely too long for twitter – but all the same…

    Liberty is an inalienable human right, but it only makes sense if you also respect the liberty of others. Without this the word becomes a meaningless slogan, closer to fascism than justice, where the strong look after themselves and the weak are left to starve in the cold. So called ‘libertarians’ overlook this point. They seem to think we could achieve a state of perfect freedom by getting rid of all Government completely. I think differently, that if the Government disappeared tomorrow, you’d be paying taxes to the mafia the day after.

    “No taxation without representation!” was the call of the American Revolution of 1776, but that could be hard to explain to the Corleone family, or the Kray twins. So how are you supposed to protect yourself? Well if you can find them, then maybe you can hire the A-Team, or their real-life equivalent (G4S?), but then even the A-Team want paying, in cash, and usually in advance. So maybe the best solution really is a democratically accountable Government and a publically funded police force after all, since this is a system that has evolved over centuries, dating back to the Plantaganet monarchs of the Middle Ages, who were the mafia bosses of their day.

    Although they are a different thing to ‘ethics’, it’s hard to deny that ‘laws’ are a necessary evil of civilized society, dating back to the time of King Hammurabi in the ancient city of Babylon, 4,500 years ago (which had a bit of a reputation in its day). So if we can’t avoid having laws, then we should note the difference between good laws and bad laws. I think this is: Good laws protect the weak and restrain the powerful, while bad laws protect the powerful and restrain the weak. We need more good laws and fewer bad ones.

    The trouble with today’s laws is they always seem to be made by the Government, and I think this is what’s wrong. It’s self-evident that governments have authoritarian tendencies. This is intrinsic to what they are, and so it’s in their nature to make bad laws that protect the powerful. I think more laws need to be brought forward by MPs who are independent from Government, and who reflect the interests of their local constituents instead of big business and the media. I also think MPs should be independent of party whips as well.

    The ‘libertarians’ who keep shouting back-benchers down, are really just parliamentary delinquents, who in any other respectable profession would be politely escorted off the premises. Their behaviour is purely disruptive and serves no other purpose. In the language of the Internet, what they are doing is called a ‘Denial of Service Attack’ – akin to firing a <a href=“”">"> ‘Low Orbit Ion Cannon’ </a> at the Houses of Parliament. Maybe they should join Anonymous and go to work wearing Guy Fawkes masks! Although before people start shouting that this is really a good thing, and that we should tear down all of the apparatus of the state, remember that the Government are still getting their laws passed.

    Also, I think this news report illustrates the inherent conflict of interests between working as a Government minister, while at the same time trying to be a constituency MP. Apparently Mr Cameron has been writing to his local constituency council, complaining about them making the cuts that he’s told them to make as Prime Minister!

    I thought Eton was supposed to be a good school. Maybe he should write and ask for his money back, he appears to have been cheated!