Charles Walker leads calls for overhaul of Private Members’ Bills process

Speaking in the House of Commons

Charles Walker tables an Urgent Question calling on the Government to act on the House of Commons Procedure Committee’s proposals to enhance the credibility of Friday debates on Private Members’ Bills and to put an end to legislation put forward by Back Benchers being blocked or ‘talked out’ by the Government.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)

(Urgent Question): To ask the Leader of the House of Commons if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Procedure Committee’s second report of this Session on Private Members’ Bills and if he will provide time for that report to be debated.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Lidington)

The Procedure Committee published its report last Tuesday, 18 October. In my evidence to the Committee last Wednesday, 19 October, I said that the Government were considering the report and intended to respond in detail within the normal two-month timeframe. I am happy to confirm that commitment to the House today.

Mr Walker

I thank the Leader of the House for his answer. Too often on Fridays, when we have private Members’ Bills, this House bleeds. It bleeds credibility and it bleeds standing. The Government are well aware of that fact. The Procedure Committee has been trying for the past three years to bring its concerns to the attention of the House and to gain Government support for some of our modest recommendations to restore some credibility and some faith in the process.

Our recommendations—the Committee’s recommendations —would not necessarily mean that what happened this past Friday would not happen again, but they would demonstrate to the public that we in this place, Back Benchers, take legislation seriously and we take Back-Bench legislation seriously. The truth is that, without the will on behalf of the Government to change Fridays, we will still have too many days when we leave this place downcast and somewhat ashamed at the proceedings that have gone on before us.

We have a listening and concerned Leader of the House. I hope that he will receive our recommendations in a positive way and accept some small part of them, particularly that part that would allow the Backbench Business Committee to assign up to the first four private Members’ Bill slots to Members. That would encourage serious legislators in this place to invest time and energy, working with one another for a year or more, to come up with a legislative proposition that, if it did not command the support of the House, would at least demand the attention of the House when it was brought before it.

Mr Lidington

My hon. Friend has provided a succinct summary of some of the key recommendations of his Committee’s report. He has campaigned strongly and honourably for procedural changes to try to enhance the status of Friday debates on private Members’ Bills. I gave him an undertaking in an evidence session with his Committee last week that the Government would look seriously at his Committee’s most recent report. Clearly, we will need both to consider his recommendations and to have collective discussion in the Government before publishing our response, but that we will do.

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