What would be your top priority for those Lib Dem private members’ bills?

Via Jennie Rigg and Jonathan Calder comes the news that four Lib Dem MPs were drawn in the top 20 for the Private Members’ Bills ballot for the 2008-9 session. The lucky four were: David Heath (2nd), Evan Harris (5th), Jeremy Browne (13th) and Charles Kennedy (17th).

So, then, here’s a question for LDV readers to ponder: what are your suggestions for the bills which they might present to the Commons?

The most famous Private Member’s Bill of them all, was probably David Steel’s 1967 Abortion Act, which (with the assistance of Labour’s home secretary Roy Jenkins) legalised the practice for the first time. However, it was the exception not the rule – Wikipedia gives us the low-down on how unlikely it is that a Bill (especially a liberal one) will ever become law:

In principle, Private Members’ Bills follow much the same parliamentary stages as any other bill. In practice, the procedural barriers to passage are much greater.

Time is allocated for Private Members’ Bills on 13 Fridays a year in the House of Commons. Five hours of time are available on each day and Several Private Members’ Bills will be scheduled for each session.

Unlike Government bills, debates are not timetabled and there is no guarantee that the debate will finish within the time available. MPs opposed to a Private Members’ Bill, including Government ministers and whips, will routinely attempt to talk out the bill, stopping further progress by preventing a vote. The bill’s proponent can force a vote only with the support of at least a hundred members (and a majority of those voting)[1]. As many MPs return to their constituencies on Thursday night, this has the practical effect of blocking all Private Members’ Bills without solid support.

It is quite possible for the first bill to take up all five hours, preventing any other bill on the agenda from being debated. Any bill not debated may receive second reading without debate at the end of the session, but a single shout of “object!” will delay consideration to a future date; Government and opposition whips routinely block contentious Private Members’ Bills in this way. Another date for second reading will also be set for bills which have been talked out. This is a formality; the bill will be put to the bottom of the order paper, will likely be objected to on each future occasion and has no practical chance of success.

Even if second reading is passed, a bill is likely to need the support of the government to become law. The bill will be referred to standing committee, which may make amendments. The amended version of the bill will then return to the Commons. To become law, it must also successfully negotiate report stage and third reading, as well as the House of Lords. Contentious bills are likely to run out of parliamentary time unless the government allocate some; any pending Private Members’ Bills lapse at the end of each parliamentary session.

Private members bills may also originate in the House of Lords. To become law, these bills must be adopted by an MP and passed in the same way as a Commons originated bill.

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  • I’d ask for a bill that gives co-habiting couples the same rights (particularly towards inheritance and children) as married couples (and civil partners).

  • STV hands down. We can sort the rest out later. 😛

  • How about the Confiscation of the Assets of the Duke of Westminster Bill?

    A lot of Tories would go for that one, certainly in Central London.

  • The thing that strangely works in Holyrood, Cardiff, Belfast, Brussels, Oslo, Paris and Wellington but mysteriously will destroy London if attempted – Fixed Term Parliaments.

  • Andrew Duffield 13th Dec '08 - 12:09am

    Sunday elections.

  • Grammar Police 13th Dec '08 - 9:21am

    I’d go for presumed consent.

    The description of how unlikely a private member’s bill is to become law (without proper Government support) reminded me of the private member’s bill that restricted the application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on MPs. It apparently did not have Government support and yet got all the way to the Lords (where it thankfully died a death).

  • Liam Pennington 13th Dec '08 - 9:28am

    Democratic Renewal Bill

    STV, Fixed Term parliaments, fixing the postal vote disasters, banning certain kinds of letterboxes…

    Okay, not the last one, but yeah, let us try and fix the democratic system in this country.

  • If CK gets to propose a bill, I’d like to see him propose a referendum on Europe, be it the Lisbon Treaty, the Euro or continued membership.

    That may set a cat among the pigeons!

  • Abolition of the oath of allegiance and replace it with a commitment to serve the citizens of these united kingdoms. A lot of Labour backbenchers and minor parties would support this.

  • David Morton 13th Dec '08 - 4:36pm

    If I recall correctly Mark Oaten had a mini referendum in Winchester when he got this oppertunity and allowed constituients to vote on a short list of three Bills. All of them were sensible options which had a chance of cross party support. he then got though an adoption reform ?

    Although I’m personally completely opposed to it if I were Evan i’d go for presummed consent.

    – non partisan

    – reasonable chance of success with pre existing government support

    – a real legislative legacy.

    f i have leaned anything in this bussiness ” Its go things when you get the chance”. the circus aspect of politics will look after its self.

  • Painfully Liberal 13th Dec '08 - 5:00pm

    With regards to maintenance charges for leaseholders, I believe that the problem is that Local authorities are not permitted to have sinking funds that leaseholders pay into to insure them against major structural work. Locally this has effected a number of council blocks, most notably Trellick Towers. Not sure if that’s something that would require legislation to remedy, might be.

    In terms of private members bills, something sensible about Party funding would be nice, possibly David Howarth has something in mind along those lines. It might not pass, but if nothing else it might force Labour and Tory MPs to explicitly oppose popular recomendations.

  • What we should really have is a single referendum, across the whole of Europe, on the Lisbon Treaty. It should stand or fall on a single aggregate vote.

    The practice of holding separate single-constituency referenda in each of the 27 European nations is grossly undemocratic. In principle, Lisbon will be accepted if it wins the vote in 27 out of 27 constituencies (nations), rejected if it wins in only 26 out of 27. No wonder UKIP are so keen on this blatant gerrymander in their favour!

    We should not force or allow Ireland to repeat the farcical project whereby one small offshore island tries to determine Europe’s future single-handed. We should get their second referendum replaced by a Europe-wide referendum.

    If the pan-Europe referendum gives a yes, fine. If it doesn’t, also fine. No crisis, no divisive angst, just a necessary rethink, and a search for closer understanding between Brussels and the people of Europe.

    And, so what if Lisbon gets a yes in the overall vote, while the local vote in the “constituency” of Ruritania is a no? Well, first of all, it’s not for Europe to tell the Ruritanians what to do about it. It’s for them to decide. They could grin and bear it, or they could hold a second vote about leaving the EC, or they could go back and demand better trading conditions for the Ruritanian kvyjdget manufacturing industry, or whatever. Subsidiarity rules!

    I don’t know if this could be a PMB, but it might be as good a way as any to take the first step, and get this idea onto the political map!

  • Come on, we are Lib Dems aren’t we?

    A Bill that says the following should be our first priority:

    1. All post boxes should be at waist height.
    2. If your house is more than 10 metres from the road, you should have a post ox on the edge of your property.
    3. Dogs should not have access to the fingers of people delivering.
    4. If you must have a driveway full of stupid stone chippings, you must also have a post box on the edge of your property.
    5. All houses must have a number, so I don’t spend half my life trying to find a house called ‘Fen View’ like I had to for our by election last Thursday in the middle of the Fens!

    Good practical measures of benefit to me – that’s what I want to see in a private members bill.

  • This isn’t a personal suggestion, but I’d like to throw it out there anyway.

    Means-testing for MP’s pay.

    It’d subject our representatives to similar levels of scrutiny as the worst off among us and remove some of the class-based arguments.

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