The House Always Wins

20 Jun 2022

The Private Members’ Bills for the 2022-23 Parliamentary session have now been tabled. DRD Senior Analyst, Toby Chapman, examines how they work, and what the ballot winners might hope to achieve.

Image Source: UK Parliament

The Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) for the 2022-23 Parliamentary session have now been tabled in the House of Commons. All four main UK parties have offered up Bills to meet the focus of support for the worsening cost of living crisis. The top two ballot winners, the SNP’s Stuart McDonald and Labour MP Dan Jarvis, have both proposed Bills focusing on leave, pay, and protections for workers with childcare and family needs. Other Bills with a good chance of progressing through Parliament, look to provide relief for social care provision, or protection from sexual harassment.

460 MPs entered the ballot, and only a lucky 20 now have the chance to put through their own legislation. It is by no means guaranteed that they will succeed, but in the last session, 11 of those 20 ballot PMBs ended up becoming law. These Bills can have a significant impact on significant issues, and have sometimes required fairly substantial Government funding commitments, including on support for homelessness prevention, teaching provision and data collection. So, what are this session’s ballot winners hoping to achieve?

How Private Members’ Bills work

Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) are the only way for MPs not in Government to get legislation through the House of Commons. They have very limited scope for debate, and are ultimately at the mercy of the Government. The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, who determines the Parliamentary sitting agenda has confirmed 13 sittings for which PMBs are given priority. However, only the top 7 Bills drawn in the ballot are guaranteed any debate time. This necessitates a delicate balancing act for MPs choosing their Bills: they can put forward any Bill they want, but it needs to get Government buy-in.

Nevertheless, Bills are rarely put forward with the intention of pandering to frontbench priorities. Most MPs see PMBs as an opportunity to raise issues important to them, which otherwise might never be a priority for the legislative agenda.

Most MPs see Private Members’ Bills as an opportunity to raise issues important to them, which otherwise might never be a priority for the legislative agenda.

Toby Chapman, DRD Senior Analyst

Runners and riders

Dr Liam Fox MP was apparently surprised to win the ballot again this time, and his proposed Electricity and Gas Transmission (Compensation) Bill was guaranteed a date for a Second Reading mere hours after it was proposed, demonstrating how a non-controversial Bill proposed by a big political hitter makes it an ideal candidate for fast-tracking by Government.

Some Bills focus on support for carers and those receiving health and social care, like Lib Dem Wendy Chamberlain’s Carer’s Leave Bill. This includes outgoing Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham’s Terminal Illness (Support and Rights) Bill, which, on top of requiring utility companies to provide financial support to terminally ill customers, would also protect the employment rights of terminally ill people.

Bob Blackman, who got the Homelessness Reduction  Act through Parliament in 2017 off the back of a PMB, has chosen to follow up with further improvements to tackling homelessness, through his Supporting Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill. Blackman’s previous PMB led to significant government spending so it will be an enormous achievement if he can repeat this success.

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock stuck to the traditional purpose of PMBs and has picked an oft overlooked issue on which he’s been a vocal advocate for a long time: dyslexia screening of all primary school aged children and for other neurodiverse conditions. Hancock is dyslexic himself, and has proposed this Bill before, so it will be interesting to see whether the Government will this time support the proposal, or whether Hancock’s political reputation might remain too tarnished.

Race against time

Due to the allocation of sitting days, no MP will be able to get their Bill to its Third Reading this side of the New Year. If the session ends in April, as was the case for the last two sessions, there won’t be enough time to pass a Bill. Peter Bone MP implied this might be some kind of government plot to obstruct “Opposition Members who might have nasty Bills that the Government do not like but that the House does like”. But this disregards the understood reality that PMBs can really only ever succeed with Government backing.

If the last two sessions are anything to go by, this Government seemingly has a greater willingness to shepherd ballot PMBs through Parliament than its predecessors, especially those from outside its own party. The May Government only passed 14 ballot PMBs across 3 years, and the Cameron Government only passed 31 in its entire 6-year administration, all of which were proposed by Conservative MPs. The Johnson Government has proven somewhat less predictable, which will give the 20 ballot winners hope, but this could be a gamble that doesn’t pay off.