Chope attack

I’m in London for Private Members’ Bill Friday, which I’ve blogged about several times before. Christopher Chope MP has somehow managed to get the top three Bills on the Order Paper today. I don’t know how he’s managed that. Every year there’s a ballot for PM Bills and those who come at the top get top billing on Fridays. Others, including those who have introduced Ten Minute Rule Bills during the year like me, have to join the end of the queue, which means we never get round to hearing their Bills because the debate only runs till 2.30pm.

Chope is today getting a taste of his own medicine. Normally he’s one of the usual suspects filibustering on a Friday so that decent bills get talked out (see for example the Sustainable Livestock Bill). The debate on Chope’s Employment Opportunities Bill, which was number one on the list, started at 9.30am and is still going. Judging from the wide-ranging philosophical discourse being embarked upon by Mark Prisk, the Government minister responding to the debate, he’s in no hurry to get to a vote. Prisk has been speaking for half an hour. I suspect he’ll run out of steam at about 2pm, which means we’ll get started on Chope’s second bill but we won’t vote on it.

Chope’s first Bill is seeking to allow employees the “freedom” to opt out of the minimum wage. Basically it would mean a race to the bottom, as the unemployed agree to accept lower wages in order to get a job. It’s no freedom at all. Chope was of course one of those Tories who tried to talk about Labour’s historic National Minimum Wage Bill. He failed due to heroic efforts by Labour MPs who stayed up all night to ensure it became law. (This was before Labour, in a bid to modernise parliamentary proceedings, introduced stricter guillotines on debates. There are a few things which can still run all night, Finance Bills being one of them, but it’s the exception now, not the rule.)

Chope’s second Bill is the Tribunals (Maximum Compensation Awards) Bill. I think you can guess what that’s about; another attack on workers’ rights. His third is the Public Bodies (Disposal of Assets) Bill, If we got past that – which we won’t – it would be Brian Binley’s Shared Parenting Bill, and then the adjourned debate on John McDonnell’s Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill, which was talked out a few months ago. This Bill seeks to prevent strike action being ruled unlawful just because of minor technical errors in the way the ballot was conducted. I would be voting for it if there was a vote, but all that will happen is that the title of the Bill will be read out at 2.30pm, and someone – probably Chope – will shout Object and it will be relisted another day.

There’s a consultation going on at the moment on Private Members Bills, and how we can get rid of these silly procedures which make it so easy to sabotage them. I think set time limits – say three hours per Bill – and more time allowed in the parliamentary timetable for debate (e.g. Monday/ Tuesday mornings or Wednesday/ Thursday evenings when Parliament doesn’t sit at the moment) is the answer. When I say three hours I mean three hours for the general Second Reading debate. It would then, if the vote was won, go to Committee for more scrutiny. Most PM Bills are only a few clauses long, so they don’t need the sort of lengthy scrutiny that we need for Government legislation.

Prisk has now managed 40 minutes… I don’t get the impression he’s drawing to a close.

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  • Ceri  On June 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    It seems ridiculous that we still have such an undemocratic system in place for PMBs. Having been involved with two over the last 18 months (including the Sustainable Livestock Bill you mentioned), I know how frustrating it is to see these Bills scuppered by a couple of beligerent awkward squad dinosaurs at the last minute. Moreover, given the changing dynamic of Parliament since the expenses scandal and the election, the pressure on MPs seems to be so great that even those sympathetic to the issue find it difficult to reconcile being away from their constituencies on a Friday, making the likelihood even greater that a PMB will be talked out.

    The only answer if we are to keep this system – which we should, I feel, given its ability to introduce some hugely important pieces of legislation in the past – is to make it more accessible and less susceptible to the whims of a couple of curmudgeonly old men.

    Good luck!

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