Private members bills 2013: The backbench frontrunners
By Phoebe Cooke
It's an unusually big year for private member's bills. Not only do we have the unprecedented case of the largest party in the Commons putting its weight behind a bill – leading to the unheard-of second reading result of 304 to zero for Wharton's EU referendum bill – but there is serious interest for the other contenders, too. The 2012/13 session saw ten backbench MPs get their bills into law, getting their names on the statute book with topics from Antarctica to scrap metal. So this year we'll be paying more attention to them too. Only the top seven bills stand a really good chance of getting their cases heard. But you never know – the Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Act 2013, after all, was 17th on last year's ballot. So here's the top ten this year for your consideration. And once again the variety of topics is as wide as ever…
1) James Wharton's European Union (referendum) bill
Who? James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton and Teeside
When? Friday July 5th
First off the mark in the private members' bill draw was the youthful James Wharton, whom fate presented with the responsibility of pushing the Tory-backed in-out EU referendum.
For Wharton to be successful in his quest, it is vital that there are very few amendments tabled to his EU bill when it returns to the Commons this autumn.
He says: "The best chance of it going through is if it is unamended, so I discourage colleagues from all sides from tabling amendments."
Wharton seems wary about what will happen to the bill if it gets through to the upper House however, saying: "No one really knows that the Lords is likely to do on any issue".
The strong expectation is it will be scuppered by Labour and Liberal Democrat peers.
2) Paul Blomfield's high cost credit bill
Who? Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central
When? Friday July 12th
Sheffield Central's Blomfield is taking on the "worst rip-off practices" of payday loans in his bill.
He picks up the work of fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy, whose persistent campaigning in this area led to her runners-up status in Politics.co.uk's list of 'most liberated' MPs, in calling for a clampdown on payday lenders.
The bill seeks to tackle the problem by regulating their advertising and making sure clear information is provided on the cost of loans.
It would also require lenders to undertake affordability checks, limit excessive charges and introduce measures to protect borrowers in difficulty. Lenders would have to refer them to free independent debt advice, for example.
"Payday money lenders are making millions from extortionate loans to some of the most vulnerable in Sheffield and across the country," Blomfield says.
"In hard times, it's no wonder that people who are struggling will turn to them for help. But the massive interest rates, rip-off charges and misleading advertising of payday lenders are often just pushing people further into debt.
3) Jonathan Lord's citizenship (armed forces) bill
Who? Jonathan Lord, Conservative MP for Woking
When? Friday September 13th
Jonathan Lord's bill would allow the defence secretary to waive the requirement for members of the armed forces to have been in the UK on the date five years before they apply to become British citizens.
The Woking MP, who at university was president of the now-notorious Oxford University Conservative Association, argues this is needed because current legislation means that members of HM forces who are on an overseas posting at the time are at a disadvantage.
“I am pleased to have the opportunity to take forward legislation to remove the disadvantage faced by Foreign and Commonwealth members of HM Forces who were overseas on the date five years before their application for citizenship," he says.
"It is not right that their applications should fail on this technicality when their absence was as a result of their service to this country.”
Whilst there is already provision to waive this requirement in Crown Service cases – which includes HM forces – currently this only applies to those who are still in service and overseas when they apply. The bill would cover members and former members of HM Forces who have subsequently either been discharged and/or have returned to the UK.
Fiji, Jamaica, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana will be the main nationalities likely to benefit, since they are the main foreign and commonwealth nationals represented in HM Armed Forces.
4) Sheryll Murray's deep sea mining bill
Who? Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall
When? Friday September 6th
Murray, one of the signatories of colleague Wharton's EU referendum bill, will be proposing a bill on deep sea mining in early September. At the time of writing there is little information available on the bill; we will update this as soon as we hear the latest.
5) Dan Byles' House of Lords reform (no.2) bill
Who? Dan Byles, Conservative MP for North Warwickshire
When? Friday October 18th
Fifth in the running comes Conservative MP Dan Byles' "modest and simple" House of Lords reforms bill.
The two-times Guinness world record holder (he rowed across the Atlantic for 101 days once in a wooden boat with his mother and teammate) has a host of big names behind him on the long-called for reform, including David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, and Rory Stewart.
If passed, the bill would mean that peers with criminal convictions would be removed from the upper house, and would introduce a retirement mechanism that would have the effect of limiting the numbers of the upper house.
In a statement made shortly after the lobbying scandal, Byles denied these events had a direct impact on his decision to put forward this bill, and emphasised his cautious, cross-party approach:
"Contrary to appearance, this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the revelations from the weekend – although I believe those revelations give an added impetus to the need for reform. It was always my intention to bring forward this bill.
"For the past fortnight I have been holding discreet and positive talks with peers from all three main parties. I have also been in contact with my party leadership and have kept them fully informed. The reason for my cautious approach is that Lords Reform has been a difficult and controversial subject this parliament. I was keen to ensure that I had the maximum possible cross party support, and that bringing this Bill forward should not be seen as a hostile or provocative act but rather an attempt to build a consensus on some modest and simple reforms that will improve the Upper House. I had hoped for a little more time to lay the groundwork, but the revelations of the weekend have brought this subject to the fore."
6) Sir Alan Meale's private landlords and letting and managing agents (regulation) bill 2013-14
Who? Sir Alan Meale, Labour MP for Mansfield
When? Friday October 25th
If passed, the Mansfield MP's private landlords and letting bill would have the effect of protecting private tenants from unregulated agreements with landlords, which could land them in trouble.
The bill would introduce a mandatory register of national landlords, and regulate private sector letting and managing agents. All tenancy agreements with private landlords would also take the form of written agreements.
Speaking to Politics.co.uk, Sir Alan Meale said: "Private tenants are largely unprotected contrary to those in the public sector. We need to get everyone working together.
"I want the same level of regulation that protects the public sector to protect the private sector."
7) Andrew Gwynne's apprenticeships and skills (public procurement contracts) bill
Who? Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish
When? Friday November 1st
The Labour MP for Denton and Reddish's apprenticeships and skills bill aims to significantly boost the number of apprenticeships in the UK, at a time when youth unemployment is rife across the country.
The bill would make companies awarded contracts by local and central government to increase their provision of apprenticeships, skills and training. The latest treasury figures show the government spent £236 billion on procurement in 2011/12.
“Good quality, properly-funded apprenticeships are absolutely invaluable to the future of our economy and create a win-win situation for workers of all ages, for employers and for UK plc. But we must ensure that they develop the skills and training we need for the economy of the future," Gwynne said.
The Denton and Reddish representative says that this will be a win-win situation for young workers, businesses, and "maximise the impact of public investment."
“It is a relatively small change that would make such a big difference given youth unemployment remains one of the biggest issues facing our country in these economically tough times.”
This is not Gwynne's first foray into the private members' bill arena. The Labour MP also succeeded in not only entering the lucky draw, but also getting his bill through to law, with The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010.
The current bill under discussion, has gathered some notable cross-party support, with signatories including David Blunkett, Andrew George, Alan Johnson and Caroline Lucas.
8) Sir Robert Smith's delivery surcharges (transparency for consumers) bill
Who? Sir Robert Smith, Liberal Democrat MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
When? Friday September 13th
Bob Smith's bill would tackle companies who overcharge for delivery to rural areas.
If passed, the bill would mean that online retailers would have to demonstrate clearly if they are going to charge more to deliver to Scottish regions, such as Orkney and Shetland.
Sir Robert Smith says: “I know from speaking to those living in Aberdeenshire and in much of rural Scotland that this is an issue that really infuriates consumers. People want to know before they start shopping on a website whether they will have to pay a surcharge for delivery if they find something they want to buy.
“Some of the extra charges made by online couriers to deliver to parts of Scotland are just outrageous. Retailers need to think about finding more reasonable ways to deliver their products to rural areas. One option is to deliver goods by Royal Mail which charges one price to deliver anywhere in the UK. Alternatively retailers need to think about using couriers that charge more reasonable amounts for delivery in Scotland.
“People in rural Scotland and on the Islands understand that products may take a little longer to arrive, but the additional cost charged by some companies just seems out of all proportion.”
9) Graham Evans, Conservative MP for Weaver Vale
What? Drug driving (assessment of drug misuse) bill
When? Friday October 18th
The Weaver Vale minister, famously labelled the 'air guitar MP' in 2011 when caught having some fun during a serious Commons debate, has a healthy chance of getting air time for his drugs misuse bill, which comes ninth on the list.
The drug driving (assessment of drug misuse) bill would require people arrested or charged for drug driving who are in possession of Class A drugs – heroin or cocaine – to have drug assessments with a drugs worker.
Evans praised recent changes in drug misuse laws, but said that his bill would redress what he calls "the gap in the law" that remains. Current legislation means that whilst someone charged with robbery found with drugs in their system would automatically have a drugs assessment to address their substance issues, the same does not apply to drug drivers.
“Drug driving ruins lives and it is incredibly important that the law protects innocent people by tackling the cause of this offence – drug misuse itself," Evans says.
“If someone is driving while under the influence of heroin or cocaine we should be taking the initiative to address their drug use."
Evans adds that he hopes everyone would rally support for this bill so that legislation could pass easily for what he described as a "common-sense step."
10) Mike Crockart's communications (unsolicited telephone calls and texts) bill
Who? Mike Crockart, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
When? Friday November 1st
The tenth contender is Crockart's communications bill, which if passed into law would significantly decrease the number of unsolicited telephone calls and texts a customer or member of the public is bombarded with.
The bill aims to change the laws around how personal data is used and to give regulators more powers to tackle companies which break the rules.
Consumer champtions Which? are whole-heartedly backing the bill, with executive director Richard Lloyd issuing the following statement:
“People are sick and tired of being bombarded with nuisance calls and texts. The current system is failing the public and given the scale of this problem, it’s time for the government to step in.
“We urgently need to see a new approach, new laws and new technology to tackle this scourge on people’s lives. We hope MPs get behind this bill to strengthen the law on consent and put people back in control of their personal data.”
The emphatic support of the well-respected Which? is likely to have a positive impact in Commons, if the tenth runner manages to snap up some reading time in the lower House.