Why are governments so fearful of giving anyone else but themselves the power to influence the legislative process? Why are they so determined to block MPs, even their own MPs, from having the right to propose legislation that, even though they command a majority of votes in the House and can vote down what they disagree with, they nevertheless prefer to use every bit of shenanigans at their disposal to prevent any such bills from ever reaching a vote at all or, preferably, from ever being brought before the House in the first place? Just as they are currently trying to prevent charities from having any voice before general elections, so they want to snuff out the voice of anyone who dares to demand a modification of the law, however popular that might be with the electorate. Democracy is fine for them, so long as they can always get their way. Widen the access to the democratic right to decide what the laws of the country should be, and they will deploy every underhand tactic to stop it in its tracks. So what should be done?
How prise open just a chink of opportunity for an electorate crying out for reform? The government’s first trick is to insist that all Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) must be taken on Fridays, when they know very well that the vast majority of MPs will be in their constituencies, and then demand that before even a vote can take place on the bill itself, the hurdle of a closure motion must first be surmounted which requires that at least 100 MPs must be present to vote for it. Very few bills will survive that initial obstacle unless they command the full support of the government, i.e. are virtually government hand-out bills. There several ways of redressing this. PMBs could instead be taken on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings when almost all MPs are normally present, or the PMBs could still be held on Friday but the vote is deferred till the next Wednesday, or the 100-minimum vote could be dropped and replaced by a straight vote on the bill so long as at least 50 MPs voted for
To prevent filibustering, a time limit should be imposed on the speech of the mover of the bill and on the front-bench speeches of no more than 20 minutes and on all other speeches 10 minutes (or less at the Speaker’s discretion). Once the bill had obtained its second reading, the MP piloting it should be entitled to choose a majority for the committee stage, but any matters still not agreed could be referred to a vote of the whole House at report stage. To ensure that all MPs at that stage knew what they were voting on, a short explanation of each amendment should be posted on the TV monitor (in each MP’s office) as well as on the official list of written amendments.
At least this would for the first time give PMBs, especially those favoured by a majority of the public, a reasonable chance of becoming the law of the land.