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Filibuster this! Next steps for the Private Members’ Bill parade

6 July 2015

With the excitements of the election well and truly in the past, MPs new and old are busy scheming how best to make a mark on the House – and the law of the land – over the coming Parliamentary period.


For those who won a coveted Private Members’ Bill ballot slot, their efforts will be focused on overseeing the passage of their own pet piece of legislation as it runs the gauntlet of both an uninterested ministerial cadre, and bolshie backbenchers bent on sabotage.


Where the Government fails to get behind a Bill, it remains unlikely to pass – a reason why some MPs chosen in the ballot take their pick from a roster of viable new laws on approved subjects, allowing them greater confidence that their efforts will be rewarded.


Should they choose a more distinctive route, they risk the agonising spectacle of seeing their Bills slowly denied the chance to proceed by lengthy, rambling speeches designed deliberately to obstruct.


An openness to being “talked out” despite securing time to move has frustrated many PMBs in the past, and is frequently linked to certain Conservative MPs with a penchant for procedurally-informed awkwardness.


This, for example, was the fate of 2012’s Daylight Saving Bill, which had sought an analysis of moving the clocks forward for an hour. While, as its annoyed Conservative proponent Rebecca Harris commented, “the clear will of the House was for the Bill to proceed”, a gang of ten determined opponents were able to talk the Bill out, denying it further time during the Parliamentary year, and thus effectively killing it.


The Hansard Society has hit out at the system, issuing a report that attacked “the excessive control of time by the Executive” and the way in which procedure seemed to “facilitate filibustering”.


The Society also suggested that MPs lacked the resources they needed to push their PMBs higher up the agenda and get them through – all of which meant fewer were being passed than in the past.


That said, the Bills remain an important campaigning tool – a fact recognised by Labour, which issued last year’s highest-placed willing conspirator, Clive Efford, with the electorally-significant National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill.


Their appearance on the schedule can provoke much-needed media interest and persuade new Parliamentary backers, while the attention devoted to drafting and defining the scope of intended changes is also useful in proffering future proposals.


And indeed, the persistence of a plucky MP who battles the odds for their cause could just be what it takes to catch Cabinet eyes…


Click here to read our sample briefing highlighting some of the higher-ranking ballot bills – the proposals with a plum position for Parliamentary progress.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.