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The law-making process in England and Wales
The law-making process in England and Wales

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5.3 Private member’s Bill

Activity 4 demonstrated the use of a pressure group and how they can influence the introduction of a private member’s Bill. There are a number of ways in which a private member’s Bill may be proposed and introduced to the House of Commons:

  • A ballot procedure allows a maximum of 20 back-benchers. A back-bencher is a member of parliament who is currently not a member of the Cabinet and does not hold a ministerial post but may propose new legislation. However, the timeframe for Parliament to process new legislation means that there is only a small quota of legislation allowed to be introduced by back-benchers. At the beginning of each parliamentary session the 20 members who were successful in the ballot are allowed to present their proposed legislation. Each of the private members’ Bills are usually discussed on a Friday and given a provisional date for a second reading or any further stages to be undertaken. These Bills may be of a controversial nature and they tend to relate to a member or a group of members who have a connection with the subject matter. The majority of private members’ Bills are usually done through the ballot procedure.
  • Ten minute rule Bills are allowed under Standing Order No. 23. This order allows members to gain permission to introduce a Bill. The ten minute rule allows members to introduce a subject matter and a proposed change in the law. This process is usually taken up just after question time on a Tuesday. The ten minute rule was used by the MP Alex Cunningham to introduce a Bill which proposed a ban on smoking in private vehicles where there are children under the age of 18 years old present. Pressure groups such as the British Lung Foundation (BLF) have supported this proposal through their campaign against smoking in cars where children are present.
  • An MP is permitted to introduce a Bill after giving notice under what is known as Standing Order No. 57. This type of Bill cannot be presented until after all the ballot bills have been presented and they have reached the second reading stage.

An example of a private member’s Bill becoming law is the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended by later legislation), which was introduced as a private member’s Bill by the then Liberal MP David Steel: this is still the law governing abortion in England, Scotland and Wales today, though it has been amended on several occasions.