Neil Turner's Blog

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Help to choose a law to change

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Until tomorrow evening, if you live in the UK, you have the opportunity to vote for a new law that will be debated in the House of Commons. Here’s the link.

Here’s why this has come about: in every parliamentary session, backbench MPs can put themselves forward for a ballot to debate a ‘private members bill’. These bills are not introduced by government, and there is limited time allocated to them being discussed. In the new parliamentary session that started after last month’s general election, Chris Bryant MP came top of the ballot, and he has decided to have a poll for which bill to discuss first.

The bills are as follows:

  • Marriage Equality Bill – allowing civil partnership for mixed sex couples, inclusion of mothers’ names on marriage certificates (in addition to fathers’) and the use of religious symbols in straight civil weddings (as is allowed in gay civil weddings).
  • Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill – extending the existing scheme which provides compensation to those that have lost out financially through physical damage to property from acts of terrorism to include those who have suffered other forms of loss.
  • Crime (Assaults on Emergency Staff) Bill – making assault on emergency staff an aggravated offence when perpetrated against emergency workers in the exercise of their duty.
  • House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers) Bill – removing the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords.
  • Food (Advertising and Labelling) Bill – restricting advertising of high fat, high sugar foods till after 9pm on TV and requiring the government to introduce regulations to require the use of prescribed colour-coded labels on packaged foods.
  • Refugees Families Bill – allowing refugee families to be reunited by expanding the definition of family members allowed to accompany refugees and giving refugee children the right to be reunited with their parents.

You can rank these bills in your preferred order; presumably, the bill with the most first choice votes will be discussed first. The ‘Crime (Assaults on Emergency Staff) Bill’ is one that my local MP, Holly Lynch, has been a keen promoter of. The poll closes tomorrow evening, so please get in there quickly if you want to have your say.

Private members bills are often not successful – they frequently run out of time before a final vote. But there are some exceptions; Gyles Brandeth, a former MP and now a TV celebrity, introduced the Marriage Bill which became the Marriage Act 1994. This allowed couples to marry outside of churches and registry offices for the first time, which Christine and I personally benefited from when we got married in 2013. The act has since been amended to allow same-sex couples to marry as well.

These bills are also often subject to filibustering. Philip Davies, who has somehow managed to remain MP for Shipley despite being a Dickensian villain, has filibustered his way through several bills, including those on domestic violence, hospital car parking and ensuring rented properties are fit for habitation. I’m sure it’s a mere coincidence that Davies is a residential landlord.

Most of the recent successful private members bills have been presented by Conservative MPs; this isn’t surprising, as the Conservatives have been the largest party in the House of Commons since 2010. It’ll be interesting to see if Bryant, a Labour MP, is allowed enough time to progress whichever bill wins this vote.

Voting for your preferred bill takes literally a couple of minutes. It’s not often that opportunities like this come up, so please take advantage of it.

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