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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 786-v
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Private Members' Bills
Wednesday 27 February 2013
Dr Rowena Daw and Tom Mullarkey
Evidence heard in Public Questions 169 - 204
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Procedure Committee
on Wednesday 27 February 2013
Mr Charles Walker (Chair)
Sir Roger Gale
Mr James Gray
Mr David Nuttall
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Rowena Daw, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Tom Mullarkey, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, gave evidence.
Q169 Chair: Thank you for agreeing to come early. We have managed to lose a delegation along the way, so it is very helpful to us all that the two of you have decided to come before this Committee 45 minutes earlier than originally planned. Your flexibility is welcome and appreciated. You will be aware that we are doing an investigation into private Members’ Bills: what works, what does not work, what could be improved, what is beyond improvement. As part of our investigation, we have asked the two of you to come forward. Both of you have had varying experiences of the process. One I suspect is a good experience and the other is a more disappointing experience. Without further ado, Mr Mullarkey, why don’t you briefly open up-we have received your submission-and tell us, in no more than three minutes, and then we will obviously start questioning, what you feel the process offers and does not offer?
Tom Mullarkey: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I come here representing the disappointed side of this process. RoSPA is an organisation that has been campaigning for 96 years on many subjects. We are campaigning on at least a dozen subjects at any one time. One of the ways in which we campaign is by drawing the attention of the House of Commons to a particular issue, in the hope that it will lead to legislation. The process, as we have seen it up to now, has been that if we can persuade Members of Parliament of the rightness of our case we will be able to engineer visibility within Parliament, such as through an early day motion or a Westminster Hall debate or a presentation Bill or a ten-minute rule Bill, or one other similar methodology. But the apogee of our efforts has, until now, always been the private Members’ Bill. We have always assumed and worked incredibly hard and diligently to make sure that our arguments are sufficiently convincing that one day they would be picked up, if not by the Government then by a private Member who would advance them all the way through to legislation.
Our desire for this to happen, as far as the Daylight Saving Bill was concerned, were sadly dashed on 20 January 2012, where, despite all our work, and the work of many other people to bring this matter before the House and turn it into a change that would benefit every person in our country, and save the lives of many thousands of people, and prevent the injuries of many tens or hundreds of thousands of people in the coming years, despite our efforts to achieve this, they all came to nothing on that day when the Bill, at Third Reading, was filibustered and we were sent packing.
At that point, I became completely disappointed and, I have to say, very disillusioned with the system for so many reasons, not least the fact that we were not taken seriously. I thought the way in which our subject was treated in the Chamber was appalling. The methods that were used to talk the Bill out over five hours, despite the fact that 146 of your colleagues-some of whom are on this Committee-had appeared to support the Bill on a cold, snowy Friday and were opposed by only 10 Members, despite the fact that the Government supported the Bill, despite the fact that the Minister responsible, Mr Davey, came and spoke in favour of the Bill, despite all of those things we failed. We feel it comes down to this dreadful procedure, which we believe must be reformed.
Q170 Chair: Thank you for that opening. I will bring in Mr Gray in a moment. Dr Daw, your experience of the private Members’ Bill process was markedly different. Do you want to make a few opening comments?
Dr Daw: Yes. I have actually had experience on two occasions: a long time ago working with Lord Lester of Herne Hill on his private Members’ Bill, which was the Human Rights Bill, which, of course, was eventually taken over as a Government Bill. The process itself was very positive, because it allowed us gradually to refine the concepts and to overcome some of the very big obstacles, which were genuine obstacles, so it was a good debating set-up that helped to overcome the real problems that the Government, in particular, had in relation to that. But that is a long time ago.
The most recent experience I had was with a smaller Bill, a very small Bill in some sense, but one that was seen to be very important by the mental health community. That was the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill. Working in the charity sector-most recently for the Royal College of Psychiatrists-I was part of a group of charities who in different ways had worked on the different aspects of this. We had put an awful lot of time into the preparation and research, looking at overseas jurisdictions and so on, because we knew that there was quite a bit of opposition to one aspect of this Bill, particularly relating to jury service. We did a lot of hard work on countering the arguments. We were very fortunate because it was taken up by Charles Walker and the mental health Committee in the House of Commons, and then by Lord Stevenson, who both put an enormous amount of energy behind it. We had a lot of meetings with civil servants, both face to face and over the phone and whatever. Part of the time, I was overseas. It took a long time, but I guess it was the kind of Bill that no Government was ever going to spend time on. In their eyes, it wasn’t sufficiently important to make it a Government Bill. It contained some things that they needed to be persuaded about and a number of things that they probably accepted. It was also quite timely, in that mental health and disability were to some extent flavours of the month. It wouldn’t have happened without the support within Parliament and the civil service.
Q171 Chair: To clarify, those discussions you had with civil servants and with Ministers did not happen over the period of the Bill’s journey through Parliament?
Dr Daw: No, much before.
Q172 Chair: They happened a year before it was picked up by Mr Barwell in the private Members’ ballot last year?
Dr Daw: That is right. We went through a number of iterations of the Bill itself, because it had to be changed quite a bit, so it wasn’t until we had had the conversations with a number of different Government Departments, because it involved the DWP, Cabinet Office and the Home Office.
Q173 Mr Gray: This is to both of you with your varying experiences. Would you say that the purpose behind private Members’ Bill time is achieving an Act on the statute book, or is it seeking to raise an important issue that others will then take forward? Dr Daw, your experience was split. You said the first Bill was very much a good debating opportunity, which others then took forward, and the second Bill, of course, became law. Whereas, Mr Mullarkey, you were indicating that you felt that this was the best way, a fantastic Bill, hundreds and thousands of lives being saved and all the rest of it, and that it was very disappointing that it did not become an Act. You plainly expected it to become an Act.
Tom Mullarkey: Yes, if I may respond first. The expectation of our whole campaign was that we had a chance of getting it through on a private Members’ Bill. This subject had already been the subject of 11 previous Bills in the previous century. Five of them had been private Members’ Bills and none of them had succeeded.
Q174 Mr Gray: Not a great precedent, perhaps you might have thought.
Tom Mullarkey: Two of them had been Lords Bills, which showed there was interest in both Houses, and three of them had been Government Bills that had succeeded, which gave us hope. This particular Bill was not asking for daylight saving in the way that has caused some ire in the past, by advancing the clocks by an hour, or roughly that is the kind of idea that was being suggested. The idea of this Bill was to ask for each Government Department to put forward the pros and cons of the change, which, if they were all favourable, would then potentially lead to an experiment, which, if successful and agreed by all the three devolved Governments, might then pass into law. So this was a slow, objective process of data gathering that we were asking for. It was a much more benign version of any private Members’ Bill that had come before the House in the past, and we had every expectation that it would succeed. We are a charity. We are one of 90 organisations that joined together under the Lighter Later coalition to support this Bill, which was very ably led by Rebecca Harris as our champion and sponsor. We put a lot of effort, 18 months of work, thousands and thousands of-
Q175 Mr Gray: I know about that. My question, though, is whether or not that work was well placed. Let us put it a different way. If a piece of legislation is worth while, if it is a good thing, if it is something that would make life in Britain better, surely that is something you should be directing your attention-all that work that you were describing-to Government, to make the Government bring forward the Act if it was as demonstrably worth while, as you say. On the other hand, if it is a matter of opinion and the Government does not support it, then you cannot object when the private Members’ Bill, which is the route you choose, does not happen.
Tom Mullarkey: We were doing both. We were promoting this to the Government at the same time. We had the support of the Government. The Government Minister came and spoke in favour of the Bill. He supported the Bill. He said he would let it go through. Rebecca Harris’s office was in constant communication with him for many months. In fact, throughout most of 2011, there was constant to-ing and fro-ing, while the negotiations of this process were to happen. We were given much hope and-just to finish the point that I didn’t quite get across earlier-we invested all this time and effort only on the basis that we might have a reasonable chance of success. If there was any suggestion, as we then discovered, that having more than 100 MPs in the Chamber on the day did not qualify it to go to a vote, if that had been the case and had we believed, what we then discovered, that a couple of Members could talk out the Bill, even though there was a massive majority in the House on the day, we would not have invested this time and effort.
Q176 Mr Gray: In that case, you should have bought one of a number of books, which you can pick up on the shelves, which explain that is precisely what happens to private Members’ Bills. There is no mystery about this.
Tom Mullarkey: With respect, sir, we did take a lot of advice and we-
Q177 Mr Gray: You have still not answered the particular point I am getting at. Is there not an argument that says that all Rebecca Harris’s work, and all the work you did, was valuable, in the sense that it raised the issue and brought it to the notice of Ministers, enabled you to make a fuss about it, and therefore, presumably, to advance your cause in the way that the Human Rights Bill did, as Dr Daw mentioned earlier on? If you seriously believed that when you set off down this track you were going to achieve your private Members’ Bill, well, I think you were mistaken. It was a naive thing to think.
Tom Mullarkey: As we subsequently discovered, that is indeed the opinion of people in this place. But we set out with a firm and honest belief that we were doing something that is in the national interest, and which you would all be very keen to hear about and want to see happen. It is only when it failed that we discovered that there was this cynical attitude, that we were just being hopelessly naive and that we had no chance of success.
I find it very dispiriting to hear that, after we invested all our charitable funds and efforts in something that we wanted to see happen. We were never told at any point that two people could talk it out and it would just be a complete waste of time. We thought if we had 100 people in the Chamber-I have seen the evidence you have had from the APPG on this, and it says 100 Members should entitle the Bill to go to a vote. We provided that. We lobbied hard. Some of you were involved in supporting that; 146 people turned up to vote for it, and it didn’t work because of some other procedure, which is completely opaque to us, which therefore negated all our work. We feel extremely aggrieved about it, and if we are hopelessly naive, which I think is what you are suggesting, then why did you not help us by making it abundantly clear what we were embarking on?
Mr Gray: Well, you did not ask me but I would have done.
Tom Mullarkey: It is your Parliament. You can help us, the people, to know what we are getting into.
Chair: To be fair, Mr Mullarkey, I would not direct your frustrations at Mr Gray. You did tell the Committee you took advice. As someone who is quite sympathetic to you, I would say you clearly did not get very good advice. It would be helpful if at some stage you explain to the Committee, before this ends, who you took advice from so others are warned not to go the same route you did.
Q178 Sir Roger Gale: I want to set the record straight, or make sure that we actually have the correct information, because, as you rightly indicated, there have been a number of attempts to introduce this legislation, which I personally happen to support. It has always been contentious because of the supposed effect that it will have north of the border, mainly if not exclusively. On that basis, there has never been any real chance of it going through as a private Members’ Bill. I am a founder member of the Rebuild Hadrian’s Wall campaign, and as far as I am concerned, if they want to have their own time zone, they can have it. It is done in America with no trouble at all, but that is not the issue. You said that a Government Minister has indicated that this Bill would go through. Are you absolutely certain that that is correct? My understanding is that this did not have ministerial support and could not have had ministerial support under private Members’ procedures.
Tom Mullarkey: I was under the impression it was supported by the Government. I recall very clearly that the Minister, Mr Davey, came and spoke in favour of it. I wrote to the Speaker afterwards and made those very points, and he did not disagree with me. So this is news to me if the Government did not support it. This is the first time I have heard it.
Chair: Can I just make an observation, Mr Mullarkey? In this Parliament, there will be 10 Bills that get on the statute, private Members’ Bills. Nine will be Government hand-out Bills and one-which Dr Daw is here to talk about-only got through because the Government supported it. It is highly likely that, at some stage, the Government were playing slightly fast and loose with you in the level of support they were actually offering.
Q179 Sir Roger Gale: The Chairman has said that he thinks you were badly advised, and we would be interested to know-very interested to know-who was advising you, if only for this reason: this Bill got to its Third Reading stage, as I understand it. Did it?
Mr Nuttall: Chairman, with your permission, the witness indicated that it ran out of time during its Third Reading stage. My memory is that it was during the Report stage that it ran out of time. I can see the Clerk nodding. I don’t know whether the Clerk has more information than I do. I don’t think it ever got to Third Reading.
Sir Roger Gale: The point I am trying to make is that, once you get past Second Reading-and perhaps the Clerk can advise us all-
Chair: Through the Chair.
Sir Roger Gale: Through the Chair, of course, yes. So far as I am aware-and I do not pretend to be an expert on procedure-once you get past Second Reading, you cannot move a closure. Let us be clear about this, the purpose of having 100 Members there is to provide the necessary number to secure a closure. I don’t think, and I stand to be corrected, that you can close either the Report stage or a Third Reading. Nod or shake your head, please.
Clerk: You can closure debate on a group of amendments. As I understand it, there were four groups of amendments at Report stage. I think three groups were reached and discussion was going on on the third or fourth group when time ran out. After that would have been-
Sir Roger Gale: So I am right, you cannot close the Report stage?
Clerk: Closure could have been-and I think was-reached on two or three groups, but you need to closure each group of amendments.
Sir Roger Gale: You cannot close at Report stage. So the fact that you had your 100 people there-and I may well have been one of them-wasn’t really of any value. Who was advising you on this, because it does seem to me that you have been misled?
Tom Mullarkey: To come here and hear from the Procedure Committee, who know everything about this whole process, exactly where we went wrong tells the whole story.
Chair: Who was advising you? That is the question.
Tom Mullarkey: We received advice from many different sources. We had parliamentary advisers. We had MPs involved in this. Many MPs wrote to me afterwards and said that they did not realise that it would not go to a vote. They were surprised. They did not understand the system themselves when it came to a vote. They could not understand how 146 versus 10 had not prevailed. I am not the only ignorant one here. I feel asking me to explain why I am ignorant about this is a completely unfair question.
Q180 Chair: Which external agency? Did you pay external lobbyists to advise you on the process?
Tom Mullarkey: RoSPA did not pay any external advisers, but we were part of the Lighter Later campaign, which, as I said before, had 90 different organisations involved in it. We did take professional advice on this whole process.
Q181 Chair: Who did you take professional advice from?
Tom Mullarkey: They took professional advice, the Lighter Later.
Chair: Yes, who from?
Tom Mullarkey: I would have to ask them.
Q182 Chair: Could you find out for us? That would be useful.
Tom Mullarkey: I am sure we could.
Q183 Chair: Rowena, did you want to come in on anything? We are talking a lot about daylight; we are not talking a lot about your Bill.
Dr Daw: No, that is fine. I also feel that it is very difficult for us from the outside to understand the processes. I guess we had the experience in the mental health world, of having been through a very long process with previous legislation with the Mental Health Bill itself, to make a lot of connections and to learn quite a bit in the process. Of course this was a much smaller Bill and our experience was entirely positive, but I wouldn’t suggest that it isn’t very, very baffling when you first get into it. I had the experience with the Human Rights Bill as well, so I don’t think I have ever got to a point where I have understood what the procedures were, but we were lucky to have good advisers and good help within Parliament and lots of energy.
Q184 Chair: I do sense Mr Mullarkey’s frustration. We are trying to find a way of ensuring that future frustrations do not happen, or if they do happen, you at least understand why they have happened.
Tom Mullarkey: Thank you, Chairman. Could I respond to a point that Sir Roger made, if I may, Chairman?
Tom Mullarkey: It was on the Minister playing fast and loose with us, which again, if I may say so, if that is the case then isn’t that an abomination of the system that an organisation like ourselves would be treated in this way? When we are trying to do good for everybody, there is a Janus-faced piece of work going on behind the scenes that we are not aware of. It is just not fair.
Sir Roger Gale: I do not know whether that was the case or not. If it was, then my personal view-and it is a personal view-is that would have been wrong. The point that I think needs to come out of this, from your point of view and from the point of view of the Committee’s inquiry-because at some point we are going to have to try to make some recommendations-is that one of the strands that we have established is that there is a huge amount of public misunderstanding of the strength of private Members legislation, generally, and/or its chances of success at all. That leads to the kind of frustration that you have clearly experienced, and are expressing, and somehow, Chairman, I think we have a duty to try to address that issue, to make sure that members of the public, with the best possible intentions, are not led up the garden path.
Q185 Mr Nuttall: Very simply, to Mr Mullarkey, if, as you believe, the Government were supporting this Bill, have you considered why it is that in the subsequent Queen’s Speech, in respect of the Session of Parliament that we are now in, that Bill never appeared? I venture to suggest that it will not appear in the next Queen’s Speech either. Have you wondered why that might be?
Tom Mullarkey: I have to say, sir, I have not taken any notice of it. I have not focused on it again. I have forgotten all about it. I don’t see this as a sensible avenue for us to progress. It was a waste of our time and effort. It was bound to fail, which was well known within this organisation, and we foolishly went to a lot of trouble to do it. In our view, there is no point in talking to anybody in the Back-Bench system anymore, because the best that we can get is a private Members’ Bill. If it is not going to happen, for this reason I have just explained, then there is a whole avenue of democracy that is being closed down to us, as far as I am concerned. Our efforts have shifted entirely to talk directly to the Government, to talk to Ministers and to work on that basis, and that is how we will move forward.
I have to say it is not a priority issue for us now. We have other fish to fry. We are very much focused on a very significant issue to do with the new public health legislation and the changes that are coming into force on 1 April this year. That is where our relatively meagre efforts have been focused in the intervening time, and unfortunately that is the consequence of this having failed.
Q186 Mr Nuttall: I submit that the reason why it has never appeared in the Queen’s Speech is that the Government do not want to see that Bill here and that the reality is there was really no support for it, despite what might have been said or not said. As we have explored in previous evidence sessions, there were months and months went by, after it had passed Second Reading, before the money resolution was brought forward to allow it to go into Committee. In fact, that was really the cause of the delay. That is why it finished up being considered at the last possible moment in the Commons. Had it been able to be discussed and debated at Report stage much earlier, had it gone into Committee much earlier, then, even had it run over into two days, there was a really good chance that the debate could have been closed. I submit that each individual debate can be closed if the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker will accept a closure motion on it, which I think they would have after two or three hours on each separate group, four groups. It would have eventually finished its procedure. My view is that these Bills ought to be properly discussed and debated. In fact, the problem was that it simply ran out of time. It ran out of time because the Government did not bring forward the money resolution in sufficient time to enable it to go into Committee. That is what caused that particular Bill to fail.
Tom Mullarkey: The way I would see it, Mr Nuttall, is that we are trying to negotiate a labyrinth to try to work out how to get to where we need to be. We are taking all these turns, left and right and straight on and backwards, in order to get to that ultimate position on the basis of the best intelligence we have. You giving your speech there, which I am sure is entirely accurate and reflects the true position of the situation, I find very confusing. I am not an expert on all this. I simply thought if we can go through this procedure, as it is laid down and you can read on the website as to how you do it, we would get to the point where we wouldn’t run out of time. We had five hours to debate this. We had 146 people there who wanted it to happen. How could we run out of time? Any other meeting, which is chaired by a strong chairman, people would be allowed to speak for two or three minutes, summarise their points, and then someone else would get to speak, at the end of which, if necessary, a vote would be taken. I don’t see any reason why you cannot invent that same system, which applies in every other organisation in the land, to work in here. It just seems like the obvious way to do things. When you explain-as I say, I am sure with great precision and accuracy-how it actually works, I find it totally confusing. I do not understand why you don’t do it the way that we all do it.
Mr Nuttall: That is why we are holding this inquiry.
Q187 Nic Dakin: Essentially, don’t worry, I don’t understand it either. I am not as erudite or as inspired as some of my colleagues around the table. But I want to really look forward, because the purpose of our scrutiny is to come up with recommendations about the future rather than the past. We can learn from the past and learn from the present. Both Rowena and Tom have said the current system is baffling, to a greater or lesser degree, so my first question is, if the system was to stay as it is, what could we do to make it less baffling for people from outside or, indeed, inside the organisation? The second question is, if you were to change the system, what would be the one or two changes you would want to see, which would make it more reasonable from your perspective?
Chair: Rowena, you start.
Dr Daw: I have to say that we saw the private Members’ Bill approach-in other contexts, other than the Bill that I am talking about-as a campaigning tool, and as a way of testing the view and spreading an understanding of an issue, not just in Parliament but outside Parliament. We primarily saw it as that role, and I think that is probably fairly clear.
In terms of achieving a very specific objective, I think it is baffling. I don’t know that I can say much more than some of the things that probably Tom would also agree, which is that there must be a much clearer understanding. For instance, I didn’t know what Charles has just said, which is one out of nine-
Chair: No, nine out of the 10 Bills, which get on the statute through the private Members’ process in this session, will be Government hand-out Bills.
Dr Daw: Yes, I didn’t know that. I have been through the process and I didn’t know that. If we had a more realistic understanding of the role of the Bills and the chances of using it in particular ways-in other words, if the process was much more transparent-then those of us who work in the charity sector and put a lot of expertise behind it would not be wasting time. In my particular case, we were not wasting time, but in other circumstances, we could have been.
Tom Mullarkey: I have some suggestions, which you have probably heard before because I see you have taken evidence from many different experts. There is nothing new that I will say now that will illuminate the situation. I have four simple things to say: one, not on a Friday. To me, Friday means it is a second-class Bill. If it is something that people want to see happening, and they are sufficiently willing to persuade their MPs to go and vote for it, it should not be seen as a second-class Bill. In the rest of the parliamentary process, it should be seen very much as an equal piece of legislation to Government work. I would have thought that the Government can whistle through legislation pretty much any time it wants, including on a Friday morning. So why can’t we have these private Members’ Bills at the time when most people are likely to be there to engage in them and to debate the process?
The second thing is adequate time. This Bill ran out of time. Of the five previous private Members’ Bills, four of them have run out of time on daylight saving, so time is obviously a major constraint. The fact that so little time is allowed for private Members’ Bills does seem to be an unnecessary constraint, almost designing them to fail because of that procedural design.
The third thing is that there should be clear rules. They should be so clear that everybody can understand them, so they do not have to seek the advice of an expert Committee in order to have them interpreted to members of the public such as myself. I think it is always a good idea that, if you can design a process that fits on one sheet of A4, then you are in the right ballpark there.
The fourth thing is-and I think this is most important-no filibustering. No opportunity for a few Members, who may disagree with the Bill, to stand in the way of what everybody else in this land would see as a democratic process where the majority rules at the end of the day. A vote is taken, and must be taken at the conclusion of the proceedings, and you are not allowed to stand on your hind legs or waffle for hours in order to waste everybody’s time, including in our case the time of 44,000 members of the public who supported our campaign.
Dr Daw: If I could add one thing, if I may. Before I got involved in these kinds of Bills, I think I shared the perception that it was not really a serious matter-that private Members’ Bills were ways in which not really serious issues could be taken forward. If we were to use this as a proper mechanism for getting on to the statute book Bills that were serious in the way that this one was, that were carefully thought through and a lot of work put into them, then that would help the whole process of democracy enormously. Because there is a lot of expertise out there; there are a lot of issues that people generally support, which, for whatever reason in the parliamentary democracy that we have, will not get to the top of the agenda and, nevertheless, are things that should be there.
Q188 Martin Vickers: Mr Mullarkey, you said a few moments ago that you followed the guidance on the House website. It is a long time since I have looked at it, but I would presume that it is only a very simple guide. But it does seem something that could be changed very easily if you think that it is misleading in any way. It would seem very simple for the House authorities to put a few caveats in it. Would that be a start?
Tom Mullarkey: Mr Vickers, just to be clear, I didn’t rely entirely on that as the source of advice.
Martin Vickers: No, I realise that.
Tom Mullarkey: It would help. But I think the actual procedure and the way that the procedure is presented to the public have to be entirely the same. It is no good saying, "Here is an abridged version." We want the full version and it should be simple and straightforward. It is that easy to do. I really get confused as to why it becomes so difficult to design something that works that is simple and effective. It is something that those of us who run organisations have to do all the time. We would often ask a junior manager to go away and design a new route to a particular success, and we would expect them to come back with an options paper that lays out the various ways of doing it with a preferred option. That is the method that we would use, and once we have that, we would expect to be able to summarise it very simply on perhaps one sheet of paper. If it had to go to a little bit more, then fair enough, but in such a way that you could go on the website and read the actual procedure, not the abridged version or a selected version of it because that is very confusing.
Q189 Martin Vickers: I would agree. If I could go back to the point you made about you became convinced that you had Government support for this. I made a point of being here for this particular Bill and supported it, but I didn’t get that impression from what the Minister said in the House. Perhaps I read it in a slightly different way to you, but, as Sir Roger intimated, as soon as it was hinted that there was consultations with-among others-the Scottish Government, I thought, "Well, the Bill is dead. It will go no further." Are you saying that you became convinced, purely on what the Minister had said in the debate, or had you had other consultations with officials and Ministers?
Tom Mullarkey: Mr Vickers, the Prime Minister made an announcement in 2011-I cannot remember the exact date-in which he said that there would be no move to daylight saving without the express agreement of the leaders of the devolved Governments. We understood that there was at the end of this process of evaluation, objectivising the whole process, understanding the issues by having done firstly a Government review, which if favourable would have led to an experiment, which then if favourable, when all the evidence had been reviewed from that experiment, would have then given the option for the devolved Governments to veto the coming into law of this whole Bill. My understanding was that was a long way down. All we were trying to do was to get off first base, which is to do the review that would lead, if necessary, if possible, into the experiment, the whole purpose of which was to find out the facts. It was to get to the facts about whether this idea was actually going to work or not. We were prevented from even getting the first review leading to the facts of the experiment. We didn’t even get that far because it was stopped because of a procedural process. It was talked out, as we saw it, by filibustering in the Commons.
What is so difficult and wrong about trying to gain access to the facts? Everybody else, particularly in our world-and we are dealing at the moment very strongly with the health side-evidence is everything. You have to provide evidence for every argument. Seeking evidence of the pros and cons of your argument objectively, so that everybody can understand and agree with them, is surely a laudable thing to do, and should not be the subject of the kind of obstruction that occurred on that day. It is very dispiriting to see that.
Q190 John Hemming: What actually is going on is there is a constitutional issue. We have a model that has a strong Executive, strong Government, substantially in control of Parliament, and a weak Parliament. In my view, there are lots of problems with that. I am part of the Parliament First lobby group that wish to strengthen Parliament. What you have is, for instance, to timetable a debate, a Government Minister has to table a motion. That is part of the procedures. When I responded on your particular issue, I said, "It will not get through without Government support." That was my response. I didn’t try to persuade people why that was the case. You can go into the details of the procedures, but at the end of the day they mean that the Government controls the situation. The basic question for both of you is: would you prefer a situation where Parliament was more independent of the Government and if there was a majority in Parliament that could be obtained for something that it could get voted on, or are you content with the current situation where the Government is essentially all powerful and things do not go through without the Government agreeing it?
Dr Daw: I know what I think.
John Hemming: Tell us what you think then.
Chair: We don’t know. Why don’t you share it with us?
Dr Daw: I would absolutely agree that the Parliament should change to that situation, whereby if you can get a majority-
Q191 John Hemming: It would be stronger?
Dr Daw: It would be much stronger, absolutely. I cannot see any reason why that is not a good thing.
Tom Mullarkey: I do support that suggestion. The Government has a right to control the vast majority of the things that go through Parliament. We all understand that. It is part of the deal when we make the X in the box. But there are other things that do not go into manifestos, which are very important to the population and which can be, when thought through carefully, advanced by individual Members of Parliament successfully for the good of us all. There should be a system provided for that to happen if there are enough MPs in the House who agree with it. It should be as straightforward and simple as that. Provided it doesn’t do something that the Government feels is completely contrary to its own objectives, in which case I believe the Government should state that, and should be clear about it, that the Government does not want that to happen. Then we can all see what the parliamentary process is that is taking place, and it is transparent and not opaque. Unless that very rare situation would occur, things-like both the Bills we are talking about here-should almost be the subject of a free vote, on the basis of the opinions of constituents talking to their MPs and getting them to express their views in the House in a way that suits everyone in the country.
Q192 John Hemming: On the same question, I agree with you, but I am going to come back to it in a bit. Just to explain a bit more, in the evidence previously given to us, it was explained that the way our system works is that Parliament assents to legislation. Legislation is written in Whitehall. In different models like the US model, their Congress actually writes legislation more than assenting to it. There are arguments and there were arguments given previously in evidence sessions on this issue to this Committee as to why that was a bad idea. I had a civil servant from Denmark say to me, "It is dreadful in America. They actually write legislation in the Parliament." I can take it from you that you would like Parliament to have more influence and write legislation. Why would you like that? I agree with you, but can you explain why you would like that?
Dr Daw: I suppose I am really coming at it from a different angle. I am coming at it from the angle of a large number of stakeholder organisations outside Parliament, who get together and who come up with the essence of a Bill. If you are then saying that that could be drawn up within Parliament, if that is what you are saying, I am not quite sure.
John Hemming: I am saying why would you prefer that?
Dr Daw: Because of some issues that are seen to be of a general good, and where there is a lot of work done and a lot of negotiating, which would include with the civil service. It is not that the civil service or parliamentarians would not be involved, but you have a genuine situation where you have a much wider section of society drawing something up and it seemed to be a good thing. It is bipartisan, perhaps. It has brought together a lot of sections of society. What is wrong with that then being the basis of a set of principles that are then drawn up for Parliament? It doesn’t mean that it might not be refined and then take some time before it gets passed. It is not necessarily that it would be passed as a private Members’ Bill in the very first time it came through.
Tom Mullarkey: I like it most because it is more democratic.
Dr Daw: Yes.
Tom Mullarkey: Because it engages the people in the process of government. If you don’t do that, then all that happens is they make their X on the box and they don’t have any say for five years. But if you allow private Members’ Bills to originate and flourish if they have support-and that means support from within the House, which in turn should be translated from support in the country-then things can happen. People can make things happen that are good for us all. Surely, that is a great thing for us to be able to do.
Q193 Chair: To play the devil’s advocate, just because a lot of people want something to happen doesn’t mean it is necessarily good. There are sometimes occasions where lots of people don’t want something to happen and it would not be good to allow it not to happen. For example, I look back to the 1960s; the decriminalisation of homosexuality didn’t carry public support. Politicians getting rid of the death penalty didn’t carry public support at the time. I don’t think we can just say just because the public wants something, and they think it is a good idea, it has to happen, because the reason we have Members of Parliament is to look at the complexities of the process. It may well be that difficulties arise out of what seems like a very good idea.
Dr Daw: But I think part of what we are saying is that we are not talking about flying flags that just have the support of the tabloid newspapers. We are talking about serious evidence-based long pieces of work done by a lot of experts, and it takes time.
Q194 Chair: They deserve to be treated seriously.
Dr Daw: They deserve to be treated seriously, and they should not be treated more seriously than the quality of the work that has gone into them and that is presented to the Members of Parliament and to the civil servants. Civil servants will not give you time. If you come up with some half-baked piece of writing and you have not looked at all the parameters that you should be looking at, you don’t deserve to be given time. This process would still mean that the civil servants and parliamentarians would be engaged.
Tom Mullarkey: Could I answer that one well? To follow on from what Rowena was saying, the key issue is that the checks and balances are already there. You are elected by us to provide your judgment over these issues and you ultimately are the arbiter as to whether they go through or not. Surely that is all we need. The rabble doesn’t translate directly into law. It has to go through this process of proper debate-as long as there is no filibustering, proper debate-which then leads to legislation if it is valuable and worth while.
Q195 John Hemming: On a subsidiary point, I agree with you that we should have a stronger Parliament. That is one of the things I work on. But there is a second question, which is that we have a situation where it effectively is misleading people to say that Parliament writes legislation when, in fact, it is assenting to legislation. Do you think if things are not changed it should be made clear what is going on? What do you think?
Tom Mullarkey: I will start this time, if I may. I think the whole process is opaque. Politics is opaque to people. People have no idea. If you go out on the street and ask people who the Prime Minister is, you will get an extremely low accurate response rate. Right through to then getting into more details about what is actually going on in Parliament, what legislation is going through, people don’t have a clue. As a citizen, I feel that I need to be properly engaged in what is happening in here and I know that a lot of people are less tuned into it than I am. Surely, the need for them to be tuned in, to be educated, informed, engaged in this process, is far greater. That is what you have to do. I think you have to break down all these archaic bureaucratic barriers to understanding, make it clear how we can all get engaged, and get us engaged properly and dispel this feeling out there that you are a remote organisation that doesn’t listen.
Q196 Mr Gray: Can I bring us back to where we started from, in a sense? I think we have been fencing around a central question here. Sometimes you vaguely admit that you think the purpose of private Members’ Bills-and that is what we are discussing; it is not the general Cromwellian agenda that we are discussing here and the transparency part of it; we are discussing the usefulness of private Members’ Bills-occasionally you have accepted that they have a purpose in raising an issue, flagging things up, investigating the truth behind it. Indeed, even you, Mr Mullarkey, have said that you thought one of the main purposes in your Bill was to find out the facts, do the research into the matter. Actually, the purpose of making the laws of the nation is not to do research into a matter. If you are passing laws, it is about the law; it is not about finding things out.
What I am getting at is this. There is a powerful argument around that if the issue is worth having then the Government sooner or later will do it, because there will be pressure on them; there will be pressure through the papers, through the think tanks. The Government will do it. Therefore, the purpose of private Members’ Bills is not to successfully bring in laws. That is done by the Government. The purpose of private Members’ Bills is to give an airing to important issues that may subsequently become something the Government does. You yourself tell me that you are, in fact, engaged with the Government now in seeking to persuade them to do it. That would be a perfectly normal progression. The question is, therefore, might you not be ready to accept that one of the reasons why the private Members’ Bill procedure is so difficult is because the Government and, indeed, Parliament don’t want private Members’ Bills to become law? If we did want private Members’ Bills to become law, we could easily do that. You can bring in timetabling. You can change the day. You could bring in change of procedures, but by that means you would be-rather, as my colleague would like-entirely changing the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, because you would be saying private Members can do what they like.
Incidentally, they are not all good Bills like yours. Many of them are absolutely crummy Bills. Some of the Bills that are brought forward are just appalling trash of the worst kind, but it does give the Member of Parliament that 15 minutes of fame. Would you not accept there is an argument that would say the purpose of PMBs is to air an issue, to raise an issue, to press it forward, but would you not accept that possibly allowing a half-baked Back Bencher, like myself, to change the law of the land is actually a rather bad idea?
Tom Mullarkey: You have covered a lot of ground there.
Chair: James, they are going to answer that question and then I am going to bring Jenny in because we want to wrap this up, but will you respond to James’s question?
Tom Mullarkey: Of all the points you made, the one that struck most in my mind there was the idea that the Government doesn’t want private Members’ Bills to succeed.
Mr Gray: Yes.
Tom Mullarkey: I think the Government should want private Members’ Bills to succeed, and it should design the way that Parliament works so that-
Q197 Mr Gray: They would do if they liked the Bill. They would allow it to go through if they liked the Bill. It is just that if they don’t like the Bill they don’t allow it to go through.
Tom Mullarkey: Well, let some issues rise up and, if they have value, go through. What is wrong with that? It is something they have not thought about; it has not been put into their manifesto; it is not part of the Government business; but still it can succeed if it is worth while.
Q198 Mr Gray: Which is what happens under the present procedure.
Tom Mullarkey: Which, in this case, didn’t happen under the current procedure.
Q199 Mr Gray: The point I think that David was making, was that the Government hated your Bill. They wanted rid of it and that is why they delayed the money part of the Bill, and that is why-
Tom Mullarkey: Why don’t they tell us?
Q200 Chair: I think that is what James is driving at. I personally don’t think your Bill was ever going to get through, but I think the Government owed you the duty to be honest with you. There is so much opaqueness in the system that people are led a merry dance. Rowena, if you would respond to Mr Gray.
Dr Daw: I guess our experience was different, in that we did get the particular Bill through and it was-precisely as Tom said-something that the Government was not entirely persuaded about but could not be seen to be opposed to, and when it came to it was prepared to put in the work to get it to happen. It would not have happened, though, the Government would not have done it because it was not high enough up their agenda; simple as that.
Q201 Mr Gray: But that puts it in rather the same position as the nine hand-out Bills. It is really like a second-tier Government issue, which they are rather in favour of, and they say, "Oh fine, let it go through." But something big: I brought in a transport Bill that was completely hammered by the Labour Government. It was a very good Bill but nonetheless completely-
Mr Nuttall: I am sure it was, Mr Gray.
Mr Gray: There is years and years, a long, long, long history of perfectly good Bills being hammered by the Government. The question we are addressing here is: should we change procedures to make it easier for Back Benchers to get the Bills through or not?
Dr Daw: I would probably agree with what Tom was saying, that, yes, I think you should, because I think there is enormous amount of expertise out there in civil society that would become more engaged and the process would be broader. I am not suggesting major changes, but, yes, absolutely.
Chair: Jenny, very patient, thank you.
Q202 Jenny Chapman: I am, I know. I think that part of the problem here isn’t just about ease of getting a Bill through, or how difficult and confusing it most certainly is, but it is about transparency. Part of the problem-and I think not you but some charities are complicit in this, and I think to an extent Members of Parliament are complicit in this-is that we call these things "Bills" when they are not really Bills. What they are is an opportunity to air an issue, have a debate and gauge the opinion of our constituents. I don’t like charities’ time being wasted in a way that it seems it may have been in this case. I don’t like my time being wasted having to be here on a Friday for something that I know isn’t going to really happen. I don’t like my constituents’ time being wasted writing to me, telling me I have to be here on a Friday and then me having to write back to them and tell them why I am not. To a point, the problem with this is that we know that these things are not going to happen. The Government knows it is not going to allow these things to happen. Often charities know that these things are not going to happen. Yet we create the sense, by calling it a Bill that there is a prospect of something changing as a result. Is there an argument for making this clearer as a process and not calling these things "Bills"?
Dr Daw: I am not sure that I entirely agree because I think the process of making something into a Bill focuses the mind. It helps to look very specifically, and in much more depth, at the legal framework within which this new piece of legislation might operate. Obviously, if you choose an issue that is never going to become a Bill then I would agree with you, but in the two cases I have been involved in it was not a waste.
At the time when they started doing private Members’ Bills on human rights, as you will know, there was opposition on both sides of the Parliament for a very long period of time. Although the political climate itself changed, it was one strand of a very wide movement. I think there is something to be said for actually taking it seriously as to what it would mean to change the legislation, but I do also agree with you that it should be clearer that the chances of it getting through are not good.
Tom Mullarkey: It is news to me that they are not Bills. They should be Bills, not just because that is the name they have been given but because of, as I said before, the investment that we put in on the belief that they will succeed. In the case of the Daylight Saving Bill, there had been very good evidence that it would be possible to succeed because it had succeeded in three previous occasions in the last century, so why wouldn’t it succeed? Most importantly, we thought it was clear that the evidence had provided us with a very clear understanding of what the implications were of it not succeeding. Because the 1968-1971 experiment had taken place on daylight saving, 5,000 people in this country had died completely unnecessarily, and 30,000 people had been seriously injured completely unnecessarily. We advanced this in the belief that that argument was being taken seriously. As for the suggestion that it is just an awareness-raising vehicle, well, if you called it, "The daylight saving awareness-raising vehicle," we would not be involved in it. Nor would any of you have been involved in this discussion, because none of us would be coming to you trying to present ideas to you that we thought were of value because we knew you would not be able to do anything with them.
Q203 Jenny Chapman: Given what you have learned from your experience, you would not do this again is what you are saying?
Tom Mullarkey: That is part of it, but the other thing is that I have come here today; Rowena and I have said our piece. We hope that you take on board what we have to advise you on from our perspective. If you can reform this situation, so that it becomes transparent and it actually works and it empowers Parliament and more of us people to engage in politics, then it will have been a great success. Therefore, that is what we want you to do.
Q204 Jenny Chapman: What I am trying to get my head around is you think it is really important that these things are called "Bills", because that sharpens up the way you think about them and consider them?
Tom Mullarkey: Very much. Also, as the Chairman said, there is evidence that private Members’ Bills do succeed.
Jenny Chapman: But a lot more that they don’t.
Tom Mullarkey: We have had private Members’ Bills succeed or we have had private Members’ Bills that, even if they didn’t succeed, had done such a good job that they were then taken up by the Government, which is the point that Mr Gray was making, which has been a welcome second prize to the main event. In this case, we knew there was no good being second prize. We had had already six second prizes. We needed the main prize, and it was held out in front of us and then snatched away at the last minute. That is why we are so disappointed.
Chair: Can I thank both of you for coming? Rowena, I would just say on your private Members’ Bill that was successful-the most recent one-there was opposition at Cabinet level. When Dennis Stevenson and I met with a senior Minister, we said, "Why the opposition? It was warmly welcomed in the Lords at Second Reading as being a very good thing," and the Cabinet Minister said, "Oh, we will always say warm words about it and welcome it. That doesn’t mean we are going to let it go anywhere." You need to be aware of that, Mr Mullarkey. There is a degree of cynicism within Government that needs to be addressed, and I am not sure this Committee is going to guarantee more private Members’ Bills get through. If the Government wants to stop something, it will stop something, but it needs to be more open and transparent about that. If it wanted to defeat your 145 supporting Members, it should have had 146 there on that day. I think your concerns about transparency are heard, loud and clear. Will we get to this ideal nirvana where Back Benchers run Fridays and run the House of Commons?
Tom Mullarkey: Wednesdays, Chairman.
Chair: I don’t believe we will, but thank you so much, both of you and, Rowena, thank you for coming. I love your passion, your commitment, and that was a very, very useful hour. Thank you very much.