Justine Greening: How MPs can – and should – take back control of a gridlocked Parliament

BREXIT arguably shows Parliament at its worst and gridlocked. We debate but get nowhere.

Justine Greening is the former Education Secretary.

Yet last week we were nearly able to show Parliament at its best – passing a Bill that would have seen new steps to protect girls in Britain against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

That Bill is one of around a hundred being proposed by individual MPs – in this case Zac Goldsmith - that can improve lives.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Others aim to give stronger protections against assaults for emergency workers and to finally ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

How can use of Parliamentary time become more effective?

I’ve put forward a Bill that would change the law to improve the credit scores of renters, meaning they can access more affordable credit.

These are called Private Members’ Bills. It means that whilst most bills that change the law are proposed by the Government of the day, individual MPs can change the law too.

One of the most famous ones was David Steel’s bill passed in 1967 which legalised abortion. Cheryl Gillan’s Autism Bill was a landmark Bill in providing a legal basis for better support.

Often Private Members’ Bills get proposed after an MP has seen a local issue in their community that gives them an idea as to how the law could change to improve things. That’s politics at its best.

However, as close as we were to passing the Bill on FGM, in the end, it was blocked.

In spite of broad-based, 
cross-party support, one MP, Chris Chope, objected but Parliament rules means that was enough to stop the Bill in its tracks. (My Bill helping renters has been objected to by Mr Chope too).

This needs to change.

Parliament needs to win back trust from the British people and show that it can get things done.

It’s got huge power to make positive, meaningful changes that improve lives. We can’t have a Parliament that looks out of touch with the public because it can’t pass sensible laws.

It’s time we looked at reforming these outdated rules that disproportionately allow one dissenting MP to get in the way of Parliament and MPs representing communities who support a law change happening.

If we’re going to have a better politics in Britain, delivering more for people, we need a better working Parliament driving it.

What happened on the FGM Bill shows how reforming the way that Private Members’ Bills are handled is a good place to start.

For a start, the system is clogged up. On one Friday in November last year, Mr Chope alone had proposed 33 bills out of the 100 tabled for debate.

To then complain that other bills can’t progress because they didn’t have time for debate is like complaining there’s no space in a car park when you’ve deliberately parked in three spaces for yourself.

We shouldn’t limit each MP to one Private Member’s Bill at a time. MPs should pick a priority that matters to communities and work on that.

To have the best chance of getting a majority, Private Members’ Bills should have cross-party support from the word go and have a significant number of MPs already publicly supporting them.

Fewer Bills would allow more space for them to be properly debated and scrutinised to make sure they will be effective. The Speaker can use the normal rules already there for Government Bills to stop ‘filibuster’ speeches, designed to block Bills by talking them out.

Once I listened to an MP speak for two and a half hours purely to stop the following Bill from having any time to be debated. That should be stopped.

In my view, when a speech is about stopping other MPs from having their own say too, it’s an abuse of Parliamentary procedure.

Finally, let’s not just have Private Members’ Bills debated on Fridays as is tradition. Most MPs are away from Parliament then, and working in their constituencies with local communities, so find it hard to take part.

We could have a full Private Members’ Bill week each ‘term’ set aside for debating and progressing the most popular Bills.

It would get a lot more public attention for the issues they are trying to address. It would showcase the many cross party, positive, and sensible law changes that MPs are actually trying to get through Parliament.

Overall, I think people are fed up to the back teeth watching a Parliament where MPs simply argue and get nowhere. I am too. We are not there to be an elite debating club, we are there to pass laws that improve your lives and our country.

There are lots of Private Members’ Bills being pushed by MPs who are working together that can really benefit lives. Let’s reform Parliament so elected MPs can better get on with their job of making the grassroots changes to laws that their communities want, instead of being stopped by arcane Parliamentary process.

It’s not just Britain that needs to change. Parliament needs to change too. Maybe it’s the beginning of a bigger reform of Parliament and, dare I say, the next stop after Private Members’ Bills, might be House of Lords reform...

Justine Greening is a Conservative MP. Born in Rotherham, she is a former Education Secretary.