UK Politics

Private Members' Bills: Pet projects and personal crusades

Betting shop, Olympic coins, football fans, smoker in car with child

Private Members' Bills are a backbench MP's chance for a moment in the Parliamentary sun - an opportunity to get their own piece of legislation on the statute book.

Most fall by the wayside - often because they're controversial or somewhat niche.

There's also only a limited time in which they can come before the House, and those which miss that cut can only be saved with government support.

But others make real waves and change the way we live. The Abortion Act 1967 - the piece of law that legalised terminations - was a PMB, for example.

So too was the bill which ended capital punishment in Britain - the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965.

More recently, the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 came from a Private Members' Bill from Labour MP Julie Morgan and now bans the use of commercial tanning equipment by under-18s.

And Conservative Cheryl Gillan's Private Members' Bill became the Autism Act 2009, which puts a legal duty on councils and NHS services to look after people with autism.

So what have the latest crop of MPs chosen to press for? Here's a selection of their efforts:

Smoke-free cars

Labour MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham wants to make it an offence to smoke in a car when children are present. While accepting it's a private space, he believes leaving it to individual discretion is not good enough and a ban would have "tremendous" health benefits. He's backed by medical organisations.

But Mr Cunnigham hasn't so far been able to get government support for the idea - during Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said he'd "look carefully" at it, but would need "to have a serious think before we take that step".

Huge gold coins

This is an example of a Private Members' Bill breaking through and becoming law. Conservative MP Mark Lancaster's Coinage (Measurement) Bill - now Act - paved the way for the Royal Mint to be allowed to strike a 22-carat gold, one kilogram coin to commemorate the 2012 London Olympics. Before that, producing coins outside regulation weights was illegal.

If you want to get your hands on a mega-coin, 60 of them designed by eminent sculptor Sir Anthony Caro - and worth £100,000 each - are being made.

Cheque books forever

Lib Dem David Ward made it his mission to save the humble cheque after the Payments Council, a banking industry body, had announced it would be scrapped in 2018.

As it turned out, he wasn't the only one determined to keep the cheque alive and after widespread criticism from charities and other MPs, the council relented and said it would stay "as long as customers need them".

Standing room again

Standing on the terraces at football grounds was banned following the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, but Lib Dem MP Don Foster wants standing to return. His bill would allow clubs to build limited standing areas and set the safety criteria that those must meet. The Premier League has said it's against the idea, although the Scottish Premier League has given it the green light..

Mr Foster is clearly a man with a range of leisure pursuits because he also has a live music PMB. It seeks a relaxation of the regulations for small venues who want to host gigs and shows - and it made it through the Commons on 20 January.

Tax Freedom Day

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone is an enthusiastic proponent of PMBs and one of his latest is a bid to create a Tax Freedom Day. This, in theory at least, is the first day of the year on which a country and its citizens have earned enough to cover their annual tax burden. Last year, according to the Adam Smith Institute, it was 30 May.

By recognising the day, Mr Hollobone argues, it will "provide some transparency for the British taxpayer about the burden of taxation on them and on the national economy".

As if to demonstrate the diversity of his legislative interests, Mr Hollobone has also tabled a Private Members' Bill this session calling for a ban on the wearing of the burka in public.

More cautious cyclists

Conservative Andrea Leadsom wants to create an offence of causing death or serious injury through dangerous or reckless cycling. Those found guilty would face an unlimited fine or up to 14 years in prison. A keen cyclist herself, she says her aim is to "bring equal protection and the potential for equal punishment to all road users".

But cycling pressure group the CTC called the bill "a distraction", arguing that in 2009 no pedestrians were killed in collisions with bicycles, but 426 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles.

No "fake" degrees

If you get a BA - Bachelor of Arts degree - from Oxford or Cambridge, you are entitled to a complimentary MA - Master of the Arts title - several years after graduating without doing any more work. Labour MP Chris Leslie wants to outlaw this quirk, arguing it is "quite unfair" because more than 60% of employers are not aware of the automatic degree "upgrade".

But Universities Minister David Willetts has said there is no evidence any is being harm done and he is supportive of the tradition.

Fewer betting shops

Labour's Joan Ruddock says betting shops are "proliferating, squeezing out diversity and attracting anti-social behaviour". She has led calls from MPs to set a cap on the number a particular street can have.

To do this, her bill would would remove bookmakers from their current planning class - which groups them with banks, building societies and other professional and financial services - and place them in their own class for planning purposes. The same recommendation has been made by shopping guru Mary Portas in a government-commissioned report.

The Association of British Bookmakers says its businesses offer a "fun leisure product", and bring much needed investment to the High Street.

Lessons in abstinence

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries is no stranger to controversy when it comes to sexual politics and this Private Members' Bill certainly divided opinion. Her Sex Education (Required Content) Bill called for girls aged 13 to 16 to be given compulsory lessons in school about "the benefits of abstinence".

It angered feminists, humanists and pro-choice activists alike who demonstrated outside Parliament on the day it was scheduled for second reading. The bill was eventually withdrawn before it got a hearing.

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