Exciting news – I have chance to present a 10-minute rule Bill to Parliament on the 10th. I need to decide topic by tuesday. Any ideas? #fb
— Julian Huppert (@julianhuppert) June 28, 2012
On the morning of Thursday the 28th of June 2012 Cambridge MP Julian Huppert tweeted to say:
Exciting news – I have chance to present a 10-minute rule Bill to Parliament on the 10th. I need to decide topic by tuesday. Any ideas?
Wikipedia’s page on the Ten Minute Rule explains:
The Ten Minute Rule, also known as Standing Order No. 23, is a procedure in the British Parliament for the introduction of Private Member’s Bills in addition to the 20 per session normally permissible. It is one of the ways in which a bill may receive its first reading.
So our MP has a chance to propose a new law on our behalf; and we have a chance to tell him what we’d like.
Already via Twitter there have been a stream of suggestions, including:
- The Law Society has an idea for a PMB to free up the assets of criminals to pay their legal aid costs. Can send a briefing. (Tweet)
- Drug law reform bill…? or would that be wasted as a 10-minute bill? or, how about public interest corporation bill..? (Tweet)
- Regularisation of the est. 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK + their parents. http://wp.me/pd8ov-al (Tweet)
- Require 20mph limits as default for built-up roads except on roads where Traffic Authority makes a considered exception (Tweet)
- Make your 10 Minute Bill about regulators. If FSA, Audit Commission, OFCOM etc fail, they must be punished properly (Tweet)
- How about the option to chose X as a gender marker on passports? Would that be appropriate for such a bill? (Tweet)
Before this opportunity arose I spoke to Huppert about how he might use a private members bill if the chance to introduce one came up. I pitched to him my idea for updating the Housing Law to take into account the increase in shared housing, and people sharing houses for longer, and later in life. He didn’t reveal what was top of his list, but he said he had a few ideas in mind, and noted that once an MP gets an opportunity to put forward a private members bill they are extensively lobbied by all sorts of people from government departments to campaign groups.
Housing Act Amendment Bill 2012
This bill should modernise the Housing Act to make useful, and applicable, to house sharers. Anyone can enter into any kind of contracts they like, though those contracts have to be fair. The law should primarily in my view deal with what’s clearly unfair, and provide for cases where there are no explicit contracts (or no enforceable contracts). I think the areas where the law needs to be updated include: Deposits, the deposit protection scheme is doesn’t really work when a deposit on a rented property was paid aeons ago and since then the deposit is “passed on” by tenants receiving their share back from an incoming new tenant; Asking someone to leave, it should be possible for sharers to “evict” someone on the basis that they are causing a substantive nuisance eg. through noise, if an established group of sharers makes a mistake selecting a new tenant who makes the property uninhabitable that shouldn’t result in the established tenants having to leave. The bill could also provide a default contract making it easy for sharers to recover money from one of their number who doesn’t pay their rent. The problem of excessive charges from landlords (or more usually agents) when tenants change over in shared houses could also be addressed. When a contract is not renewed and a statutory periodic assured shorthold tenancy comes into play (effectively the default position) there should also be a statutory default position enabling the changing of names on that rolling contract, preferably by simply notifying the landlord of the change, with no charge.
Ideally any such bill would be developed though consultation and committee hearings following its introduction. I think if the ball was started rolling we could get a new and more relevant legal position than we have now.
Abolition of Oaths Bill 2012
To abolish oaths of allegiance to the monarch for MPs, the police, magistrates, and wherever else they’re found in government.
I think that in a democracy our elected representatives serve those they are elected to represent and not the hereditary monarch.
Those in public offices such as constables, magistrates, judges and many others should also be servants of the public at large and not of the monarch.
I don’t think democrats should be denied the opportunity to become members of parliament if they are not willing to damage their integrity and take an oath which is incompatible with their views. I don’t think filling parliament with people willing to saying something they don’t mean is a great idea. Similarly I think public offices should be open to all.
Police (Routinely Unarmed Response and Patrol) Bill 2012
Parliament should take a view on if they want to see a country where police are routinely armed with TASER weapons.
I am concerned routine arming with TASER is becoming more common and our elected representatives in parliament have not taken a clear view on it. The current government hasn’t taken a view on it either.
I think it is important that there is some consistency to policing across the country, and this basic tenet is not one which should be left for local decisions; though protocols for deciding which officers are armed with which weapons and under what circumstances is something which, under national guidance, could be determined locally.
Education Act Amendment Bill
Minimum standards for university disciplinary procedures should be legislated for. This is a matter for the state, and should not be left to universities, because universities control access to professions and control who is eligible to receive public research funding.
Minimum standards should cover procedure, for example providing people with details of any charges against them. Powers of academics acting alone should be limited and the extent of financial and other punishments should be capped. It should not be possible for universities to, for example, decide truth is not a defence to a charge of defamation.
It should be made clear who is responsible for enforcement of the Education Act, particularly in relation to Students’ Unions and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator in Higher Education should accept, investigate and act on, complaints about systemic matters, not just complaints from, and relating to, individuals.
Police (Not Lying Without Justification) Bill 2012
“Now I’ve spoken to you, I have to take your name and address”
“Because I’ve stopped you we must fill in this form. What’s your name?”
The police routinely lie to or mislead people about their rights, both as with the examples above about the information someone is required by law to provide the police with, and in more serious circumstances such as in relation to searching homes, cars, or phones and computers.
I think the police should be required to tell the truth unless there is a good justification for doing otherwise.
I think the best way to achieve this might be by extending the PACE Codes.
Individuals who are misled by the police should have the opportunity to correct and undo any actions taken as a result.
My view is this would create equity; currently a few people, primarily criminals and the well informed, know what their rights are, but others do not, and even those reasonably sure of their position may assume the police officer speaking to them knows the law and is being honest if what they are saying is at odds with their understanding.
I think such a bill would have the potential to increase trust in the police substantially and improve police – public relations.
Taxation (Simplification for Small Business) Bill 2012
- Small businesses ought be able to opt to run their affairs through special approved bank accounts; by putting all transactions through such accounts, all tax affairs ought be dealt with automatically.
- HMRC ought be required to make a web-based (not PDF) version of the basic Company Tax Return form CT600 available. (That’s my top specific suggestion, but the whole thing needs a shake-up)
Other Bills Cambridge Needs
There are other things which need doing for Cambridge needs bills in Parliament, but for which this probably isn’t the right mechanism:
- “The Greater Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, North Essex and Peterborough (Structural Changes) Order 2012″ – A Bill to create a unitary authority for the greater Cambridge area.
- “The Conservators of the River Cam Reform Bill 2012″
Procedure and Nonsense
Wikipedia’s Ten Minute Rule article states:
To qualify to introduce a bill under the Rule, the MP in question must be the first through the door to the Public Bill Office on the Tuesday or Wednesday morning fifteen working days (three weeks) prior to the date they wish to introduce their bill. Due to the popularity of the Rule and the difficulty in launching a Private Member’s Bill by other means, MPs have been known to sleep outside the Public Bill Office in order to guarantee a slot
Huppert might have been involved in such shenanigans but he hasn’t mentioned anything on Twitter, and I’d have thought that would be more likely if there was a specific bill he was seeking to introduce.
Ten minute rule bills are often taken after Prime Minister’s questions and before other business so they’re taken in House of Commons’ prime time. They’re a chance to raise the profile of an issue.
They’re not the most likely of private members bills to become law, due to timetabling and the fact they go to the back of the queue after private members’ bills arising from the ballot, another route to getting to introduce a bill.
Huppert doesn’t actually have to write his bill, most private members bills are not published (all we know as the public is they’re not published, but I’m pretty sure that means they’re not written!). He just has to come up with a snappy title. Technically someone could oppose his bill, and there could be a division (vote) following its introduction.
If there is no vote, or he wins the vote, Huppert will, I think, get to stand on the floor of the house, nod to the ghost of an ex-chandelier, proceed towards the speaker, nod again, and hand his bill to the clerk who will pompously read out the title. The speaker will ask Huppert when he would like a second reading of his bill. I think the best response to this question is:
I suspect this wouldn’t go down well if the Speaker had an alternative date in mind which he’d already allocated (probably somewhere well into the future, on a day where there are far too many such bills on the order of business for them all to be reached). But Huppert like the rest of us only lives once, he shouldn’t be afraid of causing a bit of mischief on our behalf, in the interests of modernisation and democracy.
What Will He Go For?
I suspect Huppert’s bill will probably end up being either on civil liberties or cycling, though he has rather broad interests and responsibilities and it could well end up being on penguins or lighthouses.
I hope he doesn’t go with the idea I think he supports of introducing a presumption of liability against the driver of a motor vehicle involved in a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian. I know people complain it’s lazy shorthand to compare that idea with an erosion of “innocent until proven guilty”, and I understand the point, but that’s still what I think in effect it is. I think any decisions, be they on liability, or on guilt, should be based on the facts of the case and we shouldn’t start with a presumption in one direction or the other, as any alternative is in my view simply unjust.
If he uses the opportunity to oppose the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill I think that would be a good use of the opportunity which has come his way, which would gain the support of both his Cambridge constituents, and the wider constituency which has adopted him as a result of his being one of our few technically literate representatives in Parliament. On the subject of the communications data bill Huppert recently wrote:
My immediate concern is Clause 1. As written, it gives the Secretary of State far too broad a power. It allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow; an idea which is clearly unacceptable. This must be tightened up urgently.
Huppert is a member of the Joint Commons/Lords committee to consider the bill and report in November though, so perhaps using his bill on this subject might not be as appropriate a route of influence as using his position on that committee.