I have a love/hate relationship with ‘sitting Fridays’ in Westminster, where Private Members Bills and 10 minute rule bills alone are debated. Last Friday’s shenanigans demonstrated exactly why.
These Fridays are an opportunity for MPs from the backbenchers to bring forward proposed law changes that the Government, for either one reason or another, will not deal with directly.
The system is already geared up so that a bill can only pass if it has Government support, so in the instance of Chris Bryant’s ‘Protect the Protectors’ bill, which I had already tried and failed to introduce as a 10 minute rule bill, only if you can make a case to Government and demonstrate enough cross-party support, will you ever have a chance of using this particular platform to deliver law change.
A campaign that I have been working on since my election in 2015 is seeking to highlight the inequality of the Government’s decision to set the age threshold for it’s so-called Living Wage at 25.
Food isn’t cheaper for those under 25 and rent certainly isn’t, so on what basis can the Conservatives argue that this is fair? Well, there seems to be two different approaches.
Matt Hancock, the current culture secretary who was Paymaster General at the time, told attendees at Conservative Party conference that young people are not productive enough to be paid the same as older workers, yet having asked this Government for the evidence, it was made clear that it collects no such figures on productivity.
When I asked Chris Grayling for a debate on this very issue, I was told that it was a deliberate ‘incentive’ for firms to hire young people, yet the Federation of Small Businesses has warned it’s members against acting upon this incentive as they could find themselves in breech of age discrimination laws.
It’s an injustice that needs to be addressed and having asked questions, secured Westminster Hall debates and written articles about it to no avail, I was delighted to have been drawn in the Private Members Bill ballot with the chance to propose changing the law itself on Friday 6 July.
Now I don’t think that Christopher Chope has been left in any doubt that his antics on Friday will not be tolerated by the public any longer, and for all his excuses, he knew exactly what he was doing and has been blocking worthy bills for years. The only sympathy I have with him is that he is far from the only one, yet has become the face of the scandal.
There are several ways that Chope and his band of disruptive colleagues cause problems on sitting Fridays. They not only filibuster the bills at the top of the order, to talk them out, meaning that they run out of time often without a vote and so cannot not progress. Alternatively, on occasion if they do not like bills further down the order, they will ‘go-long’ debating the bills before it, so that those bills either get very little or not time at all.
On the Friday just gone, Croydon North MP Steve Reed was the first up with his Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill which sought to introduce certain safeguards and best practice when using restraint and force with those undergoing a mental health crisis. Shipley MP Philip Davies spoke for nearly two-and-a-half hours to more than 100 amendments of the bill, pushing the time to the wire. For this reason, the bill only just survived its third reading but will now have to come back again on another day. It will come back on the 6th July - bumping my bill further and further down the list.
It was only after the debates were over and the list of 26 other bills which could have been read that day but didn’t have time, were read out that Chope denied the ‘upskirting’ bill the chance to progress without further formalities. He also denied the ‘Finns Law’ campaign, Sir Oliver Heald’s bill seeking to improve the protections for Police dogs and horses like ‘Finn’ who was brutally stabbed in the line of duty, the chance to progress.
I have been working with young people, trade unions, and student movements to find ways to get the issue of fair wages for all ages onto the agenda in Westminster and to finally have the opportunity as a Private Members Bill was a big boost. Thanks to the antics of the ‘Friday Filibusterers’ my bill, at fourth in the line-up, will now most likely be one more casualty of their egos.
Holly Lynch is the Labour MP for Halifax