In 2001-2 just eight out of 114 private members’ bills became Acts.
The government has a big say in how much time – and political credence – will be devoted to any particular private members’ bill.
Unusually, government whips and some Labour-party high-ups are thought to be in favour of Martlew’s bill, believing it to be uncontroversial. Surely nobody could object to saving children’s lives? The argument that forcing kids to wear potentially unsafe, badly fitted helmets, which would make cycling a lot less attractive to non-enthusiasts and which would lead on to unhealthier kids, has yet to sink in.
As reported by BikeBiz.com, transport minister Dr. Kim Howells doesn’t believe any lid law could be made to work in the UK, but roads minister David Jamieson is still sitting on the fence. It’s his decision that’s the important one and could result in the Department for Transport giving Martlew’s bill its blessing. At the moment, Jamieson is believed to be broadly in favour of the bill, but organisations such as CTC are working hard to make him see the many, many pitfalls – and pratfalls – ahead. Such as? £200 fines for teachers, newsagents and bike shop owners. £200 fines for parents pushing lid-less tots on pavement trikes. Sikh boys raising religious objections. Health and education organisations complaining that the government is trying to encourage active fitness on the one hand, yet discouraging it on the other.
The second reading of Martlew’s bill takes place on Friday April 23rd. As there’s never enough time to discuss all the private members’ bills due to be heard, the government could signal the complexity of the ‘helmet issue’ by pushing Marlew down the pecking order.
Private members’ bills can sometimes rush through the House of Commons undebated. That’s why it’s important as many MPS as possible get to hear arguments different to those presented by Martlew and BHIT.
At 2.30pm the Clerk reads out the titles of bills which are on the Order Paper, in the order in which they have been put down for that day, and in order of precedence of their stages. At this point, the bill can be killed by an MP, usually a government whip, objecting to it.
This objection can be because the government is opposed to the bill or because the government wants to adopt it as its own. Sometimes this adoption – in the form of an enquiry – is used as a sop to the proposing MP.
During the enquiry stage, the bill can be weighed down with accretions, drowning it.
Another way the bill can be spiked is if MPs fail to turn up on the day. Many of those who say they support the bill have already said they won’t be in London on 23rd April. Some could be in their constituencies backing a far more logical, pro-child initiative: 23rd April is ‘MPs Back to School Day’ when MPs are invited to visit local schools to talk about the importance of education for all…
Few MPs are likely to be aware of the damage a mandatory helmet law could do – naturally, they are fixated on BHIT’s black, bleak argument that cycling can be lethal. Here, then, are the contact-your-MP details again:
To fax your MP, type in your postcode at http://www.faxyourmp.com
To email your MP, or book in-person surgery time, find contact details at http://www.parliament.uk/…/alcm.cfm