An MP has many different ways to raise issues and campaign for things to change. And there are no shortage of people encouraging us to do this or that. Constituents, local businesses and other organisations head a list that includes professional lobbyists as well as amateur enthusiasts. One mechanism is the ten minute rule bill – a slot of prime time in the House of Commons on Tuesdays and Wednesdays where an individual MP can speak for 10 minutes on a particular issue without interruption. Theoretically a colleague can speak against, though this rarely happens.
Occasionally there is a vote. When there is a speech against and/or a vote it’s really a bit of theatre to draw more attention to the issue as both Government and Opposition front benches usually stay out of the vote which the Government has no obligation to take any notice of! Theoretically the ‘Bill’ will then be listed for further consideration on a sitting Friday though everyone knows it will never be debated again before finally falling off the future agenda as this session of Parliament concludes and a new Queen’s Speech sets out the Government of the Day’s next chapter of legislation. So why does any MP bother with a ten minute rule bill at all? More particularly why have I claimed the slot on 28th February to go through the rigmarole of preparing a draft bill and accompanying speech?
I have presented two previous ten minute rule bills. In both cases I worked with outside bodies so that my bill was part of a wider campaign. I worked with the charity Sue Ryder on the first bill which sought to exempt hospices from certain VAT costs. This was accompanied by various other pressures on Government including parliamentary questions and meetings with ministers. Although the bill went nowhere a measure was incorporated soon after in to a Government Bill to make the very changes in the law that my bill was looking for.
Likewise with my bill to give 16-18 year olds who attend colleges the same right to free school meals as those that attend schools sixth forms. After working with the Association of Colleges, using my bill as part of a strong cross-party campaign the Government changed the rules so that students attending colleges like John Leggott and North Lindsey in my constituency are no longer discriminated against in their entitlement to free school meals.
My bill next week will argue that colleges should have access to school students in their schools to talk to them about the options available. For the last 6 years we have been going backwards in the quality of careers information, advice and guidance available to our young people. Sadly some schools put barriers in the way of their students learning about options other than their sixth form. This is not in the students’ interest and it is not in the country’s interest. Hopefully the Government will be listening again and will before very long adopt my latest ten minute rule bill into law. And by doing so they will be benefiting young people across our great country!