Every year a select number of backbench MPs are able to table legislation on a topic of their choice which is called a Private Members Bill. There is a lot of pressure because there is only a limited amount of time allocated to debate these Bills. The traditional way of establishing the priority of Private Members Bills is by ballot held at the beginning of each session.
Over 400 MPs normally enter the ballot, but it is only the first twenty names drawn who will gain parliamentary time. Due to the limited amount of time available it will normally only be the first six or seven names drawn whose Bill will get a full hearing.
Some who enter the ballot will already have a topic in mind, often something they feel very strongly about, however this is not always the case and those whose names have been drawn will often find themselves under pressure from organisations, lobbyists and colleagues who will all want them to put forward legislation on their behalf. The Government also offers "handout" or "Whips" bills, which are pieces of legislation they have not found time to introduce or for some reason do not want to introduce themselves, an example of this is the Abortion Act 1967.
It takes a lot of hard work by the individual MP to get their Bill on to the statute books, and not all are successful. However, the process can often be useful to open up a subject to public debate. Fallen Private Members Bills have often become law later by either amendments to an existing bill, as was the case with compulsory seat belt wearing for back seat passengers in cars. Or, as in the case of the Freedom of Information Act, several Private Members Bills had fallen which were designed to give greater freedom of information to the public before the Government published the Freedom of Information Bill in 1999.
The top seven members drawn in the 2006-7 ballot and their bills are:
- Mr Nick Hurd (Con) -The Sustainable Communities Bill
- Mr Tim Yeo (Con) - Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill
- Mrs Caroline Spelman (Con) - Land Use (Gardens Protection) Bill
- Mr Gary Streeter (Con) - Disabled Children (Family Support) Bill
- Graham Stringer (Lab) - Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill
- Mr Robert Walter (Con) - House of Commons (Participation) Bill
- Sir John Butterfill (Con) - Financial Mutuals Arrangements Bill