Lords private members' bills

Emperor penguin in the Antarctic
04 February 2013

Members of the Lords debated key aspects of three private members' bills on Friday 1 February. Topics included protecting the Antarctic, presumption of death and mobile homes. The House also examined the Marine Navigation Bill at committee stage.

A private member's bill is a type of public bill (that affects the public). Private members' bills must go through the same set procedures as other public bills. These four private members' bills began in the House of Commons. 

Antarctic Bill

The Antarctic Bill sets out measures to reduce the risk of environmental emergencies in Antarctica and give additional protection to the Antarctic environment.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench) opened the debate saying: 'My interest in the bill has been compiled entirely from information received from the Polar Regions Department... It represents us at the consultative meetings of the Antarctic Treaty system, which take place regularly and regulate, as far as is possible, all activities in that great continent. It is the largest continent in the world and contains no less than 70% of all the fresh water available in it, so it is very important that we take everything connected with the Antarctic very seriously.'

He explained: 'The bill is designed to enhance the protection of the Antarctic environment.'

Presumption of Death Bill

The bill introduces court proceedings, in England and Wales, enabling people left behind by a missing person to obtain a death certificate for them after a period of seven years. Details of the missing person will be entered in a new Register of Presumed Deaths. Approved variation orders will amend this register. The bill broadly follows existing Presumption of Death Acts in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat) explained the purpose of the bill: 'It creates a new court procedure and an associated process of authoritative registration. The court procedure enables a person with sufficient interest to obtain a legally binding declaration from the High Court that a person is to be deemed dead for all purposes, including the end of their marriage or civil partnership. If the bill is passed, the High Court would make the declaration if it is satisfied that the missing person has died or has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years. The court also has the power to deal with the myriad consequential property-related issues that may arise as a result of the declaration.

She explained why the bill is needed: 'Around a quarter of a million people are reported missing each year. Thankfully, most come home or make contact, while a small number are sadly found dead. However, obviously this is not true for all. In 2010, the UK Missing Persons Bureau had on its records some 1,400 cases of people who have been missing for more than seven years. The trauma for families and friends when a person goes missing is horrendous. As time passes without contact or information, some families conclude that the only possible answer is that their missing relative is "presumed dead."'

Mobile Homes Bill

The bill aims to raise standards in mobile home sites and give local authorities enforcement powers where site operators do not comply with their licence obligations. It will also allow local authorities to charge site owners for licenses and allow mobile home owners to sell or gift their properties without site owner approval.

Lord Best (Crossbench) said: 'The bill aims to end to some disgraceful practices... If enacted, it will make a huge difference to the lives of thousands of largely forgotten people who currently live with the fear of harassment and ill-treatment at the hands of some unscrupulous bullies.'

Mobile homes are also referred to as 'park homes' and he explained: 'They are not holiday homes, but provide permanent, residential, owner-occupied accommodation, mostly for retired individuals and couples. It is estimated that there are 85,000 park homes accommodating approximately 160,000 people on 2,000 sites.'

Marine Navigation (No. 2) Bill

The bill amends legislation relating to pilotage, harbour authorities, the general lighthouse authorities and the manning of ships, as well as extending the powers of port police.

The bill entered committee stage and members of the Lords scrutinised pilotage exemption certificates and harbour directions.

What is second reading?

Second reading is the opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the main principles and purpose of the bill and to flag up concerns and areas where they think changes (amendments) are needed.

Before second reading takes place, a list of speakers for the second reading debate is opened and interested members add their names to it.

The government minister, spokesperson or a member of the Lords responsible for the bill opens the debate.

Any member can speak in the debate so this stage can indicate those members particularly interested in the bill - or a particular aspect of it - and those who are most likely to be involved in amending the bill at later stages.

Second reading debates usually last for a few hours but sometimes stretch over a couple of days.

What is committee stage?

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the bill takes place during committee stage. Any member of the Lords can take part.

It usually starts no later than two weeks after the second reading and can last for one to eight days or more.

The day before committee stage starts, amendments (changes) are published in a marshalled list - in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (groupings of amendments) is published on the day.

During committee stage every clause of the bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit, or guillotine, on discussion of amendments.

Further information

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