Lords private members' bills

21 January 2013

The House of Lords continued committee stage for one private member's bill and had its first chance to debate key aspects of three other private members' bills on Friday 18 January. Topics included scrap metal, prisons, marine navigation and mental health discrimination

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.

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill

The bill amends the law relating to scrap metal dealers by suggesting a revised regulatory regime for the scrap metal recycling and vehicle dismantling industries. The bill will also address powers of entry and inspection.

Earl Attlee (Conservative) proposed that once the bill becomes law, it will only last for five years. He said: 'While I am sure that the industry would prefer longer-term certainty, the review and subsequent expiry will see early action if this regulation is proving costly, difficult, or ineffective.' He took the amendment to a vote and 31 members voted for and 89 members voted against.

Prisons (Property) Bill

The bill creates a power for the governor or director of a prison to destroy or otherwise dispose of (including by way of sale) unauthorised property (such as controlled drugs, offensive weapons and mobile telephones) found in prisons, young offender institutions and secure training centres.

Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench) explained: 'This bill strikes a fair balance between a prisoner's property rights and interests on the one hand and, on the other, the public interest in removing from prison and destroying property that may prejudice good order and discipline or prison security.'

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.

Baroness Wilcox (Conservative) identified the main parts of the bill and concluded: 'To sum up, this bill will greatly assist the ports and shipping industry by removing unnecessary restrictions and granting very necessary freedoms. It will facilitate shipping companies' rostering of crew and development of talented officers, while always upholding existing safety standards. It will make it easier for harbour authorities to secure vital powers of harbour direction or to relinquish their powers, if appropriate, to reflect changing traffic patterns. It will ensure that ports police and the GLAs have the powers they need to continue delivering essential services efficiently and effectively.'

Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill

The aim of the bill is to reduce the stigma and negative perceptions associated with mental illness. It would change laws that can prevent people with mental health conditions from serving as Members of Parliament, members of the devolved legislatures, jurors, or company directors.

Lord Stevenson of Coddenham (Crossbench) said: '...the bill removes a number of clearly outdated and dysfunctional discriminations against the following interesting groups of people: MPs, company directors and, more widely, all potential jurors.'

Reflecting on society's perception of mental illness, he said: 'For far too long it has been stigmatised, as everyone will be aware, and let us make no mistake that it is still heavily stigmatised. However, we can see the start of greater public awareness that mental ill health is an illness like any other, be it a frozen shoulder, a broken leg or the flu bug. However, we are a very long way from removing the stigma of mental health. This bill is one step along that way.'

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

Image: PA/Paul Faith

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