What is the significance of Ten Minute Rule Bills?

Putting forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill is an important mechanism through which a backbench MP can, at least theoretically, try to make a substantive impact on government policy.

Thomas Docherty once
slept on a set of chairs to
ensure he grabbed
some Ten Minute Rule slots.

The Ten Minute Rule allows MPs to introduce a bill to the House of Commons by giving a Ten Minute Speech and having their motion put to a vote. MPs can apply for a Ten Minute Rule slot by applying in the Public Bill Office of the House of Commons. The slots for Ten Minute Rule Bills are usually directly after Question Time on a Tuesday and Wednesday. The spots extremely sought after. Famously, as depicted in the BBC Documentary ‘Inside the Commons’, Labour MP Tommy Docherty once slept outside the bill office for two nights to ensure he was first in the queue. He is apparently not the first to have deployed this tactic!

If successful in securing a slot an MP outlines their proposed bill for ten minutes, often talking hurriedly to ensure they cover as much content as they can. Following this another MP can, if they wish, set out their opposition to bill for ten minutes. A division on the bill will then take place.

Most ten minute rule bills are rejected at first reading. This is because they very rarely have government support. Even if they pass First Reading, Ten Minute Rule Bills are extremely unlikely to pass through the House and become laws. Even if a bill passes first reading and is scheduled for second reading, there is no guarantee it will ever be debated again. All but 27 days of the parliamentary agenda are controlled by the government under Standing Order 14 and if they do not actively support a bill, it is unlikely to be found the time for further progression.

Since 2010, out of the hundreds attempted, only four 10 Minute Rule Bills have become laws:

Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 – This bill was put forward by Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake. This bill, commonly known as Claudia’s Law, allows a judge to grant an order so that someone with a ‘sufficient interest’ in a missing person’s financial affairs to manage a missing person’s assets if they have been missing for over 3 months.

Driving Instructors (Registration) Act 2016 – This bill was put forward by Conservative MP David Amess. This bill simplified to process of driving instructors requirement to register with the DVLA and enabled greater oversight of the ability and conduct of driving instructors to be put in place.

House of Commons (Members’ Fund) Act 2016 – This bill was put forward by Conservative MP Paul Beresford and related to a fund set up for MPs who had suffered personal distress.

Conservative MP David Amess has unusually overseen the passage of two Ten Minute Rule Bills in recent years.

Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) – This bill was, again, put forward by Consevative MP David Amess. It made it a specific criminal offence to knowingly print false identity documents.

Noticeably, since 2010, the only Ten Minute Rule Bills put forward have been by Conservative backbenchers. Since 2010, the country has either been in a Conservative or Conservative-Led Government. In these cases, the bills passed because they were given either the explicit or implied support of the government and the government did not whip its MPs to vote against the bills.

So why, given the improbability of their passage, do backbench MPs even bother with Ten Minute Rule Bills? There are a number of different reasons for this:

  1. It may garner enough parliamentary or public support that the government decide to take on the issue.
  2. It gives publicity to the cause in question. Even if a bill does not pass, it may help to raise the issue in public consciousness and make it more likely to pass in the future.
  3. It raises the standing of an individual MP to have a legislative idea debated on the floor of the House of Commons.
  4. It is a good advert in the MPs constituency that their MP is being proactive in representing their interests.
Conservative MP Anthony Magnal has called for amendment of the Recall of MPs Act (2015)

On Tuesday this week an interesting Ten Minute Rule Bill was put forward by Conservative MP Anthony Magnal. Called the Recall of MPs (Change of Party Affiliation) Bill, it aims to add a provision to the Recall of MPs Act (2015) so that MPs could be recalled by constituents if they chose to ‘cross the floor’ and join another party.

During the last parliament an unprecedented number of MPs crossed the floor. In particular, 11 MPs left the Conservatives and Labour in order to set up the new party called ‘Change UK’. Magnal’s own constituency of Totnes was particularly affected by this as its MP, Sarah Wollaston, had the dubious distinction of having been a member of three different parties (Conservatives, Change UK and Liberal Democrat).

Sarah Woolaston was the former MP for Totnes who was a member of three parties in just one year.

The 10 Minute Rule Bill was opposed in a speech by fellow Conservative MP Steve Baker. However, when the division votes were counted, the bill passed first reading by 55 to 52 and a date was set for a Second Reading on 15th January 2021.

It is unlikely that this bill will advance much further as it it unlikely to garner government support. However, even if it doesn’t, it’s MP has won a day or twos worth of newspaper coverage and has given greater prominence to the issue, something he will be rightly able to trumpet to his constituents.

So, are Ten Minute Rule Bills legislatively significant? The answer is probably no. However, their significance lies in their power  as a mechanism for backbenchers to win publicity for an issue and enhance their own standing in doing so.

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