What is the significance of Ten-Minute Rule Bills?

Ten Minute Rule Bills are put forward by Backbench MPs.

The legislative agenda in Parliament is dominated by the Executive. It is rare for bills put forward by backbenchers (Private Members Bills) to become Acts of Parliament. Indeed, between the 2015 General Election and September 2022 only 16% of bills passed were Private Members Bills. Of these, one of the least common passages is through the Ten-Minute Rule Bill. Of those introduced since 2010, only five have become Royal Assent and become laws (0.99%). So, what is a Ten-Minute Rule Bill and why do MPs bother with them?

What is a Ten-Minute Rule Bill?

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. An example of this is shown below:

What normally happens to Ten-Minute Rule Bills?

Most ten-minute rule bills make little progress. Whilst convention is that bills are nodded through at First Reading, Ten-Minute Rule Bills are very unlikely to progress past Second Reading. Firstly, when a bill passes Second Reading there is no guarantee that it will see the floor again. This is because 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. However, even if a bill does reach the floor, it is unlikely to make it further as it probably will not have the support of the government.

What Ten-Minute Rule Bills have been successful?

It is unusual for Ten-Minute Rule motions to be successful, but it does happen occasionally. Since 2010, out of the hundreds attempted, only five Ten Minute Rule Bills have become laws:

Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Act 2019 – This bill was introduced by Conservative MP Theresa Villiers and repealed the sunset provisions of the previous iteration of the Act meaning it could still be actioned after 10 years has passed.

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.

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

Driving Instructors (Registration) Act 2016 – This bill was put forward by Conservative MP David Amess who was sadly murdered in 2021. This bill simplified to process of driving instructor’s 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.

Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) – This bill was, again, put forward by the late Conservative 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. This means Government backbenchers have a significant advantage when trying to pass Ten-Minute Rule Bills.

What are some recent examples of failed Ten-Minute Rule Bills?

At the time of writing, there have been 16 Ten-Minute Rule Bills in the 2022-23 session, all of which are awaiting Second Reading. This is the case for all those bills that will not be scheduled, and they will not officially ‘fall’ until the end of the session. Some of the bills include:

Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Bill – A bill introduced by Labour MP Barry Sheerman that would enable someone to appeal an unspent criminal conviction where there has since been a material change in the law.

Miscarriage Leave Bill – A bill introduced by the SNP’s Angela Crawley that would provide paid leave for people who had experienced a miscarriage.

Pets (Microchips) Bill – A bill introduced by Conservative MP James Daly that, amongst other things, would require vets to check for microchips before euthanising pets.

During the 2021-2022 session there were 58 Ten-Minute Rule Bills. 52 Bills fell awaiting Second Reading whilst 6 were withdrawn.

Why do MPs even bother with Ten-Minute Rule Bills?

Given they are so rarely pass, and obvious question is why 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. A good example of this can be found in a Ten-Minute Rule Bill introduced by Theresa May in 2020 – the Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule Motion. In bringing forward this bill she mentioned cases from our own constituency. These included the very sad case of a 19-year-old female who was killed at the hands of a driver under the influence of both drink and drugs. He served just four years in prison. Following introduction of the bill, national debate was ignited surrounding the issue. Most people agreed that sentencing for dangerous drivers was too lenient. Therefore, following this, this the Government included May’s proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021
  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. This is particularly the case if it is picked up by national of local media. Some Backbench MPs consistently use the motion to push forward agendas they are keen about.
  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.

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.

Article Summary

Ten-Minute Rule Bills are one of the mechanisms through which a Backbench MP can try to initiate their own legislation. Whilst they rarely become law, they can bring focus to an issue and raise the profile of the MP in question.

Key Terms

Private Members Bills

Ten-Minute Rule Bills

Royal Assent

First Reading

Second Reading

Private Members Bill

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