Away from the heated debates about Covid Tiers and Free School Meals in holidays, I have spoken in several debates about Private Members’ Bills this month.
PMBs are a rare opportunity for a backbench MP from any party to get their name on a piece of legislation – most of the year it is only the Government’s legislation that is passed or not. Each year the Private Members’ Bill Ballot takes place and the first 20 names drawn get the chance to introduce a bill about something they are passionate about.
In March I spoke in favour of the Labour MP Mike Amesbury’s bill to introduce guidelines to reduce the cost of school uniform, which in too many schools has risen too high. I was pleased to subsequently be on the Bill Committee that moved the legislation forward further and we can soon expect it to pass into law.
This month, the subjects have been diverse. First up was Laura Trott’s bill to ban botox and fillers being given to under-18s. As I said in the debate, it is extraordinary this is not already illegal, both because you can’t get a tattoo until you’re 18 and because if you visit someone who is not licensed, you can suffer swelling, bruising, unevenness and even blindness. Various beauty salons gave me their helpful views on this before I spoke, including NIYA Beauty Clinic in Southmoor, House of Beaux in Didcot and the Good Skin Club in Wallingford – all of which supported a ban. We must tackle the mental health issues that mean people so young want these treatments in the first place.
Next was a bill on the testing of psychoactive substances in prisons. Much as they do in life outside prison, drugs inside prison affect physical and mental health, put pressure on medical services and disrupt education and employment opportunities. The bill of Dame Cheryl Gillan is designed to enable testing for the new breeds of psychoactive substances so that prisoners can get both the punishment and the treatment they need.
The bill that had more attention than the rest was Chris Loder’s, which increases the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from 6 months to 5 years, meaning the UK goes from having one of the lowest punishments in the world to one of the highest. Charney Romanian Rescue Dogs, the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary and Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary gave me helpful input for this one.
As I said in one of the debates, being drawn in the ballot can be a curse – every special interest group wants you to pick their issue. But it is also a blessing, allowing you a rare chance to make a difference to our laws.