John McDonnell topped the private members’ ballot held this morning, and so will be given priority when private members’ bills are debated later on in the parliamentary session.
It has not been a good week for McDonnell, who withdrew from the Labour leadership race hours before nominations closed, after it became clear that he didn’t have enough support to make it on to the ballot. Several of his supporters then transferred their support to Diane Abbott, who was able to secure enough nominations to get on the ballot. You can see Diane and the others in action at our debate last night here.
Customarily, when an MP tops the private members’ ballot, he or she is approached by pressure groups hoping to get their legislation sponsored into a favourable spot in the debate. It is difficult to speculate at this stage what kind of issue McDonnell might use his top spot to raise, but he does have declared interests in the Punjabi community and endometriosis, and was among 70 MPs who signed an early-day motion for the extension of the period of copyright protection.
Although, due to a lack of time and support, the vast majority of private members’ bills do not become legislation, some significant legislation has started this way, including the Abortion Act 1967 (introduced by David Steel), the Adoption Act 1964 and the 1965 act abolishing the death penalty.
More recently, Cheryl Gillan MP, who was drawn top of the ballot in 2008, sponsored the Autism Bill, promoted by the National Austism Society, which eventualy became law in November 2009.
UPDATE: We have now seen the press release from John McDonnell’s office, and he says he will be using his top spot on the ballot to tackle the abuse of employment law. His comments in full:
“It’s a funny old world, as one door closes another one opens. Coming top in this poll will enable me to tackle an abuse of the current employment laws by employers that I have tried to reform for the last 4 years. “
“As we have seen in the current BA Cabin Crew dispute and many other recent disputes, employers have been able to exploit a loophole in the existing law by using minor technical errors in a trade union ballot for industrial action to frustrate the democratic decisions of trade unionists who wish to take action. This resort to the courts by some ruthless employers is bringing current employment law into disrepute and undermining industrial relations in this country. The courts are being dragged into disputes and used as weapons in the hands of bullying employers. Even where there have been overwhelming majorities in ballots in favour of strike action, minor technicalities which would have no material effect on the outcome of the ballot, are being exploited to negate the democratic decision of the trade unionists involved. This cannot be right and in the interests of good industrial relations needs to be addressed.”
McDonnell previously lent his support to the Trade Union Freedom Bill in 2006, which you can read more about in his blog post from that time.