The Public Gallery: How our MPs have changed the law

By - Thursday 20th February, 2014

Tired of complaining about the council, Tom Black takes a look at some of the changes our MPs have brought about

It’s easy to have a pop at our MPs, or accuse them of this, that and the other. Indeed, the right to hold them to account is an integral part of our democracy. I hope readers of TPG know that it’s a right I utilise whenever possible. But sometimes, it’s worth remembering that there are occasions when our elected representatives do make a difference. Inspired by the news that Steve Reed’s proposed ban on smoking in cars with children present is going to become law, I’ve looked into the recent legislative achievements of our current MPs.

Steve Reed (Labour, Croydon North), as outlined above, had his proposal for banning smoking in cars with children passed by parliament two weeks ago. Reed first proposed the measure as an amendment to the Children and Families Bill in April of last year. Early this year, the amendment was adopted into the bill, which itself passed both Houses of Parliament this month.

The change in the law has provoked some controversy. Familiar accusations of nanny-statism have come out of the woodwork, while the proposal’s supporters accuse its detractors of not caring that 160,000 children a year develop lung diseases from second-hand smoke in vehicles. Groups including the British Heart Foundation, the Royal College of Physicians, Asthma UK support the bill, which is on course to gain Royal Assent soon.

Lillian Groves was a constituent of Gavin Barwell (Conservative, Croydon Central). When she was fourteen, she was knocked down and killed by a car whose driver was under the influence of narcotics. After the perpetrator was sent to prison for just eight months, Lillian’s parents Gary and Natasha were outraged and went on to propose ’Lillian’s Law’, a set of changes in the law that would make serious custodial sentences much more common for causing death by drug driving – as is the case with drunk driving.

Barwell, together with Advertiser journalist Gareth Davies, threw themselves behind the campaign and have been intimately involved in helping its proposals to become a reality. The law was included in the 2012 Queens’ Speech (in which legislative priorities are set out), and a new ‘breathalyser for drugs’ has been cleared for use by roadside police, and automatic driving bans are now part of the procedure for dealing with anyone found to have certain drugs in their system while driving. Barwell has continued to be a vocal proponent of the changes, speaking in parliament and in the press. Davies, meanwhile, interviewed David Cameron and got his public support for Lillian’s Law on record.  Well done to Gary, Natasha, Gareth, Gavin and everyone who is helping the campaign as it continues.

Richard Ottaway (Conservative, Croydon South) decided to to something about the unreformed state of our scrap metal dealers in 2012. What eventually became the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 should, in theory, go a long way towards cutting down the effectiveness of metal theft as a means of income for criminals – it makes cash payments for scrap metal illegal. Additionally, by requiring ID to be presented to a dealer when selling scrap metal, the Act is intended to drastically reduce the ways in which metal thieves can sell on stolen materials.

The issue was personally close to Ottaway, particularly after thieves stole the plaques from two war memorials in his constituency. Like Reed and Barwell, he deserves credit for seeing it through. More information on Ottaway’s campaign, and the eventual change in the law, can be found here.

Finally, an extremely honourable mention must go to the late Malcolm Wicks, MP for Croydon North until his untimely death in 2012. A man of significant legislative and ministerial achievements during his time in the Commons, on the publication of his memoirs it was revealed that he was behind the high-profile leak of plans to ‘shelve’ child benefit under the Callaghan government. Wicks, then still a civil servant, leaked cabinet-level discussions that revealed ‘downright lies’ were being spread in public about the future of child benefit. The resulting furore led to a complete u-turn, and child benefit was saved.

My apologies to readers who came here expecting a dose of cynicism, or at least a wry look at the powers that be. Both can be found in some measure in my interview with John O’Farrell, published yesterday here on the Citizen. That ought to tide you over until next week.
Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    Wow! What a wonderfully impartial article. Loved it and all so very true.

  • John Gass

    Ottaway’s action stands out to me as being the only one motivated by personal interest rather than acting on behalf of constituents and the wider public. Plus ça change and all that.