Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords


Stages of a public bill

7.01  Public bills in the House of Lords have five main stages:

Further stages may also be necessary as a result of communications between the two Houses (see paragraphs 7.151-7.171).

Successive stages of a bill to be taken on different days

7.02  Under SO 47, no two stages of a bill may be taken on one day. But if a bill is not amended in Committee of the whole House, the report stage may be taken immediately thereafter. So, if it is intended to take more than one stage of a bill on one day, other than the report stage of a bill which has not been amended in Committee of the whole House, SO 47 must be suspended or dispensed with and notice of this must be given.[241]

Recommended minimum intervals between the stages of a bill

7.03  The following minimum intervals between stages of public bills should be observed:[242]

    (a)  two weekends between the first reading (whether of a new bill or one brought from the Commons) and the debate on second reading;

    (b)  fourteen days between second reading and the start of the committee stage;

    (c)  on all bills of considerable length and complexity, fourteen days between the end of the committee stage and the start of the report stage;

    (d)  three sitting days between the end of the report stage and third reading.[243]

7.04  Notice is given whenever these minimum intervals are departed from, except when SO 47 has been suspended or dispensed with. Such notice is given by means of a § against the bill in House of Lords Business.

7.05  Reasonable notice should whenever possible be given for consideration of Commons amendments, taking into account the number and scale of amendments and the availability of papers relating to them.[244]


7.06  A public bill brought from the House of Commons falls if it does not receive the Royal Assent in the same session.

7.07  In general, the same rule applies to bills introduced in the Lords. However, in 1998 the two Houses approved the principle that it should be possible for certain government public bills to be "carried over" from one session to the next in the same way as private and hybrid bills.[245] The House of Lords has also agreed that it should be possible for bills in their second House to be carried over if they have been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny.[246] In the Lords:

  • eligibility of bills for carry-over is settled by informal discussion through the usual channels;
  • bills are carried over by ad hoc motions;
  • a Commons bill carried over in the Commons is treated in the same way as any other bill brought from the Commons.

7.08  The procedure does not apply over a dissolution.

Introduction and first reading

7.09  Any member may introduce a bill without notice and without moving for leave to bring it in.

7.10  The Public Bill Office should be informed of an intention to introduce a bill not later than the previous working day. Members are encouraged to submit a draft of any bill to the Public Bill Office before introduction in order to ensure that, before being printed and circulated, it is in proper form. The final text of the bill must be handed in to the Public Bill Office before it is introduced.


7.11  The powers of the House to legislate on devolved matters are unaffected by the devolution legislation.[247]

7.12  The government has stated that "there would be instances where it would be more convenient for legislation on devolved matters to be passed by the United Kingdom Parliament, [though] Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to matters within the competence of the [devolved] parliament without the consent of that parliament".[248] When the Scottish Parliament has passed a Legislative Consent Motion ("Sewel Motion"), this is indicated in the list of bills in progress in House of Lords Business.

Procedure on introduction: Lords bills

7.13  A member who wishes to present a bill rises in his place at the beginning of public business after oral questions or (on rare occasions) at the end of public business immediately before the adjournment of the House.[249] He introduces the bill by saying only:

    "My Lords, I beg to introduce a bill to [long title of bill]. I beg to move that this bill be now read a first time."

7.14  The Question is put from the Woolsack. The first reading of a bill is agreed to without dissent or debate, both as a matter of courtesy and because the House usually has no knowledge of the bill until it is printed.

7.15  A bill may be introduced by a member on behalf of another member.

Procedure on introduction: Commons bills

7.16  A bill which has been introduced in the Commons and which has passed through all its stages in that House is brought to the Lords by a Commons Clerk with a message stating that the Commons have passed the bill. The message is read by the Clerk at the Table as soon as the item of business in progress has ended, and the first reading of the bill (whether a government bill or a private member's bill) is moved immediately by a government Whip.

7.17  As with Lords bills, the first reading of a bill brought from the Commons is agreed to without discussion, both as a matter of courtesy to the Commons and because at this stage no member has formally taken charge of it.

7.18  The Lord taking charge of a Commons bill should inform the Public Bill Office.

Bills brought up and printed when Lords not sitting

7.19  A bill passed by the Commons may be carried up to the Public Bill Office when the Lords are not sitting. Under SO 51 it is deemed to have been brought from the Commons on that day and the bill and any explanatory notes may be printed before first reading if this is for the convenience of the House.

Printing of bills and explanatory notes

7.20  After the first reading of a bill an order is made for the bill and any explanatory notes to be printed. By convention, Consolidated Fund Bills and Appropriation Bills are not printed for the Lords, nor are provisional order confirmation bills unless subsequently amended on consideration on report. Other bills which are to be taken through the House urgently are not printed if they have not been amended since the last Commons print and if the timetable for their consideration by the Lords makes printing impracticable.

7.21  A bill introduced in the Lords is endorsed with the name of the member of the House who has introduced it. It is not the practice to add other names. A bill brought from the Commons is not endorsed with the name of the Lord taking charge of the bill in the Lords.


7.22  For most government bills explanatory notes are produced by the responsible Department at the time the bill is introduced. Such notes cover the financial and manpower implications of the bill and any regulatory aspects (though any regulatory appraisal is usually produced separately). Notes must be neutral in tone and must not try to promote the bill or the policy underlying it.[250] In some cases Departments may prepare notes for private members' bills, with the consent of the Lord in charge of the bill, whose authority must be communicated to the Public Bill Office before the notes can be printed. Notes may also be produced by private members themselves: members should submit a draft of any explanatory notes to the Public Bill Office before introduction in order to ensure that these are in proper form.

European Convention on Human Rights

7.23  Under s.19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 the minister in charge of a government bill must make a statement before second reading as to whether in his view the provisions of the bill are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and publish the statement in such manner as he considers appropriate. This requirement extends to provisional order confirmation bills. The statement is usually set out on the cover page of a bill as first printed for each House; where bills are not printed for the Lords the statement is publicised by means of a written statement.

7.24  The minister who makes the statement should under normal circumstances move the second reading of the bill. If that minister is unable to do so, another minister should do so on the basis that he or she is acting on behalf of the minister who has made the statement.[251]

7.25  Section 19 does not apply to a private member's bill.

Notice of subsequent stages

7.26  It is for the Lord who is in charge of a bill to give notice of a date for second reading, and for the stages thereafter. When a day is fixed for the second reading, or for any subsequent stage, notice is given in House of Lords Business.

7.27  A member may move any stage of a bill on behalf of the Lord in charge of the bill. Bills once introduced are in the possession of the House and not in the sole ownership of the Lord in charge.[252]

Government and private members' bills

7.28  There is no procedural distinction between bills sponsored by a minister and those introduced by other members of the House, save in respect of carry-over and human rights statements[253]. In practice the House normally accords priority to proceedings on government bills except where private members' bills are not expected to give rise to debate. But there is no concept of government or private members' "time" in the Lords, nor any specific time when government or private members' bills are taken.

7.29  Two booklets, Taking part in public bills in the House of Lords and House of Lords amendment style, and a leaflet Promoting a private member's bill in the House of Lords, are available to members from the Public Bill Office.

Commons bills not taken up within twelve sitting days

7.30  Under SO 50, if a bill brought up from the Commons remains for twelve sitting days without any member having given notice of a date for second reading, it cannot be proceeded with except after eight days' notice. Motions to dispense with SO 50 have been agreed to.[254]

Withdrawal of bills

7.31  A Commons bill may not be withdrawn at any stage in the House of Lords.

7.32  At any time after first reading, a bill originating in the House of Lords may, with the agreement of the House, be withdrawn by the Lord who presented it. This is achieved by the Lord in charge of the bill either begging leave to withdraw the motion for the relevant stage or, if the bill is between stages, tabling a separate motion, of which notice is given, "That the bill be withdrawn". Unanimous leave of the House must be granted for a stage of a bill to be withdrawn, so that a single dissenting voice prevents leave being given and the Question must in that case be put and decided. The granting of leave to withdraw a stage of a bill is treated as withdrawal of the bill, unless the Lord in charge of the bill indicates that he intends to proceed with the bill on another day.

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee[255]

7.33  All bills other than consolidation, money and supply bills are considered by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which reports to the House in relation to any delegated powers they contain. The committee aims to report before the committee stage begins, though the House is under no obligation to delay proceedings if the committee has not reported by that time. If time allows, the committee may also report on government amendments, if these involve significant delegated powers.[256]

Pre-legislative scrutiny

7.34  Government bills which are published in draft may be considered and reported on, before they are introduced, by a select or joint committee appointed for that purpose. At least 3-4 months (excluding long recesses) is normally required to hear evidence and report. Such "pre-legislative scrutiny" does not have the effect of eliminating any stages when the bill itself is considered by the House.

241   SO 88. Back

242   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1976-77. Back

243   The fourteen-day periods are inclusive of the day on which the previous stage is concluded. The three-day period is exclusive. Back

244   Procedure 1st Rpt 1987-88; Procedure 1st Rpt 1991-92. Back

245   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1997-98. In the Lords, the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL] was carried over from session 2003-04 to 2004-05. In the Commons, the power to carry over has been used more frequently. Back

246   Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02. Back

247   Scotland Act 1998, s. 28(7); Northern Ireland Act 1998 s. 5(6); Government of Wales Act 2006, ss. 93(5), 107(5). Back

248   HL Deb. 28 October 1998, cols 1947-52. The "Sewel convention". This was stated in proceedings on the Scotland Bill, and it is reflected in the Concordat between the Government and the Scottish Executive about bills. The Concordat states that in practice consultation with the Scottish Executive is sufficient, on the ground that the Executive will then consult the Scottish Parliament. This principle applies to the other devolved assemblies. Back

249   SO 42(3). Back

250   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1997-98. Back

251   Procedure 1st Rpt 2001-02. Back

252   HL Deb. 19 July 1989, cols 788-91; Procedure 3rd Rpt 1992-93. Back

253   And in the applicability of public bill committee procedure (see paragraph 7.106). Back

254   LJ (1979-80) 1358; HL Deb. 24 July 2000, cols 12-13. Back

255   The work of the Committee is described at paragraphs 10.46-10.48. Back

256   Procedure 1st Rpt 1999-2000. Back

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