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


7.101  A variety of procedures has been developed to scrutinise public bills, either instead of or additional to that in Committee of the whole House or Grand Committee. These are:

  • public bill committee;
  • special public bill committee;
  • select or joint committee.

7.102  The purpose of these procedures is either to save the time of the House itself by taking the committee stage off the floor or to enable more detailed examination of bills to take place, involving the hearing of evidence. Public bill committees (like Grand Committees) fall into the first category[277] and the other procedures fall into the second.

7.103  Unless the House orders otherwise, the next stage of a bill reported from a special public bill committee or public bill committee is report; but a bill reported from a select or joint committee is recommitted to a Committee of the whole House, unless the committee has recommended that the bill should not proceed.

7.104  Bills may be considered under these procedures only if the House has agreed to a particular order of commitment. It is usual for such a motion to be moved immediately after the second reading has been agreed to. However, a motion to commit a bill to a select or joint committee may be moved at any time before the third reading; and a motion that the order of commitment to a Committee of the whole House (or to a Grand Committee) be discharged and that an alternative order be made may be moved any day before the committee stage begins. Notice is required of any such motion.

7.105  The members of a public bill committee, special public bill committee, select or joint committee are subsequently appointed by the House on the recommendation of the Committee of Selection.

Public bill committee

7.106  A public bill committee is a select committee to which mainly technical and non-controversial government bills may be committed in order to save time on the floor of the House.[278] The committees have consisted of between twelve and sixteen designated members together with the Chairman of Committees. A member of the House not appointed to the committee is nevertheless free to speak and move amendments,[279] but not to vote.[280]

7.107  The programme of sittings is decided by the committee, on motion, at the outset, and should not be subject to alteration thereafter. The committee may sit whether the House is sitting or not.[281]

7.108  When there is a vote in the committee, the doors are locked eight minutes after the Question has been put and challenged, unless all members are present within that time. After the Question has been put the second time, the Clerk reads out the names of the members of the committee. Each member when his name is called replies "Content", "Not-content" or "Abstain".

Special public bill committee

7.109  Special public bill committees are public bill committees that are empowered to take written and oral evidence on bills before considering them clause by clause in the usual way. Special public bill committees are particularly suitable for bills originating in reports of the Law Commissions but may be used for any bill irrespective of the House of introduction.[282]

7.110  A bill is committed to a special public bill committee by a motion moved after second reading by the Lord in charge of the bill. Where it is proposed in advance that a bill be committed to a special public bill committee, the Committee of Selection reports on the membership of the committee before second reading to allow arrangements for taking evidence to be put in hand contingent on the bill being committed.[283] The government have a majority over the other parties, with the balance held by the Crossbench members. It has been the practice for the relevant minister and frontbench spokesmen from the other parties to be members. The number of members has been 9 or 10. Any member of the House may attend any public meeting of the committee. Unlike select committees empowered to take evidence, a special public bill committee is not given powers such as those to appoint advisers or to travel.

7.111  Special public bill committees must conclude their taking of evidence within a 28-day period beginning with the date on which they are appointed, excluding any adjournment of the House for more than three days, but there is no time limit for their subsequent proceedings. The relevant government department produces with the bill a summary of the consultation undertaken, with an indication of representations received and changes made. The evidence taking usually begins with the minister giving evidence, following which the minister rejoins the committee on the other side of the table. At the end of the evidence taking it has been the practice for a private deliberative meeting to take place at which the committee reviews the evidence and considers the case for possible amendments to the bill.

7.112  The standard public bill committee proceedings then take place, at an interval after the conclusion of the evidence taking and any deliberative meeting, to enable the minister and other members of the committee to table any appropriate amendments.[284] Proceedings are the same as for a public bill committee.

7.113  The committee does not produce any report on the bill other than the bill as amended, which is printed in the usual way. The written and oral evidence are published, together with the verbatim report of the special public bill committee proceedings.[285]

Procedures common to public bill committees and special public bill committees

7.114  Public bill committees and special public bill committees follow the procedure of a committee stage in the Chamber as closely as possible.[286] Members speak standing and, so far as they can, observe the same degree of formality as in the Chamber. The committee adjourns for 10 minutes for a division in the House. Notice of the proceedings is given on the order paper and amendments for consideration in such proceedings, which may be tabled and spoken to by any member, are printed and circulated as for Committee of the whole House. The verbatim report of this part of a committee's proceedings is published as an appendix to Hansard, and the minutes are published as an annex to the Minutes of Proceedings and, ultimately, as an appendix to the Journals. The committee's report to the House is recorded formally by entry in the Minutes of Proceedings.

Bill committed to select or joint committee

7.115  A public bill (other than a consolidation bill which is referred automatically after second reading to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills under SO 52) may be committed to a select committee or a joint committee when detailed investigation is considered desirable or when the hearing of evidence is considered necessary. To achieve this a motion is moved that a bill be committed to a select committee or that a joint committee be appointed to consider the bill. Such a motion is usually moved immediately after the second reading but is admissible at any stage before the third reading. If the bill has previously been committed to a Committee of the whole House or Grand Committee, the order may be discharged and an order made to commit the bill instead to a joint or to a select committee. A motion may be tabled to commit a part of a bill to a select committee. If the bill is referred to a joint committee a message is sent to the House of Commons informing them and desiring their agreement.[287] A bill may be committed to a select committee on another bill.

7.116  The method of appointment and powers of the committee are the same as for an ad hoc committee on a general subject (see paragraph 10.03); but the bill forms the committee's order of reference and defines the scope of the inquiry.

7.117  When the committee has completed its deliberations, it makes a report to the House on the provisions of the bill, recommending whether or not it should proceed. The committee usually gives reasons in a report similar to a report on a general subject. The committee has no power to put an end to the bill. If it considers that the bill should proceed, the committee reports it with such amendments as it thinks fit, and the bill is then recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in the form in which it has been reported. When a committee makes amendments, formal minutes of proceedings are required to record the amendments made. The minutes of proceedings serve as the authority for the making of the amendments and the reprinting of the bill as reported. If the committee considers that it should not proceed, it reports the bill accordingly, without amendment.

7.118  When a select committee reports that a bill should not proceed, the bill is not recommitted to a Committee of the whole House. The bill remains in the list of Bills in Progress until the end of the session under the heading "Reported from the select committee that the bill should not proceed". The House normally acquiesces in a report from a select committee recommending that a bill should not proceed, and no further proceedings on the bill take place. If the bill is to proceed, a motion, of which notice is required, has to be agreed that the bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House. A bill may also be recommitted to a committee after the latter has reported that it should not proceed.[288]

7.119  If a committee is unable to complete its consideration of the bill, it makes a special report to that effect and reports the bill without amendment.


7.120  A bill which has been referred to a select or joint committee is, after being reported by that committee, recommitted to a Committee of the whole House unless the select or joint committee has reported that the bill should not proceed. Consolidation bills and hybrid bills are the most common examples of bills which are recommitted.

7.121  Other bills may, on motion (which is debatable and of which notice is required) moved at any time between committee and third reading, be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House or Grand Committee in their entirety, or in respect of certain clauses or Schedules.

7.122  This course is adopted when it is desirable to give further detailed consideration to the bill or certain parts of it without the constraints on speaking which apply on report and third reading; for instance:

This procedure reserves to the report stage its proper function as an opportunity to review and perfect the bill as amended in committee.

7.123  A motion that the House resolve itself into a committee on recommitment on a bill may be debated and opposed in the same way as the motion to go into committee. Procedure on recommitment is the same as in Committee of the whole House. The minimum interval between committee and report does not apply to recommitment.

7.124  SO 48(2) provides for the order of recommitment to be discharged on the same conditions as apply to the order of commitment.

Public bill committees have been largely superseded by Grand Committees. The last appointment of a public bill committee was in 1994. Back

278   Procedure 1st Rpt 1987-88; 1st Rpt 1992-93. Back

279   LJ (1986-87) 392-395. Back

280   SO 66. Back

281   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1970-71; 2nd Rpt 1987-88. Back

282   Procedure 1st Rpt 1994-95. Back

283   HL Deb. 13 December 1995, cols 1279-88. Back

284   Amendments may be tabled in the usual way at any time after second reading. Back

285   LJ (1992-93) 161, 163; ibid (1993-94) 586, 682; HL Deb. 13 December 1995, cols 1279-88. Back

286   LJ (1986-87) 45. Back

287   LJ (1958-59) 97. Back

288   LJ (1854-55) 277, 234. Back

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