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


Origination of private bills

8.03  Private bills originate outside Parliament and are promoted by bodies seeking special powers not available under the general law. They should not be confused with private members' bills, which are public bills (see paragraph 7.28). Each private bill starts with a petition to Parliament from the promoter for leave to bring in a bill.[324] The petition, with a copy of the proposed bill annexed to it, is deposited on or before 27 November in the House of Commons[325] and a copy of the proposed bill is deposited in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments.

8.04  The government cannot promote a private bill. When a government department wants to promote a bill which would, if promoted by another person or body, be a private bill the bill is introduced as a public bill and is subsequently treated as a hybrid bill (see paragraph 7.206).

8.05  Where a bill deals exclusively with the personal affairs of an individual it may be certified by the Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means in the Commons ("the two Chairmen" or "the Chairmen") as a "personal bill", though such bills are rare. Personal bills can be presented at any time during the session.

8.06  Scottish private legislation on matters not wholly within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament (other than personal bills) is governed by a statutory procedure contained in the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936 (see paragraph 8.72).

Examination for compliance with standing orders

8.07  Each House normally appoints two Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.[326] The Clerk of Public and Private Bills in the Lords and the Clerk of Bills in the Commons customarily hold these offices, and each Examiner may act on behalf of either House. On occasion both Examiners may sit to examine a particular bill. In the Lords, appointments are made by the House, and in the Commons by the Speaker. Beginning on 18 December, each petition for a bill is examined by one of the Examiners, who certifies whether the standing orders applicable contained in the Private Business Standing Orders and similar standing orders of the House of Commons have been complied with.[327] These standing orders require notices and advertisements and the deposit of bills and other documents at various public offices.

8.08  Complaints of non-compliance with the standing orders ("memorials") may be presented, and memorialists are entitled to be heard before the Examiner.[328]

8.09  The Examiner certifies to both Houses whether the standing orders applicable have, or have not, been complied with. If they have not been complied with, the Examiner reports the facts and any special circumstances. Should the Examiner be in doubt as to the construction of any standing order in its application to a particular case, he or she makes a special report of the facts, without deciding whether the standing order has or has not been complied with.[329]

8.10  In a case of non-compliance or doubt the Examiner's certificate or report is referred by each House to its Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee.[330]

European Convention on Human Rights

8.11  The memorandum which accompanies each Private Bill when it is deposited on 27 November includes a statement by or on behalf of the promoters of the bill as to the compatibility of the provisions of the bill with the Convention Rights (as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998).[331] In the case of every private bill, whether introduced in the Lords or the Commons, a report from a minister of the Crown on the promoter's statement of opinion required by Private Business SO 38(3) is to be presented no later than the second sitting day after first reading.[332]

Late bills

8.12  A promoter who wishes to introduce a bill late (after 27 November) submits to the two Chairmen a statement of the objects of the bill, the reasons for the need to proceed during the current session, and the reasons why it was impracticable to deposit the bill by 27 November.

8.13  The Chairmen consider:

8.14  If the Chairmen are satisfied on these points, or if they consider that the public interest so requires, the appropriate Chairman gives leave for the petition and the bill to be deposited in the House in which they decide the bill is to originate.[333]

8.15  After the petition together with the proposed bill has been presented to the House, it is referred to the Examiners. The Examiners certify to both Houses non-compliance with standing orders. The Certificate is referred to the Standing Orders Committee of each House. If both committees report that the standing orders ought to be dispensed with, the bill is presented and read a first time.

8.16  The bill, as presented, should not contain any provisions other than those outlined in the original statement of the promoters in support of their application.

Lords bills: introduction and first reading

8.17  The allocation of private bills between the two Houses is determined between the two Chairmen or, more usually, their Counsel, on or before 8 January.[334] The following guiding principles are followed in this allocation:

  • (1)  the number in each House should, as near as possible, be equal; regard should also be had to the equal distribution of important and contentious bills;
  • (2)  a bill which is the same as, or similar to, a bill rejected by one House in a previous session should be allocated to that House;
  • (3)  if two or more bills are competitive, they must go to the same House;
  • (4)  bills which are largely financial in character, especially those where a financial resolution in the House of Commons is involved, should generally be allocated to the House of Commons.
  • 8.18  It is usual, before any allocation is made, for Counsel to the two Chairmen to invite representations from each promoter.

    8.19  First reading is "formal", that is to say, by way of an entry in the Minutes of Proceedings. No proceedings take place in the House itself. In the case of bills originating in the House of Lords, it takes place on 22 January or, if later, the day on which:

    (i) the Examiner has certified that standing orders have been complied with; or

    (ii) the Standing Orders Committee has reported that standing orders have been complied with; or

    the House, on report from the Standing Orders Committee that the standing orders ought to be dispensed with, has agreed that the bill should be allowed to proceed.[335]

    Subsequent stages

    8.20  The Chairman of Committees normally moves subsequent stages of private bills in the House. His Deputies may act for him for all purposes connected with private legislation.[336]

    Petitions against private bills

    8.21  Parties affected by a bill may present a petition against it, which must state clearly the grounds of their objection to the bill.[337]

    8.22  Petitions against Lords bills must usually be presented on or before 6 February. Petitions against a Commons bill, or a late bill originating in the House of Lords, may be deposited up to 10 days after first reading, subject to private business SOs 201 and 201A. Petitions against Commons bills are admissible whether or not the petitioner also petitioned against the bill in the Commons.

    8.23  Petitions against proposed amendments must be lodged in time for the committee to consider them.

    Petitions for additional provision

    8.24  After the introduction of a bill, the promoters may wish to make additional provision in the bill in respect of matters which require the service of new notices and advertisements. A petition for that purpose, after approval by the Chairman of Committees, who acts for this purpose in close accord with the Chairman of Ways and Means, is deposited in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments with a copy of the provisions proposed to be added. The petition is referred to the Examiners, and may not proceed unless any standing orders applicable have been complied with or dispensed with. A petition for additional provision may not be presented in the case of a bill brought from the Commons.[338]

    Second reading

    8.25  The second reading of a private bill is usually taken before public business and is usually brief. It does not, as in the case of public bills, affirm the principle of the bill, which may therefore be called in question before a committee, or at a later stage. The second reading is normally moved by the Chairman of Committees, and provides an opportunity for him to direct the attention of the House to any special circumstances connected with the bill.[339]

    8.26  A member of the Lords who intends to debate the second reading of a bill is expected to notify the Chairman of Committees or the Government Whips' Office; a member who intends to oppose it should always do so. The Chairman of Committees then usually asks the promoters to arrange for someone other than himself to move the second reading, and he may enter it at a lower place on the order paper.

    8.27  The second reading of a bill originating in the House of Lords may not be taken earlier than the second sitting day after first reading[340] and it is customary to wait until the petitioning period has expired before taking second reading.

    8.28  Lords bills affected by the standing orders originally devised by Lord Wharncliffe, which govern the consents of proprietors, members and directors of companies,[341] are referred again to the Examiners after second reading.[342] Such bills are not committed unless those Orders have been complied with or dispensed with.[343]


    8.29  Instructions to committees on private bills may be moved at any time between the second reading and committee stage of the bill, but are usually put down for the same day as the second reading. The Chairman of Committees should be informed before an instruction is tabled.[344]

    8.30  Permissive instructions enable the committee to do what it could not do without such an instruction. However, any enlargement of the scope of a bill should be effected by a petition for additional provision rather than such an instruction. Mandatory instructions compel the committee to do something which it already has discretion to do. However, the House has been reluctant to agree to any instruction which will restrict the decisions of the committee.

    8.31  The most usual type of instruction on a private bill is of a cautionary nature. For example, the committee is sometimes instructed to have regard to certain matters or to ensure that various objections have been considered. An instruction of this nature is often accepted by the House, as it ensures that the committee considers matters which might not be raised by the parties appearing before it or in a departmental report.

    8.32  To assist them in carrying out an instruction, committees have on occasion been given power by the House to hear evidence other than that tendered by the parties entitled to be heard. This expedient, however, is open to criticism: it may enable a person to oppose a bill without having petitioned against it, and there is no fund out of which the fees of any expert witness may be paid.

    8.33  Instructions have occasionally been given to an unopposed bill committee.

    8.34  It is customary for the committee to make a special report to the House upon matters referred to in an instruction.

    8.35  Private business SOs 124A and 131-146 amount to "standing instructions" to committees on certain types of bill.


    8.36  After second reading every unopposed bill is normally committed to an unopposed bill committee.[345] Every bill opposed by petitions is committed to a select committee.[346]

    8.37  The Chairman of Committees may report to the House that, in his opinion, an unopposed bill should be proceeded with as an opposed bill and committed to a select committee.[347] In such a case the committee might be authorised to hear evidence tendered by parties other than the promoters, but this procedure has rarely been used.

    Committees on opposed bills

    8.38  Select committees on opposed bills consist of five members, normally named by the Chairman of Committees, who also nominates the chairman, and reports his appointments to the House. Members of the House with an interest in the bill may not serve on the committee.[348] If the chairman is absent, the committee may appoint a substitute.[349]

    8.39  In principle every member of the committee must attend the whole proceedings, but the committee may sit with only four members if all the parties agree. In this case a report is made to the House. If the consent of any party is withheld, the committee adjourns and may not resume in the absence of a member without leave of the House. No member who is not a member of the committee may take any part in its proceedings.[350]

    8.40  If the committee adjourns over a day on which the House sits, it must report the reason to the House.[351] Promoters and petitioners may be represented by counsel or agents. The committee hears arguments and evidence from the parties and the representations of any interested government departments. The committee is not allowed to hear other evidence without an order of the House. The committee may decide that the bill should be allowed to proceed, with or without amendments, or "that it is not expedient to proceed further with the bill".[352]

    Locus standi

    8.41  In general, and subject to Private Business SOs 115-120, a petitioner has a right to be heard if his or her interests are affected by the bill. If another party challenges a petitioner's locus standi, the question is heard and decided by the committee at the beginning of their proceedings.[353]

    Bill rejected

    8.42  If the decision of a select committee is that it is not expedient to proceed further with the bill, an entry to this effect is made in the Minutes of Proceedings. The bill is then removed from the list of Bills in Progress in House of Lords Business and does not proceed further.


    8.43  If the committee reports that the bill should be allowed to proceed, the bill is recommitted to an unopposed bill committee, which considers the bill as if it were an unopposed bill, except that it may not vary any decision made by the select committee.[354]

    8.44  If no petitioner appears, or if all petitions are withdrawn before proceedings commence, or if the locus standi of all petitioners is disallowed, then the select committee reports accordingly; the bill becomes unopposed, and, unless there is an instruction, the Bill is recommitted to an unopposed bill committee.[355] However, if an instruction has been given to a select committee on a private bill, the committee must consider the bill and instruction.

    Special report

    8.45  In certain circumstances, when it is thought that the House should be informed of the findings of a committee, and its reasons for reaching them, a special report is made and printed. It is usual, for instance, to make a special report in response to an instruction. An order for the special report to be considered can be made, to allow the House to debate and review the decisions of the committee; but third reading provides the normal opportunity for such a debate.

    Unopposed bill committees

    8.46  Each unopposed bill committee normally consists of the Chairman of Committees assisted by his Counsel.[356] The Chairman of Committees may select further members from the panel of Deputy Chairmen.[357] No member who is not a member of the committee may take any part in the proceedings. The promoters may be represented by their agents and may call witnesses; counsel are not normally heard and evidence called is not tendered on oath. Representatives of the government departments which have reported on the bill attend.[358]

    8.47  The promoter's agent is called upon to justify any clauses on which the Chairman of Committees has asked for further information or which are the subject of a departmental report. The committee may then amend the bill as it thinks fit.

    8.48  When the committee is prepared to accept the bill, witnesses are called, on oath, to prove the preamble to the bill and to produce copies of any Private Acts, and the originals of any documents, referred to in the preamble.

    Report stage

    8.49  The proceedings of committees on both unopposed and opposed bills are concluded by an entry in the Minutes of Proceedings reporting the bill from the committee. Amendments made in committee are available for inspection in the Private Bill Office; the bill as amended must be deposited by the promoter at certain public offices. Normally, no Report stage is held in the House. However, after the bill has been reported by the committee, drafting or consequential amendments can be inserted in the bill by Counsel to the Chairman of Committees on the authority of the Chairman, and endorsed "Amendments made on Report". No entry in the Minutes of Proceedings is made when this is done.[359]

    Third reading and passing

    8.50  In the majority of cases the third reading of a private bill is formal. Any member of the House who wishes to speak on third reading is expected to notify the Chairman of Committees of his intention in advance.[360] Any amendments proposed to be moved on third reading must be submitted to the Chairman of Committees at least "one clear day", that is, two days, in advance. All amendments which have the approval of the Chairman of Committees are moved by him; the House usually accepts them without question. These are usually amendments asked for by the promoters to correct errors or to carry out agreements made during the committee stage. Occasionally an amendment contrary to the wishes of the promoters is submitted and moved by a member of the House. In such cases a debate would ordinarily arise.

    Commons bills

    8.51  A private bill brought from the Commons is read a first time forthwith by means of an entry in the Minutes of Proceedings, and referred to the Examiners in respect of the standing orders relating to such bills.[361] It may not be read a second time until the standing orders have been complied with or dispensed with.[362] Petitions against it may be deposited up to 10 days after first reading,[363] whether or not the petitioner also petitioned the House of Commons.[364] If it is amended in the House of Lords, it may be referred to the Examiners again in respect of the amendments.[365]

    Queen's Consent

    8.52  When Queen's or Prince of Wales' Consent (see paragraphs 7.177-7.180) is required for a private bill it is usually signified on third reading by a Minister who is a Privy Counsellor, and recorded by entry in the Minutes of Proceedings.

    Commons amendments

    8.53  Amendments made by the Commons to Lords bills, or to Lords amendments to Commons bills, and amendments to such amendments which the promoters wish to make in the House of Lords, are submitted to the Chairman of Committees for approval.[366] Commons amendments are usually agreed formally by an entry in the Minutes of Proceedings, without notice, and not taken in the House.

    8.54  If there is disagreement between the Houses on amendments to private bills, the same procedure is followed as for public bills. However, decisions on private legislation are coordinated between the two Houses, so that the need for this procedure seldom arises. Neither House reinserts a provision struck out by the other House unless by agreement in advance between the two Houses.

    Royal Assent

    8.55  Private bills other than personal bills receive Royal Assent in the same form as public bills - "La Reyne le veult."

    Personal bills

    8.56  Petitions for bills relating to the "estate, property, status, or style, or otherwise relating to the personal affairs, of an individual"[367] are presented to the House of Lords rather than the House of Commons. The petition must be signed by one or more of the parties principally concerned in the consequences of the bill, and may be deposited at any time during the session.[368] The petition and draft bill which must accompany it are considered by the Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means, who may certify that the proposed bill is of such a nature and that Private Business SOs 4-68 should not be applicable to it. Bills so certified are termed personal bills and are subject to Private Business SOs 151-174. These bills are now rare, partly in consequence of the passing of the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986, which relaxed the prohibitions on many previously prohibited relationships for which parliamentary approval was sought.

    8.57  Every petition for a personal bill is referred to the Personal Bills Committee.[369] The bill cannot be read a first time until the committee has reported to the House.[370]

    8.58  The committee considers the petition, the draft bill, and in most cases a statement by the promoters in support of the bill. The promoters may appear by counsel, in person, or by agents.

    8.59  The promoters must prove that "the objects of the bill are proper to be enacted by a personal bill"[371]. They should satisfy the committee that:

    • the objects of the bill are not in conflict with public policy;
    • the benefits to be conferred are peculiar to the petitioner and that therefore the interests of the general public are not affected;
    • the consents of all persons principally concerned in the consequences of the bill can be obtained, and that the interests of infants affected are safeguarded; and
    • the objects can be achieved only by means of a personal bill and not by any other legal means.

    8.60  The committee also examines the draft bill to see whether its provisions are "proper for carrying its purposes into effect." The committee makes any amendments, either of substance or drafting, which it considers necessary. It may report that certain consents can be dispensed with.[372]

    8.61  The Chairman of Committees or the Personal Bills Committee may require the appointment by the Lord Chancellor of a guardian to represent the interests of any infant who should be protected.[373]

    8.62  When the committee is satisfied, the Chairman of Committees signs a copy of the bill in the form approved by the Committee. The committee then reports to the House, and the bill in its approved form can be introduced and read a first time.

    Estate bills

    8.63  In the case of personal bills affecting entailed estates and wills, private business SOs 162-165 and 168-172 govern the giving of notices, appointment of new trustees, consents and other matters.

    Proceedings after first reading

    8.64  Between first and second reading, copies of the bill as introduced are delivered to all persons affected by the bill by the promoter. The second reading is normally moved by the Chairman of Committees who also fixes a date by which petitions against the bill must be presented.[374]

    8.65  If the bill is unopposed, it is committed to an unopposed bill committee.[375] At this stage the persons concerned in the bill give their consent by attending and signing a copy of the bill. In certain cases, such as absence abroad, illness or old age, the Chairman of Committees may admit affidavits in proof of signatures in lieu of attendance.

    8.66  If the bill is opposed, it is referred to a select committee of five members named by the Chairman of Committees and proceeded with in the same manner as any other opposed private bill.[376] The Chairman of Committees may propose that an unopposed bill be treated as opposed.

    8.67  No committee, other than the Personal Bills Committee, may consider a personal bill until 10 days after the second reading.[377]

    8.68  The proceedings on third reading and passing of a personal bill are the same as for an ordinary private bill, but Royal Assent is given in the form "Soit fait comme il est désiré."

    Marriage enabling bills

    8.69  Bills to enable persons to marry within the prohibited degrees of affinity are subject to a special procedure, intended to avoid discussion of personal details on the floor of the House.[378] The bill is granted a second reading without debate and is then committed to a select committee consisting of the Chairman of Committees, a bishop and two other members, which examines the promoters of the bill on oath in private before deciding whether the bill should proceed.

    324   PBSO 2. In this chapter any reference to standing orders is, unless otherwise stated, a reference to the standing orders relating to private business and the abbreviation PBSO is used. Back

    325   PBSO 38. Back

    326   PBSO 69. Back

    327   PBSOs 70, 3. Back

    328   PBSOs 76-79. Back

    329   PBSOs 72, 81. Back

    330   PBSO 87. Back

    331   PBSO 38(3). Back

    332   PBSO 98A. Back

    333   PBSO 97. Back

    334   PBSO 90. Back

    335   PBSO 98. Back

    336   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1967-68; PBSO 94A. Back

    337   PBSO 111. Back

    338   PBSO 74. Back

    339   PBSO 91. Back

    340   PBSO 99. Back

    341   These are often referred to as the "Wharncliffe Orders". Back

    342   PBSOs 62-68. Back

    343   PBSO 100. Back

    344   PBSO 93. Back

    345   PBSO 121. Back

    346   PBSO 104. Back

    347   PBSO 92. Back

    348   PBSO 96. Back

    349   PBSOs 104, 95, 96. Back

    350   PBSOs 105, 106. Back

    351   PBSO 108. Back

    352   PBSOs 110, 127, 124. Back

    353   PBSO 114. Back

    354   PBSO 121. Back

    355   PBSO 113. Back

    356   PBSO 121. Back

    357   PBSO 122. Back

    358   PBSO 127. Back

    359   PBSO 147. Back

    360   PBSO 148. Back

    361   PBSOs 98(2), 74, 60-61, 65-68. Back

    362   PBSO 99. Back

    363   PBSO 101. Back

    364   PBSO 112. Back

    365   PBSO 75. Back

    366   PBSO 150. Back

    367   PBSO 3. Back

    368   PBSO 153. Back

    369   PBSO 154. Back

    370   PBSO 156. Back

    371   PBSO 154. Back

    372   PBSO 166. Back

    373   PBSO 167. Back

    374   PBSOs 157-158. Back

    375   PBSO 160. Back

    376   PBSO 161. Back

    377   PBSO 159. Back

    378   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1985-86. Back

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