Publications / Guides

Private Members' Bills: What are the legislative stages in the House of Lords?

13 Dec 2019
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Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, presides over business in the House of Lords chamber. (Ⓒ House of Lords 2016 / Annabel Moeller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

At the start of each new parliamentary Session, a PMB ballot is held in the House of Lords. This ballot determines the order in which PMBs will receive their First Reading and on what days. Once all the Ballot Bills have been introduced, a Peer can introduce a PMB on any sitting day. There is no fixed time for consideration of PMBs although generally they are considered on sitting Fridays.

At the start of each new parliamentary Session, on the day following the State Opening of Parliament, a PMB ballot is held in the House of Lords. This ballot determines the order in which PMBs will receive their First Reading in the House of Lords, and on what days.

A Peer who wishes to enter the PMB ballot must submit the full text of their bill to the Public Bill Office (this is in contrast to MPs, who do not even need to provide a title for a bill when they enter the Commons PMB ballot). The bill must be submitted by the time the House rises after State Opening, on the evening before the ballot.

The legislative time secured by the Peer must be used only for the bill they have submitted in the ballot; they cannot change their mind and seek to introduce another bill, nor can they transfer their slot to another Member. A Peer can submit only one bill in the ballot, and duplicate or substantially similar bills submitted by more than one member are not permitted. If a Peer fails to introduce his or her PMB in his or her allocated slot then the bill cannot be introduced at a later date until all other Lords Ballot Bills have been introduced.

Once all the Ballot Bills have been introduced, a Peer can introduce a PMB on any sitting day. However, there is no fixed time in the House of Lords for consideration of PMBs.

In practice, a PMB at a stage when no amendments or debate are anticipated may be taken after questions on any sitting day of the week. Otherwise PMBs are generally considered on sitting Fridays.

The availability of time is dependent on the weight of other business. Peers are advised to introduce PMBs at the beginning of the parliamentary session to improve their chances of securing debating time.

Generally, and unlike in the Commons, PMBs are not talked out in the House of Lords.

PMBs in the Lords proceed in the same way as government bills and, if passed, are sent to the Commons where they must be taken up by an MP. They are then treated as any other PMB and must pass all the Commons stages. If any amendments are made, the bill must go back to the Lords.

The legislative process in the Lords for PMBs is relatively straightforward compared to that in the Commons. However, Lords bills often fail to secure time to be considered in the Commons as they arrive late in the session and find themselves placed behind PMBs initiated in the Commons.

In procedural terms there are only two difference between a bill introduced in the Lords by a government minister and one introduced by backbenchers:

  • PMBs cannot be carried over from one session to another; and

  • a statement on human rights compatibility is not required.

Explanatory Notes are sometimes produced by the sponsoring Member (sometimes with the help of the relevant government department) to facilitate understanding of the provisions of a PMB but they are not required. Any Explanatory Notes that are produced must be checked by the Public Bill Office in the House of Lords prior to publication.

The Peer presenting the PMB (or their representative if the sponsoring Member is unable to be present) rises at the start of public business, usually after oral questions, on the day allocated to them through the ballot, and seeks the House's permission to introduce the bill. This stage is usually a formality and the bill's introduction is agreed without debate or objection.

The sponsoring Peer is then responsible for negotiating with the Government Whips Office to secure a Second Reading date for the PMB as well as dates for any further stages.

At this stage Peers consider the general principles of the bill. The sponsoring Member opens the debate, the Minister responds and the sponsoring Member has a brief right of reply.

The bill may be opposed if a Peer has given notice on the Order Paper of:

  • an amendment that "this House declines to give the bill a second reading";

  • the above amendment augmented by a reason that the bill is being opposed (a 'reasoned amendment')

  • an amendment which would not seek to prevent the bill's progress but would invite the House to set out a particular point of view or highlight a concern about the provisions.

In practice, it is unusual for the House to divide on a PMB at Second Reading. If a vote does take place then the sponsoring Member must nominate two tellers within three minutes of the division being called. (They will also have to do this for any divisions at subsequent stages).

As with Second Reading the dates for each of these stages are fixed by agreement between the sponsoring Member and the Government Whips Office.

If a bill passes Second Reading, a motion will be moved in the name of the sponsoring Peer to commit it to either a Committee of the Whole House or a Grand Committee.

Amendments may be moved at Committee stage, at Report stage, and, unlike in the Commons, amendments are also permitted at Third Reading in the Lords.

If there are lots of amendments then the Government Whips Office will help the sponsoring Member to prepare groupings for debate. However, a member who has tabled an amendment must also agree to the grouping.

Once a Lords PMB navigates Third Reading it is sent to the House of Commons where it must be adopted by an MP. In the Commons a Lords PMB is treated as any other PMB and must pass all its Commons stages.

If any amendments are made, the PMB must go back to the Lords for further consideration. Only when any amendments are agreed by both Houses can the bill be granted Royal Assent.

Uncontroversial proposals that have been scrutinised and achieved consensus in the Lords may have some chance of being carried through 'on the nod' in the Commons.

Hansard Society (2022), Guide to Private Members' Bills, (Hansard Society: London)