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What is a Private Members' Bill?

13 Dec 2019
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Selection of Private Members' Bills in 2017. (©@HouseofCommons)

Private Members' Bills (PMBs) are bills introduced by MPs and Peers who are not government ministers. They provide backbenchers with an opportunity to address public concerns and to set a policy agenda that is not determined by the executive. But the procedures, often a source of controversy, are different to those that apply for government bills.

Last updated: 4 May 2022

There are three types of Private Members' Bill (PMB), distinguished in terms of when and how they are introduced, and how they secure time to be debated:

  • a Ballot Bill;

  • a Ten Minute Rule Bill; and

  • a Presentation Bill.

Thirteen Friday sittings (approximately 65 hours) are set aside in the House of Commons each Session for consideration of PMBs. Priority for the use of the first seven sitting Fridays is given to Ballot Bills. These thus have the best chance of becoming law, or of at least being debated in the Chamber. These are the best known form of Private Members' Bill.

In contrast, there is no fixed time for consideration of PMBs in the House of Lords and once all the Ballot Bills have been introduced, a PMB can be introduced by a Peer on any sitting day.

Like government bills, PMBs must pass through both Houses of Parliament if they are to become law. A PMB that is introduced in the House of Commons and survives all its Commons stages there must therefore be adopted by a backbench Peer who is willing to steer it through the House of Lords. Conversely, PMBs can also originate in the House of Lords but must be adopted by a backbench MP if they are to progress through the House of Commons.

The primary purpose of a PMB cannot be to create a new tax or increase government spending; these are permitted only as secondary effects. And a PMB cannot be used to duplicate a decision that has already been made by the House of Commons earlier in the Session.

As with government bills, a PMB must be compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights may investigate if it has concerns.

If a PMB involves a matter that is devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland then the relevant devolved legislature(s) may need to pass a Legislative Consent Motion.

If a PMB might affect the interests of Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales then their consent may also be needed.

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