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Why are Private Members' Bills debated on a Friday?

13 Dec 2019
Debate in the House of Commons chamber. (© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor (CC BY-NC 2.0))

Thirteen Friday sittings are set aside in the House of Commons each Session for consideration of PMBs, signifying a commitment to provide some freedom from the normal constraint that 'Government business shall have precedence at every sitting' (Standing Order No.14(8)). Unless the House decides otherwise, these are the only Friday sittings held each Session.

Cumulatively, 13 sitting Fridays amounts to 65 hours of parliamentary time for consideration of PMBs each Session, each Friday sitting being five hours in length (9.30am-2.30pm).

This time can be encroached upon by petitions, Urgent Questions, Points of Order to the Speaker, and government statements.

A few additional sitting Fridays may be provided if the Session is of extended length (as for example in the 2010-12 and 2017-19 Sessions).

The government can make additional time available other than on Fridays to facilitate discussion of a PMB if it wishes, but it is rare for it to do so.

After a bill is introduced at First Reading, the Speaker will ask the MP 'Second Reading what day?'

The MP must name an available Friday sitting day.

The first seven of the 13 sitting Fridays are set aside for Second Reading of Ballot Bills: those MPs who secured the top seven places in the ballot thus have the first choice of dates.

MPs outside the top seven are likely to be listed second or third on the Order Paper on the Friday that is chosen, and their bills will therefore have less chance of being debated.

The remaining 8th to 13th sitting Fridays are dedicated to consideration of those PMBs that have made most progress.

The 13th and final sitting Friday allotted for PMBs - colloquially known as the 'slaughter of the innocents' on account of its attrition rate - is largely taken up with Lords amendments.

At this point, a complex order of precedence dictates which bills can make use of the remaining time. This order of precedence includes:

  • consideration of Lords amendments;

  • Third Readings;

  • new Report stages;

  • adjourned Report stages;

  • adjourned Committee proceedings;

  • bills appointed to Committees of the Whole House; and

  • Second Readings.

A backbencher can also lay down a PMB for consideration on any non-sitting Friday.

In the event that sitting days are extended (as happened in the longer-than-usual 2010-12 session) then the PMBs on the Order Paper for these new sitting days have priority.

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