You are here:

House of Commons Library

Private Bills in Parliament: House of Commons Background Paper

Published Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This House of Commons Background Paper sets out how private bills are passed through the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Jump to full report >>

Private legislation is legislation which affects specific groups of people or localities, unlike public legislation, which affects all people equally. It proceeds through the Houses of Parliament in a similar manner to public legislation, but there are a number of additional elements to the process.

Private legislation is promoted by persons or organisations outside Parliament, who must use one of a small group of registered parliamentary agents who have demonstrated knowledge of the area. Those who will be specially affected by the bill have the right to petition against it. Private bills can start their progress in either the Commons or the Lords, but must pass through both Houses before becoming law. Each House appoints Examiners to examine private bills for compliance with the standing orders for private business.

The parliamentary stages of private legislation are tightly guided by standing orders. At Committee stages, both promoters and opponents of the bill may be heard by a Committee on Opposed Bills. (A Committee on Unopposed Bills considers the bill when no opposition exists.)

In the 19th century, a majority of legislation passed by Parliament was private business. The principal categories were public works and transport schemes (railways, waterways and harbours), permissions for divorce, and the settlement of estates. Today, the last of these is rarely required; and the need for the first two has been all but removed by the Transport and Works Act 1992, and the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986.

Private bills today are mainly promoted by local authorities and other public bodies, seeking extensions to their powers. Around two new private bills are promoted in a typical Parliamentary session, but as they may take several sessions to pass through Parliament, there are between six and ten active at any one time.

The Scottish Parliament has separate legislative procedures for private bills having effect in Scotland.

Commons Briefing papers SN06508

Author: Richard Kelly

Topics: Legislative process, Parliamentary procedure

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.