Private Members Bill

Prospective Act of Parliament tabled by backbench MPs

In Short

Private Members Bills are Bills tabled by backbenchers, as opposed to Government Bills. Members of the House of Lords can also table Private Member's Bills that perform their initial stages in that house.

Around 150 Private Members Bills are tabled each year, of which around 7 succeed in becoming Acts of Parliament

How do they do this?

Backbenchers can table their bills through Presentation, Ballot, or Ten Minute Bill methods. There is no limit to the number of Private Members Bills any member may introduce.

When do they get debated?

Private Members Bills are only debated on Fridays, which are devoted solely to Private Members Bills. The Government may elect to cede some of its Parliamentary time to a Private Members Bill it supports and wishes to see passed.

There are 13 Fridays in each Session allocated for Private Members Bills. The first seven Fridays are for bills at any stage of debating, the final six sessions are reserved for only those Bills that have completed the initial bill stages and require further Commons time for completion.

Although a great many bills may be scheduled for debate each Friday, it is rare for the House to debate those beyond the first three Bills listed on the Order Paper. Those Bills that were not debated on the day chosen must then propose a future date, where they will be placed at the back of any business already scheduled for that day. The first bills on the Order Paper are typically Ballot Bills.

So why does everyone complain about the process?

Because there are many ways in which MPs and the Government can prevent Bills from progressing without actually having to address the merits of a bill. Despite many proposals for reforming the process, there is little support from any Government to increasing the possibility of Private Members Bills passing through Parliament.

The techniques used to obstruct Private Members Bills include:

Filibustering (or 'Talking Out')

    The Speaker does not use their power to impose a time limit on members speeches on Fridays, and there is no requirement for an MP to give way once they have the floor. Should a backbencher not support a Bill, or having been instructed by their Party to obstruct it, they can fill the debating time with a meaningless words and if they are still talking at the end of the day (the 'moment of interruption') the Bill must then be scheduled for a future date.

    Rather more dastardly, if the Bill to be obstructed is one that follows another that is likely to pass, the talker-outer can wax lyrical about the first Bill, and considerably reduce the amount of time available for the second Bill without saying a word against it.


    After the moment of interruption, the Speaker will list all of the Bills that were on the agenda but not debated due to lack of time. This process determines whether there is anybody objects to the Bill proceeding without a debate (called passing 'on the nod' as there is no vote taken). If an MP shouts 'Object!' then the Bill fails to pass. For the vast majority of Bills, this is what will occur, as MPs will desire to debate the Bill and not have it pass without one. However, some Bills have support from the Government and other parties that the legislation should proceed without debate, but as it only takes one MP to shout 'Object', the process can still be halted at a single persons' whim

No Programme Motion

    Unlike Government Bills, there is no process by which Private Members Bills can be timetabled. Therefore, filibustering can occur at any stage of the Bill process. Bill Stages can be being drawn out until the end of the Session, where the Bill will lapse

Show me the money

    If a Bill creates any additional cost to implement, or imposes any additional taxation on the population, a motion must be passed authorising said cost or taxation. Such motions are passed routinely for Government Bills following second reading, and it may be imagined that a House that has voted for a Bill to proceed beyond Second Reading would be willing to authorise the expenditure required to implement it. However, the power to table these motions is only given to Ministers. Therefore, should be Government decide that it does not wish your bill to pass, it can simply withhold the opportunity to pass the motion by refusing to table it. The Bill cannot then proceed further.

What's the counter argument?

Philip Davies, an inveterate talker-outer, gave his perspective on the process in Oral evidence to the Procedure Committee.

  • The Rules allow it to be done, so he's entitled to do it
  • If people really cared about the Bill, they would be attend in sufficient numbers to force a vote, but they don't
  • People object to him privately about 'motherhood and apple pie' Bills, but nobody else is willing to put their head above the parapet and be honest about it

For more details on the issues affecting Private Members Bills, see the 2015 House of Commons Procedure Committee Report

What's the process for passing a Private Members Bill?

Private Members Bills are still legislation that have to pass through the same process as other prospective Acts of Parliament.