Private Members’ Business

Introduction

Each sitting day, one hour is set aside for the consideration of bills and motions presented and sponsored by private members. In this context, private members are members of the House of Commons who are not cabinet ministers or parliamentary secretaries. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker also do not sponsor or introduce private members’ bills or motions.

Private members’ proposals can take the form of a bill, a motion or a notice of motion for the production of papers.

A notice of motion for the production of papers is a request that the government compile or produce certain papers or documents and table them in the House.

Private Members’ Bills

Private members’ bills fall into two categories: public bills and private bills. Public bills (the vast majority) deal with matters of public policy under federal jurisdiction. Private bills concern matters of a private nature or of special interest to specific corporations and individuals. Private bills are less common and are usually first introduced in the Senate.

A private member’s bill (as opposed to a government bill) is usually drafted with the assistance of legislative counsel in the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to ensure that the text conforms to statutory law.

Under the Constitution, bills that propose the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can only be obtained by the government and presented by a minister. A private member can introduce a public bill containing provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds, provided that a royal recommendation is obtained by a minister before the bill is read a third time and passed.

A private member’s bill cannot impose, increase or extend the application of a tax, but it can impose or increase an exemption from taxation.

On the day the member decides to introduce a bill in the House, they are allowed to give a brief explanation of its purpose without engaging in debate. The motion for first reading is then deemed carried without debate, amendment or question put.

Debate on the general scope of a bill takes place at second reading. Debate must focus on the principle of the bill and not on its specific provisions. When a private member’s bill is agreed to at second reading, it is referred to a committee for study. After it has considered the bill, the committee reports it back to the House, with or without amendment. The bill returns to the House for concurrence at report stage and third reading.

Motions

A private member’s motion typically proposes that the House declare its opinion on some topic or that it order a certain course of action to be taken, either by the House itself or by one of its committees or officers.

Private members’ motions are used to introduce a wide range of issues and are framed either as orders or resolutions, depending on their intent. Motions that propose a declaration of opinion or purpose, without ordering or requiring a particular course of action, are considered resolutions. The government is not bound to adopt a specific policy or pursue a course of action as a result of the adoption of such a resolution since the House is only stating its opinion or making a declaration of purpose. Motions, the object of which is to give a direction to committees, members or officers of the House or to regulate House proceedings, are considered orders once adopted by the House.

No motion sponsored by a member who is not a minister can contain provisions for either raising revenue or spending funds, unless it is worded in terms that only suggest a certain course of action to the government. A private member may choose to move a motion proposing the expenditure of public funds as an alternative to a bill that might require a royal recommendation, provided that the terms of the motion only suggests this course of action to the government without ordering or requiring it to do so.

Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers

A notice of motion for the production of papers is a request that the government compile or produce certain papers or documents and table them in the House.

A motion of this type, if adopted, becomes either an order that the government table certain documents in the House or an address to the Governor General requesting that certain papers be sent to the House.

List for the Consideration of Private members’ Business and the order of precedence

At the beginning of the first session of a Parliament, the names of all members are placed in a random draw to establish the list for the consideration of Private Members’ Business.

The order of precedence is established by transferring to it the names of the first 30 eligible members on the list for the consideration of Private Members’ Business.

After the transfer of the first 30 names, the order of precedence is replenished when necessary by adding the names of the next 15 members on the list who have an eligible bill or motion.

The list for the consideration of Private Members’ Business and the order of precedence continue from session to session, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1.

The order of precedence must be established no later than the 20th sitting day following the establishment of the list for the consideration of Private Members’ Business.

Once a member and their eligible item from the Order Paper or Notice Paper is placed in the order of precedence, they can begin the process for their item of Private Members’ Business.

Votable and Non-votable Items of Private Members’ Business

All items (bills and motions) of Private Members’ Business are deemed votable by default. Members who do not want their item to come to a vote must inform the Clerk of the House in writing.

The Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business may decide that an item is non-votable. If the member disagrees with the subcommittee’s decision, they can challenge it before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. There is also a process of last resort, in which the member may appeal to the House. The member can also substitute another bill or motion.

List of Criteria for Making Items of Private Members’ Business Non-Votable

  1. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are outside federal jurisdiction.
  2. Bills and motions must not clearly violate the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  3. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are substantially the same as ones already voted on by the House of Commons in the current session of Parliament, or as ones preceding them in the order of precedence.
  4. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are currently on the Order Paper or Notice Paper as items of government business.

NOTE: For the purposes of the application of these criteria, bills shall be assessed only against other bills and motions only against other motions.

Private Members’ Hour

Private Members’ Business is considered for one hour every sitting day. At the beginning of a Parliament, Private Members’ Business is suspended until the order of precedence has been established.

During Private Members’ Hour, items on the order of precedence are considered in the order in which they are listed. One item is usually considered each day.

If the sponsor of an item cannot move their motion on the day set by the order of precedence, an exchange may be arranged with another member on the order of precedence.

Time Limits on Debates on Items of Private Members’ Business

Private Members’ bills are entitled to two hours of debate at second reading and to two hours of debate at report stage and third reading. Votable motions are also entitled to two hours of debate.

Non-votable items, including those on which an appeal was lost, receive only one hour of debate.

The Standing Orders set out specific time limits for dealing with private members’ bills at committee stage. The committee must report the bill back to the House, with or without amendment, within 60 sitting days. The committee may request a one-time extension of 30 sitting days to consider the bill or it may recommend that the bill not be proceeded with further. Otherwise, the bill is deemed to have been reported without amendment.

Votes on Items of Private Members’ Business

When the time for debate on a votable item has expired, the Speaker puts the question on the item to the House. If at least five members request a recorded vote, it is automatically deferred to the next Wednesday that the House sits.

Recorded votes on Private Members’ Business are taken row-by-row, starting with the sponsor and moving to the back row on the sponsoring member’s side of the House.

Effects of Prorogation on Private Members’ Business

Unlike items of Government Business, items of Private Members’ Business continue from session to session. Pursuant to the Standing Orders, items of Private Members’ Business are automatically reinstated at the stage they had completed at the time of prorogation. However, items of Private Members’ Business cease to exist with the dissolution of Parliament and can be resubmitted for consideration once a new House of Commons commences sitting.