House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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21. Private Members’ Business

Private Members’ Bills

Bills sponsored by private Members fall into two categories, public bills and private bills. Public bills deal with matters of public policy under federal jurisdiction, whereas private bills concern matters of a private or special interest to specific corporations and individuals and are designed to grant the beneficiary power to do something which cannot be done otherwise or to exempt the beneficiary from some existing legal obligation. Procedures relating to public bills are discussed in this chapter while those concerning private bills are dealt with in Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.

A private Member’s bill is typically drafted with the assistance of legislative counsel to ensure that the text conforms with statutory law should it be given Royal Assent. In drafting each legislative proposal, legislative counsel act on Members’ clear, written instructions about the purposes and objectives of the proposed legislation and ensure that draft bills are acceptable in terms of their form and compliance with legislative and parliamentary conventions. A private Member’s bill is certified by legislative counsel to indicate that the bill is in correct form. The certified copy of the bill is then returned to the Member.

Members also have the option of proposing a motion to have a bill prepared by a standing, special or legislative committee. [37]  If such a motion is selected following the draw to establish the order of precedence, it is debated during Private Members’ Hour. If selected as a votable motion and later adopted, it becomes an order for a committee to prepare and bring in a bill. If the committee prepares and reports a bill to the House, a motion to concur in the committee’s report may be moved by a private Member during Private Members’ Hour if the concurrence motion has also been selected following the draw to establish the order of precedence. However, if a Minister were to move concurrence in the report, the motion would be taken up during Government Orders. [38]  The adoption of the motion for concurrence in the committee report constitutes an order to bring in a bill based on the committee’s report. If the bill is sponsored by a private Member and is subsequently selected to be votable, when the motion for second reading is proposed to the House, the Speaker immediately puts all questions to dispose of the second reading stage without debate or amendment. [39]  If it is not designated votable, the bill is debated for one hour and dropped from the Order Paper. If a Minister undertakes to sponsor the bill, it is considered during Government Orders and all questions to dispose of second reading are also put without debate or amendment.

Financial Limitations

There is a constitutional requirement that bills proposing the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister. Since a Minister cannot propose items of Private Members’ Business, a private Members’ bill should therefore not contain provisions for the spending of funds. However, since 1994, a private Member may 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. [40]  Before 1994, the royal recommendation had to accompany the bill at the time of its introduction. The Speaker is responsible for determining whether any bill requires a royal recommendations and the Speaker is empowered to decline to put the necessary questions on bills which require, but have not received, a royal recommendation. [41]

With respect to the raising of revenue, a private Member cannot introduce bills which impose taxes. The power to initiate taxation rests solely with the government and any legislation which seeks an increase in taxation must be preceded by a Ways and Means motion. [42]  Only a Minister can bring in a Ways and Means motion. However, private Members’ bills which reduce taxes, reduce the incidence of a tax, or impose or increase an exemption from taxation are acceptable. [43] 


Once a bill has been drafted, the Member must give 48 hours’ notice of his or her intention to introduce the bill, indicating the committee to which the bill will be referred following second reading. The title of the bill and the name of its sponsor are then published in the Notice Paper. After the 48-hour notice period has expired, the bill may then be introduced during Routine Proceedings and given first reading whenever the Member is ready to proceed. [44]

Similar Items

If a Member submits notice of a bill which is judged to be substantially the same as another item of Private Members’ Business already submitted, the Speaker has the discretionary power to refuse the most recent notice. If the Speaker refuses the notice, the sponsoring Member is advised and the bill is returned. [45]  This is intended to prevent a number of similar items from being selected following the draw for the order of precedence. In a 1989 ruling, Speaker Fraser clarified that for two or more items to be substantially the same, they must have the same purpose and they have to achieve their same purpose by the same means. [46]  Thus, there could be several bills addressing the same subject, but if their approaches to the issue are different, the Chair could deem them to be sufficiently distinct.

The question has arisen whether a private Member’s bill which is similar to a government bill may be placed on the Order Paper and debated. The authorities and past rulings show that there is nothing to prevent such similar items from being placed on the Order Paper simultaneously. However, because the House cannot take more than one decision on any given matter during a session, a decision on any one of these bills (for example, the adoption or rejection of the second reading motion) will prevent further proceedings on any other similar bills. [47]  Consideration of non-votable bills, if dropped from the Order Paper after debate, does not preclude consideration of other similar, or even identical, bills since the House does not take a decision on non-votable items. [48] 


A Member who would like to support a bill already appearing on the Order Paper may notify the Clerk of the House in writing that he or she wishes to second the bill. The names of the Members wishing to support the bill will be added to the list of seconders on the Order Paper[49]  Once the order for second reading has been proposed to the House, no additional names may be appended. [50]  No more than 20 Members may jointly second an item under Private Members’ Business. [51]  The Member who seconds the motions for introduction and first reading of the bill in the House, as well as subsequent stages, need not be one of the seconders listed on the Order Paper.

Introduction and First Reading of Private Members’ Bills

To be eligible for selection following the draw for the order of precedence, private Members’ bills must be introduced and given first reading in the House before the draw is held. On the day the Member chooses to introduce the bill, he or she rises during Routine Proceedings when the Speaker calls “Introduction of Private Members’ Bills”. [52] The Speaker then announces the title of the bill and the motion for leave to introduce the bill is automatically deemed carried, without debate, amendment or question put. [53]  The Member is permitted to give a succinct explanation outlining the purpose of the bill. [54] Since no debate is permitted at this time, the Member often simply reads the explanatory note in the bill. The bill is then deemed read a first time and ordered to be printed, also without debate, amendment or question put. [55] 

The bill is then transferred to the list of “Private Members’ Business — Items Outside the Order of Precedence”. This list of items, which may be consulted at the Table in the Chamber or on the electronic version of the Order Paper, does not actually appear in the printed publication of the Order Paper. Having been placed on this list, the bill is set down for second reading and reference to a committee. When submitting a bill for inclusion on the Notice Paper, the sponsor must indicate the standing, special or legislative committee to which the bill is to be referred following second reading. A two-week period must elapse between the first and second reading of the bill. [56] 

Senate Public Bills Sponsored by Private Members

Some private Members’ public bills originate in the Senate and are sent to the Commons after passage by the Senate. When the Speaker calls “First Reading of Senate Public Bills” during Routine Proceedings, the Member sponsoring a Senate bill in the House is permitted 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, and the bill is automatically added to the bottom of the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business without having gone through the draw process. [57] 

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