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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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There are two main categories of bills: public bills and private bills. While public bills deal with matters of national interest (jus generale publicum),[45] the purpose of private bills is to grant special powers, benefits or exemptions to a person or persons, including corporations (jus particulare).[46]

*   Public Bills

A public bill may be initiated by a Minister, in which case it is referred to as a “government bill”. A private Member may also initiate a public bill, in which case it is called a “private Member’s bill”.

Government Bills

A government bill is a written legislative initiative submitted to Parliament by the government for approval, and possibly for amendment, before becoming law. Such bills relate to matters of public interest and may include financial provisions. Government bills are normally introduced in the House of Commons, although bills that do not provide for the expenditure of public funds or the levying of new taxes may be introduced in either House.

Private Members’ Bills

A private Member’s bill is the text of a legislative initiative submitted to Parliament by a Member who is neither a Minister nor a Parliamentary Secretary, for approval, and possibly for amendment, before becoming law. Most but not all bills of this type originate in the House of Commons.

Debate on private Members’ bills can take place only during the hour set aside daily for Private Members’ Business.[47] Before being taken up for debate by the House, any such bill must have been selected following a random draw, as provided for by the Standing Orders.[48]

*   Private Bills

The purpose of a private bill is to confer special powers or benefits (in excess of or in conflict with the general law) upon one or more person or group of persons (including corporate entities) or to exempt them from the application of a statute.[49] It may not be introduced by a Minister, and must be founded on a petition signed by the person(s) promoting it. Thus, the distinction between a public bill and a private bill is primarily a function of the purpose of the bill.

While most private bills are introduced in the Senate, they may also be introduced in the House of Commons, although this is now a rare occurrence. Private bills before the House are dealt with as Private Members’ Business, since they may only be moved by Members who do not hold ministerial office. Although private bills must pass through the same stages as any other legislative measure, there are preliminary stages that must be completed before they are introduced.[50]

Bills that appear to be both public and private in nature are referred to as hybrid bills. While British parliamentary practice makes allowance for this type of bill,[51] Canadian parliamentary procedure requires that all bills be designated either as public bills or as private bills.[52] When a single bill incorporates both private and public considerations, it is dealt with as a public bill.[53]

[45] An example is Bill C‑2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (Journals, October 18, 2007, p. 25).

[46] An example is Bill C‑1001, An Act respecting Bell Canada (Journals, April 12, 1978, p. 638). Since private bills now rarely originate in the House of Commons, they are usually numbered as Senate bills. See, for example, Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada (Journals, December 7, 2006, p. 885).

[47] See Chapter 21, “Private Members’ Business”.

[48] Standing Orders 86 to 99.

[49] Beauchesne, A., Beauchesne’s Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, 6th ed., edited by A. Fraser, W.F. Dawson and J.A. Holtby, Toronto: The Carswell Company Limited, 1989, pp. 285‑6.

[50] See Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.

[51] In a ruling dated February 22, 1971, Speaker Lamoureux stated that “the fact that [a bill that has both private and public characteristics] may correspond to what is a hybrid bill in ... the British House, does not mean it should be treated that way in our own Parliament” (Journals, p. 351).

[52] In a ruling dated March 12, 1875, Speaker Anglin ruled that a bill that involved private considerations could not be introduced as a public bill (Journals, p. 213). See also Journals, October 23, 1975, pp. 795‑6.

[53] Journals, February 22, 1971, p. 352; Debates, April 15, 1985, pp. 3699‑700.

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