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 interest to specific corporations and individuals and are designed to confer special powers or benefits upon the beneficiary or to exclude the beneficiary from the general application of the law. The vast majority of private Members’ bills are public bills. Procedures relating to public bills are discussed in this chapter, while those concerning private bills are dealt with in Chapter 23, “Private Bill Practice”.


A private Member’s bill is typically drafted with the assistance of legislative counsel in the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to ensure the appropriateness of the proposed legislation, taking into account existing laws, drafting conventions, and constitutional and formal requirements. In drafting each legislative proposal, legislative counsel act on the Member’s clear instructions about the purposes and objectives of the proposed legislation. A private Member’s bill is certified by legislative counsel in accordance with the Standing Orders to indicate that the bill is in the correct form.56 The certified copy of the bill is then sent to the Member. All private Members’ public bills must be certified.

Financial Limitations

The Constitution Act, 1867, and the Standing Orders require that bills proposing the expenditure of public funds be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister.57 Since a Minister cannot propose items of Private Members’ Business, a private Member’s bill should therefore not contain provisions for the spending of funds.

However, since 1994, a private Member may introduce a public bill containing such provisions and it may proceed through the legislative process, provided that a royal recommendation is obtained by a Minister before the bill is read a third time.58 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 recommendation. If the bill still does not have a royal recommendation by the time the House is ready to decide on the motion for third reading, then the Speaker is empowered to stop the proceedings and rule the bill out of order.59 The Speaker has the duty and responsibility to ensure that the constitutional requirements, as reflected in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, are upheld. There is no provision in the Standing Orders relating to financial procedures which would permit the Speaker to leave it to the House to decide. The House may not set aside statutory or constitutional provisions by unanimous consent.60 Furthermore, the requirement for a royal recommendation is not a criterion for determining the votability or non-votability of a private Member’s bill.61

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.62 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.63 If a private Member’s bill in the order of precedence is dropped from the Order Paper because it should have been preceded by a ways and means motion, the Standing Orders allow its sponsor, within five sitting days of the item being dropped, to give written notice that he or she will be adding another item under his or her name to the order of precedence on the Order Paper.64


Once a bill has been drafted and certified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, the Member must give 48-hours’ notice of his or her intention to introduce the bill, indicating the committee (standing, special or legislative)65 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 and given first reading during Routine Proceedings whenever the Member is ready to proceed.66

Similar Items

If a Member submits notice of a bill which is judged by the Speaker to be substantially the same as another item of Private Members’ Business already submitted by another Member, 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.67 This is intended to prevent a number of similar items being placed in 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.68 This was reiterated in a ruling given by Speaker Milliken in November 2006.69 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.70

When a bill originating in the Senate has been passed by that Chamber, a message is sent informing the House and requesting its concurrence in the measure. The Speaker reads the message to the House and the bill is placed on the Order Paper under the heading “First Reading of Senate Public Bills”. No notice is required. If it is a private Senator’s public bill, it is placed in the order of precedence automatically following first reading. As no notice is required, even if such a bill is substantially the same as a private Member’s bill already introduced in the House, it is procedurally acceptable because the provisions of the Standing Orders giving the Speaker the power to refuse a notice of a similar or identical bill do not apply.71

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 will prevent further proceedings on any other similar bills.72 Consideration of bills deemed non-votable, 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.73


Members who wish to support a bill already appearing on the Order Paper may notify the Clerk of the House in writing of their desire 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. Once the order for second reading has been proposed to the House, no additional names may be appended.74 No more than 20 Members may jointly second an item under Private Members’ Business.75 The Member who seconds the motions for introduction and first reading of the bill in the House, as well as for subsequent stages, need not be one of the seconders listed on the Order Paper.76

Introduction and First Reading of Private Members’ Bills

To be eligible to be placed in the order of precedence, private Members’ bills originating in the House must be introduced and given first reading. When a Member on the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business is about to be eligible to bring forward an item for debate, if that item is to be a bill, it must be introduced no later than the day on which the order of precedence is created or replenished.77 On the day the Member chooses to introduce the bill, the Member rises during Routine Proceedings when the Speaker calls “Introduction of Private Members’ Bills”.78 Having been given advance notice from the Member, 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.79 The Member is permitted to give a succinct explanation outlining the purpose of the bill.80 The bill is then deemed read a first time and ordered to be printed, also without debate, amendment or question put.81

The bill is then transferred to the list of “Private Members’ Business—Items Outside the Order of Precedence”. This list of items may be consulted on the electronic version of the Order Paper; it does not appear in the printed publication. Having been placed on this list, the bill awaits placement in the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business on the Order Paper.

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 entering into debate.82 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.83 When sponsoring a Senate public bill or a private bill from either House, Members do not use their place in the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business. However, each Member may sponsor only one Senate public bill or one private bill over the course of a Parliament.84