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Members of the House of Lords and Members of the House of Commons who are not on the government frontbench can introduce private member’s bills. Such bills are usually short and on uncontroversial matters. However, there is no restriction on the subject matter of private member’s bills, and they have in the past been used to implement major social reforms, including the legalisation of homosexuality for men over the age of 21 in England and Wales and changes to the law abortion introduced the 1960s. In recent years, private member’s bills have also been introduced on contentious issues such as assisted dying for the terminally ill.

House of Lords Procedure

There is no procedural distinction drawn between private member’s bills and government bills in the House of Lords. Since the 2015–16 session, the order in which House of Lords private member’s bills are debated has been established by a ballot at the start of each session.

Time Available

As in the House of Commons, the majority of time spent on legislation in the House of Lords each session is spent on government bills. However, the amount of time made available in the House of Lords to debate private member’s bills tends to be more flexible than in the House of Commons; there is no formal limit on the number of days when private member’s bills can be debated, for example, and there is no fixed time for when a debate on a private member’s bill must end.

Royal Assent

While there may be greater opportunity to debate private member’s bills in the Lords, this does not mean they are more likely to receive royal assent. There are a number of hurdles such a bill must cross, including time being made available to progress through the House of Commons. As a result, of the small numbers of private member’s bills that receive royal assent each session, only a minority, if at all, tend to start in the House of Lords.

Further Information

This briefing does not constitute procedural advice. Members requiring such advice should consult the Legislation Office’s A Guide to Private Members’ Bills in the House of Lords

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