Interpretation of ‘main object’ in relation to a bill

35.25In relation to the bill authorising it, a charge to public expenditure may vary from being the sole purpose to covering minor provisions which only incidentally involve expenditure.

A bill may have for its main object the creation of a new service which consists in the disbursement of public funds. Such a bill (eg the Legal Aid and Advice Bill (1948–49)) is regarded as having the establishment of the service rather than the resulting charge to public expenditure as its main object. On the other hand, a bill of which the main object is to extend such a service to new classes of persons or to relax the conditions upon which it is available (eg the Legal Aid Bill (1959–60)) is regarded as having the creation of an additional charge on public expenditure as its main object.

Furthermore, a bill may have several purposes, of which some consist only in the creation of a charge on public expenditure, while others do not create such a charge at all or create one only incidentally. In such cases it has to be considered whether the public expenditure purposes are sufficient to outweigh the substantive provisions which are not primarily directed at public expenditure. Thus, the main object of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill (2016–17) was considered to be the provision of government financial contributions to certain savings accounts, creating a charge on the public revenue, even though other provisions of the same bill allowed for a tax charge on early withdrawals from those accounts greater than the government contribution; and the Bill was therefore introduced under Standing Order No 50.1 On the other hand, the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill (1995–96) had two quite distinct purposes: to provide for the making of grants out of public expenditure in respect of nursery education; and to empower the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools to borrow from private sources. Although the first purpose by itself would have satisfied the criteria of Standing Order No 50, the second purpose (which did not involve public expenditure) was regarded as of comparable significance and in no way incidental to the first. The Bill was therefore introduced without recourse to the Standing Order.


  1. 1. For an earlier example, see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 756.