Petitions against private bills

44.3Most petitions against a private bill originating in the House of Commons must be presented on or before 30 January (Standing Order 171A). Petitions against any other private bill, with a few exceptions, must be presented not later than the tenth day after the first reading of the bill.1 The exceptions are petitions against a personal bill and petitions complaining of amendments proposed in the ‘filled-up bill’ (that is, the version of the bill showing the amendments proposed by the promoter at committee stage, see para 45.13 ), of any proposed additional provision, or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the bill before the committee. A petition against an alteration or a petition against an additional provision may be submitted at any time before the committee has reported the bill to the House.

The time limit for depositing petitions against personal bills, which normally originate in the Lords, is subject to directions by the Speaker2 as are proceedings in the Commons generally on personal bills.3

Under Standing Order 126, petitions of the following kinds are automatically referred to the committee on the bill,4 if they are compliant with the standing orders:

  • a petition against a private bill which complies with the requirements of Standing Order 171A (see above);
  • a petition in which the petitioners complain of amendments proposed in the filled-up bill, of any proposed additional provision or of any matter which arises during the progress of the bill before the committee.

Under Standing Order 127, the promoters of an opposed private bill are entitled to be heard before the committee on the bill in person, or by their counsel or agents in favour of the bill and against any petitions against the bill. Similarly, petitioners against the bill, subject to the rules and orders of the House, and to the scope of their petition, are entitled to be heard upon their petition in person, or by their counsel, agents, or other representative (see para 45.22 ). Since November 2017, Standing Order 127 has empowered the committee on the bill to group petitions that raise similar objections to the bill, with the agreement of the relevant petitioners.

If a petition is presented after the time limit, the only way in which the petitioners can obtain a hearing is by presenting a petition, praying that the standing orders be dispensed with in their case, and that they may be heard by the committee. The petition will stand referred to the Standing Orders Committee; and if the petitioners are able to show any special circumstances which entitle them to such consideration and, particularly, that they have not been guilty of negligence, the standing orders may be dispensed with.5 In 1999, the Standing Orders Committee allowed a late petition against the London Local Authorities Bill [Lords], principally on the grounds that, when approached by the petitioners asking how they might be involved in committee discussions on the bill, Westminster City Council, the principal promoters, had not pointed out that they had a right to petition.6

When the Chairman of Ways and Means has ordered an unopposed bill to be treated as opposed (see para 45.14 ), the House has ordered that petitions against the bill presented within a specified period should be referred to the committee on the bill.7

Under Standing Order 128, no petition will be considered which does not distinctly specify the grounds on which the petitioners object to any of the provisions of the bill. The petitioners can be heard only on the grounds so stated. If the grounds are not specified with accuracy, the committee may direct a more specific statement to be given, in writing, but limited to the grounds of objection which had been inaccurately specified; but this power has seldom been exercised.


  1. When 30 January falls on a Sunday, the petitions required to be presented on or before that day have to be presented on or before 29 January. If the last day of a period prescribed for presenting any other petition falls on a day on which the House is not sitting, the time is extended by the provisions of SO 171A to the next day on which the House sits.
  2. See eg Private Business (1962–63) 225, (1971–72) 133, (1974–75) 201 and (1984–85) 119.
  3. SO 191A. For procedure on personal bills see paras 43.3, 46.41.
  4. For petitions against bills ‘substituted’ for orders under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, see para 42.19 and Erskine May (22nd edn, 1997), pp 953–55.
  5. For example, Private Business (1993–94) 1, CJ (1993–94) 125. For a petition to dispense with SO 171A, together with a petition for not dispensing with that Standing Order, see Private Business (1982–83) 93, 105, 109; ibid (1992–93) 79, 91. In the first instance the petition to dispense with the Standing Order was withdrawn; in the second, the Standing Orders Committee declined to grant a dispensation after the petitioner had failed to appear.
  6. CJ (1998–99) 458.
  7. CJ (1901) 240; ibid (1911) 81. See also ibid (1907) 422, for an instruction to a committee to which an unopposed bill had been recommitted to hear witnesses.