Second reading

45.5There must be not fewer than four clear days between the first and second reading of a private bill.1

The agent for the bill is required to give not fewer than three clear days' notice in writing to the Clerk in the Private Bill Office of the day proposed for the second reading; and no such notice may be given until the day after that on which the bill has been ordered to be read a second time.2

Notice of second reading of a bill originating in the House of Commons must be given for a day not later than the eighth day after first reading. If the House resolves to adjourn beyond the eighth day, the notice may be given for the day to which the House has adjourned or the following day.3

In giving any bill a second reading, the House approves the general principle, or expediency, of the measure. There is, however, a distinction between the second reading of a public and of a private bill. A public bill is founded on public policy, and the House, in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and approves that policy; whereas the expediency of a private bill is founded upon allegations of fact which have not yet been proved, so that the House, in agreeing to its second reading, affirms the principle of the bill conditionally, subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee. This is the first occasion on which the bill is brought before the House otherwise than purely formally, or in connection with the standing orders; and if the bill is opposed on principle, that is the proper time to attempt its defeat. If the second reading is deferred for three or six months, or if a reasoned amendment is carried (see para 28.46 ), or if the bill is rejected, no new bill for the same object can be offered until the next session (see para 28.17 ).

The scope of debate on second reading of a private bill has been limited so as not to allow general references to the affairs of the promoter other than those directly concerned with the matters contained in the bill.4 However, the scope of debate on general purposes bills may often be broad. For example, the Speaker ruled that the British Transport Commission Bill 1949 (the first private bill promoted by a nationalised industry to be discussed in the House) was a general purposes bill and that the debate could therefore extend beyond the contents of the bill, although it must remain related to its purpose and not traverse the constitution and powers of the Commission, which had already been settled by Parliament.5

In 1969, the Walsall Corporation Bill, West Bromwich Corporation Bill and the Wolverhampton Corporation Bill, which had similar provisions, were debated together. A Business of the House motion was agreed to which permitted debate after the moment of interruption: the first bill was read a second time immediately after the moment of interruption, the second after a debate lasting eight minutes, and the third immediately on the question being put.6

In 2000, the Kent County Council Bill [Lords] and the Medway Council Bill [Lords], which contained identical provisions in respect of adjoining local government areas for the regulation of the market in second-hand goods, were set down for second reading at 7 pm.7 The Kent County Council Bill was taken first, but the Chairman of Ways and Means allowed debate to encompass the provisions of the Medway Council Bill as well, since its provisions were so similar. The first bill was agreed to without division, and the second bill was also agreed to without division and without further debate.8

In 2008, the Deputy Speaker allowed debate on the first of six similar bills relating to street traders to range over the other five, even though they were not expected to be dealt with on the same day; debate on later bills was expected to be specific to the particular bill.9

On 19 April 2000, the second reading of the Mersey Tunnels Bill was set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means for debate at 7 pm. No Member present moved the second reading, the order was dropped, and the House resumed consideration of the preceding business.10


  1. 1. SO 170.
  2. 2. SO 198.
  3. 3. In 1962, the agents for the Runcorn and District Water Bill failed to give notice for second reading of the Bill until after seven days (as was then prescribed) had elapsed. The House agreed to a motion by the Chairman of Ways and Means permitting the agents to rectify the matter, CJ (1961–62) 265; see also ibid (1867–68) 289; ibid (1936–37) 267.
  4. 4. For example, regulations put into force by a railway company in common with other companies could not be discussed on a bill promoted by that company, but should be dealt with by a general bill, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Bill 1913, HC Deb (1913) 52, cc 654–55. On the London County Council (Money) Bill 1927, discussion of the alleged grievances of certain temporary employees who were performing work of a permanent character was not permitted, ibid (1927) 206, c 1974. On a bill to authorise a local authority to raise money by the issue of bills, debate was not permitted on the objects upon which the money might be spent, Luton Corporation Bill 1968, ibid (1968–69) 778, cc 845, 848.
  5. 5. HC Deb (1948–49) 461, cc 1765–66. Subsequent rulings have reaffirmed this: ibid (1950) 473, c 655; ibid (1950–51) 485, c 514; ibid 487, c 1760; ibid (1951–52) 497, c 105; ibid (1952–53) 512, c 1362; ibid (1953–54) 524, c 282, etc.
  6. 6. HC Deb (1968–69) 782, cc 554–610.
  7. 7. Three hours before the moment of interruption.
  8. 8. HC Deb (1999–2000) 350, cc 388–481.
  9. 9. HC Deb (2007–08) 477, c 519; ibid 481 c 959.
  10. 10. CJ (1999–2000) 342; HC Deb (1999–2000) 348, cc 1035–36.