45.7After a bill has been read a second time, an instruction may be given by the House to the committee on the bill. An instruction may be moved after an opposed bill set down for debate has been read a second time, or may be considered independently of the motion for second reading (see para 19.11 ). The procedure followed in relation to instructions is described at para 28.78.

When a bill is referred to the Examiners after its second reading, an instruction is moved not ‘to the committee on the bill’, but ‘to any committee to which the bill may be referred’,1 since compliance with the further standing orders must be proved or the standing orders must be dispensed with, before the bill can be committed.

If a bill has been reported, and is subsequently recommitted, an instruction may similarly be given to the committee on the recommitted bill.2

The principles which underlie the proposal of instructions in connection with public bills are described in Chapter 28. In considering how far these principles may relate to instructions in respect of private bills, four important distinctions must be observed.

First, Standing Order No 65 (Public), which gives a general power to committees to make such amendments in bills as they think fit provided they are relevant to the subject-matter of the bill, does not apply to committees on private bills. Second, the process of petitioning for an additional provision provides machinery for the incorporation in a private bill of amendments which would otherwise be inadmissible (see below); whereas, in a public bill, it is impossible for a committee to make amendments which go beyond the scope of the bill as contemplated by Standing Order No 65 (Public) unless an express instruction has been given by the House. Third, Standing Order 175 prevents the moving of instructions to authorise amendments which could normally only be made by means of an additional provision. Fourth, an instruction to a private bill committee may be mandatory or permissive. A mandatory instruction defines the course of action which a committee must follow and leaves it no option in the exercise of its functions with regard to the particular matter which is the subject of the instruction.3 A permissive instruction confers on a committee powers to consider matters relevant to the subject-matter of the bill, which would not otherwise be within its competence, or would not come within the ordinary scope of its inquiry.

Instructions requiring or empowering a committee to insert provisions which might affect the property and interests of outside parties, although they would not have received the protection to which they are entitled under the standing orders, are specifically prohibited by Standing Order 175. Broadly speaking, therefore, no instruction can be moved to a committee on a private bill that seeks to introduce amendments to enlarge the powers sought by the bill, or which affect private interests.4 This does not apply to a hybrid bill.5 Subject to this overriding Standing Order, the question whether an instruction is or is not in order depends on principles deduced from the rulings of the Chair, which are examined in detail below and which differ according to whether the instruction is mandatory or permissive.

Mandatory instructions to committees on private bills may be divided into three categories:

  1. Instructions directing the committee to insert definite provisions in a bill or to require safeguards or security before passing certain provisions, or directing the taking of certain evidence.6
  2. Instructions directing the committee to omit definite provisions from a bill.7 Standing Order 175 would prevent the moving of an instruction if the provision to be struck out were one limiting the powers of the promoters.
  3. Instructions directing the committee to inquire into and, in certain cases, to report upon matters which in the opinion of the House are relevant to the bill, or can be suitably investigated in connection therewith.8

For a discussion of specific instances, see Erskine May (22nd edn, 1997), pp 900–2.

Permissive instructions are rare and have been principally confined to those empowering the committee to inquire into matters which are relevant to the subject-matter of the bill, or which can be suitably investigated in connection therewith, or to procedural matters. Such an instruction has been employed, for example, to consolidate a number of bills,9 to divide a single bill into two bills,10 and to hear evidence from parties other than those entitled to be heard.11

In addition to the restriction placed upon the moving of instructions by Standing Order 175, there are several other grounds upon which instructions have been disallowed (see also para 28.75 ).

  1. An instruction is out of order if it seeks to traverse the decision of the House in rejecting a reasoned amendment on the second reading of the bill.12
  2. A permissive instruction is unnecessary and out of order if it proposes to confer powers which the committee is already able to exercise.13
  3. An instruction is out of order if the objects which it proposes are clearly of an impractical kind, or if its terms are too vague to afford definite directions to the committee.14
  4. An instruction is out of order if it imposes an unreasonable restriction on the discretion of the committee. An instruction has also been ruled out of order which would prevent a committee leaving out a clause contained in a bill as presented.15
  5. An instruction is out of order if it deals with a question of public policy which, regard being had to the object and purposes of a private bill, should more properly be the subject of a public bill.16


  1. 1. Private Business (1984–85) 246.
  2. 2. CJ (1921) 342.
  3. 3. For cases where a committee has been unable fully to carry out a mandatory instruction, see Special Report from the Committee on the British Transport Commission Bill, CJ (1959–60) 207, and Special Report from the Committee on the Esso Petroleum Company Bill, CJ (1959–60) 300; HC 280 (1959–60).
  4. 4. HC Deb (1929) 226, c 355.
  5. 5. CJ (1957–58) 91; ibid (1985–86) 512.
  6. 6. See CJ (1929–30) 201; ibid (1951–52) 176 (motion withdrawn); ibid (1955–56) 224; ibid (1959–60) 160, 265.
  7. 7. See CJ (1955–56) 224, 238; ibid (1959–60) 264; ibid (1974) 183 (negatived on division); ibid (1978–79) 148; ibid (1983–84) 609; ibid (1984–85) 459.
  8. 8. See CJ (1956–57) 203 (withdrawn); ibid (1958–59) 145 (negatived); ibid (1987–88) 216; ibid (1989–90) 576.
  9. 9. CJ (1957–58) 254; ibid (1990–91) 328.
  10. 10. CJ (1914–16) 180–81; HC Deb (1915) 73, c 2.
  11. 11. Private Business (1959–60) pp 209, 215.
  12. 12. Parl Deb (1898) 56, c 1514; cf also ibid (1901) 90, c 1536.
  13. 13. Parl Deb (1898) 56, c 1514; cf also ibid (1894) 26, c 116.
  14. 14. Private Business (1898) p 306; ibid (1903) p 207; cf also Parl Deb (1902) 111, c 442.
  15. 15. Private Business (1948–49) p 59 (Speaker's private ruling).
  16. 16. See Parl Deb (1901) 91, c 55; ibid (1901) 97, cc 1312–13; HC Deb (1923) 165, c 811; ibid (1929) 226, c 355.