Committees on opposed bills

45.10The Committee of Selection will not treat a bill as an opposed bill unless a petition has been presented against the bill in accordance with Standing Order 171A (see para 44.3 ) and has not been withdrawn, or unless the Chairman of Ways and Means reports to the House, in accordance with Standing Order 85, that the bill, though unopposed, ought to be treated as opposed (see para 45.14 ). If the Chairman so acts, the bill again stands referred to the Committee of Selection, in accordance with Standing Order 112.1

The Committee of Selection appoints committees to consider opposed bills and fixes the time of the first sitting of committees (subject to the provisions of Standing Order 177).

The committee on every opposed private bill consists of four members having no local or other interest in the bill or bills referred to them.2 It is not the practice to appoint Members who have spoken on the second reading of the bill. When appointing the committee, the Committee of Selection nominates one of the four Members chair of the committee, for which there is an informal convention that the Chair for successive committees alternates between the Government and the Opposition.

Members of a committee on an opposed private bill, before they are entitled to attend and vote, are required to sign a declaration that their constituents have no local interest, and that they has no personal interest, in the bill; that they recognise their obligation to attend every meeting of the committee; and that they will never vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto.3

If a Member who has signed this declaration should subsequently discover that they have a direct interest in a bill, or in a company who are petitioners against a bill, they will withdraw from the committee, after stating the fact, and may, if necessary, be discharged by the House (or by the Committee of Selection) from further attendance.4

Notice of appointment must be given to each member of a committee on any opposed private bill, and at the same time a blank form of the declaration (see above) is sent to them, with a request to sign it and return it to the Private Bill Office.5

If a Member neglects to return the declaration in a reasonable time, or does not send a sufficient excuse, the Committee of Selection will report their name to the House.

If the Committee of Selection is dissatisfied with a Member's excuse, it will require them to serve upon a committee, when their attendance will become obligatory, and if necessary may be enforced by the House.

The Committee of Selection has the power to discharge any Member or Members from a committee, and substitute an equal number of other Members.6 It is not normal practice, however, to discharge Members from a committee while a bill is under consideration.7

Under Standing Order 177, an interval of not fewer than six clear days is required to elapse between the committal of an opposed private bill and the first sitting of the committee: in the case of an opposed personal bill the required interval is not fewer than three clear days. Subject to this order, the Committee of Selection is empowered by Standing Order 113 to fix the time for holding the first sitting of the committee on every opposed private bill.

Footnotes

  1. 1. SO 109–114.
  2. 2. SO 111.
  3. 3. SO 120.
  4. 4. CJ (1945–46) 237.
  5. 5. SO 115.
  6. 6. For example, in case of illness (Minutes of Evidence of Committee on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, 3 July 1979, pp 13–14. See also Minutes of Evidence of Committee on the Crossrail Bill, 10 February 1994, p 1) and where a Member felt that their impartiality might be in doubt (HC Deb (1984–85) 74, cc 333–34; Minutes of Evidence of the Joint Committee on the Exeter-Launceston-Bodmin Trunk Road (Okehampton Bypass) Compulsory Purchase Order 1984, 5 March 1985, pp 1–2).
  7. 7. A member of the committee on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, who had several times been reported to the House (as was formerly required by Standing Order 122) for being absent from its sittings, finally declared that she would take no further part in its proceedings. The Committee of Selection appointed another Member in her place, but he in turn indicated that he was not prepared to attend. The House then gave leave for the committee to sit with a quorum of two for the remainder of its proceedings: HC Deb (1985–86) 91, cc 1011–48.