Committee on unopposed bills

45.21The constitution of the committee on unopposed bills, which is laid down by Standing Order 132, has already been described (see para 45.9 ). Its proceedings are briefer and less formal than those of a committee on an opposed private bill; but, because there are no opponents of the bill, a special responsibility rests on the committee in its consideration of the preamble and provisions of the bill to ensure that the interests of the public are properly safeguarded and that the bill conforms with the standing orders of the House. This responsibility is imposed chiefly upon the Chairman of Ways and Means, who is ex officio Chair of the committee when present, and who, being an Officer of the House as well as a Member, is entrusted with the special duty of examining, with the assistance of the Speaker's Counsel, every private bill, whether opposed or unopposed. The promoters therefore have to prove the preamble to the satisfaction of the committee by the production of the necessary evidence, which is usually not taken upon oath, and by such explanations as may be required of them. Counsel are not heard, the promoters' case being presented by the agent for the bill.

The committee on unopposed bills has on several occasions found the preamble not proved,1 adjourned consideration for further evidence2 or made a special report.3

Standing Order 85 empowers the Chairman of Ways and Means to inform the House that in their opinion any unopposed private bill should be treated as an opposed bill. They can exercise this power, whether or not the committee on unopposed bills has begun to consider the bill.4 Under Standing Order 112, if such a report is made to the House, the bill stands again referred to the Selection Committee, and is then dealt with as an opposed bill.

Footnotes

  1. For example, Northam UDC Bill, CJ (1968–69) 187; Yorkshire Derwent Water Bill, ibid (1969–70) 315; Ross and Cromarty County Council Bill, ibid (1974–75) 473; and Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Bill, ibid (1993–94) 437.
  2. Reports of Committees on Private Bills (1960–61) 99; City of Westminster Bill [Lords] (Private Business (1993–94) 239); London Local Authorities Bill [Lords] (ibid (1995–96) 209); Barclay Group Reorganisation Bill [Lords] (ibid (2000–01) 378); and HSBC Investment Banking Bill [Lords] (ibid (2000–01) 391).
  3. Reports of Committees on Private Bills (1957–58) p 3.
  4. CJ (1935–36) 309; ibid (1955–56) 295; ibid (1983–84) 628, where a petition against alterations had been deposited.