How laws are made in Parliament
Parliament passes statute law (legislation). The Government introduces most new laws - although some can be initiated by an MP - and many are included in the Queen's speech at the opening of each session of Parliament.
White and Green Papers
Proposals for new laws may be outlined in government White Papers. These may be preceded by consultation papers, sometimes called Green Papers, which seek comments from the public. There's no requirement that a White or Green Paper be introduced.
A Bill is a proposal for a new law or a change to a law presented before Parliament. When the contents of a Bill have been debated and agreed by both House of Parliament, it gets approved by the Monarch (called Royal Assent) before becoming an Act of Parliament and law.
There are different types of Bill:
- Public Bills: these relate to public policy and can start in either house, with Ministers introducing most public Bills. Peers in the House of Lords have an unlimited right to introduce ‘Private Members’ Bills’ (public Bills introduced by a backbench member), unlike the House of Commons. However, due to time constraints in the House of Commons, such Bills will need general support to succeed.
- Private Bills: the provisions contained within these Bills do not apply to everyone, but rather to a specific section of people within the community. Often local authorities may promote private Bills as they are usually in respect of a local matter. Such Bills can begin in either house, but discussion surrounding them is usually held ‘off the floor’ and Select Committees can consider objections. Private Bills must be advertised through newspapers and in writing to all interested people.
- Hybrid Bills: these are a cross between a public and a private Bill. The procedure follows that of a private Bill initially, and following consideration by a select committee (if necessary) it will be treated as a public Bill.
If you object to a Public Bill you can:
- write to your MP or a Lord
- contact the government department responsible for the Bill
- lobby Parliament
- submit evidence to the relevant Public Bill Committee
Any group or individual affected by a Bill can object to it through petitions, which are then examined by committees of MPs and of Lords.
As mentioned previously, Bills can be first introduced in either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. There is no real difference in the process followed once a Bill has been introduced into either House. The most important point to remember is that the Bill must be approved in the same form by both Houses.
The passage of a Bill first introduced into the House of Commons is as follows:
1. House of Commons
- First reading: this stage usually takes place in a parliamentary session without any debate.
- Second reading: takes place at least two weekends after the first reading. This provides an opportunity for MPs to debate the principles of the Bill. At the end of the second reading, the House of Commons votes as to whether the Bill can proceed to the next stage.
- Committee stage: This is when the details of the Bill are debated, usually in a Public Bill Committee. Every clause is agreed to, changed or removed completely from the Bill; and proposed amendments will be selected and debated.
- Report stage: The Bill returns to the floor of the House for MPs to debate and suggest further proposed amendments.
- Third reading: no further proposals can be made and debate is limited to the content of the Bill in its existing form. The House then votes on whether to approve the third reading.
2. House of Lords
The process mirrors that in the House of Commons, except that all proposed amendments can be considered at Committee Stage (rather than only selected amendments), and amendments can be made in the House of Lords even at the third reading, unlike the Commons. The final stage is known as the ‘passing’ of the Bill, which allows peers to comment and vote on the Bill.
3. Consideration of amendments
The House of Commons will consider the amendments made by the Lords and, if the Bill is contentious, it may pass between the Houses until an agreement is reached.
4. Royal Assent
Once both Houses are notified of the Queen’s assent, the Bill becomes an Act.
Acts of Parliament
An Act of Parliament creates a new law or changes an existing one. An Act is a Bill approved by both Houses of Parliament and formally agreed by the reigning monarch.
An Act can come into force immediately, at some other date, or in stages. Its practical implementation is the responsibility of the relevant government department.
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