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BILLS AND HOW THEY BECOME LAW

A Bill is a draft law. It has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act.

This note describes briefly the different types of Bills and illustrates overleaf how a Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. The chart notes important differences between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Public Bills

These are Bills of general effect and relate to public policy. Bills may start in either House. The title of a Bill which starts in the House of Lords is followed by the initials [HL].

Most major Bills are introduced by Ministers and are outlined in the Queen’s Speech which sets out the Government’s plans for each parliamentary session. Public Bills introduced by a backbench member are called Private Members’ Bills. They must not be confused with Private Bills. Unlike in the Commons, peers have an unrestricted right to introduce Private Members’ Bills and time is normally found for them. However, because time is limited in the Commons, few of these Bills survive unless they command general support. They are often seen as a useful means of testing opinion.

Private Bills

These Bills contain provisions which explicitly apply to only part of the community rather than the community as a whole. Most are local in character, promoted by bodies such as local authorities or statutory bodies seeking special powers. Private Bills begin in both Houses in equal numbers and procedure is broadly the same in each. Almost all of their consideration takes place off the floor of the House, where those whose interests are adversely affected by a Private Bill can have their case heard by a Select Committee.

Hybrid Bills

These are a cross between a Public and a Private Bill i.e. Public Bills which affect private interests. A Hybrid Bill initially goes through the same procedures as a Private Bill where, if petitions are presented, it is then sent to a Select Committee; it is subsequently treated as a Public Bill.

S T A G E S  of  L E G I S L A T I O N :

HOUSE OF COMMONS
First Reading
  • Formal reading out of title of the Bill by Clerk.
  • Ordered to be printed.

Second Reading
  • Usually two weekends after First Reading.
  • Main opportunity to debate the Bill. A division represents a direct challenge to the principle of the Bill.

Committee Stage R
  • Usually starts two weeks after Second Reading and can take anything from one meeting to several months.
  • Chance to vote on the detail, clause by clause.
  • Amendments selected by Chairman (advised by Clerk).
  • All Bills go to one of four Committee types:

    (i) Committee of Whole House:- for constitutional Bills and parts of the Finance Bill;

    (ii) Standing Committee - most usual procedure. 16-50 Members, in proportion to overall party strengths.

    (iii) Select Committee [Rarely used].

    (iv) Special Standing Committee [Rarely used] - has powers to send for persons, papers and records; holds 4 sittings and hears oral evidence in private and public.


Report Stage
  • Usually two weekends elapse between end of Committee Stage and Report Stage.
  • A further chance to consider amendments, new clauses and, for MPs not on the Committee, to propose changes.

Third Reading
  • Usually immediately after Report Stage.
  • Final chance to debate the Bill.
  • A vote gives chance to show dissatisfaction with amended Bill.
  • The Bill now goes to the Lords

HOUSE OF LORDS
First Reading R
  • Formal.
  • The Bill is reprinted in the form finally agreed by the Commons. (see note below)

Second Reading
  • Two weekends after First Reading.
  • Debate on general principles of the Bill.
  • Government Bills included in the election manifesto are, by convention, not opposed at the Second Reading, but "reasoned" amendments may be tabled as a means of indicating dissent and can be voted on.

Committee Stage R
  • Fourteen days after Second Reading and often spread over several days.
  • Bills usually go to a Committee of the Whole House; but sometimes to Committees off the floor.
  • Detailed line by line examination.
  • Unlike the Commons, there is no selection of amendments - all can be considered.
  • No guillotine, as in the Commons, and debate on amendments is unrestricted.

Report Stage R
  • Fourteen days after the end of Committee Stage for all Bills of considerable length and complexity.
  • Further chance to amend Bill.
  • May be spread over several days.

Third Reading and Passing
  • Unlike in the Commons, amendments can be made provided the issue has not been voted on at an earlier stage.
  • Passing: The final opportunity for peers to comment and vote on Bill.

Consideration of Amendments
  • Depending on which House the Bill started in, each House now considers the other's amendments.
  • Bills with contentious amendments pass back and forth between the Houses until agreement is reached. If each House insists on its amendments, a Bill is lost.
  • Bills with agreed amendments await Royal Assent.

Royal Assent
  • Queen' assent formally notified to both Houses.
  • Bill becomes an Act.
Notes
(1)    For the purpose of this chart, the Bill is assumed to have started in the Commons. Bills may equally be introduced first into the Lords. There are no substantive differences in the stages followed by a Bill starting in the Lords.
(2)    R = Bill is reprinted at these points if amended at previous stage.
(3)    To follow the progress of a Bill,


COMMITTEE STAGE ON PUBLIC BILLS:

HOUSE OF LORDS

Committee of the Whole House

Most Bills are considered in the Chamber of the House with all members eligible to participate.

There are three procedures which may replace Committee of the Whole House:-

Grand Committee

The Committee has unrestricted membership – all Lords are free to attend and participate – but no votes can take place.

Public Bill Committee

A limited number of Lords are selected to conduct the Committee Stage of Government Bills which are of a technical and non-controversial nature. Lords not selected for the Committee can participate but may not vote.

Special Public Bill Committee

This is a Public Bill Committee which can take written and oral evidence on Bills, within 28 days of appointment, before considering the Bill line by line. Any Bill can be referred to such a Committee.

There are two procedures which are additional to the Committee Stage above:

Select Committee

This relatively rare procedure allows detailed investigation and taking evidence and may take place at any stage between Second and Third Readings. The Committee reports the Bill to the House, recommending whether or not the Bill should proceed. If it is to proceed, the Select Committee may make amendments and the Bill is then re-committed.

Scottish Select Committee

This procedure allows a Select Committee to take evidence on Government Bills relating to Scotland after Second Reading and to travel to Scotland to do so. The evidence is then reported to the House before re-commitment.

OCTOBER 1998

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© Parliamentary copyright 1998
Prepared 2 November 1998