H O U S E of L O R D S
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
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
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 Queens Speech which sets out the Governments
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.
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
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 :
|First Reading |
- Formal reading out of title of the Bill
- 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||
- 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
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
- 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
- Bill becomes an Act.
(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
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
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
|H O U S E of L O R D S|
S W 1 A 0 P W