Parliament, Acts of

views updated Jun 27 2018

Parliament, Acts of. The procedure whereby a bill becomes an Act of Parliament is lengthy and has evolved over many centuries. The main stages of a bill in the House of Commons are first reading, second reading, committee, report, and third reading. The first reading is purely formal with the title of the bill read out. If the bill is controversial, the second reading debate is likely to occupy a full parliamentary sitting. The debate is about the policy or principle embodied in the bill, not its detail. At the end of the debate, a division is likely to be called, which the government will usually win. However, most bills, in number though not in significance, are uncontroversial and not subject to a division.

After second reading, most bills are sent to a standing committee for detailed discussion. The standing committee consists of between 16 and 50 members, chosen to reflect the party balance and for their knowledge or experience of the bill's subject-matter. The bill (unless guillotined) is considered clause by clause, amendment by amendment. The minister may respond to criticism by bringing in amendments to his own bill, or by promising to consider amendments when the bill is reported back to the full House. The inbuilt government majority will ensure that most opposition amendments are defeated, but there are occasional revolts by government supporters, and governments are sometimes outvoted in committee. Some very important bills, especially those of constitutional significance, will go for their committee stage not to a standing committee but to the committee of the whole—i.e. the full House, sitting under rather more flexible procedure.

The bill, as amended, goes back to the full House for its report stage: this is a rather less thorough and less time-consuming version of the committee stage, but taken on the floor of the House. The government's majority in the House as a whole is usually more reliable than in committee, and the minister may take the opportunity to reverse defeats in committee.

The last stage is the third reading, when the House once again debates the principle of the bill. If, as is likely, it passes at this stage, the bill will go to the House of Lords to undergo a similar process. The main difference is that the committee stage in the Lords will be taken (normally) in the full House. The bill may be amended by the Lords and, exceptionally, rejected. If passed with amendments, the bill goes back to the Commons to consider the changes. For the bill to become law in that session, the two Houses will have to agree on the full text. The bill is then sent to the monarch for royal assent, which is invariably given.

The procedure outlined is that for public bills. Private bills, those relating to a particular corporation, individual, or company, go through a distinct, complex, and semi-judicial process. Private bills should not be confused with private members' bills, which are simply public bills introduced by a backbench MP.

Hugh Berrington

Acts of Parliament

views updated May 17 2018

Acts of Parliament. See Parliament.