A bill is the first step in making a law. The Bill is actually a proposal for a new law or an amendment to an existing law that is presented to Parliament for debate. The government is usually the source of the idea. A bill sponsored by the government is known as a government-sponsored bill. It might also come from an ordinary member of Parliament. If it does, the bill is referred to as a private member’s bill.

Before becoming an Act, a Bill can begin in either the Commons or the Lords and must be adopted in the same form by both Houses and must be assented to be the Monarch. It is pertinent to mention that, by a convention, Monarch never refuses the assent to the bill passed by parliament. The last time a Monarch who refused the royal assent to a bill passed by parliament was Queen Anne who withheld the assent to the Scottish Militia Bill, 1708 passed by Parliament. She withheld the assent on the advice of ministers that the Scottish Militia could be disloyal.

A government sponsored bill which is introduced in the House of Commons must go through the following stages; then must be transmitted to the House of Lords and finally presented to Monarch for royal assent.

Stages in the House of Commons

First Reading

The first reading of a bill is the first step in its journey through the House of Commons; it is often a formality that occurs without debate. A bill’s first reading can happen at any time during a parliamentary session. What happens in the first reading is that the short title of Bill is read out, followed by an order for it to be printed. For the first time, the Bill is published as a House of Commons paper.

Second Reading

The second reading is the first opportunity for MPs to discuss the Bill’s main principles. It typically takes place two weekends after the first reading.

The second reading debate is opened by the government minister, spokesman, or MP who is responsible for the Bill. The bill is explained at the second reading. The reasons that the bill is needed are discussed. Those who want the bill to pass must convince others that it is desirable.

The official spokesperson for the Opposition replies with their thoughts on the Bill. Other Opposition parties and backbench MPs contribute their views to the debate.

The Commons votes at the end of the debate on whether the Bill should be given a second reading, enabling it to advance to the next stage. To get past the second reading, the bill must receive more than half of the votes in the House of Commons.

It is possible for a Bill to receive a second reading without a debate if MPs agree on its progress.

Committee Stage

After the second reading, the Bill moves on to committee stage, where each clause (part) and any amendments (proposals for change) can be thoroughly examined. It normally begins a few weeks after a bill’s second reading, but this is not always the case.

A committee is a group of members from either house who examine the details of a bill and make recommendations for changes. Every clause in the Bill is agreed upon, amended, or removed from the Bill, however this may occur without debate.

There are two different kinds of committees:

Standing Committee:  A standing committee is a group of members who meet on a regular basis to review bills in a specific area of government.

Committee of the whole House: The detail of a bill is scrutinised by all members of a House of Parliament in a committee of the whole House.

In the House of Lords, a ‘committee of the whole House’ is common. In the Commons it is reserved for the most vital laws, such as those preventing terrorism.

If either committee decides that the bill needs to be changed in some way, amendments will be proposed. Both chambers must vote on amendments.

If the Bill is introduced in the House of Commons, the committee will be allowed to hear from experts and interest groups outside of Parliament.

Report Stage

If the Bill has been changed, it is reprinted before proceeding to the next stage.

After the committee stage, the Bill, along with the report of the committee, goes to the floor of House of Commons for the report stage, where the Bill amended by the committee can be reconsidered, debated and further modifications proposed.

At the Report Stage all MPs have the chance to speak and vote, and debates on long or complex bills may last several days. All MPs have the right to propose changes to the Bill or new clauses (parts) that they believe should be included.

Third Reading

The report stage is usually followed by debate on the third reading of the bill. It normally happens on the same day as the following item of business after the report stage. The third reading is the last chance for the Commons to debate a Bill’s contents.

Debate on the Bill is usually brief and limited to what is actually in it, rather than what may have been included, as it was at second reading. At third reading in the Commons, no amendments (proposals for modification) can be made to a Bill. The House decides (votes on) whether to approve the Bill’s third reading at the end of the debate.

Bill Transmitted to the House of Lords

The Bill introduced in and passed through the above mentioned stages in the Commons will transmit to and be considered by the House of Lords. In the House of Lords the bill will again pass through First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage, Report Stage and Third Reading.

When a Bill passes third reading in House of Lords, it is sent back to the House Commons (where it originated) for consideration of the Lord’s amendments. The Bill’s exact wording must be agreed upon by both Houses.

The Bill can get Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament after the Commons and Lords agree on the final version. When the two Houses are unable to reach an agreement, the Bill is declared dead. If certain requirements are met, the Commons can use Parliament Acts to pass the Bill in the following session without the Lords’ consent; as the Lords’ legislative powers are constrained by a combination of law and convention. For example, when the government of the day does not have a majority in the Lords, the Salisbury Convention ensures that major government bills pass. In reality, this implies that the Lords will not try to defeat a government bill in the Second or Third reading on an item mentioned in an election manifesto.

Similarly, any bill passed by the House of Commons in three different sessions without being amended might be presented for royal assent without the approval of the Lords under the Parliament Act of 1911, as long as two years had passed since the bill was introduced. It also provided in the Act that Money bills that deal with taxes or government expenditure originate in the Commons and must receive Royal Assent within a month of being introduced in the Lords, even if the Lords do not pass them.

The Lords could delay other bill for up to two years but this was limited from three sessions over two years to two sessions over one year by the Parliament Act of 1949.

Royal Assent

In her capacity as head of state, the Queen gives royal assent to the bill. This is the bill’s final stage in Parliament, and it is effectively the monarch’s official consent. After that, the bill will become an Act of Parliament.

When a Bill receives Royal Assent, the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons customarily proclaim it in both Houses during a suitable break in each House’s proceedings.

Black Rod interrupts the Commons’ proceedings at prorogation (the formal end of a parliamentary year) and summons MPs to the Lords Chamber to hear the Lords Commissioners announce Royal Assent for each Bill.


www. publications.parliament.uk




Colin Turpin & Adam Tomkins, British Government and the Constitution

Anthony King, The British Constitution

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