Parliamentary Law Making

Parliamentary Law Making

Before a bill passes through Parliament, a consultation process often takes place. Green papers and White papers are often issued, outlining proposals for the bill, in order to canvas opinion and to generate debate before the bill comes before Parliament.

Parliamentary Law Making, figure 1

A__ __Green Paper is a consultation document issued by the government which contains policy proposals for debate and discussion before a final decision is taken on the best policy option. It will often contain several alternative policy options to consider. The aim of a green paper is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.Unsurprisingly, it is printed on pale green paper.

A White Paper__ __is a document issued by a government department which contains detailed proposals for legislation. It is the final stage before the government introduces its proposals to Parliament in the form of a bill. When a White Paper is issued, it is often accompanied by a statement in the House from the secretary of state of the department sponsoring the proposals. A White Paper is sometimes produced following the consultation process which is undertaken when the government issues a Green Paper.

When a bill has been drafted, often by a government department, the minister responsible for the department must introduce the bill, usually in the House of Commons to the rest of Parliament, who will debate and amend it during a series of stages. Bills can also begin their journey in the House of Lords. Let’s examine the journey of a government bill, beginning in the House of Commons.

At__ __First Reading, the title and the main aims of the bill are read out. No debate occurs at this stage. A verbal vote is then taken to decide whether or not to take the bill to Second Reading. If a majority agrees, then a date is set for Second Reading, which is often set as the next day.

At Second Reading, the main policy areas of the bill are debated by the whole House, often led by the minister who proposed the bill. A vote is then taken and if a majority agrees, then the bill will move to the Committee Stage, where greater scrutiny will take place. Once a bill passes to the Committee Stage, it is unlikely that the bill will fail to become an Act of Parliament, although the nature of the bill might change, following amendments.

At the Committee Stage, a standing committee of between 16 and 50 MPs conduct a line-by-line examination of the bill. The MPs are usually chosen for their expertise in the area and a proportion come from all parties. They debate each and every clause, in order to refine the language used and to amend any problematic issues that present themselves. A vote must be taken on each amendment that is made, before the bill moves to the Report Stage.

At the Report Stage, the standing committee reports back to the whole House on the issues raised in the Committee Stage and on any amendments made. The purpose of this stage is also to ensure that the standing committee adheres as far as possible to the principles generally agreed by the House at Second Reading. The House may make additional amendments at this stage if necessary, but these must be approved by a further vote. Once the bill passes a vote, it may move on to the Third Reading.

The Third Reading__ __is where there is a review of the whole bill. This stage is often a formality, as most of the issues would have been addressed at earlier stages. After a successful vote, the bill then passes to the House of Lords, where the same stages are repeated, albeit with a few differences.

When a bill reaches the House of Lords, First and Second Reading are no different in essence to their counterparts in the House of Commons. However, when the bill reaches the Committee Stage, there are some key differences to note. Firstly, in the House of Lords, the whole house conducts the Committee Stage - there are no standing committees in the House of Lords. Secondly, although the House of Lords has the authority to delay a bill, they only have limited power to do so, due to the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. A delay to money bills can only be up to one month and to all other bills up to one year. After that, the House of Commons can bypass the House of Lords and take the bill straight to Royal Assent. The House of Commons is seen as superior in this regard, due to the fact that their members are democratically elected.

Parliamentary Law Making, figure 2

If the Lords reject or request amendments to a bill, passed to them by the Commons, there may be a period where the two Houses pass the bill back and forth until a compromise is agreed. This is known colloquially as ‘ping pong’.

The final stage is Royal Assent. This is where the monarch, or rather someone appointed on her behalf, signs off on a bill, bringing it into law. The monarch has not given Royal Assent in person since 1854 and it is customary for assent to be given by the Speakers of the two Houses. Additionally, Royal Assent has not been refused since 1707, when Queen Anne refused to give assent to the Scottish Militia Bill. It is therefore a formality today. On the day that assent is given, the bill will usually become law at midnight, unless there needs to be a delay, for example to prepare or train people, such as the Police or local authorities to implement the law.

What is a Green Paper used for?
Who normally introduces the bill?
At what stage do ministers complete a line-by-line examination of a bill?
True or false, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 limit the power of the House of Lords?
Who normally gives Royal Assent on behalf of the monarch?