Explain the stages a bill must go through to become an act of parliament.

A bill goes through a number of stages before it becomes an Act.

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Green and White Papers now form an important part of the pre-legislative process to parliamentary law making. A Green Paper outlines the tentative proposals for legislative changes and invites observations. A White Paper is different in that it sets out firm proposals for new law – at times a draft bill may accompany a White Paper.


Green Papers were introduced in 1967 and have now become a regular feature of modern law making. Green Papers are issued by the appropriate Minister having responsibility for the matter and they are written by civil servants. Green Papers give interested parties both inside and outside of parliament an opportunity to comment upon the proposed new law, they are a starting point and outline an initial idea.


There are different types of bill and a bill can be a Public bill, Private bill or a Private Members’ bill. Public Bills deal with matters of public policy and represent proposed changes to the law and applies to the population as a whole.  Nearly all Public Bills that are passed on to the statute books are those introduced by Government.


Private Bills are usually promoted by organisations, like local authorities or private companies and create powers beyond, or in conflict with, the general law.


Private Members' Bills can be introduced in either House and must go through the same stages as Public Bills. They are introduced by MPs and Lords who are not government ministers. Because not as much time is allocated to Private Members' Bills they are less likely to become law. Such bills are introduced by ballot, under the ten minute rule or by presentation.


A bill goes through a number of stages before it becomes an Act. A bill may be started in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords and will need to go through the same procedure in each House and all the stages before it can become law.


First Reading – this is a formality when the bill is first introduced to the House. There is no debate at this stage and the name of the bill and the main aims are read out but there is a vote which will need to be passed if the bill is to proceed.


Second Reading – This is the main debate on the bill when the MPs take the opportunity to debate the main principles. The debate is controlled by the speaker as he or she gives their consent to those who may speak during the debate. At the end of the debate there will be a vote and a majority must approve the bill if it is to progress.


Committee Stage – A detailed consideration is given to the bill on a clause by clause basis. The Committee will be made up of between 16 and 50 members chosen according to their qualification and experience as well as the political composition of the House of Commons to ensure that the opposition and minority parties are properly represented. These are known as Standing Committees.


Report stage – This is vital if members are to be kept up to date with developments. A report will be made, to the whole House, of the amendments put forward and approved at the Committee Stage. There will be no Report Stage if no amendments were made at the the committee Stage and the bill will be sent straight to the Third Reading.


Third Reading – This, in effect, is the final vote on the bill. There can be a further debate on the bill but it requires at least 6 members to request the debate. This will be unusual as it is virtually a formality at this stage bearing in mind it needed to have a majority to progress to this point. This does not rule out the possibility of amendments being made in the House of Lords at the Third Reading stage. After a Bill has passed its third reading in both Houses it goes back to the first House (where it started) so that the changes proposed by the second House can be considered. The wording of the Bill has to be agreed by both Houses.


To reach the final wording the Bill can go backwards and forwards several times between the two House for amendments to be debated and agreed. This movement between the two Houses is often referred to as 'Ping Pong'.


The other House – If the bill started in the House of Commons, the above five stages are then repeated in the House of Lords. If the bill had started in the House of Lords then it passes to the House of Commons.


Royal Assent – This is the final stage at which point the bill becomes law. The stage requires the approval of the Monarch. This is a constitutional formality under the Royal Assent Act 1961 and the Queen does not have to read the contents of the bill . The last time a monarch refused to sign a bill was back in 1707 when Queen Anne refused to give her assent to the Scottish Militia bill.


The bill will come into force on a date given in the Act or on a date appointed by the appropriate Government Minister. If the Act is silent on the matter, the Act will take effect at midnight following the Royal Assent.


The second House, namely the House of Lords, is an unelected House and a question that is often asked is, 'what would happen in the event that the Lords refused to approve of legislation passed to it by the House of Commons which consists of elected MPs?' The answer is that the House of Lords' ability to hold up or prevent bills from becoming law are now limited by the Parliamentary Acts 1911 and 1949.


In the case of 'Money bills' which may deal with financial matters such as taxation, the Government may, in order to avoid delay, reintroduce the bill in the House of Commons after one month and, if it is passed a second time, it becomes law. In the case of ordinary bills the House of Lords cannot delay their progress after a year.


It is accepted that the House of Lords does carry out a check and balance upon the House of Commons so that the House of Commons rarely resorts to using the Parliamentary Acts. Recent examples can however be found in the War Crimes Act 1991 and the Hunting Act 2004.


The War Crimes Act 1991 was concerned with the ability to prosecute war criminals for war crimes even after a long period and the House of Lords' opposition was considered out of touch. Having been rejected by the House of Lords it went on to become only the fourth statute since the 1911 Parliament Act to be enacted under its terms and the bill was passed with just the authority of the House of Commons. Similarly The Hunting bill had met sustained opposition from the House of Lords despite apparent widespread support for the proposals elsewhere. After many years of frustration and lack of progress, the Parliamentary Acts were invoked by the speaker of the House of Commons and The Hunting Act was finally pushed through.


It is also worth noting that the Scotland Act 2016 which amended the Scotland Act 1998 and sets out the powers that are being transferred to the Scottish Parliament and or the Scottish Ministers and follows the proposals of the Smith Commission Agreement 2014 which in turn follows the referendum on Scotland's independence. As a by product of Scotland's new powers, there will be a new stage added to the usual law-making process at Westminster. This will allow MPs for English constituencies to vote on issues deemed to only affect England – 'English votes for English laws'. The new measures would permit English MPs to veto the legislation before all MPs from across the United Kingdom voted in the bill's final readings. At present the Bill gives the task of deciding whether a Bill only affects England to the Speaker, and all MPs in the Commons will still have to pass legislation at other stages of the process. The Speaker will be permitted to explain his or her reasoning for certifying an issue as English or English and Welsh only and may call on two senior MPs to help make the ruling.


The revised procedures take effect from the 22 October 2015 and operate under approved Standing Orders which government Parliament's business.




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