Acts of Parliament start as simply an idea for new law. This idea must be introduced to the Cabinet as a whole following approval and drafting by the relevant Cabinet Committee.
Green Papers: essentially a consultation document as it sets out the idea for a new law and the reasoning behind it. The Minister for the relevant government department will be responsible for the Green Paper and will receive comments on the proposal from people of locus standii. The Minister may then wish to amend, re-draft or scrap the idea before moving on to the next stage.
White Papers: comes after the consultations have taken place and the Minister has made any amendments. It is a set of firm proposals which are passed to the relevant Cabinet Committee and must be approved by the whole Cabinet before being bassed to Parliamentary draftsmen ready to be formally drafted into a bill.
Types of Bill
- Government Bills - preceded by Green and White Paper process. Usually become law. An example is the Human Rights Act 1998.
- Private Members Bills - Non-government bills introduced by individual back-bench MPs having won a ballot to gain the right to introduce it. Often fail. An example is the Abortion Act 1967.
Private Bill - Intended to affect a particular area, organisation. Always begin in HOL. Not often used nowadays. Example is British Railways Act 1969.
Hybrid Bill - A combination of a Private Bill and a Public Bill. Affects a particular group and the public at the same time. Example is Channel Tunnel Act 1987.
A bill can start in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, other than Finance Bills, which must start in the HOC.
First Reading - the stage that is effectively a formality that allows the Bill to be announced to the house. Title is read out and an order is made for the Bill to be printed, but there is usually no debate or vote at this stage.A date is usually set for the second reading.
Second Reading - this is the stage where the main debate on the Bill takes place. The aims of the Bill are described by the Minister or MP who also answers questions. There is a formal debate conducted via the Speaker which will focus on the wider principles as opposed to specific details. A vote will be taken at the end of the debate with a majority required in order for the Bill to procede.
Committee Stage - this stage allows for the detailed scrutiny of the Bill, with 15 to 60 MPs forming a Public Bill Committee, chosen in proportionately to the number of seats each Party holds in the Commons, and based on expertise and interest in the matter. The committee is entitled to scrutinise every detail and make any amendments necessary for the Bill to adhere to the comments from the second reading. For important Bills such as Finance Bills, the whole House may sit as a committee.
Legislative Stages Cont.
Report Stage - after the committee has scrutinised the Bill they will "report" back to paliament to inform the House of any amendments. If there are no amendments the Bill can move to the next stage but if there are potential amendments these will need to be debated and voted on before either being accepted or rejected. The House could also suggest futher amendments. This stage acts as a safeguard against a small committe tkaing over a Bill.
Third Reading - this gives the House a final chance to look over the Bill with all its amendments and decide whether it should go furhter. The Bill can't be substantially changed at this stage. If there are no challenges to the general idea of the Bill, it will be passed to the other House to begin the same process once more.
Repeat Process - each Bill must the complete the above process in both Houses, with any amendments being passed back to the original house to be considered and approved. This can lead to a standstill if the Houses can not agree on a resolution, but this can be resolved by the use of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 which allows the House of Commons to pass legislation without the approval of the House of Lords in certain circumstances, although this is very rare. Examples are War Crimes Act 1991, Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 and Hunting Act 2004.
Royal Assent - this is where the Monarch gives consent and the Bill finally becomes an Act of Parliament. Nowadays this is a formality and the Monarch is unlikely to even have the text of the Bill with them when assenting. The Monarch does retain theoretical power to withhold assent, although no Monarch has done so since Queen Anne in 1707 with the Scottish Militia Bill.
The Bill will come into force at midnight of the the day assent is given, or the date of commencement if specified. See Human Rights Act - passed in 1998 but came into force in 2000