Types of Bill
Public Bills are subdivided into Government Bills and Private Members' Bills.
- Government Bills are introduced and put through the parliamentary process by a government minister. There are 40 - 50 government bills introduced each year, most of which become law. The bill is drawn up by the Parliamentary Counsel. Access to Justice Act 1999.
- Private Members' Bills are introduced by backbench MPs whose names have been selected by ballot. The MPs can introduce bills under the Ten Minute Rule, where they are allocated ten minutes to make a speech in favour of their proposed legislation. Only about 10% of the 100 or so bills proposed become law. They are often promoted by pressure groups persuading MPs to support their cause. Abortion Act 1967.
- Private Bills are usually put forward by a local authority, public corporation or a large public company. They only affect the bodies concerned. Only a few private bills are introduced each year. Whitehaven Harbour Act 2007.
- Hybrid Bills, when they become statutes, alter the general law but particularly affect the legal rights of a small number of people. Channel Tunnel Act 1987.
Green and White Papers
- Green Papers announce tentative proposals for discussion, and often contain several alternative policy options.
- White Papers are the firmer proposals put forward. They usually follow one or more green papers.
White Papers have been in use for much longer than Green Papers, which were brought in by the Labour government in 1967.
Green and White Papers are likely to be published if the government is unsure of how to proceed, or if the proposed legislation is likely to be controversial.
The Formal Legislative Process
A bill cannot become an Act of Parliament until it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. The process may start in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, but financial bills must start in the House of Commons, which is the elected body.
- The First Reading is mainly a formality, where the name of the bill is read out to the house. It is basically just a public announcement that the bill has been introduced.There is usually no discussion, but there is a vote in which the House decides whether or not to give the bill a second reading. Many private members' bills don't get beyond this stage.
- The Second Reading of a bill is the crucial stage where a debate is held on the main principles of the bill. At the end of the debate, the House votes on whether or not the bill should be put through to the next stage.
- The Committee Stage involves a detailed examination of each clause of the bill, undertaken by a committee of between 16 and 50 MPs who propose amendments to the bill. The MPs chosen to be on the committee usually have a special interest or expertise in the topic of the bill. In the House of Lords, there is no committee and all peers are entitled to take part in this scrutiny.
- The Report Stage is where the committee reports back to the House on any amendments that have been made. This is an opportunity for the House to discuss and vote on the amendments suggested.
- The Third Reading is where the bill is once again presented to the House and a final vote is taken. Major amendments can't be made and this stage is often very brief.
- All of these stages are then repeated in the other House. If the House of Lords makes amendments to a bill that has already passed through the House of Commons, it is referred back for Commons to consider the amendments.
- Once the bill has successfully passed through all of the stages in both Houses, it is then given to the reigning monarch for Royal Assent. The formal assent of the monarch is required for legislation to become law. Some Acts come into force as soon as Royal Assent is given, but most start on a specific date that is stated in the act.
Because the House of Commons is the democratically elected body, it has the most important role in the law making process.Through the Parliament Acts, Commons can defeat any attempt by the Lords to oppose a measure that Commons has passed. In practice, this power is actually rarely used.
Advantages - Intense scrutiny to ensure maximum efficiency of legislation, it is mostly democratic, it is open to the public throughout the process.
Disadvantages - The process is very slow, legislation becomes extremely complicated, difficult to understand.
Doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy
Parliamentary Supremacy means that, as a democratically elected body, Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the country. In the words of Dicey;
"Parliament has the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further... no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament."
- Acts of Parliament passed using the proper procedures cannot be challenged and must be applied by the courts.
- They override any judicial precedent, delegated legislation or previous Acts of Parliament covering that area of law.
- Parliament can make or rescind any law that it wishes.
- No Parliament can bind its successors.
- Acts of Parliament can apply retrospectively and extra-territorially.
Parliamentary Supremacy is limited, however, by...
- Public Opinion - The views of the public will likely influence decisions because of the fact that the government will not want to lose the vote.
- Entrenched Laws - Laws such as the voting rights for women would be very difficult for parliament to change without public outcry.
- EU - The European Union has superiority over the laws of Parliament.
- Devolution of Power - When parliament grants law-making powers to a country such as Scotland, but that country can not make any legislation that would prevent parliament's law making powers for that country.
- Human Rights Act - Parliament can not, under European Law, make any law that restricts or contradicts the Human Rights Act.
Influences On Parliament
- Permanent law reform body,
- Politically neutral.
- Chaired by a high court judge.
- Employed to reform laws.
- Full time, professional body.
- Has led to major reforms.
- However, parliament is not obliged to accept recommendations.
- Temporary bodies.
- Disbanded once the investigation is complete.
- Thorough investigations.
- However, findings are often ignored by parliament.
- Proposals are published in party manifestos.
- Aim is to secure public agreement.
- If a party is elected, they have the power to then make the laws.
- However, the party can then also introduce controversial laws.
Media & Pressure of Events:
- The media can highlight the events in society.
- Said events can then expose gaps in the law.
- They also expose laws that should be reformed.
- The media can then indirectly force parliament to reform urgent laws.
- However, some laws then end up being rushed.
- MPs are lobbied by the groups.
- Allows the minority to be heard, but not necessarily the public opinion.
- However, public campaigns are inconvenient.
- Parliament must conform to EU law, but this restricts their freedom.
Parliament gives its authority to make laws to other bodies in parent or enabling Acts. This contains the basic framework of the law, together with authorisation for the person or body to make further law on the matter.
Orders in Council:
- Made by the Queen and the Privy Council. The Privy Council is made up of current and former cabinet ministers, and other senior politicians.
- This type of delegated legislation allows the government to make legislation without going through parliament.
- Their main use is to put European directives into effect.
- The Privy Council also has the power to make law in emergency situations.
Statutory Instruments (SIs):
- These are rules made by government ministers under the authority of the parent/enabling Act for the area of government where they have responsibility. eg. - The Minister for Transport has power under the Road Traffic Act 1998 to make regulations concerning motorcyclists' helmets.
- SIs are the most usual form of law used to put European directives into place.
- About 3000 SIs are put into force every year.
- These are made by local authorities and public bodies or companies. They must be approved by the relevant government minister.
- They are basically local laws made by the local people (councillors) for their local area.
- Delegated legislation saves parliament a lot of time; it allows parliament to concentrate on more important legislation.
- It is quick and easy to pass delegated legislation to deal with situations such as emergencies when they arise. SIs can be created or amended far more quickly than going through the entire legislative process.
- Delegated legislation is passed by people who have specialist knowledge on the subject.
- The process is, to an extent, undemocratic, because SIs are drafted by civil servants, who are not elected.
- They are often passed with very little scrutiny.
- The sheer amount of legislation passed this way makes it difficult to discover just what the law is.
- Delegated legislation can be just as difficult to understand as the entire legislative process.