Parliamentary Law Making


Composition and role of the House of Commons

  • Contains 650 members- MPs (each represent a constituency) 
  • Role of the Government to make policy and decide how to run the country
  • New policies require new laws
  • Role of the HoC to debate, scrutinize and vote on whether to approve laws proposed by the Government
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Composition and role of the House of Lords

  • Approximately 700 members
  • Unelected and unpaid- attendance is voluntary 
  • Hereditary peers inherit their title
  • Life peers awarded a peerage because of their contribution to society or politics
  • Role is to complement the work of HoC 
  • Laws can be introduced in this house
  • Pose questions to the Government and debate policy issues and matters of current concern
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Purpose and use of Green Papers

  • Introduced in 1967 and are now a regular feature of modern law making
  • AKA a discussion document
  • Produced by Government or Gov dep 
  • Outline initial proposals or suggestions for a new law
  • Aim is to allow interested parties, both inside and outside parliament, to comment on the subject and give feedback on its suggestions within an agreed time scale
  • Government department considers any comments and suggestions and may well take these into account before proceeding with the proposals
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Purpose and use of White Papers

  • Issued after consideration given to any submissions the gov recieved in respect of the green paper
  • Forms the basis of a new act
  • Allows the government a final opportunity to gather feedback before it formally becomes a bill
  • Comments and feedback likely to concern workings and effects of the potential new law as interested parties have more detail on which to comment
  • This part of consultation is very important as it gives the government a clear idea as to whether there is firm support or opposition to the new law
  • Introduced by the minister responsible for the government department to which it relates
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  • Proposed act formally drafted after green and white paper stages
  • Bill will not become law unless or until it passes the whole legislative process
  • Most bills drafted by expert lawyers known as parliamentary council to the treasury
  • Instructions as to the actual content of the bill are given by the governmental department responsible for the bill
  • Drafting a bill can be difficult as they must be written in proper legal writing, must be unambiguous, precise and comprehensive and there is also considerable time pressure
  • 3 main types of bills- public, private and private members
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Public Bills

  • Largest catergory of legislation
  • Involve matters of public policy
  • General laws applying to everyone in the UK or sometimes to one or more of its constituent countries
  • Proposed by current government
  • An example is the Access to Justice Act (1999)
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Private Members Bills

  • Same as public bills (designed to have general UK effect)
  • Only difference from public bills is that they are proposed by individual MP's (or peers) rather than by the government
  • Relatively few become law mainly because time set aside for debating them is very limited
  • An example is the Abortion Act (1967) 
  • MP's can also introduce a bill under the '10 minute rule' by making a speech of up to 10 minutes, this is rarely successful unless there is no opposition to the bill
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Private Bills

  • Rare
  • Local or personal effect, applying to only individuals or businesses
  • Often promoted by organisations eg local authorities to give themselves powers beyond, or in conflict with, the public law
  • Example- University College London Act (1996)- allowed UCL to combine with a number of other hospitals 
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First Reading

  • First stage of a bills passage through parliament 
  • Formality and takes place without a debate
  • Title and main aims of bill are read out 
  • In the Commons, short title of the bill is read out by the clerk
  • In the Lords, long title of the bill is read out by the member in charge of it
  • Once formally presented, the bill is printed and proceeds to a second reading
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Second Reading

  • First really important stage of the process
  • First opportunity for debate and vote
  • Minister in charge explains bills main purpose and answers general questions
  • MP's then have the opportunity to debate the main principles of the bill which will be followed by a vote
  • Rules of the debate only allow those to speak who manage to catch the speakers eye
  • House must vote in favour of the bill in order for it to proceed to the next stage 
  • Vote may be verbal or counted
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Committee Stage

  • Amendments can be made at this stage
  • Detailed examination of each section of the bill by a committee of MP's or peers
  • Amendments to the wording of the bill can be made 
  • Carried out by a standing committee made of members of all the main parties in proportion to the number of seats they hold
  • Members on the committee usually have a special interest or expertise in the topic of the bill
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Report Stage

  • Committee report back to house on amendments
  • Amendments debated and are accepted or rejected
  • Further amendments may also be added
  • Useful safeguard against a small committee amending a bill against the wishes of the house
  • Neccessary opportunity for second thoughts
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Third Reading

  • Final vote on the bill
  • Almost a formality since a bill which has passed through all the other stages is unlikely to fail at this late stage
  • Only a further debate in the House of Commons if atleast 6 MP's request it
  • Following the smooth passage through the House of Commons, the whole procedure is then repeated in the House of Lords
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Royal Assent

  • Once the House of Commons has considered any amendments suggested by the House of Lords and both houses have agreed the final wording of the bill, it goes to the queen for royal assent
  • Unless the bill is urgent, it will be kept waiting until a number of other bills are ready
  • Queen does not read or sign the actual bill, she signs the 'letters patent' confirming the royal assent
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Commencement of an Act

  • An act will usually come into force on midnight on the date of royal assent unless another date has been set
  • Some acts require a special order called a commencement order before it can take effect because those affected by the act need time for adjustment
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Parliament Act 1911

  • Until 1911, HoL had the power to stop a bill becoming law. However this problem was finally put under pressure when the HoL refused to pass David Lloyd- Georges peoples budget of 1909
  • Eventually, the budget was passed after a general election in 1910
  • A second election was fought on the issue of reform of the HoL which resulted in the parliament act 1911
  • Except under very limited circumstances, this act removed the HoL power to veto on a bill except one to extend the lifetime of a parliament 
  • However the act did allow the Lords to delay a bill by up to 2 years
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Parliament Act 1949

  • 1911 parliament act was used to pass the parliament act 1949
  • Further reduced the Lords delaying powers to one year
  • Limitations under the parliament acts mostly relate to public bills concerning:
  • Money bills- bills concerning taxes and public money which start in the commons. The HoL can only delay these by up to a month after which time the HoC can send the bill for royal assent without HoL agreement
  • Most other commons bills can be held up by the lords if they disagree with them for up to a year after this time the HoC must reintroduce the bill in the following parliamentary session which must pass through all the stages again
  • Bills which start either in the HoL or private bills are not subject to the parliament acts
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Advantages of Parliamentary Law Making

  • Legislative process is very thorough- 3 readings and 2 stages in each of the houses. This provides several opportunities for debate, scrutiny and amendment ensuring that any mistakes or poor drafting can be corrected
  • MP's in the HoC have been democratically elected. During the debates on the proposed new law, each MP should have the opportunity to put forward the view of his or her constituents. Members of the HoL are not democratically elected so they cannot veto a law that has the approval of the HoC
  • Government has considerable control over PLM. It controls the parliamentary timetable for debates and is likely to win at each voting stage of the process unless a number of its own MP's vote against it. This is democratic because the government is a preferred choice of a significant proportion of the population
  • Benefits from expertise- HoL often have specialist knowledge in a particular area of law and so can advise or contribute their expertise, especially in the committee stage. This can aid the amendment process and ensure that laws are appropiate and workable
  • It gives effect to government manifesto promises. This aids the democratic process as parties are often voted for by the people based on their manifesto promises
  • Legislative process is open to public scrutiny as any member of public can listen to the debates in parliament
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Disadvantages of Parliamentary Law Making

  • It is a slow process- has to go through many readings and stages in both houses which takes months and is not appropiate when laws need to be made quickly
  • As the government has a majority of MP's in the HoC it can vote out any private members bills that do not fit its political agenda. Very little parliamentary time is allocated to private members bills. In comparison to government bills, very few private members bills are enacted each year . Government is arguably too powerful as it is able to bypass the HoL by invoking the parliament acts. Any law desired by the government may be passed, despite HoL objections
  • When drafting a bill, parliamentary draftsmen use words and phrases that are ambiguous, unclear and obscured. This sometimes means that it is up to the judiciary to decide what the act is supposed to say. Language used in an act is often incomprehensible to the general public.Problems with the language and structure of acts were originally identified in Renton Committees report on preparation of legislation in 1975.Ths report also suggested that the structure of many acts was illogical, with sections of individual acts having no obvious sequence and there being no clear connection between acts dealing with the same topic. These language and structual problems make law inaccessible to general public- difficult to discover what the law on a particular issue is and there is a problem with finding out which sections of an act have come into force
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Influences on Parliamentary Law Making

  • Pressure on parliament to make or reform the law comes from a variety of sources. While many laws are introduced by the government, other pressures for PLM come from:
  • The media and public opinion
  • Law Commission
  • Pressure groups
  • Political pressures 
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The Media

  • Includes newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet etc
  • Media can play a large role in bringing public opinion to the governments attention
  • While the media may represent public opinion, it can also influence it
  • Where an issue is given a high profile on TV and in newpapers, it will be brought to the attention to the public which can add weight or even sway public opinion
  • May also use pressure groups to highlight their cause to bring about changes in the law
  • Direct campaigns in the media to reform the law- eg News of the Worlds 'Name and Shame' campaign which sought to put pressure on parliament to pass a law that would allow names and addresses of convicted paedophiles to be avaliable to the public. This was only partially successful; the government passed a law which required the police to keep a register of convicted paedophiles
  • A very successful media campaign came about after the suspects for the murder of Stephen Lawrence were acquitted despite overwhelming evidence against them. Media pressure led to the Macpherson inquiry which in turn led to the law commission recommending that the double jeopardy law was changed. In 2003, the government enacted the criminal justice act which allowed a suspect to be retried for a crime that they had previously been acquitted
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Advantages of the Media

  • Raises government awareness so that they can see what the public are thinking or how concerned they are over particular issues
  • Public opinion can be represented by pressure groups which in turn can be supported by the media. For example, following the dunblane shooting, an anti hand gun pressure group was supported by the media which eventually led to parliament enacting the firearm act 1997 which had effect of banning hand guns
  • Media also raises public awareness of some issues which can lead parliament to reform the law
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Disadvantages of the Media

  • Newspapers are very often biased towards one or another political party or POV. Meaning that they present a biased view of events or political policy- eg Daily Mail immigration
  • Newspapers out to make a profit and so publish material that will sell rather than merely keeping the public informed- meaning they do not report objectively. Often evoke fear by publishing events that rarely occur but will grab the publics attention
  • Panic caused by the media can cause laws to be passed too quickly, resulting in poor law making- dangerous dogs act
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The Law Commission

  • Independent, permanent, full time body that reviews the law, modernises, updates, repeals old laws and recommends new ones
  • Set up by the law commissions act 1965 which sets out what the LC is meant to do 
  • Role is to 'keep under review all the law'
  • Headed by 5 law commissioners including 1 chairman
  • Chairman is a high court judge
  • Highly qualified academic or practising lawyers
  • Each have a well qualified team working for them
  • When reviewing the law, they may codify, consolidate or repeal the law all of which helps to bring the law up to date/modernise it
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  • Bringing together all of the law on any particular topic into a single act of parliament- brings together both acts of parliament and case law
  • Purpose is to simplify and clarify the law, eg the LC decided that the law on offences to murder was in need of clarifying and modernising- lead to passing of coroners and justice act (2009)
  • When it was first created, LC aimed to codify large areas of law but later accepted it was overambitious and smaller areas were more achieveable
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  • Bringing together all statutory provisions into one single act
  • Makes law more accessible/understandable
  • Does NOT change the law
  • Offences against the person act (1861) current law on assault is a consolidation act- brought together a number of statutory provisions on this area of the law. Much of the wording from these provisions remained the same- passed with the object of simplifying the law
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  • Removal of laws that have no further use as they have become outdated or irrelevant due to the passage of time
  • Once an act has come into force, it can only be repealed or altered by another act
  • Important to repeal old acts to enable clarity when trying to discover what the law is on any one topic at any particular time
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How the Law Commission works

  • Self investigation- Can investigate an area of law of its own choosing if it thinks an area of law needs updating
  • Parliament- Can direct LC to carry out an investigation on its behalf
  • Legal academics- Through their writings, legal academics may raise awareness of a particular problem in the law to the LC
  • LC will carry out research which will result in a 'working paper'- starting point for consultation with parliament, academics, members of the LC, the judiciary and legal profession before eventually writing a report. The report goes to MPs and parliament who will then decide whether or not to implement the LC's recommendations
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Advantages of the Law Commission

  • Large amount of expertise
  • Large amount of research carried out and so reaches well informed recommendations
  • Well informed and helps to make a good law
  • Independent- not under political pressures
  • Can decide to investigate an area of law itself
  • Helps to put parliaments intentions into effect
  • Unbiased
  • Criminal act 1981
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Disadvantages of the Law Commission

  • About a third of recommendations are never implemented and so the LC lacks power
  • Government not obliged to carry out its recommendations- proposals do not always suit the governments political agenda
  • Government does not have to consult with the LC when it implements law
  • Investigations too lengthy and takes too long to come to fruition
  • Conducts 20-30 investigations at a time meaning each one may not be as thorough as it should be
  • Consolidation requires constant updating due to judges and government adding or interpreting the law soon after it comes into effect
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Pressure Groups

  • Campaign for changes in the law
  • Groups of people who share similar ideas on a particular area
  • Range from a small group of individuals to a network of millions of people
  • Aim to bring matters they are interested in to the attention of the government and try to influence parliament to legislate on issues of interest to them
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Sectional Pressure Groups

  • Represent and promote interests of particular professions such as doctors or lawyers, or industrial and commercial interests
  • Also trade unions which represent a variety of different workers all of who may bring pressure on the government to consider the law on certain areas
  • Often have direct contact with the government ministers or MP's- referred to as insider groups
  • May employ a number of methods to influence PLM such as lobbying or talking to ministers
  • Wealthy sectional groups are able to conduct research the results of which may be used to try and influence parliament. Afford to mount expensive publicity campaigns using media advertising to bring about changes in the law or conversely, to prevent the government from making changes to the law
  • Major sectional groups often influential as they represent large or powerful and wealthy organisations which may have a 'hold' over PLM. Because of the wealth and influence of these groups, it is often in the governments interest to retain their support and so it is rare for the government to draft a bill which potentially interferes with the interests of such groups without first consulting them
  • Likely to be involved in the drafting of a bill and may be consulted by the minister in charge of a bill 
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Cause Pressure Groups

  • Often charities which promote a particular cause or belief
  • Rarely have direct contact with ministers and MPs- outsider groups
  • Likely to obtain support for their campaigns by taking direct action such as organising marches, demonstrations or strikes or performing publicity stunts such as those used by fathers4justice
  • Often charities and so have limited funds or resources to bring about pressure on the government
  • Nevertheless, well established and well organised groups are able to effect change eg RSPCA active in promoting the animal welfare bill
  • Can lobby MP's or run advertising campaigns where funds allow
  • Very occassionally a single person can campaign for a change in the law
  • Successful pressure group campaigns include the league against cruel sports bringing about the hunting act 2004 and the snowdrop campaign which brought a change to the law in handgun ownershit
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Advantages of Pressure Groups

  • Raise awareness and remind parliament of the importtance of an issue. Parliament sometimes consumed with debating issues on government political agenda, pressure groups perform a valuable role in keeping parliament in touch with issues that members of the public believe to be important
  • Some pressure groups have huge memberships which exceed those of the main political parties. These large pressure groups are able to raise awareness of issues of importance to large numbers of people
  • They have sound knowledge of their interest or cause in order to put their point across convincingly. Therefore, law enacted as a result of influence from pressure groups should benefit from considerable expertise
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Disadvantages of Pressure Groups

  • Main disadvantage is that they are inevitably biased in favour of their interest or cause. Campaigns by pressure groups may not present an objective, balanced argument. For example Fathers4Justice rarely recognise that the courts and mothers are genuinely attempting to achieve the best outcome for the children of the family
  • Members of pressure groups often feel very passionately about their cause. This sometimes means that they have to resort to undesirable tactics including criminal behaviour to promote their cause
  • Opinions held by a pressure group may only represent a small minority of the population. However, if the pressure group is well organised and influential, it can still be successful in changing the law
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