The UK General Legislative Process


Legislation is created by Parliament, which consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Acts of Parliament apply in all four countries of the UK. The Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales can only pass laws on devolved matters that just apply in their countries. The two types of bill that can be placed before Parliament are public bills and private bills:

Public (or Government) Bills

Seek to change the law that concerns the public at large. Government bills are adopted by the Cabinet into the Government's legislative programme.

Private Members' Bills (Non-Government) Bills

Are introduced by non-ministerial Members of Parliament. These bills have priority on certain days in each session but can fail for lack of Parliamentary time. Private bills concern matters of individual, corporate or local interest and affect particular persons or localities (for example, a bill authorising a new railway).

The Procedure

A bill can start in the House of Commons or the House of Lords and must be approved in the same form by both Houses before becoming an Act of Parliament.

The procedure to be followed for a bill to become an Act of Parliament is, briefly: 

First reading:                                        This stage is formal. The title of the bill is read, and it is then published.

Second reading:                                   This stage involves the main debate in the House of Commons on the general principles of the bill.

Committee stage:                                 The purpose of this stage is to examine the bill in detail. Amendments can be made to it at this stage.

Report stage:                                       If amendments are made to the bill in Committee, a report stage is needed and the House votes on any amendments. The Speaker can select the amendments to be subject to debate.

Third reading:                                      This is the final stage, in the House of Commons involving consideration of the bill as amended. This is the final opportunity for MPs to vote on the bill.

Proceedings in the House of Lords:      This stage begins after the third reading and the procedure is similar. If the Lords have any amendments, the bill must be sent back to the Lower House, and in principle it can go backwards and forwards between the two houses until the proceedings are ended by prorogation.   

Royal Assent:                                      Once Royal Assent is received, a bill becomes law and is referred to as an Act of Parliament. The Act may suspend the date it commences, which can be determined by delegated legislation.

Although a bill must be passed by both Houses, the Lords plays a secondary role. There is a constitutional convention that the House of Lords will not reject a bill giving effect to a major part of the democratically elected Government's legislative programme.

If the House of Lords rejects a bill that has passed the House of Commons, the bill may still become law under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.

There is a doctrine by which the judiciary can review legislative and executive actions. The judiciary scrutinises, via judicial review, delegated legislation and the exercise of statutory (and in some limited cases prerogative) powers by the Government and other public bodies.