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Legal System | Law Making

Legislative Process: Acts

Model Answer | A Level

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Outline the process followed in the making of an Act of Parliament

The preparation of a Bill is often started by a consultation process, usually initiated by the Government, through a green paper, seeking contributions from interested parties and the wider public. Afterwards, a White Paper is published which outlines the firm proposals and will form the basis of the Bill to be introduced to Parliament. The Bill is drafted by parliamentary draftsmen, who aim to ensure it is as accessible and unambiguous as possible. This allows for better informed debate and ultimately provides a clear law for all to follow and judges to impose.

The formal process to create an Act of Parliament means a Bill must be passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. A Bill may start in either House, the only exception being Finance Bills.

At the First Reading the title of a Bill is read out but no debate takes place with only an oral vote. The Bill is then printed and distributed. Second Reading provides an opportunity for the general principles contained in the Bill to be debated by MPs. A major government Bill will normally take about a day to debate, although some take longer, the European Communities Bill in 1972 took three days. At the end of this debate a vote is taken and a majority of the MPs must be in favour of the Bill in order for it to progress. Media attention focuses on the Bill at this stage. The Shops Bill 1986, is the last Government Bill to be defeated at this stage.

Each clause and schedule of the bill and amendments are considered at the Committee Stage. Committee composition is roughly in proportion to the overall composition of the Commons and between 16-50 MPs in total. At the Report Stage, amendments will be debated in the House and accepted or rejected and further amendments may also be added. The Third Reading enables an overview of the Bill, debates are usually very short and there is the final vote.

Once it has passed the Third Reading in the Commons, the Bill is sent to the Lords. The main differences in the Lords procedure is that the Committee Stage is usually of the whole House and amendments can be made at Third Reading as well as at Committee and Report stages.

If the Lords suggest amendments they are printed and considered by the Commons. These may be agreed, varied or disagreed, then sent back for reconsideration by the Lords. This process is known as ping-pong. Finally, the Houses must finally agree a text of the bill.

The last stage is known as Royal Assent which has become a constitutional formality. Queen Anne was the last monarch to utilise the power when she blocked the Scottish Militia Bill 1707. Once Royal Assent has been given the Bill is an Act of Parliament. Often the Act itself states the date when it will commence or it will come into force by commencement order.

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