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Legal System | Law Making

Legislative Process: Roles

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Outline the roles of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown in Parliamentary law making

The House of Commons has the authority of being democratically elected and is seen as having the ultimate legislative power.

Pre-legislative consultation papers are prepared and put out by Government departments. Most Bills originate in the Commons and are usually proposed by the Government. Although MPs have successfully proposed Private Members' Bills through the ten minute rule (Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002), presentation (Paul Burstow MP influenced the Children Act 2004) and the ballot (Autism Act 2009).

The Commons has a role in scrutinising proposed laws. At the Second Reading, Report Stage and Third Reading there is a chance to vote, with the Second Reading providing the widest and most open opportunity to debate. The Committee Stage provides the chance to look at the detail of a proposed Bill and MPs with particular expertise sit on relevant committees. Scrutiny of the executive is also important, this is done in an open and effective way through questions to Ministers and debate.

The Commons implements some of the election manifesto policies of the Government, for example the first Government Bill introduced in the new parliament was the Identity Documents Act 2010, after a promise to scrap ID cards in the Conservative manifesto.

The House of Lords power is generally revising and delaying in nature. The Lords key role is in scrutiny with over half of sitting time spent discussing bills compared to a third in the Commons.

Composition is an important factor. Members of the Lords have expertise in a wide range of areas, for example Baroness Greenfield, in neuroscience, Baroness Kennedy, in human rights and Lord Sugar in business. Independence is also a characteristic in keeping the executive to account. This independence arises from the substantial number of Crossbench members and also because party whips do not have so much influence. In addition, members do not face election or reselection and have no constituency ties.

The procedure also helps revision. There is a less confrontational debate style which makes it easier for points to be conceded and amendments accepted without the appearance of 'losing’ and amendments can also be made at Third Reading.

The Lords make recommendations and suggest improvements, such as to the Coroners and Justice Bill, where over 250 Lords amendments were accepted and the Government lost six votes. The process for amendments, known as ping pong, lead to the longest sitting of the Lords, over 30 hours, in relation to the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.

The Parliament Act 1911 and 1949 mean, the Lords does not have a veto power over legislation, with the exception of Bills to extend the life of Parliament. Some argue the Lords should adopt non-confrontational policy but others feel the opposite. In practice, only few Acts have passed without the agreement of the Lords, examples are the War Crimes Act 1991 and Hunting Act 2004. Delaying power is restricted to a year but can be an effective parliamentary tool and may require the Government to rethink policy.

Royal Assent has become a constitutional formality, as confirmed by the Royal Assent Act 1967. Queen Anne was the last monarch to utilise the power when she blocked the Scottish Militia Bill 1707.

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