Acts of parliament in the UK

In this essay it will be covered the legislative procedure of Acts of Parliament in The United Kingdom focusing on the importance of Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1948 and then the different sources of law will be explained in order to analyse the validity of the sentence.

Concerning the Acts of Parliament procedure it has to be said that, as general rule, every bill has to be approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords and ultimately the queen in order to become an Act of Parliament. This process may start in any house but it is more common for it to begin in the House of Commons. There is occasionally a pre-legislative scrutiny before the bill enters into the Parliament. Once the bill is a draft the following stages take place:

The bill starts in the First reading and the reading out of the title and the printing of the bill take place here.

Then, in the Second reading, the Minister establishes the most important principles of the bill to be debated and then, a vote is carried out. Anyway it is rare for the bill not to pass through this stage successfully.

Subsequently in the Committee stage, a committee is created in order to examine each clause of the bill in detail. There are three types of committees: Committee of the Whole House or Grand Committee which is created for constitutional issues and some financial issues; Public Bill Committee which is the most frequently used and between 16 and 50 members of Parliament, in a proportional representation of the entire Parliament, take part in it and the Select Committee which is composed by 18 Members of Parliament who are elected by a committee of selection, and its composition has to be proportional to the bench composition in the Parliament. The latter is rarely used.

Later in the Report stage, the bill goes back to the House of Commons and this is one more chance to amend it.

Lastly the Third reading takes place here. This is a mere formal step and there is no possibility to make any other amendment here. The vote about the amended bill takes place.

Once, these stages have carried out and the bill has been passed with a simple majority of votes, the same procedure, with small differences, has to take place in the House of Lords. For example, in the House of Lords amendments are possible in the third reading.

Afterwards, a consideration of amendments takes place in the House of Commons and finally the last requirement to finish this procedure is the Royal assent of the queen that has to be notified to both houses. This fact is a mere formality in the process because although the queen is the head of legislative process in the United Kingdom, she does not create laws. Her role is confined to the approval whatever bills the Parliament has created in order to become a Parliament Act.

It should be noted the importance of the Parliaments Acts of 1911 and 1949. As a result of these Acts, a bill can be passed without the consent of the House of Lords because these Acts reduced the power of the House of Lords abolishing the power of veto so the only power, it has, is to delay the bills already passed by the house of Commons for a period of one year, or if it is a money bill for the period of one month. Once the House of Commons has rejected it, it is possible to reject it for a second time. In this case the Commons can present the bill to the queen for the royal assent. A bill can become an Act of Parliament without the consent of the House of Lords but not without the consent of the House of Commons.

Parliament Act 1911 abolished the right of veto of the House of Lords and replaced this power by the power to delay the passing of an Act for a period of two years. This rule has exceptions because a bill, whose aim is to extend the life of Parliament, needs the consent of both Houses.

Despite the first Act attempt, this procedure was especially used after the Second World War. Before that, it was used just twice in 1914: Government of Ireland Act and Welsh Church Act and then and it was used again in order to pass the Parliament Act of 1949 (which reduced the period of delay to one year instead of two years). Since then, the Acts which have followed this process are War crimes Act 1991, European Parliamentary elections Act 1999 and Sexual offences Act 2000, Hunting Act 2004.

Concerning the sources of law, first of all it should be mention the Legislation, which has two different forms:

  • Acts of Parliament which is primary legislation and it refers to law created by Parliament in the way we have mentioned above. It is known that the term “Parliamentary sovereignty” means that Parliament can legislate about everything and courts cannot declare illegal or unconstitutional an Act of Parliament. An example of that could be the Case law: Cheney v Conn (1968) 1 ALL ER 779. However, the power of Parliament has been restricted by other sources like European law.

  • Delegated Legislation which concerns laws created by the executive power (Government Ministers, local authorities etc) because the legislative has delegated to them the law-making power for some issues to save time. Nowadays, the vast majority of legislation is delegated legislation (more than Parliament Acts). However, this kind of legislation is under Parliamentary and Court control.

Secondly, Common Law is still one of the most important sources in the UK. It is applied through the judicial precedent doctrine carried out by the judges, which means that in the presence of similar facts we have to find equal solutions. Courts generally accept the decisions taken by higher courts following the principle of “stare decisis”. In theory we have to establish the difference between “ratio decidendi” which is the part binding and the “obiter dicta” which does not have to be followed. This is the historical source of law in the UK because English jurists have worked in solving cases instead of formulating new principles of law along history and that is why the interpretation of the law by the judges is more important than the law itself.

In third place, equity which has satisfied the deficiencies of the common law by providing remedies along the history. Maxims, which are some guidelines to apply the equity, are “come with clean hands”, “look at the intention instead of the form” etc. If there is conflict between common law and equity, equity tends to be applied. An example of a case law where equity is applied is “D & C Builders v Rees (1966) 2 QB 617

Lastly the European Union law, which is a source of law in The UK since the first of January of 1973 through the European Communities Act 1972. If there is a conflict between an Act of Parliament and European Union law, the first one is defeated. An example of that is “Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Berlastingen” a case of the Court of justice where it is said

“It stated that Member States had limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields”

Concerning the forms of European law, it is known that Treaties are the primary source of law in EU and the highest in the hierarchy. They require the agreement of all the State members and they are legally binding, as far as the States accept them, and directly applicable. They regulate the objectives, institutions, procedures and they may affect States or individuals. The main treaties are Treaty of Rome 1957, the single European Act 1985, Treaty of Maastricht 1992, Treaty of Amsterdam 1996 and recently the Treaty of Nice 2001. The rest, like secondary sources, are subject to the treaties content so in presence of a conflict between primary and secondary sources, the first ones will prevail.

Among the secondary sources of EU law, there are firstly Regulations, which are binding and straightaway applicable. They don´t need to be implemented into the English legal system and they are enforceable entirely on all the State members. For example, council regulation 1612/68. Secondly, Directives whose aim is to unify the community law respecting the structures of the different countries. They are legally binding as long as countries transpose them into national law. It should be noted that this is done by an order in a council or a statutory instrument in The UK. A country could be challenged if it fails to follow a directive. This happened in Van Duyn v Home Office (1974) 1 WLR 1107. Thirdly Decisions, which are usually created by the council and commission in order to formulate some policies. They are only binding for the people to whom they are addressed (corporations, individuals or States). For example: Commission Decision. Lastly it should be said that Recommendations and Opinions are not binding instruments.

The European convention on Human rights should be mentioned here because it should be respected by the UK as a signatory country. Any English individual may challenge the European court of Human Rights for a remedy if UK, country that confirmed it through the human right Act 1998, fails to provide it

Finally, other Sources could be custom applied in the courts; Canon law whose principle may influence courts, particularly ecclesiastical courts, Roman law and some text books.

According to what was explained before, it is clear that the content of the sentence is false because there are a lot of sources of law and actually European Union has priority over Parliaments Act, so the UK legislation has been confined by Community legislation, and Common Law and Equity are still important in the UK.

List Of References:

Case law:

Van Duyn v Home Office 1974] 1 WLR 1107

Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Berlastingen [1963]ECR 1


Horspool M. & Humphreys M., European Union law, Oxford University Press Inc, 5th edition, 2008

Ingman T. the English Legal Process, published by Oxford University Press Inc, New York, 11th edition, 2006

Kaczorowska A., European Union Law, London, Routledge- Cavendish, 5th edition, 2009

Malleson K. The Legal System, Oxford, 3rd edition, 2007

Ryan M., Unlocking Constitutional & Administrative law, series editors Jacqueline Martin & Chris Turner, Hodder Education, 1st edition 2007

Weatherill S., Cases & Material son Stephen Weatherill, published by Oxford University Press, 8th edition 2007

Web Pages:

Parliament of The UK, Page updated: 13/11/2009 22:11, look at 20 November 2009,,