The Legislative Process
Legislation, a set of laws that each individual is expected to follow and adhere to in order for society to remain a peaceful and crime free place. Legislation is put into place in order for each society to be kept under guidelines and for their citizens to be protected from crime and therefore harm. These laws can either be primary or secondary. (UK Parliament, 2019) Define primary legislation as ‘Primary legislation is the general term used to describe the main laws passed by the legislative bodies of the UK, including the UK Parliament. For example an Act of Parliament.’ Whereas, Secondary Legislation is defined as ‘Secondary legislation is law created by ministers (or other bodies) under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament (primary legislation). Secondary legislation is also known as 'delegated' or ‘subordinate’ legislation and often takes the form of a statutory instrument.’ The Legislative Process, which will be focused on throughout this essay is a set of steps that all primary legislature will need to got through before it can be signed by parliament and passed into law. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is an example of a piece of legislation which will have passed through this process. Although legislature has become more thorough over the centuries, questions can be raised as to whether the increase in legislature has achieved its aim of reducing the levels of crime in society.
As (Malleson and Moules, 2010) state, all acts start the process as bill. Bills can either be private or public. Private bills are those that are proposed by back bench MP’s whereas public bills can originate from a number of different sources. Public bills can come from government departments, can be devised by ministers and civil servants or be based around findings from special commissions or official enquiries. After these bills are developed and written up, they will then be passed on to the government who will decide whether or not to agree to these bills and move them forward in the process of signing them into law. The first official step of the process is called the ‘First Reading’, it is entirely formal and requires no debate. This will be the starting point in which bills will be first read by either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. As stated by (GOV.UK, 2019), ‘Most Bills can begin either in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords. The Government will make this decision based on the need to make sure each House has a balanced programme of legislation to consider each session. However, certain Bills must start in the Commons, such as a Bill whose main aim is the imposition of taxation (the annual Finance Bill is an example of this). Bills of major constitutional importance also conventionally start in the Commons.’ This step is purely just to introduce the proposal to parliament.
The second step is a parliamentary debate in which a member of the house will introduce the proposed bill, the reasoning behind it and its decided proposals. An opposing spokesperson will then talk about their views on the bill, opening the debate for the other opposition parties. The parties and backbench MP’s will then debate on the bill and give their opinion on any changes or amendments they think should be made. As stated by (The Institute for Government, 2019) ‘Most primary legislation is brought forward by the government, meaning that Parliament can only amend, examine and pass those parts of the government’s legislative programme which the government chooses to present to it.’ After the MP’s and the parties have finished debating, the commons/lords will vote to determine whether or not they believe the bill should progress to the next stage of the process.
The third stage of The Legislative Process, is what is known as ‘The Committee Stage’. For both houses this will usually take place two to three weeks after the second reading. (UK Parliament, 2019) states that during this stage within The House of Commons ‘Amendments (proposals for change) for discussion are selected by the chairman of the committee and only members of the committee can vote on amendments during committee stage. Amendments proposed by MPs to the Bill will be published daily and reprinted as a marshalled list of amendments for each day the committee discusses the Bill. Every clause in the Bill is agreed to, changed or removed from the Bill, although this may happen (particularly under a programme order) without debate.’ There is a limit to the additions and amendments made to a bill during this stage of the process. Any amendments or additions to these bills can only be made if they are consistent with the subject that the bill is dealing with or if it is necessary to make the handling of the bill easier. There are key difference during this step between both houses, as stated in (UK Parliament, 2019) ‘During committee stage every clause of the bill has to be agreed to and votes on any amendments can take place. All suggested amendments have to be considered, if a member wishes, and members can discuss an issue for as long as they want. The government cannot restrict the subjects under discussion or impose a time limit. This is a key point of difference with procedure in the House of Commons.’
The Fourth Stage of the process is ‘The Report Stage’, which is described by (Disabilityrightsuk.org, 2019) as ‘At this point the Bill returns to the whole House to enable them to consider what changes have been made during the Committee stage. The report stage provides an opportunity for MPs who were not members of the Committee to suggest amendments.’ It will take place in a chamber for both houses and will give the member of the parties and the MP’s chance the hear the suggested additions and amendments and give their opinions on these as well as the chance to make any last changes. This stage of the process can take as long as several days before the members of parliament and the parties have all given their opinion, bills which are more lengthy or complex may require this amount of time for debate. The bill is then reprinted with all the new amendments ready for the final reading.
After ‘The Report Stage’, the bill will move into the third reading, which consists of a shorter debate than previous. The third reading will almost always take place immediately after The Report Stage, normally the next day. For the house of commons, Amendments can not be made during this stage, a debate will take place regarding what is already part of the bill rather than what should or should not be part of it. At the end of this stage, The House of Commons will partake in another vote to determine whether the third read of the bill should be passed and approved. Whereas, within the house of lords, amendments can be made during the third reading. Usually, this stage will give the government the opportunity to give light on any changes they made during the earlier stages.
Once a bill has progressed through each stage within both houses, the bill will then be passed between houses so that they are able to read and consider each others changes and amendments. It is common that a bill will be passed between each house continually until they are both able to reach an agreement. It is possible for the houses not to come to an agreement on amendments of a bill, in which case the bill will fall. If the amendments are agreed on by both houses, the bill will then progress into the final stage of the process called ‘Royal Ascent’. This stage is formal and is required for the bill to be signed by a monarch as an act and be brought into practice. After a monarch has agreed to the bill proposal, an announcement will be made by the speaker for both houses. The act will then come into practice either the day of the royal ascent or at a later date depending on the circumstances.
- Disabilityrightsuk.org. (2019). The Stages of a Parliamentary Bill | Disability Rights UK. [online] Available at: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/stages-parliamentary-bill [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].
- GOV.UK. (2019). Legislative process: taking a Bill through Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/legislative-process-taking-a-bill-through-parliament [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].
- Malleson, K. and Moules, R. (2010). The legal system. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- The Institute for Government. (2019). Primary legislation. [online] Available at: https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publication/parliamentary-monitor-2018/primary-legislation [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- UK Parliament. (2019). Primary legislation - Glossary page. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/primary-legislation/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].
- UK Parliament. (2019). Committee stage (Commons). [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/commons/coms-commons-comittee-stage/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
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