The British Government: The Law Making Process
The British Government: A Brief Overview
Information courtesy of The British Information Services
Statute law consist of Acts of Parliament and delegated legislation made
by Ministers under powers given to them by Act. While the law undergoes
constant refinement in the courts, changes to statute law are made by Parliament.
Draft laws take the form of parliamentary Bills. There are generally three
types of Bills.
1. Public Bills are those which change the general law and which
constitute the significant part of the parliamentary legislative process.
2. Private Bills are those which affect the powers of particular
bodies (such as local authorities) or the rights of individuals (such as
certain proposals relating to railways, roads and harbors).
3. Hybrid Bills are public Bills which may affect private rights.
The passage of private Bills and hybrid Bills through Parliament is governed
by a special form of parliamentary procedure which allows those affected
to put their case.
Public Bills can be introduced, in either House, by a goverment minister
or by an ordinary member. Most public Bills that become Acts of Parliament
are introduced by a government minister and are known as 'government Bills'.
Before a government Bill is drafted, there may be consultation with organizations
which are interested in the subject. Proposals for legislative changes are
sometimes set out in government 'White Papers', which may be debated
in Parliament before a Bill is introduced. From time to time consultation
papers, sometimes called 'Green Papers', set out government proposals
which are still taking shape and seek comments from the public.
Private Members' Bills
Individual MPs have a number of opportunities to introduce Bills. Such Private
Members' Bills often do not proceed very far, but a few become law each
session. Peers may introduce private Members' Bills in the House of Lords
at any time. A Private Members' Bill passed by either House will not proceed
in the other House unless it is taken up by a member of that House.
Passage of Public Bills
A draft law is given a first reading in the House of Commons without debate;
this is followed by a thorough debate on general principles at second reading.
It is then given detailed consideration, clause by clause, by a Commons
committee before report stage in the whole House, during which further amendments
may be considered. At the third reading a Bill is reviewed in its final
form and may be debated again. The House of Lords has similar procedures.
Bills must normally be passed by both Houses. They must then receive the
Royal Assent before becoming Acts. In practice this is a formality.
In order to reduce unnecessary pressure on parliamentary time, primary legislation
often gives ministers or other authorities the power to regulate administrative
details by means of 'delegated' or secondary legislation. To minimize any
risk that delegating powers to the executive might undermine the authority
of Parliament, such powers are normally delegated only to authorities directly
accountable to Parliament. Moreover, the Acts of Parliament concerned usually
provide for some measure of direct parliamentary control over proposed delegated
legislation, by giving Parliament the opportunity to affirm or annul it.
A joint committee of both Houses reports on the technical propriety of these
'statutory instruments'. In order to save time on the floor of the House,
the Commons also uses standing committees to debate the merits of instruments; actual decisions are taken by the House. The House of Lords has also appointed a Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee which examines the appropriateness of the powers to make secondary legislation in Bills as they come before that House.
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