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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.

Delegated Legislation
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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