In the UK, all new laws must pass through Parliament in order to come into force. This procedure can seem arcane, but it is designed to offer in-depth oversight and control to the MPs who are tasked with running the country. In brief, a new law must be passed through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This may be a fast or slow process depending on the nature of the prospective law. Once it has passed the scrutiny of both Houses, the law receives Royal Assent from the monarch, and becomes a legally enforceable Act of Parliament.
Who makes the laws?
In order to create a law, a “Bill” must be introduced. Typically, most Bills are introduced by the Government according to their legislative programme (essentially a schedule for which laws they would like to introduce and when). However, any MP can introduce their own Bill, known as a Private Member’s Bill. Bills with Government support are much more likely to pass, but any Bill can pass with the backing of a majority of MPs.
How does Parliament make laws?
To turn a Bill into an Act of Parliament, it must undergo rigorous examination. After being carefully prepared, the Bill is formally introduced with a First Reading. At this point there is no debate nor vote. This can take place in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, though some topics such as taxation must be introduced in the House of Commons. The Bill then undergoes a Second Reading, where members of the House may debate it. No amendments can be made, but a vote is held; if the vote does not pass, the Bill fails.
The next stage is the Committee stage, where a working group of members will carefully analyse the Bill’s substance. At this stage amendments can be made, though they may not alter the basic substance of the Bill. After this, the Report (or Consideration) stage allows further amendments to be made. The Bill is then returned for a Third Reading and given the final approval of the House. It is then passed to the other House (either Lords or Commons, depending on where it was introduced) for their approval.
Final stages of the legislative process
The text of any Bill must be agreed upon by both Houses before it can become law. This can lead to a “ping pong” between the two Houses as they both make amendments then pass them back to the other. In practice the House of Lords cannot delay indefinitely, and a Bill that passes the Commons will eventually become law. Once it passes both houses, the Bill receives Royal Assent from the monarch (today this is a formality) and it becomes a new law.