The Act of Parliament reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Act of Parliament

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In Westminster System parliaments, an Act of Parliament is a part of the law passed by the Parliament. It can also be a private bill. It usually starts as a draft proposal, known as a White Paper. A Bill is then introduced into the House of Commons or House of Representatives or the House of Lords or Senate. By constitutional convention, Bills which contain significant provisions relating to taxation or public expenditure start in the House of Commons; in Canada this is the law. In the UK, Law Commission bills and consolidation bills start in the House of Lords. In some countries, the bill receives different names if it's initiated by the Government (Project) or by the Parliament (Proposition), like in Spain.

Table of contents
1 Procedure
2 UK Details

Procedure

UK

In the UK, each bill passes through the following stages:

  1. Pre-legislative scrutiny: It is increasingly common for a small number of Government bills to be published in draft before they are presented in Parliament. These bills are then considered either by the relevant select committee of the House of Commons or by an ad hoc Joint Committee of both Houses. This is not strictly speaking part of the legislative process, but it provides an opportunity for the Committee to express a view on the bill and propose amendments before it is introduced.
  2. First reading: This is a formality; no actual vote occurs. The Bill is presented and ordered to be printed and, in the case of Private Members' bills, a date is set for second reading.
    • In the case of a Government Bill, Explanatory Notes, which try to explain the effect of the Bill in more simple language are also usually ordered to be printed.
  3. Second reading: A debate on the general principles of the bill is followed by a vote. Normally, the Second Reading of a Government bill is approved. A defeat for a Government bill on this Reading signifies a major loss. If the bill is read a second time, it is committed to a standing committee for the committee stage.
    • Procedural Orders and Resolutions: Immediately after Second Reading, in the case of Government Bills, the House normally passes forthwith (i.e. without debate) a Programme Order, setting out the timetable for the committee and remaining stages of the Bill. It may also pass a separate Money Resolution, authorising any expenditure arising from the Bill; and/or a Ways and Means Resolution, authorising any new taxes or charges the Bill creates.
  4. Committee stage: This usually takes place in a standing committee in the Commons and on the Floor of the House in the Lords. In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons utilizes the following committees on bills:
    • Standing Committee: Despite the name, a standing committee is a committee specifically constituted for a certain bill. Its membership reflects the strengths of the parties in the House.
    • Special Standing Committee: The committee investigates the issues and principles of the bill before sending it to a regular Standing Committee. This procedure has not been used in many years; the pre-legislative scrutiny process (see above) is now preferred.
    • Select Committee: A specialized committee that normally conducts oversight hearings for a certain Department considers the bill. This procedure is used very rarely; the quintennial Armed Forces Bill, however, is always referred to this committee.
    • Committee of the Whole House: The whole house sits as a committee in the House of Commons to consider parts of the annual Finance Bill and also bills of great constitutional significance. This is also the procedure used in the upper house.
    The committee considers each clause of the bill, and may make amendments to it. Significant amendments may be made at committee stage. In some cases, whole groups of clauses are inserted or removed. However, almost all the amendments which are agreed to in committee will have been tabled by the Government to correct deficiencies in the bill or to enact changes to policy made since the bill was introduced (or, in some cases, to import material which was not ready when the bill was presented).
  5. Consideration (or Report) stage: this takes place on the Floor of the House, and is a further opportunity to amend the bill. Unlike committee stage, the House need not consider every clause of the bill, only those to which amendments have been tabled.
  6. Third reading: a debate on the final text of the bill, as amended. In the Lords, further amendments may be made on third reading, in the Commons it is usually a short debate followed by a single vote; amendments are not permitted.
  7. Passage: The Bill is then sent to the other House (to the Lords, if it originated in the Commons; to the Commons, if it is a Lords Bill), which may amend it. The Commons may reject a bill from the Lords outright; the Lords may amend a bill from the Commons but, if they reject it, the Commons may force it through without the Lords' consent in the following Session of Parliament, as is detailed below. Furthermore, the Lords can neither initiate nor amend Money Bills, bills dealing exclusively with public expenditure or the raising of revenue. If the other House amends the Bill, the Bill and amendments are sent back for a further stage.
  8. Consideration of Lords/Commons Amendments: The House in which the bill originated considers the amendments made in the other House. It may agree to them, amend them, propose other amendments in lieu or reject them. A Bill may pass backwards and forwards several times at this stage, as each House amends or rejects changes proposed by the other. If each House insists on disagreeing with the other, the Bill is lost, unless the Parliament Acts are invoked.
  9. The Parliament Acts: Under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, which do not apply for bills seeking to extend Parliament's length to more than five years, if the Lords reject a bill originated in the House of Commons, then the Commons may pass that bill again in the next session. The Bill is then submitted for Royal Assent even though the Lords did not pass it. Also, if the Lords do not approve of a Money Bill within thirty days of passage in the Commons, the bill is submitted for Royal Assent nevertheless.

Australia

In Australia, the bill passes through the following stages:

  1. First Reading: Again, this stage is a mere formality.
  2. Second Reading: As in the UK, the stage involves a debate on the general principles of the bill is followed by a vote. Again, the Second Reading of a Government bill is usually approved. A defeat for a Government bill on this Reading signifies a major loss. If the bill is read a second time, it is then considered in detail
  3. Consideration in Detail: This usually takes place on the Floor of the House. Generally, committees are not used to consider the bill in detail.
  4. Third reading: A debate on the final text of the bill, as amended. Very rarely do debates occur during this stage.
  5. Passage: The Bill is then sent to the other House (to the Senate, if it originated in the House of Representatives; to the Representatives, if it is a Senate Bill), which may amend it. If the other House amends the Bill, the Bill and amendments are sent back to the original House for a further stage.
  6. Consideration of Senate/Representatives Amendments: The House in which the bill originated considers the amendments made in the other House. It may agree to them, amend them, propose other amendments in lieu or reject them. However, the Senate may not amend Money Bills, though it can "request" the House to make amendments. A Bill may pass backwards and forwards several times at this stage, as each House amends or rejects changes proposed by the other. If each House insists on disagreeing with the other, the Bill is lost.
  7. Disagreement between the Houses: Often, when a bill cannot be passed in the same form by both Houses, it is "laid aside." Sometimes, a special constitutional procedure allowing the passage of the bill without the agreement of both houses is allowed. If the House twice passes the same bill, and the Senate twice fails to pass that bill (either through rejection or through the passage of unacceptable amendments), then the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses of Parliament. If the House again passes the bill after the election, but the deadlock between the Houses persists, then the Governor-General may convene a joint sitting of both Houses, where a final decision will be taken on the bill. The procedure only applies if the bill originated in the House of Representatives. Six double-dissolutions have occurred, though a joint session only became necessary once.

Canada

In Canada, the bill passes through the following stages:

  1. First Reading: Again, this stage is a mere formality.
  2. Second Reading: As in the UK, the stage involves a debate on the general principles of the bill is followed by a vote. Again, the Second Reading of a Government bill is usually approved. A defeat for a Government bill on this Reading signifies a major loss. If the bill is read a second time, then it progresses to the committee stage.
  3. Committee stage: This usually takes place in a standing committee in the Commons.
    • Standing Committee: The standing committee is a permanent one; each committee deals with bills in specific subject areas. Canada's standing committees is similar to the UK's select committees.
    • Special Committee: The procedure is not used often.
    • Legislative Committee: A legislative committee is especially appointed for a certain bill, like the UK's standing committees.
    • Committee of the Whole House: The whole house sits as a committee in the House of Commons to consider appropriation bills.
    The committee considers each clause of the bill, and may make amendments to it. Significant amendments may be made at committee stage. In some cases, whole groups of clauses are inserted or removed. However, almost all the amendments which are agreed to in committee will have been tabled by the Government to correct deficiencies in the bill or to enact changes to policy made since the bill was introduced (or, in some cases, to import material which was not ready when the bill was presented).
  4. Consideration (or Report) stage: this takes place on the Floor of the House, and is a further opportunity to amend the bill.
  5. Third reading: A debate on the final text of the bill, as amended. Very rarely do debates occur during this stage.
  6. Passage: The Bill is then sent to the other House (to the Senate, if it originated in the House of Commons; to the Commons, if it is a Senate Bill), which may amend it. If the other House amends the Bill, the Bill and amendments are sent back to the original House for a further stage.
  7. Consideration of Senate/Commons Amendments: The House in which the bill originated considers the amendments made in the other House. It may agree to them, amend them, propose other amendments in lieu or reject them. If each House insists on disagreeing with the other, the Bill is lost.
  8. Disagreement between the Houses: There is no specific procedure under which the Senate's disagreement can be overruled by the Commons. The Senate's rejection is absolute.

The debate on each stage is actually debate on a specific motion. For the first reading, there is no debate. For the second and third readings, the motion is "That this bill be now read a second [third] time." In the Committee stage, the debate is on the motions for specific amendments and the motion "That the clause [as amended] stand part of the bill," which is presented on every clause, whether amended or not. In the Report stage, the debate is on the motions for specific amendments. The final motion is "That the bill do now pass."

Since the mid-19th century, in most but not all cases, the votes by the House of Commons are a formality in which the vote is predetermined by party lines. Because the Westminster system requires the government to keep the support of the House of Commons, the rejection of a bill by Commons is a major political crisis. Therefore, the government will in almost all cases ensure passage of a bill by a combination of modifying the bill so that it is acceptable to members of the ruling party and pressuring party members to vote for the bill. In some cases, such as the Hunting Bill in the 2002-03 Session of Parliament, this has entailed accepting very significant amendments, transforming the purpose of the bill (in this case, from a bill to licence and regulate hunting with dogs, to a bill imposing an outright ban). Unlike the American system, a member of parliament rarely votes against party instructions.

Exceptions are cases of political crisis or matters of conscience such as the age of consent, in which the government may declare a free vote in which Members of Parliament are absolved of the requirement of voting with their party.

It can either fail or pass and then go on to final, formal examination by the Monarch who invariably gives it the Royal Assent. Although the Monarch can in theory refuse to endorse a bill at this stage, this power has not been used since the early 18th century. The Monarch signs letters patent to signify her Assent to one or more Bills. When this happens at the end of a Session of Parliament, it is usually accompanied by an elaborate ceremony in the House of Lords. It then becomes part of the law of the land.

UK Details

Types of Acts

Acts of Parliament are of three types -
  1. Public Acts are for laws of general application (e.g. reforming the criminal justice system), which affect a general class or category of persons. Such a class or category might include, for example, all citizens, all people above or below a certain age, all pensioners, prisoners, local authorities or public limited companies.
  2. Private Acts affect a specific person (real or legal) differently from others. They include acts to confer powers on certain local authorities (but not others), acts affecting certain companies established by Act of Parliament (e.g. TSB, Transas), and acts which allow major works projects (e.g. the Channel Tunnel Rail Link), which grant special powers on the company undertaking the work (e.g. the compulsory purchase of land). Personal acts are a sub-category of private acts, which confer specific rights or duties on a named individual or individuals (e.g. allowing two persons to marry even though they are within a "prohibited degree of consanguinity or affinity").
  3. Hybrid Acts combine elements of both Public and Private acts. They are very rare; the last example of one was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill 1994, however the Government has announced its intention to table a Hybrid bill on Crossrail in the near future.

Private Bills, common in the 19th Century, are now rare, as new planning legislation introduced in the 1960s removed the need for many of them. They are subject to a different procedure from that for Public Bills, described above, involving a quasi-judicial committee of three MPs.

It is important not to confuse Private Bills with Private Member's Bills; the latter are classed as Public Bills.

Sovereignty

In the UK, Parliament has almost unlimited sovereignty. (In particular its sovereignty over the Church of Scotland was disputed for three centuries with Parliament finally admitting its lack of sovereignty in the 1920s.) As such Acts of Parliament are generally without limit or constraint. Although in modern times, European Law and Human Rights Legislation can overturn some Acts, this is only because another Act has declared so.

English law is also made through Statutory Instruments (SIs). These are laws which are written by a Government minister, exercising legislative powers delegated to him or her by Act of Parliament. Some of these must be approved by Parliament before they can become law, others need only be laid before Parliament a certain number of days (usually 40) before coming into force. They are used because they are much faster and simpler to implement than a full act of Parliament. SIs are sometimes described as "secondary legislation, not second class legislation". They have the same force as an Act of Parliament, and much of the UK's law is made in this way. There are literally thousands of SIs each year, compared with around 50 Acts. Statutory Instruments are also used to bring Acts into force. Most Acts have sections that come into effect upon Royal Assent, or at a set date thereafter. However, other sections are brought into force using a SI which is titled [Bill Name] Commencement Order No. #. There can be as many as half a dozen Commencement Orders with some legislation.

International treaties are not effective in domestic UK law until enforced by an Act of Parliament (e.g. The Single European Act, which brought the UK into the European Union, or the strangely named Outer Space Act which deals with international treaties on Space).

Historical Records

All UK Acts of Parliament since 1497 are kept in the House of Lords Record Office, including the oldest Act: The "Taking of Apprentices for Worsteads in the County of Norfolk" Act 1497, a reference to the wool worsted manufacture at Worstead in Norfolk, England.

Acts before 1962 are referenced using 'Year of reign', 'Monarch', c., 'Chapter number' - e.g. 16 Charles II c. 2 - to define a chapter of the appropriate statute book. Since 1962, the regnal year has been replaced by the calendar year. All Acts have a short title, or citation (e.g. Local Government Act 2003, National Health Service Act 1974).

Parliament Acts

Parliament Acts are executed by the Administration and its superior and directive dome, the Government (specially using the administrative regulations), are applied by the judicial power (judges), and must be obeyed by everybody.

Acts of Historical Importance

The most important Acts in UK history are listed below:

See also: List of Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom

Topical Acts

Current Acts of Parliament of special interest:

External link

See also