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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How laws are made in Parliament

Parliament passes statute law (legislation). The Government introduces most new laws - although some can be initiated by an MP - and many are included in the Queen's speech at the opening of each session of Parliament.

White and Green Papers

Proposals for new laws may be outlined in government White Papers. These may be preceded by consultation papers, sometimes called Green Papers, which seek comments from the public. There's no requirement that a White or Green Paper be introduced.


A Bill is a proposal for a new law or a change to a law presented before Parliament. When the contents of a Bill have been debated and agreed by both House of Parliament, it gets approved by the Monarch (called Royal Assent) before becoming an Act of Parliament and law.

Public Bills

Public Bills are the most common type of Bill and change the law that applies to the general public. Government ministers propose the majority of Public Bills.

If you object to a Public Bill you can:

  • write to your MP or a Lord
  • contact the government department responsible for the Bill
  • lobby Parliament
  • submit evidence to the relevant Public Bill Committee

Private Members' Bills

Private Members' Bills are Public Bills introduced by MPs or Lords who are not ministers. Even if they do not become law, they can be an effective way to bring an issue to public attention.

Private Bills

Private Bills are usually promoted by organisations, like local authorities or private companies, to give themselves powers beyond, or in conflict, with the general law. They change the law as it applies to specific people or organisations rather than the general public.

Private Bills must be advertised through newspapers and in writing to all interested people.

Any group or individual affected by a Bill can object to it through petitions, which are then examined by committees of MPs and of Lords.

Bill stages

Basically, a Bill pass must through several stages in both Houses of Parliament to become a law.

These stages take place in both Houses:

  • First reading (introduction of the Bill without debate)
  • Second reading (general debate)
  • Committee stage (detailed examination, debate and amendments - in the House of Commons this stage takes place in a Public Bill Committee)
  • Report stage (opportunity for further amendments)
  • Third reading (final chance for debate; amendments are possible in the Lords)

Acts of Parliament

An Act of Parliament creates a new law or changes an existing one. An Act is a Bill approved by both Houses of Parliament and formally agreed by the reigning monarch.

An Act can come into force immediately, at some other date, or in stages. Its practical implementation is the responsibility of the relevant government department.

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