Acts of Parliament

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The procedure whereby a bill becomes an Act of Parliament is lengthy and has evolved over many centuries. The main stages of a bill in the House of Commons are first reading, second reading, committee, report, and third reading. The first reading is purely formal. If the bill is controversial, the second reading debate is likely to occupy a full parliamentary sitting. The debate is about the principle embodied in the bill, not its detail.

After second reading, most bills are sent to a standing committee for detailed discussion. The bill (unless guillotined) is considered clause by clause, amendment by amendment. The inbuilt government majority will ensure that most opposition amendments are defeated, but there are occasional revolts by government supporters.

The bill, as amended, goes back to the full House for its report stage: this is a rather less thorough version of the committee stage. The last stage is the third reading, when the House once again debates the principle of the bill. If, as is likely, it passes at this stage, the bill will go to the House of Lords to undergo a similar process. The main difference is that the committee stage in the Lords will be taken (normally) in the full House. If passed with amendments, the bill goes back to the Commons to consider the changes. For the bill to become law in that session, the two Houses will have to agree on the full text. The bill is then sent to the monarch for royal assent, which is invariably given.

The procedure outlined is that for public bills. Private bills, those relating to a particular corporation, individual, or company, go through a distinct, complex, and semi‐judicial process.

Subjects: British History.

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