How is legislation made?

How primary legislation is made

Acts of Parliament begin life as a ‘bill’ which can either be proposed by the government (usually by the minister in charge of a particular department) or by an individual Member of Parliament (MP) or member of the House of Lords.

A bill has to pass through a number of stages in each House before it can receive the royal assent and be added to the statute book. These are, in each House in turn,

  • First reading (a formal introduction)
  • Second reading (the bill is debated)
  • Committee stage (detailed line-by-line examination of the bill)
  • Report stage (further debate and amendment in the House)
  • Third reading (final debate and vote)

After this has been done in both Houses, the bill goes back to the House where it began for consideration of any amendments made by the other House. Once both Houses have approved the final version of the bill, it receives the royal assent.

Read more on the Parliament website, Passage of a Bill.

How secondary legislation is made

Statutory Instruments (SIs) are drafted by the government department to whose minister the power to make them has been delegated. They are then published with an explanatory memorandum, which outlines the purpose of the SI and why it is necessary.

The SI will need to be checked by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) to make sure the law it contains is clear and follows the powers given by the parent Act. The parent Act also determines whether the parliamentary approval process is an affirmative or negative one.

The affirmative procedure requires the SI to be debated and approved by both Houses. The less stringent negative procedure (which applies to about 80% of SIs) only requires the SI to be laid before Parliament after it has been signed by the minister. Unless either House stops it within a fixed period (usually 40 sitting days), it will come into effect.

Read more on the Parliament website: Secondary Legislation.

Updated 5 October 2018