Legislative process

Before a law is created by the Houses of Parliament, it must go through a certain process. Every law starts as a 'Bill' in the Houses of Parliament. A Bill is a draft of a proposed law presented to Parliament for discussion.

Depending on who presents the Bill, it can start its journey in either the House of Commons or House of Lords but, it must pass through both.

Thus, a Bill can only become law if it passes all these required stages in Parliament.

Although the majority of Bills are presented by the Government, backbench MPs and members of the Lords can introduce Bills (called Private Member's Bills), as can private individuals and organisations.

The stages that the Bill is required to pass are the same in each House, but there are some differences within those stages. See below for a video and text summary for further information.

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House of Commons

  • 1First Reading

    The first stage of a Bill’s journey is called First Reading. The short title of the Bill is read out such as ‘Energy Bill’ and is followed by an order for the Bill to be printed.

  • 2Second Reading

    The second stage is called Second Reading and is the first opportunity for Members of Parliament (MPs) to debate the main principles and purpose of the Bill. At the end of the debate, MPs decide whether the Bill should proceed to the next stage by voting for (Aye) or against (No). If there are more Aye votes than No votes then the Bill can proceed.

    It is possible for a Bill to have a second reading with no debate - as long as MPs agree to it.

  • 3Committee Stage

    The third stage is called Committee Stage where every section of the Bill is scrutinised by a group of MPs. Generally, a Committee consists of a small number of MPs (from Government and Opposition parties) who sit in a Committee Room to discuss the Bill. However, sometimes it will take place on ‘the floor of the house’ (House of Commons chamber) so all MPs can take part.

    Committee Stage is the first time that MPs can table amendments to a Bill. Any MP can table amendments but only MPs in the Committee can vote on them.

  • 4Report Stage

    The fourth stage is Report Stage. Here, the Bill returns to the ‘floor of the house’ for all MPs to consider the amendments made at Committee Stage and to table any further amendments. For lengthy complex Bills, Report Stage may be spread over several days.

  • 5Third Reading

    The fifth and final stage is Third Reading. The Bill is reprinted to include amendments from Committee and Report Stages and discussed for the final time. In the Commons, amendments cannot be made at this stage. At the end of the debate, the House votes on whether to approve the third reading of the Bill.

    After the Third Reading in the Commons, the Bill is then sent to the Lords for its First Reading.

House of Lords

  • 1First Reading

    As in the Commons, the First Reading is the first stage of a Bill’s passage through the House of Lords - a formality and takes place without debate. The short title of the Bill read is out and is followed by an order for it to be printed

  • 2Second Reading

    At Second Reading any Member can speak in the debate. This stage usually includes Members particularly interested in the Bill - or a particular aspect of it - and those who are most likely to be involved in amending the Bill at later stages.

  • 3Committee Stage

    At Committee Stage, every clause of the Bill has to be agreed and votes on the amendments can take place. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit for the discussion. Unlike the Commons, Lords Committee stage takes place in the Lords chamber where all members are able to table and vote on amendments.

  • 4Report Stage

    At Report Stage, detailed line by line examination of the Bill continues. Votes can take place and any Member of the Lords can take part in the debate. If the Bill is amended it is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments.

  • 5Third Reading

    At Third Reading, unlike the Commons, amendments can be made, provided the issue has not been fully considered and voted on at an earlier stage. Amendments at Third Reading in the Lords are often used to clarify specific parts of the Bill and to allow the Government to honour any promises of changes to the Bill made at earlier stages.

Consideration of amendments

  • If the Bill started in the Commons, it will return there for MPs to consider any amendments to it made during its passage through the Lords.
  • If the two houses cannot agree on amendments then the Bill may be sent back and forth between the two until an agreement is reached. (This is called Ping Pong).
  • In exceptional cases, where an agreement is not reached between the two Houses, the Bill will "fall". However, if certain conditions are met, MPs can invoke the Parliament Act to pass a Bill without the consent of the Lords.

Royal Assent

  • When a Bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it must obtain the Monarch's permission before it can become an Act of Parliament (law).
  • This process is called acquiring Royal Assent and, although in practice this is just a formality, it cannot become law until this has been obtained. Thereafter, a proclamation of the newly created Act of Parliament is made in both Houses.