Making laws: How a law is made (part 2 of 2)

Uploaded by UKParliament on 09.03.2009

Eddie: So how do we decide on laws in this country then?
Narrator Brian: Well, it starts with a written proposal for a new law.
This is presented to Parliament and is called a 'bill'.
Now, there are various kinds of bill. Let me explain.
There are two different types of bill: Private Bills and Public Bills.
Public Bills are the ones that affect most of us, i.e. the public. So let's concentrate on those.
Public Bills come in two types: Government Bills, which are introduced and sponsored by the government,
and Private Members' Bills, that are introduced and sponsored byů
Eddie: That would be Private Members?
Brian: Yes, individual MPs and Peers. These Private Members' Bills don't always make it into laws.
Often there isn't enough support from other MPs to get very far in the process.
They also take second place to the Government Bills and Parliament's busy schedule and, sometimes, get squeezed out.
Government Bills, on the other hand, have the support of the government.
They normally succeed in getting through Parliament because the government has a majority in the House of Commons.
Eddie: You mean it has the most MPs on its side?
Brian: Exactly, so when there's a vote on the bill it's much easier for them to win the vote.
Eddie: OK, say I'm the government, and I've got this bill I just made up. What's the first thing that happens to it?
Brian: Well you're jumping ahead a bit. You've got a way to go before you can call yourself a bill.
Usually the government will go through a consultation stage where they get the opinions of lots of different people on what the law should say.
Eddie: No one's ever asked me anything. Who do they ask?
Brian: All kinds of people - experts in the subject as well as ordinary people.
So if it's a law about 24 hour drinking they'll ask pubs and clubs,
but they'll also ask the police, and the ambulance services, see if they think it's a good idea.
Some ideas will even be studied by a Select Committee of MPs, what they call pre-legislative scrutiny.
Sometimes the government will set out its ideas for a bill in a discussion document known as a Green Paper.
Brian: Comments they get back from this might mean they change their proposals.
Then they might set out their firm proposals in another (boing) more developed document known as a White Paper.
This forms the basis of the bill that gets introduced into Parliament.
Eddie: OK, what next?
Brian: The bill now has to begin its journey through Parliament.
Bills can start their journey in either the Commons or the Lords, but let's start yours in the Commons.
Either way a bill cannot become a law until it's completed a number of stages in both Houses
and has been agreed by them and the Monarch.
Most of the stages are called readings, because in the days before printing,
the only way MPs could find out what was in a bill was to have it read out to them.
The First Reading is really just to let Members know that a bill is coming up for discussion.
The first really important stage of the bill is the Second Reading.
The Minister piloting the bill through Parliament will explain its purpose and answer any questions.
There will then be time for debate followed by a vote on whether the bill should pass to the next stage.
Eddie: Which is?
Brian: The Committee Stage in the Commons, a separate committee of MPs, not actually birds, is formed for each bill.
This Public Bill Committee goes off into a huddle in one of the many committee rooms, and really goes through the bill in detail.
Then it comes back to the House so MPs can see what changes the committee has made.
This is called the Report Stage.
The Third Reading gives the House of Commons the chance to look at the bill with all the amendments included
and decide whether it should progress any further by voting on it.
A clerk will then take the bill to the House of Lords, so they can study and debate it too.
In the Lords the bill goes through First and Second Readings, just as in the Commons,
but then the Committee Stage is a bit different.
The Lords take the time to go through the bill in great detail, line by line.
Rather than just a small group of them doing this, the Lords work together with everyone taking part and suggesting improvements.
The Report Stage, and the Third Reading a few days later,
give the Lords two more opportunities to spot any problems with the meaning or the wording of the bill.
Eddie: So when the Lords are happy with the bill, is that it?
Brian: Almost. If the Lords have made any amendments, the bill must come back to the House of Commons
so that they can see and approve any changes the Lords have made.
Eddie: What happens if they don't like the Lords' changes?
Brian: The bill might go to and fro for a while until they are both happy with it.
'Ping pong', the politicians call it.
Brian: When everyone's satisfied, the bill must go to the Queen to receive her approval, or Royal Assent.
Eddie: And what happens if she doesn't like it?
Narrator Brian: Well that hasn't happened since 1707.
The Queen's role is to approve what Parliament has done, because Parliament represents the people.
Eddie: Well, that's all very polite. It's almostů boring.
Brian: Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes a bill can be very controversial and arouse strong feelings.
Eddie: Crikey!
Brian: Crikey indeed! For example, the bill on fox hunting turned out to be one of the most bitterly contested pieces of legislation, ever.
That sensible system can sometimes look rather like aů vicious game of snakes and ladders.
Eddie: But if it's a government bill then surely it will get through eventually won't it?
Brian: Not necessarily. In 2006 when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he suffered his first Commons defeat when MPs,
including those from his own party, voted against a very specific government proposal.
The government wanted to increase the time a terrorism suspect can be detained without charge from 14 days to 90 days, and MPs rejected it.
Eddie: So not even governments get it all their own way all the time?
Brian: And that's how it should be. Everyone has a say, but no one gets their way all the time.