Parliamentary Procedure Explained

The Mental Health Alliance is expecting the Government to publish a Bill amending the 1983 Act during the current Parliamentary session (i.e. before Nov 2006). Below is an explanation of what happens to a Bill once it is published in Parliament.

Choice of House

When a Bill is introduced it can go into either the House of Commons or Lords first.

The following assumes that the Bill is introduced in the Commons. If the Bill is introduced in the Lords, the same procedures apply. Both Houses will debate, amend and pass the Bill in exactly the same way.

First Reading

  • On the day of presentation, a "dummy" copy of the Bill is placed on the Table. The Bill is allocated a Bill number (each time the Bill is re-printed -for example, after the committee stage- it is given a new number.)
  • The Stationery Office receives the order to print the Bill.
  • Explanatory Notes are also published to accompany the Bill, although they may not always be available as soon as the Bill itself is published.

Second Reading

  • After examination for compliance with the House’s rules, the Bill can proceed to Second Reading.
  • Before Second Reading, Programme Motions may be moved in order to set out a timetable for the remaining passage of the Bill.
  • The House considers the principle of the Bill, and debate is often wide-ranging.
  • The Opposition may object to a Bill by tabling a "reasoned amendment", in effect objecting to the process of reading the Bill a second time, with reasons for opposing this. If the amendment is passed, the Bill is defeated.

Committee Stage

  • After Second Reading the Bill moves to its committee stage.
  • Committee stage usually takes place in a Standing Committee but may be taken in Committee of the Whole House or a Special Standing Committee.
  • The committee will examine each clause and Schedule of the Bill, agreeing or disagreeing to a Motion that it “stand part” of the Bill (i.e. leaving it in or deleting it).
  • The committee may also consider amendments to the Bill.
  • New clause and new Schedules may be added to the Bill through amendments.

Standing Committee

  • A Standing Committee generally has about 18 members
  • Its membership reflects the party composition of the House.
  • At least one Minister from the Government Department in charge of the Bill will be on the committee, as will a front-bench spokesman from each of the opposition parties represented. A new Standing Committee is appointed for each Bill and the membership of each committee is discharged when it has reported its Bill to the House.
  • Debates in Standing Committee are published by The Stationery Office in single parts for each sitting, and a consolidated volume for each Bill after consideration is complete.

Report Stage

  • The Bill then moves to its Report stage.
  • At this stage, the House may make further amendments to the Bill but does not consider clauses and Schedules to which no amendments have been tabled.
  • The Report stage provides an opportunity for Members who were not on the Standing Committee to move amendments to the Bill.
  • The delay between Committee and Report allows time for the Government to give further thought to some of the points raised during the committee stage and, if they feel it necessary, bring forward their own amendments in lieu of amendments which were rejected or withdrawn in the Committee.
  • The House may reverse or amend changes made by the Standing Committee.
  • If a Bill has been dealt with by a Committee of the whole House, and has not been amended, it progresses straight to Third Reading without a Report Stage.

Third Reading

  • The final Commons stage of the Bill is the Third Reading, usually taken directly after the conclusion of Report.
  • The House takes an overview of the Bill, as amended in Committee or on Report.
  • No amendments may be made at this stage.
  • Debates on Third Reading are usually very short.

Lords Stages and Amendments

  • The Bill is sent to the Lords- usually on the next sitting day.
  • The legislative process in the House of Lords is broadly similar to that in the House of Commons. Important differences are:
    1. after Second Reading, Bills are usually committed to a Committee of the whole House.
    2. there is no guillotine and debate on amendments is unrestricted.
    3. amendments can be made at Third Reading as well as at Committee and Consideration stage.

Reaching consensus

  • The Lords and Commons must finally agree a text of each Bill. If the Lords have not amended a Commons Bill they inform the Commons of the fact.
  • If the Lords amend a Commons Bill, their amendments are printed and considered by the Commons. Here, the Commons can do three things:
    1. they may agree to the Lords amendments,
    2. they may amend the amendments,
    3. they may disagree to them.
  • If the Commons agree to the Lords amendments, but with amendments of their own, they ask the Lords to agree to those amendments.
  • If they disagree to the Lords amendments, they send a Message giving the reasons for their disagreement and the Lords consider the matter further.

Royal Assent

  • When a text has been agreed between the Houses, the Bill is submitted for the Royal Assent. The Crown must give Assent to a Bill for it to pass into law.
  • After signification of Royal Assent, the Bill becomes an Act.