Stages of a bill through parliament

A bill goes through a number of stages before it becomes an act.

A Bill goes through a number of stages before it becomes an Act. A Bill may be started in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords and will need to go through the same procedure in each House and all the stages before it can become law.

First Reading

This is a formality when the Bill is first introduced to the House.  There is no debate at this stage and the name of the Bill and the main aims are read out but there is a vote which will need to be passed if the Bill is to proceed. 

Second Reading

This is the main debate on the Bill when the MPs take the opportunity to debate the main principles. The debate is controlled by the speaker. At the end of the debate there will be a vote and a majority must approve the Bill if it is to progress.


Committee Stage

A detailed consideration is given to the Bill on a clause by clause basis. The Committee will be made up of between 16 and 50 members chosen according to their qualification and experience as well as the political composition of the House of Commons to ensure that the opposition and minority parties are properly represented.  These are now known as Public Bill Committees  but were formerly known as standing committees.  

Report Stage

This is a vital stage if members are to be kept up to date with developments. A report will be made, to the whole House, of the amendments put forward and approved at the Committee Stage. There will be no Report Stage if no amendments were made at the Committee Stage and the Bill will be sent straight to the Third Reading.

Third Reading

This is, in effect, the final vote on the Bill. There can be a further debate on the Bill but it requires at least 6 members to request the debate. This would be unusual as it is virtually a formality at this stage, bearing in mind it needed to have a majority to progress to this point. This does not rule out the possibility of amendments being made in the House of Lords at the Third Reading Stage.

The other House

If the Bill started in the House of Coomons the above five stages are then repeated in the House of Lords. If the Bill started in the House of Lords it then passes on to the House of Commons.

Royal Assent  

This is the final stage and at which point the Bill becomes law. The stage requires the approval of the Monarch.  This is a constitutional formality under the Royal Assent Act 1961 and the Queen does not have to read the contents of the Bill. The last time a monarch refused to sign a Bill was back in 1707 when Queen Anne refused to give her assent to the Scottish Militia Bill.

The Bill will come into force on a date given in the Act or on a date appointed by the appropriate Government Minister. If the Act is silent on the matter the Act will take effect at midnight following the Royal Assent.

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