In parliamentary law making, outline the nature and purpose of green and white papers and the legislative procedure in the house of commons.

Green Papers are produced by the Government and are consultative documents. White Papers contain future policy details on a subject and form the basis for a Bill to be put before Parliament.

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Green and White Papers now form an important part of the pre-legislative process to parliamentary law making. A Green Paper outlines the tentative proposals for legislative changes and invites observations. A White Paper is different in that it sets out firm proposals for new law – at times a draft bill may accompany a White Paper.


Green Papers were introduced in 1967 and have now become a regular feature of modern law making. Green Papers are issued by the appropriate Minister having responsibility for the matter and they are written by civil servants. Green Papers give interested parties both inside and outside of parliament an opportunity to comment upon the proposed new law, they are a starting point and outline an initial idea.


Any changes made to the Green Paper are sent to the Government Department in question in order that these can be considered and implemented if necessary. As the proposals are only in draft form at this stage, responses and comments are valuable as practical as well as principled arguments can be put forward thus anticipating problems and improving the quality of the legislation.


It may be difficult to comment in detail at this stage of the process as the full information regarding the proposals may not be included in the Green Paper. Green Papers are published before White Papers and are consultative in nature.


If the Government are intent on passing a new law a White Paper will follow, although not every matter which is the subject of a White Paper becomes law as the Government may decide that the proposal will be too unpopular. White Papers are more specific and contain firm proposals they are more detailed and may even contain a draft bill.


As a result comments on White Papers may be more about the workings and effects of the new legislation as interested parties, by this stage, have more detail upon which to comment. This part of the consultative process is invaluable as it is likely to polarise the views of all parties interested in the proposed legislation and as a result the Government will learn where there is firm support or opposition for any subsequent bill.


The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is often cited as an example of a badly worded piece of legislation which could have been vastly improved if the Government of the day had consulted interested parties properly before rushing through the legislation. The Act required certain breeds, 'dangerous' breeds, to be muzzled in public, but unfortunately the workability of the Act was not considered sufficiently and has since proved problematic to police and enforce.



In recognition of the growing importance of consultations as part of the pre-legislative process some Statutory Instruments, albeit secondary forms of legislation, must follow 'super affirmative' resolutions under the enabling Acts which authorise the making of delegated legislation. This requires the appropriate minister to show that they have properly considered representations which have been put forward as part of the consultative process.


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 as he or she gives their consent to those who may speak during the debate. 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 known as Standing Committees.


Report stage – This is vital 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 the committee Stage and the bill will be sent straight to the Third Reading.


Third Reading – This, in effect, is 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 will 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 – As the bill started in the House of Commons (according to the question asked), the above five stages are then repeated in the House of Lords. If the bill had started in the House of Lords then it passes to the House of Commons.


Royal Assent – This is the final stage 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.


The second House, namely the House of Lords, is an unelected House and a question that is often asked is, 'what would happen in the event that the Lords refused to approve of legislation passed to it by the House of Commons which consists of elected MPs?' The answer is that the House of Lords' ability to hold up or prevent bills from becoming law are now limited by the Parliamentary Acts 1911 and 1949.


In the case of 'Money bills' which may deal with financial matters such as taxation, the Government may, in order to avoid delay, reintroduce the bill in the House of Commons after one month and, if it is passed a second time, it becomes law. In the case of ordinary bills the House of Lords cannot delay their progress after a year.


It is accepted that the House of Lords does carry out a check and balance upon the House of Commons so that the House of Commons rarely resorts to using the Parliamentary Acts. Recent examples can however be found in the War Crimes Act 1991 and the Hunting Act 2004.


The War Crimes Act 1991 was concerned with the ability to prosecute war criminals for war crimes even after a long period and the House of Lords' opposition was considered out of touch. Having been rejected by the House of Lords it went on to become only the fourth statute since the 1911 Parliament Act to be enacted under its terms and the bill was passed with just the authority of the House of Commons. Similarly The Hunting bill had met sustained opposition from the House of Lords despite apparent widespread support for the proposals elsewhere. After many years of frustration and lack of progress, the Parliamentary Acts were invoked by the speaker of the House of Commons and The Hunting Act was finally pushed through.


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Green Paper

White Paper

Stages Of A Bill Through Parliament




This essay describes Green Papers and White Papers and details the stages a Bill must go through to become an Act.

It addresses the frequently asked question of  'what would happen in the event that the Lords refused to approve of legislation passed to it by the House of Commons which consists of elected MPs?' and looks at the Parliamentary Acts 1911 and 1949.

The links provided will allow you to do further research and enhance your understanding of this procedure.


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