Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom
An Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom is a type of legislation called primary legislation
Primary legislation
Primary legislation is law made by the legislative branch of government. This contrasts with secondary legislation, which is usually made by the executive branch...

. These Acts are passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 at Westminster, or by the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood", is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament...

 at Edinburgh.

A draft piece of legislation is called a bill
Bill (proposed law)
A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive. Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an act or a statute....

, when this is passed by Parliament it becomes an Act and part of statute law.

Classification of legislation

Acts of Parliament are classified as either "Public General Acts" or "Local and Personal Acts" (also known as "Private Acts"). Bills are also classified as "public", "private", or "hybrid".

Public General Acts

Public General Acts form the largest category of legislation, in principle affecting the public general law applying to everyone across the entire United Kingdom (or at least to one or more of its constituent countries of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, or Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

). Most Public General Acts proceed through Parliament as a public bill; occasionally, however, a bill is treated as hybrid.

Local and Personal Acts (Private Acts)

Private Acts are either local or personal in their effect, applying to a specifically named locality or legal person in a manner different from all others. Private bills are "usually promoted by organisations, like local authorities or private companies, to give themselves powers beyond, or in conflict with, the general law. Private bills only change the law as it applies to specific individuals or organisations, rather than the general public. Groups or individuals potentially affected by these changes can petition Parliament against the proposed bill and present their objections to committees of MPs and Lords." They include acts to confer powers on certain local authorities, a recent example being the Canterbury City Council Bill, which makes provisions relating to street trading and consumer protection in the city. Private bills can also affect certain companies; the Northern Bank Bill allowed the statutory right of Northern Bank to issue bank notes to be transferred following a takeover of the company by Danske Bank. Other private bills may affect particular companies established by Act of Parliament such as TSB Bank
Trustee Savings Bank
The Trustee Savings Bank was a British financial institution which specialised in accepting savings deposits from the poor. They did not trade their shares on the stock market and, unlike mutually held building societies, depositors had no voting rights nor the ability to direct the financial and...

 and Transas.

Personal Acts are a sub-category of private Acts, which confer specific rights or duties on a named individual or individuals, for example allowing two persons to marry even though they are within a "prohibited degree of consanguinity or affinity" such as stepfather and stepdaughter.

Private bills, common in the 19th century, are now rare, as new planning legislation introduced in the 1960s removed the need for many of them; only a few, if any, are passed each year. They are subject to a different procedure from that for public bills, described above, involving a quasi-judicial
Quasi-judicial body
A quasi-judicial body is an individual or organization which has powers resembling those of a court of law or judge and is able to remedy a situation or impose legal penalties on a person or organization.-Powers:...

 committee of three MPs
MPS may refer to:* Robinson List, aka Mail Preference Service, direct mail opt-out system* Malmin Palloseura, association football club from Helsinki, Finland.* Marginal propensity to save* Master Production Schedule...


Parliamentary authorities maintain a list of all private bills before parliament.

Hybrid bills

Hybrid bills combine elements of both public and private Acts. While they propose to make changes to the general law, they are also contain provisions applying to specific individuals or bodies. Recent examples include the Crossrail Bill, a hybrid bill to build a railway across London from west to east
Crossrail is a project to build a major new railway link under central London. The name refers to the first of two routes which are the responsibility of Crossrail Ltd. It is based on an entirely new east-west tunnel with a central section from to Liverpool Street station...

. The 1976 Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was a particularly controversial bill that was ruled to be a hybrid bill, forcing the government to withdraw some of its provisions to allow its passage as a public bill. Once passed, hybrid bills are printed as part of the Public General Acts.

Parliamentary authorities maintain a list of all hybrid bills before parliament.

Private members' bills

It is important not to confuse private bills with private members' bills, which are public bills designed to affect a general change in the law. The only difference from regular public bills is that they are brought forward by a private member (a backbencher) rather than by the government. Twenty private members' bills per session are allowed to be introduced, with the sponsoring private members selected by a ballot of the whole house, and additional bills may be introduced under the Ten Minute Rule
Ten Minute Rule
The Ten Minute Rule, also known as Standing Order No. 23, is a procedure in the British Parliament for the introduction of Private Member's Bills in addition to the 20 per session normally permissible. It is one of the ways in which a bill may receive its first reading.Any MP may introduce a bill...


Financial bills

Financial bills raise revenue and authorise how money is spent. The most well known such piece of legislation is the annual Finance Bill introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 at the budget. This encompasses all the changes to be made to tax law for the year. Its formal description is "a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance". Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Bills authorise government spending.

Housekeeping bills

This type of bill is designed to keep the business of government and public affairs up to date. These bills may not be substantial or controversial in party political terms. Two sub-classes of the housekeeping bill are the consolidation bill, which sets out existing laws in a more clear and up-to-date form without changing its substance and the tax law rewrite bill
Tax law rewrite project
The Tax Law Rewrite Project of HM Revenue and Customs was a major effort to re-write the entire tax legislation of the United Kingdom in a format which is both more consistent and more understandable...

, which do the same for tax law.

Delegated legislation

An Act of Parliament will often confer power on the Queen in Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

, a Minister
Minister of the Crown
Minister of the Crown is the formal constitutional term used in the Commonwealth realms to describe a minister to the reigning sovereign. The term indicates that the minister serves at His/Her Majesty's pleasure, and advises the monarch, or viceroy, on how to exercise the Crown prerogatives...

 or another public body to create delegated legislation, usually by means of a Statutory Instrument.

Stages of a bill

Bills may start their passage in either the House of Commons or House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, although bills which are mainly or entirely financial will start in the Commons. Each bill passes through the following stages:

Consultation, drafting and pre-legislative scrutiny

Although not strictly part of the legislative process, a period of consultation will take place before a bill is drafted. Within government, the Treasury and other departments with an interest will be consulted along with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Outside government, interested parties such as trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s, industry bodies and pressure groups will be asked for their views on any proposals. The Cabinet Office Code of Practice specifies a minimum consultation period of twelve weeks. Consultation documents are widely circulated (see for example the Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

 consultation on extreme pornography and the Scottish Government's consultation on food policy).

The character of the consultation is shaped by the government's determination to press forward with a particular set of proposals. A government may publish a green paper
Green paper
In the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and the United States a green paper is a tentative government report of a proposal without any commitment to action; the first step in changing the law...

 outlining various legislative options or a white paper
White paper
A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions, and are often requested and used in politics, policy, business, and technical fields. In commercial use, the term has also come to refer to...

, which is a clear statement of intent. It is increasingly common for a small number of Government bills to be published in draft before they are presented in Parliament. These bills are then considered either by the relevant select committee of the House of Commons or by an ad hoc joint committee of both Houses. This provides an opportunity for the committee to express a view on the bill and propose amendments before it is introduced. Draft bills allow more lengthy scrutiny of potential legislation and have been seen as a response to time pressures which may result in the use of programme orders to impose a strict timetable on the passage of bills and what is known as 'drafting on the hoof', where the government introduces amendments to its own bills. With increased time for scrutiny backed up with considered evidence, draft bills may present governments with difficulty in getting their way.

The sponsoring government department will then write to the relevant policy committee of the Cabinet. The proposals are only discussed at a meeting if disagreements arise. Even an uncontroversial proposal may face administrative hurdles. A potential change in the law may have to wait for a more extensive bill in that policy area to be brought forward before it worthwhile devoting parliamentary time to it. The proposal will then be bundled together with more substantive measures in the same Bill. The Ministerial Committee on the Legislative Programme (LP), including the leaders and government chief whips in both houses, is responsible for the timetable of legislation. This committee decides which house a bill will start in, recommends to the Cabinet which proposals will be in the Queen's Speech, which will be published in draft and how much parliamentary time will be required.

Following a process of consultation, the sponsoring department will send drafting instructions to parliamentary counsel, expert lawyers working for the government responsible for writing legislation. These instructions will describe what the bill should do but not the detail of how this is achieved. Parliamentary council must draft the legislation clearly to minimise possibility of legal challenge and to fit the bill in with existing UK, European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 and delegated legislation. A finished bill must therefore be approved or scrutinised by the sponsoring department and minister, parliamentary council and LP.

The final stage is the submission of the bill to the authorities of the house in which it is to start its legislative journey. In the Commons this is the Clerk of Legislation and then Public Bill Office in the Lords. They will check the following:
  • That the bill complies with the rules of the house
  • That everything in the bill is covered by its 'long title' (text describing the purposes of the bill)
  • In the Commons, that every provision requiring expenditure or levying taxes is identified and printed in italics
  • Whether the Royal Prerogative
    Royal Prerogative
    The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the sovereign alone. It is the means by which some of the executive powers of government, possessed by and...

     is affected
  • Whether it conflicts with or duplicates any bill which has already been introduced

After this process, the bill is then ready for introduction.

First reading

The first reading is a formality and no debate or vote occurs. A notice that a bill is being presented for its first reading appears on the Order Paper
Order Paper
The Order Paper is a daily publication in the Westminster system of government which lists the business of parliament for that day's sitting. A separate paper is issued daily for each house of the legislature....

 for that day. The European Union (Amendment) Bill appeared on the Order Paper for 17 December 2007 as follows:
As we can see in this video footage of the first reading, the MP is called by the Speaker at the commencement of public business and brings a 'dummy bill', a sheet of paper with the short and long titles and the names of up to twelve supporters, to the Clerk of the House at the Table. The Clerk reads out the short title and the Speaker says "Second reading what day?" For all government bills the response is almost always "tomorrow" (or the next sitting day). A date is also set for private members bills; the decision for scheduling such bills is crucial as they are not given 'government time' to be debated. The bill is recorded in the proceedings as having been read for a first time, having been ordered to be printed and to be read a second time on a particular date. In the case of a Government Bill, Explanatory Notes, which try to explain the effect of the Bill in more simple language, are also usually ordered to be printed. Again, in the case of the European Union (Amendment) Bill this appeared in Hansard
Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.-Origins:...

 as follows:
A bill introduced in this way is known as a presentation bill. Bills can also be introduced in the Commons by being brought in from the Lords, being brought in by resolution (like the Finance Bill) or when an MP gets leave to bring in a ten-minute rule bill.

A Government Bill can be introduced first into either House. Bills which begin in the Lords have '[Lords]' suffixed to its title when in the Lords and '[HL]' when in the Commons. Bills which deal primarily with taxation or public expenditure begin their passage in the Commons, since the financial privileges of that House mean that it has primacy in these matters (see Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form part of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1949 provides that that Act and the Parliament Act 1911 are to be construed as one.The Parliament Act 1911 The...

). Conversely, bills relating to the judicial system, Law Commission
Law Commission
A Law Commission or Law Reform Commission is an independent body set up by a government to conduct law reform; that is, to consider the state of laws in a jurisdiction and make recommendations or proposals for legal changes or restructuring...

 bills and consolidation bill
Consolidation bill
A consolidation bill is a bill introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the intention of consolidating several Acts of Parliament or Statutory Instruments into a single Act...

s begin their passage in the House of Lords which by convention has primacy in these matters.

Second reading

In the second reading, which in theory is supposed to occur two weekends after the first reading, a debate on the general principles of the bill is followed by a vote. This is the main opportunity to debate the principle of the bill rather than individual clauses. A division at this stage therefore represents a direct challenge to the principle of the bill. If the bill is read a second time, it proceeds to the committee stage.

Normally, the Second Reading of a Government bill is approved. A defeat for a Government bill on this Reading usually signifies a major loss. The last time this happened was at the second reading of the Shops Bill for the government of Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 in 1986. The bill, which liberalised controls on Sunday trading, was defeated in the Commons by 14 votes. The last defeat for a government was on the 90-day detention element of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, intended to deal with the Law Lords' ruling of 16 December 2004 that the detention without trial of eight foreigners at HM Prison Belmarsh under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001...

. However this defeat was in the form of an amendment (for 28-day rather than 90-day detention) in contrast to opposition to the entire bill at the second reading. If the bill had been defeated at the second reading it would never have become an act.

Second reading debates on government bills usually take a day, in practice about six hours. Smaller and less controversial bills will receive less time and wholly uncontroversial measures will receive a second reading 'on the nod' with no debate whatsoever. The National Insurance Contributions bill appeared in the Order Papers as follows:
As we can see from video footage of the debate for this bill, second readings of government bills take place on a motion moved (for Government bills) by a minister in the department responsible for the legislation "that the bill now be read a second time". The minister outlines the overall purpose of the Bill and highlights particular parts of the Bill they consider most important. The official Opposition spokesperson responds with his or her views on the Bill. The debate continues with other Opposition parties and backbench MPs giving their opinions on the principles of the Bill. The minister will eventually bring the debate to a conclusion by saying, of the bill, "I commend it to the House". The Speaker will then propose the question by saying, for example, "The Question is, that the Bill be now read a second time". The Speaker then invites supporters of the bill to say "aye" and then opponents say "no": "All members of that opinion say 'aye' [supporters say 'aye'], contrary 'no' [opponents say 'no']. In what is known as collecting the voices the Speaker makes a judgement as to the loudest cry. A clear majority either way will prompt the response "I think the Ayes/Noes have it" (this can be forced to a division by continued cries either way). If the result is at all in doubt a division will be called and the speaker will say "Division. Clear the Lobby". This refers not to the division lobbies used for voting but the Members' Lobby beyond the chamber which is cleared by the doorkeepers. At this point, division bell
Division bell
A division bell is a bell rung in or around a parliament to signal a division and thus call all members of the chamber so affected to vote in it.- In the United Kingdom :...

s will ring throughout the palace and also in nearby flats, pubs and restaurants whose owners pay to be connected to the system. This allows MPs who may not be in the debate to come and vote on the issue in question.

After two minutes, the Speaker will put the Question again to assess whether there is still disagreement. He will then name the tellers, whose job it is to count the votes. These will usually be government and opposition whips. In the example we have looked at: "Tellers for the Ayes Mr. Dave Watts and Mr. Steve McCabe
Steve McCabe (politician)
Stephen James McCabe is a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hall Green from 1997 to 2010, when he was elected for Birmingham Selly Oak.-Early life:...

; tellers for the Noes Mr. Nick Hurd
Nick Hurd
Nicholas Richard Hurd , known as Nick Hurd, is a United Kingdom Conservative Member of Parliament.He was elected Member for Ruislip-Northwood at the May 2005 general election with 47.7% of the votes...

 and Mr. John Barron
John Barron
John Barron may refer to:* John Barron , English actor, best known for The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin* John Barron , American journalist who exposed Communist activities* John Barron , Irish sportsman...

". If no teller has come forward (or only one) the Speaker declares the result for the other side.

One teller from each side goes to the end of each division lobby and count MPs as they emerge. Whips are also at the other end of the lobby to ensure that their MPs vote with the party line. The names are taken by division clerks and are published in Hansard the next day (see example from Hansard or with greater clarity from the Public Whip). After eight minutes from first calling the division the speaker says "lock the doors", the doorkeepers lock the doors leading into the lobbies and no more MPs can get in to vote. When every member has passed the division clerks and tellers, a division slip is produced by the Clerks at the Table and is given to one of the tellers on the winning side. The tellers then form up at the Table in front of the Mace facing the speaker and the teller with the slip reads the result to the House, for example: "The Ayes to the right, 291. The Noes to the left, 161". The Clerk then takes the slip to the Speaker, who repeats the result and adds "So the Ayes have it, the Ayes have it. Unlock". The doorkeepers then unlock the doors to the division lobbies. The whole process, from the summing up speech by the minister to the division is well illustrated by video footage from the National Insurance Contributions Bill. The section from Hansard is as follows:
Divisions on second readings can be on a straight opposition or a vote on a 'reasoned amendment', detailing the reasons the bill's opponents do not want it read a second time, which may be selected by the Speaker. Bills defeated at a second reading cannot progress further or be reintroduced with exactly the same wording in the same session.

Procedural orders and resolutions

In the case of Government Bills, the House normally passes forthwith (i.e. without debate but almost always with a vote) a Programme Order in the form of a programme motion, setting out the timetable for the committee and remaining stages of the Bill. This takes place immediately after the second reading. For example:
The House may also pass a separate money resolution, authorising any expenditure arising from the Bill; and/or a ways and means resolution, authorising any new taxes or charges the Bill creates. Bills are not programmed in the House of Lords.

Committee stage

This usually takes place in a standing committee in the Commons and on the Floor of the House in the Lords. In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons utilizes the following committees on bills:
  • Standing Committee: Despite the name, a standing committee is a committee specifically constituted for a certain bill. Its membership reflects the strengths of the parties in the House. Now known as a Public Bill Committee
  • Special Standing Committee: The committee investigates the issues and principles of the bill before sending it to a regular Standing Committee. This procedure has been used very rarely in recent years (the Adoption and Children Bill in 2001–02 is the only recent example); the pre-legislative scrutiny
    Legislative scrutiny
    Legislative Scrutiny is a system for assessing the effectiveness of statutes. Legislative scrutiny will be different according to the moment when it is carried on...

     process (see above) is now preferred. Now also known as a Special Public Bill Committee.
  • Select Committee: A specialised committee that normally conducts oversight hearings for a certain Department considers the bill. This procedure has not been used in recent years, with the exception of the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill, which is always referred to a select committee.
  • Committee of the Whole House: The whole house sits as a committee in the House of Commons to consider a bill. Bills usually considered in this way are the principal parts of the annual Finance Bill, bills of first-class constitutional importance (for example, the Scotland Act 1998
    Scotland Act 1998
    The Scotland Act 1998 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is the Act which established the devolved Scottish Parliament.The Act will be amended by the Scotland Bill 2011, if and when it receives royal assent.-History:...

    ) and bills that are so uncontroversial that the committee stage may be dispensed with quickly and easily on the floor of the House, without the need to nominate a committee (some Private Members' Bills are usually dealt with this way each year). This is also the procedure used in the upper house.
  • Grand Committee (House of Lords): This is a recent new procedure used for some bills which is intended to speed up business. Although it takes place in a separate room, it is technically still a committee of the whole House in that all members can attend and participate. Procedure is the same as for a Committee in the main Chamber, but there are no votes.

The committee considers each clause of the bill, and may make amendments to it. Significant amendments may be made at committee stage. In some cases, whole groups of clauses are inserted or removed. However, almost all the amendments which are agreed to in committee will have been tabled by the Government to correct deficiencies in the bill, to enact changes to policy made since the bill was introduced (or, in some cases, to import material which was not ready when the bill was presented), or to reflect concessions made as a result of earlier debate.

Report stage

The report state, known formally as "consideration", takes place on the Floor of the House, and is a further opportunity to amend the bill. Unlike committee stage, the House need not consider every clause of the bill, only those to which amendments have been tabled.

Third reading

In the third reading, a debate on the final text of the bill, as amended. In the Lords, further amendments may be made on third reading, in the Commons it is usually a short debate followed by a single vote; amendments are not permitted.


The bill is then sent to the other House (to the Lords, if it originated in the Commons; to the Commons, if it is a Lords bill), which may amend it. The Commons may reject a bill from the Lords outright; the Lords may amend a bill from the Commons but, if they reject it, the Commons may force it through without the Lords' consent in the following Session of Parliament, as is detailed below Furthermore, the Lords can neither initiate nor amend money bills, bills dealing exclusively with public expenditure or the raising of revenue. If the other House amends the bill, the bill and amendments are sent back for a further stage.

There is a constitutional convention
Constitutional convention (political custom)
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most...

 that the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 should not spend more than 60 days over bills sent to them by the Commons.

Consideration of amendments

The House in which the bill originated considers the amendments made in the other House. It may agree to them, amend them, propose other amendments in lieu or reject them. A bill may pass backwards and forwards several times at this stage, as each House amends or rejects changes proposed by the other. If each House insists on disagreeing with the other, the bill is lost under the 'double insistence' rule, unless the Parliament Acts are invoked.

The Parliament Acts: Under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form part of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1949 provides that that Act and the Parliament Act 1911 are to be construed as one.The Parliament Act 1911 The...

, which do not apply for bills seeking to extend Parliament's length to more than five years, if the Lords reject a bill originated in the House of Commons, then the Commons may pass that bill again in the next session. The bill is then submitted for Royal Assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

 even though the Lords did not pass it. Also, if the Lords do not approve of a money bill within thirty days of passage in the Commons, the bill is submitted for Royal Assent nevertheless.

Enacting formula

Each Act commences with one of the following:


For money bill
Money bill
In the Westminster system , a money bill or supply bill is a bill that solely concerns taxation or government spending , as opposed to changes in public law.- Conventions :...


Under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form part of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1949 provides that that Act and the Parliament Act 1911 are to be construed as one.The Parliament Act 1911 The...


Scottish Parliament

In the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood", is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament...

, bills pass through the following stages:
  1. Introduction: The Bill is introduced to the Parliament together with its accompanying documents – Explanatory Notes, a Policy Memorandum setting out the policy underlying the Bill and a Financial Memorandum setting out the costs and savings associated with it. Statements from the Presiding Officer and the member in charge of the Bill are also lodged, indicating whether the Bill is within the legislative competence of the Parliament.
  2. Stage One: The Bill is considered by one or more of the subject Committees of the Parliament, which normally take evidence from the bill's promoter and other interested parties before reporting to the Parliament on the principles of the Bill. Other Committees, notably the Finance and Subordinate Legislation Committees, may also feed in at this stage. The report from the Committee is followed by a debate in the full Parliament.
  3. Stage Two: The Bill returns to the subject Committee where it is subject to line-by-line scrutiny and amendment. This is similar to the Committee Stage in the UK Parliament.
  4. Stage Three: The Bill as amended by the Committee returns to the full Parliament. There is a further opportunity for amendment, followed by a debate on the whole Bill, at the end of which the Parliament decides whether to pass the Bill.
  5. Royal Assent: After the Bill has been passed, the Presiding Officer submits it to Her Majesty for Royal Assent. However he cannot do so until a 4-week period has elapsed during which the Law Officers of the Scottish Executive
    Scottish Executive
    The Scottish Government is the executive arm of the devolved government of Scotland. It was established in 1999 as the Scottish Executive, from the extant Scottish Office, and the term Scottish Executive remains its legal name under the Scotland Act 1998...

     or UK Government can refer the Bill to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
    Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
    The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom. Established by the Judicial Committee Act 1833 to hear appeals formerly heard by the King in Council The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is one of the highest courts in the United...

     for a ruling on whether the Bill is within the powers of the Parliament.

There are special procedures for emergency Bills, members Bills (similar to Private Member's Bills in the UK Parliament), committee Bills, and private Bills.


In the UK there is still a presumption that Parliament is sovereign
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. In the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, a legislative body has absolute sovereignty, meaning it is supreme to all other government institutions—including any executive or judicial bodies...

, however it is recognised that "Acts of Parliament are no longer sovereign but can be overruled if they incompatible with European Laws". Within that constraint Acts of Parliament are generally without limit. European Law can overturn such Acts because the European Communities Act 1972
European Communities Act 1972
European Communities Act 1972 can refer to:*European Communities Act 1972 * European Communities Act 1972...

 agreed that UK law should not wish to conflict with European Law. Similarly, although Parliament has devolved significant powers to the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood", is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament...

, the Northern Ireland Assembly
Northern Ireland Assembly
The Northern Ireland Assembly is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. It has power to legislate in a wide range of areas that are not explicitly reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and to appoint the Northern Ireland Executive...

 and the National Assembly for Wales
National Assembly for Wales
The National Assembly for Wales is a devolved assembly with power to make legislation in Wales. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs...

, it is free to overrule or even abolish those institutions, although this would be unlikely in practice.

British law is also made through Statutory Instruments (SIs). These are laws which are made in the name of a government minister, exercising legislative powers delegated to him or her by Act of Parliament (known as the parent Act or enabling Act). Some of these must be approved by Parliament before they can become law, others need only be laid before Parliament a certain number of days (usually 40) before coming into force. They are used because they are much faster and simpler to implement than a full Act of Parliament, and are more easily amended to reflect changing circumstances. SIs are sometimes described as "secondary legislation, not second class legislation". Provided they fall within the power delegated by the enabling Act, they have the same force as an Act of Parliament, and much of the UK's law is made in this way. There are literally thousands of SIs each year, compared with around 50 Acts. Statutory Instruments are also used to bring Acts into force. Most Acts have sections that come into effect upon Royal Assent, or at a set date thereafter. However, other sections are brought into force using a SI which is titled [Act Name] (Commencement) No. # Order. Whilst most legislation has had a maximum of half a dozen Commencement Orders, this is not a strict limit as some Acts have had over 10.

International treaties are not effective in domestic UK law until enforced by an Act of Parliament (e.g. The European Communities Act, which brought the UK into the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

, the Single European Act which allowed for the creation of the single European internal market
Single market
A single market is a type of trade bloc which is composed of a free trade area with common policies on product regulation, and freedom of movement of the factors of production and of enterprise and services. The goal is that the movement of capital, labour, goods, and services between the members...

 or the Outer Space Act which deals with international treaties on Space).

Historical records

At the end of a medieval Parliament of England
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

 a collection of Acts of a public character was made in the form of a Statute Roll
Statute Roll
Statute Roll is a manuscript parchment roll with the text of statutes passed by the medieval Parliament of England. Statute Rolls are also called Tower Rolls since they were kept in Wakefield Tower of the Tower of London until the 1850s....

 and given the title of the King’s regnal year; each particular Act forming a section, or a chapter, of the complete Statute, so that, e.g. the Vagabonds Act 1383
Vagabonds Act 1383
The Vagabonds Act 1383 was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of England passed in 1383. It empowered Justices of Assize, Justices of the Peace or county sheriffs to bind over vagabonds for good behaviour, or to commit them to the assizes if sureties could not be given.The Act was repealed by...

 became VII Ric. II, c.5. Enrolment of Public Acts on manuscript parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

 "Parliament Rolls" continued until 1850. The longest Act of Parliament in the form of a scroll is an Act regarding taxation passed in 1821. It is nearly a quarter of a mile (348m) long, and used to take two men a whole day to rewind. Until 1850, a paper draft was brought into the House in which the Bill started; after the committee stage there the Bill was inscribed on a parchment roll and this parchment was then passed to the other House which could introduce amendments. The original Bill was never re-written and knives were used to scrape away the script from the top surface of the rolls, before new text was added. Since 1850 two copies of each Act were printed on vellum
Vellum is mammal skin prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. It is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation, the quality of the skin and the type of animal used...

, one for preservation in the House of Lords and the other for transmission to the Public Record Office.

Since 1483 annual volumes of Public Acts ("Statute Books") have been printed. In these volumes not only Public Acts but also some Private Acts and various "Local and Personal Acts declared Public" have been included.

All UK Acts of Parliament since 1497 are kept in the House of Lords Record Office, including the oldest Act: The "Taking of Apprentices for Worsteads in the County of Norfolk" Act 1497, a reference to the wool worsted
Worsted , is the name of a yarn, the cloth made from this yarn, and a yarn weight category. The name derives from the village of Worstead in the English county of Norfolk...

 manufacture at Worstead
Worstead is a village and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. It lies 5 km south of North Walsham, 9 km north of Wroxham, and 20 km north of Norwich. The village is served by Worstead railway station on the Bittern Line....

 in Norfolk, England.

Acts passed before 1 January 1963 are cited by session and chapter. The session of parliament in which the Act was passed is referred to by the regnal year or years of the reigning Monarch and his name, which is usually abbreviated. So, for example, the Treason Act 1945
Treason Act 1945
The Treason Act 1945 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.It was introduced into the House of Lords as a purely procedural statute, whose sole purpose was to abolish the old and highly technical procedure in cases of treason, and assimilate it to...

 may be cited:
Regnal year or years Monarch Abbreviation of "chapter" Chapter number
8 & 9 Geo 6 c 44

All Acts passed on or after 1 January 1963 are cited by calendar year and chapter.

All recent Acts have a short title
Short title
The short title is the formal name by which a piece of primary legislation may by law be cited in the United Kingdom and other Westminster-influenced jurisdictions , as well as the United States. It contrasts with the long title which, while usually being more fully descriptive of the...

, or citation (e.g. Local Government Act 2003, National Health Service Act 1974).

Many Acts of a private, personal or local character often have not ever been printed, surviving only in a single manuscript copy in the Victoria Tower
Victoria Tower
The Victoria Tower is the square tower at the south-west end of the Palace of Westminster in London, facing south and west onto Black Rod's Garden and Old Palace Yard. At , it is slightly taller than the more famous Clock Tower at the north end of the Palace . It houses the Parliamentary Archives...


Acts in force

The UK's Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Justice is a ministerial department of the UK Government headed by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for improvements to the justice system so that it better serves the public...

 publishes most Acts of Parliament in an on-line statute law database. It is the official revised edition of the primary legislation
Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

 of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. The database shows Acts as amended by subsequent legislation and is the statute book of UK legislation.

Acts of constitutional importance

Important Acts in UK constitutional history include:
  • Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 – united England and Wales
  • Bill of Rights 1689
    Bill of Rights 1689
    The Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights 1688 is an Act of the Parliament of England.The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament on 16 December 1689. It was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689 ,...

     – placed (or restated) limits on the monarch's power
  • Act of Settlement 1701
    Act of Settlement 1701
    The Act of Settlement is an act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1701 to settle the succession to the English throne on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs. The act was later extended to Scotland, as a result of the Treaty of Union , enacted in the Acts of Union...

     – established a line of succession for the monarchy
  • Act of Union 1707 – united England and Scotland into Great Britain
  • Act of Union 1800
    Act of Union 1800
    The Acts of Union 1800 describe two complementary Acts, namely:* the Union with Ireland Act 1800 , an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, and...

     – united Great Britain and Ireland into the United Kingdom
  • Reform Act 1832
    Reform Act 1832
    The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales...

     – with later Reform Act
    Reform Act
    In the United Kingdom, Reform Act is a generic term used for legislation concerning electoral matters. It is most commonly used for laws passed to enfranchise new groups of voters and to redistribute seats in the British House of Commons...

    s and Representation of the People Act
    Representation of the People Act
    Representation of the People Act is a short title for legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom dealing with the electoral system.-List:*The Representation of the People Act 1832*The Representation of the People Act 1832...

    s, extended the franchise and removed rotten borough
    Rotten borough
    A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

  • Parliament Act 1911
    Parliament Act 1911
    The Parliament Act 1911 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is constitutionally important and partly governs the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which make up the Houses of Parliament. This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1949...

     (amended 1949) – allowed the House of Commons to overrule the House of Lords after a delay
  • Statute of Westminster 1931
    Statute of Westminster 1931
    The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Passed on 11 December 1931, the Act established legislative equality for the self-governing dominions of the British Empire with the United Kingdom...

     – gave constitutional independence to the British dominions overseas
  • European Communities Act 1972
    European Communities Act 1972 (UK)
    The European Communities Act 1972 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom providing for the incorporation of European Community law into the domestic law of the United Kingdom. It is not to be confused with the Irish law of the same name, Act No...

     – made the UK part of what is now the European Union
    European Union
    The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

     providing for the application of European Law
  • Human Rights Act 1998
    Human Rights Act 1998
    The Human Rights Act 1998 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received Royal Assent on 9 November 1998, and mostly came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim is to "give further effect" in UK law to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights...

     – Enshrined Convention rights in domestic law
  • Scotland Act 1998
    Scotland Act 1998
    The Scotland Act 1998 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is the Act which established the devolved Scottish Parliament.The Act will be amended by the Scotland Bill 2011, if and when it receives royal assent.-History:...

     – established an autonomous Scottish Parliament
  • Government of Wales Act 1998
    Government of Wales Act 1998
    This is about the Act that set up the Welsh Assembly. For the newer Government of Wales Act 2006, see that article.The Government of Wales Act 1998 This is about the Act that set up the Welsh Assembly. For the newer Government of Wales Act 2006, see that article.The Government of Wales Act 1998...

     – created a National Assembly For Wales
  • Government of Wales Act 2006
    Government of Wales Act 2006
    The Government of Wales Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reforms the National Assembly for Wales and allows further powers to be granted to it more easily...

     – conferred additional law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales

Topical Acts

Acts of Parliament currently of special interest:
  • Terrorism Act 2000
    Terrorism Act 2000
    The Terrorism Act 2000 is the first of a number of general Terrorism Acts passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It superseded and repealed the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland Act 1996...

  • Freedom of Information Act 2000
    Freedom of Information Act 2000
    The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that creates a public "right of access" to information held by public authorities. It is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level...

See also

  • Halsbury's Laws of England
    Halsbury's Laws of England
    Halsbury's Laws of England is a uniquely comprehensive and authoritative encyclopaedia of law, and provides the only complete narrative statement of law in England and Wales. It has an alphabetised title scheme covering all areas of law, drawing on authorities including Acts of the United Kingdom,...

     – encyclopaedic treatise on the laws of England and Wales
  • Halsbury's Statutes
    Halsbury's Statutes
    Halsbury’s Statutes of England and Wales is the authoritative source for statute law in England and Wales...

     – standard work of authority on statute law in England and Wales
  • Church of England measures
    Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919
    The Church of England Assembly Act 1919 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that gives the Church of England the power to pass primary legislation called Measures. Measures have the same force and effect as Acts of Parliament...

    , which have the same force and effect of Acts of Parliament.
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