In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.


Britain's legislature may be misunderstood by onlookers. (Edited: Maurice)

Britain’s legislature may be misunderstood by onlookers. (Edited: Maurice)

To an onlooker, the workings of the British Parliament may seem labyrinthine.

It is important to understand that a proposed law must pass through multiple stages in order to become an Act of Parliament.

First Reading

Proposed laws are called Bills. For Bills beginning in the House of Commons, each Bill must begin with a first reading in the lower house [1].

This is a formality, taking place without a debate.

The role of this stage is to present the Bill to the House of Commons, and to publish when a debate will occur.

Second Reading

Usually less than two weekends after the first reading, the second reading is the first opportunity that MPs have for debating the Bill [2].

This reading is focused on the general principles and themes of the Bill.

The member responsible for the Bill, typically a minister of the Government, opens this debate.

(Video: Forces TV)

Their counterpart in the official Opposition responds with their views.

The debate proceeds, with other members of the governing or opposition benches providing their opinion.

After the general principles have been discussed, the Commons decides if the Bill should “given its second reading”.

If they do so, the Bill then proceeds to the next stage.

As long as MPs agree, a Bill may have a second reading with no debate at all.

Committee Stage

After the second reading is complete, the Bill proceeds to the committee stage [3].

This is a far more detailed inspection of the Bill, where a Public Bill Committee may receive evidence from experts and interested groups from outside of Parliament.

Amendments to the Bill — that is, proposals to change the wording of the Bill — are selected by this committee’s chairman, and members of this committee vote on the amendments.

Every clause in the Bill is either agreed to, amended or deleted entirely.

This Committee may involve in the whole House of Commons.

Report Stage

The report stage arrives an unset time after the committee stage concludes [4].

The report stage means that all MPs may suggest amendments to the Bill, or add clauses and parts to the Bill, if they believe such changes would improve it.

This exchange, of speaking and voting, may last for several days, given the complexity of some of the House’s Bills.

Third Reading

Immediately after, the third reading provides the final opportunity for the Commons to debate the Bill’s contents [5].

This debate is often shorter than the report stage, since MPs are only considering what is included in the Bill, rather than the panoply of possibilities of what might and might not be written.

Further amendments cannot be transposed onto a Bill at third reading.

At the finality of this debate, the House of Commons votes on whether to approve the third reading of the proposed law.

(Video: UK Parliament)

The Other Place

If a Bill began life in the House of Commons, it then travels to the second chamber, the House of Lords, for its first reading.

The Bill then follows a mirrored process: first and second readings, the committee and report stages, and the third reading.

Considering Amendments

Next, each House considers the amendments of the other place [6].

Both Houses must agree on exactly how the Bill is worded.

If they diverge, then the amended Bill keeps being hit back and forth between each of the two Houses, which is often termed parliamentary ‘ping pong’.

Royal Assent

Once the Houses are agreed, the final version of the Bill proceeds to receive Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament [7].

With Royal Assent, the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, and law. (Source: Parliament)

With Royal Assent, the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, and law. (Source: Parliament)

This Act of Parliament means the content of the proposal has become law.

If necessary, the House of Commons can impose its version of the Bill, circumventing the House of Lords, through the Parliament Act.


[1] Parliament, 2010. First Reading (Commons). Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[2] Parliament, 2010. Second Reading (Commons). Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[3] Parliament, 2010. Committee Stage (Commons). Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[4] Parliament, 2010. Report Stage (Commons). Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[5] Parliament, 2010. Third Reading (Commons). Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[6] Parliament, 2010. Consideration of Amendments. Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]

[7] Parliament, 2010. Royal Assent. Available from: [Accessed: 28th June 2015]



This entry was posted on June 29, 2015 by in National Politics and tagged , .
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