Erin Britton (2008) defines law as a “system of binding rules that are enforceable on all people equally, usually through formal organizations such as courts and the police”. In any country laws are very important since they play an important role in shaping the economy, organizing the society and politics in some ways. The United Kingdom enforces different types of laws such as the Statute Laws, European Laws and the Common Laws. Statute Laws are those that are made by the Parliament. Since Briton is a member of European Union so it has to follow the European Laws as well. Common Laws as opposed to the Statute Laws are the judgments that are passed in the courts by the judges. However I will restrict myself to the discussion of Statute Laws since the topic indicates discussion on laws passed by the parliament. In this paper I aim to discuss the different types of laws passed by the UK parliament. I intend to explore the relevant literature to support my research. I also intend to discuss the procedure adopted by the UK parliament to pass a law.
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Britton (2008) defines Statute Laws as those laws that are made by the parliament. Statute laws can be made directly in the form of Acts of Parliament or indirectly in the form of Statutory Instruments. On annual basis the UK parliament passes approximately one hundred statute laws in the form of Acts of Parliament and about two thousand statutory instruments.
The Statutory Instruments is an extension of Statute Laws. The House of Commons Information Office Fact Sheet (2008) states that when a bill passes through all the stages of the parliament it becomes an Act of the Parliament. These Acts of Parliament often give authority to the minister to add further details or make changes in the Act without having the bill to pass through the different stages of the parliament again. This procedure is called Statutory Instruments which gives authority to the minister to give details to the Act.
Statutory Laws can be of different types. They have been mentioned on the website of UK Laws online (1998) and are mentioned below.
Public Bills deal with matters related to the general public. Public Bills are of two different types:
- Government Bills: Government bills are those which are introduced by the Government Minister. Government bills usually deal with political party election manifesto or changes in the policies of the government party. A great number of bills are originated when inspired by international treaties, suggestions by different departments or Reform Commission. About a quarter of the government bills such as the Consolidated Fund Bills are passed on routine basis unaffected by the change in governments.
- Private Ministers’ Bill: The Private Ministers’ bills are those that are introduced by the backbenchers of any political party. Private bills and local bills deal with issues relating to a particular person or locality. They are introduced by those individuals or representatives of concerned localities.
- Hybrid Bills: Hybrid Bills are usually government bills. They have special effects on particular individuals and for that matter they are treated as private bills. A prominent example in this case is the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 which had special impact on landowners in Kent.
A bill has to pass through several stages before being accepted as an Act of Parliament. These stages have been mentioned on the website of UK Laws online (1998) and are mentioned below.
For the Government bill the first reading stage is very simple. The title of the bill is read aloud, the bill is sent for printing and a date is set for the second reading. No discussion or voting is carried out on the bill at this stage. For the Private bill three possibilities can be considered to obtain the first reading. First the bill can be introduced at any time after due notice. The bill is read and a date is set for Second Reading. A second method is the “10 minute rule” which gives 10 minutes to the member to introduce the bill. The opponents are also given 10 minutes to express their views. Then voting is carried out and if leave is given to introduce the bill it becomes the First Reading. A third method is that the backbencher participates in the balloting done at the beginning of the session. The 20 successful MPs are given time for the First Reading on the fifth Wednesday of the session. For finance bills voting on finance resolution is carried out at this stage.
The Second Reading allows the bill to be discussed as a whole. No individual amendments on the clauses can be made at this stage. Only voting is carried out on the bill as a whole. On numerous occasions this stage is carried out by a committee of MPs if no one objects. In UK there are several regional committees to discuss the bills related to their regions at this stage. Private Members’ Bills usually never go beyond this stage. The first 6 out of 20 names in the balloting are sure that they will be given time in the Second Reading. For that matter it is important the there is a quorum of 40 members. The Private Members’ bill can also be “talked out” by the MPs. The member has to make sure to get the support of 100 MPs to confirm its passage into the next stage. Expenditure for Bills related to the public money spent is voted before or after the Second Reading. For that matter it becomes difficult for the Private bills to pass through this stage if it involves public money spending.
After Second Reading the bill is sent to the Standing Committee for discussion. At this stage the bill is examined thoroughly and each clause of the bill is debated and voted individually and separately. Normally the Public bills are referred to the standing committee unless the House of Commons decides to discuss it in front of the whole House. The modern practice shows that the whole House discusses bills related to finance, bills of constitutional importance, bills needed to be passed in a hurry and need less discussion. Bills going to Standing Committees are discussed by members of the Committee and the discussion can take months. Private Members’ Bills are also sent to the Committee for discussion. Once again they meet the problem of lack of time. Only the top balloting bills are given time for discussion. If there is no opposition against the bill it can be passed “with a nod” and without any discussion.
After the Committee Stage the Bill is returned before the whole House for Ministerial amendments, discussion and comments of the opposition. If heavy technical amendments are made during this stage then the Bill is sent back to the Standing Committee. There is no Report Stage if the Bill has been discussed before the whole House and not by the Standing Committee.
No amendments are made during this process. If any changes have to be made then the Bill has to be sent back to the Committee. The Bill is then sent to the House of Lords and passes through the similar stages. Any changes made by the Lords would mean an extra stage in the Commons which is called “Lords Amendments”. Here the amendments made by the Lords are discussed and the Bill is given a final shape. If a Private Members’ Bill reaches this far it is given time on four Fridays set aside for such purposes.
Bills related to Government Expenditure, annual Appropriation Bill and Consolidated Fund Bills are not debated. Voting is carried out for them to discuss whether they should be passed or not. The basic aim for this purpose is to give more time to Government policies.
Britton (2008) further adds that when the Bill is passed by both the Houses it is sent for Royal Assent. The Assent is given by the Monarch and the Acts of Parliament are then considered as Laws.
Britton E. (2008). “Types of Laws in the UK”. Web.
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“Statutory Instruments”, (2008). Factsheet L7Legislative Series. House of Commons Information Office. Web.
“Statutory Law and the Parliament,” (1998). UK Law online. Web.