How are UK laws made?

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Houses of Parliament in Westminster, LondonGetty Images

Parliament is where politicians meet to decide laws and make decisions for the UK - for example, how money is spent on schools, hospitals and the police.

The Houses of Parliament are in the Palace of Westminster in London.

There are more than 1,000 rooms and more than two miles of corridors!

What are the three parts of Parliament?
  1. The House of Commons: The most powerful of Parliament's two houses. The Commons is the most important place for Members of Parliament (MPs), who are voted in by the public, to discuss policies and make laws.
  2. The House of Lords: This is Parliament's second chamber. Its main job is to 'double check' new laws to make sure they are fair and will work. People working here are not elected by the people.
  3. The Monarchy: The Queen has the final say on whether a bill becomes law. This is because the Queen is our head of state. What actually happens is that she accepts the advice of her government.
How are UK laws made?
The-House-of-Commons-chamber.Universal Images Group / Getty
This is the House of Commons, with its famous green benches, where MPs sit to discuss matters affecting the UK

Parliament acts like a factory that makes laws.

To make a law you start with a 'bill', which is an idea that someone thinks will make a good law.

The idea normally comes from the government. This is called a government-sponsored bill.

It can also come from an ordinary MP. If it does, it is called a private member's bill.

The-House-of-Lords-chamber.PA
This is the second chamber in the Houses of Parliament called the House of Lords, with its famous red benches

The bill can start in the Commons or the Lords, but it must pass through both Houses.

Then, it goes to the Queen for Royal Assent - meaning official approval from the monarch - which always happens last.

What stages are there to pass a bill?

First reading

Second page of three of the Article 50 legislation which paves the way to start the Brexit process. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is a public bill presented to Parliament by the Government. The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons and given its First Reading on Thursday 26 January 2017PA

Writing a bill is called drafting. The bill must be written carefully as mistakes could produce a law that is unfair or has 'loopholes', which could allow people to ignore it.

Next, the person(s) bringing the bill can formally tell everyone that they are going to start the process of making the bill into a law.

When someone announces this in the Houses of Parliament, it is called a first reading.

Second reading

Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London on January 16th, 2019PA
Politicians need to debate the bill in their House - either the Commons or Lords

At the second reading, the bill is explained.

The reasons why the bill is needed are debated. Those people who want the bill to become law must convince others that it is worthwhile.

After the bill has been explained and talked about, there is a vote.

The members of the House - this could be Commons or Lords, depending who brings the bill - will decide if the bill should continue its journey towards law.

The bill must receive over half of the votes to get past the second reading.

Committee Stage

A committee is a group of members of either House that looks at the detail of a bill and suggests changes.

There are two types of committee:

  1. Standing Committee - A group of members that meets regularly and looks at bills in a particular area of a government's work.
  2. Committee of the whole House - This is when the detail of a bill is examined by all members of a House of Parliament.

A 'committee of the whole House' is common in the House of Lords. In the Commons, it is reserved for very important laws, such as those that prevent terrorism.

If either committee believes the bill needs to be made different in some way, they will suggest changes called amendments. Amendments must be voted for by both Houses.

Report Stage

The committee prepares a report on the bill and explains any amendments that have been suggested.

Third reading

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (centre left) as she speaks in the House of CommonsAFP / Getty Images
Members of Parliament must talk through why they want a new law made or not

After the committee has reported back to the House, the bill receives its third reading.

The third reading is the point when another vote is taken on the bill.

The House must decide whether it wants the bill, with its amendments, to become law.

Moving to the other House

The House of Lords chamber sits in session at the Houses of Parliament in London on October 31, 2017AFP / Getty Images
The House of Lords in session discussing laws

All bills must pass through both Houses of Parliament.

If one House approves a bill, and it passes to the next House for approval but amendments are made, it will need to pass back to the original House - with the amendments made - to be voted on again.

Any changes (amendments) made have to be agreed by both Houses.

Royal assent

Queen-Elizabeth-II-sitting-in-the-House-of-Lords.Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II is involved in the final step of making a law

The Queen - in her role as head of state - gives royal assent to the bill.

This is the final stage of the bill's progress in Parliament and is essentially the monarch's official approval.

The bill will then become an Act of Parliament.

It does not necessarily become law straight away. Some acts come in to force after a set period of time.

This is to allow people to change their behaviour, so they do not break the new law.

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