An Act of parliament is also referred to as a statute. It is a law that has been created by Parliament. The process of creating an Act of Parliament begins when; Cabinet decides that Parliament takes action to satisfy some communal requirements, it also begins through a policy decision made by a political party and is put into effect through an Act of Parliament. Interest groups may also exert pressure on parliament to create an Act. Drafting or writing of the Act then follows after its commencement. The Act then proceeds to be prepared in the Parliamentary department, then proceeds to Parliament for consideration. After it has been passed, it must receive Royal approval for it to come into force.
Commencement of the Process of Creating an Act of Parliament
Various Acts of Parliament begin in a number of ways, for instance: first, it may start when Cabinet decides that Parliament must take action to satisfy some requirements in the community. Cabinet may also initiate the process of creating an Act in order to protect the state against what is affecting it, for instance, when Cabinet is concerned that saw millers are causing wanton destruction of trees, it may petition Parliament to enact a law that creates higher taxes on timber milling.
Secondly, an Act of Parliament can start with a decision made by a political party. A policy adopted by some political party can be put into effect by creating an Act of Parliament. The adoption of the policy decision may be made by party executives or legislators belonging to that particular political party at a party meeting. It may also be adopted at a conference attended by a large number of members belonging to that political party. Under such decisions, an Act of Parliament will be created. However, not every policy adopted by a political party is necessarily enacted into law as soon as the party assumes leadership.
Thirdly, decisions that result in Parliament passing an Act are not a prerogative of a political party only. Other interest groups such as the business community, human rights groups, and other lobbyists, may exert pressure on parliament to alter the law. Various groups can pursue Parliament to change the law. For instance, in the UK the councils have to provide effect to local government legislation that can easily point out defects that may be inherent in the law. As soon as these defects affecting the operations of local government become known to a council, that council may petition for a change in the law that it needs to solve the flaws.
Last but not least, the government department is the most important source of Acts of Parliament. High-ranking members of the public service play a pivotal role in starting new Acts of Parliament. The concerned department with the responsibility to enforce the Act of Parliament becomes aware of the flaws in the Act. The department’s senior officials are therefore in a better position to suggest what should be amended in the new Act in order to correct the flaws. They also understand the powers that should be bestowed to the department in order to gain full effect for the Act. The advice given by the head of the government department to Cabinet may provide further suggestions for creating completely new Acts of Parliament to control new situations.
Preparation of an Act of Parliament
After an Act of Parliament has commenced, the drafting or actual writing is done by a public servant in the Parliamentary department. The Parliamentary department has members who have the duty of drafting bills. They usually experience difficult tasks while drafting various laws. They are usually called upon to draft numerous Acts, Statutory Instruments, and other forms of subordinate legislation. These Acts and subordinate legislation are becoming more and more technical in their nature. The drafting of an Act of Parliament cannot be done easily in a hurry; neither is it easy to prepare subordinate legislation or Acts concerned with technical aspects. That is why legislations may contain phrases that can be interpreted in different ways and often provide room for doubt about the true meaning to be given to some sections of an Act of Parliament.
Consideration of the Act in Parliament
The drafting of an Act of Parliament alone does not make it part of the law. Much work is still required to be done before it becomes law. When the draft law is brought before Parliament, it is presented as a Bill. In the UK, the usual practice is that the Bill placed Cabinet for approval before it is presented to members of Parliament for debate; with the only exception being if it had been prepared by a member of the opposing party in Parliament. The Bill is given three readings, that is, it is considered times by each house of Parliament. The Bill may also be referred to a Parliamentary committee by Parliament in addition to the three readings. The Parliamentary committee will be tasked to examine the Bill and report back to Parliament before it progresses further. Either House of Parliament can refer a Bill to a committee of Parliament for examination.
A Bill doe not necessarily become part of the law by being presented before Parliament. Parliament as a whole has the discretion of deciding the fate of the Bill by either accepting it or rejecting it. Parliament can also make changes in the Bill before allowing it to become part of the law. These changes are usually made when the Bill is receiving its second reading. At this stage, the changes may be large. Some of these changes may be necessitated due to pressure of public opinion that forces the Cabinet to change its policies. Other changes may be affected because the government department or any other government which has to administer the Act discovers flaws in it and suggests amendments to the Bill. When members of Parliament are not ready to accept the Bill in the form it was presented before them, changes may be made. There always exists the possibility of changes being made when any Bill is presented to Parliament.
The British Parliament is made up of the House of the Lords and the House of Commons. A Bill introduced before Parliament must be passed by both Houses before it becomes an Act of Parliament. In practice, the Bill receives all the three readings in one House before it is sent to the other. The House which receives the Bill after it had been considered by the other House of Parliament is not tied to accepting the Bill in the form in which the House of Parliament had accepted it. The second House of Parliament may decide to effect some changes to the Bill. If this happens, the Bill must then be sent back to the first House of parliament for further consideration. There are mechanisms to deal with situations where the two Houses of Parliament fail to agree upon the changes which should be made on the Bill. There exists a special system that tries to overcome the differences of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament. This special system is represented by members of Parliament appointed by each House of Parliament. These members are referred to as managers. The managers from both Houses then meet to deliberate upon the changes for the purpose of reaching a consensus on the changes that should be made in the law.
Coming into Force of an Act of Parliament
Once the Bill has been passed by Parliament, it will then need to be approved by the Queen before it can come into force. Some Acts of Parliament come into force as soon as the Queen puts her seal of approval; however, others come into force at some later stage. Ordinarily, an Act of Parliament will continue to be in force indefinitely as soon as it comes into force. An Act of Parliament is deemed to be perpetual unless and until it is amended by some later Act of Parliament.
The Act usually comes into force at the first moment of the appropriate day. The statute itself may stipulate the date of commencement. It may also commence in a day designated by an individual, such as Secretary of State, whom the Act provides power expressly. If all these do not apply, the Act becomes law when it gets Royal Assent.
In sum, when an Act of Parliament comes into force, the manner in which it was obtained becomes irrelevant. It does not matter whether Parliament was misled by fraudulent misrepresentation or otherwise to pass Act which under clear circumstances it would not have passed if it had understood the true position, the Act has full force and effect unless and until Parliament repeals it. 1
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Zander, Michael. The Law Making Process. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
- Gifford and Salter John, How to Understand an Act of Parliament (London: Routledge, 1996) 3-5.