Parliament Matters Explains: How does Parliament make laws? (Episode 13)

15 Dec 2023
Acts of Parliament in the Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, Westminster. (© UK Parliament / Parliamentary Archives)
Acts of Parliament in the Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, Westminster. (© UK Parliament / Parliamentary Archives)

A core purpose of Parliament is to make the laws that govern us all. But how are our laws made at Westminster?

We have received several questions from listeners about how the process works and what the interplay is between the two Houses: Commons and Lords.

So, in this special explainer we discuss the process from beginning to end: from when the Government first presents a Bill to Parliament to the point at which it receives Royal Assent, becomes an Act and is the law of the land.

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Parliament Matters podcast (Episode 13)

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

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You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at

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Hello and welcome to Parliament Matters Explains, a new bonus feature from the Parliament Matters podcast. I'm Mark Darcy and I'm We folks in these editions will be focusing on issues raised by you, the listeners. So send us your questions at This time all subject is how does Parliament actually go about making law?

00:00:48:02 - 00:01:06:01

Take it away, Ruth. Well, why don't we start? We start with bills can be brought forward by the government and introduced in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. But let's start with the bill that goes into the House of Commons. So the bill has been produced, it's been drafted. The Government's ready to present it to Parliament what's called first reading or presentation of the bill.

00:01:06:03 - 00:01:38:06

It'll be accompanied by things like the explanatory notes, which are kind of a plain English guide to what the bill contains for people like me who are not lawyers. It'll have a Delegated Powers memorandum which looks at the powers in the bill and the scrutiny for those powers when they utilized after Royal assent. It'll have things like an impact assessment that's not required at that stage, but we'll often have an assessment from the Department about about the impact that the legislation will have, what the government thinks it will have, and it'll be presented to Parliament at first reading, and it's basically the reading of the bill's title into the record.

00:01:38:08 - 00:02:01:11

And the Speaker will then say to the minister, second reading what day? And this is the point at which you often see in civil society organizations or people at home watching the bill sort of panic descends if they're taking a particular interest in the bill, because at that point, very often the minister will say tomorrow all hell breaks loose, everybody panics and thinks that really is is going to have second reading tomorrow.

00:02:01:15 - 00:02:24:06

No, they're not going to have second reading tomorrow. This is a ritual lost in the mists of parliamentary time where they say tomorrow and it's never tomorrow, almost never tomorrow, almost never tomorrow. Never say never. Never say never once, because absolutely a very good rule. And then you get the next stage is second reading. And we always used to find this a bit difficult on today in Parliament because the Nmps would have their first actual debate at the second reading.

00:02:24:06 - 00:02:41:19

So the first debate is the second reading and that sounds a bit silly to outside listeners unless you go back and explain, as you've just explained, what the first reading is. So we tend to use phrases like their initial debate and the point of the second reading debate is to look at the essential principle of a law. Is it a good idea to do such and such?

00:02:41:20 - 00:02:57:03

What about this problem? What about that problem? But not to plunge into the fine detail of its amendments at this stage like a comic detail changes, and if they do plunge too far into fine detail from the chair will turn around and say that that's really a committee stage speech. Yeah, and tell the MP concerned to shut up.

00:02:57:03 - 00:03:18:05

What you will sometimes find is that one of the opposition parties, sometimes a number of them will lay a table what's called a reasoned amendment. Now that's not an amendment to the text of the bill. It's an amendment to the text of the motion that the House will pass, pass the bill. And that's basically a way for the opposition parties to register their concern, because the motion is at the start that this bill be read a second time.

00:03:18:07 - 00:03:35:16

That's it. And it's basically a way for the opposition to register their concerns and say, well, the bill might do X, but it doesn't do winsford that for these reasons we reject the bill so that the kind of reasoned amendment will essentially say something like declines to give the bill a second reading because it's pants for the following reasons.

00:03:35:18 - 00:03:52:00

And then there will be one from the official opposition or sometimes B one from say, the SNP or the Lib Dems or the DUP or whoever it is explaining their different reasons. And sometimes you'll have whole pages of several different groups of people all explaining slightly different reasons why they don't think the bill should be given a second reading.

00:03:52:04 - 00:04:11:20

Yes, and it's important to stress it is exceptionally unusual for a bill to be rejected at second reading in the last two weeks to give them a bill, at least the last time was the Shops bill in 1996, and that was an important piece of legislation liberalizing some trading laws. But it was it was not a critical plank of the government's legislative program.

00:04:11:22 - 00:04:38:19

But the idea of second reading rejection, as we saw fairly recently with the Rwanda bill, I mean, it would have been absolutely extraordinary for a bill that was central to a government's program to be derailed by a rebellion of its own backbenchers. So that would be a huge, possibly government ending event. Yeah. So then you get after second reading, assuming that the House votes to support it, you usually don't get several motions that have to be considered by the House straight after.

00:04:38:21 - 00:05:01:20

So one is usually a programing motion which sets out the timetable bullying of the bills next stages. So it's committee stage scrutiny and so on, right through to the end of the process and that basically sets out how much time MP is going to be able to spend for the bill in those stages. You then usually get a money motion if it involves government expenditure because the House will need to authorize that and you get what's called a ways and Means motion.

00:05:01:20 - 00:05:25:17

So a motion which basically provides for the taxes and charges that are needed to cover the government expenditure. And one of the little surprise packages in those motions is that if a money resolution isn't moved and the money resolution has to be moved by a Treasury minister, then actually the further detail consideration of the bill can't proceed very far with as soon as you get onto anything that involves it, spending money which is pretty much anything, then the whole process grinds to a halt.

00:05:25:19 - 00:05:51:03

A few years back there was a private member's bill on, as I recall, housing benefit, also one on constituency boundaries and one on constituency boundary reforms that the government this was during the Coalition years that the government of the day didn't support the Lib Dems within it, support it, but the whole government didn't. And the bill was in committee for eight years, and every few days the bill committee would meet and be solemnly told that it couldn't proceedings.

00:05:51:03 - 00:06:05:13

There'd be no money resolution, and then to be a little bit of a sort of performative round. And if we won't go to their next thing in their diary. But that was an example of how the government's control, the purse strings could stop people legislating unless there was explicit permission to spend money in the course of that bill.

00:06:05:18 - 00:06:29:08

Yeah, So that way of thwarting private members bills, you know, bills from from backbenchers. But if the Government bill gets its second reading successfully and all these motions passed, then we move to Committee Stage, which is sort of the more detailed scrutiny now, people often refer to it as line by line scrutiny. It really isn't certainly, at least not in the House of Commons, partly because it's programed, because it's timetabled.

00:06:29:08 - 00:06:50:17

And if time runs out, then whole clauses or sections of bills schedules may not through may not get debated at all, and they'll only be considered for scrutiny once they arrive in the Lords Committee stage. There are three possible options, so a bill can be sent to what's called Committee of the Whole House, which essentially is sent to the House of Commons chamber to be debated.

00:06:50:19 - 00:07:11:15

Now that tends to happen if it's a bill of what's called first class constitutional importance. House of Lords reform. Yes, it can be a bill that's particularly urgent, or it could be either, you know, the government is struggling to fill time in the chamber and they put a bill in to fill a gap in the timetable. So a couple of recent examples of that and one yet to come on the parliamentary timetable.

00:07:11:21 - 00:07:31:05

Let's not go into that now. And the other point about timetabling here is holding parliamentary hacks like myself can remember the Nick Clegg Lords reform during the Coalition years, which was essentially derailed because they couldn't agree a timetable motion. It was the bit that Conservative MP could revolt against the Coalition's program. we just need more time for discussion.

00:07:31:05 - 00:08:00:06

They wanted such an infinite amount of time for discussion, but the bill was eventually pulled because otherwise nothing else would have been debated and the whole parliamentary machine would have ground to a halt. So the timetable motion can matter quite a lot. But the main point I have about Committee Stage is that when bills are sent to a committee upstairs on the committee corridor and the Public Sector public bill committee are line of these Victorian committee rooms upstairs in Parliament, What happens there strikes me as mostly a fairly empty ritual.

00:08:00:06 - 00:08:26:04

Yeah, I mean, well, I think two things. One is unlike select committees, public bill committees are whipped, so MPs are essentially following the party line. Public bill committees can take public evidence like a select committee, but unlike a select committee, it's a politically charged evidence session. And I say that I don't know whether you've ever given evidence to a public bill committee, but I gave evidence once.

00:08:26:04 - 00:08:42:20

I mean, on the retained EU law bill actually last year, I have to say I found it quite, you know, working for an organization that sort of political, impartial, I found it quite an uncomfortable experience because it felt like I was a political football between the labor and conservative sides in a way that I never feel when I'm before a select committee.

00:08:42:24 - 00:09:00:24

But those evidence sessions, all the bit of a public bill committee that can attract a bit of press attention because frankly, the proceedings are a bit more comprehensible than they otherwise are. But the thing about it is you are chosen to give evidence by the whips on either side because they think that you might be going to say something that's advantageous to their particular argument or cause.

00:09:01:01 - 00:09:24:24

So they kind of bringing you forward to give evidence because they want you to help advance their argument. So it is a very different atmosphere to a select committee. Is it particularly meaningful scrutiny at that stage? Sometimes? I mean, you can see groups and the arguments developing and you say, see that sort of, you know, in the next stage of the scrutiny process, you can start to see that emerge in amendments.

00:09:25:01 - 00:09:54:00

But very often it feels like a very perfunctory process. And, you know, as you find with other committee, sometimes it's not unusual to see MPs sitting there doing that. Constituency correspondence and peers are in and out because they've got the responsibilities. They're going to do the duties and it just doesn't always feel like a particularly satisfying experience. Yeah, I think a lot of the time MPs who are on bill committees, who are the junior ones, not the shadow ministers or the ministers are basically there to stick their hand up on cue to vote in a particular way as their whips tell them.

00:09:54:00 - 00:10:17:13

And it takes quite a lot for that not to happen. I mean, sometimes you get bill committees on stuff that may be highly charged but isn't necessarily party political. I'm thinking of the Bill committee on the Act that authorize gay marriage, where it was actually quite bitterly contested, but it wasn't across party lines. And that made for actually a very lively committee process, including the kind of evidence taking that you were talking about.

00:10:17:13 - 00:10:36:09

Yeah. The other thing, just to distinguish a committee of the whole House from Public bill committee is in committee. The whole House, of course, you're in the chamber. The speaker does not preside. Is the deputy speaker known as the chairman of Ways and Means. He presides in a public bill committee. It's a you know, essentially a senior parliamentarian.

00:10:36:14 - 00:10:55:17

He's been chosen through the speaker's chair's panel. Yeah. And the committee is smaller. So it will be something like 17 to 30 members unless it's a finance bill, in which case it could be quite a bit bigger. Speaking of finance bills, that's one example where a bill can have a split committee. Also, some of its clauses can be considered in committee.

00:10:55:17 - 00:11:13:10

The whole House, but some will be considered in the public bill committee and that will be set out in the program. You mention after second reading that's usually agreed between the parties, isn't it? These these are the big controversial bits. We went on the floor, the whole house, and this is the sort of small print that we're less interested in fighting out in full public glare and primetime in the chamber.

00:11:13:11 - 00:11:44:16

Yeah, I mean, advantage of committee of the Whole House, of course, is all members can be present. All members can take part if they want. If they can. The Deputy Speaker like to speak in public bill committee. It is that smaller selected group of members that have been chosen by the whips to take part. But public bill committees are followed by the bill coming back to the floor of the whole House for report stage, and that is often the most interesting bit of a bill's passage through the House of Commons, because you often find, at least on certain bills that have a bit of heat around them, things like criminal justice measures an awful lot

00:11:44:16 - 00:12:04:02

of people pour in amendments on particular clauses from all directions, and then it's up to the Chairman of Ways and Means again to select which amendments actually get debated. And this can be quite hard going for them because there's often quite a head of steam behind. Amendments got up by groups of backbench MPs and a little bit of angst if they don't make it to the wicket.

00:12:04:06 - 00:12:34:07

Yeah, I mean there is this sort of this growing sense that we've got amendment itis in, in the House of Commons, the growing number of amendments at this stage and partly it's the Government bringing forward a lot of late stage amendments itself, amendments that perhaps are responding to what's been said in committee or new developments. Sometimes they're introducing whole new policy areas at this stage that for whatever reason, internally in the departmental policy process, they have not sorted out in time for the bill or something's happened events, they boy events and they decide that they actually want to bolt something onto the bill.

00:12:34:07 - 00:12:54:16

So government amendments are one thing, but you're also seeing a lot of amendments being put put down by backbench MPs. And my sense is that sometimes it's a, it's a campaigning initiative. You know, you can table your amendment, take your picture of the, you know, the amendment paper. I've laid my amendment, put it out on social media. Do you sort of, you know, supportive article in The Guardian all the time.

00:12:54:16 - 00:13:16:15

Again, you go, do you support a video on Twitter, get a piece of mail in the local paper, and it sounds and feels like you've done something, but actually, for most of those amendments, there is almost no chance that they're going to get selected by the speaker. Yeah, that's absolutely true. But there are some people who've kind of mastered this art of it and who have been pursuing very long term campaigns on specific issues.

00:13:16:15 - 00:13:41:15

I think if people like David Davis on the Conservative benches or Dame Margaret Hodge on on the Labor benches, for example, long standing campaign on more financial transparency, registers of ownership of assets, clamping down on dirty money coming into the country has been fought through bill after bill. Every finance bill has stuff from her on it. Almost any bill about the City of London and financial regulation has stuff from her on it.

00:13:41:21 - 00:14:07:04

And eventually she starts getting some of her points made just by sheer attrition. And so the masters of these campaigning processes can eventually get results, but they have to be committed to the slog. Yeah. Stella Creasy is another one on the lighter side who's, you know, really good at working the procedures, building alliances across party lines and as you say, just hammering away, away, away and the victories that you win are an amendment in the bill and not in huge things that are going to make.

00:14:07:04 - 00:14:32:01

The 6:00 News minister announced they're suddenly slightly changing the wording to meet your concerns. Yeah, but they are the opportunity to make a genuine difference on a niche narrow but important point. Now the report stage is followed by a third reading stage and people sometimes expect that there's going to be a full scale debate. You know, this is the final debate of the House on the bill as it's emerged after any detailed changes that have been made at committee or made at report stage.

00:14:32:03 - 00:14:55:13

But often it can be over in a blink of an eye. Report stage these days is a pretty perfunctory rubber stamping process where a minister gets up and says, Well, we this is a really good bill. Thanks for all the amendments. Thanks to such and such for making such helpful suggestions. And then a shadow minister gets up and says, we all jolly good chaps and not a moment goes to the Lords and it can all happen in less than 5 minutes, or it can actually be taken so formally it doesn't really happen at all.

00:14:55:17 - 00:15:16:06

Yeah, the house just got here. It's through. Yeah. I mean, you know, third reading is often and I was debate if that if then and it's often been about 2 minutes. Yeah and it's often thanking everybody who's been involved in the bill thanking everybody really on the public bill committee in theory as a second reading you could have reasoned amendments calling for the rejection of the bill.

00:15:16:11 - 00:15:36:03

In theory, you could just being threatened on the Rwanda bill in theory, you could you know, the bill could fall at that stage. But if the government's got that far, it would be extraordinary. And then we're into the next stage of the process where the bill is physically carried from the House of Commons across the parliamentary defined by a clerk to the House of Lords.

00:15:36:03 - 00:15:53:20

So the whole process can then sort of rinse and repeat. Yeah, well I think we should just linger on the image of the clerk walking from the House of Commons to the House of Lords across central lobby in full regalia, in full recovery, full fake. The doors will be open to facilitate to his or her walking through and they carry this bill.

00:15:53:22 - 00:16:17:02

A message to the Lords wrapped in green silk ribbon known as a ferret, which apparently is a type of Italian silk known as a fioretti. Nobody be laughing at home listening to my terrible Italian accent and it will be handed over to a Lords club. And of course, when it comes the other way from the Lords to the Commons, it's wrapped in a red ribbon.

00:16:17:04 - 00:16:46:02

Of course it also happens digitally, so the bill will be sent by email or Microsoft, OneDrive or something. So yes, the bill then arrives in the in the House of Lords for its stages of scrutiny, which broadly model those of the Commons. But there are a few important differences. First of all, if the bill is something that was promised in the Government's manifesto, their Lordships by convention, a convention called the Salisbury Anderson Convention, don't kill it at second reading, it can't fall at that first hurdle.

00:16:46:02 - 00:17:02:23

That first initial debate, Piers, may signal their intention to amend the living daylights out of it, but what they won't do is vote it down. It's incredibly rare anyway, for Piers to attempt to vote down a bill at second reading if it's come to them from the Commons, because that would be a bit of a snub to the elected House.

00:17:03:00 - 00:17:28:16

And that was the sort of thing that got the House of Lords reformed 120 odd years ago. So they have to be very, very careful about that sort of stuff. And the other big difference is that when it's debated, it's almost always debated on the floor of the House of Lords. There are occasions when less controversial bills are sent to something called grand Committee, but most bills are debated on the floor of the House of Lords, and every amendment proposed by every peer is at least sort of acknowledged in that debate.

00:17:28:16 - 00:17:46:22

Even if they don't spend hours and hours talking about each one. Yeah, I mean, the important thing to remember about Lords compared to the Commons is the government doesn't control the agenda. There isn't therefore programing in the same way that there is in the Commons. And yes, in theory, every peer who wants to speak, every page, who wants to table an amendment can be heard.

00:17:46:24 - 00:18:04:05

But if it's clearly in the Lords, there's a lack of support for something. A peer will be, shall we say, ill advised to press it to a division and waste members time. You know, peer pressure will be applied absolutely. To try and get them to withdraw their their amendment and not press it to a vote. This is the House of Lords being self-regulating.

00:18:04:05 - 00:18:23:06

And so there's lots of older people going on too long. The displeasure is felt. What then happens, and this is almost one of the key sections in the passage of a bill through Parliament is House of Lords report. Stage Committee stage peers kind of have kind of shadowboxing debates where they thrash out an issue, but they don't normally take a vote on it.

00:18:23:10 - 00:18:42:07

When you get to report stage, that's where their Lordships might start making changes to a bill if they're minded to do so. And as you say, there is no government majority in the House of Lords. It's quite possible for Labor, the crossbenchers, the Liberal Democrats, even the bishops, to line up against something that a government is doing and outvote the conservative peers.

00:18:42:09 - 00:19:03:02

Yeah, and if you think about the committee stage, what the peers will often be doing is tabling what they will call sort of probing amendments. They will be looking to test the government's view, they'll be looking to try and assess support across the House. They'll be working behind the scenes in the tea rooms, in the restaurants, in the voting lobbies to find out who might support their proposals.

00:19:03:02 - 00:19:21:24

And then they'll make a judgment, a report stage about what they will press and some they will decide to prioritize and others they'll withdraw. And it can happen 100 times plus in a parliamentary session that the government is defeated in the House of Lords. And these are usually report stage votes where some amendment that ministers don't want is grafted on to one of their bills ever.

00:19:21:24 - 00:19:42:13

So occasionally a minister will promise a third reading amendment to a bill to to head off one of these defeats. And sometimes a compromise wording will be grafted on at that last possible stage of debate. They have a brief third reading, and that's not quite as perfunctory as the ones in the House of Commons, precisely because in the Commons you can't amend that third reading, whereas in the in the Lord you can.

00:19:42:15 - 00:20:01:10

The bill is then if it's been changed and amendments have been made to it, sent back to the Commons, because the key rule here is that no bill can pass into law until it's agreed in exactly the same form by both houses. So if peers make a change, it has to go back to MPs. That MP can decide whether they agree with the change or want to reject it.

00:20:01:10 - 00:20:30:16

And this gets us into the marvelous and completely obscure parliamentary ritual known as parliamentary ping pong. Ruth pales visibly. Yes. Well, I think it's fair to say a lot of what goes on at ping pong is behind the scenes and quite difficult to follow even for established watchers of parliament like ourselves. But essentially, if if the House does anything other than agree to the bill in the form agreed by the first House, then it goes back to that first House for it to consider the amendments that have been made.

00:20:30:18 - 00:20:47:00

And then when the bill is considered by that first House, again, it will decide what it wants to do in respect of those changes, and it will send in form of a message in the bill backs to the second House for it to consider whether it likes or not. The changes that have been proposed in the first House.

00:20:47:04 - 00:21:05:20

So when you try and narrow the differences and this can go for several rounds, a bill can be sent back from the House of Lords Nmps can strike down all the amendments Piers have made, send it back, Piers, then do a slightly different version of the changes they've made and possibly send it back again. There's a thing called double insistence where if they pass the same amendment twice, the whole bill would fall.

00:21:05:20 - 00:21:31:06

And that's a kind of corruption that's never done. Even if there even if the distinction between what they pass the first time, what they pass the second time is so small, it's barely visible to the naked eye. It still is still a voice. I mean, essentially what you're trying to do between the two houses is the house would agree to an amendment from from the other house, amend the amendment, reject the amendment or reject the amendment, but offer an alternative wording in lieu, as it's called.

00:21:31:12 - 00:22:05:24

And you have this back and forth, and as you say, trying to avoid the situation where both houses are twice rejecting essentially the same thing. The key thing here is what's going on in the back channels is the negotiations between, for example, government ministers and Labor shadow ministers or whatever. Lords Coalition has made the amendment to try and come to an agreement and that goes on as long as it goes on and there may be several rounds of ping pong over a particularly contentious point before a bill is actually finally settled, with the one proviso that if you run out of parliamentary time and a bill hasn't been agreed by the end of a parliamentary

00:22:05:24 - 00:22:21:10

session, if you're right up against Parliament being prorogued, if the bill is not agreed when Parliament is prorogued, it falls. Yeah, so you've got to be sitting down when the music stops essentially. And just going back to that point about a lot of this going on behind the scenes, I mean, in the Commons they have what's called Reasons Committee.

00:22:21:12 - 00:22:43:07

They basically meeting in a room behind the Speaker's chair and it's MPs in a cross-party basis who've been appointed to this reasons committee to basically negotiate what the message is going to be. That goes back to the Lords. And interestingly, a number of MPs have said to me that they find that part of the process amongst the most satisfying aspects of the legislative process, not just because it's private, but because it's private.

00:22:43:07 - 00:23:06:10

They can have the kinds of discussions they wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable having out in public, in the chamber or in committee, But we don't see any of that. That's that's the bit the journalists don't see beneath the hood and see the motor turning over. Yeah. So it's a very obscure and quite difficult to explain process. But eventually in normal circumstances, both houses will agree on a final text of the bill, then it's off to the sovereign to be signed.

00:23:06:12 - 00:23:25:13

So then you've got royal assent. So yes, when the bill is agreed in an identical form by both Houses, Royal Assent, and that has to be signified by the monarch through what are known as letters, patent and notified then to each house, which basically means it's a published written order issued by the sovereign kind of form of legal instrument.

00:23:25:15 - 00:23:45:18

And then once the bill has got royal assent, it's announced by the Speaker or the Lord Speaker for each House at the earliest convenient moment in proceedings so they can interrupt proceedings if a bill has been granted royal assent, that they announce it in the House and they have to we use Norman French. So the king wills it.

00:23:45:18 - 00:24:02:13

Yes, it used to be the REM, the read the Yeah. Was the phrase I apologize in advance my horrible pronunciation of archaic Norman French. And the other thing is of course that the monarch in theory once upon a time, could refuse bills. But that hasn't happened for like 300 years. Yes. No, I mean, it was a queen, possibly.

00:24:02:13 - 00:24:21:06

Yes. Yes. Digging into my to my historical knowledge that. Yeah, I mean, it's inconceivable that the monarchy it's in front royal assent to to to an act. Now I think the doctrine is it was I think it was written in Erskine May wasn't it, in the Victorian era that the Queen had to sign her own death warrant if it had been properly passed by Parliament.

00:24:21:06 - 00:24:38:06

So the role of the monarch here is purely to do the rubber stamping, I'm afraid, these days. But then that's not the end of the story. Because although the Act has got royal Assent and is now law in actually sections of the Act, provisions within the Act require to be commenced. So you need commencement orders for that to happen.

00:24:38:08 - 00:24:57:19

And what you find is usually a bit of a time gap between, you know, royal assent being granted and those commencement orders coming through. And sometimes sections of acts are never commenced. Whole sections, whole parts or schedules and even an act itself sometimes not commenced. The point about this is that sometimes you need to set up, say, an agency.

00:24:57:19 - 00:25:21:18

If you're a government, you need an agency to deliver whatever's in the bill. So you might need to wait on the commencement order being passed until you've got the structure in place to deliver whatever policy it was. But sometimes stuff that's just plain inconvenient get stopped. That was an act a few years ago that was going to require porn websites to have age verification systems in place, and that provision was never commenced.

00:25:21:18 - 00:25:41:01

So it's not actually the law. It's a law that could be activated, but it's not there at the moment. And the Easter Act, the act to change the date of Easter has never been commenced. It's on the statute book. So it's law lying there on legislation, not as the law of the land, but it doesn't have effect because it hasn't been commenced.

00:25:41:07 - 00:26:01:09

And I think this is something that a lot of certain members of the public find really quite difficult to understand. Why would Parliament pass these laws and then not not commence them? It's also, I think, something that a lot of companies don't often realize the laws that they've been involved in, in scrutinizing and granting assent to, that they might have been involved in getting an amendment for it.

00:26:01:11 - 00:26:21:12

It might be months, possibly years before it's commenced, and you know, the government might never get around to it. And just a final note on terminology. When we were talking about a draft law going through parliament, it's a bill once it's been approved, once it's gone through both houses and been signed into law by the monarch, it becomes an act of parliament.

00:26:21:12 - 00:26:56:23

So that's the distinction between a bill and an act. We've enjoyed this. Thanks every well, thanks for listening to that. We hope you enjoyed that discussion. If you've got any more matters you'd like us to explain about things that go on in Parliament, why things happen in a certain way, why some other things don't happen. You can send your questions to us at

00:26:57:00 - 00:27:12:23

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety.

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