The Legislative Process: The Passage of Bills Through Parliament Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.The Office of Parliamentary Counsel describes ‘good law’ as law that is “necessary, effective, clear, coherent and accessible.”1 The processes by which legislation is prepared by Government and subsequently scrutinised and enacted by Parliament are key to ensuring that new law meets these criteria.

2.In 2004, this Committee published Parliament and the Legislative Process.2 In that report we made significant recommendations about how Parliament and the Government handle legislation. Some of those recommendations were followed by now well-established changes to the legislative process, such as the public evidence stage of public bill committees (PBCs) in the Commons, and an expectation that every Act will have a post-legislative review memorandum produced by its relevant Government department within 3–6 years of its commencement. Others, such as a presumption that all bills should be published in draft ahead of their introduction to Parliament, have not been followed.

3.In 2016, we launched a further inquiry into the legislative process in which we have taken a broader view of the law-making process. Whilst the term ‘legislative process’ is commonly used to refer to the sequence of steps by which laws are passed formally by Parliament, we have considered as a whole the different stages and procedures by which laws are developed, drafted, scrutinised, agreed to and disseminated. Our inquiry is in four parts:

4.In October 2017 we published our report on Preparing Legislation for Parliament. Our recommendations included that: legislation needed to be more accessible and easier to understand; the Government should routinely publish the evidence base for policy proposals; draft bills should be published and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny more frequently; and consolidation was urgently needed in several areas of the law.3

5.We published our second report, The Delegation of Powers, in November 2018.4 We concluded that delegated powers are a necessary part of the legislative process as they provide the Government with the flexibility to implement its policy and adjust its operation as circumstances change, through a less onerous process. We did, however, express serious concerns about governments seeking inappropriately broad powers, for the convenience of flexibility, that would permit the determination as well as the delivery of policy. We concluded that if the approach of the Government to seeking delegated powers did not change, or the situation deteriorated, the established constitutional restraint shown by the House of Lords in not rejecting secondary legislation might not be sustained.5

6.In this report we examine the passage of bills through Parliament, from a bill’s introduction to Royal Assent. We consider the time available for scrutiny of bills, the explanatory materials accompanying bills, and the opportunities for the public and stakeholders to influence legislation.

7.We explored many of these issues in our 2004 report. Among our recommendations were:

8.The implementation of these recommendations and others has been disappointing. Many of the issues we highlighted in 2004 remain pertinent and unaddressed. This report explores these and other matters to identify how Parliament’s scrutiny of bills might be improved.

9.As part of our inquiry into the legislative process, we have so far heard from 39 witnesses and received 62 pieces of written evidence. We are grateful to everyone who submitted written material or gave evidence to us in person. This report is also informed by the legislative scrutiny work we undertake on public bills during their passage in the House of Lords.

1 Office of Parliamentary Counsel, ‘When Laws Become Too Complex’, April 2013: [accessed 1 July 2019]

2 Constitution Committee, Parliament and the Legislative Process (14th Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 173)

3 Constitution Committee, The Legislative Process: Preparing Legislation for Parliament (4th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 27)

4 Constitution Committee, The Legislative Process: The Delegation of Powers (16th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 225)

5 Ibid., paras 110–113

6 Constitution Committee, Parliament and the Legislative Process (14th Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 173), para 81

7 Ibid., para 87

8 Ibid., para 98

9 Ibid., para 123

10 Ibid., paras 143–145

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