Democracy Denied? The urgent need to rebalance power between Parliament and the Executive Contents

Appendix 2: Glossary of key parliamentary terms

Primary legislation

Acts of Parliament: laws passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which are given Royal Assent by the sovereign. (It is more than 300 years since the sovereign last refused royal assent.)

How are Acts of Parliament passed? There are four main stages of debate in each House before a draft law (a Bill) can become law: second reading, committee stage, report stage and third reading, plus “ping-pong” to resolve any disagreements between the two Houses.

Primary legislation: another name for an Act of Parliament.

Henry VIII powers: powers given by Parliament to ministers allowing them to amend or repeal Acts of Parliament by delegated legislation. The exorbitant nature of this power is reflected in its name. In 1539 Parliament gave Henry VIII power to make proclamations having effect as if made by Parliament. The modern equivalent is for Ministers to be able to repeal Acts of Parliament without the need for a new Act of Parliament.

Secondary legislation

Secondary legislation: also called delegated or subordinate legislation: laws — including regulations, orders and rules — made by Ministers or public bodies under powers given to them by Act of Parliament. There are two main ways of making secondary legislation:

(a) Under the negative procedure: this means that Ministers make the law, they then lay it before Parliament and it usually comes into force within less than a month. Parliament has no say in any of this. The first it hears of the new law is after the Minister has made it. Either House can agree to vote the law down. It happens incredibly rarely. It last happened in the House of Commons in 1979.

(b) Under the affirmative procedure: this means that Ministers can only make the law if debate is needed). Instead of having four debates in both Houses (as with Acts of Parliament), secondary legislation requires just one debate in each House.

Statutory instruments: the legal form or “wrapper” containing most secondary legislation.

A regret motion: a motion which, if passed, expresses regret about a piece of secondary legislation without invalidating it. Since the Lords almost never vote against a statutory instrument (six Government defeats since 1968),205 the Regret Motion is the next strongest signal of opposition to it and the only way opponents of a measure can signal their opposition to it.

A prayer to annul: a piece of secondary legislation will, if passed, result in the annulment of that legislation. “Prayer” means to petition, entreat, beseech, implore, supplicate, pray. In the case of a prayer to annul a negative instrument, the petition being to the sovereign, section 4 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 uses the formal (nowadays archaic) language of prayer to indicate a polite request.

Tertiary legislation

Tertiary legislation: laws made by people who have had law-making power conferred on them not directly by Parliament but indirectly by Ministers or public bodies. It is only allowed where an Act of Parliament expressly allows Ministers or public bodies to sub-delegate law- making powers to other people in this way.

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