Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the Northern Ireland Assembly

Each of the Assembly's 108 MLAs can kick-start the procedure for introducing a bill which could eventually become law.

Committees and ministers can also bring forward draft legislation before the Assembly.

The first thing the Speaker will do is ensure that the bill does not fall outside its powers or already forms part of the law of another jurisdiction. Neither must it discriminate on religious or political grounds.

The main difference between law-making in Northern Ireland and the other institutions is that certain decisions have to be taken on a cross-community support basis.

This is done through "parallel consent" - where more than 50% of members vote, including more than 50% of nationalists and 50% of unionists - or through a "weighted majority", which requires the support of 60% of those voting, including 40% unionist and 40% nationalist.

There are many hoops for a bill to jump through on its way to becoming law.

Once the Speaker gives the go-ahead for the bill to be introduced to the Assembly, the clerk reads the title. It is sent to the printers and gets into the queue for future business. This is the first stage.

A copy of the bill is sent to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and it prepares to jump through the next hoop.

This second stage involves a consideration of the bill's general principles during a full meeting of the Assembly.

Debated amendments

Normally, the draft legislation will then proceed to the relevant departmental committee, except when accelerated passage has been granted.

How a bill becomes law
  • The Speaker ensures the bill is within Assembly's competence
  • First stage: Clerk reads bill title to Assembly
  • Second stage: Assembly plenary considers bill's principles
  • Committee stage: Relevant committee can make amendments
  • Consideration stage: bill and any amendments are voted on by the Assembly
  • Further consideration stage: MLAs can propose and vote on further amendments
  • Final stage: a vote on the bill is taken in the Assembly
  • The bill is given royal assent and becomes law
  • During this committee stage, any proposed amendments are included in a report which is sent back to a full sitting of the Assembly. This consideration stage allows the Bill and any amendments to be voted on.

    Another opportunity for MLAs to propose amendments to the bill comes at the further consideration stage, at which point only the debated amendments, and not the entire bill, can be voted on.

    After the bill is considered by the Speaker at final scrutiny, it proceeds through the next hoop to the final stage when there is a debate in the Assembly on the motion "that the bill do now pass".

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