Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the House of Commons



Most successful bills are sponsored by the government, and are unveiled amid the pomp and pageantry of the Queen's Speech.

Subsequently, each government bill is formally introduced to Parliament at first reading, a name that pre-dates the printing press when each bill was read out loud in full.

No debate takes place at this stage - that follows at second reading, when MPs weigh up the main aims of the bill.

A note on timing
The legislative process usually takes many months, since there are traditionally gaps of at least 10 days between first and second reading, between second reading and committee stage, and between committee stage and report stage.

However, some bills can be rushed through in less than one month if there is a degree of urgency about the bill, as there was with the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

In an extreme case, such as the Northern Ireland Act 2006, which re-established the Assembly at Stormont, debate on every stage can be completed in just two days.

Committee stage is next, when the detail of the bill is inspected line-by-line. Report stage, when MPs review the changes made during committee stage, and then third reading, when MPs briefly review the principles of the bill, follow.

If the bill makes it through all of these stages, then it faces a very similar process of scrutiny in the House of Lords.

Any changes that have been made in the Lords will then be reviewed in the Commons in "consideration of Lords amendments". Similarly, subsequent Commons amendments need to be approved in the Lords.

When disagreement persists, a process known as ping-pong can occur, where a bill bounces back between the two chambers until a deal is reached. Ultimately, the Commons can over-rule the Lords by invoking the Parliament Act.

Some bills, usually of a non-controversial nature, are introduced first in the House of Lords. They would proceed to the Commons after having successfully passed all stages of scrutiny in the Lords.

After both chambers have agreed to the bill, it will be given formal approval by the monarch. It is then described as an act, and becomes the law of the land.

Backbenchers

Each parliamentary session, there are many bills presented to Parliament that are not proposed by the government - backbench MPs or peers of any political party can suggest new laws.

These are known as Private Members' Bills. However, due to government control of parliamentary time, only a small number of such bills become law.




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