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How a Bill becomes Law


How a Bill becomes an Act of Parliament

A Bill is a draft Act of Parliament presented to either House by one of its Members. Before a Bill can become an Act and therefore the law of the land, it must pass through a number of similar stages in each House, and then receive Royal Assent.

There are three 'readings' of a Bill in its progress through each House. In the past, before widespread literacy and the invention of printing, the only way of informing Members about the contents of a Bill was for the Clerk to read it aloud from beginning to end. Today the circulation of printed copies of Bills and increased literacy makes it unnecessary to read Bills at length, and since the end of the Eighteenth Century it has been the practice for the Clerk to read only the title of a Bill to the House.

Introduction and First Reading

A Member's request for leave to introduce a Bill appears on the Notice Paper on the next sitting day. On the day it is to be considered the Member concerned seeks leave which is usually agreed to without discussion. The Member then presents to the House a copy of the Bill, which is 'read' a first time.

One special class of Bills must be mentioned. These are 'Money Bills': Bills which appropriate revenue or other public money, or deal with taxation, or the raising, guarantee or repayment of any loan. These must be introduced in the House of Assembly first, as the Legislative Council has restricted powers in relation to money matters.

Second Reading

After the first reading in the Originating House, the second reading may be moved immediately or be taken into consideration on a future day.The second reading is acknowledged to be the most important stage of a Bill, for it is here that the principles of the Bill are agreed to or rejected. To commence the second reading stage the Minister or private Member in charge of the Bill will rise and move 'That this Bill now be read a second time'. The Member will then proceed to make their main speech in favour of the Bill. This is known as the second reading speech. The Member will explain the reasons for introducing the Bill and outline the principles of the Bill and its benefits to society in general.

The House may agree that the actual reading of the speech in the Chamber be dispensed with and a copy of it incorporated in Hansard. Usually the Leader of the Opposition, or another Opposition spokesperson, secures the adjournment of the debate. This gives the Members time to study the second reading speech, in conjunction with the Bill before debating it further.

The second reading debate is closed when the Mover replies to the debate. The question is then put 'That this Bill be now read a second time' and submitted to the House by the Presiding Officer for its decision. If agreed the House of Assembly may proceed directly to the third reading but if there are tabled amendments or if Members wish to raise questions about the Bill, it goes through a Committee stage first.

Committee Stage

The common conception of a committee is that of a small group appointed by a larger group. But when the Houses are 'in Committee', it means all the Members.

When a Bill is to be considered in a Committee of the whole House of Assembly, the Speaker leaves the Chair, the Mace is taken off the Table and the Chairman of Committees assumes the role of Presiding Officer, taking the seat between the Clerks. In the Legislative Council, the President, who performs the dual duties of President and Chairman of Committees, leaves the Chair and takes the seat between the Clerks.

The purpose of the Committee stage is to examine the Bill in detail, and make amendments where considered by the majority to be necessary. Every clause is considered separately by the Committee and agreed to, amended and agreed to, or rejected. Members may speak more than once about each clause or amendment before the Chair. When the Committee has concluded its deliberations, the Chairman reports to the House that 'the Committee has considered the Bill referred to it and agreed to the same with (or without) amendment'. In the Legislative Council the President reports the results of the Committee's deliberations to the Council.

Some Bills, either because they make special provision for some group in the community or need more detailed examination, are referred to a Select Committee. A Select Committee, usually comprising five Members, is able to take evidence and examine witnesses before reporting back to the House on whether a Bill should be further proceeded with or amended.

Third Reading

The third reading is also an important stage of the Bill, because Members now decide whether the Bill agreed to in the Committee stage should be finally approved. Often the third reading stage is just a formality with little if any debate because the details have been clarified and agreed at the second reading or Committee stages.

The rules governing the third reading are similar to those which apply to the second reading. However, the debate on the third reading of a Bill is more restricted and cannot go beyond what is actually contained in the Bill as it emerged from the Committee stage. Agreement to the third reading completes the passage of the Bill through the House.

Consideration of the Bill by the other Chamber

When a House has agreed to the Bill, it is sent by written message signed by the Presiding Officer to the other House for its concurrence. The Bill again goes through three readings, with a Committee stage between the second and third readings, before being passed.

Any amendments made by one House in a Bill received from the other House are considered by the Originating House. If there is disagreement on these amendments the Bill may be laid aside or a conference between five representatives (called 'Managers') from each House is held and they attempt to settle the dispute. An officer from each House and a Parliamentary Counsel attend the Conference, but no Hansard record is taken of the proceedings. Conferences are usually successful in reaching a compromise but if not, the Bill will be laid aside in the second House unless that House decides not to further insist on its requirements.

Assent to Bills

When a Bill has finally passed both Houses, 'Royal Arms' copies are printed, certified by the Presiding Officer and the Clerk of the House in which the Bill originated, and then presented by that Presiding Officer to the Governor for assent. The Governor assents to Bills in Executive Council in the name, and on behalf, of the Sovereign.

The Governor's signature and the impress of the public seal of the State are necessary formalities which represent the final stages in converting a Bill into an Act of Parliament.