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Act of Parliament

In Westminster System parliaments, an Act of Parliament is a part of the law passed by the Parliament. It usually starts as a draft proposal, known as a White Paper[?]. A Bill[?] is then introduced into the House of Commons or the House of Lords or Senate. By constitutional convention, Bills which contain significant provisions relating to taxation or public expenditure start in the House of Commons; in Canada this is the law. In the UK, Law Commission[?] bills and consolidation bills start in the House of Lords. In some countries, the bill recieves different names if itīs initiated by the Government (Project) or by the Parliament (Proposition), like in Spain. Each bill passes through the following stages:

1. First Reading: this is a formality. The Bill is presented and ordered to be printed and, in the case of private members' bills, a date is set for second reading.

2. Second Reading: a debate on the general principles of the bill, followed by a vote. If the bill is read a second time, it is committed to a standing committee for the committee stage.

3. Committee stage: this usually takes place in a standing committee in the Commons and on the Floor of the House in the Lords or Senate. The committee considers each clause of the bill, and may make amendments to it. Significant amendments may be made at committee stage. In some cases, whole groups of clasues are inserted or removed. However, almost all the amendments which are agreed to in committee will have been tabled by the Government to correct deficiencies in the bill or to enact changes to policy made since the bill was introduced (or, in some cases, to import material which was not ready when the bill was presented)

4. Consideration (or Report) stage: this takes place on the Floor of the House, and is afurther opportunity to amend the bill. Unlike committee stage, the House need not consider every clause of the bill, only those to which amendments have been tabled.

5. Third reading: a debate on the final text of the bill, as amended. In the Lords, further amendments may be made on third reading, in the Commons it is usually a short debate followed by a single vote.

The Bill is then sent to the other House (to the Lords/Senate, if it originated in the Commons; to the Commons, if it is a Lords or Senate Bill), which may amend it. The Commons may reject a bill from the Lords outright; the Lords/Senate may amend a bill from the Commons but, if they reject it, the Commons may force it through without the Lords' consent in the following Session of Parliament (under the Parliament Acts[?] 1911 and 1949). If the other House amends the Bill, the Bill and amendments are sent back for a further stage:

6. Consideration of Lords/Commons Amendments: the House in which the bill originated considers the amendments made in the other House. It may agree to them, amend them, propose other amendments in lieu or reject them. A Bill may pass backwards and forwards several times at this stage, as each House amends or rejects changes proposed by the other. If each House insists on disagreeing with the other, the Bill is lost.

Since the mid-19th century, in most but not all cases, the votes by the House of Commons are a formality in which the vote is predetermined by party lines. Because the Westminister system requires the government to keep the support of the House of Commons, the rejection of a bill by Commons is a major political crisis. Therefore, the government will in almost all cases ensure passage of a bill by a combination of modifying the bill so that it is acceptable to members of the ruling party and pressuring party members to vote for the bill. Unlike the American system, a member of parliament rarely votes against party instructions.

Exceptions are cases of political crisis or matters of conscience such as the age of consent, in which the government may declare a free vote in which Members of Parliament are absolved of the requirement of voting with their party.

It can either fail or pass and then go on to final examination by the Monarch who gives it the Royal Assent. Although the Monarch can in theory refuse to endorse a bill at this stage, this power has not been used since the early 18th century. The Monarch signs letters patent to signify her Assent to one or more Bills. When this happens at the end of a Session of Parliment, it is usually accompanied by an elaborate ceremony in the House of Lords. It then becomes part of the law of the land.

Acts of Parliament are of two types - public acts are for laws of general application (e.g. reforming the criminal justice system), and private acts are for specific purposes (e.g. allowing Universities to merge, or to create a new railway or canal). Private Bills, common in the 19th Century, are now rare, as new planning legislation introduced in the 1960s removed the need for many of them. They are subject to a different procedure from that for Public Bills, described above, involving a quasi-judicial committee of three MPs[?].

Traditionally Acts of Parliament were all powerful - under the (uncodified) UK constitution parliament is supreme above all other powers in the UK and so may do anything by Act of Parliament. Therefore Acts of Parliament have been used to merge with other countries (e.g. Acts of Union 1707 (Scotland) and 1801 (Ireland)) and to demerge or release them from colony status (e.g. Canada Act, and the Act separating the Republic of Ireland). In reality, there are some de facto limitations on Parliament's ability to legislate, mostly arising from the UK's membership of the European Union.

English law is also made through Statutory Instruments (SIs). These are laws which are written by a Government minister, exercising legislative powers delegated to him or her by Act of Parliament. Some of these must be approved by Parliament before they can become law, others need only be laid before Parliament a certain number of days (usually 40) before coming into force. They are used because they are much faster and simpler to implement than a full act of Parliament. SIs are sometimes described as "secondary legisaltion, not second class legislation". They have the same force as an Act of Parliament, and much of the UK's law is made in this way. There are literally thuosands of SIs each year, compared with around 50 Acts.

International treaties are not effective in domestic UK law until enforced by an Act of Parliament (e.g. The Single European Act, which brought the UK into the European Union, or the strangely named Outer Space Act which deals with international treaties on Space).

All Acts of Parliament since 1497 are kept in the House of Lords Record Office[?], including the oldest Act: The "Taking of Apprentices for Worsteads in the County of Norfolk" Act 1497, a reference to the wool worsted manufacture at Worstead in Norfolk, England.

Acts before 1962 are referenced using 'Year of reign', 'Monarch', c., 'Chapter number' - e.g. 16 Charles II c. 2 - to define a chapter of the appropriate statute book. Since 1962, the regnal year has been replaced by the calendar year. All Acts have a short title, or citation (e.g. Local Government Act 2003, National Health Service Act 1974).

Parliament Acts are executed by the Administration and its superior and directive dome, the Government (specially using the administrative regulations), are applied by the judicial power (judges), and must be obeyed by everybody.

Current Acts of Parliament of special interest:

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