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19 November 2010

Understanding how a Bill becomes law

Ever wondered what a Bill is and what needs to happen for it to become law?

There are 3 types of Public Bill:

  • An Executive Bill which is put forward by a Minister

  • A Private Members Bill which is put forward by an individual MLA (member of the Assembly)

  • A Committee Bill which is put forward by a Committee Chair on behalf of an Assembly Committee


A Bill can only become law if it completes a number of stages of discussion, checking and amending. Before any of this can start, a draft of the Bill is passed to The Speaker of the Assembly who checks to make sure the Assembly has the power to make it law. If The Speaker is satisfied the Assembly has the power then the official stages start.

First Stage is when the Bill is introduced to the Assembly. This is a formal process: the Minister asks that the Bill be introduced and then the title of the Bill is read out by the Assembly Clerk. There is no discussion on the Bill at this stage.
At Second Stage Members debate and vote on the general purposes of the Bill. If the majority of the MLAs present vote in favour of the Bill, it then passes to Committee Stage where is it reviewed in detail by the relevant Assembly Committee.

A Committee has 30 working days to consider the Bill and take evidence from interested groups and bodies - if it thinks it needs longer it can ask for an extension. Based on what it hears the Committee forms an opinion on the Bill and writes a report which is presented to the Assembly. The Committee may decide that the Bill needs changes which it will set out in its report.

The next stage in the Bill process is Consideration Stage. This is a very detailed stage. MLAs discuss each element of the Bill and any recommended changes put forward by the Committee or an individual MLA. Members will also vote on whether each element of the Bill and the proposed changes should actually form part of the Bill. If any element of the draft Bill does not pass the vote is does not form part of the final Bill.

The final stage when changes can be made is the Further Consideration Stage. Only new amendments are debated and voted on. If there are none then the Bill proceeds to Final Stage when MLAs discuss the Bill one last time and vote on whether it should become law.

The Bill has now been though all its stages in the Assembly. It is passed to the Attorney General who will again check that the Assembly has the power to make it law. Finally it is then passed to the Secretary of State who presents the Bill for Royal Assent - meaning its gets the approval of the Queen to become law. The Bill is now law and is called an Act.