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An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature).[1] Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. The United States Act of Congress is based on it.[2]


A draft Act of Parliament is known as a bill.

In territories with a Westminster system, most bills that have any possibility of becoming law are introduced into parliament by the government. This will usually happen following the publication of a "white paper", setting out the issues and the way in which the proposed new law is intended to deal with them. A bill may also be introduced into parliament without formal government backing; this is known as a private member's bill.

In territories with a multicameral parliament, most bills may be first introduced in any chamber. However, certain types of legislation are required, either by constitutional convention or by law, to be introduced into a specific chamber. For example, bills imposing a tax, or involving public expenditure, are introduced into the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, Canada's House of Commons, Lok Sabha of India and Ireland's Dáil as a matter of law. Conversely, bills proposed by the Law Commission and consolidation bills traditionally start in the House of Lords.

Once introduced, a bill must go through a number of stages before it can become law. In theory, this allows the bill's provisions to be debated in detail, and for amendments to the original bill to also be introduced, debated, and agreed to.

In bicameral parliaments, a bill that has been approved by the chamber into which it was introduced then sends the bill to the other chamber. Broadly speaking, each chamber must separately agree to the same version of the bill. Finally, the approved bill receives assent; in most territories this is merely a formality, and is often a function exercised by the head of state.

In some countries, such as in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal, the term for a bill differs depending on whether it is initiated by the government (when it is known as a "project"), or by the Parliament (a "proposition", i.e., a private member's bill).


In Australia, the bill passes through the following stages:

In Canada, the bill passes through the following stages:

The debate on each stage is actually debate on a specific motion. For the first reading, there is no debate. For the second reading, the motion is "That this bill be now read a second time and be referred to [name of committee]" and for third reading "That this bill be now read a third time and pass." In the Committee stage, each clause is called and motions for amendments to these clauses, or that the clause stand part of the bill are made. In the Report stage, the debate is on the motions for specific amendments.

Once a bill has passed both Houses in an identical form, it receives final, formal examination by the Governor General, who gives it the royal assent. Although the Governor General can refuse to assent a bill or reserve the bill for the queen at this stage, this power has never been exercised.[3]

Bills being reviewed by Parliament are assigned numbers: 2 to 200 for government bills, 201 to 1000 for private member's bills, and 1001 up for private bills. They are preceded by C- if they originate in the House of Commons, or S- if they originate in the Senate. For example, Bill C-250 was a private member's bill introduced in the House. Bills C-1 and S-1 are pro forma bills, and are introduced at the beginning of each session in order to assert the right of each Chamber to manage its own affairs. They are introduced and read a first time, and then are dropped from the Order Paper.

In the Parliament of India, every bill passes through following stages before it becomes an Act of Parliament of India:[4]

In the Irish Parliament, the Oireachtas, bills pass through the following stages:[7] Bills may be initiated in either the Dáil or the Seanad, and must pass both houses.

In New Zealand, the bill passes through the following stages:

A draft piece of legislation is called a bill, when this is passed by Parliament it becomes an Act and part of statute law. There are two types of bill and Act, public and private. Public Acts apply to the whole of the UK or a number of its constituent countries — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Private Acts are local and personal in their effect, giving special powers to bodies such as local authorities or making exceptions to the law in particular geographic areas.[8]

In the United Kingdom Parliament, each bill passes through the following stages:

In the Scottish Parliament,[10] bills pass through the following stages:

There are special procedures for emergency bills, member's bills (similar to private member's bills in the UK Parliament), committee bills, and private bills.

In Singapore, the bill passes through these certain stages before becoming into an Act of Parliament.

Titles and citation of Acts

Acts passed by the Parliament of England did not originally have titles, and could only be formally cited by reference to the parliamentary session in which they were passed, with each individual Act being identified by year and chapter number. Descriptive titles began to be added to the enrolled Acts by the official clerks, as a reference aid; over time, titles came to be included within the text of each bill. Since the mid-nineteenth century, it has also become common practice for Acts to have a short title, as a convenient alternative to the sometimes lengthy main titles. The Short Titles Act 1892, and its replacement the Short Titles Act 1896, gave short titles to many Acts which previously lacked them.

The numerical citation of Acts has also changed over time. The original method was based on the regnal year(s) in which the relevant parliament session met. This has been replaced in most territories by simple reference to the calendar year, with the first Act passed being chapter 1, and so on.

In the United Kingdom, legislation is referenced by year and chapter number. Each act is numbered consecutively based on the date they received royal assent. for example the 43rd act passed in 1980 would be 1980 Chapter 43. The full reference includes the title and would be The Magistrate's Court Act 1980 C. 43.

Until the 1980s, Acts of the Australian state of Victoria were numbered in a continuous sequence from 1857; thus the Age of Majority Act 1977 was No. 9075 of 1977.

See also

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