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Bill is a term used to describe proposed laws as they pass through the legislature in the American and Westminster systems of government.

For other uses, see Bill.


A Bill refers to a proposed law as it is considered by the legislature. A Bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive.

Introduction of Bill

A Bill is introduced by a member of the legislature. This takes a variety of forms.

In the British/Westminster system, where the executive is drawn from the legislature and usually holds a majority in the lower house, most Bills are introduced by the executive. In principle, the legislature meets to consider the demands of the executive, as set out in the Queen's Speech or Speech from the Throne. While mechanisms exist to allow other members of the legislature to introduce Bills, these are subject to strict timetables and usually fail unless a consensus is reached.

In the US system, where the executive is formally separated from the legislature, all Bills must originate from the legislature.

Procedure: Introduction

Bills can be introduced using the following procedures.

1. Leave

A motion is brought before the chamber asking that leave be given to bring in a Bill. This is used in the British system in the form of the Ten Minute Rule motion. The legislator has 15 minutes to propose a bill, which can then be considered by the House on a day appointed for the purpose. While this rule remains in place in the rules of procedure of the US Congress it is seldom used.

2. Government motion

In jurisdictions where the executive can control legislative business a Bill may be brought in by executive fiat.

3. The US Committee System

In the United States Congress a system of committees considers law relating to each policy area.

Procedure: Passage

Bills are generally considered through a number of readings. This refers to the historic practice of the clerical officers of the legislature reading the contents of a Bill to the legislature. While the Bill is no longer read, the motions on the Bill still refer to this practice.

In the British/Westminster system, a Bill is read the first time when it is introduced. This is accompanied by an order that the Bill be printed and considered again. At the second reading the general merits of the Bill are considered - it is out of order to criticise a Bill at this stage for technical defects in drafting. After the second reading the Bill is referred to a committee, which considers the Bill line by line proposing amendments. The committee reports to the legislature, at which stage further amendments are proposed. Finally a third reading debate at which the bill as amended is considered in its entirety. In a bicameral legislature the process is repeated in the other house, before the Bill is submitted to the executive for approval.


Bills passed by the legislature usually require the approval (often called assent, especially in constitutional monarchies) of the executive such as the monarch, president, or governor to become law.

In parliamentary systems, this is normally a formality (since the executive is under the de facto control of the legislature), although in rare cases approval may be refused or reserved.

In presidential systems, the need to receive approval can be used as a political tool by the executive, and its refusal is known as a veto. In presidential systems, the legislature often has the power to override the veto of the executive by means of a supermajority.

In constitutional monarchies, certain matters may be covered by a so-called royal prerogative. In the United Kingdommarker, for example, these include payments to the royal family, succession to the throne, and the monarch's exercise of prerogative powers. The legislature may have significantly less power to introduce bills on such issues and may require the approval of the monarch or government of the day.

Numbering of bills

Legislatures give Bills numbers as they progress.

In the United States all bills originating in the U.S. House of Representatives begin with "H.R." and all bills originating from the U.S. Senate begin with an "S". Bills can have the same number because every two years, at the start of odd-numbered years, the United States Congress recommences numbering from 1. Each two-year span is called a Congress, and each Congress is divided into year-long periods called sessions.

In the United Kingdom, Bills are published by each House of Parliament as part of a series produced by each House. As a result, a Bill is allocated a number when it is first printed, and again after it is considered by the Public Bill Committee. For example, the Coroners and Justice Bill in 2009 started as Bill 9 in the House of Commons, became Bill 72 on consideration by the Committee, then became House of Lords Bill 33, then House of Lords Bill 77, returned to the House of Commons as Bill 160, became House of Lords Bill 80 on return to the Lords, and finally ended as Bill 169 in the House of Commons. . Bills may have the same number because each session Parliament recommences numbering from 1. Sessions usually last a year. They begin with the State Opening of Parliament, and end with Prorogation.

Once passed

Once a Bill is passed, it is called an Act and forms part of the statutory law of the jurisdiction.


In Britain, the subparts of a Bill are known as "Clauses" while the subparts of an Act are known as "Sections".

See also

External links

Hong Kong

New Zealand

United Kingdom

A graphic representation of the legislative procedure.

United States




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