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
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
Bills can be introduced using the following procedures.
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
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.
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
, 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
. 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
Kingdom, for example, these include payments to the royal
family, succession to the throne, and the monarch's exercise of
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
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 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".
A graphic representation of the