Thursday 9 December 2010

How to Prep yourself about a current Bill (Westminster)

What's the most effective way of understanding a bill currently before Parliament? There are a number of organisations which, for a fee, will offer to summarise/explain a bill to you - but can you do it itself?

The Parliamentary website brings together the key tools to use. Lets say you want to understand the Fixed- Term Parliaments Bill.

First go the the current bills webpage - http://services.parliament.uk/bills/ (a page worth bookmarking). Find the Bill - our example would take you here

On this page you can see where the bill is in the legislative process - highlighted visually, in black - and there is also "Last Event" and "Next Event". The Link - "All previous stages of the Bill " allows you to go directly to the Hansard for the stage of the Bill. Reading the Opening speech in the 2nd Reading allows to you see the Minister's (or the sponsor of a Private Member's Bill explanation of the need; the objectives and the structure of the Bill).

The Bill page also has links to the Current Version of the Bill (It is important that you read the up to date version - clauses can be added or deleted - and this means the numbering can change). and the Explanatory Notes. It is useful to read the Introduction: Background and Summary - then read the commentary on the clauses in conjunction with the Bill itself. The Explanatory Notes are helpful - but are merely the civil servants explanation of what they see the bill meaning - it is NOT an authoratative source. Lists of amendments can be found under the link to "All Bill Documents"

The House of Commons Library often supplies material to assist with the understanding of the Bill. This too can be found under the link to "All Bill Documents" - I sugeest this is a 'must read'. In our example the Research Paper is here. There may be updates from the Library - sometimes as further Research Papers and sometimes, more briefly, as Standard Notes.

These tools will give a good background understanding of the Bill. Note that a "clause" in a Bill becomes a "Section" in the Act of Parliament.