Glossary of Parliamentary Terms

I receive many emails from lots of constituents which cover a wide range of subjects. Although I deal with them as much as possible in chronological order, I always prioritise email from constituents in genuine need of help and assistance.

Another popular form of email are campaign emails forwarded from organisations, charities and pressure groups to members and supporters to forward on to their MP.  Sometimes these will refer to areas of policy and Government action but some relate to upcoming business in the House of Commons. I have seen examples where the email implies that a decision is imminent in the House when in actual fact the matter in question is listed for debate, but not on a votable motion - i.e. one where any decision is to be made. Consequently I thought it would be useful to put on the website a summary of the various items of procedure in the House of Commons and what, if any, are the potential consequences.

 

Progress of Legislation

Green Papers
Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government. The aim of this document is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.

Copies of consultation documents such as Green Papers are available on the relevant departmental websites.

White Papers
White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament. 

First Reading
First Reading is the formal introduction of a Bill to the House of Commons or the House of Lords. The Bill is not debated at this stage, but a date for its Second Reading in that House is set, a bill number is allocated and an order is made for it to be printed.

Second Reading
The Second Reading is normally the first opportunity for a Bill to be debated in either House and is the stage where the overall principles of the Bill are considered. If the Bill passes Second Reading it moves on to the Committee Stage.

Committee Stage
Committee stage is where a Bill is considered line-by-line and is normally the next stage after a Bill's second reading. It is an opportunity for changes to be made to the wording or for new clauses to be added.

In the Commons this task is normally done by a small number of MPs in a Public Bill Committee. Occasionally it is done in the Chamber by a Committee of the whole House, as is usual in the Lords. Bill Committees can last a few days or several months depending on the size of the Bill being scrutinised and they can meet as many as four times per week.

Report Stage
The Report Stage is the next stage of a Bill after its Committee Stage. The whole House, either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, reviews the amended form of the bill and can make further changes.

Third Reading
Third reading is one of the stages that a Bill must pass in each House before it can become law. It is normally the final opportunity for the Commons or the Lords to decide whether to pass or reject a Bill in its entirety.

Royal Assent
Royal Assent is the Monarch's agreement that is required to make a Bill into an Act of Parliament. While the Monarch has the right to refuse Royal Assent, nowadays this does not happen; the last such occasion was in 1707, and Royal Assent is regarded today as a formality.

 

Parliamentary Business and Procedure

Adjournment Debate
Adjournment debates are held on the motion 'that the House (or sitting) do now adjourn'. The term refers to the short, half-hour debate that takes place at the end of each day's sitting in the House of Commons. These are usually around specific issues raised by individual members. I have had my own Adjournment debates on the Mottram - Tintwistle bypass. It is an opportunity to make your point on the record and get a response from a Minister, again, on the record.

Back Bench Business Debate
A relatively new development in the last Parliament. If a group of MPs wish to debate a specific subject then there is Parliamentary time put aside for Back Bench Business. To secure a debate it requires a group of MPs - usually cross-party - to go before the Back Bench Business Committee (BBBC) and make their case as to why a debate should be held. The BBBC then decide in private which of the submissions to accept and put forward for debate. When held, if they go to a vote - which is unusual - any vote is not binding on the Government.

Early Day Motions
Early Day Motions (EDMs) are used by MPs in the Commons to draw the attention of the House to a particular issue, event or campaign. Other MPs may show their support for an EDM by adding their own signature to it. I often get asked to sign EDMs, which I don’t do. This is not through any unwillingness, as I don’t sign them whether I am in agreement or not, it is because I believe that EDMs are no longer relevant and serve little or no purpose. I have heard them called political graffiti and I have seen some laid on spurious issues, however there is an associated cost attached to managing EDMs which I feel could be avoided, as they are neither effective nor useful.

Private Members’ Bills
Private Members' Bills - or backbench Bills - are introduced by individual MPs or members of the Lords, rather than by the Government. As with other Public Bills their purpose is to change the law as it applies to the general population. Very few Private Members' Bills become law but, by creating publicity around an issue, they may affect legislation indirectly. I tried to introduce my own PMB on CO2 alarms in new and rented properties. The Bill itself didn’t get on to the statue book, however the Government did introduce legislation along the lines of my Bill.

Westminster Hall debates
Westminster Hall debates are House of Commons debates that take place in a specially converted room, off the Westminster Hall building, rather than in the main Commons Chamber. Constitutionally these are the same as Adjournment debates, in that, whilst important, they do not change the law.

 

Miscellaneous

APPGs
All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal, cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a common interest in a particular policy area, region or country.

While they are not official parliamentary committees, these groups can sometimes be influential because of their non-partisan approach to an issue. There are a huge number of APPGs, in my opinion too many, and their effectiveness varies greatly.

Backbencher
Backbenchers are MPs or members of the House of Lords that are neither Government Ministers nor opposition Shadow spokespeople. They are so called because, in the Chamber, they sit in the rows of benches behind their parties' spokespeople who are known as frontbenchers.

Traditionally, backbenchers were called 'private members'; when a bill is introduced by a backbencher it is still described as a Private Member's Bill.

Hansard
Hansard (the Official Report) is the edited verbatim report of proceedings of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is published daily when Parliament is sitting and records what is said in the main Chambers of both Houses, as well as proceedings in Westminster Hall, Public Bill Committees and other general committees.

Recess
A recess is a break during the parliamentary session (year) in which neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords meets to conduct business. There are usually several recesses throughout a session and usually include Christmas, Easter and summer. These are often referred to by the press as ‘MPs’ holidays’, however most MPs use recesses to spend time on the constituency catching up on work that they are unable to do when the House is sitting, when we have to be in London for large parts of the week.

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