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Procedure in the House of Commons
The various stages through which a Bill has to pass are intended to provide opportunities not only for consideration, but for reconsideration. The stages are as follows: first reading, second reading, committee, report, third reading.
The first reading of a public Bill is a formality. The Bill may be presented and read for the first time as a result of the House agreeing to a motion to introduce it, or it may be simply introduced, read for the first time and ordered to be read for a second time. Once presented, it is printed and proceeds to a second reading.
The stage of second reading provides the first main occasion for a wide debate on the general principles of a Bill. The Opposition may decide to vote against the Bill on its second reading, or to move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time. When the Bill has passed its second reading, it is usually referred for detailed examination to a standing committee consisting of from 20 to 50 members. Occasionally the Bill may be referred to a committee of the whole House, which is the entire Commons sitting under another name. Very occasionally a Bill go to a select committee which has the power to call witnesses.
The object of the committee stage is to study the details of a measure: the Bill is dealt with clause by clause and alterations in its individual provisions may be made.
During the report stage the House considers the Bill as amended and makes any further amendments that may be necessary. The report stage is, in practice, very like the committee stage, except that only the amendments and not clauses of the Bill are discussed.
At the third reading a Bill is reviewed in its final form, which includes the amendments made at earlier stages. Substantive amendments cannot be made at this stage. After the third reading a Commons Bill is sent to the Lords.
Procedure in the House of Lords
House of Lords procedure is broadly similar to that in the House of Commons. When a Bill is brought from the Commons or introduced into the Lords, the first reading is moved at once, and the Bill goes through the same stages as in the Commons. There are no standing committees, and the Bills are normally debated in committee of the whole House. A Bill which starts in the Lords and is passed by that House is then sent to the Commons for all the stages here. Although all Bills have normally to be passed by both Houses, in practice financial legislation is not scrutinized by the Lords in detail.