Act of Parliament

Act of Parliament in United Kingdom

Act of Parliament in the Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Adviser

Based on the Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Adviser , by W.S.M. Knight, Barrister –at – Law.

Act of parliament is the term applied to an act, wherein the three constituent parts of the sovereign power in this realm, king, lords, and commons, unite to formulate a Law. Public Statute is another term for an Act of Parliament. Strictly speaking the former term would be the proper one in most cases where the term Act of Parliament is used. The latter in its true meaning denotes simply the record of an Act of Parliament or the written record of a law. The usual procedure in passing any Act of Parliament was as follows, until the passing of the (English) Parliament Act, 1911. The Act was first of all printed under the name of a Bill. After this Bill had been introduced to the House of Commons, and read three times and passed, it was sent up to the House of Lords. When it had been read and passed in the latter House it hail to receive the assent of the icing. The king had a right of veto. Having received the assent of the king the Bill became law, and was called an Act of Parliament. The procedure is described in the doctrine often under the title Statute.

There are two classes of Act of Parliament: Public and Personal. The latter is a small class limited to private personal matters; for example, an Act dissolving an Irish marriage. Public Acts may be subdivided into general, local, and private. General Acts touch matters of public importance throughout the realm or the greater part therefore; these being the Acts of Parliament making the laws now claiming our attention. A local Act is one that has reference only to a limited area, the subject of the legislation having only a local importance. A private Act of Parliament is one dealing with private affairs requiring legislative sanction; accordingly do such undertakings as docks and telephone companies acquire their powers. Unless the contrary is stated, an Act of Parliament takes effect as from the date of the Royal assent. But generally the date for the commencement of operation is announced in the Act itself. So too, unless the contrary is stated, an Act of Parliament extends to Scotland.

History of Act of Parliament

“The instrument by which laws are created. The government presents -in accordance to Bamber Gascoigne´ Encyclopedia of Britain about “Act of Parliament”– to the House of Commons a bill, in effect a first draft. The First Reading is a purely formal announcement of the bill. Debate and the possibility of amendment begin with the Second Reading, followed by the committee stage – a more intense scrutiny by a *committee of MPs. After the Report Stage, at which amendments by the committee are debated in the House, and the Third Reading (usually without debate), the bill is passed to the House of Lords, where it will go through similar stages.

Any amendment by the Lords (not allowed on bills involving finance) will require further debate in the Commons. Once a bill has gone through this entire process, it requires only the *royal assent to become law as an act of parliament. (Bills can also start in the House of Lords, following a similar pattern before being transferred to the Commons.)

Since 1963 acts have been dated by the calendar year in which they received the royal assent. Previously the date was expressed as a regnal year – the year within the reign followed by the name of the monarch. Since the regnal year begins from the moment of accession, it invariably spans two calendar years. Thus 2 Victoria, the second year of her reign, lasted from 20 June 1838 to 19 June 1839.”

Description and Parts

A Bill which has successfully passed through all its stages in both Houses and has received the Royal Assent (q.v.) becomes an Act of Parliament and thus a law of the land. An Act may be amended or repealed by another Act which in turn has undergone the same processes in the form of a Bill. A Bill is a draft statute which very often undergoes amendment during its committee stage (see BILL, PASSAGE OF); consequently the Act which eventually emerges sometimes differs from the Bill which was originally introduced into the House.

An Act of Parliament consists of the following parts:

  • Citation and Short Titles . The citation title is generally set out in the last section and is usually identical with the short title at the head of the Act. An Act of Parliament is always referred to by its short title (e.g., Education Act, 1944). Occasionally the short title and the citation title are not identical, as in the case of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Act, which is always enacted as the Appropriation Act. An Act may also be cited by its regnal year and chapter number.
  • Long Title . The long title sets out in general terms the purpose of the Act, and when the term ‘title’ is used without qualification it usually refers to the long title.
  • Preamble . The preamble is not an essential part of an Act and is not often now incorporated in a Public Act. Its purpose is to state the reasons and intended effects of the legislation.
  • Enacting Formula . The enacting formula is a short paragraph which precedes the sections of the Act. This formula, which was developed in the 15th century, now runs as follows: ‘Be it enacted by the Queen most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:–.’ The Parliaments of the other Commonwealth monarchies use a similar enacting formula in the drafting of their Acts. In Consolidated Fund and Finance Acts the usual formula is preceded by certain words which define the sole responsibility of the Commons for the grant of money.
  • Sections . The Act is divided into a series of numbered sections (known in the Bill form as ‘clauses’ (q.v.)), each with a descriptive note printed in the margin. Sections may be divided into subsections, subsections into paragraphs, and paragraphs into sub-paragraphs. Long and complicated Acts often have their sections grouped in parts distinguished by Roman numerals and titles in capitals, and these parts may again be broken up into small groups of sections with a group title in italics. A table of sections may be prefixed to an Act showing the numbered titles of the sections and also any grouping into parts. The order of the sections is usually so arranged that the leading principles of the Act are embodied in the opening section or sections. The formal sections, such as those devoted to definitions, are usually contained at the end of the Act. In the Acts of some other Commonwealth countries this practice is varied and the formal sections appear at the beginning.
  • Schedules . At the end of many Acts of Parliament there are sets of schedules which contain matters of detail dependent on the provisions of the Act.

Unless otherwise provided in the Act itself, an Act of Parliament takes effect from the day it receives the Royal Assent. Under the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act, 1793, the Clerk of the Parliaments is required to endorse on every Act immediately after the title, the day, month, and year when it shall have been passed and received the Royal Assent. Formerly all Acts of Parliament of which the commencement was not specifically enacted were held in law to take effect from the first day of the session

As soon as an Act has received the Royal Assent, a print of it in the form in which it was finally agreed to is prepared in the Public Bill Office of the House of Lords, and it is given a chapter number. Acts are numbered serially throughout each session in the order in which they receive the Royal Assent. Public General Acts form one series, Provisional Order Confirmation Acts and Local Acts form a second, and Personal Acts, if printed, form a third. After examination a proof copy of the Act is certified by the Clerk of Public Bills and sent to the Queen’s Printer, and a request is sent to the Controller of the Stationery Office to issue instructions for its immediate publication.

Two prints are prepared on a durable vellum. These are endorsed with the words by which the Royal Assent was signified and signed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, thus becoming the official copies of the Act. One is sent to the Public Record Office and the other is preserved in the House of Lords. In the case of Church Assembly Measures (q.v.) a third vellum copy is printed and sent to the Church Assembly. Paper prints of the Act are placed on sale to the public, and the original prints may be seen if desired and copies taken on payment of a fee. [1]


See Also

  • Parliament
  • Private Acts
  • Public General Acts


  1. Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972



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