Legislative Process

Legislative Process in United Kingdom

History of the Legislative Process in Great Britain

The development of the legislative process began during the late Middle Ages. During the early days of the British Parliament, requests by the Commons in relation to legislation were submitted to the King in the form of petitions.[1] When the King convened Parliament seeking supply (funding), the Commons in return presented oral or written petitions for which they desired his assent. Those that the King decided to grant[2] were then written up by his advisers in the form of statutes[3] which were entered on the Statute Rolls. The statutes purported to reproduce the wording both of the petition and of the King’s reply, but the King and his advisers often took liberties with the wording of the petition, and in some cases failed even to keep to the reply that had been given.[4]

A watershed in the development of the process occurred in 1414, when the Commons asked Henry V (1413‑22) to be considered “as well Assentirs as Peticioners” and that once their petitions had been written in the form of law, they not be altered without their consent.[5] A few years later, during the reign of Henry VI (1422‑61; 1470‑71), the Commons succeeded in establishing the practice of having their requests in relation to legislation presented to the King in the form of bills, and they obtained the King’s assurance that those bills would not be altered without their consent.[6]

The evolution of the role of the Commons in the legislative process was also reflected in changes in the wording of the enacting clause used in statutes. Early in the reign of Edward III (1327‑77), the words “at the request of the Commons” were used as the enacting clause. Under Henry VI, the words “by authority of Parliament” first appeared in legislation, reflecting the growing influence of the Commons in the legislative process.[7]

Once it had been agreed that the statutes should accurately reflect Parliament’s requests in relation to legislation, it became necessary to formulate procedural rules to guide the introduction and passage of bills. By the end of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558‑1603), the practices of three readings, with no debate on the first reading, and of reference of the bill under consideration to a committee after second reading, were already firmly entrenched.[8]

Source: (Canadian) House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, 2009

Overview of the Legislative Process


See Also

  • Leader of the Opposition
  • Leader of the House
  • Legislation
  • Legislative Consent
  • Legislative Reform Orders
  • Legislative Procedure


  1. See Myers, A.R., “Parliamentary Petitions in the Fifteenth Century”, The English Historical Review, Vol. LII, 1937, pp. 590‑613. For a historical overview of the legislative process in Great Britain, see Anson, Sir W.R., The Law and Custom of the Constitution, Vol. I, 4th ed., rev., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911, pp. 240‑54; Lambert, S., “Procedure in the House of Commons in the early Stuart period”, The English Historical Review, Vol. XCV, 1980, pp. 753‑81.
  2. He did so using the formulas le roy le veult to signify assent and le roy s’avisera to withhold it. Until the latter part of the reign of Edward III (1327‑77), all parliamentary proceedings were conducted in Norman French. The use of English was extremely rare until the reign of Henry IV (1399‑1413). Beginning with the reign of Henry VII (1485‑1509), English was used for all proceedings, with the exception of the Royal Assent, which was always expressed in French (May, T.E., A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 11th ed., edited by T. Lonsdale Webster and W.E. Grey, London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1906, pp. 512‑3; May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004, p. 654).
  3. The expression “statut” is used in French to mean “loi” or “law” only in reference to Great Britain and, by extension, to the other Commonwealth Parliaments. In Canada, however, the expression “loi” is used in French.
  4. A favourable reply did not necessarily mean that the Commons had obtained the legislation they wanted from the King. Sometimes, the matter would be forgotten, or intentionally set aside until the legislature was dissolved. See Butt, R., A History of Parliament: The Middle Ages, London: Constable, 1989, p. 271; Anson, p. 247.
  5. Anson, p. 248.
  6. Although Henry VI and Edward IV (1461‑70 and 1471‑83) occasionally added new provisions to statutes without consulting Parliament, the legislative process as we know it today has its origin in the reign of Henry VI (May, 11th ed., p. 459).
  7. Anson, p. 249.
  8. Neale, J.E., The Elizabethan House of Commons, rev. ed., Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1963, p. 356.

Further Reading






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