What information can you expect to find about Bills that are progressing (or have progressed) through the Assembly?
Here we describe some of the terms used on our Bill pages.
A Bill is a proposal for a new law and can be brought forward by Ministers, Committees or individual MLAs. The Assembly Commission can also propose a Bill. All Bills have to be passed by the Assembly before they become laws. Once passed, a Bill is called an Act.
The Bill Number is a reference number for the Bill.
There are two types of Bill – Executive and Non-Executive.
The Bill Sponsor is the person who is bringing the Bill to the Assembly. For an Executive Bill, this will be the Minister of the Department that has prepared the Bill. For a Non-Executive Bill, this could be an individual MLA, the Chairperson of a Committee or the Assembly Commission.
Each Bill must progress through a number of stages before it can become an Act. For each stage you will find all the latest accompanying information. This might include the latest version of the Bill, any proposed amendments or the Official Report of the Assembly’s debate on that stage of the Bill.
Bill as introduced
This refers to the version of the Bill when it is first put in front of the Assembly. During the various stages of the Bill, there are opportunities for amendments to be proposed. Each of these proposed amendments will be debated and voted on by the Assembly. If passed, they will be incorporated into the Bill.
Bill as amended
This refers to the version of the Bill at a particular stage. For example, the Bill ‘as amended at Consideration Stage’ is the version of the Bill to be debated during the Consideration Stage, including any proposed amendments. These proposed amendments are submitted to the Bill Office in time for publication in advance of the debate. The amendments will then be debated in the Assembly and voted on to determine if they become a part of the Bill.
Under the Accelerated Passage procedure, a Bill can pass all stages in as little as ten days, but in no less time. This process skips the Committee Stage. The Accelerated Passage procedure requires cross-community support within the meaning of the Act.
During the Committee Stage, the Committee normally takes evidence from interested bodies (including the Government Department) and individuals. Committee members then scrutinise each clause and schedule of the Bill and discuss possible amendments.
Committees have no power to amend a Bill but they prepare a report for the Assembly, including any proposals for amendments to the Bill. The Bill’s webpage will contain a link to the Committee report when it has been published.
Explanatory and Financial Memorandum (EFM)
The EFM accompanies the Bill and gives a clear and concise description of the Bill and its desired aims and outcomes. Potential financial implications are also included in the EFM. Just as a Bill may change when amendments are approved, the EFM may also change as the Bill progresses through the different legislative stages.
The Official Report, also known as Hansard, is the authoritative written record of the proceedings of the Assembly. All Bill stages will be put forward or debated during Plenary sessions which means they will be recorded in the Official Report. Therefore each Bill page will contain links to the relevant Official Reports at each stage. This means that you can read the transcripts of each debate. You may also be able to watch a debate back on the Assembly’s TV site.
An amendment is a proposal for a change to the Bill. Members can propose an amendment which is then debated in the Assembly and a vote takes place on whether to incorporate the amendment into the Bill.
Notice of Amendments
On each day that amendments are tabled, they are put together and listed in a Notice of Amendments. This Notice of Amendments is published on the Bill’s webpage, allowing you to view the amendments due to be voted on prior to the scheduled debate.
Marshalled List of Amendments
After the deadline for tabling amendments has passed, all amendments are published on a Marshalled List of Amendments. After the debate, the Marshalled List is updated to show the results of votes on each amendment. The Marshalled List and results of votes are published on the Bill’s webpages.
Grouping List of Amendments
Amendments about related issues or parts of a Bill are usually grouped with each other so that they can be debated together. The Grouping List of Amendments lists these related amendments. But when it comes to voting, each amendment is voted on in strict numerical sequence, according to the order in which they impact on the Bill. There is one exception to this rule - the Bill’s Long Title. Any amendments to it are always voted on last.
Once a Bill has progressed through all of its stages in the Assembly, it must receive Royal Assent before it can become an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is a formal process whereby the monarch agrees to make the Bill into an Act.
The Speaker usually announces that a Bill has received Royal Assent at the next plenary sitting of the Assembly. The enacted law may come into effect at once, after a specified time or after a commencement order by a Minister. If there is no commencement order, the Act will come into force from midnight at the start of the day of the Royal Assent.
When a Bill passes through all of the stages of the law-making process and receives Royal Assent, it becomes a law and is called an Act. Its practical implementation is the responsibility of the relevant government department.