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Law making in the House of Commons and House of Lords

One of the main functions of both Houses of Parliament is to discuss, debate and pass new laws. Laws made by Parliament are called Acts of Parliament. Acts of Parliament are also known as statutes or legislation. These terms all mean the same thing and will be used interchangeably throughout this unit.

Acts of Parliament may originate in various ways:

  1. party manifestos

  2. national emergency, crisis or new development


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12 More information about W150 An introduction to law in contemporary Scotland

This unit has been been designed as a taster for the Open University's short course W150 An introduction to law in contemporary Scotland. Over four months the course covers a range of topics which introduce students to law making in Scotland, the structure of the Scottish court system, court procedure before moving on to look at some specific areas of law: Child Law, Employment Law, Human Rights and Unlawful Conduct.

The purpose of the course is to provide an overview of contempo
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11 How can a citizen become involved in this law making process?

As one of our constitutional duties citizens are expected to vote in Parliamentary elections. Both MSPs and MPs are elected. In voting in those elections a citizen is becoming involved in law making (even though they may not realise this).

The Scottish Parliamentary process has been designed to be as open as possible. This is reflected not only in the procedures that have been established, but also in the design of the Parliament building itself. The debating chamber, which was central
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8 Reading an Act of the Scottish Parliament

In this section we will explore what an Act of Parliament looks like, how Acts of Parliament are structured, and how you should read an Act of Parliament.

Copies of all Acts of the Scottish Parliament are kept in the National Archives of Scotland. Copies of all Acts of the UK Parliament have been kept since 1497. Most of these are kept in the House of Lords Record Office in the Victoria Tower at Westminster, and are available for public inspection on arrangement with the Clerk of the Re
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7.3.1 Stages of a Bill

  • 1 First reading: The title of a Bill is read out and copies of it are printed, but no debate takes place. There will be a vote on whether the House wishes to consider the Bill further.

  • 2 Second reading: The general principles contained in the Bill are debated by MPs. Frequently, the second reading stage is the point at which public attention becomes drawn to the proposal through press coverage, and on occasion, vociferous campa
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7.3 Procedure by which Bills become law

In order to become an Act of Parliament, a Bill will have to be passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. A Bill may start in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, with the exception of Finance Bills, which always start in the House of Commons. A Finance Bill is introduced by the Government shortly after the Budget to bring the Government's tax proposals into law.

Before the Bill can become an Act of Parliament it must undergo a number of stages.


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7.1 Reserved and devolved matters

As stated earlier, the UK Parliament can still legislate on reserved matters and also on devolved matters, with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. This section looks at the law making process at Westminster. It is a very different process, which involves both the Houses of the Westminster Parliament.

An Act of the UK Parliament also starts off as a Bill, which, if approved by a majority in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, will become an Act of the Westminster Parliame
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6.7 Royal Assent

Section 32 of the Scotland Act provides that a Bill, once passed, must be submitted for Royal Assent. This is done after a period of four weeks. During that time, the Bill is subject to legal challenge by the Advocate General for Scotland, the Lord Advocate or the Attorney General, and may also be subject to an order made by the Secretary of State. The Presiding Officer may, however, submit the Bill for Royal Assent after less than four weeks if notified by all three Law Officers and the Secr
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5.2.2 Avoiding absurdity

One such strategy is to be as true to the literal meaning as is possible but to ensure, so far as the words allow, an interpretation which avoids absurdity. In the case of the rule I have just set out, this would mean an interpretation which ensured that only those customers who had caused breakages were obliged to pay for them.

This approach works well in most cases, but not always. Take, for example, another rule posted up in a shop selling china and glass:

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5.2.1 A literal approach

One way in which we can interpret a rule is by treating it literally. Very simply this means looking at the words which comprise the rule, and at the way in which they are put together, and applying the rule ‘as is’ to a factual situation to which it applies. An example would be: ‘Dog owners are not permitted to let their dogs off the lead in the park’. If this is applied literally, it would mean that a person who did not own a dog, but who took a friend's dog to the park, w
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4.3 Summary of Part C

After studying Part C you should be able to:

  • explain the problems associated with formulating rules;

  • identify whether a rule is too specific;

  • identify whether a rule is too general;

  • identify solutions to a problem of rule formulation.

4.2 Formulating rules

Activity 4 should have shown you that the language used for making rules can sometimes make them difficult to understand. Given that we can only comply with a rule if we know what it means, this is a big problem! In this part of the unit we are going to look at the process of making rules in more detail – and you are going to have the opportunity to make a rule that can be understood and which is effective in achieving what it sets out to do.

It is worth restating that rules are made
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3.3 The Irish anti-smoking law

You now know what the Irish Government's arguments for introducing the smoking ban were, and have read some of the reactions to it. We are now going to turn to the law itself. The passage I want you to read is from the Irish Government Public Services website and explains the new law in simple language. Read the passage in Box 4 carefully and answer the questions in the activity which follows. The questions ask you to interpret the rules, something we will be looking at in more detail later i
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3.2 The policy behind Ireland's ban on smoking in the workplace

In order to explore these issues, we are going to look at the introduction of a rule in the Republic of Ireland – the ban on smoking in places where people work which was introduced in 2004. What I would like you to do first is to think about your own position on this subject. The purpose of the next activity is to provide you with an opportunity to think about your own attitudes to a particular kind of behaviour which many people feel should be subject to legal control. It is useful to wor
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2.2 The problems of rule making

It goes without saying that making rules is a complicated process. Just how complicated is illustrated by the American legal theorist Professor Lon Fuller. In his book The Morality of Law, which was first published in 1964, he explored the relationship between law and morality, and the criteria by which we should evaluate a legal system (one form of a system of rules). In the passage you are going to read in Activity 2, Fuller tells the story of a fictional law-maker, Rex, who comes to
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2.1 The meaning of formal rules

In this part, we will develop our understanding of rules further. So far we have concentrated on social rules. We looked at what is meant by this, at the way such rules develop, at the conflicts which may arise between groups operating under different social rule systems, and at what happens when such rules are broken. Here, we are going to explore rules which are more formal in nature. By this I mean rules which – instead of being the product of shared understanding and practice – are se
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1 Making, interpreting and applying rules

The aim of this unit is to introduce you to the processes of making, interpreting and applying rules.

We often think about social rules, most of which are unwritten and which we observe because we have a shared social understanding of what they are. We are now going to think about a different kind of rule. A definition of a rule (as opposed to a habit, custom or role) is shown in Box 1.

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1 The importance of law in social work education

In this unit you will be asked to reflect on the meanings of both social work and law. You will find that these concepts are open to a range of possible definitions, and that the functions of social work and law can change depending on the practice context. Their meaning is also affected by the perspective from which they are viewed, for example the service user's experience of social work and law will not always match the expectations of the professional, or the perceptions of the general pu
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1 The importance of law in social work education
Social work is a dynamic profession that is undergoing a period of significant change in Scotland. Social workers have the power to make assessments and decisions that radically alter people's lives. This unit introduces the law as it relates to social work and encourages an understanding of the context of the law in order to make sound decisions.
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