How does a Bill become an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly?
A Bill has to pass through a number of stages before it becomes law.
This is when the Speaker introduces the Bill to the Assembly. The Clerk of the Assembly reads out the Bill’s title in the Assembly Chamber and the Speaker orders the Bill to be printed. There is no debate or vote.
The Assembly debates the general principles of the Bill. The Minister or Member in charge of the Bill begins the debate by outlining the Bill’s objectives. Other Members, including the chairperson of the relevant committee, give their opinion. The Minister or Member in charge speaks last in the debate. They respond to questions and comments about the Bill. At the end of the debate, MLAs vote to decide whether the Bill should proceed to the next stage. The Assembly may reject the Bill if it disagrees its main aims. If approved, the Assembly refers the Bill to the appropriate committee.
The committee considers the Bill in detail, clause by clause and line by line. It consults interested parties, including the relevant department, if it is an Executive Bill. The committee discusses what amendments to make and produces a report on the Bill.
MLAs debate the Committee’s report, including proposed amendments, in the Assembly Chamber. Individual MLAs can also suggest amendments at this stage.
Further Consideration Stage
This stage provides a further opportunity to amend the Bill. New proposals for amendments are debated and voted on in the Chamber.
A final debate on the Bill takes place. Members cannot make amendments at this stage. Members vote on whether to pass the Bill.
After going through all its stages in the Assembly, a Bill must receive Royal Assent before it can become an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Secretary of State, who represents Northern Ireland in the UK Government, asks the Queen to approve the Bill. This is a formal process where the Queen agrees to make the Bill into a law.
After the Bill receives Royal Assent, the Speaker announces this at the next plenary sitting of the Assembly. The Bill is now an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The enacted law may come into effect at once, or after a period of time.