There are several stages a Bill goes through before becoming law. The stages ensure that a Bill is subject to public debate and scrutiny and also subject to changes or to be amended. The stages a Bill goes through include the following:
- Introduction and First Reading of Bills
- Standing Committee
- Second Reading of Bills
- Committee of the Whole House
- Third Reading of Bills
- Consideration of Bill by the Senate
- Governor General’s Assent
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
During its introduction, the Member who is in charge of the Bill reads the preamble (Long Title) and gives a brief statement and background on the Bill. The Speaker puts the question “that the Bill be read a first time” and refers it to a Standing Committee, at the same time ordering it to be printed and published in the Government Gazette. At that stage the Bill becomes publicly available. A Bill has no formal existence until it is introduced.
Once a Bill is referred to any Standing Committee, the Committee shall, as far as practicable, make such report to the House within 60 days. If any Standing Committee does not report to the House within the prescribed time, the House may in its discretion proceed to read a Bill for a second time. At the Committee stage, public participation is invited either in person or by writing to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The Committee reports its findings and suggestions to the House stating clearly if it recommends or does not recommend amendments for the second reading.
Second Reading of Bills
At the second reading of a Bill, debate arises covering the general merits and principles of the Bill. A debate on any amendment proposed by the Committee or by any other Member during the second reading can also take place. At the conclusion of the debate the Member in charge of the Bill moves “that the Bill be now read a second time” and the Speaker puts the question. When the Bill is read a second time, it stands committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Committee of the Whole House
The Deputy Speaker takes the chair in the Committee of the whole House. The Speaker leaves the chair without question put. The chair calls the title of the Bill and the number of each clause in succession. If no amendment is proposed thereto or when all proposed amendments have been disposed of, the chair puts the question “that the clause or the clause as amended stand part of the Bill”. After considering the Bills in the Committee of the Whole, the House resumes for the third reading of Bills.
Third reading of Bills
At the resumption of the House, the Member in charge of the Bill reports to the House that the Committee of the Whole has considered the Bill and passed it with or without amendments and moves the third reading of the Bill. The Speaker then puts the question without debate. If the House approves the third reading, the Bill is then prepared to be sent to the Senate.
Consideration of Bill by the Senate
When a Bill has been approved by the House, a printed copy of it, signed by the Clerk of the House of Representatives and endorsed by the Speaker, is sent to the Senate for its consideration. In the Senate, when the Leader of Government Business signifies his willingness to take charge of the Bill brought from the House of Representatives, the Bill is recorded in the Minutes as having been read a first time. It has also been the norm that the Leader of Government Business would move that the Bill be taken through all its stages forthwith. Hence in the Senate, a Bill would normally go through all three readings at one sitting. It is important to note that the Senate has restricted powers when it comes to money Bills, which appropriate revenue, or other public money. The House of Representatives is responsible for making decisions on money Bills and the Senate consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them. Any amendments made by the Senate to a Bill is sent back to the House of Representative for its concurrence on the amendments and if agreed to then the Bill goes, as amended, to the Governor-General for assent.
Governor General’s Assent
When a Bill is passed by both Houses, copies are certified by the Presiding Officers and the Clerk of both Houses before it is sent to the Governor-General for his assent. The Governor-General’s signature and the impress of the public seal are necessary formalities, which represent the final stages in converting a Bill into Law. The law styled as “Act” is then published in the Gazette.