Within each House there are steps, or stages through which a bill must pass. These are: first reading, second reading, committee of the whole, report from committee of the whole, third reading.
The standing orders (or rules) of each House provide for bills to be taken through the different stages on different days. The historic purpose of this was to prevent surprise, and to ensure that each bill was considered carefully and without haste. The different stages provide different opportunities to consider a bill-first overall or in principle, then in detail with opportunity for amendments to be made, and, finally, to enable reconsideration and a “last look”.
Today, while a bill still has to pass through each of the stages established by the standing orders, the provisions requiring consideration of the various stages on different days are usually suspended by motion or by leave (i.e., the agreement of the majority of Senators or Members, as the case may be, present in the chamber) in order to eliminate unnecessary delay.
Nevertheless, unless the bill is urgent, it is still the case that usually several sitting days will intervene between the motion for the second reading and the vote on the second reading, to provide time to consider the bill.
As the majority of bills are government bills introduced in the House of Representatives, we will follow the steps such a bill goes through in the process of becoming an Act. If a bill is introduced in the Senate, then it would proceed through the various Senate stages before being read a first time in the House of Representatives.
Government Bills (except “money” Bills) may also be introduced first in the Senate. Such Bills proceed through their Senate stages before consideration in the House of Representatives.
Private Bills can also be introduced in either House and proceed through the same stages in both Houses as Government Bills. Private Bills for incorporation of bodies/organisations by Acts of Parliament are required by Standing Order to be referred to a Special Select Committee of the House in which it was introduced after the second reading.
Introduction/ First Reading of Bill
Subject to certain conditions as outlined in the Standing Orders, any Member of the House may seek leave to introduce a Bill of which he has given notice. In the case of a Government Bill, The Cabinet (Executive Government) approves draft legislation and its introduction into Parliament.
Notice of the Introduction of a Bill on behalf of Government, that is the Cabinet decision to introduce a particular piece of Legislation is conveyed to the Clerk of the House by means of a Cabinet Minute and may be entered on the Order Paper for the day following the day which it was received.
In practice, the Chief Parliamentary Counsel or Law Commission (Departments of the Office of the Attorney General) will forward copies of the Bill to Parliament and if it is not expressly stated in the Cabinet Minute, the Leader of the House will indicate when and in which House the Bill is to be introduced.
The Bill will be referred to by its “Short Title” and placed on the Order Paper of the particular House under the Heading “Introduction of Bills” with the name of the Minister in Charge of the Bill written beneath it-
e.g. The Appropriation Bill, 1995
(By the Minister of Finance)
A copy of the Bill is circulated to Members together with the Order Paper so that they can familiarize themselves with the proposed Legislation. The Clerk is responsible for having Bills published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette as soon as possible. The Gazetted copy of the Bill is also circulated to Members.
The First reading is a purely formal procedure. The Clerk simply reads the name of the Bill and the Minister in Charge when the item is called. Bills are made available to the public after this stage.
In the House, an interval of not less than five days must elapse between the first and second reading of a Bill, whereas in the Senate an interval of not less than fifteen days unless the House or Senate, on motion made and question put, agrees to proceed with the Bill at an earlier date or forthwith.
In the normal course of things, the Bill will be listed on the subsequent Order Paper under the Heading “Bills Second Reading” under the Item-“Public Business, Government Business” if it is a Government Bill or under “Private Business” if it is a Private Member’s Bill or a Bill seeking incorporation for an organization.
With increasing regularity, sporting bodies, charitable organizations and various churches have been seeking incorporation by Acts of Parliament. This is done by way of a petition presented by a member of the House on their behalf to introduce a Private Bill for the incorporation of the particular organization. This is different from a Private Member’s Bill.
In our Parliament, it has not been the practice for Members of either House to seek leave to introduce Private Bills. This has been so for many reasons, but mainly because of the limited number of sitting days in a Session and the fact that “Private Members Day” is only once a month in either House. In addition, in recent Parliaments the Government Legislative Agenda has been very heavy and some Private Members Days, have by agreement, been utilized to debate Government Matters.
Nevertheless, history was made in the 1994-1995 Session of the Fourth Parliament when Senator Diana Mahabir-Wyatt successfully sought leave to introduce a Private Bill entitled “The Household Survey and Counting Unremunerated Work Bill, 1995”. This Bill was passed in the Senate but lapsed upon dissolution of Parliament with effect from October 6, 1995. It was reintroduced and passed later that year.