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New Zealand Parliament

The House of Representatives in session.

The House of Representatives in session. Photo: Office of the Clerk

26 February 2010
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The progress of a bill

A bill, which is a proposed law, must pass through several stages before it can become an Act of Parliament.

Introduction to the House

  • There is no debate at this stage.
  • The first version of the bill now becomes publicly available.
  • The bill must have an explanatory note that sets out the policy it seeks to achieve.
  • The bill must also state when its provisions will come into effect.

First reading debate

  • Except under urgency (see below), this cannot take place on the same sitting day that the bill was introduced, to ensure that members have an opportunity to study the bill and the Attorney-General has time to identify any apparent inconsistencies with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  • The member in charge of the bill leads off the debate, and must advise the House which select committee will consider the bill.
  • At the end of the debate the House decides (by voting) whether the bill should proceed.
  • If it is defeated in this vote, that is the end of the bill.
  • If the first reading is agreed to, the bill is referred to a select committee (except for Appropriation Bills and Imprest Supply Bills).

Select committee consideration and report to the House

  • Once a bill has been referred to a select committee, the committee generally has six months to report back to the House, unless the House specifies a different date.
  • A committee normally calls for public submissions, hears evidence on those submissions, and receives advice from officials, before it decides whether to recommend any amendments to the bill.
  • The committee’s report to the House consists of the bill reprinted with the recommended amendments shown, and a commentary, which is an explanation of the issues it considered.
  • The committee’s report must distinguish between amendments agreed to unanimously by the committee and those adopted by a majority of its members.
  • Once a committee has presented its report, the bill is available for its second reading any time from the third sitting day after the report was presented.

Second reading debate

  • This is the main debate on the principles of the bill.
  • If the select committee that considered the bill made amendments by majority, these must be voted on separately before the bill can be read a second time. Amendments agreed to unanimously by the committee are automatically incorporated into the bill when the second reading is agreed.
  • Once again, the bill can be defeated at this stage by a majority of members voting against its being read a second time.

Committee of the whole House consideration

  • At this stage the House forms itself into a committee, called the 'Committee of the whole House', to which all members belong.
  • The Committee of the whole House considers the bill part by part, to give all members the opportunity to debate the detail of the bill.
  • Members can suggest further amendments to the bill. These may be printed in advance in the form of Supplementary Order Papers (SOPs).
  • At this stage some bills may be divided into a number of smaller bills with new names.
  • Once the final form of the bill has been agreed to, it returns to the House, which must adopt the report of the Committee of the whole House in order for the bill to proceed to its third reading.
  • The bill is reprinted to show any new amendments that were made.

Third reading debate

  • This is the bill’s final stage in the House and the last chance for the bill to be defeated.
  • It is in the nature of a 'summing up'.
  • If the third reading of the bill is agreed to, it is considered to have been 'passed' by the House.

Royal assent

  • The bill is now reprinted in its final 'fair' version and is authenticated by the Clerk of the House before being presented for Royal assent.
  • The bill must be signed by the Sovereign or by the Governor-General as her representative in New Zealand.
  • This signature is the 'Royal assent'.
  • Once the bill has received the Royal assent it is known as an 'Act of Parliament' and becomes part of the law of New Zealand.


  • Under normal circumstances a bill cannot be taken through more than one stage each sitting day. However, the House may accord urgency to any stage or stages of a bill.
  • When urgency is accorded, the House will sit for extended hours until the specified business is completed.
  • A bill can be introduced and passed under urgency. This means that the bill will have its first reading, second reading, Committee of the whole House consideration, and third reading in one sitting of the House, and that it will not be sent to a select committee for consideration.

Further details about the process, plus a useful flow chart, can be found in The Legislative Process fact sheet.