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Website reviews

12 February 07

Sites covering statute law and parliamentary bills

by Iain Nisbet

As every first year law student will tell you, case law and judicial decisions are all very well – but when it comes to law that really has substance and consequence, Acts of Parliament are where it’s at. With that in mind, the web review tracks the progress of some statute law on the internet.

Bills in the Scottish Parliament

www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/bills/

This is your first stop for any bills which have been introduced in the Scottish Parliament. If you are really keen you can check out ideas for bills on the Scottish Parliament’s committee pages, proposals for private members’ bills or the Scottish Executive (www.scotland.gov.uk) consultations page. First of all, a big thumbs up to the website for providing a print-out-and-keep guide to tracking a bill through Parliament online – only four pages long and really useful. You can download it at http://digbig.com/4qwjm.

When you do, you’ll see that the first step is to click on “Bills in progress” which gives an alphabetical list of all bills that are still before Parliament, i.e. those which are not enacted, fallen or withdrawn. This page distinguishes between Executive, committee, members’ and private bills. Clicking on the title of the bill allows you to view the progress of the bill so far (e.g. which committees have considered it) and to view the financial memorandum, explanatory note, policy memorandum and the Presiding Officer’s statement on legislative competence. Also present are the bill as introduced and as amended at the various parliamentary stages, and the SPICe research briefing.

The various proposed amendments to a bill are a little more difficult to keep track of. As the guide explains, the daily business bulletin is the place to check for amendments put forward by MSPs, although “marshalled lists” are made available after the fact on the “Bills in progress” pages. The committee and parliamentary proceedings are also reported and so the interested visitor can see exactly what was said and who voted for what. To see a bill as finally passed, click on “Bills not in progress”.

Bills at Westminster

www.parliament.uk/business/bills_and_legislation.cfm

This is the UK Parliament’s equivalent of the above website and it does much the same job. In fact, this website is if anything slightly more useful as it provides direct hyperlinks to the parliamentary debates and/or committee sessions considering the bill itself. If you want to stay right up to date, you can even subscribe to have email notification of any developments of bills in progress.

Office of Public Sector Information

www.opsi.gov.uk

Once a bill is passed, it becomes an Act of (the Scottish) Parliament and makes an anserine migration to the OPSI website, though – unlike geese – that’s where it stays. This site provides a static record of Acts and delegated legislation from Westminster, Holyrood, Stormont and the Senedd.

Recently, this website (the content of which used to be on the HMSO site) has started to offer Acts in both html (which is handy for navigating between different sections) and pdf (which looks nicer if you want to print it out). Explanatory notes (where available) are provided too.

This is a super website and, being free, it is much cheaper than buying print versions of the same legislation. If you absolutely must have a hard copy, then the pdf option allows you to print your own. Although there are thousands of statutory instruments in each Parliament/Assembly every year, this site has them all and the advanced search function works really well, so you should be able to find what you are looking for fairly quickly. On the downside, it only stretches back as far as 1987.

UK Statute Law Database

www.statutelaw.gov.uk

The Statute Law Database (SLD) is a new website from the Department for Constitutional Affairs which provides both primary and secondary legislation from all the UK’s Parliaments and Assemblies in their officially revised forms. This is an online version of those annoying looseleaf periodicals which keep track of legislation as it is amended and updated, but it takes up less space and is absolutely free! The site is in its early days and so it is not yet totally up-to-date, but it does have the good grace to let you know where more amendments are yet to be added.

Other features, such as seeing the state of a particular piece of legislation on any given date in history, and the ability to see how it will look once amendments not yet in force take effect are a real boon. Who says government does nothing useful? I cannot praise this initiative highly enough.