Legislative work is all about the process of transforming government policy into law. As you can expect, this is no mean feat, and a number of talented individuals are required to facilitate the legislative process.
Understandably, MPs, Lords and the Queen have their part to play in this process. However, unless you’re elected as an MP, or you’re granted a Lordship rather early in your life, or your first name is Elizabeth and your last name is Windsor, it’s unlikely that you will be voting in parliament or giving your regal seal of approval on new legislation any time soon.
Don’t fret, though; a wealth of research assistants, administrative staff, policy leads, legal advisers and ‘Bill managers’ are vital for the implementation of new legislation.
How are laws passed in the UK?
Before a new law can be passed, a lengthy process needs to be followed. Essentially, a policy needs to be drafted into a legal document, which is known as a ‘Bill’. This Bill is then introduced to parliament, where heated debate ensues. Following this period of intense discussion, amendments may be made to the finer points of the Bill.
Once the content of the Bill has been agreed upon, MPs in the House of Commons and the members of the House of Lords are asked to cast their votes on it. If a majority vote across the two Houses is found in favour of the Bill, then it is presented to the Queen for her approval (a.k.a. the Royal Assent).
Once the monarch has signed the appropriate document or stamped it with her favourite rubber seal, the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and a new law is born.
The majority of Bills are usually proposed by government departments (known as Public Bills). However, they may also be put forward by MPs or Lords who aren’t actually government ministers. These are known as Private Members’ Bills.
Before a policy can be debated and voted on in parliament, an extensive amount of work needs to be done by a dedicated ‘Bill Team’. Legislative work is not about proposing ‘pie in the sky’ policy; it’s about producing and proposing feasible legislation.
The Bills that are produced by these teams need to be effectual and strong enough to withstand intense scrutiny and opposition in parliament. Consequently, the research, analysis and drafting process that is carried out by policy leads and legal advisers is arguably the most important aspect of legislative work.
What roles are involved in legislative work?
The Bill team is usually comprised of a Bill manager, policy leads, legal advisers, research assistants and administrative staff. These small ‘crack teams’ work their socks off to transform policy into viable legal documents.
The production of a new Bill is a complex project and therefore a skilled project manager is required. Enter the Bill manager. These characters have ultimate responsibility for the production of the Bill and thus need to use their organisation and communication skills to great effect.
They will create a delivery plan, carry out risk analysis, drive the project forward and coordinate the resources that are needed to get the project done and dusted, such as administrative staff, I.T. support and printing equipment.
Bill managers are usually supported by a dedicated administrative team that gets to grips with the mass of paperwork inextricably linked to this kind of project. If you work in one of these important entry-level roles, you will be carrying out essential filing and record-keeping duties, along with ad hoc admin tasks when you have a spare moment.
Policy leads are responsible for analysing the various Green Papers and White Papers, which have been published in the previous stages of policy development. They also liaise with ministers and stakeholders to understand the finer points of the policy being proposed.
They are then tasked with producing detailed ‘policy instructions’ that will be dissected and transformed into a legal document by legal advisers. Policy leads may sometimes be supported by research assistants.
Legal advisers are the guys that take all the policy instructions on board and draft them into a legal document. This is a meticulous process and you’re going to have to bring your analytical ‘A-game’ to the table to make sure that everything is just right.
A legal adviser’s responsibilities are not just confined to drafting. They provide legal advice and guidance to ministers throughout the entire proposal, debate and voting process too. Finally, they may also be required to draft ‘secondary legislation’, which involves making amendments to existing laws.
Legal advisers and policy leads also work together to create other supporting documents that must accompany the Bill. These include: explanatory notes, impact assessments and documents detailing the impact of the proposed legislation on the three devolved governments in the UK.
Furthermore, these guys may be required to pen a short passage which will be included in the Queen’s Speech! If that hasn’t sold you on a career in legislative work, we don’t know what will!