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Primary Legislation

Act of Parliament: The legislative decree of the Queen in Parliament; a statute. Acts are now given chapter number by reference to the calendar year in which they are passed. An Act comes into force on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent unless otherwise provided, with effect from the last moment of the previous day. Legislation coming before Parliament must now be accompanied by a statement from the relevant Minister indicating whether or not it is compatible with Convention rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legislation is the enactment of law by the Queen in Parliament. This is the sovereign body of English law and judges are bound to give effect to such enactments. It is clearly established that the will of Parliament prevails over that of the judges so that the courts have little or no authority to challenge the validity of statutes:

'What a statute itself enacts cannot be unlawful, because what the statute says and provides is itself the law, and the highest form of law that is known to this country. It is the law which prevails over every other form of law, and it is not for the court to say that a parliamentary enactment, the highest law in this country, is illegal'. (per Ungoed-Thomas J in Cheney v Conn (1968))

New laws arise either as a direct result of Government policy or are presented as a result of some lobby group which might, in turn, be reacting to some particular need within the community. It is sometimes possible to trace the party in power and/or the strength of certain forces within society by examining the legislation introduced at specific times. For example, within the field of employment law there was once a tradition for Conservative Governments to introduce anti-union law and for the next Labour Government to repeal it!

Under the Parliament Act 1911, amended by the Parliament Act 1949, the House of Commons is the dominant body and statutes may be passed by its will alone. Subject to this exception a Bill will have passed through both Houses of Parliament and a number of committee stages before receiving the Royal Assent and becoming law.

Although the United Kingdom does not have a written Constitution, it is usually expressed as a rule that Parliament cannot bind itself. The judges have generally accepted the latest Act of Parliament as binding if it is in conflict with an earlier one. In Vauxhall Estates Ltd v Liverpool Corporation (1932) it was held that certain provisions of the Housing Act 1925 prevailed over a section of the Acquisition of Land Act 1919 although the latter stated that any future Act inconsistent with its provisions 'shall cease to have or shall not have effect.'

The Office of Public Sector Information provides online access to UK legislation. Acts of the UK Parliament dating back to 1988 can be found at www.opsi.gov.uk/acts.htm.