Q29. What is first reading?

First reading is introduction of a bill

A29. First reading is the first stage in the five-stage law-making process. This is when a bill is introduced by an MLA.

First reading is a formality. There is no debate and no vote. It happens near the beginning of the day’s proceedings. It all takes about twenty seconds. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

The term “first reading” is a misnomer, because the bill is not literally read out loud. The procedure goes like this:

  1. The sponsoring MLA stands and says “Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to introduce a bill entitled [the title of the bill].”
  2. The MLA hands the bill to a page, who takes it to the clerk.
  3. The clerk stands, states the bill number, and repeats the title.
  4. The Speaker says “Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.”

If a bill is being introduced by the government, the responsible minister will usually hold a “bill briefing” for reporters about 30 minutes before the daily sitting begins. The minister explains what the bill is about, and will answer any questions.

Shortly after first reading, the bill is posted on the legislature’s website.

The next stage of the five-stage law-making process is second reading, which is where the real debate occurs.

There is a House rule that a bill cannot pass more than one of the five stages in a day (unless all members present agree otherwise). For that reason, debate on a bill does not usually start on the same day as first reading.

There is another House rule that only the government gets to decide which bills are called for a vote. That’s why most Opposition bills never get past first reading. Even if an Opposition bill is called on Opposition day, it doesn’t come to a vote. The reality is that the vast majority of bills that pass through the House are government bills.

Author: Graham Steele

A former MLA in Nova Scotia, currently Professor of Business Law in the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University

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