Q30. What is second reading?

Second reading is debate in principle; it’s when most of the speeches happen


A30. Second reading is the second stage of the five-stage law-making process. That is where most of the speeches occur.

The word “reading” is a misnomer, because the bill is not literally read out loud.

Second reading is when a bill is debated by MLAs in the House of Assembly. Second reading is often referred to as “debate in principle”. During the second reading debate, MLAs are supposed to focus on the principle of the bill, not its details. Sometimes the Speaker has to remind an MLA not to dive too far into the details.

Second reading starts with a speech from the MLA who sponsored the bill. For a government bill, that is the responsible minister. The minister’s second reading speech is very important. That is when the minister, on behalf of the government, explains the purpose of the bill. If the courts later have to figure out what a law was intended to accomplish, they will sometimes refer back to the minister’s second-reading speech.

After the minister is finished, the chance to speak rotates through the caucuses. Next up is an MLA from the Official Opposition, then an MLA from the third party, then back to the government. Each MLA is allowed to speak for up to an hour, and is allowed to speak only once.

Here’s a quirk: it is rare for a government MLA, other than the minister, to speak on second reading. That’s because the government usually wants second reading to finish as quickly as possible. If government MLAs speak, it just adds to the time needed.

Second reading can take a few minutes, or it can go on for days. It depends how controversial a bill is, or if there is any other reason the opposition parties want to delay a bill.

If the bill comes to a vote, and if the vote is favourable, the bill has passed second reading. The next stage in the five-stage law-making process is the Law Amendments Committee.


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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