It is clear that laws are drafted with an immense level of attention to minute legalistic detail with care often put into the choices of every word. Indeed, needless to say, courts and litigation parties often agonise on the choices of single words, and the questions of whether or not those choices can be seen as intentional, and even when they're found that they can't be seen as intentional, there is an apparent imperative to treat them as though they are, anyway.

From TV legislature-floor debates, it seems that generally the provisions are debated at the level of "should we include or reject this amendment proposed by X legislator?" And not, "should we change this "and" to an "or" or add an "either" in this clause of this section?"

Which is quite understandable, because, meanwhile, legislators are extremely busy people and largely politicians rather than lawyers.

So to what extent do legislators actually familiarise themselves with the finer details of laws that they debate and pass? In systems with bicameral legislatures, does this answer change significantly between the upper and lower houses?

  • I don't have knowledge of specific procedures to warrant an answer, but in addition to James' answer, I would assume that a legislator who both "has to know" (i.e is deeply involved in crafting/proposing a law) and is not a lawyer, would delegate. I.e. they would have lawyers on staff, or available, that are able to work through the nitty gritty ("and" to an "or" or add an "either") from the intent. Otherwise, you'd have a system where only lawyers can function as MPs/congress etc... (they are are somewhat already overrepresented - no offense meant to lawyers on this site) Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:29
  • One would expect it would vary widely due to the various things attracting the legislator's attention, how long the bill was, how central to the legislator's interests it was, etc.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 19:44
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    I suggest the migration was wrong. What has either the Question or the exposition to do with Politics? How is either not clearly and solely relevant to Law? Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 21:27
  • I would agree, it is about the mechanics of the legislative process. Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


As noted in comments, the detailed line-by-line or word-by-word analysis isn't done on the floor of the legislature, but in committee. It is worth recalling the process for the passage of a bill in Parliament

After "first reading" (a formal introduction of the bill with no debate) There is the second reading. MPs discuss the general intent of the bill. There is then a vote. No detailed analysis is done at this stage. However, government bills will have been drafted by civil servants, whose job it is to know how to write legislation. The civil servants work under the direction of the Ministers. The civil servant is there to enable the Minister to create a law that will work as they intend, and not have loopholes or exploitable ambiguities.

Then there is the Committee, in which a small group of MPs will go through the bill in detail. They can take advice from lawyers, and can hear evidence from experts and others with an interest in the bill. In this stage the wording of each clause is discussed, tweaked and voted on.

Then there is Report, when MPs on the floor of the house can introduce and vote on individual amendments. And finally there is Third Reading, which asks the house to approve the final form of the bill.

After all this, the Bill then moves to the Lords, in which the whole procedure is repeated, with the Lords also forming a committee to scrutinize the bill line by line. It is only after the two houses have a wording that they can agree does the bill get sent to the Monarch for Royal Assent (a formal step in modern times)

So you can expect the Ministers who are directing their civil servants to draft legislation understand the minutia of the bill, as do those MPs on the Committee for the bill. Others are more concerned with the intent, theme and scope of the bill, rather then the exact wording, and will normally vote in accordance with the whips' instructions.

  • In practice, wouldn't the scrutiny be done in public since bills can be read online after first reading these days? Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 6:08
  • All these stages, (except drafing) are done in public
    – James K
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 6:31
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    Given the absence of any tags on the question, it might be worth clarifying that this is the procedure of the UK Parliament. Note also that the Lords tend to carry out the Committee Stage of bills on the floor of the Chamber. The Commons can do this too, but mostly don't. Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 9:27
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    I generally back up what @SteveMelnikoff said, with a caveat. Your general concept is true across most modern democracies, it's merely the exact order and terms for the representative bodies voting that are UK specific. I'd prefer to see this answer tweaked to make it clear that the general idea that specifics were already argued in some equivalent of a committee prior to final vote applies across most democracies, with the UK specifics demonstrated as an example of how such a process works.
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 18:47

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