Well, it’s here: the Criminal Finances Act 2017 has received Royal Assent. And it has been quite an education in legislative procedure for me at least. For instance, did you know that the progress of a Bill (before an Act is approved as an Act, it is known as a Bill) can be tracked through the two houses via its own little “thermometer”? The one for the Criminal Finances Act is now completed (a bit like those fundraising thermometers) and you can see it here. If a Bill starts in the Commons (as the majority do) it goes through three readings there, with amendments along the way, before being sent to the Lords for another three readings with amendments. The final Lords amendments are then sent back to the Commons for approval; if they disagree, back it comes – this to-ing and fro-ing can carry on for some time, and is charmingly known as “Ping Pong”. If there’s a stalemate, the Bill will die (or “fall”, in the correct parlance). And some Bills are timed out – in other words, no final decision is reached by the end of the Parliamentary session (which is called prorogation). This was a real concern with the Criminal Finances Bill, as it then was, as it was still being debated right up to the wire, being sent back to the Commons with some Lords amendments on 26 April 2017, with the prorogation announcement expected on 27 April. It does, as they say, concentrate the mind, and I even had a little email conversation with a nice lady in the Lords Government Whips’ Office about when it might all happen.
Of course, the passing of a Bill into Act-dom is not the end of the story. If you look at the (final-ish) text of the CFA 2017 (as I write this it has not yet been published on the legislation.gov.uk website, but I am using the draft printed on 25 April and sent to the Lords for final amendments, which did not affect the point I am trying to make – phew!)… if you look at that final-ish text, right at the end, in the section entitled Commencement, is this little sentence: “This Act comes into force on whatever day or days the Secretary of State appoints by regulations made by statutory instrument.” Yes: the Act is in existence but not yet in force. We now have to wait for a Commencement Order to be made to bring the CFA 2017 into effect. And heaven only knows when that will be, as – what with the General Election and Brexit – the eighteen Secretaries of State may have other things on their minds.