The work of the Parliament

This page contains frequently asked questions about the work, business and procedures of the Scottish Parliament.

Please note that the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for the content of any external websites.

  • What can the Scottish Parliament do?

    The main functions of the Parliament are:

     - to hold the Scottish Government to account through oral and written questions, and through scrutiny of its policies in the committees;

     - to make laws on devolved matters by examining, amending and voting on bills;

     - to debate important topical issues; and

     - to conduct inquiries and publish reports.

    The original powers of the Scottish Parliament were set out in the Scotland Act 1998.

    The Scotland Act 2012, which was passed by the UK Parliament and received Royal Assent in May 2012, gives the Scottish Parliament a range of additional powers. These include powers relating to borrowing and income tax, as well as law-making powers on matters such as speed limits and air guns.

    Following the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, a process is underway to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament in areas such as taxation, welfare and elections to the Scottish Parliament. On 22 January 2015, the UK Government published its proposals in the form of draft clauses for a bill to transfer additional powers. The bill was introduced in the UK Parliament on 28 May 2015. On 23 March 2016, the Scotland Act 2016 received Royal Assent and became law.

    You can read more about what the Parliament can do in the How the Scottish Parliament works section of our website.

  • What is devolution?

    Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central body to subordinate regional bodies. The UK Parliament at Westminster has devolved different powers to three bodies: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    The Scotland Act 1998 provided for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Under the terms of the Act, the Scottish Parliament is able to pass laws affecting Scotland on a range of issues, which are known as devolved matters. The Act also gave the Scottish Parliament the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound.

    The Scotland Act 2012, which was passed by the UK Parliament and received Royal Assent in May 2012, gives the Scottish Parliament a range of additional powers. These include powers relating to borrowing and income tax, as well as law-making powers on matters such as speed limits and air guns. 

    Following the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, a process is underway to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament in areas such as taxation, welfare and elections to the Scottish Parliament. On 22 January 2015, the UK Government published its proposals in the form of draft clauses for a bill to transfer additional powers. On 23 March 2016, the Scotland Act 2016 received Royal Assent and became law.

  • How can I influence the work of the Parliament?

    There are many ways in which you can engage with the work of the Scottish Parliament.

     - Contact one of your MSPs: You can raise an issue of concern with one of the eight MSPs who represent you. You can contact your MSPs by phone, email or letter, using the contact details available on their webpages in the Current MSPs section of the Scottish Parliament website. You can also meet your MSPs on a one-to-one basis at a local surgery. Surgeries are meetings held regularly in constituency offices or in other locations such as community centres and libraries. To find out who your MSPs are, contact Public Information or use the Find Your MSP search facility.

     - Respond to a call for evidence from a committee: Committees aim to involve as many people as possible in the democratic process. By responding to a call for evidence, you may influence legislation or the policies of the Scottish Government. You can write to a committee in response to a call for evidence on an inquiry or a bill.

     - Join a Cross-Party Group (CPG): Joining a CPG will enable you to meet with MSPs and other individuals and organisations who share the same concern or interest. See the Cross-Party Groups page on our website for further details.

     - Submit or sign a public petition: You can submit a public petition asking the Parliament to look into a matter of national public interest or concern, to amend existing laws or to introduce new laws. You can raise a petition online through the e-petition system to attract a wider audience. You can access the e-petition web page to add your name to an e-petition that interests you or take part in an online discussion on the Public Petitions website.

  • What is the difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government?

    The relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government is similar to that between the UK Parliament at Westminster and the UK Government.

    The Scottish Parliament comprises all 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and is the law-making body for devolved matters. It considers proposed legislation and scrutinises the activities and policies of the Scottish Government through debates, parliamentary questions and the work of committees. The Scottish Government is the government in Scotland for devolved matters and, as such, it is responsible for defining and implementing policy in these areas. It is headed by the First Minister and is made up of those MSPs who have been appointed by the First Minister as Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers.

  • How can I contact the First Minister or other Scottish Government Ministers?

    The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are separate organisations with different contact details. Therefore, Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers should be contacted at the Scottish Government, not the Scottish Parliament. Details of how to contact them can be found on the Scottish Government website.

  • How can I find out what's being discussed in the Scottish Parliament?

    The programme of parliamentary business in the Chamber is normally decided two weeks in advance, although it is subject to change. The programme of business is proposed by the Parliamentary Bureau and has to be agreed by MSPs in the Chamber. If you want to find out what is happening in the Parliament, you can look in the Business Bulletin. (The Business Bulletin is published on our website each weekday when the Parliament is sitting and at regular intervals when the Parliament is in recess.)

    Information about the current business of Scottish Parliament committees can be found on the web pages of each committee. Committee agendas and information about forthcoming committee business are also published in the Business Bulletin. (Committee agendas normally appear two days before the meeting.)

    To keep up to date with what's happening at the Parliament you can sign up to our free, weekly eBulletin.

  • How does the Scottish Parliament make laws?

    The usual parliamentary process for a bill consists of three stages:

    • Stage 1 - consideration of the general principles of the bill by parliamentary committee(s), and a debate and decision on these by the Parliament.
    • Stage 2 - detailed consideration of the bill by parliamentary committee(s). Two days before a bill is considered in committee, the clerks prepare a Marshalled List of amendments, which is posted on the bill’s web page.
    • Stage 3 - final consideration of the bill by the Parliament and a decision on whether it should be passed or rejected.

    After a bill has been passed and received Royal Assent, it becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament and appears on the Legislation.gov.uk website.

    Not all the provisions of an Act will necessarily commence (come into force) with Royal Assent. The Act may state when provisions will come into force or that the date (or dates, if different parts are to be brought into force at different times) will be decided by the Scottish Ministers. Enquiries about commencement should be directed to the Scottish Government.

    Find out more in the How does the Scottish Parliament make laws? section of our website, and find detailed information on the legislative process in the Parliament’s standing orders.

  • Does the UK Parliament have to approve bills passed by the Scottish Parliament before they can become laws?

    No. However, all bills passed by the Scottish Parliament – like those in the UK Parliament - must be given Royal Assent by HM The Queen before they can come into force.

    The Scottish Parliament is entirely separate from the UK Parliament and can pass laws on all those issues devolved to it. However, the UK Parliament retained the power to make laws for Scotland on certain issues. These issues, which generally have a UK-wide or international impact, are known as reserved matters.

     

  • Can I attend committee meetings and debates? Can members of the public take part in committee meetings?

    Subject to the availability of tickets, members of the public can attend all committee business that is not held in private, but they are not able to take part in the discussions unless they have been invited by the committee to give evidence as a witness.

    You can find information about attending committee meetings and other parliamentary business by looking in the Tickets for Parliament Debates and Tickets for Committee Meetings sections of the website.

    Only MSPs and witnesses can take part in committee meetings. Individuals or organisations with expertise in any of the devolved areas can register as a potential adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s committees to assist them with their inquiries.

     

  • Is it possible to watch live coverage of the Parliament?

     

    You can follow all meetings in the Chamber and most committee meetings live in the Parliament TV section of our website.

    Archived footage is arranged by subject, making it easy to catch up on committee and Chamber business. Use the drop down arrow menus on the Archive Video tab to find what you’re looking for. Our YouTube channel also has a selection of archived videos.

  • How can I track the progress of a bill?

    The Current Bills section on the website lists all bills that are currently in progress. You can access information about an individual bill's progress by clicking on the name of the bill on this page. Details of the current status of each bill can be found in the Legislation section of the Business Bulletin.

    A summary of all the bills considered by the Scottish Parliament in the current session and in the previous sessions can be found in the Parliamentary Business series of fact sheets on our website, under the title 'Scottish Parliament Legislation'. (Lists of bills from previous sessions are in the Parliamentary Business: Historical Series.)

  • How long does a bill take to go through the Scottish Parliament?

    The length of time taken for a bill to go through the Parliament varies, as each bill is treated as an individual case.

    The Parliamentary Bureau proposes timescales for the completion of the different stages of each bill. These proposals are put forward in business motions and have to be agreed at a meeting of the Parliament. Once agreed, the details are noted on the Current Bills tracker.

  • I don't agree with some parts of a bill. Can I get it changed?

    If a bill is still in progress through the Scottish Parliament, you can express your concerns about it and attempt to change its provisions. There are various points at which you can do this. When and how you do this depends on the type of bill.

    Bills introduced by the Scottish Government

    • Before the bill is introduced: The Scottish Government usually carries out a consultation, details of which would be published on its website.
    • Stage 1 (consideration of general principles): Our Current Bills page will tell you which committee is the lead committee for the bill. You could contact the committee at this stage to submit written evidence, which may be published with the committee’s stage 1 report. You could also contact an MSP with a particular interest in the issue.
    • Stage 2 (committee consideration): If you want to propose an amendment to a bill you need to find an MSP who is willing to lodge it. A key principle for amendments is relevance – the amendment must not go beyond the general purposes and scope of the bill. The Legislation section of the Business Bulletin sets out the deadlines for MSPs to lodge amendments for each committee meeting and details which parts of the bill the committee intends to consider at that meeting.
    • Stage 3 (consideration by the whole Parliament): The procedure at stage 3 is similar to stage 2, except that the decision on whether to select an amendment for debate is a matter for the Presiding Officer, whose decision is final.

    The Scottish Government is responsible for most of the bills introduced to the Parliament. Other types of public bill, such as committee bills and members' bills, follow procedures similar to those for Government bills.

    Private Bills

    Information on how to object to a private bill is available on the Private Bills page.

  • Can I obtain transcripts of Parliamentary debates?

    The Official Report is the full written report of what is said in public meetings of the Parliament and its committees. It includes debates, statements, questions, votes and evidence given to committees.

    Official Reports for both Chamber and committee meetings can be found on the Official Report page.

    Official Reports of meetings in the Chamber are usually published in full on our website around 21:00 on the day of the meeting, although sections will begin to be published around 2 hours after the start of the meeting. The Official Report Publication Schedule provides details of publication dates for committee meetings.

  • Is subtitling available?

    Closed Captions, using the Official Report of proceedings, have been added to a selection of Scottish Parliament videos in YouTube.

  • Where can I obtain Scottish Parliament documents?

    Electronic copies of all Scottish Parliament documents are available on our website. For a paper copy of a bill, committee report or Official Report of a meeting, please contact Public Information and Resources.

    Information resources are available on our website in the Leaflets and Guides section. You can order copies by contacting Public Information and Resources or completing the leaflet order form on the website.

  • Are all motions debated?

    The business programme agreed by the Parliament establishes the allocation of debating time to the Scottish Government, the opposition parties and the committees. The motions for these debates are normally lodged after the business programme has been agreed. MSPs can also lodge amendments to these motions and the Presiding Officer selects which amendments will be debated.

    Most of the motions lodged are not intended for debate, but are lodged by MSPs for a variety of reasons such as drawing attention to a particular topic, offering congratulations to an organisation, seeking support for a cause or highlighting a particular event.

    Backbench MSPs who wish their motions to be debated indicate that they wish them to be considered for Members’ Business. Motions that are eligible for debate as Members’ Business will appear in the Motions section of the Business Bulletin. In order to be eligible for debate as Members' Business, most motions need to have support from at least half of the parties or groups represented on the Parliamentary Bureau. (The party/group of the person lodging the motion is counted when calculating the level of cross-party support.) It is the Parliamentary Bureau that decides how the Members’ Business slots should be allocated among the various political parties and groups. Guidance on the criteria that the Parliamentary Bureau will apply in selecting motions to be debated as Members’ Business can be found in the Guidance on Motions (565KB pdf).

    A list is maintained of all the admissible motions that have been lodged but not yet considered by the Parliament. The Parliamentary Bureau normally removes from this list any motion that has been on it for more than six weeks (excluding recess) unless (a) the motion has the support of at least 30 other MSPs and these supporters came from more than two political parties (b) the motion remains highly topical or (c) a date has been set for it to be considered at a meeting of the Parliament.

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