Is Holyrood’s legislative process fit for purpose?

02.12.2013

A Holyrood committee is to conduct an inquiry into whether the Scottish Parliament’s legislative process is “fit for purpose”, it has been announced.

The move follows some concerns over the transparency of the amendments stages of bills and the timescale allowed for each stage of a bill’s passage, particularly at stage 3 when late amendments can be made in the chamber. 

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee (SPPA) inquiry will focus on the rules governing public bills - the most common type of bill - and will include whether the process for making amendments in committee and in the chamber is sufficiently transparent and understandable.

Announcing the inquiry, the new convener of the SPPA Committee, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“This Committee believes now is the right time to look at the effectiveness of each of the main stages of a parliamentary bill.  In short we are asking “is the legislative process fit for purpose?”
 
“Past evidence to the SPPA Committee suggests there are issues over the transparency of amendments and whether the effect of late amendments are always properly understood, especially when there has been limited scope for proper scrutiny.

“Voices inside and outwith Holyrood have highlighted issues around timescale, particularly at stage 3, but our remit will enable us to look across the public bill process.

“Overall, we will consider what scope is there to improve our legislative process and to enhance Scotland’s law-making.” 

The remit for the SPPA inquiry is: 

  • To examine the general procedures and practice for considering public bills in the Scottish Parliament, whether any changes are required, and if so, what these should be.
  • The main focus of the inquiry is on public bills introduced under the general rule set out in Chapter 9 of the Standing Orders.

The Committee is seeking views on the following:

  • Does the current three stage process deliver legislative scrutiny that is fit for purpose?
  • How effective are the procedures for each of the main stages, the timescales allowed for these stages, and the time allowed between stages?
  • To what extent does the current legislative process encourage engagement from interested parties?
  • Does the stage 1 procedure, which involves a lead committee considering the general principles behind a bill, provide for adequate scrutiny? 
  • Are there changes which could improve the stage 1 scrutiny of public bills?
  • Are changes needed to the timescales for stage 1 and how they are set?
  • The amendment stages involve line by line consideration of a bill in committee (stage 2) and then in the chamber (stage 3). Are changes needed to the deadlines for lodging amendments?
  • Is the procedure for considering amendments in committee and the chamber sufficiently transparent and understandable?

The deadline for inquiry responses is Friday 21 March 2014.

Background

Concerns were first raised in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s (SPPA) legacy paper at the end of the previous parliamentary session in 2011.  It highlighted concerns around the transparency of the process of grouping, debating and voting on amendments and the timetabling of stages of bills.

Submissions to SPPA Committee inquiries in this legislative session have also raised issues with the scrutiny of legislation and the effectiveness of the current process:  

  • During the parliamentary reform inquiry concerns included the extent of consultation and the challenges for outside organisations in engaging with the Parliament at stages 2 and 3, as well as limitations to stage 3 periods of scrutiny because of time constraints and the balance between primary and secondary legislation.
  • Several witnesses during the SPPA Committee’s inquiry into post-legislative scrutiny argued that if the current process worked more effectively there may be less need for post-legislative scrutiny.

The call for evidence can be viewed on the Committee's web pages.