Part 3 - Objections

3.1         This part of the Guidance refers to objections to a Private Bill.  In certain circumstances, it may also be possible to object to an amendment to the Bill (see Parts 5 and 6).

Who may lodge objections to a Private Bill

3.2         Any person, body corporate or unincorporated association may lodge an objection to a Private Bill that they consider would adversely affect their interests (Rule 9A.6.1).

3.3         Objections may be lodged jointly by a number of persons (for example, two or more members of the same household, or a group of people living in the same street).  Indeed, this approach is encouraged in situations where all those supporting the objection consider that the Bill adversely affects them in the same ways (or in very similar ways), and who have the same (or very similar) grounds for objecting to it, as it avoids the additional administrative complexity of handling a larger number of separate objections.  Any such objection will be published in a manner that makes clear that it has been lodged on behalf of a number of people, but for practical purposes, only the principal signatory will be treated as “the objector”.  This means, for example, that NGBU will communicate directly only with that principal signatory, and a request by that principal signatory to withdraw the objection will be treated as authority to do so (without evidence being required that every other signatory has consented to withdrawal).  

3.4         Prospective objectors are advised to contact NGBU clerks (see Foreword for details) to seek guidance and information on the parliamentary procedures involved and, in particular, the arrangements for lodging an objection. The clerks can only offer advice on procedural issues and not on the content of an objection.

When objections may be lodged

The objection period

3.5         Objections should be lodged with the Clerk during a 60-day period, referred to as the “objection period”, which begins on the day after introduction of the Bill and normally ends (at 5 pm) on the sixtieth day after introduction.  However, the objection period excludes periods when “the office of the Clerk” is closed for more than four days (including periods when the Parliament is dissolved prior to an election); and if the sixtieth day is a day when the office of the Clerk is closed, then the last day of the objection period is instead the first day thereafter on which the office of the Clerk is open (Rule 9A.6.2). The “office of the Clerk” is the term used in standing orders to refer to Parliament staff (including NGBU).  The dates on which it is open are set by Parliamentary resolution, and normally include weekdays throughout the year, including during most recess periods, but excluding public holidays.[1]  As soon as a Private Bill is introduced, the actual dates during which objections may be lodged are posted on the Parliament’s website.

3.6         Whether a written objection is lodged within the objection period depends on when it is handed in at the Parliament or when a posted copy arrives in the Parliament’s mailroom.  Proof that a letter was posted within the objection period may not be accepted as proof that the objection was lodged on time.  An objection sent by e-mail will be accepted as being lodged on time if it is clear from the e-mail that it was sent before the end of the objection period, even if it didn’t arrive in the relevant Parliament mailbox until after that period has ended.  Anyone who sends an objection by e-mail near the end of the objection period is advised to check with NGBU shortly after that period has ended if in doubt as to whether it has been received.

Late objections

3.7         Objections may also be lodged after the expiry of the objection period, so long as they are lodged before the first meeting of the Private Bill Committee at Consideration Stage and are accompanied by a statement explaining the delay in lodging them.  Such late objections are referred to the Committee, which must decide whether it is satisfied that—

 ·        there was a good reason for not lodging the objection during the objection period

 ·        it was lodged as soon as reasonably practical after that period

 ·        allowing the objection to proceed would not be unreasonable having regard to the rights and interests of (other) objectors and the promoter.

3.8         Unless the Committee is satisfied on all three points, the late objection is rejected. If the Committee is satisfied, however, the objection goes forward for preliminary consideration on the same basis as objections lodged during the objection period.  If, by the time a decision is taken to allow a late objection to proceed in this way, it is impractical to give it preliminary consideration during Preliminary Stage, then it may be given preliminary consideration at the beginning of Consideration Stage instead (Rule 9A.9.1A).

Admissibility of objections to a Private Bill

3.9         When an objection to a Private Bill is lodged, the clerks in NGBU consider whether it is admissible.  The criteria of admissibility (set out in Rule 9A.6.5) are that the objection—

(a)  is in “proper form” (see below);

(b)  sets out the nature of the objection 

(c)  explains whether the objection is to the whole Bill or to specified provisions  

(d)  specifies how the objector’s interests would be adversely affected by the Bill  

(e)  is accompanied by the lodging fee (although this criterion no longer applies in practice, as the fee has been set at zero).

(a) Proper form

3.10      In order to be in “proper form” (see Annex O(1)), an objection must:

 ·        be in English or Gaelic

 ·        be printed, typed or clearly hand-written

 ·        set out clearly the objector’s name, address and, where available, other contact details (telephone, fax, e-mail)

 ·        be signed and dated.

3.11      Objections in the name of a private individual should normally be signed by the objector, but may be signed by another person in certain circumstances (e.g. by a solicitor acting on the objector’s behalf, or where the objector is unable to sign because of a disability).  Objections in the name of an organisation should be signed by a person authorised to act on its behalf.  In either case, the name and designation of the person signing the objection should be given (in addition to the name and address of the objector).

3.12      If the objection is lodged on behalf of two or more people, only one need provide contact details, and only one signature is required (though others may also sign in support of the objection if they wish).  It is the principal signatory who will be treated as “the objector” for the purposes of applying the Rules, and references elsewhere in this Guidance to “the objector” should be read as references to the principal signatory.

(b) Nature of objection

3.13      The objection should explain the ground or grounds on which the objector objects to the Bill.  Where there are two or more grounds of objection, it is helpful if these are listed separately as far as possible.  With a Bill that authorises works, for example, the grounds may include noise or loss of amenity; with a Bill authorising the compulsory acquisition of land, the grounds may include the objector’s unwillingness to move or a concern that any compensation offered does not reflect the value of the land. 

3.14      Given the wide scope for variation in the subject-matter and impact of Private Bills, it is not possible to say in advance what grounds may legitimately be used as a basis on which to object to them.  However, objectors should bear in mind that the purpose of the objection process is to enable people or organisations whose interests would be adversely affected to contribute directly to the Parliamentary process – so a ground of objection is only likely to carry weight if there is a connection between it and the adverse impact the Bill is expected to have on the objector in question.  

(c) Whether the objection is to the whole Bill or specified provisions

3.15      The objection must explain whether the objection is to the whole Bill or to specified provisions.  An objection to the whole Bill is normally treated as an objection that invites the Parliament to reject the Bill in its entirety.  An objection to specified provisions is normally treated as an objection inviting the Parliament to amend the Bill so that it secures its purpose in a different manner.  The same objection may do both these things – for example, by arguing firstly that the changes made by the Bill are unnecessary and then by arguing why, if those changes are nevertheless to be made, it would be preferable (in the objector’s opinion) for them to be made in a different way, or with additional safeguards included. 

(d) How the objector’s interests would be adversely affected

3.16      The objection must specify how the objector’s interests would be adversely affected by the Private Bill.  As noted above, this requires some connection to be made between the ground of the objection and the objector’s particular circumstances.  Thus, for example, if an objector’s ground of objection is that the Bill would create additional noise for people living in a particular area, the objection should make clear that the objector is one of the people in question. 

3.17      A person who opposes a Bill (in whole or part) but does not qualify as an objector – because their interests would not be adversely affected – may instead, if they choose, make a written submission to the Private Bill Committee. 

(e) Fee for objections

3.18      Objections must be accompanied by any fee determined by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.  Since February 2015, this fee has been set at zero.

Layout and content of objections

3.19      A model layout for an objection to a Private Bill is set out in Annex O(2).

3.20      Although there is no limit on the length of objections, objectors should aim to express themselves in as clear and concise a manner as is consistent with satisfying the above criteria. In particular, objections should normally refer to, rather than quote from, specified parts of the Bill or the accompanying documents, and only quote from other published sources (e.g. newspapers, court judgements) to the extent necessary (i.e. it is not necessary for copies of the full source to be attached so long as a full citation is provided).  However, objectors may submit accompanying material to support their objection if they consider it necessary to do so.

How objections are lodged

3.21      Objections should be lodged with NGBU, whose contact details are provided in the Foreword.  Objections may be lodged either in writing or by e-mail (Rule 9A.6.3). Objections lodged in writing may be delivered in person or by courier, or may be posted (recorded delivery or registered post being recommended).

3.22      Objections lodged by e-mail must be sent from the objector’s e-mail address and must be followed up by a hard copy no more than seven days later.  As long as the e-mail is received within the objection period, the hard copy may be received after that period has ended.  The e-mail will be accepted without evidence that the objection has been signed so long as the follow-up hard copy is signed.

3.23      Whether lodging is done by e-mail or just in hard copy, it is greatly appreciated if the text of the objection can be provided electronically.  If this is done by e-mail, the text of the objection should be included in the body of the e-mail, or as an attachment in MS Word (and not just, for example, in a scanned document or PDF).  Alternatively, an electronic copy may be sent by post along with the hard copy (e.g. on a memory-stick, which the clerks will post back after copying the relevant file).

What happens after objections are lodged

3.24      Each objector will be notified by the clerks whether their objection is admissible i.e. whether it complies with the admissibility criteria outlined above. 

3.25      Following the conclusion of the objection period, a list of the names of objectors who have lodged admissible objections is published in the Parliament’s Business Bulletin (Rule 9A.6.7).[2] If the Private Bill Committee subsequently considers any late objections and is satisfied with the explanation given (see paragraph 3.4), the names of these additional objectors will also be published in the Bulletin (Rule 9A.6.7B).

3.26      All admissible objections must then be given preliminary consideration by the Private Bill Committee, usually at Preliminary Stage.  Those not rejected following preliminary consideration go on to receive full consideration by the Committee, at Consideration Stage – following which they may be accepted (in whole or in part) or rejected.  What is involved in preliminary and full consideration is explained in Part 5.  The key point to note, however, is that confirmation that an objection is admissible does not guarantee that the objection will go on to full consideration by the Committee, nor is it an indication of whether it will eventually be upheld. 

Data protection

3.27      The lodging of objections is a public process and the Scottish Parliament is subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.

3.28      As noted above, objectors are required to provide a certain amount of personal data with their objections – their name, address and contact details; the name and designation of any person signing the objection on the objector’s behalf – and each objection must be signed.  With the exception of the objector’s name, however, none of this personal data is published by the Parliament, nor is it normally provided to the Private Bill Committee except where it is relevant to their consideration – for example, where objectors’ addresses are relevant to a decision on how objections are grouped.

3.29      At the same time as they are assessing objections on admissibility grounds, NGBU clerks check objections to make sure they do not contain any sensitive personal data[3] (e.g. references to the objector’s medical history) or statements about a third party which either constitute sensitive personal data about that person or may identify a third party (unless the objection is accompanied by evidence that the third party consents to the statement being included).  They also check for any material that could reasonably be regarded as defamatory or abusive.  Where any such data or material is included, NGBU will contact the objector and invite them to amend the objection, failing which the objection may have that data or material redacted before the objection is published.  

3.30      After the objection period (as noted above), NGBU is required to publish in the Parliament’s Business Bulletin a list of the names of all objectors whose objections are admissible (Rule 9A.6.7).  Where an objection is lodged on behalf of two or more people, only the principal signatory’s name will normally be included in the list; but the entry for the objection will also indicate the number of other people supporting the objection (e.g. “Objection 1 by Mr J Smith (and 3 others)”).

3.31      At around the same time as the list is published in the Bulletin, the admissible objections themselves are published on the Parliament’s website, and copies (of the same published version) are sent to the public libraries or other premises to which copies of the Private Bill and accompanying documents were distributed immediately after introduction (as listed in the Promoter’s Statement). 

3.32      As noted above, the version of an objection that is published (and distributed to libraries etc.) will not include the other personal data – such as address and contact details – provided by the objector.  However, objectors should bear in mind that the text of their objection, together with their name, may enable people reading the objection to establish (via other resources, such as a telephone directory) where the objector lives and how to contact them.  

3.33      The unpublished contact details provided with objections will be used by NGBU clerks for the purpose of contacting objectors – for example, to update them on progress with the Bill.  In addition, the clerks may invite objectors to consent to their contact details being shared with the promoter and/or with other objectors.  Sharing contact details in this way can make it easier for the promoter to negotiate directly with objectors, and for objectors to liaise among themselves (particularly once their objections have been grouped for the purpose of Consideration Stage evidence-taking).  NGBU will never pass on an objector’s contact details to a third party without the objector’s express consent.

Withdrawal of objections

3.34      An objector may, at any time following the lodging of their objection, withdraw it by notifying the clerks (Rule 9A.6.8). As with lodging an objection, notice of withdrawal should be given in writing.  Withdrawal by e-mail may not be accepted unless the e-mail attaches a copy of a signed letter of withdrawal.  There is no requirement for an objector to give reasons for withdrawing an objection. 

3.35      Promoters may wish to engage with objectors in order to discuss their concerns and how they could be addressed, and such negotiations may sometimes lead to objections being withdrawn.  However, the initiative for withdrawing an objection always rests with the objector, and the clerks will not accept notice from a promoter as evidence that an objection has been withdrawn.

Changes in objectors’ circumstances

3.36      Objectors’ circumstances may change after their objection is lodged and before it is finally disposed of.  If a change of circumstances is directly relevant to the content of the objection, the objector should inform the clerks who will, if appropriate, update the Committee.

3.37      In some cases, a change in an objector’s circumstances may remove entirely the basis on which the objection was deemed admissible – for example, if the objector moves away (for reasons unrelated to the Bill) from the area affected by the Bill.  This does not formally invalidate the objection, and it remains a decision for the objector whether to withdraw the objection, but it is expected that objectors will explain the change in circumstances to the Private Bill Committee so that the Committee is able to make an informed decision on the objection.

3.38      Sometimes a change in an objector’s circumstances may result in a new individual or organisation acquiring (for the first time) an interest that is (or may be) adversely affected by the Bill – for example, where one person (A) who lives within the area affected by the Bill and has objected on that basis then sells that property to someone else (B) who was not previously qualified to object.  If this happens before Consideration Stage has begun, B may be able to lodge a late objection, citing the circumstances in their explanation of why the objection was lodged after the objection period (see paragraph 3.6).  If Consideration Stage has already begun, B does not have the option of lodging their own objection, but may be able to arrange with A for A’s objection to be pursued on B’s behalf.  These circumstances should be explained to the Committee when evidence on the objection is given.

3.39      Similarly, if an organisation that has lodged an objection changes status (for example, if it goes into administration, is taken over by a new owner, or is re-named or re-structured), this should be brought to the attention of the clerks if the change may be relevant to the grounds of objection. 


[1] Office of the Clerk dates can be found on the Parliament website, under Parliamentary Business / Parliamentary Procedure.

[2] The Business Bulletin is available on the Parliament’s website under Parliamentary Business.  

[3] Sensitive personal data is data which describes racial origin, political opinion, religious belief, trade union membership, physical or mental health, sexual life, or the commission or alleged commission of an offence or proceedings carried out in relation to an offence.

 

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