How a Bill, or proposed Bill, becomes an Act
Learn how Bills get proposed, progress through the Parliament and become law.
A Members' Bill is introduced by an MSP who is not a Scottish Government minister. There’s a process to be followed before a Members' Bill can be introduced.
An MSP who wants to introduce a Members' Bill must first lodge a “proposal”, which is published on the Parliament’s website. A proposal is a short description of what the Bill would do. Normally, the MSP also consults on the proposal. This means publishing a longer explanation of why the MSP thinks the Bill is a good idea, and encouraging people to write to the MSP with their opinions. (The MSP can lodge a proposal without consulting on it, if a committee agrees that consultation isn’t necessary.) Then, the MSP has to get at least 18 other MSPs, from a number of political parties, to support the proposal. At this point, the Scottish Government gets the chance to stop the MSP’s proposal, but only by promising that they will change the law in much the same way.
If enough other MSPs support the proposal, and it isn’t stopped by the Scottish Government, the MSP gets the right to introduce a Members' Bill. It is likely then to take at least a few months to get the Bill ready for introduction.
This is when the MSP presents the Bill to the Scottish Parliament. With the Bill, the MSP also provides:
- a Financial Memorandum (to set out the expected costs of implementing the Bill)
- Explanatory Notes (to explain the legal effect of the Bill)
- a Policy Memorandum (to explain why the Bill is being proposed)
- a statement on legislative competence (to say that the Member believes that the changes to the law are changes that the Parliament has the power to make)
If a Members' Bill includes any “delegated powers”, a Delegated Powers Memorandum is needed to explain why. Delegated powers include powers given to Scottish ministers to make new law, or change existing law, without this needing a Bill.
Once a Members' Bill is introduced, it follows a 3-stage process. These stages are the same as for a Government Bill.
Stage 1 (general principles)
The Bill is given to a lead committee. This is usually the committee whose remit most closely relates to the subject of the Bill. Other committees can also look at the Bill. These committees report to the lead committee.
The lead committee is responsible for examining a bill. It hears from experts, organisations, and members of the public about what the bill would do. It then writes a report about what it has heard and giving its own view of the Bill. This Stage 1 report usually makes a recommendation about whether the Parliament should support the Bill’s general principles. All of this may take a few months.
The Parliament then debates the Bill and decides whether it should go on to Stage 2, or be rejected.
Stage 2 (amendments)
MSPs can propose changes to a Bill – these are called ”amendments”. Any MSP can suggest amendments. The amendments are debated and decided on at a meeting of a committee (usually the same committee that was the lead committee at Stage 1). Only the committee members can vote on amendments at this stage.
If any amendments are agreed to at Stage 2, a new (amended) version of the Bill is published. This is the version considered at Stage 3.
Stage 3 (amendments, debate and final vote)
MSPs can propose further amendments to the Bill. These are debated and decided on in the Debating Chamber, and at this stage all MSPs can vote on them. There is then a debate and vote on whether to pass the Bill. If the Bill is not passed, it falls and can’t become law.
Turning the Bill into an Act
If the Bill is passed, it is normally sent for Royal Assent after about 4 weeks. Royal Assent is when the Bill gets formal agreement by the King and becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.
Some Acts become law straight after Royal Assent. Some only become law on a later date. Sometimes different bits of the same Act become law on different dates.
See all Acts of the Scottish Parliament.