How a Bill, or proposed Bill, becomes an Act
Learn how Bills get proposed, progress through the Parliament and become law.
A Private Bill changes the law for a particular organisation or person, for example by making special rules that only apply to that organisation, or giving it powers that other similar organisations don’t have. Sometimes a Private Bill only affects a small part of Scotland.
This is when the promoter presents the Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The promoter must pay a fee to introduce the Bill. With the Bill, the promoter also provides:
- Explanatory Notes (to explain the legal effect of the Bill)
- a Promoter’s Memorandum (to explain why the Bill is being proposed)
- a Promoter’s Statement (to give details of things the promoter must do before the Bill is introduced, including consulting on the Bill and letting people know that it is going to be introduced)
- a statement on legislative competence (to say that the changes to the law included in the Bill are changes that the Parliament has the power to make)
As soon as the Bill is introduced, there is a period of 60 days when other people or organisations can object to the Bill if they think it will affect them unfairly. These people or organisations are known as “objectors”. To be an objector, it is not enough just to disagree with the Bill, or think it will affect some people unfairly. You have to show that it will have an unfair effect on you in particular.
Once a Private Bill is introduced, it follows a 3-stage process. These stages are quite different from the stages of a Government Bill, and they have different names.
Preliminary stage (general principles, whether the Bill should proceed)
A small committee is set up to consider the Private Bill. MSPs are not chosen to be members of the committee if they have any connection to the promoter, or if they are MSPs for any area that is directly affected by the Bill. The committee is responsible for examining the Bill. It hears from the promoter and from objectors, if there are any. It may also hear 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 Preliminary Stage report usually makes a recommendation about whether the Parliament should support the Bill.
The Parliament then debates the Bill and decides whether it should go on to Consideration Stage, or be rejected.
Consideration stage (objections and amendments)
If there are objections to the Bill, they are considered in detail by the Private Bill Committee. The Committee members listen to the arguments on both sides and decide between them (like the judge in a court would do). Sometimes, the committee will publish a report to explain the decisions it makes on objections.
Members of the Committee can then propose changes to a Bill – these are called ”amendments”. Some amendments may be suggested by the promoter. The amendments are debated and decided on by the Private Bill Committee. Only the committee members can vote on amendments at this stage.
If any amendments are agreed to at Consideration Stage, a new (amended) version of the Bill is published. This is the version considered at Final Stage.
Final Stage (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. MSPs then 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.