7. OTHER COMMITTEE WORK
Scottish Parliament Bills
7.1. Committees play a key role in the scrutiny of Bills both at Stages 1 and 2 of the Parliamentary process. They may also consider draft proposals for Members’ Bills which are referred to them.
7.2. For further information about the scrutiny of Bills, reference should be made to the Guidance on Public Bills which explains the process in detail.
7.3. The approach taken by a committee when considering a Bill at Stage 1 (and formulating the report on the general principles of a bill, in terms of Rule 9.6) is similar to the approach taken by a committee to an inquiry34.
7.4. The Public Petitions Committee has the option to formally refer a petition to another committee for further consideration.
7.5. In September 2006, the Conveners Group agreed the following good practice recommendations in relation to the referral of petitions.
· The Public Petitions Committee is kept informed of the work programmes of committees by informal liaison between the committee clerks. The Public Petitions Committee has regard to these work programmes when referring petitions.
· Subject committees should advise the Public Petitions Committee of specific procedures adopted by them for the consideration of public petitions and any subsequent amendments to those procedures.
· The Public Petitions Committee, in considering whether to refer a petition, should include information arising from the two above recommendations in its deliberations.
· Subject committees may consider closing a petition but including issues raised by the petition in further work programmes, including legacy papers at the end of the Parliamentary session.
Subject committees which consider that a public petition would be better dealt with by another subject committee seek a fresh referral on those lines by the Public Petitions Committee. In doing so, the subject committees concerned should discuss the matter informally between themselves and make the PPC aware of those discussions in seeking the new referral.
7.6. These recommendations recognise that it is entirely a matter for subject committees to decide upon what action to take in relation to petitions when they have been formally referred.
7.7. Although not all public petitions result in inquiries by subject committees, they are potential sources for inquiry topics. A number of petitions have been examined as part of wider committee reviews on, for example, local government and finance, the Scottish fishing industry, school infrastructure, employment patterns in rural Scotland, sea cage fish farming and a range of health and justice issues.
7.8. The Scottish Government’s budget is scrutinised each year by the Parliament. Subject committees are responsible for examining the priorities and spending proposals of the department(s) they effectively “shadow” by taking evidence and producing a report to the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee has the overall responsibility for scrutinising the Scottish Government’s budget. This involves looking at priorities and spending plans across the board and the presentation of such plans, considering reports produced by subject committees and producing its own report to the Parliament for debate.
7.9. The annual budget process is divided into three stages. Stage 1 involves the publication of the Scottish Government’s Annual Evaluation Report (AER) which details the Scottish Government’s performance against targets and a discussion of strategic priorities as well as provisional spending plans. The AER must be published by 31 March and a debate on the Finance Committee’s report usually takes place in June. The Finance Committee and the Scottish Government have agreed that, because of the importance of the biennial UK Spending Review in allocating resources, Stage 1 will only take place in Spending Review years.
7.10. Stage 2 involves the publication of the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget which contains firm spending plans for the following financial year. This is usually published by 20 September and a debate on the Finance Committee’s report usually takes place in December. At this Stage, the Finance Committee can propose an alternative budget. If subject committees want to amend the Scottish Government’s spending proposals in their area, they can do this by making a recommendation to the Finance Committee in their Stage 2 reports. No proposed amendments can increase the total spend proposed by the Scottish Government and so amendments proposing change in one area must detail how the change will be financed.
7.11. Stage 3 of the budget process involves the publication of the Scottish Government’s annual Budget Bill which provides parliamentary authority for spending in the following financial year. Stage 2 of the Budget Bill is taken by the Finance Committee (Rule 9.16.2). Budget Bills are normally considered in January and February.
Evidence taking which is not part of inquiries
7.12. On occasion, a committee will hold an evidence-taking session which is not part of a wider inquiry as a means to find out more about a topic of interest or concern. Usually there is no resulting report (other than the Official Report of the meeting). Examples of such sessions include taking evidence from a Scottish Government minister, as part of a ‘stock taking’ or general review exercise, and a session to find out more about a petition which has been referred to the committee.
Legislative Consent Memorandums
7.13. In terms of the Sewel Convention, (see, Procedures Committee Report on Sewel Convention (7th Report 2005 for an explanation of the Convention) the Westminster Parliament will not legislate to change the law on a devolved matter or to alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of Scottish ministers without first securing the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Consideration by a committee of a Legislative Consent Memorandum (LCM) is part of the procedure by which the Parliament considers whether to give such consent.
7.14. Chapter 9B in Standing Orders contains the procedures which regulate consideration of LCMs and the consideration of legislative consent motions by the Parliament.
7.15. Most LCMs are lodged by the Scottish Government under Rule 9B.3.1 although some may be lodged by other MSPs under Rule 9B.3.2. Where a LCM is lodged by the Scottish Government, it must be lodged in the name of a Cabinet Secretary.
7.16. Each LCM is referred by the Bureau (or by the Parliament on a Bureau motion) to a lead committee. The lead committee is required to consider and report to the Parliament on the LCM under Rule 9B.3.1. The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee is required to consider (but need not report on) a special type of LCM where the Westminster Bill gives Scottish Ministers new powers to make subordinate legislation.
7.17. A LCM must identify the Westminster Bill in question and contain a short summary of its provisions both in terms of what it does and the policy intention. The LCM must also clearly identify the extent to which the Bill either changes the law in a devolved area or changes the law-making powers of the Parliament or the devolved functions of the Scottish Ministers. The LCM must also contain the draft legislative consent motion or an explanation of why the Scottish Government does not intend to lodge a motion. Where a draft motion is included, there must also be an explanation of why it is considered appropriate for the provision identified to be made at all (i.e. why the law should be changed) and separately, why those changes in the law are most appropriately made through a Westminster Bill. This may involve an explanation of why possible alternative ways of changing the law (e.g. a Scottish Parliament Bill or a Statutory Instrument) were not practicable or would cause legal difficulties.
7.18. Consideration of a LCM by the lead committee must take into account the overall timetable for consideration by the Parliament of the legislative consent motion.
7.19. Rules 9B.2.2 and 3 provide for the legislative consent motion normally to be lodged only after the committee report has been published and for the motion not to be taken in the Chamber until the fifth sitting day after publication.
7.20. The normal deadline for securing the Parliament’s consent (i.e. for when the legislative consent motion is taken) is when the Westminster Bill is about to begin the last amending stage in the first House. For a Bill introduced in the Commons, that means the beginning of the Report Stage; for a Bill introduced in the Lords, that normally means Third Reading. With most Bills going through the normal scrutiny process (i.e. not subject to expedited procedure), this should mean that there is a least three or four months from the introduction of the Westminster Bill until that deadline. This should allow a lead committee a reasonable timescale in which to consider the LCM. This assumes that the LCM is lodged within two weeks of the introduction of the Westminster Bill as provided for in Rule 9B.3.1(a).
7.21. Chapter 9B of Standing Orders is not prescriptive in the approach that the lead committee should take to carrying out scrutiny of a LCM. However, paragraph 179 of the Procedures Committee Report on the Sewel Convention (7th Report, 2005 (Session 2)) envisaged that a committee would take such evidence as it considered appropriate. If the relevant provisions are minor or uncontroversial, the scale of scrutiny could be quite modest. But with more substantial provisions, and assuming time permitted, the lead committee might wish to carry out a full scale inquiry involving a call for written evidence and oral evidence over a number of meetings.
7.22. The lead committee’s report should normally address separately the general merits of the policy contained in the relevant provisions of the Westminster Bill, and the justification for using the legislative consent route in these circumstances. Committees may also include in their reports any comments they may have on the terms of the draft motion. It is also anticipated that lead committee reports will normally conclude with a clear recommendation to the Parliament on whether to agree the legislative consent motion. However, it is also open to a lead committee not to make a recommendation where it does not wish to do so35.
For more information on committee inquiries, see paragraphs 5.1 to 5.85.
35 Procedures Committee report, paras 182-184.