Commission on Parliamentary Reform



On 26 October 2016, an independent Commission on Parliamentary Reform was established by the Presiding Officer to look at how the Scottish Parliament can engage better with the people of Scotland and how its work can be improved to deliver better scrutiny.

The Commission published its report (1.9MB pdf) on 20 June 2017.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has been responsible for implementing some of the recommendations that were made by the Commission.

On 22 May 2019 the Committee published a report recommending changes to Standing Orders in order to implement some of the recommendations. These changes were agreed by the Parliament on 11 June 2019 and came into force on 3 September 2019.


Members Bills

Recommendation 54: Where the Scottish Government proposes to legislate on the same proposal for a member’s bill then a member’s bill should not be automatically stopped from progressing. In those circumstances, the parliamentary procedure should encourage collaborative working.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee agreed proposals for changes to the Standing Orders which were set out in the Committee’s report and came into force on 3 September 2019. 

Speaking in debates

Recommendation 52: The Presiding Officer should, in exceptional cases of high demand, be able to extend statements, and decision time by up to 30 minutes to accommodate more speakers.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee agreed that implementing this recommendation could be achieved without any changes to Standing Orders.

First Ministers Questions

Recommendation 10
: The practice of using scripted diary questions by party leaders should cease, with party leaders moving straight to their questions. As a result, the Business Bulletin would reference only the names, and not the first question, of the party leaders.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee agreed to endorse this recommendation and a proposal for changes to the Standing Orders which were set out in the Committee’s report and came into force on 3 September 2019.

Recommendation 11: The opening question of other MSPs who are selected to ask a question at FMQs should also no longer be published, to ensure parity of approach. As a result, the Business Bulletin would only reference the names, and not the question, of those MSPs selected for a question at FMQs.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee was of the view that the current rules should be retained, however the Guidance on PQs should be updated to place on a more formal footing the opportunities for open questioning at FMQs.

Portfolio and general questions

Recommendation 12: 
The focus of questions in the chamber should be on quality of scrutiny rather than the quantity of questions asked. We recommend, therefore, the number of portfolio questions selected and published in the Business Bulletin be reduced.

Recommendation 13: The relevant opposition spokesperson from each party who requests to speak during portfolio questions should automatically be selected.

Recommendation 14: In view of the further devolution of powers and our proposals above, Parliament should review the range of question times available (portfolio and general) with a view to ensuring each portfolio area is scrutinised more frequently.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee considered these recommendations and consulted MSPs over the summer recess in 2018 with a view to considering the need for any Standing Order changes in autumn 2018. In November 2018 the Committee wrote to the Presiding Officer summarising the changes that the Committee had agreed to the format and timing of Question Times.

Chamber conduct, questions and answers and the role of the Presiding Office

Recommendation 18: A mechanism should be provided to enable MSPs to raise concerns with the Presiding Officer about any answers to written or oral questions which they do not consider meet the expectations of being accurate, truthful or where the response is inadequate. Such a mechanism would support the Presiding Officer in reducing unnecessary MSP interventions on this same theme.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee gave initial consideration to this recommendation. It was not persuaded that the Presiding Officer should have a role in ruling on the accuracy of answers to questions, however it agreed to consider further what action may be required in response to the recommendation.

Recommendation 19: There should be a shift in focus from emergency questions to urgent questions to reflect more on significance or timing (rather than a crisis, which the use of the word emergency suggests).

Recommendation 20: It should be for the Presiding Officer to agree whether any urgent questions should be taken in the chamber and for business on the day to be amended accordingly. Guidance on what could qualify as an urgent question should be provided.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee considered these recommendations and agreed changes to Standing Orders which were set out in the Committee’s report and came into force on 3 September 2019..


Recommendation 15: The current three stage legislative process should be replaced with a five stage process to include pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. While the existing three stage legislative scrutiny process would remain at its core, committees should include pre- and post-legislative scrutiny in their work programmes.  We recommend: 

a. Scottish ministers (or indeed members’ or committee bill proposers) should provide a short statement in the chamber or relevant committee every time a consultation on proposed legislation is launched (potentially a new stage 1 of the five stage process);

b. the accompanying documents published with bills should provide more detail about the research and evidential base used to underpin that legislation; the following accompanying documents should also be provided upon introduction: business and regulatory impact assessments; equalities impact assessments; and key outcome measures which will enable the success of any legislation to be assessed;

c. committees should be invited by the Parliamentary Bureau to set the timescale for completing their consideration of a bill;  d. in addition to the SPPAC recommendations regarding presentation of amendments at existing stages 2 and 3, and a pause mechanism at stage 3, we recommend the rules relating to the stage 3 referral back to the lead committee be changed; we recommend it should be possible, in exceptional cases, to refer a bill back to the lead committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee at stage 3; and

e. the Scottish Government (or other relevant public body) should be required to provide the Parliament with a post-legislative statement a set period after a bill is passed (potentially a new stage 5 of our five stage process).

SPPA Committee consideration: the Committee supported the Commission's objective of enhancing pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. However, it was not persuaded that additional formal stages to the legislative process were required on the basis that committees are currently able to undertake this scrutiny using existing procedures. In addition, a new Public Audit and Post-legislative scrutiny Committee has recently been established.

Legislative Standards Body

Recommendation 16: To provide a Scotland-wide approach and understanding of what constitutes good legislation, the Parliament should establish a Legislative Standards Body.

SPPA Committee consideration: the Committee considered the range of existing initiatives that are underway to promote good legislation in Scotland and agreed to monitor these initiatives to ensure that the objectives identified by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform in relation to the quality of legislation are implemented.

Conveners – elections and remuneration / resources

Recommendation 1: Parliament should put in place procedures for the election of conveners from the start of the next session.

Recommendation 2: Whether conveners are then remunerated and/or receive additional resources for this role should be based on an objective assessment of their workloads and the expectations of their roles. This assessment should be part of a wider exercise considering additional remuneration for other parliamentary positions (such as party leaders) as referred to later in this report.

SPPA Committee consideration: the SPPA Committee has had an initial consideration of these recommendation and agreed to return to them following an assessment of the workload of committee Conveners.

Regular reviews of Standing Orders

Recommendation 23: We recommend that the Standing Orders of the Parliament be reviewed, in their entirety, towards the end of each session. This would utilise the knowledge and experiences of members as they approach dissolution and would enable a measured and holistic approach to rule changes.

SPPA Committee consideration: the Committee agreed to establish a log to provide a centralised system for recording any non-urgent changes to Standing Orders, and to consider further the need for a review of Standing Orders in year 4 of the current parliamentary session.

Diversity – representatives, rules and procedures

Recommendation 24: A systematic review of Standing Orders should be undertaken to ensure that it is diversity sensitive and inclusive to facilitate equal and effective participation by MSPs in all business.

SPPA Committee consideration: The Committee considered a range of approaches that had been adopted in other legislatures and agreed to focus on work to ensure that the Standing Orders were inclusive and facilitate the equal and effective participation of Members with parenting responsibilities, particularly those nursing infants, in parliamentary proceedings.

Improving understanding of parliamentary language

Recommendation 68: In addition to giving greater prominence to the Parliament’s online glossary, the systematic reviews of the Parliament’s rules we have recommended should include reviewing, and where appropriate, modernising the language used.

SPPA Committee consideration: the Committee considered the range of material that explained parliamentary procedures and was satisfied that, following a number of new initiatives, there was sufficient information available to explain parliamentary procedures. The SPPA Committee also agreed to recommend the use of modern and accessible language where appropriate in future revisions to Standing Orders.


Members Bills

At its meeting on 18 January 2018 the Committee agreed to write to the Minister for Parliamentary Business on regarding Member’s Bills and the Minister responded on 7 March 2018.

This website is using cookies.
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website.