Stages of a bill

Since the major function of a parliament is to make laws it was important that the whole legislative process (how laws are made) was devised keeping the four key principles in mind. The legislative process is based on the idea that Parliament itself should be strong, that the people of Scotland from all walks of life, pressure groups, and regions should participate and share power. A key element of the process is to ensure openness and encourage participation.

Pre-legislative Consultation

In order to share the power to influence policy, arrangements have been made to allow Parliament and interested individuals and groups to be consulted about proposed legislation before it becomes a bill. This pre-legislative consultation is designed to be open and participatory, allowing access to the decision-making process. This system prevents the government from being selective about which pressure groups have an opportunity to be consulted before policy is devised.

The outcome of the consultation process must be attached to draft bills (as a memorandum) and so the views of pressure groups and any opposition to the proposals are open and public at an early stage.

Although there are different ways laws can be proposed and therefore different types of bills, all legislation must pass through three basic stages:

Stage 1

The bill is sent to a Parliamentary Committee for consideration and the committee writes a report.

Parliament may refer the bill back to the Committee for a further report.

Parliament then considers the general principles of the bill. The whole Parliament votes on whether the bill should proceed, taking the committee's report into account

If Parliament agrees then the bill will proceed

If Parliament does not agree then the bill will fall

Stage 2

The bill then undergoes more detailed "line-by-line" scrutiny, either by the appropriate Committee, the whole Parliament, or a combination of the two. Amendments (changes) may be made at this stage

Stage 3

The bill is considered by the whole Parliament.
Amendments can be made at this stage

Up to half of the sections of the bill may be referred back to stage 2 for further consideration.

Only amendments that were referred back for consideration at stage 2 are debated now.
The Parliament then votes on the bill.

If Parliament agrees, the bill is passed

If Parliament does not agree the bill falls

Once a bill has been passed there is a four week period when the bill may be challenged by the Advocate General, the Lord Advocate or the Attorney General or by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

This would normally occur if the bill is deemed to be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament (i.e. not a devolved matter) or if it would adversely affect reserved matters, or the Parliament wishes to reconsider the bill.

Royal Assent

After the four week period has expired the Presiding Officer submits the bill for Royal Assent

Once the bill receives Royal Assent it becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament

All bills passed by the Scottish Parliament must be signed by the monarch before they can become law. This procedure reflects the fact that Scotland remains part of the UK and all UK legislation must get the Royal Assent.

At each stage the bill is scrutinised. Individuals, pressure groups and parties are given an opportunity to examine and debate the proposals. For example, at stages 1 and 2 the relevant committee will ask witnesses to give evidence to support the bill, or highlight possible difficulties or recommend changes (amendments). These witnesses may be experts in a particular field, researchers, members of pressure groups or any individual the committee considers can offer information. The committees will also question relevant ministers on issues such as providing adequate funding for the proposed measures.

Find out more about Bills

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