Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament committee room
The composition of a committee is decided by MSPs

When the Scottish Parliament was returned to Edinburgh it came with the promise of a new politics for Scotland.

Transparency and accessibility were to be the watchwords for MSPs and one of the most important methods of delivering them was to be through the institution's committees.

Many politicians would argue that the real work of the Parliament is done in the committee rooms at Holyrood.

There are two types of committee at Holyrood - mandatory and subject. Each committee has up to 15 MSPs who sit on it and almost every MSP is a member of at least one committee.

Mandatory Committees
Equal opportunities
European and external relations
Public petitions
Standards, procedures and public appointments
Subordinate legislation

Political balance is sought and the final make-up of a committee is decided by all MSPs.

Since the introduction of the parliament's new three-day sitting pattern in September 2012 committees sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, rather than all day Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings as they previously did.

Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick ushered in the new sitting pattern to make Holyrood more topical and responsive to events, and for MSPs to have increased opportunities to question and hold ministers to account.

Committees run inquiries into issues or proposals and also scrutinise legislation. This can come from the Scottish Parliament or from committees themselves or MSPs acting on their own. Individuals or groups can also can also introduce a private bill.

Public petitions

One of the key committees in the push for accessibility is the Public Petitions Committee which, as the name strongly suggests, allows members of the public and groups to submit a petition to MSPs for consideration.

The rule banning Scottish patients from continuing to access NHS services, after they had paid privately for medicines unavailable on the NHS, was scrapped after a report by Holyrood's petitions committee called for more clarity.

Subject committees
Economy, energy and tourism
Education, lifelong learning and culture
Health and sport
Local government and communities
Rural affairs and environment
Transport, infrastructure and climate change
Welfare Reform Committee

The petition was lodged by Buckie patient Mike Gray, who died from bowel cancer after winning a fight to have life-prolonging drugs paid for by the NHS.

There are three stages to the passage of a bill in the parliament and the legislation will be scrutinised by the most appropriate committee at stages one and two. The whole Parliament will debate and decide whether to pass the bill at stage three.

Every piece of legislation the Scottish Parliament passes will have come under the microscope of one or more of Holyrood's committees.

But what makes the committee system at Holyrood special is the access it affords the public to democracy in action. Most committees allow the general public to attend, having obtained a free ticket from the Scottish Parliament.

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