Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the Scottish Parliament



How does Scotland's Parliament make laws for the country? Firstly, of course, it can only legislate on devolved issues.

The Scotland Act
The Scotland Act paved the way for new laws to be made in Scotland

And secondly, as there is no second chamber like the House of Lords, the process of passing legislation is different in Scotland.

To compensate, the Scottish Parliament provides a stronger role for its committees which undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of every scrap of proposed legislation.

Committees can even introduce their own bills, something which Westminster's committees cannot do.

The lack of a second chamber and the safeguard it provides is also compensated for by the fact that any decision made by the Scottish Parliament can be challenged in court - an option not available against the sovereign Westminster.

One of the most high-profile challenges to the Scottish Parliament to date came in 2002. Pro-hunting campaigners tried to have the Act outlawing hunting with dogs in Scotland struck down , claiming that it breached the Human Rights Act. The challenge was unsuccessful.

Public and private

There are two different types of bill that can be introduced: a private bill and a public bill.

A public bill is introduced by MSPs in the Parliament, either by the Scottish Government as an executive bill, a committee bill which arises from one of Holyrood's committees or from an individual MSP which is known as a member's bill.

Examples of bills
Executive bill: Climate Change (Scotland) Bill
Committee bill: Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill
Member's bill: Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill
Private bill: Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill

A private bill can be introduced by an individual or group of people, as long as it fits the criteria of the Parliament. A promoter, usually a company or organisation, will introduce it seeking certain powers that will benefit their enterprise.

A specific private bill committee will then be set up to consider the proposal and hear opposition. In reality, all the private bills that have been successful at the Scottish Parliament have been major development projects like the controversial Waverly Railway Scotland Bill.

It is up to the Presiding Officer to introduce a statement which says whether the proposed legislation relates to devolved matters that fall within the remit of the Parliament.

The bill should be accompanied by explanatory notes detailing the proposed changes, the financial implications and any useful background information that has been gathered.

In general a bill must pass through three stages on its journey to becoming a law.

Different stages

In the first stage, the most appropriate committee will scrutinise the bill and take evidence. It will then produce a report which will say whether the committee agrees with the general principles or not. The whole of the Parliament will then consider the report and decide whether the bill should proceed to the next stage.

At the second stage- assuming the bill has been given the go-ahead - the bill is now subject to a more forensic examination. The lead committee - or indeed sometimes all MSPs - will focus on the nitty-gritty of the proposals. Usually a number of amendments will be made at this stage, which can change the final legislation considerably.

Finally, it goes back to the main chamber for all the MSPs to consider the altered bill. Again, changes can be made at this stage in the form of an amendment. After a debate MSPs will vote for or against.

But despite the wrangling, the bill is still not yet a law. It will be scrutinised by law officers to ensure that it falls within the devolved remit of the Scottish Parliament.

When they are satisfied the Presiding Officer will seek royal assent from the Queen. It is only after the Queen has given her assent that a bill becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.




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