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The Scottish Parliament and law making
The Scottish Parliament and law making

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3.5 A Government Bill

To provide a flavour of the law making process you now consider the stages of a Government Bill.

A Government Bill begins life through the formulation of policy. If it is felt that legislation is required to achieve that policy, a team is put together to draft a Bill. While the draft Bill is being prepared there is usually a process of public consultation. ‘Pre-legislative’ scrutiny may also take place. This means that the proposals or draft Bill may be considered by a parliamentary committee. The committee chosen will be the one expected to consider the Bill when it is introduced to the Parliament. This procedure is useful as it allows members of the committee to familiarise themselves with the subject matter of the Bill at an early stage.

When the draft Bill is finalised, there is a three-week period during which matters such as legislative competence are checked. At this point the Bill is also checked to ensure that it is set out in the proper form.

Once the Bill has been introduced the Stage 1 processes of the consideration of the Bill take place. These are outlined in Table 3 below.

Table 3 The processes of the consideration of a Bill
Stage 1 Committee

The function of the committee is to produce a Stage 1 report on the general principles of the Bill. In preparing this they: look at the accompanying documents, may take evidence from witnesses, may ask for written evidence and consider, for an Executive Bill, whether sufficient consultation was undertaken before introduction.

Stage 1 Report

Committee report which will include a recommendation as to whether the general principles of the Bill should be agreed to.

Stage 1 Debate

Parliament decides whether to agree to the general principles of the Bill. Debates take place, amendments may be agreed or the Bill may be returned to the committee for a further report. Where there is agreement the Bill moves to Stage 2.

The Stage 2 processes involve a more detailed consideration of the Bill by a committee. The Stage 2 committee could be a committee of the whole Parliament of which all MSPs are members, the committee producing the Stage 1 report or another specialist committee. The Stage 2 process begins 11 whole sitting days after the completion of the Stage 1 process.

At Stage 2 the role of the committee is to consider and dispose of proposed amendments to the Bill. Once the Stage 1 decision is taken, any MSP could lodge an amendment to the Bill. If amendments are agreed, the Bill is reprinted.

Once Stage 2 has been completed, Stage 3 proceedings take place. Again amendments can be proposed. The Bill is now heard by Parliament. Proposed amendments are dealt with first. Once these have been voted on, Parliament must decide whether to pass the Bill. This is done by majority vote.