Scottish Parliament – Legislation


The Scottish parliament may legislate on any issue that is not in a reserved area.

To become law, a bill must be introduced to the parliament, be considered and passed by MSPs, be approved by the UK government law officers, and be given Royal Assent.

Legislative Process

A bill can be introduced in three ways:

Executive bills are introduced on behalf of the executive by the relevant Scottish minister. Non-executive (or members’) bills are introduced by an individual MSP who has garnered the support of at least 11 other MSPs in the month since the bill was proposed.

Committee bills are introduced by the convenor of the relevant committee in line with its members’ wishes.

Individual MSPs may only introduce two bills in any parliament and, in calculating this, a committee bill counts against a convenor.

The process of legislation then follows a three stage process in the Scottish Parliament:

Stage 1

The Parliamentary Bureau designates a ‘lead’ committee for each bill introduced. This is normally a relevant subject committee but other committees may consider a bill if it is relevant to them as well. The subordinate legislation committee considers any order-making powers in proposed legislation.

Having taken evidence on the bill, the lead committee publishes a Stage 1 report, which is laid before the parliament. The parliament Bureau then allocates time in plenary for a debate on the general principles of the bill (Stage 1 debate). This is akin to a second reading at Westminster.

Committee bills, which have received a degree of pre-legislative scrutiny, go straight for their Stage 1 debate, without the need for a committee report.

Stage 2

The bill goes back to a subject committee (normally the designated lead committee) for line-by-line consideration, although it may take further evidence. Amendments are moved, considered and approved or rejected. A timescale may be set by the Bureau and Stage 2 may take place on the floor of the parliament in exceptional circumstances.

Committees do not normally consider bills that they have proposed and introduced.

Stage 3

The Parliamentary Bureau allocates time in plenary for Stage 3. Further amendments are moved, considered and approved or rejected and the bill may be sent back to committee for further detailed consideration, although this is rare.

After detailed consideration at Stage 3 is complete, the parliament immediately debates whether the bill should pass. This gives MSPs a chance to return to the general impact of the bill and whether or not the whole measure should become law.

Reconsideration and Royal Assent

After the bill is passed by the parliament, the UK government’s law officers, including the advocate general for Scotland, have four weeks to consider the bill to ensure its compatibility with the devolution settlement and with the UK’s international obligations. If no such legal challenges arise, the presiding officer sends the bill for Royal Assent and it becomes law.

Any successful challenge would lead to a motion for reconsideration, allowing for the amendment of the passed bill to resolve the issues raised by the UK law officers.

Budget bills

A Budget bill must complete Stage 3 30 days after its introduction.

With no requirement for a report, Stage 1 comprises only a debate on the general principles of the bill. Stage 2, which must not commence fewer than 10 days after Stage 1, is taken in the Finance Committee. Only Scottish ministers may move amendments to the bill.

Secondary Legislation

The Scottish Parliament can also pass secondary legislation (otherwise known as a ‘Statutory Instrument’).  Statutory instruments define matters as per the provisions that are made for that purpose within primary legislation.

A statutory instrument’s passage through Scottish parliament is limited to 40 days from the day on which it was laid. During this period a lead committee and the subordinate legislation committee report to parliament on any issues raised by the instrument and MSPs approve or reject it. They may also debate an instrument. Most statutory instruments are not contentious and are passed without debate.