As colleagues across the sector will know, getting an amendment into the Bill is one of the strongest ways to make change, as the amendment becomes law. So how can the sector effectively engage with the Scottish Parliament’s Bill process to progress their policy proposals? Last month SCVO’s Policy Officers Network met with the Scottish Parliament Legislation Team to find out.

There are many types of Bill: Government Bills; Members Bills; Private Bills; and Committee Bills. As Government Bills make up 80-95% of the Bills progressing through the Scottish Parliament at any one time, in this session we focused upon Government Bills.

The points of influence

As colleagues across the sector will know, the Bills process consists of three stages. Ahead of these three stages clerks and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) produce a proposed programme for Stage 1 and colleagues are encouraged to engage in this design process. Each stage then offers an opportunity to influence the Bill. So, for those who aren’t familiar, what are the stages?

Stage 1: Begins with a Committee reportand ends with a parliamentary chamber debate. The view of Committee members of the Bill is likely to be influenced by evidence and briefings. To make the most of all of the opportunities to influence the content and detail of the Bill, detailed ideas should be put forward at this stage. If the Committee endorses the procedure and Parliament vote in favour of the Bill, the Bill immediately progresses to Stage 2.

Stage 2: This is a Committee stage. During this stage the Bill goes through line-by-line scrutiny. Changes to the text are suggested through amendments. Amendments are considered and debated by the Committee. The view of Committee members of amendments are likely to be influenced by evidence and briefings.

Stage 3: The Bill is considered by the whole Parliament during this stage. This is the final opportunity to influence and change the Bill. This stage has two phases, amendments and a parliamentary debate. Usually both phases take place on the same day. At this Stage amendments tend to focus on tidying the Bill up to get things right. This stage is not a time to raise new issues for the first time. Again, members will be supported by evidence and briefings. This stage ends with a Parliamentary vote on whether or not to pass the Bill.

The Bill then enters a four week challenge period where is can be challenged by the Advocate General, the Lord Advocate, the Attorney General, or by the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is very rare and would normally only occur if the bill is deemed to be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament (i.e. not a devolved matter).

Five to six weeks after being approved by the Scottish Parliament the Presiding Officer submits the bill for RoyalAssent.

Following Royal Assent the Bill, and any amendments organisations across the sector have made to it, are now law.

Amendments: what are they and what is possible?

An amendment is a proposal to change the wording of the text of the Bill. Amendments are both a tool for political discourse and one of the strongest ways to make change, as the amendment becomes law. During periods of minority government, encouraging cross-party collaboration on an amendment is a particularly effective way to achieve change.

Amendments must be within the scope of the Bill and be relevant to what the Bill sets out to do. Amendments must therefore be relevant and consistent with the general principles of the Bill agreed at Stage 1. By Stage 3, the Bill must achieve what it set out to at Stage 1.

Amendments: top tips

  • It is never too early to start engaging with MSPs on amendments. Stage 1 evidence is the origins of most amendments. Start engaging with the MSP you wish to work with on your amendment as early as possible. When engaging with the MSP, focus on what you want your amendment to achieve. Develop a policy aim and ensure the MSP understands it.
  • The Legislation Team turn MSPs ideas into amendments. Ask the MSP you are working with to engage with the Legislation Team when you are ready to draft the amendment.
  • Don’t try to draft the amendment yourself. Often the legislation team find that when organisations draft amendments they don’t quite achieve what the organisation hoped. If an MSP asks that you draft an amendment, remind them that the Legislation Team are best placed to do this.
  • The less detail an amendment has the less Government has to object to. Less detail, however, also gives the government more power at regulation phase. Consider what you wish to be on the face of the Bill and what can be left to regulations.
  • Where you don’t have a specific ask, a probing amendments can be used to clarify part of the Bill, ensure an issue is debated, or get something on the record. For example, an amendment which asks a Minister to leave out a section will encourage the Minister to explain that section of the Bill. Again the legislation team can help MSPs draft an amendment to achieve this.
  • If you wish to see post-legislative scrutiny, work with an MSP and the legislation team to draft an amendment which commits to a review.
  • If you are invited to give evidence, go one step further and when giving evidence ask for what you wish to see in the Bill.

Gaining cross party support of an amendment is a blog for another day, but as this is central to having your amendment agreed a good start is to:

  • Work with parties across the Chamber from as early as possible to encourage support for your amendment. To achieve this, approach the MSPs on the Committee of the parties you wish to engage.
  • Make the party researchers of the parties you wish to engage, aware of the amendment.

MSPs, like all politicians are used to argumentative persuasion. Legislation and amendments are about dispassionate precision. The role of the legislation team is to enable MSPs to achieve their aims. And while the legislation team can only take instructions for MSPs the team are here to help, just get in touch.

Thanks to Scottish Parliament Legislation Team members, Rea Cris, Mark Brough, Neil Stewart, Euan Donald for sharing their expertise. Details on how to contact the team are available here.

For more information about Bills visit: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/30590.aspx