Timescales and rules

This section gives more information on some of the parliamentary rules relating to the law-making process, and the timescales involved. Full guidance can be found in the Public, Private and Hybrid Bills Guidance. All the Parliament’s rules are contained in the Standing Orders

Stage 1

The length of stage 1 varies, but it can often last for several months.

The Parliamentary Bureau normally proposes to the Parliament a timescale for completing stage 1. This usually happens shortly after a bill is introduced. This effectively also sets a date by which the lead committee should report. 


  • The stage 1 debate will normally take place no earlier than five sitting days after the lead committee’s report is published.
  • The debate takes place on a motion by the MSP in charge of the bill, “That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the [short title] Bill”
  • A decision on the general principles will not involve a vote if all the MSPs who are present say ‘Yes’ when the Presiding Officer asks ‘Are we all agreed?’.
  • There is no minimum number of MSPs required to be present in the Chamber in order for a decision on the general principles to be valid.


Stage 2

The Parliamentary Bureau normally proposes to the Parliament a timescale for completing stage 2. This usually happens shortly after the end of stage 1.


  • Stage 2 proceedings may be dealt with at one committee meeting, or may require two or more meetings and be spread over a number of weeks.
  • Except for budget and emergency bills, there must be at least 12 sitting days between the date of the stage 1 debate and the first meeting at which the committee deals with stage 2. Since committees normally only meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or (occasionally) Mondays, this rule effectively ensures that two whole weeks of parliamentary business must pass before stage 2 commences.

Stage 2 amendments

  • The deadline for lodging stage 2 amendments is at 12 noon on the fourth sitting day before the committee will meet to deal with them. If the committee will deal with stage 2 over more than one meeting, there is a separate deadline for each meeting. If the convener has announced a target for the parts of the bill that will be dealt with at a meeting, only amendments up to that point need to be lodged by the deadline for that meeting.

Stage 3


  • The deadline for lodging amendments is 12 noon on the fifth sitting day before the stage is scheduled to take place. For example, if stage 3 is due to take place on a Wednesday, the deadline will normally be 12 noon on the Wednesday before.
  • There must be at least 10 sitting days between the end of stage 2 and the start of stage 3. The date for stage 3 proceedings will be agreed in a parliamentary business motion, usually two weeks before the business is due to take place.
  • Immediately before stage 3, the Parliament normally agrees a parliamentary motion setting time limits for debates on groups of amendments.

To see how the process works in practice, view our case study.

What is a sitting day?

A sitting day is a day when the offices of parliamentary staff are open (usually Monday to Friday) and the Parliament is not in recess or dissolved

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