How can MSPs introduce legislation?
There are two ways an MSP can introduce a bill:
- Submit a proposal to the Parliamentary Bureau for consideration. The Bureau then passes the proposal on to a lead committee which examines legislation. At this stage the committee either accepts or rejects the proposal. If the committee accepts the proposal it becomes the equivalent of a committee bill.
- The alternative route is to introduce a Members' Bill. If an MSP can get the support of at least 11 other MSPs within one month of its publication in the Parliament's Business Bulletin, then the MSP can introduce the bill to the plenary of the Parliament (the whole parliament).
Each MSP can introduce two members' bills during any one parliamentary session.
As with all other bills the Presiding Officer will decide whether the proposal falls within the powers of the Parliament. If it is accepted it is then treated like an executive bill and must go through the three stages for such legislation.
Case Study - Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill
On 20 July 1999 Mike Watson, MSP (Labour) announced his intention to introduce a Members' Bill which would make it an offence to use dogs to hunt wild mammals or to allow such hunting to take place on land over which a person has control.
On 1st September 1999 he formally lodged his intention to introduce a Members' Bill in the Scottish Parliament and by 2nd September it had secured the support of more than 11 other MSPs.
The MSP met with several interested groups including the Scottish Countryside Alliance, the Scottish Pack Hunters Association, the National Working Terrier Association and the Scottish Executive, as well as the charitable organisation Advocates for Animals which supported the bill.
In June two MORI opinion polls had been carried out to assess feelings on the issue. The first was a telephone poll which asked 1000 participants across Scotland the following question:
“To what extent would you support or oppose a BAN on hunting with dogs in Scotland?”
The findings were:
Strongly support - 55%
Tend to support - 19%
Neither support or oppose - 9%
Tend to oppose - 6%
Strongly oppose - 4%
Don’t know - 6%
Total support for ban - 75%
Total opposition to ban - 10%
(note, the figures have been rounded up and down so they do not add up to 100%)
Another MORI poll was conducted with 73 MSPs. They were asked:
'If appropriately framed legislation to ban hunting wild mammals with dogs were to come before the Scottish Parliament, would you be prepared to vote for it, or not?'
The findings were:
Yes, would be prepared - 71%
No, would not be prepared - 15%
Don't know - 14%
After this initial stage of pre-legislative scrutiny the Bill was drafted. Stage 1 involved the Rural Development Committee examining the general principles of the Bill, taking evidence from interested parties and then writing a report (July 2001). At the end of Stage 1 the whole Parliament debated then voted on the general principles of the Bill.
The majority of MSPs voted for the Bill and therefore it progressed to Stage 2.
At Stage 2 the Rural Development Committee examined in detail each aspect of the Bill and proposed various amendments, again calling witnesses to give evidence. This Bill caused lots of controversy highlighting differences in opinion between people who owned land or worked in the countryside and mainly urban dwellers. There were also many disputes over what constituted sport for pleasure and what was seen as justified pest control, as well as concern over the economic impact on rural communities if hunting was banned. As a result much of the original Bill was amended in order to tighten and clarify the proposals.
After publishing a Stage 2 report the Bill went back to the whole Parliament for further debate and a vote.
The majority of MSPs voted for the Bill and it received Royal Assent on 15 March 2002.