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Members' Bills in the First Year of Session

Louise Wilson

A year has passed since the beginning of session five. Amid criticism of the Scottish Government for failing to pass a substantive Bill (i.e. non-Budget Bill), it’s easy to forget that the Government is not the only starting point for legislation. Members’ and Private Bills also offer options for MSPs, companies or groups of people to introduce a Bill to Parliament. A quick glance over Members’ Bills proposed within the first year of each session indicates that it’s not just the Government not keeping up with its record…

So far this year, six proposals have been put forward by MSPs, one of which has been formally lodged as a Bill – the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP) is the member in charge and the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee is investigating it at Stage 1. In addition, Claudia Beamish's Prohibition of Fracking etc. (Scotland) Bill is at its final proposal stage.

These six proposals fall well below the average number (14) made in each first year of sessions one to five (though admittedly is not the worst on record). In sessions one and three, 13 proposals had been lodged within the first year. In session two, it was a whopping 34 (thank the “rainbow Parliament” for that one!). In the last session, a measly four proposals were made in the first 12 months. Members have been slacking of late.

But perhaps the reason numbers have dropped so significantly is because members are simply proposing more agreeable bills, I hear you suggest. Well, I looked into that too.

In session one, seven of the 13 lodged between May 1999 and April 2000 went on to become officials bills. Six of these were passed, covering poindings and warrant sales, sea fisheries, leasehold casualties, mortgage rights, the protection of wild mammals and public appointments. That’s a 46% pass rate.

In the second session, nine became bills though only three passed (two fell and four were withdrawn). This puts the pass rate at just 9%. The abolition of prescription charges, making it an offence to prevent a child from being breastfed in a public place, and shop closures on Christmas and New Year’s Day all came from Members’ Bills proposed between May 2003 and April 2004.

The third session saw five proposals become bills and all of them were passed. These were on control of dogs, disabled persons’ parking, aggravation by prejudice, property factors and the register of tartans. This is only slightly off the first session’s pass rate at 38%.

While in session four, 50% of the proposals became bills (two), only one was passed (25%) and became the High Hedges (Scotland) Act. However, it’s also worth noting that one of the proposals was for the Responsible Parking (Scotland) Bill lodged by Joe FitzPatrick – this was withdrawn in September 2012 when he became a Minister, but was brought back by Sandra White. This went on to become the Footway Parking and Double Parking (Scotland) Bill which, despite receiving some sympathy from the Government, fell following the dissolution of Parliament in May 2016.

Session five is looking likely to beat its predecessor. Gillian Martin’s Bill received the support of 55 members at its proposal stage and also has the support of a Scottish Government (indeed the statement of reasons highlights the Scottish Government has intended to create a legal requirement for seat belts since March 2014). It is therefore expected to progress through Parliament swiftly. James Kelly’s proposal (once lodged) to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 is also likely to pass, much to the chagrin of the SNP. A debate hosted by the Conservatives back in November saw the Government defeated on the issue and it is likely that all the opposition parties will band together to see the legislation repealed through Mr Kelly’s Bill. That is therefore at least a third of the proposals expected to pass.

The potential outcomes of the remaining four are a bit more complicated. Mark Griffin’s proposal on an opt-out organ donation system is difficult to predict. A similar bill was brought before Parliament in the last session and fell at Stage 1 by a narrow three-vote margin. The Government committed to learning from experiences of similar legislation in Wales “as an early priority in the next parliamentary session” and the system has proven successful. We may therefore see the Government change its stance, matching the opinion of several Labour and Green MSPs last time around – building more than enough support to see it pass.

An attempt to ban fracking from Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab) is unlikely to see the light of day because the Scottish Government will bring forward its own legislation on the matter before long. Whichever way the Government decides to go will be the final result, given support from the Conservatives on one hand, and from the remaining three parties on the other. Support for the final two proposals are as yet unclear – the result of the consultation on James Dornan’s idea that football clubs be liable for fans’ behaviour have not been published yet and Neil Bibby is still consulting on his for the tied pubs sector.

Interested in following legislation more closely? Contact us to find out more about our comprehensive tracking of Scottish Parliament, Government and Westminster Bills.

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