• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

INSIDE TRACK: Review will focus on quality of making laws

GOODNESS knows what they make of it but at least school pupils who visit Holyrood when First Minister's Questions is in full swing have an idea of what's going on.

Politicians are arguing about something.

But you'd have to pity the youngsters whose school trip happens to coincide with a Stage 3 debate. To say the final stage of passing a Bill into law is confusing is a colossal understatement. The grouped amendments, the endless rounds of voting - sometimes spread over a whole day - aren't just baffling for school groups in the public gallery, they leave those of us in the Press seats stumped too. More worryingly, MSPs themselves find it difficult to follow proceedings.

Accidentally voting the wrong way is not unknown. Add in the concern that last-minute amendments, often thrown in as compromises to secure a vote, are not subject to any real level of scrutiny and it's clear the process is less than ideal.

Yesterday MSPs launched a review of parliamentary procedures which could result in the biggest shake-up of the way laws are made since the creation of the parliament in 1999. The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee's inquiry will be wide-ranging but, judging from convener Stewart Stevenson's comments, Stage 3 is at or near the top of his agenda along with the related issue of post-legislative scrutiny, a formal mechanism to review the effectiveness of new laws which, now, is absent from the Holyrood system.

There is a groundswell of opinion across the parties that something needs to be done and in Mr Stevenson, an MSP unafraid to grapple with technical details, they have probably got the right man at the helm. It will be interesting to see what he and his colleagues come up with.

The inner workings of Holyrood have attracted little attention over the past 14 years. Lord Steel, the first Presiding Officer, suggested recently that Scots members of a reformed House of Lords - he wants to see an elected Senate - could undertake post-legislative scrutiny of Holyrood laws. His idea received short shrift from the SNP because, of course, it was part of the former LibDem leader's vision for constitutional change in the wake of a No vote in next year's referendum. But what if there is a Yes vote? There are no plans to reform Holyrood. It is proposed that the number of MSPs, for example, would remain at 129 despite the need to consider foreign affairs, defence and a more complex tax-raising budget.

"The Scottish Parliament has set an example within the UK on how a modern legislature should operate," says the SNP's White Paper on independence. The news that MSPs are reviewing their law-making procedures takes some of the gloss off that statement but if improvements can be made by tweaking the present set-up it would help answer the criticism that the SNP have failed to plan adequately for the parliament of an independent country.

For once, though, the referendum is a secondary issue. It's in all parties' interests to improve the quality of law-making at Holyrood. Hopefully the days of dazed MSPs, not to mention school parties, are numbered.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.