Briefing on giving evidence
Scottish Parliament Committees
The Scottish Parliament uses a Committee system to scrutinise
legislation, conduct inquiries, and to address specific issues
in detail. There are 8 mandatory Committees stated within the
Standing Orders of the Parliament:
- Equal Opportunities
- European and External Affairs
- Public Petitions
- Subordinate Legislation
and for the 2003-07 session there are 8 subject
- Education (to include Young People)
- Enterprise & Culture( to include Lifelong Learning, Tourism
- Environment & Rural Development
- Justice 1
- Justice 2
- Health (to include Community Care)
- Local Government & Transport.
The Committees have approximately 7-9 members
reflecting the balance of political parties and independent MSPs.
The Committees have a role in scrutinising
legislation. At Stage 1 of a Bill the relevant Committee(s)
look at the general principles of the bill and ask for evidence
from interested people. The lead Committee's Stage 1 Report is
then debated in Parliament when it is voted as to whether the
Bill progresses to Stage 2.
At Stage 2 the Bill goes back to the relevant
Committee to be looked at in detail. The Committee examines the
bill line by line and can make amendments.
At Stage 3 the Parliament looks at the amended
Bill, further amendments can be made before all MSPs debate and
decide whether the Bill should be passed or not.
It is also possible for a Committee to initiate
its own legislation, the first Committee Bill to become law
was the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act in 2001. Committees
can also conduct investigations or inquiries into key issues,
for example the current Enterprise and Culture Committee is conducting
an inquiry into the impact of England's tuition fees on Scottish
In the course of all of these activities the
Committees will take evidence from individuals, groups, bodies
or organisations with something to contribute to the process.
Evidence may be taken in a written report style, as responses
to set questions, and/or verbally. Verbal evidence is usually
given during meetings of the Committee in Parliamentary rooms
in Edinburgh. However, the Committees do occasionally go to meet
individuals or groups outside of Edinburgh to take evidence in
a public meeting or other forum.
The Committees meet for a couple of hours, however
people giving evidence will usually only participate in the meeting
for between 10 – 30 minutes. Giving evidence normally involves
making a short statement with the relevant information you have
for the Committee, and answering questions asked by MSPs. Committee
Clerks produce a verbatim report of the meeting and may want to
check with you what you have said after the meeting.
Issues for UNISON
It is important to remember that the MSPs on
the Committees are interested in the evidence that we will give.
They are not usually wanting to trip people up, or intentionally
ask questions that we cannot answer. It is in their interests
to find out as much information as possible so as they can make
the best decisions. Equally, we should remember that it is important
to give accurate information. If a question is asked and we don't
know the answer then there is nothing wrong with just saying so
– or indicating that we can get the information at a later date
and send it to the Committee Clerk.
Points to consider prior to giving evidence:
- What is the message that we want to get across?
This will depend on the Bill / inquiry / investigation
that we are giving evidence on. For example when giving evidence
on the Free School Meals Bill UNISON supported the Bill and
wanted to emphasise the stigma attached to the current free
- How do we go about doing this?
To put across our message or position we need
to have evidence or examples of why we are taking this point
of view. The best evidence is from members who work in areas
being investigated by the Committees or are affected by the
issue(s) being looked at. For example a UNISON School meals
Supervisor gave evidence on the Free School Meals Bill, and
a Social Worker gave evidence on the Protection of Children
Bill. (On both occasions the members were accompanied by a UNISON
staff member). It is important that those giving evidence are
able to give specific examples. In the instances given the Schools
Meals Supervisor was able to explain how pupils don't like being
classed as "free meals" as this differentiates them from the
other kids. The Social Worker was able to give examples of the
complex situations social workers face dealing with difficult
unruly teenagers and looking after vulnerable toddlers. Both
UNISON members were talking of their own experiences in their
workplaces, so were knowledgeable on the subject matter.
In many cases the verbal evidence given by
members is backed up by a written submission which has been
compiled by the P&I Team following consultations with the
Policy Pool / Service Group / Branches. Written evidence may
include statistics, surveys or other research UNISON has produced.
- Can we offer a solution / way forward?
It is important that we don't just appear at
a Committee and moan and complain about an issue without offering
positive solutions. Very often it is possible for UNISON to offer
a solution or way forward to the Committee's inquiry. For example
on the Free School Meals Bill UNISON believed the way to address
stigma, improve health and nutrition was to provide a nutritious
free school meal to all pupils. On the Protection of Children
Bill we indicated that Social Workers are prepared to balance
the giving up of some of their civil liberties to protect children
as long as there is a fair and equitable system in place.
Preparing to give evidence
UNISON is usually asked to give evidence either
through the Scottish Secretary or a Scottish Organiser being contacted
directly by a Committee Clerk, or as part of an STUC delegation
to a particular committee.
Decisions on who attends are made on a common
sense and who is available basis in consultation with the appropriate
Service Group / Policy Pool / Branch. As noted above members are
usually accompanied by a Scottish Organiser / P&I Team member
who has been involved in the issue to be discussed.
If you are part of an STUC delegation to give
evidence the STUC usually arranges a pre-meeting so as those participating
know the issues each want to raise. If it is just UNISON members
that are giving evidence we will also arrange to discuss the issues
we are to present beforehand.
It is good to think about the issues you may
want to talk about with the committee, and there are a number
of steps you could take prior to appearing before a committee:
- Speak to colleagues in your workplace / branch /service group
to find out what their opinions are.
- Look at the UNISON-Scotland website, relevant P&I briefings,
and Branch websites/publications for information.
- Contact the P&I Team or your Regional Officer or Branch
- Sit in on a Parliamentary Committee meeting so as you know
what sort of thing to expect. Anyone can sit in the public gallery
of a Committee meeting for free (as long as its not in private
session) by contacting the Parliament's Information Centre tel:
0131 348 5411 or http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitor/index.htm
Scottish Parliament Committees:
The P&I Team propose to hold an information session on the
Scottish Parliament , its Committees and the Executive later in
Details of this will be provided in due course.