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Giving evidence to Scottish Parliament Committees Briefing 67




Briefing on giving evidence to

Scottish Parliament Committees

July 2003
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:

  1. Audit
  2. Equal Opportunities
  3. European and External Affairs
  4. Finance
  5. Procedures
  6. Public Petitions
  7. Standards
  8. Subordinate Legislation

and for the 2003-07 session there are 8 subject committees:

  1. Communities
  2. Education (to include Young People)
  3. Enterprise & Culture( to include Lifelong Learning, Tourism & Sport)
  4. Environment & Rural Development
  5. Justice 1
  6. Justice 2
  7. Health (to include Community Care)
  8. Local Government & Transport.

The Committees have approximately 7-9 members reflecting the balance of political parties and independent MSPs.

Committees' Role

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 Higher Education.

Evidence Giving

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:

  1. What is the message that we want to get across?
  2. 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 meals system.

  3. How do we go about doing this?
  4. 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.

  5. 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 for information.
  • 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

Further Information:

Scottish Parliament Committees:

UNISON-Scotland website:

Information Session

The P&I Team propose to hold an information session on the Scottish Parliament , its Committees and the Executive later in the year.

Details of this will be provided in due course.





Further Information

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 www.scottish.parliament.uk/

Scottish Parliament Committees:

Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572