Response to the Liaison Sub-Committee inquiry on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government, September 2023


  1.          This submission is made by the Conveners Group of the Scottish Parliament.
  2.          The Conveners Group membership comprises of the MSPs that convene each of the Scottish Parliament’s 15 Committees[1]. It is chaired by Liam McArthur MSP, one of the Parliament’s Deputy Presiding Officers. 
  3.          The Group has a strategic role in championing the work of committees and promoting effective scrutiny. It has agreed the following strategic priorities this session (2021 to 2026) to support an enhanced scrutiny role for the Parliament:
    1. Cross-committee working
    2. Participation, Diversity & Inclusion
    3. Post-legislative scrutiny
    4. Supporting Members as Parliamentarians
  4.          The overall intention here is to strengthen arrangements by having a shared agenda on these key areas (with much greater emphasis on collaborative working) while still absolutely preserving the autonomy of individual committees. 
  5.          As an issue which impacts on all remits, the Group has agreed to prioritise net zero scrutiny under its strategic priority on cross-committee working. Its focus is on finding ways to effectively support committees in ensuring climate change and net zero issues are considered in the context of their committee remit. In this regard, it works in partnership with the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.
  6.          The comments below relate primarily to the Liaison Sub-Committee’s interest in hearing how other parliaments are engaging with the strategic thinking of their respective governments. It focuses on learning from the Scottish Parliament on developing a model for parliamentary scrutiny of climate change.[2]
  7.          Based on work across the Scottish Parliament, there are a number of ways that we consider cross-cutting scrutiny of strategic thinking in government in the area of climate change and net zero scrutiny can be strengthened, which the Liaison Sub-Committee may wish to consider. These include:


  1.          As the scientific evidence on the impacts of climate change has become ever clearer, the Scottish Parliament has sought to strengthen capacity and capability within staff and processes to better support Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), their staff and staff of the parliament to respond effectively.
  2.          With impetus from the Conveners Group, the Scottish Parliament is embedding a climate change ‘lens’ into committee scrutiny approaches, and developing mechanisms to support MSPs, their staff and staff of the parliament to improve effectiveness and impact of climate change scrutiny.
  3.      The objective of this work is to strengthen the work of the Scottish Parliament to hold the Scottish government to account effectively on designing, implementing and monitoring integrated policies, to ensure that emissions targets are meaningful and met, that appropriate adaptation measures are built into policy and law, and that Scottish government policies to address climate change deliver a just transition”.[3]
  4.      The Scottish Parliament is keen to share learnings from this work, to inform approaches taken to scrutiny of climate change and other cross-cutting issues in other legislatures, and to learn from other parliaments and assemblies.

Background: political recognition of the urgency of the climate crisis

  1.      Considering how to improve scrutiny on climate change has been a challenge over the last two decades for many parliaments. In the Scottish Parliament this thinking was crystallised in the Session 5 (2016-2021) Legacy report of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which set out a detailed set of recommendations to improve climate change scrutiny across the Parliament. This included that any climate change or net zero committee should take a leading role in coordinating scrutiny across committees on climate mitigation and adaptation.[4]
  2.      Alongside, the Session 5 Legacy Report of the Conveners Group highlighted the challenges of “scrutiny of complex and systemic issues” and highlighted the use of a “sustainable development lens” to enhance such scrutiny.[5]
  3.      This cultural change in approach followed substantial work over Session 5 to improve the Parliament’s response to climate change, both reducing its own carbon footprint[6] and using sustainable development to inform an integrated approach to scrutiny of complex and systemic issues.3
  4.      The Scottish Parliament engaged heavily at COP26 on the role of parliaments in the climate emergency. This included hosting a Global Legislators Summit and working with partners in the UN ‘Blue Zone’ to share learning between parliamentarians, advisers, climate justice advocates and academics - increasing awareness of the unique and important role of legislators.[7]

Consideration of climate change in the Scottish Budget: the Joint Budget Review as it relates to climate change

  1.      During Stage 2 of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government committed to working with the Scottish Parliament and stakeholders to review processes and outputs around budget information as it relates to climate change. The Joint Review of the Budget (JBR), which ran from September 2020 to November 2022, sought to propose feasible and proportionate steps to deliver meaningful improvements to processes and transparency with respect to the consideration of climate change in the Scottish Budget.[8]
  2.      Informed by research undertaken by the Fraser of Allander Institute[9], the JBR proposed three strands of work:


  1.      Although the JBR has concluded, work to implement these is continuing. The Net Zero, Energy and Transport (NZET) Committee and the Finance and Public Administration Committee considered the outcomes and the NZET Committee has agreed to continue considering progress on this as part of its pre-budget scrutiny.

Leadership, collaboration and coordination: Conveners Group Session 6 strategic priority on climate change and net zero

  1.      How to approach scrutiny of cross-cutting issues such as climate change and net zero from the perspective of parliamentary committees was the subject of Conveners Group discussion in April 2022.[11]
  2.      In June 2022 the Conveners Group agreed that climate change scrutiny (and in particular the Scottish Government’s progress in meeting the 2030 and 2045 statutory net zero targets) is a strategic priority in Session 6. It recognised that climate change engages the remits of all parliamentary committees and that delivering the strategic priority would require a collaborative effort, and agreed that the NZET Committee has lead responsibility, but that it also supports other committees in effectively embedding climate scrutiny in their own work.
  3.      The NZET Committee therefore has a role in measuring overall how well the Scottish Government and its agencies are collectively responding to climate change, including the statutory targets. This over-arching role rests alongside the Committee’s more conventional portfolio responsibilities to measure progress in achieving net zero targets in relation to transport, energy and the environment.
  4.      The NZET convener uses the Conveners Group to update other conveners and suggest and encourage ways of joint working. For example, including in the near term on coordinating cross-committee scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s upcoming draft Climate Change Plan, which sets out the Scottish Government's pathway to the targets set by the Climate Change Act 2019. This has been supported by communication between conveners and officials to coordinate planning on how different committees may wish to scrutinise the sectoral impacts on policies within their policy remit.
  5.      To support delivery of the strategic priority on climate change and net zero, Conveners Group agreed seven specific actions, briefly outlined below.[12]
  6.      Annual updates from the UK Climate Change Committee. To be held after the publication of the annual Scotland climate change progress report, to enable Conveners to take the issues raised at these sessions to their own committees to inform their scrutiny work and to support the work of Conveners Group in relation to its twice-yearly sessions with the First Minister.
  7.      Commission research to illustrate how climate change impacts on policy areas across subject committees. To help embed net zero scrutiny within the remits of all committees. To be published and supplemented by an oral briefing for committees, to include tips on embedding the issues in ongoing work and any useful bespoke pieces of work.
  8.      Liaise with the Scottish Government to receive emissions data by committee portfolio. To help committees understand impact and trends in their remit, or to identify data gaps.
  9.      Consider ways to strengthen parliamentary processes and procedure. To look both at Committees’ own practices and the quality of information that the Scottish Government would need to provide to strengthen net zero scrutiny. For example, the NZET Committee is working with the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to examine whether the Standing Orders remain fit-for-purpose in terms of the pre-legislative sustainable development requirements, including using the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill 2023 as a live case study.
  10.      Recruit a climate change/net zero adviser. To work to the NZET Committee but act as a shared resource across all Committees, to support Committees on matters such as the latest science, technical issues and the challenges of policy coherence.
  11.      Continue the roll out of the Sustainable Development Impact Assessment (SDIA) tool. Developed through a Scottish Parliament and University of Stirling partnership, the tool enables committees to approach their inquiry work through the lens of sustainable development.[13]
  12.      Capacity building for MSPs, their staff and staff of the parliament on sustainable development and net zero. To support Members, their staff and parliamentary staff, building on current options and exploring other bespoke training. 
  13.      Work to deliver these seven activities is underway and a detailed update on progress is available in the minutes from the Conveners Group meeting in June 2023.[14]

Embedding a climate lens across the work of committees

  1.      As part of the Conveners Group strategic priority work, all committees have been encouraged to consider the relevance of climate change and net zero to their remits and to consider non-climate and environmental issues through a climate ‘lens’.
  2.      All committees were asked in June 2023 to provide an overview of climate change and net zero scrutiny they have undertaken since the start of Session 6. All sixteen committees responded. Thirteen of these reported that they had undertaken relevant work, and three said that they had not been able to yet.11
  3.      The thirteen committees who had undertaken relevant scrutiny reported a broad range of activity, including work with a substantive focus on climate change and net zero, scrutiny of other issues through the lens of climate change, work to weave it into scrutiny of other issues and procedural work. Many committees noted that they intended to continue this work or to increase focus on it. This scrutiny work is more obvious within some committee remits than in others and so the range of responses demonstrates the progress that is being made here.

Enhancing institutional capacity and support to Members

  1.      Alongside delivering the Conveners Group specific activities, the Scottish Parliament has been undertaking additional activities to build a model for parliamentary scrutiny of climate change.
  2.      To enhance institutional support to MSPs to scrutinise climate change, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has dedicated resource, including more front-line research expertise, a focused project management approach and a secondment from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) to support delivery and embed monitoring and evaluation. All committees also have access to an external climate change / net zero adviser.
  3.      Officials work in close collaboration with those supporting parallel Conveners Group Session 6 strategic priorities, for example, to develop and deliver a continuing programme of opportunities for Members to develop their role as parliamentarians and to develop and agree a participation, diversity and inclusion action plan to support committee scrutiny. This work is further supported by the corporate Session 6 strategic objective to deliver a strategic Scrutiny Improvement Programme to bring about sustained improvements in the capacity and capability of the Scottish Parliamentary Service to provide integrated support for parliamentary business and impactful scrutiny.[15]
  4.      Officials are also engaging with learnings from other legislatures to inform considerations on how best to further develop the model. This includes research by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on post-legislative scrutiny of climate and environment legislation,[16] as well as a study of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.[17]
  5.      The NZET Committee is using its leadership role to consider approaches to bring more diverse research evidence and technical expertise into committee work. Several of these mechanisms were highlighted in the Liaison Committee’s 2019 report into the effectiveness and influence of committees[18] and the independent Stirbu report on the power, influence and impact of Senedd committees.[19]
  6.      The Scottish Parliament has also built collaborations and strategic partnerships to increase access to diverse external evidence and expertise to support scrutiny of climate change and to maximise impact.
  7.      This includes a new partnership with UKRI Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and a number of Scottish universities will deliver further resource to the parliament to support academic engagement in relation to scrutiny of climate change and build capacity for policy engagement across the four partner universities and research organisations across Scotland. It also includes collaboration with Professor Tamsin Edwards, Reader, UK Parliament Thematic Research Lead on Climate and Environment, funded through UKRI-ESRC, to strengthen networks and connections with the wider research community on climate change.


Conveners Group

Scottish Parliament



Tel: 0131 348 5256



[1] The Covid-19 Recovery Committee, established at the start of Session 6, was wound up on 14 July 2023. Scottish Parliament (2023)motion S6M-09720

[2] Scottish Parliament Information Centre (2023). Developing a model for parliamentary scrutiny of climate change.

[3] Scottish Government (2023), Climate Change Policy: Just Transition.

[4] Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (2021). Legacy report – Session 5. Scottish Parliament.

[5] Conveners Group (2021). Legacy report – Session 5. Scottish Parliament.

[6] Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (2023). Sustainable Development Annual Report 2021-2022.

[7] Scottish Parliament Information Centre (2021). The Scottish Parliament at COP26 – The role of Parliaments in tackling the Climate and Ecological emergencies.

[8] Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee (2022). Conclusion of the Joint Review of Budget as it relates to climate change. Letter from the Convener to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery and the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, 20 December 2022. Scottish Parliament.

[9] Black, J., Spowage, M. and Watts, R. (2022). Improving emissions assessment of Scottish Government spending decisions and budget. Fraser of Allander Institute, University of Strathclyde.

[10] Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee (2022). Joint Review of Budget

on matters related to Climate Change. Correspondence from Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery and Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, 18 November 2022.

[11] Conveners Group (2022). Meeting papers 27 April 2022. Scottish Parliament.

[12] Conveners Group (2022). Meeting papers 22 June 2022. Scottish Parliament.

[13] Scottish Parliament (2022). Sustainable Development Impact Assessment Tool.

[14] Conveners Group (2023). Meeting papers 21 June 2023. Scottish Parliament.

[15] Scottish Parliament (2021). Session 6 Strategic Plan.

[16] Westminster Foundation for Democracy (2021). Post-Legislative Scrutiny of climate and environment legislation. Guide for parliamentary practice.

[17] Geddes, M. (2023). Good evidence? How do select committees use evidence to support their work? University of Edinburgh.

[18] House of Commons Liaison Committee (2019). The effectiveness and influence of the select

committee system.

[19] Stirbu, D. (2021). Power, Influence and Impact of Senedd Committees. Developing a framework for measuring committees’ effectiveness. London Metropolitan University.