Committees

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:37 pm on 8th June 1999.

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Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 2:37 pm, 8th June 1999

Motion S1M-37 has been lodged following extensive discussion by the Parliamentary Bureau about the size of the mandatory committees that are required to be established under the standing orders of this Parliament. In addition, the bureau has discussed the number and range of subject committees that it is proposed should be established to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Executive. It may assist members if I make it clear at this stage that, if the Parliament accepts the motion, the Parliamentary Bureau will bring forward a further motion specifying which members should serve on which committees.

As members may be aware, the standing orders prescribe that committees should have no fewer than five and no more than 15 members. The proposals before the chamber are that the European Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee should consist of 13 members, that the Finance Committee and the Audit Committee should consist of 11 members, and that the Procedures Committee, the Standards Committee, the Public Petitions Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee should consist of seven members each. All the subject committees will consist of 11 members each.

The proposals will ensure that the committees are of an adequate size to undertake the tasks falling to them and will enable a proper balance of representation across the parties in the Parliament to be achieved. For example, it is anticipated that, in a committee of seven members, the Scottish Labour party would have three members, the Scottish National party would have two members, and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have one member each. In committees of 11 members, the Scottish Labour party would have five members, the SNP would have three members, and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have either one or two members. Provision will be made in the motion on membership to allow each independent member to participate in one committee.

For all of us, whether our background is Westminster, local government or somewhere else entirely, the Scottish Parliament committee structure will be unprecedented. The consultative steering group, whose recommendations we shall discuss more generally tomorrow, suggested the all-purpose committee structure, which will combine the roles of select and standing committees.

Committee members can expect to become experts in their particular subject area as they scrutinise legislation and examine the Executive's action in that area. Because of that, it is fair to say that the work of the committees is likely to be both challenging and rewarding.

Members will note that the motion proposes that the remit of the subject committees should reflect the distribution of responsibilities among ministers of the Scottish Executive. That is to ensure that those ministers, their staff and the bodies responsible to them are readily accountable to the Parliament. The division of responsibility will facilitate the Parliament's work in scrutinising the activities of the Executive and in considering the policy proposals brought forward by individual ministers. It is worth stressing the important role that committees will play in our work.

Under the terms of our standing orders, committees are responsible for scrutinising the work of the Executive, but also for considering any proposals for legislation on matters within their competence. That includes primary legislation in the form of bills brought forward by the Executive and subordinate legislation in the form of orders requiring the Parliament's approval. Individual committees will also be able to consider any European Community legislation referred to them by the European Committee. Committees may consider the need for reform of the law which relates to, or affects, any matter within their competence, and they may initiate bills on any competent matter.

Certain mandatory committees have particular roles to play. I have referred to the role of the European Committee in considering proposals for European Communities legislation and in referring such matters to the Parliamentary Bureau for consideration by other committees as appropriate. The Finance Committee will have particular responsibility for scrutinising the public expenditure proposals put forward by the Scottish Executive. The Audit Committee will have the important task of considering any accounts laid before the Parliament and any report concerning public expenditure laid by the Auditor General for Scotland. Those are important tasks, which committees will need to develop and take forward.

Committees will play a key role in engaging civic society in the work of the Parliament-I will say more about that later. To assist them in that process, committees may want to appoint reporters. A reporter will be a member of a committee who is chosen to bring together a committee report on a particular subject; the reporter is likely to become the focus of external representations to that committee. Although being a reporter will involve an additional work load, I trust that the opportunity will be welcomed enthusiastically.

I hope that I have given members a flavour of what the committees will be about, whether they are subject committees or the mandatory committees that the standing orders oblige us to establish.

The consultative steering group report recognised that committees would become a focal point for the consideration of a wide range of policy issues. Members will be expected to develop expertise in the subjects before them. To do that, they will want to draw on the expertise of many organisations and individuals outside the Parliament. Committees will be able to appoint advisers to assist them in their work and may also want to examine various ways of drawing in evidence from interested bodies. That may be

TOP" width="34%"> Name of Committee Remit Maximum number of members
European Set out in rule 6.8 13
Equal Opportunities Set out in rule 6.9 13
Finance Set out in rule 6.6 11
Audit Set out in rule 6.7 11
Procedures Set out in rule 6.4 7
Standards Set out in rule 6.5 7
Public Petitions Set out in rule 6.10 7
Subordinate Legislation Set out in rule 6.11 7
Justice and Home Affairs to consider and report on matters relating to the administration of civil and criminal justice, the reform of the civil and criminal law and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Justice 11
Education, Culture and Sport to consider and report on matters relating to school and pre-school education, the arts, culture and sport and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Children and Education 11
Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector to consider and report on matters relating to housing and the voluntary sector and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Communities other than local government 11
Enterprise and Lifelong Learning to consider and report on matters relating to the Scottish economy, industry, tourism, training and further and higher education and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning 11
Health and Community Care to consider and report on matters relating to health policy and the National Health Service in Scotland and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Community Care 11
Transport and the Environment to consider and report on matters relating to transport, the environment and natural heritage and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and the Environment 11
Rural Affairs to consider and report on matters relating to rural development, agriculture and fisheries and such other matters as fall within the responsibility of the Minister for Rural Affairs 11
Local Government to consider and report on matters relating to local government 11

The Justice and Home Affairs; Education, Culture and Sport; Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector; Enterprise and Lifelong Learning; Health and Community Care; Transport and the Environment; Rural Affairs; and Local Government committees shall be established for the whole session of the Parliament. through formal evidence-gathering sessions, but other approaches may be possible and may prove more effective in obtaining views. Whatever options are preferred, it will be important that members take the time to build up their knowledge on the subjects for which they are responsible.

Making a success of the Parliament's committee system will be important for the success of the Parliament as a whole. The proposals before the Parliament today will create a robust framework to take our work forward.

I move,

That the Parliament shall establish the following committees:

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party 2:44 pm, 8th June 1999

I will risk Mr McAllion's disdain by contributing to this afternoon's debate. I draw the Business Manager's attention to motion S1M-7, in which a call was made for committees of the Parliament to meet around Scotland on a roving basis and, where appropriate, to meet permanently at locations outwith the Edinburgh campus. That motion has been signed by members of all six parties represented in this chamber and by the one independent member, so there is clearly a broad consensus in its favour.

It would be to the Parliament's credit, in bringing a new democracy to Scotland to start the new century, if we were to assert the fact that the Parliament is not just Edinburgh's, but Scotland's. Indeed, our work should go around the country, both on a roving basis and, where possible, on a permanent basis. I hope that the Business Manager and his deputy will, in their summation, indicate the Government's support for that principle, so that the Parliamentary Bureau can take it forward as part of the structure of committees.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 2:45 pm, 8th June 1999

We warmly welcome Mr Tom McCabe's motion. However, perhaps it was a slip of the tongue when he referred to the Scottish National party and the Scottish Labour party, but merely to the Conservative party. We are the Scottish Conservative party; we have a devolved, autonomous structure and our decisions are made in Scotland.

For the Parliament to work effectively, we must establish powerful committees to give it teeth. The mandatory committees and the subject committees will have key roles to play and will be able to recommend changes whenever necessary. The Audit Committee, for example, will be able to play much the same role as the powerful Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons. The Procedures Committee could no doubt consider whether Scotland's First Minister should be subjected to a First Minister's question time, which at present the standing orders are sparing him. The Parliament will be entitled to change standing orders if it so chooses.

I should mention one other matter, which is covered by Andrew Wilson's motion. I believe that, if the committee system is to work well, it should reflect the interests of the whole of Scotland and be prepared to move around Scotland. In our manifesto, we proposed that we should build on the precedent of the Scottish Grand Committee and move committees around Scotland to seek advice from relevant bodies. The committees would then be able to hold public meetings, at which local people could contribute ideas and question their elected representatives. That would bring government much closer to the people, and make it easier for individuals to make their representations. We support the motion.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 2:47 pm, 8th June 1999

I have a few points to which I hope Mr McCabe can reply or give some thought. My first point concerns the role of civil servants in supporting and facilitating the committees and making them effective. Traditionally, at Westminster, civil servants worked for ministers and against MPs, or so it always appeared to me. They regarded difficult people such as me as the enemy.

We will have to create a new climate of opinion, which may mean that people such as me will have to change as well as the civil servants. I accept that, but in the committees we should all be one team. It is important that civil servants should positively support the committees, because the committees will explore those areas in which the Government does not yet have a policy and will critically examine those areas in which it does. Either way, the skill and knowledge of the civil servants should be fully at the service of the committees. I hope that work will be done on that, and that a concordat-or whatever the current phrase is-is drawn up, so that, working together, we can achieve a slightly better result than our football team does.

Secondly, I hope that, in addition to the committees, we can fairly rapidly set up either sub-committees or working groups on areas within the remit of a committee or on areas that cover several committees. For example, there may be other members who, like me, have a particular interest in youth work, which does not figure in any of the remits. Youth work relates to a number of areas, including education, health, law and order, social work and local government.

Such sub-committees or working groups could deal with areas in which members-who might not be serving on the relevant committee-had a particular interest and to which they could make a real contribution. Such areas could include the voluntary sector, housing, sport and the arts. One group could look at urban transport and another could look at rural transport. We could make a great deal of progress if fairly small groups of interested people worked on an area. They could sufficiently work up a subject to enable it to be considered by the official committee system. I am sure that the official committees will have a long queue of issues to which they will want to attend. Breaking things down in that way will enable us to make more progress more quickly.

I hope that committees can be flexible, so that committee A can have a totally different system of working from that of committee B. Mr McCabe indicated that that might be the case and I would welcome it. I also hope that the committees will not be strangled by bureaucracy.

Some thought must be given to timetabling, so that we can all play a full part according to our different interests. There is a difficulty about when groups who come to lobby this Parliament-as opposed to Westminster, where the working day is much longer-can gain access and have their say. That point has been raised with me and with other members who have been to one or two meetings. There should also be an opportunity for all-party groups to meet.

As a glutton for punishment, I would have liked larger committees, but obviously that view did not carry the day. The proposed committee structure is a great start; it represents a great opportunity and I hope that Mr McCabe can reassure me on the points that I have raised.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 2:51 pm, 8th June 1999

On behalf of the SNP, I welcome the motion. Mr Gorrie is right to say that the committees will be the building blocks of the Parliament's success. The committees have their own dynamic and, as Mr McCabe outlined, if they work productively and strongly they will inform not just the future of the Parliament but the future of everything that the Parliament does.

I also welcome the role of the Parliamentary Bureau in drawing up the committee proposals. The bureau's work will be undertaken, as much as possible, by consensus; this motion shows that it is possible to produce detailed proposals about how the Parliament should work. That has been achieved through the work of the business managers, who have produced a set of proposals that meets all the requirements of all the parties. In the subject committees, the proposals provide for detailed scrutiny and innovation across the whole range of work that is to be done. They also provide for the mandatory committees, which will have an important role in supervising what takes place in the Parliament, in making recommendations and in dealing with what one might call the second level of legislation with which the Parliament might be concerned.

I echo James Douglas-Hamilton in saying that it is important that the Procedures Committee makes an early start on the process of examining the standing orders. Clerks and members have raised a whole range of issues on which the standing orders, ambitious and optimistic as they are, do not relate to the manner in which day-to-day work is already proceeding. Although the Procedures Committee is obliged to review the standing orders by next May, I hope that it will move forward quickly, look in detail at the complaints and recommendations that members may have and return with a set of revised standing orders sometime in the autumn.

Andrew Wilson's motion, of which I was a signatory, has widespread support among all parties and all members. It is important that the Parliament and its committees are seen all over Scotland, outside Edinburgh. I hope that we will be ambitious about where we wish our committees to meet. There are some very lovely parts of the south of Scotland where committees would be immensely welcome. I do not mean just Dumfries and Ayr-I see Mr Gallie nodding-and not just Stranraer, but the lovely town of Kirkcudbright, and elsewhere. In Lanark and in the lovely town of Irvine, we will have the opportunity- [Laughter.] Now, members should not laugh; I notice that Ms Oldfather, the member for Cunninghame South, is laughing. In lovely towns such as Irvine and Kilwinning, and in towns throughout the south of Scotland, we could have meetings of committees and I hope, in time, meetings of the Parliament.

I welcome the motion, which has the support of the SNP. I know that all the business managers have worked hard to bring forward the motion and to establish the principle that there will be an opportunity for members of the smaller parties and the independents, as well as members of the major parties, to sit on the committees.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 2:54 pm, 8th June 1999

I, too, welcome the motion submitted by Tom McCabe to establish the Parliament's committees. I regard the committees as an integral part of the way in which the Parliament will conduct its business. They will have a crucial role to play in scrutinising legislation, in involving all of civic Scotland and in giving individual members the opportunity to influence and initiate legislation.

I hope that, in establishing the committees, Parliament can start to consider the issues that concern Scotland and move away from some of the insular issues that have been debated in the past week and will probably be debated later today. The people of Scotland expect us to start to debate the issues that really concern them: improving health; investing in education; caring for the elderly; and developing the economy. In addressing the key issues, the committees will be vital because of the links that they can build up across many of the subject areas. In particular, I welcome the link between health and community care, as it recognises the overlap that exists in those services. The proposals also give us the opportunity to push forward our agenda.

The remits of the other subject committees are also sensible. However, we should strive through the Parliament to achieve, where necessary, an integrated approach. For example, the committee that considers social inclusion should examine a range of policy initiatives other than those within its specific remit. All members of committees should ensure that they are aware of the relevant work of other parts of the Parliament, of the UK Government and of the European Union.

As Andrew Wilson pointed out, committees have a vital role in ensuring that the Parliament is regarded as a Parliament for all of Scotland. Committees have an essential role in encouraging the participation throughout our democracy that many of us wish to develop, and they will lead to better decision making. The Executive will have a responsibility to carry out full consultation on bills that it introduces; where committees feel that the consultation process has not been full enough, they have a key role in influencing legislation by conducting further investigations and inviting interested parties to give evidence. I spoke to many groups in my constituency of Livingston before and after the election and I know that they look forward to being involved in the work of committees and to the opportunity to influence policy.

I firmly believe that the committee system that we will adopt will give members a full role in influencing and initiating legislation. It will allow an appropriate balance of power to develop between the Executive and the Parliament.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 2:58 pm, 8th June 1999

I welcome this motion, and I very much agree with what Mr Russell said. Committees are at the heart of this Parliament's work. They will not be the same as committees at Westminster, where they are a kind of addendum that was added 20 years ago. We are developing the Westminster committee structure. In effect, our committees are a hybrid between the select committees and standing committees at Westminster. They are both investigative and legislative. Indeed, committees in the Scottish Parliament go beyond that because they also have the ability to initiate legislation.

That is one of my concerns over the numbers. Eleven is a fair number for an investigative or select committee; I am not sure that it is the right number for a standing committee, although I accept the constraints that are imposed by the total membership of the Parliament. I understand from the consultative steering group report that other members, with the permission of the convener, will be able to speak at a committee, perhaps at the legislative stage, even if they are not able to vote. It is important that members who are not on particular committees, but who perhaps have a constituency or specialised interest, can speak at those committees. That would get round the numbers problem.

I agree with Mr McCabe about the alignment of the committees with the ministries. They are aligned in every case except that of Ms Alexander's ministry, which has two committees. I do not want to undermine the importance of social inclusion, but it might have been better if social inclusion had been one of the ad hoc, so-called cross-cutting or cross-departmental committees. I certainly agree with Mr Gorrie that we must have that flexibility. One of my interests at Westminster was the issue of drug misuse. With the serious problem of drug misuse in Scotland, we badly need a cross-departmental-and cross-party-committee in this Parliament to consider that issue. It would cover health and community care, justice and home affairs, as well as education, the subject areas of a range of committees.

Committees must have flexibility in undertaking one-day inquiries. For example, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee might want to take evidence in a part of Scotland where there were serious factory closures. At Westminster, I was responsible for the select committee of which I was a member going outside Westminster for the first time. That was to hold a hearing in my constituency on an important factory closure that had an impact on the entire community. The chairman of the company had to give oral evidence in front of the work force. That was a salutary lesson for him, and it led to a very important and helpful package being given by Courtaulds to my constituency.

I agree with what has been said today about the committees moving around the country. The importance of that was emphasised in the white paper and the consultative steering group report. It is important that the committees move around Scotland, both to visit and to take oral evidence. I am not sure that I would join Mr Wilson in asking for any of the committees to be permanently based away from the Parliament as I do not know how practical that would be. I am not averse to the idea and I am open to persuasion, but it is important that the committees are well publicised when they go around Scotland so that the public-in particular, schoolchildren-can attend. We must be as open and accessible as possible.

I do not think that the issue of staffing and resources has been covered so far. If the committees are to be effective, they must be well resourced in terms of both staffing and funding. At times, it may not be in the Executive's interest for them to be as well resourced as I would like, but they are there to hold the Executive to account. If we are to be an effective democratic institution, the committees must have the human and financial resources that they require.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 3:01 pm, 8th June 1999

I was inspired to speak by James Douglas-Hamilton's intervention. There was also a slip of the tongue by Tom McCabe in relation to independent members. As he knows, no member was elected as an independent: Dennis was elected as the member for Falkirk West, I was elected as a Scottish Socialist party member and Robin was elected as a Scottish Green party member. I mention that so that we start off on the right foot and give each other the right titles, at least at the start of these debates. We might change titles during the course of the debates, but I am sure that that will be friendly.

Mike Russell referred to the Parliamentary Bureau. We have been very grateful for the arrangement that provides informal briefings for the smaller parties. Would Mr McCabe agree that that should become a formalised arrangement, in case we ever fall out with anybody and they become less friendly? It is important that the smaller parties can be briefed on the Parliamentary Bureau's business.

I hope that we can communicate the briefs of the committees to civic Scotland. In Stirling this morning, I had the pleasure of attending the Scottish Pensioners Forum conference, one group of many that want their views to be heard by this Parliament at an early stage. However, the remits of some of the committees would not make apparent whom such organisations should approach. It will be important that the remit of those committees is clear, as soon as they are established, so that interest groups, which have a wide range of issues to raise, are able to contact the right people in order to get us to fulfil the promises that we have made.

Like other members, I feel that the ability of committees to travel throughout Scotland is very important. I hope that all of us recognise that we do not want an Edinburgh-centric Parliament; coming from Glasgow, I should say that we do not want a continuation of the Edinburgh-centric Parliament that we have had until now. We want to ensure that all parts of Scotland feel that this is their Parliament and that they have a part to play in making it work. I hope that we will not just pay lip service to this idea but that we will properly resource visits to different parts of Scotland, and that the areas that we visit are aware that we are doing so and are able to make proper representations to us.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 3:04 pm, 8th June 1999

I welcome the motion. It is vital that our committees are open and inclusive and give people a chance to participate. We should keep the word participation in mind; we talk a lot about consultation, but if the committees are to work and this is to be a people's Parliament, we need to promote the idea of participation.

It is important that we look at the way in which the committees gather information, so that there is an opportunity for the voluntary sector, at both local and national levels, and the civic community in Scotland to influence the decision-making process. We must also consider issues such as social inclusion. There is no point talking about social inclusion in isolation; we need the opportunity to visit areas and to allow for other ways of gathering information, such as people's juries, to ensure that local people have a voice. They must be able to speak in their own voice and their own tongue to put forward information.

A civic forum would a positive way of influencing the work of the committees. It could feed into the committees and support the development of participation and consultation to ensure that people feel that the Parliament reflects their needs and aspirations.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

If any further members want to contribute to the debate, I would be grateful if they would indicate that now.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 3:06 pm, 8th June 1999

I too welcome and support the motion. I also welcome the views of some members about the committees travelling around Scotland. On a purely personal note, I would like to put in a bid for Argyll and Bute. I am sure that Mr Russell, who is resident there, might even support me on that point.

I want to turn to the important issue of the Highlands and Islands Convention. Where will it stand in relation to the new Scottish Parliament? It provides a focus for debate on issues relating to the Highlands and Islands and we should consider making it a formal committee that reports to the Parliament. We need to have a debate on where the Highlands and Islands Convention fits in and its relationship to this political institution. It is absolutely essential for issues that are important to the Highlands and Islands that the convention continues its work.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 3:07 pm, 8th June 1999

The parliamentary record is a remarkable thing and tomorrow's Official Report will include Tommy Sheridan saying that he was inspired by James Douglas-Hamilton. That will be on record for all time.

I want to make a brief speech on the question of inclusiveness. We have heard from a number of members about the importance of the Parliament including all Scotland and, in terms of the committees travelling around, basing their activities throughout Scotland and providing the maximum opportunity for participation, and I support that. We have also heard about the importance of civic Scotland, whether it is the pensioners' groups or other groups, having a focus by making representations to the committees and having a clearly identifiable method of doing that.

However, one of the failings of the Parliament is that, as yet, not one member of the ethnic minority communities in Scotland was elected, and I would like the Equal Opportunities Committee to consider that at an early opportunity. A number of members of ethnic minorities stood for various parties, but none was elected. At an early sitting, the Equal Opportunities Committee should consider the possibility of co-option. I had a brief look at our standing orders and people would have to be co-opted as non-voting members, and I can understand that in terms of election and parliamentary procedure. In order to re-balance the Parliament and to ensure that it represents all Scotland, the Equal Opportunities Committee should consider the co-option of members of Scotland's ethnic minorities. I am sure that there are many capable people who would be willing to serve if we could develop such a procedure. At this stage, I would like some indication that co-option could be looked upon favourably and that the Equal Opportunities Committee will examine its feasibility.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 3:09 pm, 8th June 1999

Last week, along with Nicol Stephen, Malcolm Chisholm and Donald Gorrie, I was privileged to attend the last meeting of Canon Kenyon Wright's civic forum, People and Parliament. Although that was the last official meeting of People and Parliament, it raised issues about how our committees relate to the public and how we relate to the civic forum, and those issues must be considered at the earliest convenience of the chamber.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 3:10 pm, 8th June 1999

Can the Business Manager say whether there is any intention to follow the Scottish Office's current procedure of having advisory committees on specific subjects? It would be helpful if we could know whether that is to be considered by the Parliamentary Bureau. There are many committees that have worked successfully for Scotland-I have served on some health committees, and there are many others. There is great scope for examining specific subjects such as agriculture, which Mr Lyon would no doubt be interested in, and so on, and an early response to this question would be helpful.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call on Iain Smith to sum up the debate on the establishment of parliamentary committees.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:11 pm, 8th June 1999

I welcome the constructive debate on the issue of committees; it is a welcome change from some of the debates that we have had in this chamber. I hope that that will be reflected in the discussions that we will have in the committees, where we will be able to examine matters in more detail away from the political hothouse that this chamber has become.

As Keith Raffan said, the committees will be at the heart of this new Parliament and, as envisaged by the consultative steering group-of which you were a member, Mr Deputy Presiding Officer-they will be central to the new parliamentary procedures. It was also said that the committees will have a hybrid role. They will hold pre-legislative investigations and examine major issues. They will examine in detail the legislation that will be introduced, and they will have a very important role in holding the Executive to account. It is probably in that role that members believe that they will have most to do.

Committees will allow for detailed consideration of matters that tend to get into the political soundbite arena, such as the health issues of waiting lists and waiting times, which usually result in a bit of banter between parties as to what the figures mean, or imply. Perhaps the Health and Community Care Committee will be able to examine those figures in more detail in order to decide what they mean for health care. I look forward to that committee investigating the increased waiting times that affect my constituents in North-East Fife, and I hope that the committee will take on such issues.

A number of points have been raised during the debate, and I will address the issue of the location of committees first. We are all minded to support the principles behind Andrew Wilson's motion that committees should move around the country. They should not be static in Edinburgh, expecting everyone to come to Edinburgh to see them; they should visit the communities in Scotland in order to investigate the issues.

I do not think that, at this stage, we should tie ourselves down to specifying how that should work. The committees themselves need to consider their programmes, the issues that they intend to address and how best they can obtain the views of the people who are affected by those issues. It should then be for the committees to make proposals about holding meetings around the country. While no one is against that principle, we need to explore certain practical issues, such as the situation where there are two committees meeting on the same day in different parts of the country and one person is a member of both. It could be a bit of a problem for a member to address both meetings, if one is in Dumfries and the other is in Inverness. We must consider those practicalities, but the principle is certainly accepted.

Donald Gorrie raised a number of important issues, including the role of civil servants who support committees. We must recognise that, under existing terms, civil servants are not directly answerable to this Parliament, as they remain responsible to the ministers and to the Executive. However, we all agree that there needs to be a proper understanding of the relationships between the committees, Parliament, civil servants and ministers. I hope that civil servants will provide as much support as is needed to allow the committees to carry out their work, particularly their investigative work.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I do not have time to give way.

Civil servants will be able to provide factual information to the committees and to assist the work of the committees. We have to work together in order to ensure that ministers are not in any way seen to be blocking committees, as it is important that the committees work effectively.

Donald also mentioned sub-committees and other committees that might consider cross-cutting issues, such as youth or drugs, which Keith Raffan referred to. The standing orders provide for sub-committees to be established by the committees either acting alone or jointly. They also provide for joint working between committees in order for cross-cutting issues to be considered.

It is important that certain issues are looked at across committees rather than within only one, although that will be a matter for the committees to consider. Some cross-cutting issues will be dealt with by a committee that has been determined a lead committee, although other committees may wish to present evidence and to be involved in the lead committee's deliberations, and those issues must also be addressed.

The standing orders also provide for members who are not members of a particular committee to attend and to speak at committees, although they will not be able to vote. That should address members' concerns about not being able to raise particular constituency or personal interests at relevant committees of which they are not members.

Tommy Sheridan's question about briefings on the work of the Parliamentary Bureau is not a matter for business managers, but for the Presiding Officer, and I would not dare to step into the Presiding Officer's role on that matter.

Participation is an important aspect of the committees and some members rightly raised that point in the debate. The partnership agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party supports the principle of the establishment of a civic forum and we need to examine how to go about achieving that.

I am afraid that I do not have an answer for David Davidson about advisory committees, but I am sure that the relevant ministers will supply a written answer in due course.

This has been a useful debate. The committees will form an extremely important part of parliamentary procedure. I look forward to their establishment and to the conveners and deputy conveners being elected in the next few weeks, so that, when we come back after the summer recess, the committees will be fully up and running and will provide a chance for those of us in the Executive and all members to participate fully in the work of this Parliament.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The decision time on this question is scheduled for 5 pm, but, as the first debate has finished early, we will start the next item of business now. I may exercise my power to bring forward the time of decision, in which case I will give 15 minutes' notice, but members should be aware that decision time may come earlier than 5 pm.

The next item of business is the debate on motion S1M-40, in the name of Michael Russell, on members' allowances and amendments to the motion. To assist members in the debate, Mr Russell will also speak on motion S1M-41 on the provision of information technology and office equipment for the Parliament.

In a moment, I will ask Mr Russell to speak on and move motion S1M-40. I will then take amendments to the motion in the order in which they appear on the revised business list. I should say at this stage that Mr Andy Kerr has withdrawn his amendment and therefore we will be debating two amendments. I will then invite other members to speak on the motion and amendments to it.

Members may also wish to note that parliamentary staff, who are located at the rear of the chamber, will be available throughout the debate to provide advice on the detail of the motion on members' allowances and amendments to it.

At the moment, I do not propose to set any time limit for speeches in the debate. It will be interesting to have an indication on my screen soon as to how many members wish to speak. In the meantime, I call Michael Russell to speak to motions S1M-40 and S1M-41 and formally to move S1M-40.