Committees

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:37 pm on 17th June 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 4:37 pm, 17th June 1999

The final item of business for today is the motion from the Parliamentary Bureau on the establishment of parliamentary committees. I remind members that the motion has to be taken without debate, so I ask the mover of the motion and the movers of the amendments to take a couple of minutes each-

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

We cannot hear you at the back, Sir David.

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

I am very sorry about that. I repeat: this motion is taken without debate and therefore the movers of the motion-

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

I am willing to shout if necessary. I said that Parliament had already agreed that the motion would be passed without debate and therefore the mover and the movers of amendments must be extremely brief.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:48 pm, 17th June 1999

I am delighted to move this motion. Since the opening day, there has been much talk in the Parliament of a new politics. People have placed different interpretations on that, but there is a wide desire to achieve a new way of going about our business.

I move the motion with a sense of contentment; it reflects consensus and cross-party support. However, I also move it with a sense of outrage caused by the front-page article that appeared in The Herald today, which totally misrepresents and distorts the work of the four parties involved in the Parliamentary Bureau.

The Parliamentary Bureau asked the four party business managers if they could reach agreement on this potentially difficult issue and they undertook to discuss the matter. In the background of those discussions was the desire that Messrs Harper, Sheridan and Canavan could be accommodated on a committee within the Parliament. Clearly, in determining the size of the committees, we had to strike a balance between the need to manage MSPs' time for their chamber and constituency commitments and the time that they would spend in committee.

We agreed to use the d'Hondt formula for the allocation of committee places. That formula would not provide any places for Messrs Canavan, Harper or Sheridan, but the parties were determined to resist that. In a spirit of fairness, they were determined to find some formula that would allocate a place to each of those three members.

The d'Hondt formula would have allocated six places on an 11-member committee to the Labour party. To Labour's credit, it immediately recognised that, as it does not have a majority in this chamber, it would not be fair for it to have six places. We therefore agreed to reduce our representation on committees to five places. To their credit, other parties responded by reducing their representation. That ensured that places would be available for Messrs Canavan, Sheridan and Harper.

The allocation of places on committees has been difficult for all parties. Of Labour members, 22 indicated an interest in the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 21 in the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 15 in the European Committee, 16 in the Equal Opportunities Committee and 13 in the Transport and the Environment Committee. Similar figures apply to the other parties, so some members will clearly be disappointed that they did not get on the committee of their first choice.

The proposed allocation is based on a consensual approach and-more important-on the best principles of the consultative steering group report. The front-page article to which I referred earlier not only contained a headline that was offensive to my party, but badly misrepresented the commendable work that all the parties have done over the past few weeks to find an acceptable solution. Far more important in my view, that article misrepresents how politics and this Parliament can work if we all have the will.

The principle that Robin Harper, Tommy Sheridan and Dennis Canavan should each secure a committee place is sound; it is supported by all parties on the Parliamentary Bureau. If the places are not on the committees of their first choice, that applies equally-as I have demonstrated-to members of every other party in the Parliament.

I stress that the rules for committees in this Parliament are somewhat different from those in other places. MSPs can attend meetings of committees of which they are not members; they can speak at the discretion of the chair and can move amendments. They cannot vote, but they have considerable powers, even though they are not formally members of the committee. I stress on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau that, although a number of amendments have been lodged today, there is no intention to support or agree to any amendment that seeks to replace the names in the motion.

I appeal to Messrs Canavan and Sheridan to realise that, if they do not accept the need for compromise to achieve consensus, they will find that, through their own action, they do not have committee places. It is not the wish of the Parliamentary Bureau or of any party that is represented on the bureau for Messrs Canavan, Harper or Sheridan not to have committee places, but the amendments would have the practical effect of leaving those members without committee places.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Will the minister confirm that every party offered to give up a place and that the Scottish Conservatives offered to give up a place on the Equal Opportunities Committee?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I thought that I had confirmed that, but I am more than happy to do so again. I stress as strongly as I can that the level of co-operation from all the parties on the bureau was commendable.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Will the minister confirm an important additional point? Now that the principle has been established that individual members or members of parties that have only one member should have committee places, we hope that it will last not just for this session, but for all time.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am more than happy to confirm what Mr Russell has said. This is an important debate on an important motion. That is why I have stressed to Messrs Canavan and Sheridan that their amendments are very serious and go against the fine principles that the Parliamentary Bureau wants to establish. As I said, we sincerely want people to be represented on the committees and I therefore urgently request Messrs Canavan and Sheridan to reconsider their position.

I believe that the commendable work of the four parties on the Parliamentary Bureau is an indication of the good way in which this Parliament can operate. I sincerely hope that the authors of the article in The Herald today take note of my words and have the good grace to correct the misinformation that appeared.

I move,

That the Parliament approves the membership and party from which the convener should be appointed for its committees set out as follows:-

European

Bruce Crawford, Winnie Ewing, Hugh Henry, Sylvia Jackson, Cathy Jamieson, Margo MacDonald, Maureen Macmillan, David Mundell, Irene Oldfather, Tavish Scott, Ben Wallace and Allan Wilson be members of the European Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Equal Opportunities

Malcolm Chisholm, Johann Lamont, Marilyn Livingstone, Jamie McGrigor, Irene McGugan, Kate Maclean, Michael McMahon, Michael Matheson, John Munro, Nora Radcliffe, Shona Robison and Elaine Smith be members of the Equal Opportunities Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Finance

David Davidson, Rhoda Grant, Adam Ingram, George Lyon, Kenneth Macintosh, Keith Raffan, Richard Simpson, John Swinney, Elaine Thomson, Mike Watson and Andrew Wilson be members of the Finance Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Audit

Brian Adam, Scott Barrie, Cathie Craigie, Annabel Goldie, Margaret Jamieson, Nick Johnston, Lewis Macdonald, Paul Martin, Euan Robson, Andrew Welsh and Andrew Wilson be members of the Audit Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Scottish National Party; Procedures

Donald Gorrie, Janis Hughes, Gordon Jackson, Andy Kerr, Gil Paterson, Michael Russell and Murray Tosh be members of the Procedures Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Conservative Party; Standards

Patricia Ferguson, Karen Gillon, James Douglas-Hamilton, Adam Ingram, Des McNulty, Tricia Marwick and Mike Rumbles be members of the Standards Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Liberal Democrat Party; Public Petitions

Helen Eadie, Phil Gallie, Christine Grahame, John McAllion, Pauline McNeill, Margaret Smith and Sandra White be members of the Public Petitions Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Subordinate Legislation

Fergus Ewing, Trish Godman, Ian Jenkins, Kenny MacAskill, Bristow Muldoon, David Mundell and Ian Welsh be members of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Scottish National Party; Justice and Home Affairs

Scott Barrie, Roseanna Cunningham, Phil Gallie, Christine Grahame, Gordon Jackson, Lyndsay McIntosh, Kate Maclean, Maureen Macmillan, Pauline McNeill, Tricia Marwick and Euan Robson be members of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Scottish National Party; Education, Culture and Sport

Karen Gillon, Ian Jenkins, Kenneth Macintosh, Fiona McLeod, Brian Monteith, Mary Mulligan, Cathy Peattie, Michael Russell, Jamie Stone, Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Welsh be members of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector

Bill Aitken, Robert Brown, Cathie Craigie, Margaret Curran, Fiona Hyslop, John McAllion, Alex Neil, Lloyd Quinan, Keith Raffan, Mike Watson and Karen Whitefield be members of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Enterprise and Lifelong Learning

Fergus Ewing, Annabel Goldie, Nick Johnston, Marilyn Livingstone, George Lyon, Margo MacDonald, Duncan McNeil, Elaine Murray, John Swinney, Elaine Thomson and Allan Wilson be members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Scottish National Party; Health and Community Care

Malcolm Chisholm, Dorothy-Grace Elder, Duncan Hamilton, Hugh Henry, Margaret Jamieson, Irene Oldfather, Mary Scanlon, Richard Simpson, Margaret Smith, Kay Ullrich and Ben Wallace be members of the Health and Community Care Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Liberal Democrat Party; Transport and the Environment

Helen Eadie, Linda Fabiani, Janis Hughes, Cathy Jamieson, Andy Kerr, Kenny MacAskill, Des McNulty, Nora Radcliffe, Tavish Scott and Murray Tosh be members of the Transport and the Environment Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party; Rural Affairs

Alex Fergusson, Rhoda Grant, Alex Johnstone, Richard Lochhead, Lewis Macdonald, Irene McGugan, Alasdair Morgan, John Munro, Elaine Murray, Cathy Peattie and Mike Rumbles be members of the Rural Affairs Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Conservative Party; Local Government

Colin Campbell, Kenneth Gibson, Trish Godman, Donald Gorrie, Keith Harding, Sylvia Jackson, Johann Lamont, Michael McMahon, Bristow Muldoon, Gil Paterson and Jamie Stone be members of the Local Government Committee, the Convener to be appointed from the Labour Party.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 4:56 pm, 17th June 1999

We have heard of new politics, but I see that we now have new podium and a new member: it seems that d'Hondt is to blame. I didnae know that he was here, right enough.

Although Tom talks about consensual politics, he consistently mentioned what the four parties' business managers were doing. The problem is that he has not spoken to me, Robin Harper or Dennis Canavan. Consensus means involving other people.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I received a number of communications from Robin Harper: one indicated that he would like a place on the Equal Opportunities Committee; another told me that he would like to be considered for the European Committee; and a third informed me that he had an interest in the Transport and the Environment Committee.

The point is that, under the rules of this Parliament, the three members to whom I have referred do not have representation on the Parliamentary Bureau. I believe that I referred to the fact that the other four parties took that into account in their sincere desire to involve those three parties in the workings of the Parliament.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

There is an old adage that if you provide enough rope, people sometimes hang themselves. It seems that there has been no consensual discussion with two out of the three members who are not represented on the Parliamentary Bureau. The member who Mr McCabe has had discussions with had to ask to be on three or four committees before getting the one that he wanted, whereas the two members who did not ask for anything did not get the ones that they wanted. That seems to be very arcane.

The problem is that the two members requested places on the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and the Education, Culture and Sport Committee. The problem that Mr McCabe mentioned about the great number of members seeking places on the committees should surely be addressed by increasing the size of the committees, rather than by refusing membership to people who want to serve on a particular committee.

In respect of the idea that we are creating a consensual atmosphere in this Parliament, the difficulty is that we would not have had any places under the d'Hondt system. To that I would say that if the formula disnae work, do not use it. We are all grown-ups in this chamber-surely we can decide to speak to one another, even if we do not agree. I do not think that it is too much to ask that two members who have requested a place on only one committee each are given those places-it is not as if we have requested a place on many committees or sought any special service. Under my amendments, the members whom we are asking to be deleted from the membership lists of the committees would still be members of two other committees.

I move amendments S1M-53.1 and S1M-53.2.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

To clarify Tommy Sheridan's point, I inform the chamber that there are five members of the Labour party who sit on only one committee.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 4:59 pm, 17th June 1999

There were great hopes and expectations that the Scottish Parliament would herald a new era of inclusive democracy. It would be a great pity if members were excluded from membership of committees simply because they are members of minority parties. After all, we are all members of minority parties or, like me, a member of no party at all.

There is no mention of Robin Harper, Tommy Sheridan or me in any of the committees listed in Mr McCabe's motion. If he is offering us a place on a committee, this is the first official word that I have heard of it. The Parliamentary Bureau is behaving like some secretive politburo instead of being accountable to the Parliament as a whole and attempting to communicate with all members. I accept that we have no right to sit on the business bureau, but surely we have a right to regular communication from the people who are on the bureau.

That is why we wrote to you, Mr Presiding Officer. We understand that you chair the business bureau. The three of us wrote a joint letter to you, stating our preferences for the committees of which we would like to be members. What did we get in response? We have had no response at all from Mr McCabe; all we have had is the motion in which none of us is mentioned as a member of any committee.

I have nothing personal against Keith Raffan; I remember when he was a Tory MP in another place, although he has changed his colours a bit since then-or has he? If my two amendments were passed, Keith would still be a member of two committees, the Finance Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee, and Tommy Sheridan would have membership of only one, the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee.

In support of my amendments, I must remind members that Tommy represents Glasgow, which has a high incidence of social inclusion- [Laughter] rather, social exclusion as well as social inclusion-and housing problems. The role of the voluntary sector in the city of Glasgow is very important indeed. Therefore, it would be appropriate for Tommy Sheridan to be a member of that committee.

I move amendments S1M-53.3 and S1M-53.4.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:03 pm, 17th June 1999

I have been put in a rather embarrassing position. I must confess that I have not read the newspaper article that Mr McCabe alluded to in case it embarrassed me. However, I am delighted to move my amendment.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I was surprised to hear that there was no knowledge of individuals going on to committees, because discussions about that have been taking place for some time. I am sure that Mr Harper will acknowledge that I told him 10 days ago what the proposal was in terms of individual committees. It was suggested that the proposal should be discussed amongst the three members. That does not seem to have been done and I regret that.

It is rather arcane, perhaps, but if members count the number of places on each committee they will find that there is one vacancy on the European Committee, one vacancy on the Equal Opportunities Committee and one vacancy on the Transport and the Environment Committee. In the absence of other members rushing forward to fill those places, the obvious intention is that the three members should sit on the committees in which the other parties have vacated places.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I was very pleased when Mike came and told me that the Parliamentary Bureau was making those places available. However, there is an important point to be made about the way in which it had to be done: by people coming along and negotiating. It is important for the future of the Parliament and for the future of other people from small parties-after the next election I hope to have a few more of my colleagues with me-that we revisit the size of committees and the way in which their membership is chosen. That is a calm plea for us to reconsider those issues, when the dust has settled, particularly for the benefit of Tommy Sheridan and Dennis Canavan.

I move amendment S1M-53.5.