This week, the Rural Development Committee created a precedent. For the first time, a committee's approval of a statutory instrument that comes before the Parliament was subject to an amendment that expressed a clear view that that statutory instrument has a serious defect.
It was the committee's majority view, by nine votes to two, that the draft Cairngorms National Park Designation, Transitional and Consequential Provisions (Scotland) Order 2003 wrongly excludes highland Perthshire. The committee expressed its view on the basis of all-party agreement. Every party agreed that highland Perthshire should be in the park. I should mention that the newly emerged minority group of two comprised Rhoda Grant and Alasdair Morrison, and we must always respect the interests of minorities in the Parliament.
There are five reasons why I believe that the clear consensus is that a serious mistake has been made, which I hope can be corrected. That consensus is built on the advice that was obtained from Scottish Natural Heritage, which recommended clearly that highland Perthshire should be in the park.
That advice cost £250,000 and was sought by the Executive. The Executive chose to seek that advice, rather than dealing with the matter itself. SNH engaged 30 people to come up with the proposals. What happened to that advice? I believe that it was disregarded. Never can there have been such a monumental waste of money if we asked SNH to undertake a task and the Scottish Executive ignored its recommendations.
The four other elements of the consensus were as follows. First, the respondents to the process, who gave evidence to the Parliament, believed that their evidence would be taken into account and carefully weighed up and considered, as I believe it was by the Rural Development Committee.
Secondly, non-governmental organisations, including the National Trust for Scotland,
The third strand involved Perth and Kinross Council. We achieved the somewhat remarkable—and, I believe, unique—feat of achieving unanimity among the rainbow forces on that council.
Fourthly, and most important, we had consensus on the Rural Development Committee, which was at first unanimous. In a letter dated 12 October, every single member agreed that highland Perthshire should be included in the national park. It was only later that the two members whose names I mentioned suddenly decided—as they were entitled to—to conduct a U-turn. That is not an illegal manoeuvre, but I would say to the particular lady concerned: "You turn if you want to—this lady is for turning." The issue at stake now is whether the Scottish Executive will listen to the Parliament or not. Will it have regard to the work of the Parliament's Rural Development Committee, or will it snub that committee?
That motion S1M-3706 be taken at this meeting of the Parliament.
It is perhaps unfortunate that we find ourselves in the position of having to debate a motion without notice on an issue that the Parliament unanimously agreed should be dealt with in committee, and which has already been fully considered in committee.
The background is that the Parliament took a unanimous decision on 20 November to refer the Scottish statutory instrument in question to the Rural Development Committee. The time to raise concerns about where to hold the debate on the instrument was when the motion to refer that SSI to the Rural Development Committee was moved. If the Rural Development Committee, or indeed any member, had any concerns about where the debate on the instrument should be held, the appropriate place and time to make that known was when that referral was proposed.
It does not make sense to duplicate in the chamber work already undertaken by a committee. By doing so, we risk negating the work of the committees and diminishing their standing. By agreeing time to debate the matter now—[Interruption.]
By agreeing to debate the matter now, we would simply be repeating work that the committee has already undertaken, and we would, in my view, be implying criticism of the committee system by sending out a message that the Rural Development Committee is not capable of thoroughly scrutinising subordinate legislation. The committee has already had a full, detailed debate on the issue.
The committee has considered the matter on at least four occasions, with the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development attending, giving evidence and answering the committee's questions at two of its meetings.
In addition to participating in the committee's debates, the Executive responded to a letter from the Rural Development Committee, setting out comments on the committee's views on the draft Cairngorms National Park Designation, Transitional and Consequential Provisions (Scotland) Order 2003. Furthermore, the Executive responded to the committee's request for detailed information about the nature of the responses to the Executive's consultation exercise on the draft designation order.
In total, the Rural Development Committee has spent around 10 hours debating the issue. As recently as Tuesday, it questioned the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development for 90 minutes before then debating the first of the two SSIs concerned for 90 minutes. It was open to the committee to take a further hour and a half to debate the draft Cairngorms National Park Elections (Scotland) Order 2003, but it chose not to do so.
It is correct that we should have a procedure that allows members to explain why they want to oppose an SSI after it has been considered in committee. However, it is completely unnecessary for us to have a further lengthy debate. That would undermine the Parliament's committee system. It is difficult to see what can be gained from having a further debate so soon after the debate in committee, especially when there appears to be a substantial majority in favour of the order.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the Rural Development Committee had the opportunity to
If we agree the motion without notice, we would simply rerun the arguments that have already been made during the committee's consideration of the issue. In my view, that would be a misuse of the Parliament's procedures and time. I invite members to oppose the motion.
Presiding Officer, will you confirm that when the SSI was first referred, no evidence had yet been heard by the Rural Development Committee or any part of the Parliament? Tuesday's meeting of the Parliamentary Bureau timetabled the approval of the SSI, but only yesterday did we hear of the committee's concern and of the vote that took place at Tuesday's meeting, the Official Report of which has not yet been published. When a committee has serious concerns about the evidence that it has heard, should that not be enough to enable it to ask the Parliament for extra time to debate that? Will you confirm that evidence had not been heard when the SSI was referred to the committee?
That is factually correct. However, it does not alter the argument that the chamber has heard on both sides.
The question is, that motion S1M-3706, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the suspension of standing orders for the consideration of motion S1M-3702, be taken at this meeting of the Parliament. Are we agreed?
Division number 1
For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brown, Robert, Campbell, Colin, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Neil, Alex, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Raffan, Mr Keith, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Scott, John, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew, Young, John
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
We will return to the statutory instrument after the next item of business.
The next item of business is consideration of motion S1M-3701, in the name of Jackie Baillie—[Interruption.] Members must allow me to proceed with today's business. We will return to the statutory instrument in a moment. In the meantime, we must deal with motion S1M-3701.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I apologise for taking a minute or two to think about the ruling that you have just made. Have you created a precedent? If a committee requests that the Parliament consider a motion, can that be ruled out of order because the issue was not dealt with at the correct time?
I do not understand the point of order. It is not for me to decide these matters. The Parliament has just decided that it does not want to take a motion without notice.