Points of Order

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:34 pm on 8th January 2003.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:34 pm, 8th January 2003

I am grateful to Tricia Marwick, Tommy Sheridan and Mike Russell for giving notice of their points of order, and I have an important ruling to make.

On the general point, the Executive's amendments at stage 2 and for today's stage 3 debate have been lodged in conformity with the relevant standing orders. None of the amendments that were selected at either stage falls foul of the rules on admissibility of amendments. There is no question of ruling them out on the grounds of admissibility. However, there is no doubt that the amount of new material that has been added to the bill by amendment at stage 2 and that is proposed to be added by further amendments this afternoon is considerable. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to question whether this is an appropriate way in which to make legislation.

The Presiding Officers have a role not just in ensuring that the letter of the rules is complied with, but in upholding the underlying spirit of those rules. In that context, we have some sympathy with the concerns that have been expressed and we gave serious thought to them at our regular meeting before we came to the chamber this afternoon.

The three-stage process for considering bills is intended to ensure that proposals to change the law do not reach the statute book without adequate consultation and scrutiny by members. There is a difference between amending a bill—even quite substantially—at stage 2 or stage 3 in response to issues and concerns that have been raised at earlier stages, and adding in by amendments, particularly at stage 3, entirely new issues that were not anticipated at earlier stages. I repeat that the Executive has done nothing that the rules prohibit, but ministers might wish to reflect on whether the approach followed in this instance has been consistent with the principle of the most sound parliamentary scrutiny.

Let me now deal with Mike Russell's request to move a motion without notice. The motion is to invite the minister to exercise his right under rule 9.8.6 of standing orders to move that certain sections of the bill be referred back to committee for further scrutiny. For the reasons that I have given, I consider this an exceptional case and I am therefore minded to accept Mr Russell's request and allow the chamber to vote on whether such an invitation should be made to the minister. However, I should explain that the minister is not, in any case, entitled to move today the motion to refer the bill back to committee because such a motion would require notice. What the minister could do today is move without notice, under rule 9.8.5, to adjourn the remaining stage 3 proceedings to a later day. The minister's opportunity to move such a motion without notice, which he has a right to do whether or not the chamber agrees to Mr Russell's motion, would arise after the stage 3 amendments before us today have been disposed of, but before the debate on the motion to pass the bill begins. If that were agreed to, a date would have to be set for the remaining stage 3 proceedings. It would then be open to the minister to lodge a motion under rule 9.8.6 for consideration on that later day, to refer the bill back to committee.

That is my clear—I hope—ruling and I invite Mr Russell to move his motion without notice.