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 Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 2:34 pm, 8th January 2003

Thank you, Presiding Officer. You rightly draw attention to the founding principles of the Parliament, which are, of course, contained in the report of the consultative steering group, whose work was chaired by Henry McLeish. Section 3.5 of that report lays out the legislative process for the Parliament. As you said, Presiding Officer, there are three stages to that process: the initial consideration of the general principles of a bill; the line-by-line consideration of the bill; and the final consideration of the bill, which can include line-by-line scrutiny, but which the CSG suggested should not include significant new material. Indeed, section 3.5, paragraph 15, of the report made a recommendation for stage 3:

"Further amendments should be allowed at this stage. Standing Orders should specify tight criteria for what sort of amendments might be moved."

The Procedures Committee might like to consider whether the time has come to act upon that recommendation.

Such recommendations arose not out of thin air, but from a general concern that the process of legislation as practised at Westminster was alienating the public and giving legislation a bad name. The opportunity for committees to consider at length and in detail all the issues surrounding a bill was an important principle for the Scottish Parliament. To bring to the chamber at stage 3 a major proposal that was not considered by the Local Government Committee and on which no opportunity was given to any interested parties, whether that be the Fire Brigades Union or anybody else, to put their point of view is fundamentally wrong and counter to the founding principles as they operate in the Parliament.

Today in The Herald newspaper there is a letter from Patricia Ferguson and Euan Robson, who know a great deal about the procedure of the Parliament. They say in their letter:

"Each bill before the Parliament is, and will be, carefully scrutinised as part of the standard process."

Unfortunately, within hours of that letter being written, a major legislative issue was proposed that could not, by definition, be carefully scrutinised as part of the legislative process.

Amendment 59 proposes a major legislative change. I take no position on it in terms of the debate, although I know that my party is opposed to it. That major legislative change will go through at a crucial time during sensitive negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union with only 15 minutes of debate, as John McAllion indicated, and less than 48 hours after it was published in the business bulletin. That is not the way in which it was intended that this Parliament would legislate.

Fortuitously, the standing orders of the Scottish Parliament contain a means by which this situation can be avoided, even at this late stage. Rule 9.8.6, which we referred to earlier, allows the minister in charge of the bill to take the issue away and to have it considered by a parliamentary committee, in this case, the Local Government Committee. That means that the proposal could be passed at a later stage—although, rightly, it will be opposed—but only after it has been subjected to the sort of scrutiny that was envisaged by the CSG. That process is fundamental to the legislative process in this Parliament and should be endorsed by every member of this chamber—as it has been by you, Presiding Officer—and by the guardians of the business of this chamber, including the Minister for Parliamentary Business and her deputy, whose letter to The Herald I mentioned earlier.

We have an opportunity to vote not on an issue of party politics but on an issue concerning the way in which political debate should take place in Scotland's democratic chamber. It should take place by careful consideration, democratic participation and consent. It was never intended that it would take place by diktat and fiat from an Executive that could steamroller through major legislative changes two days after publication with only 15 minutes of debate and no scrutiny whatever. That would be wrong and I urge the chamber to support the motion without notice and ensure that, while this debate can go ahead today, the minister has an opportunity to think again and give the legislative processes of the Parliament the chance to operate as they were intended to.

I move,

"That the parliament calls upon the Member in Charge of the Local Government in Scotland Bill to propose that any sections relating to section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 which may be agreed at Stage 3 be referred back to the Local Government Committee for further Stage 2 consideration as permitted under Rule 9.8.6."