Standing Orders (Changes)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:27 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 4:27 pm, 5th March 2003

The next item of business is consideration of motion S1M-3971 on behalf of the Procedures Committee, which seeks specified changes to standing orders.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:32 pm, 5th March 2003

I begin by expressing my thanks to the Parliamentary Bureau for allocating to the Procedures Committee time that had previously been allocated to the Executive, in order to allow a small piece of additional committee business to be debated, which has given me the opportunity to explain the proposed changes to standing orders.

The Parliament has already approved the Procedures Committee's fourth report of 2002, on a range of standing order changes, with the exception of one recommendation, which covers the remit of the European Committee. The reason for seeking to extend the committee's remit is to ensure that a committee—the European Committee seemed to be the most sensible one to select—has responsibility for scrutinising the external relations policies of the Executive. Over the past four years, the Executive has developed its own areas of activity, so it is necessary that we extend committee scrutiny to cover that. Because the European Committee is a mandatory committee, its remit is spelled out in standing orders, so a change to its remit requires changes to standing orders, which the committee recommends to Parliament today.

Our first report of 2003 proposes a number of minor technical and non-controversial changes to legislative matters. It also covers some matters relating to the dissolution of Parliament and provides for outstanding motions, questions and amendments, which will fall at the end of this session of Parliament. It also provides that written questions will cease 14 days before the expected dissolution. Those are largely matters of common sense; the most significant point of the agreement is that which the Executive has given, which is that written questions may be lodged immediately after the election, as soon as new members of the Parliament have taken the oath or have affirmed. I also commend those standing order changes to the Parliament.

Our second report of 2003 aims to streamline elections to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. When we looked at the procedures for that, we found that those that were used in 1999 were, in general, reasonably robust so, by and large, we have not recommended changes, although we do recommend some.

Specifically, we propose that it should be possible to use a single vote to elect four people to fill four vacancies, should the Parliament find itself in that position. If there are more than four candidates for four vacancies, we propose that the Parliament be allowed to reduce the field to four and then to elect the four remaining candidates on a single vote, which would save a considerable amount of time. If a vote is required on the four candidates because agreement cannot be reached on a block vote, the new procedures will allow for a fairly speedy yes, no or abstain option on each candidate in a single round of voting. There is confidence that the posts can be filled efficiently and more quickly than was the case on the previous occasion.

In recommending to the Parliament the changes to the standing orders, I thank the directorate of clerking and reporting, which produced most of the reports, and the Procedures Committee's clerking team, which worked hard to produce the reports. It did so at fairly short notice in a couple of cases. I also extend my sincere thanks to members who have served on the Procedures Committee. The committee has been an excellent committee over four years. There have been several different faces on it and all members have contributed well; I have valued their contributions.

I commend to Parliament the motion and the proposed changes to the standing orders.

I move,

That the Parliament approves the recommendations for amendments to the Standing Orders of the Parliament (a) concerning the remit of the European Committee contained in the Procedures Committee's 4th Report 2002, Changes to Standing Orders concerning the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, European Committee remit, Private Legislation, Temporary Conveners and the Journal of the Scottish Parliament (SP Paper 665), (b) contained in the Procedures Committee's 1st Report 2003, Changes to Standing Orders concerning Legislative Matters, Motions and Lodging Written Questions (SP Paper 783) and (c) contained in the Procedures Committee's 2nd Report 2003, Changes to Standing Orders Concerning Elections to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SP Paper 787) and agrees that these amendments to the Standing Orders should come into force on Thursday 6 March 2003.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 4:36 pm, 5th March 2003

The Executive welcomes and endorses the recommended changes to the standing orders that are outlined in the Procedures Committee's first and second reports of 2003. The suggested changes, some of which will assist in the period immediately before dissolution—others are more long term—will help in the management of business in the Parliament.

The Executive is happy to commend the sensible and practical changes for elections to the SPCB that Murray Tosh outlined. The Executive sees the proposed extension of the remit of the European Committee as an opportunity, provided that the committee is able to focus its efforts meaningfully, which will be possible only if scrutiny of sectoral European Union business is mainstreamed in the work of relevant sectoral committees. That would free up the European Committee to focus on scrutiny of the Executive's handling of strategic EU issues that affect Scotland, and its external relations activities beyond the EU.

I do not have much more to say. On behalf of the Executive, I acknowledge the Procedures Committee's careful consideration of all the issues that are being discussed today and I thank its convener, members and staff for all their work.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 4:37 pm, 5th March 2003

Murray Tosh outlined exactly where we are with the report and the recommendations. There is not much more that I can say, other than to repeat what he said. As a committee member, I recommend to Parliament that we accept the report and the recommended changes to the standing orders. The SNP also recommends doing so.

I thank Murray Tosh for the way in which he has used his stewardship skills in the Procedures Committee. The committee is sometimes a dry committee, but Murray Tosh has handled things commendably. I am sure that I speak on behalf of MSPs who are no longer on the committee—they would say what I am saying if they had the opportunity. I ask members to support the proposed changes.

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

The committee might be a dry committee, but only committee members have asked to speak in the debate.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 4:39 pm, 5th March 2003

The recommendations are not controversial and have been fully debated by the committee, so I will keep my remarks brief.

I want to comment only on elections to the SPCB. We all remember that the process was cumbersome on the previous occasion; there were four separate elections for four uncontested posts. I hope that our report will make the procedure more understandable and speedier.

I thank the current and past members of the SPCB, which is an important body that has legal responsibility for the Parliament and deals with the most controversial to the most mundane issues. I know how upset we all get when the machinery of Parliament does not work to our liking. I appeal to the SPCB to take a less Edinburgh-centric and a more constituency-based approach next time round, particularly to reflect the views of members such as myself who do our work from constituency offices.

I thank the convener, Murray Tosh, for all his work and I thank all the clerks to the Procedures Committee. It has been an efficient and non-partisan committee.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:40 pm, 5th March 2003

I take the opportunity to put in an advertisement for the committee's main report on the consultative steering group principles, because we have worked so hard on it. The Parliament will not have the opportunity to debate it during this session, but members will get copies of it. I hope that those of us who are lucky enough to survive the election will take a lot of its recommendations seriously.

The reports today are much more minor and everyone agrees that they are acceptable. As Ken Macintosh said, we propose a more sensible way to elect the corporate body. I join the thanks to the other members of the committee and in particular to Murray Tosh. He is an excellent committee convener. I do not know whether I am allowed to say that I hope that he continues in the post, but I hope that he does.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 4:41 pm, 5th March 2003

Members will not be surprised to learn that I am pleased to support the motion and to commend the changes to Parliament.

I will introduce a note of party-political controversy by taking issue with Gil Paterson's assertion that the Procedures Committee is dry. I think that there have been some amusing and interesting exchanges; there certainly have been in the past year when I have had the joy of experiencing them. It should be reassuring to our colleagues that we have delved into the technical details of standing orders on issues such as those in the reports that are before Parliament today.

Although the changes might be technical, it is important to acknowledge that we have in this Parliament dealt with a great number of firsts, of which dissolution is one. In the Procedures Committee, we have been aware of the need to take stock of how different procedures have worked to date and to look for improvements where possible. The reports in front of members today are examples of that; I cite the report on the changes to the SPCB elections.

I endorse Donald Gorrie's comments about the wider work that we have done in the CSG principles inquiry. I hope that that work will also provide a sound basis for the next Parliament. We must consider how procedures can be developed and improved, because they make a difference to the overall effectiveness of the institution. I am pleased to support the motion.