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Points of Order

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:27 pm on 19th March 2003.

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Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I have given you notice of my point of order, Presiding Officer, and I have given notice of it to members of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, among others.

I received a letter from you this morning that said that the Parliamentary Bureau had voted by a majority not to timetable the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. I understand that the Executive was in the process of considering a financial resolution, but that that consideration has been halted by the refusal of a majority of members of the bureau to timetable the bill. Another effect of that decision has been to cancel the Education, Culture and Sport Committee's stage 2 meeting that was scheduled for next Tuesday. The point is not that time was not allocated for the meeting, but that the meeting has been cancelled because of the actions of the bureau and because the Executive has not produced a financial resolution.

Presiding Officer, I ask you to consider whether the bureau has jumped the gun on the matter. The issue is not whether the bill should proceed to stage 3, but whether it should be allowed the stage 2 hearing that was already scheduled. Will you consider whether, if the Executive were to honour its commitment—[Interruption.]

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

Order. Members of the public in the gallery sign a statement saying that they will not interrupt proceedings. The member of the public who is shouting has contravened that—remove him, please.

Please continue on your point of order, Mr Russell.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

As I was saying, the reality of the situation is that we are only two short meetings away from achieving secure status for Gaelic. One meeting has already been scheduled and there is the possibility of discussing next week whether—[ Interruption. ]

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

I remind everybody in the public gallery that they signed a piece of paper containing an undertaking to be quiet and to observe our proceedings properly. People are breaking that undertaking by making a noise.

Please complete your point of order, Mr Russell.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I will complete my point of order, although it is fortunate that you received it in writing, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

We are two very short meetings away from achieving secure status for Gaelic, and there is huge disappointment about the fact that we might not be allowed to do that. Even if we are not allowed to do that next week, the cancellation of a meeting that has already been scheduled, but which could take place if the Executive were to produce a financial resolution—it has said in writing that it is in the process of drawing one up—seems to be very wrong. I ask you, Presiding Officer, to consider the matter and perhaps to say to the Executive that it would be helpful and generous to allow us to have that stage 2 meeting and to return next week to the issue of how to deal with stage 3.

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

I thank the member for his courtesy in giving me that point of order in advance, which has enabled me to consider it and to give a clear ruling.

You misunderstand the procedure between the bureau and the committee, Mr Russell. You could, for example, have addressed the issue this morning by moving an amendment to the business motion. Stage 2 proceedings are prohibited until a financial resolution is agreed to by the Parliament, and no such resolution is included in the business motion that we agreed to this morning.

For the benefit of the Parliament, I repeat my message to you, which was in a letter of yesterday. The majority view of the bureau was that we have reached the buffers in terms of the amount of parliamentary time that we have left. Although there was considerable sympathy with your position, it was felt that it would not be in the interests of proper parliamentary scrutiny to compress the bill's consideration in the manner that you propose. I am afraid that that was the decision of the bureau, and Parliament agreed to the business motion this morning.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, without going into the point, one might also argue that proper scrutiny could not be achieved by lodging 500 amendments on the final day of consideration of a bill. The reality is that it would still be possible to have the stage 2 debate if the Executive were to produce a financial resolution tomorrow—which it has often done at short notice. I realise that you cannot overturn the view of the bureau; however, if the Executive were to give notice that it intended to produce the financial resolution, the bill could proceed to stage 2.

Many members object; there may be arguments against the bill, but only small amendments to it are required and discussions with the Executive have taken place. Many members would accept an honest vote in the chamber on the bill. What they find difficult to accept—and what the Gaelic community will find it impossible to accept—is the fact that the Parliament is being used by the Executive as a procedure to kill the bill. That is wrong.

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

That is an interpretation that I do not share. I have no authority to change the business that the Parliament agreed this morning. You had an opportunity to move an amendment to include a financial resolution, but you did not take that opportunity.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I feel obliged to respond to the point that Mr Russell has just made. Having tried to imply that the bureau was somehow stymying the bill, he now implies that it is the fault of the Executive—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Russell might want to say that a bit more loudly for the Official Report.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We are now in absolutely no doubt about Mr Russell's intention.

The bureau considered the matter in its entirety yesterday. We came to the conclusion that it would not be appropriate to truncate by suspending the standing orders the correct provisions of the standing orders as they relate to timetabling of bills. Mr Russell is on record on many occasions talking about the sanctity of that process, on which I agree with him whole-heartedly.

In order for the bill to go through stage 3, we would be required to have the Education, Culture and Sport Committee meet on Tuesday to consider amendments. Thereafter, a bill would have to be printed to be available on Wednesday, amendments to that bill would have to be lodged by close of play on the same day and the bill would have to be considered on Thursday.

Parliament has standing orders to protect it and its processes. Therefore—as someone who holds the Parliament very dear, having argued for it for many years—I believe that the standing orders exist to protect the smaller parties in the Parliament and individual members. In its discussion, the bureau—by majority, with one member voting otherwise—voted that the bill should not proceed further because the timetable did not allow it to do so because of when the bill was introduced. That is a fact of which Mr Russell was aware at the time of the bill's introduction.

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

You may speak if it is a real addition to the previous point of order.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Will you confirm that on occasion stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3 of a bill have all been considered on the same day?

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

I think that that has happened only with emergency legislation and, with great respect, I do not think that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill is an emergency bill.

We should now proceed to dealing with the legislation that is before us today.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, could I make one further point of order? I was unaware of the procedure under which members got to respond to points of order, but—

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

No—that was further to your point of order. You are also now speaking further to the point of order.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Well, further to the further to the point of order, the Minister for Parliamentary Business has proved my point. What she is arguing for is the reason why stage 3 of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill should not take place; she has not argued why a timetabled meeting of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, during which that committee was to consider stage 2 of the bill, should not take place. The only barrier to such a meeting is the lack of a financial resolution. The only people who can move a financial resolution are members of the Executive; ergo, Presiding Officer, the Executive is killing the bill. Let it not avoid that fact.

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

I think that we should return to the important bill that we are discussing this afternoon.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Mine is a completely separate point of order—although Ms Baillie's might be on the same point.

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

We do not want endless discussion of the matter, but is your point of order on the same matter on the same point?

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

It is indeed, Presiding Officer.

It is unjust of Mike Russell to blame the Executive; all members of the Parliament are aware of the time scale for consideration of members' bills. The Education, Culture and Sport Committee has worked especially hard on the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill, but it would be nonsense to schedule a meeting for stage 2 consideration when there is no subsequent time for stage 3 consideration. I think that the Parliamentary Bureau has, on the basis of its reflection on standing orders, arrived at the correct decision.

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

We will not have a debate on the point of order. I will hear a different point of order from Dr Simpson.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Presiding Officer, the interruption in the public gallery that just occurred was unusual, in that it was not simply a verbal interruption involving the display of a banner—which is unacceptable in the chamber—but included the spreading of material on to the back two rows of the side of the chamber on which I am sitting. The material happened to be confetti, which was okay, but it might have been some other substance. I ask you to raise with the security office the need to ensure an adequate police presence in order that individuals involved in such activity can be properly restrained in good time, so that nothing more serious occurs to my fellow members.

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

I take that point of order seriously. Without going into the details of our arrangements, I will say that the gentleman concerned was in the front row, which is reserved for guests of members. I will make inquiries into whose guest he was.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I apologise for not being able to give you notice of this point of order, but I feel rather strongly about it. I support you, Presiding Officer, in your role and in what you try to do in calling for order in the chamber, but what we witnessed earlier concerns me, because I have found myself on the receiving end of your interventions when you have thought that I have gone on for too long.

I have supported the same position on the war as Mr Sheridan has—I still support that point of view—but it cannot be right that Mr Sheridan seems to be allowed more time than anyone else in the Parliament. In my first year in the Parliament, I recall clearly your standing up and telling me to sit down, which you were perfectly right to do, but that must apply to all members. Could we please have equal treatment? If we do not tolerate one another's views and have equal treatment, the place will go to ruin.

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

I agree wholly with that point of order. I cut off Mr Sheridan's microphone, but it is unfortunate that he has a voice that overrides the microphones; you might not have been aware that I had cut him off. In fact, I did that quite early on and although I asked him to sit down, he did not do so. I notice that the First Minister agreed with my view that to have asked Mr Sheridan to leave the chamber would simply have created the kind of publicity that he was, perhaps, seeking; that is why I did not do so. I accept entirely your point that it is not right for any member to arrogate to himself the right to go on and on at the expense of other members who wish to speak. I think that that is a general view that is held throughout the chamber and I thank the member for her support on that.

Let us go back at last to consideration of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Bill, for which I hand over the chair to the Deputy Presiding Officer.