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Schedule 1 — Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights

Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:45 pm on 2nd November 2006.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:45 pm, 2nd November 2006

Amendment 100A, in the name of Des McNulty, has already been debated with amendment 5. Mr McNulty, do you wish to press amendment 100A?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 100A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McNeil, Mr Duncan, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 34, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 100A disagreed to.

Amendments 100 to 104 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:00 pm, 2nd November 2006

Group 7 is on commission finance and accountability issues. Amendment 105, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendment 157.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Both amendments are about overspend and financial accountability. Amendment 105 would amend schedule 1 so that it would be clear that the commission is independent of the Parliament, the Scottish Executive and the corporate body in exercising its powers, except when it overspends on its budget.

Amendment 157 deals with what would happen if the commission overspent its budget, and provides that, for the remainder of the financial year in question, the corporate body would be able to direct the commission to ensure that it remains within its budget.

In creating any commission, all members are concerned that if we lay down a budget and give a commission powers, we expect it, broadly speaking, to remain within that budget. I was concerned when I read in the last week or so that the commissions that we have already created have come back to the Parliament for sums of money totalling almost £6 million.

It would not interfere with the commission's independence if we took the view that if we give it a million pounds and it spends more than that, the corporate body should be able to issue directions to ensure that, apart from anything else, there is no liability. Again, I am looking for assurances.

I realise that there is a pretty great onus on the corporate body. I hope that its members understand that many MSPs' support is dependent on the corporate body having powers and financial control. That places an onus on the corporate body, but it is necessary. We are accountable for the money that we spend, and we need to tighten the system up as far as possible.

I hope to get some assurances from the minister, and it might be helpful to hear a contribution from a member of the corporate body to confirm that it accepts that the will of Parliament is that it should have such powers and should exercise them in the way that Parliament intends.

I move amendment 105.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

It might be good news for Parliament generally.

I used to work for a gentleman called Peter Burt, who will shortly report to ministers on local government finance. When he was boss of a bank, he had an excellent saying about expenditure: "We have very deep pockets but very short arms." Amendments 105 and 157 address precisely that issue. Although there might be £31 billion in the Scottish Executive budget and we are debating something with an approximate cost of £1 million, we have to be careful to draw legislation so that it does not give unfettered financial power to an external body to put its deep hand in our sometimes rather shallow pocket.

Pauline McNeill's approach in amendments 105 and 157 is useful and, if properly observed by the commission, will mean that it has the discipline not to exceed the budget that it is given. If it does exceed it, that will compromise its independence, which neither it nor we will want. I am minded to support the amendments.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

I will certainly be supporting amendments 105 and 157.

It is important to remind ourselves what schedule 1 says. It says that the SCHR should prepare a budget; that if that budget changes it should prepare a revised budget; and that even if it exceeds that budget, the additional money can still be paid to it. At some point, the Parliament has to exercise some financial control. That has not been the case on a number of occasions: it has happened twice with Scottish Opera, once with Scottish Enterprise—I hope for the last time—and with the commissioners. On such occasions, the Parliament has been left with no option but to pay further moneys to bodies that have overspent their budgets. That is simply unacceptable.

Today, we have an opportunity to do something about that, to learn the lessons of the past and to make changes for the future. Amendments 105 and 157 offer a way forward, so I urge the ministers to accept them. We can have financial accountability without encroaching on the independence of commissioners. It is not the commissioners but we who will be judged by the Scottish people on how our budgets are used. We should not be held over a barrel by anyone, so I urge members to support amendments 105 and 157.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will be brief. I take seriously the arguments on financial accountability that Pauline McNeill and Karen Gillon have made, but I hope that amendment 105 will be withdrawn. If we are talking about a serious proposal on financial accountability, I can think of no reason why the proposed commission for human rights should be treated any differently from the other bodies. We should consider a proposal on all the various commissions and commissioners separately from the bill.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The position that we are in now is different to the positions that we have been in in the past. We have the Finance Committee report and we are creating a new body, so let us get things right now, so that we do not have to make changes in the future. That is what amendments 105 and 157 are about; they are not about singling out a particular body. We need to learn the lessons of the past.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

If the member is correct to say that changes will have to be made to existing bodies, those changes will have to be made anyway and it will not be any more complex to change the arrangements for the commission for human rights at the same time.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has been put in a difficult position by legislation that the Parliament has passed. When the SPCB has sought to exercise legitimate financial constraints on the activities of ombudsmen and commissioners, it has, in effect, been accused of questioning and seeking to jeopardise their independence. The same accusation has been levelled at the Finance Committee when it has expressed similar reservations.

Although no one is questioning the commissioners' independence, no body can be given a blank cheque that allows it to do what it wants. Financial controls must be in place so that we, as elected members of the Parliament who are responsible for a proportion of the public finances of Scotland, can be answerable to our electorate for the decisions that we take. Pauline McNeill's amendments 105 and 157 are right for the bill. Karen Gillon was absolutely right—we are considering the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill, not a bill to set up a consolidated fund for ombudsmen. As the Finance Committee suggested, we should get things right in the bill before we start on the other bodies.

And another thing—we should also ensure that the Parliament sends the corporate body a clear message of encouragement that demonstrates that members welcome the direction in which it is travelling.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

This is an important issue. I appreciate and agree with Pauline McNeill's concerns that the corporate body should be able to exercise proper control over the commission's use of public funds. In a former existence as a member of the corporate body, I had some dealings with such matters, which were not too far removed from the building in which we are sitting. I have more of an appreciation of some of the issues and pressures involved than do many other members.

The budget is the budget. No member would expect the commission or, indeed, any other body to go over its approved budget. The issue with the existing commissioners has been not so much their going over budgets as their making requests for budget increases in subsequent years which, although important, is a different issue.

Amendments 105 and 157 are not necessary to allow the corporate body to maintain oversight of the commission's spending. Paragraph 13 of schedule 1, to which Karen Gillon referred, already provides that the commission's annual budget will be subject to the corporate body's approval. Paragraph 13(4) states that the corporate body is not required to pay any expenses incurred by the commission that are not included in the approved annual budget, which is as it should be. That automatically gives the corporate body leverage over the activity of the commission in the unlikely event that it exceeds its budget. That is unlikely because we have a structure of accountable officers and financial procedures, which enable both the commission and the corporate body, which receives figures from the commission, to be aware of what is taking place.

I agree entirely that there is a need for mechanisms to ensure proper scrutiny and control of public funds, but they have to be proportionate. The current provisions give the corporate body the necessary degree of control over the commission's budget and expenditure, whereas Pauline McNeill's amendments 105 and 157 would give it considerable powers of direction over all aspects of the commission's activity. That might not be what is intended, but that is what the amendments would provide, even if the commission went fractionally over its annual budget allocation.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Given all that the minister has said, what is the point of paragraph 13(5) of schedule 1? In what circumstances would it be used and in what circumstances would the corporate body—without the provisions in Pauline McNeill's amendments—have the authority to say to a commission, "No, you cannot have that money," without being completely vilified in the press and accused of somehow undermining the independence of a parliamentary commission?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The issue is not the press but the power of the corporate body. Paragraph 13(4) states expressly that nothing in the bill requires the parliamentary corporation to pay any expenses incurred by the SCHR that exceed the budget.

That is absolutely clear. Paragraph 13(5) provides for an exceptional procedure. I cannot envisage circumstances in which it is likely to be used, but it provides for circumstances that might arise.

Members should bear in mind the fact that the corporate body is the trustee of this Parliament. If it became necessary, the Parliament could dismiss the members of the corporate body and give directions to it on the way in which to operate its services. Ultimately, the Parliament has the whip hand. The corporate body acts in the interests of the Parliament. I say respectfully that the current arrangements allow it all necessary powers to do so. I hope that members will accept that on rereading schedule 1.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

It is clear that members of the Parliament who will be supporting the bill expect that the corporate body will be able to take financial control where necessary without it being seen to be interfering in any way with the independence of the commission which, for me, is fundamental.

I agree with Patrick Harvie that the rules should apply to all commissions, but I also agree with Karen Gillon. I have learned lessons from the way in which I have voted in the past, and I will not act in the same way again. If I am to vote to pass the bill, I must have the assurance that financial control will be exercised through the corporate body, which represents the Parliament. I hope that the will of Parliament is noted.

The minister said that there are levers to ensure that where there is overspend we do not have to sign off the budget. If I were to withdraw amendment 105, I would have to put a bit of trust in that.

Parliament must pay attention. It must focus on the implementation of the commission and, beyond that, it must scrutinise not just the commission but every other body that we have created to ensure that they do what we intended them to do. If we are concerned about finances spiralling out of control, we should be able to do something about it without it being seen as in any way trying to interfere with a body's purpose, as Karen Gillon said.

On that basis, and on the balance of what I have heard, I seek Parliament's permission to withdraw amendment 105.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Do members agree to the member's request that amendment 105 be withdrawn?

Members:

No.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Therefore, the question is, that amendment 105 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 37, Against 71, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 105 disagreed to.

Amendments 106 to 128 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Amendments 129 and 130 not moved.

Amendments 131 to 134 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Amendment 135 moved—[Margaret Mitchell].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:15 pm, 2nd November 2006

The question is, that amendment 135 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 8

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 34, Against 71, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 135 disagreed to.

Amendments 136 to 156 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 157 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 9

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 38, Against 69, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 157 disagreed to.

Amendments 158 to 163 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.