Scottish Parliament (Disqualification) Order 2007 (Draft)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:43 pm on 24th January 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:43 pm, 24th January 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5442, in the name of George Lyon, on the draft Scottish Parliament (Disqualification) Order 2007.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 4:44 pm, 24th January 2007

I begin by highlighting the unusual nature of this item of business, which relates to a wholly reserved matter that must, under the Scotland Act 1998, be considered by Parliament at 5 o'clock tonight. Members may have noted that the draft order is a statutory instrument, which means that a minister of the Crown will advise Her Majesty on the making of the order.

However, by virtue of schedule 7 to the Scotland Act 1998, it falls to me to invite Parliament to approve the draft order before it is made by Her Majesty in council. As members may be aware, the act sets out the circumstances in which a person is disqualified from becoming a member of this Parliament. Certain categories of people are disqualified automatically, including judges, civil servants, members of the armed forces and members of foreign legislatures.

In addition, section 15 provides an order-making power to disqualify specified office-holders from membership of the Scottish Parliament. The most recent order that was made under that power took effect in advance of the 2003 elections. That order is in need of updating to take account of developments since then, in particular the creation of new bodies and the abolition of existing ones. The order that is before us today will ensure that proper account is taken of those developments.

I turn to the policy intention of the order, which is clear. If a person holds an office that

"would take up too much time or otherwise prevent an MSP from attending Parliament", they should not stand for election. I wrote to the leaders of the main political parties about the policy intentions of the order prior to Christmas. I received no responses to those letters, which I take to indicate a positive consensus in Parliament on the issue. Cross-party support is welcome.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I will make a little headway first.

I know that the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party agrees with me, as she has repeatedly stated on the record that, in her view, MSPs "cannot do two jobs". She has also stated many times that keeping another full-time job shows that the MSP

"does not have a serious commitment" and

"should be giving up the day job and focusing on serving his constituents."

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

As Mr Lyon is speaking in his capacity as a Government minister, I hope that he will confirm that the powers under the Scotland Act 1998 from which the order flows relate to office holders.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I can confirm that that is correct. I am talking about the general principles behind the order.

It is clear that someone who is expected to work in London until 10 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, 7 pm on Wednesdays, 6 pm on Thursdays and 2.30 pm on Fridays would have some trouble performing his duty of serving his constituents or indeed attempting to be First Minister of Scotland, let alone having any time left over to pursue his love of horse-racing.

In the extremely unlikely event that Mr Salmond's dream of being First Minister came true, would a part-time First Minister miss Cabinet meetings because he has to go to Prime Minister's question time? When the division bell sounds at Holyrood, will the 10 minutes until voting be long enough for two-jobs Alex to race up from London in time? Perhaps that is the real reason for his desire for a bullet train to London. Of course, the SNP is only willing to pay for it to go as far as the border, but I am sure that the United Kingdom Government would only be too happy to front the money to ensure that Mr Salmond is sped away from London as quickly as possible.

On a serious note, eight years on, no one here attempts to straddle the border as a list member of this Parliament and a member of the UK Parliament for the very good reason that both are full-time jobs. I hope that the SNP will support that notion today and put its principles on the record at 5 o'clock tonight.

On a really serious note, can the SNP justify supporting an order that will prevent some people from doing two full-time jobs, while continuing to back its leader in London, who—in the unlikely event that his wildest dreams came true and he became First Minister—has said explicitly that he has no intention of standing down as an MP until 2009? Further, he has made no commitment to stand down at all if he is lucky enough to become just a humble list MSP. I commend the order to Parliament and hope that there is cross-party support for it.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the draft Scottish Parliament (Disqualification) Order 2007 be approved.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 4:49 pm, 24th January 2007

I suppose the best that we could say about that speech is that it was well read. I shall take no lessons on general principles from members of the Liberal Democrats—I shall take no lessons on principles from the party whose spokesman said on television this afternoon that prisoners should have the vote. Let us have all the convicted murderers and paedophiles voting in the next election, because that is Liberal Democrat policy.

I will also not take any lessons from Malcolm Bruce MP about people doing other jobs. Is he the same Malcolm Bruce who managed to get an MSc in marketing strategy from the University of Strathclyde in 1995, who managed to study for an English law qualification, and who was called to the English bar at Gray's Inn, all while he was doing his job representing the people of Gordon in the House of Commons?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am not giving way.

Is this the same Liberal party that thought that Donald Gorrie and Jim Wallace—and Andrew Arbuckle—could do two jobs at the same time? I am not going to take any lessons from the Liberal Democrats.

Let us consider Malcolm Bruce. Malcolm is quite happy with his relationship with the Scottish Parliament. He sent out a challenge yesterday—as an MSP from a Scottish Parliament e-mail address, using, I presume, the staff of an MSP. He is quite happy to have a good relationship with the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

No, no. We heard more than enough from Mr Lyon during his allocated time.

In his challenge, Mr Bruce says that

"the new law would ban MSPs from holding two jobs".

At the same time, the minister's staff were saying that it would do nothing of the kind. What is this? Is it dishonesty, or is it incompetence? It has to be said that those are two qualities that we expect in equal proportions from Liberal Democrats during their campaign. The whole ridiculous speech says much more about Liberal Democrat despair about their canvass returns in Gordon than it does about whom they want to see in this Parliament.

I would like, very briefly, to address the order that the Government minister, although he is taking his salary, seemed to ignore altogether. Will the minister eventually address the problem that is implicit in the pages of the order? There are 15 pages that list the office-holders who will not be allowed to stand for election to the Scottish Parliament. Four years ago, the order had a list of 12 pages. In four years, this Government and the Government south of the border have managed to grow the quango state by 25 per cent. A total of 25 per cent more office-holders, paid by us, are not allowed to stand for Parliament. This is the Government that promised us a bonfire of the quangos: it cannot live up even to that promise, far less to any others.

To be frank, as far as I am concerned the chairman of the Covent Garden Market Authority can stand for election to the Scottish Parliament if he or she so chooses. It would then be up to the people of Scotland to accept or reject them.

We have to consider the inequality of treatment between the public and private sectors. With the increasing involvement of private industry in the public sector, there are now far too many people who are disqualified from standing if they work in the public sector but who, if they did precisely the same job in the private sector, would not be disqualified. The director of David MacBrayne Ltd would have to give up his job to stand, but the director of a private firm, running the same kind of service—if there was one, and if the Liberal Democrats could ever get the tendering procedure correct—would not be allowed to stand.

We will support the order.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:54 pm, 24th January 2007

When I was nominated to speak in the debate, the first thing I did was look up the debate from four years ago so that I could see what it was all about. Having read the speeches from that debate, I thought at the start of George Lyon's speech that he had done exactly the same thing; I recognised the speech that Euan Robson gave four years ago. I quickly realised that George had chosen to deviate from Euan's tactic of simply explaining what the order is all about, but then I wished that George had just done what Euan did. George Lyon took the opportunity today—an inappropriate opportunity—to introduce a heated subject to a debate that Parliament should have handled relatively briefly.

In the debate four years ago, the criteria for why someone should be prevented from standing for election to the Scottish Parliament were set out clearly. It was explained:

"Those criteria are: offices of profit in the gift of the Crown or ministers; positions of control in companies in receipt of Government grants and funds; offices imposing duties that would prevent their holders from fulfilling parliamentary duties satisfactorily; and offices whose holders are required to be seen to be, and to be, politically impartial."—[Official Report, 9 January 2003; c 16792.]

That is a fair description of what we want to achieve. The fact that the list gets longer and longer—as was mentioned in the previous speech—is simply an indication that the number of people who are dependent on or beholden to the Scottish Executive gets bigger and bigger every year. That is a problem that we need to address over time.

The sad fact is that many of the people who are in the positions that have been specified are exactly the kind of people we need to be seeking entry to the Parliament. Although they are debarred from becoming members of the Scottish Parliament while in their current roles, I like to think that many of them would consider using the expertise that they have acquired in those roles to demit office and seek entry into Parliament at the next election or at a subsequent election. The one thing that I know we need is more talent.

The Conservative party will, therefore, support the order in the hope that it will lead to a stronger Parliament in the long term; one that will not suffer the criticisms that have rightly been levied upon it for the sort of mudslinging that we witnessed in the first two speeches in the debate.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 4:56 pm, 24th January 2007

This has certainly been an interesting debate. Usually, my good colleague and friend, Mr Morgan, is a calm, collected and level-headed gentleman in debates. We must have hit a raw nerve, judging from his speech.

First, I turn to some of the technical points in the order. The purpose of the order is to update the Scottish Parliament (Disqualification) Order 2003 (SI 2003/409) by applying the same disqualification criteria to new offices that have been vested since 2003, and to remove offices that have been abolished. We have also taken the opportunity of updating the Scottish order with respect to relevant office-holders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is worth noting at this point that the number of quangos has, in fact, decreased by 100 under the Executive over the eight years since devolution. That completely contradicts some points that were made by other speakers.

The practical effect of the order is to ensure that no conflicts of interest can arise for public appointees should they choose to pursue a parliamentary career. Clearly, the order does not prevent Parliament from benefiting from the skills and expertise of senior public officials. It is open to anyone to stand down from those offices in advance of confirming their nomination. On changes to the criteria for disqualification, updates have been made on the basis of the same criteria that were used in the 2003 order.

Although the subject matter of the order might appear to be routine, it is an important element of the constitutional arrangements that are required to be in place in good time prior to the elections in May. The order that is before us is essentially an exercise in good housekeeping. I hope that Opposition members are equally keen to get their house in order before May.

Mr Morgan was quick to dismiss his own principles and to save his leader in London's face. However, that will not stack up with the electorate. The people of Scotland are not going to take seriously a part-time candidate for First Minister, the people of Gordon are not going to take seriously a part-time candidate for MSP and the people of Banff and Buchan should be demanding that their MP stand down—[Interruption.]

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Those people should have someone who is willing to offer their full attention, full time for the full term.

I ask members to lend their support by approving the order, which will enable it to be considered by the Privy Council in February. I hope that all parties support the principle behind the order.