Points of Order

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:34 pm on 13th June 2007.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 2:34 pm, 13th June 2007

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My point of order is about the statement on higher education that we are about to hear from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

Reference to the contents of the statement appeared in a number of newspapers at the weekend, trailing an Executive announcement on the abolition of the graduate endowment. I understand that it was not idle speculation on the part of the newspapers involved, but rather that the media was briefed expressly on the content of the statement. Moreover, I understand that various student leaders have been invited to Parliament today and that their availability for interview by the media has been circulated, presumably on the basis that they will welcome the contents of a statement that members of this Parliament have yet to hear. Presiding Officer,

"I am concerned that—yet again—we seem to be reading about Government announcements in the press rather than hearing them in the chamber."—[Official Report, 2 November 2000; c 1259.]

Those are not my words, but those of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop.

While in opposition, members who are now on the Executive benches complained regularly about the then Executive trailing ministerial announcements in the press in advance of Parliament being informed. Although I am sure that the Executive would not wish to appear to be guilty of double standards, this is surely a case of gamekeeper turned poacher.

Presiding Officer, will you rule on whether the Executive is in breach of parliamentary procedures on this matter? At the very least, gross discourtesy has been shown to Parliament and members of all parties.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I thank the member for notice of his point of order. In response, I refer, once again, to the good practice guidance on announcements by the Scottish Executive and repeat that major policy announcements should in the first instance always be made to the Parliament.

However, in this specific case, I have reviewed the press coverage in some detail since the weekend, and can find no evidence that the Executive has breached the terms of the guidance. Moreover, I have not come across any knowledge of any press briefings that have been given. That said, I urge all members to have regard to the guidance and to note that I expect it to be adhered to at all times.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. On Thursday 7 June, in the course of replying to an oral question from Tavish Scott, Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said:

"I was delighted to receive the invitation from the UK minister to visit him in London yesterday as a precursor to next week's agriculture and fisheries council. That invitation was rarely extended to my predecessor".—[Official Report, 7 June 2007; c 539.]

As the predecessor minister, I helped to establish the procedure under which agriculture and fisheries ministers of the devolved Administrations as of right and as a matter of course met United Kingdom ministers as a precursor to meetings of the European Union agriculture and fisheries council meetings. Such precursor meetings took place on the overwhelming majority of the 41 occasions on which I attended meetings of the EU council of ministers. It is therefore wholly inaccurate and misleading for the cabinet secretary to claim that I was "rarely" invited to attend such meetings—and equally inaccurate and misleading for him to imply that I rarely attended meetings with UK ministers as a precursor to meetings of the EU council of ministers.

Accordingly, Presiding Officer, I ask you to rule that, in accordance with section 1.1(c) of the Scottish ministerial code, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment should take the earliest opportunity to come before the Parliament and correct his inaccurate and misleading claim.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Again, I thank the member for notice of his point of order, which is now a matter of record. However, as I am sure that he is aware, the Scottish ministerial code to which he refers is a matter for the First Minister, not for me. Accordingly, I advise the member to take the matter up directly with the First Minister.