Point of Order

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:30 pm on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 12:30 pm, 21st June 2007

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek your guidance on the potential misuse of holding replies to written questions, as I am informed that the figure for such replies currently stands at 40 per cent.

Later today we will have a sadly foreshortened debate on a critical area of action for Scotland—housing. The Presiding Officer may be aware of the anxieties of Labour members and in our communities about the lack of interest that the SNP Scottish Executive has shown in housing and the low priority that it has given to the issue. I lodged a series of questions about meetings that ministers have held with organisations that are interested in housing; I also asked what meetings were planned. Being a reasonable person, I did not list a range of housing organisations, groups and—crucially—tenants who might reasonably expect to meet the Minister for Communities and Sport.

On 6 June, I lodged specific questions about meetings held and planned with two organisations—the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter. Yesterday—on 20 June—I received a number of holding replies to those questions from Stewart Maxwell, which stated that the minister would reply as soon as possible. Collating the information that I requested is a simple task. Is it reasonable for the minister to withhold that information ahead of today's debate on housing, given that the answers might have given us at least a sense of how much ministerial priority has been given to housing in the Executive's first weeks?

Presiding Officer, if, as I suspect, the answer to the questions is "none", will you outline what action you will take against a minister who either seems wilfully to have misused the holding reply system to resist providing relevant information ahead of a debate in the Parliament, or is claiming to need more than 14 days to add up to zero?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Despite the barracking that is taking place, the member has a perfectly reasonable point of order. I thank her for giving me advance notice of it. In this case, the rules have clearly been complied with, as answers—albeit holding answers—were provided within the deadlines. However, if possible, substantive answers should always be provided by the due date. I ask the Executive to reflect on that point.

Before I suspend the meeting, I ask members who are staying for the awards ceremony that will follow to remain in their seats. Other members should leave as rapidly as possible.

Meeting suspended until 14:15.

On resuming—