Parliamentary Bureau Motion

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:59 pm on 25 February 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 4:59, 25 February 2009

The next item of business is consideration of a Parliamentary Bureau motion. I ask Michael McMahon to move motion S3M-3521, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on the designation of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee as the lead committee in consideration of the Arbitration (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee be designated as the lead committee in consideration of the Arbitration (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1.—[Michael McMahon.]

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 5:00, 25 February 2009

I will speak against the referral motion to designate the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee as the lead committee in consideration of the Arbitration (Scotland) Bill. I stress that, although I am the committee's convener, I am not speaking on behalf of the committee, which has no formal position on the matter.

I feel that important points of principle and procedure need to be put on the record. Under standing orders, the Parliamentary Bureau has no power to designate the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee as the lead committee on the bill. Rule 9.6.1 says clearly that

"Once a Bill has been printed, the Parliamentary Bureau shall refer it to the committee within whose remit the subject matter of the Bill falls."

The committee's remit is

"To consider and report on the Scottish economy, enterprise, energy, tourism and all other matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth".

By no definition does the bill fall within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.

The bill was introduced by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill. The Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing, took day-to-day responsibility for it. Those ministers have been supported by a bill team and policy officials from the directorate-general justice and communities. I understand that the intention is to ask Jim Mather to take the bill through the committee, but that does not change the fact that it is a justice bill. As Barack Obama said,

"You can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig."

I do not dispute that the bill might bring economic benefits, but that does not make it an economy bill. By that argument, any bill that brought economic benefits—I hope that most legislation would be intended to do so—would fall within the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's remit. It is clear that that would be nonsense.

On procedure, guidance for conveners and bureau members makes it clear that, if remits overlap—I dispute that in this case—the Minister for Parliamentary Business and his office are responsible for discussing the matter with the relevant committees' conveners. Up to this moment, the minister has made no attempt to discuss the matter with me one to one, or together with the Justice Committee's convener.

I urge the Parliament to reject the motion and I urge the bureau to do what standing orders require, which is to refer the bill to the committee in whose remit it falls—the Justice Committee.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 5:03, 25 February 2009

It is correct to say that justice ministers and officials developed the bill. The bill will restate, clarify and modernise arbitration law, but it will also support the Government's targets of achieving sustainable economic growth and making Scotland an attractive place in which to do business. Iain Smith referred to rule 9.6.1 of standing orders, but he did not say that the rule goes on to state:

"Where the subject matter of the Bill falls within the remit of more than one committee the Parliament may, on a motion of the Parliamentary Bureau, designate one of those committees as the lead committee."

The process by which such matters are determined is that the Parliament's business team makes recommendations to the bureau for consideration. In January, the team recommended that two committees were appropriate for considering the bill and left it to the bureau to decide which of the two should consider the bill.

As for the reason for referring the bill to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, it is fair to say that it is imperative that methods are available to business to facilitate the speedy, effective and just resolution of disputes at an economically viable cost. The bill will assist companies in Scotland to resolve disputes privately and more quickly than through the public courts.

It is hoped that the modernisation and reform of the situation in Scotland will go some way towards stemming the current flow of arbitral business from Scotland to England and will attract international business to Scotland. It may also encourage more industries, professions and trades to adopt their own low-cost arbitration schemes, such as the one that is currently used by the Association of British Travel Agents. For those reasons, the Government argues that the purpose of the bill falls within the remit of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.

The rules do not require the Government to approach the committee convener in such instances. Indeed, they make clear that this is a matter for the bureau. After the introduction of the bill, in line with standing order 9.6.1, the business team prepared a paper, to which I referred earlier. The paper stated clearly that the bill falls within the remits of both the Justice Committee and the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee. To emphasise the economic importance of the bill, and after discussion with the other parties, the Government agreed that a finance minister, Mr Mather, should be responsible for steering the bill through the Parliament. I recommend that the Parliament agrees to the motion that was so ably moved by Mr McMahon.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It is appropriate that there is some leeway in this area. However, does the member not accept that, although Mr Mather will take the bill forward, he will be supported by the justice department? The main thrust of the bill is reform of the courts, so it is evidently not a matter for the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Minister, you should close as soon as possible.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Thank you for the promotion, Presiding Officer; I hope that the First Minister is listening.

I accept absolutely that the bill could have gone to either committee; that is clear from the business team's recommendations. I acknowledge that justice officials were involved in the process, but a finance minister will now lead on the bill. Other parties are content with that; I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrats do not appear to be.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.