Parliamentary Bureau Motions

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:52 pm on 10 February 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 4:52, 10 February 2010

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Mike Rumbles to move motion S3M-5710 on the establishment of a committee to consider the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill. As there is an amendment to the motion, 10 minutes have been allocated for a debate.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees to establish a committee of the Parliament as follows— Name of Committee: End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee; Remit: To consider and report to the Parliament on the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill; Duration: Until the Bill has received Royal Assent, falls or is withdrawn; Number of members: 6; Convenership: The Convener will be a member of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Deputy Convener will be a member of the Scottish National Party; Membership: Helen Eadie, Ross Finnie, Nanette Milne, Cathy Peattie.—[Mike Rumbles.]

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

In speaking to my amendment, I stress two points from the outset. First, I have absolutely no animosity towards the members of the Health and Sport Committee or the proposed ad hoc committee either collectively or individually. Secondly, I put on record that I regret that voting this evening will follow party lines.

In asking Parliament to choose the Health and Sport Committee as the preferred committee to scrutinise and investigate the bill, I am doing nothing more than the business team did when it recommended to the Parliamentary Bureau that the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill go to the Health and Sport Committee, as it was best placed to deal with the subject. I hope that Mr Rumbles will explain why that recommendation was not accepted.

Members should not infer from my amendment that I think that the Health and Sport Committee is the only committee capable of investigating the bill. However, I think that it is the best prepared to do so because of its experience of working in a collegiate fashion over a wide range of health-related issues and, as a group, being prepared to agree to disagree over detail A while showing, when necessary, complete unity of purpose in facing down the Government over detail B. The committee's credibility is enhanced not only by the membership of two general practitioners but by the bonus of one of them having specialist psychiatric experience. I also believe it to be a bonus that, although she does not know where she comes down on the bill, the convener thinks that there should be a public debate because of the public interest in the matter.

That I believe that the balance of opinion is probably against the bill is of no import, but it is very important that the committee's composition should result in balanced scrutiny. That is relevant because, with such a bill, on which members will have a free vote that they will cast according to conscience, the expected outcome is not a report signed off in the committee's name that has the support of the majority of members but an in-depth summary of the information that the committee's investigation has uncovered, which will be presented to MSPs as a neutral document, not as a recommendation.

I also presume that the Health and Sport Committee will be considering the forthcoming bill on palliative care.

Perhaps the strongest reason for MSPs to support the amendment is that, if they do not, the impression will be transmitted to the public in Scotland and beyond of the Parliament as a latter-day Tammany hall, when we could instead demonstrate our ability to deal with sensitive legislation in an efficient and intellectually and morally robust manner. The Parliament is quite capable of doing that, thereby recovering some of the respect and hope that our political and public institutions have lost during the past few years. We will lose that opportunity and create the impression that we are out of our depth when we are dealing with anything other than the mediocre, mundane and unimaginative, which could be the charge that is levelled at us if we vote to demote the Parliament's trust in its Health and Sport Committee's professionalism and probity. As the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill's sponsor, I would obviously like it to pass, but it is just as true to say that the way in which the Parliament processes the bill is as important to me as its eventual decision on whether to pass it or not.

I move amendment S3M-5710.1, to leave out from "establish" to end and insert:

"refer the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill to the Health and Sport Committee under Rule 9.6.1 of Standing Orders."

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 4:56, 10 February 2010

I rise to support the Parliamentary Bureau motion in the name of Mike Rumbles. I am particularly delighted to submit the names of Cathy Peattie and Helen Eadie to serve on the ad hoc committee that is being proposed. Everyone in the chamber will know that both members are recognised for their diligence and fairness when considering legislation, and I can assure anyone who asks that both members have no fixed views on Margo MacDonald's bill.

When the Parliamentary Bureau considered the bill, it was very clear that the proposals in the bill did not fit within the remit of any particular committee. There is a case for both the Health and Sport Committee and the Justice Committee to be considered as the committee to which the bill should be referred. On those facts, we proposed the formation of an ad hoc committee.

It is important to point out that the bill will receive the same stage 1 scrutiny that every other member's bill receives when it is considered by Parliament. The ad hoc committee will receive evidence at stage 1, and witnesses will be given the opportunity to provide written and oral evidence to the committee.

During the Parliamentary Bureau's discussions of the issue, the case was clearly made for an ad hoc committee. I believe that it will have the opportunity to develop some of the issues that were debated during the consultation process. The same opportunity might not have been afforded during the Health and Sport Committee's considerations.

I call on the Parliament to support the motion, taking into consideration the issues that I have raised.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:58, 10 February 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak against what is an extraordinary proposal to create an ad hoc committee for normal legislative business.

As I understand it, there are three main arguments in favour of having an ad hoc committee. The first is that the convener of the Health and Sport Committee has been mistakenly perceived by some people as having expressed a view on the merits of the bill. Even if that were true, it would be irrelevant. It implies that any member who stands for election to the Parliament on a manifesto that includes a specific legislative commitment is unable to chair the relevant committee. Committee conveners in the Parliament are not judges, and it would be an extraordinary departure for us to treat them in that way.

The second argument is on remit. Where two committees have a relevant interest in a bill, our normal procedure is to assign a secondary committee to give parliamentary scrutiny. The proposed ad hoc committee appears to be another extraordinary departure from our normal procedure.

The third argument is that there is moral content to the proposals in the bill. Is anyone seriously suggesting that our normal committees are not capable of seriously and sensitively considering moral arguments on access to reproductive health services, fertility services, family law, civil liberties, adoption, or equalities policies? All those issues have serious moral argument in their content, and those arguments should and could be heard. Again, it would be an extraordinary departure from procedure to say that our normal committees cannot deal with those arguments properly through the normal process.

I support the amendment.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 5:00, 10 February 2010

On behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, I will respond to the points that have been made by Patrick Harvie and the sponsor of the bill, Margo MacDonald. The bureau's job is to examine each bill as it comes before us and to recommend to the Parliament the most appropriate way for colleagues to examine it. Our approach to this bill is no different from our approach to any other bill that has come before the bureau.

As members are aware, meetings of the Parliamentary Bureau have never taken place in public. On this occasion, that has led to assumptions being made as to what took place in the bureau when it met last week and decided—without the need for a vote, I must say—to recommend the setting up of an ad hoc committee of six members to examine the bill. I reassure Margo MacDonald and Patrick Harvie that the only reasons that were raised at the bureau meeting last week were to do with the nature of the bill. We did not concern ourselves with any other issue.

The bill is unique. All four business managers indicated that their MSP colleagues would have an unwhipped or free vote. We have had free votes in the Parliament before but, as far as I can recall, there has never been another bill on which all the parties have had truly free votes. All four business managers confirmed that MSP colleagues would vote on the bill without any pressure from their political parties. Why is that? It is because the bill clearly deals with serious moral and ethical issues and is not only a health matter. Some business managers argued that the Justice Committee has a major role, too.

I assure the Parliament that the members of the bureau have not only done our duty but taken the issue very seriously indeed. We are recommending to colleagues what we believe is the right thing to do. The convener of the committee that will examine the bill, if Parliament so approves, will be Ross Finnie. I trust that every colleague in the chamber will accept that that proposed appointment, together with the appointment of other members of the committee, signals the seriousness with which the bureau and, I hope, Parliament take the membership and work of the committee.

My final point is about the amendment. It cannot be right that any member in charge of a member's bill should be in the position of asking Parliament to send it to his or her preferred committee. If that is not a conflict of interest, I do not know what would be.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Colleagues should not support the amendment for that reason, if for no other.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, I ask members to accept the recommendations that we are making to Parliament in good faith as the best way forward for the examination of the bill.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I refer you to rule 9.6.1 of standing orders, which states:

"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."

That is mandatory, not discretionary. The rule continues:

"That committee (referred to as 'the lead committee') shall consider and report on the general principles of the Bill."

For completeness, I will continue. It states:

"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 next stage for the bureau is set out in paragraph 23 of the guidance for members of the bureau, which states:

"The Bureau reaches decisions on the referral of Bills to committees informed by the recommendations of either the clerks in the Legislation Team or the Non-Executive Bills Unit, where appropriate. Where there are ... overlapping remits or doubts as to the most appropriate committee, committee conveners and clerks will, prior to making recommendations, hold discussions with the clerks".

Paragraph 3 of the paper to the bureau on the referral states:

"It is considered that the Bill falls within the remit of the Health and Sport Committee: only certain terminally ill or physically incapacitated persons are eligible to make requests under the bill and registered medical practitioners have a central role in the bill in approving requests."

It continues by arguing that, although many people will see

"the provision of end of life assistance as a moral or ethical issue rather than purely a health one, such issues do not clearly fall within the remit of any other committee."

That dismisses the Justice Committee and is purely a recommendation that the bill should go to the Health and Sport Committee.

I return to the fact that standing orders state that the bureau

"shall refer it to the committee within whose remit the subject matter of the Bill falls."

There is no discretion there. Presiding Officer, I seek your guidance as to whether, on this occasion, the bureau has breached standing orders.

Subsidiary to that is the fact that because the process is clouded in mystery, rumours are running wild. Mr Rumbles is quoted in the new publication, the Caledonian Mercury, as saying:

"Ms Grahame is a signatory to Ms MacDonald's bill and, as such, supports it."

That is not so. I have not signed any bill—I signed a proposal for debate. Apparently, that was put to members of the bureau.

I have heard that one reason for referring the bill to an ad hoc committee is to park the referendum bill, and I have heard a lot of other reasons, but those are ancillary. The main argument is that, under standing orders, it is mandatory that the bureau shall refer the bill to the lead committee. The Health and Sport Committee was recommended. The Health and Sport Committee collectively wrote to the bureau to ask why the bill was not referred to it, but we have had no answer.

Presiding Officer, I seek your guidance with regard to the breach of standing orders.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am grateful to Ms Grahame for giving notice of her point of order.

I do not believe that there has been a breach, because the paper to which Ms Grahame refers was the first of two papers that the bureau received. In its original discussions on that paper, the bureau determined that it wished to consider the matter further. A further paper was received at the bureau's next meeting and, after consideration, the bureau took the decision to set up what is referred to as an ad hoc committee, as it was quite entitled to do.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

On a further point of order, Presiding Officer. In light of that, and given that we are not privy to that second paper—the one from which I quoted was somehow given to me—is it the position that the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee should inquire into the activities of the bureau, which seems to be under no scrutiny whatsoever?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

With the greatest respect, Ms Grahame, your point of order was on a paper that I am not quite sure how you came to be in possession of in the first place. It was the private business of the bureau. There has not been—[ Interruption. ] Members should not talk to each other or insult each other across the floor of the chamber.

Members should be quite aware that there has not been a breach by the bureau of our standing orders.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether there has been a breach of our standing orders. In summing up, Mr Rumbles hinted—rather than spelled out—that I had somehow taken advantage of the rules of the Parliament in asking for the bill to go to a particular committee. I put it down in the recognised way and invited my colleagues to vote in support of that notion. I am quite prepared to accept that they did not, so in what way have I had any advantage?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I will need to consider what Margo MacDonald has said. I assure the chamber that that issue was in no way taken into consideration when the bureau took its decision to establish a special committee.

I will put the question on the motion and the amendment at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of four further Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Bruce Crawford to move motions S3M-5711 and S3M-5712, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the draft Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Amendment of Specified Authorities) Order 2010 be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the draft Health Board Elections (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2010 be approved.—[Bruce Crawford.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I ask Bruce Crawford to move motion S3M-5713, on parliamentary recess dates, and motion S3M-5714, on the days when the office of the clerk will be open.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees the following parliamentary recess dates under Rule 2.3.1: 9 October - 24 October 2010 (inclusive).

That the Parliament agrees that, between 1 September 2010 and 6 December 2010, the Office of the Clerk will be open on all days except: Saturdays and Sundays and 3 December 2010.—[Bruce Crawford.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The questions on the motions will be put at decision time.