Parliamentary Bureau Motions

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 26 June 2013.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is consideration of three Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Joe FitzPatrick to move motions S4M-07144, on the designation of a lead committee; motion S4M-07145, on the approval of a Scottish statutory instrument; and motion S4M-07156, on parliamentary recess dates.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill be referred at stage 2 to the Justice Committee in terms of sections 1 to 25 and 28 to 31 and to the Health and Sport Committee in terms of sections 26 and 27.

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Services Reform (Functions of the Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service) (Scotland) Order 2013 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees the following parliamentary recess dates under Rule 2.3.1: 8 to 16 February 2014 (inclusive), 5 to 20 April 2014 (inclusive), 28 June to 3 August 2014 (inclusive), 23 August to 21 September 2014 (inclusive), 11 to 26 October 2014 (inclusive) and 20 December 2014 to 4 January 2015 (inclusive).—[Joe FitzPatrick.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask any member who wishes to speak against motion S4M-07156 to press their request-to-speak button now.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I rise to oppose the motion in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, that proposes that the recess dates should be amended to allow for the Parliament to be closed down from 23 August until 21 September 2014 inclusive.

The Government advises that it is concerned that, during the 28-day period in the run-up to the referendum, it could be accused of abusing its position. [Interruption.]

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I have never known the Government to be so sensitive. Is this the Government that has used its position in power to expend large sums of public money on legal cases to prevent information from being disclosed? Is this the Government that has abused its majority in committees to prevent proper scrutiny? [Interruption.]

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

There are many examples that could be amplified clearly in the chamber.

We have been clear from the outset that the Parliament should remain open for business as usual. As a possible compromise, we considered the possibility of the final week of the referendum campaign being an area for negotiation, but the Government discounted that from the outset of the discussions.

The excuse from the Government is that the way in which the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill has been drafted would make it difficult for the Parliament to operate during that period. That point has been made on a number of occasions via the Government’s business manager. I can understand the concerns that the Government has raised, and I consider myself a fair-minded individual. [Interruption.]

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

In the spirit of being constructive, I have sought to find a solution to the challenges that the Government faces. Indeed, I have received written advice from the parliamentary clerks, who advise that it is perfectly possible for amendments to the bill to be lodged that would allow the Parliament to continue meeting up until and beyond the referendum date.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I will give way in a moment.

Even at this late stage, I call on the Government to suspend the decision to allow it to lodge amendments to the referendum bill.

I give way to Patrick Harvie.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Very briefly, please.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

One concern is to ensure that the Parliament can meet. Another is to ensure that ministers are able to participate in meetings of Parliament when the subject is relevant to the referendum—

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

—and another is to ensure that Opposition members can hold ministers to account during purdah for statements that they made before it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that I must hurry you.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Why did the member’s colleagues not propose changes to the bill on those matters during the evidence sessions on the bill?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that Paul Martin’s time is up.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

We have made a number of constructive and reasonable proposals to the Government. We call on it to suspend the decision today and ensure that it lodges amendments to the referendum bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call on Joe FitzPatrick to respond. Minister, you have up to three minutes.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The historic Edinburgh agreement that was signed on 15 October 2012 paved the way for the referendum that will be held on 18 September next year. Central to that agreement was the commitment to ensure that the Parliament will deliver a referendum that meets the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety. That is reflected in schedule 4 to the referendum bill, which proposes restrictions on what the Government, public bodies and the Parliament can do during the 28 days prior to the referendum. [Interruption.]

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

That 28-day period is exactly the same as was used for the most recent Scottish Parliament elections.

To comply with the spirit of both the Edinburgh agreement and schedule 4 to the referendum bill, it is clear that the Parliament cannot operate as normal during the 28-day period. What could be debated and scrutinised would be heavily restricted. Therefore, the bureau is proposing alterations to the normal nine-week summer recess period. [Interruption.]

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

In coming to a decision, there are three principles that we should adhere to. First, I believe that there should be no extension to the normal period of recess, whereas the proposal that has been put forward by the Conservative Party and supported by the Labour Party and the Liberals would add one week to the recess. [Interruption.]

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Secondly, we should be mindful of school holidays in Scotland. Thirdly, we should protect the 28-day period. [Interruption.]

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Contrary to the wild suggestions of some, that will ensure that we maintain the time for the Parliament to conduct business without restrictions. While others wish to waste parliamentary time, we wish to protect it.

The cat is well and truly out of the bag and now we know the real reason for the feigned outrage of the unholy Labour-Tory-Liberal alliance. Far from being concerned about parliamentary procedures, those parties have been found out for simply seeking to grant themselves an extra week’s holiday. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

These proposals achieve all of the three principles and simply move three weeks of the usual nine-week recess from August to September. It is a sensible and pragmatic approach for this period, which is of huge significance to our nation’s history.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

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