The next item of business is consideration of motion S4M-15867, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on standing order rule changes: admissibility of petitions and minor rule changes.
I call Stewart Stevenson to move the motion on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.
The Public Petitions Committee recently wrote to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee about the rules on admissibility of petitions. The Public Petitions Committee wished to formalise in standing orders certain long-standing practices that it has adopted, which are currently set out in guidance.
First, the Public Petitions Committee proposed new rules that a petition should not breach any law or refer to any matter in relation to which legal proceedings are active. It also proposed that a petition that is making a request that is clearly frivolous should be inadmissible.
We noted that those proposed changes would be relatively technical. They are designed to rule as inadmissible petitions that breach the law or are clearly frivolous. The changes seemed to the SPPA Committee to be sensible and appropriate.
The Public Petitions Committee also proposed that a petition calling for the same, or substantially similar, action within a year of closure of a previous petition on the issue should be inadmissible. It also proposed that a petition that fails to raise an issue of national policy or practice should be inadmissible.
We noted that those rules would restrict certain types of petitions from being considered by the Public Petitions Committee. However, in practice, the Public Petitions Committee already does not consider those types of petitions. The rule simply translates into standing orders the long-standing working habits of that committee.
We proposed in our report some rule changes to give effect to those changes. We think that changing standing orders should make the rules clearer and more transparent for people who wish to lodge petitions.
The report also covered some other minor rule changes. First, we propose that a cross-reference in the rules on consolidation bills should be tidied up.
Secondly, we propose some minor rule changes that arise from the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Act 2016. The act introduces some new sanctions for breaching the act, including exclusion of a member from the Parliament, withdrawal of a member’s right to use the facilities and services of the Parliament, and withdrawal of salaries and allowances. The procedure for imposing such sanctions is the lodging of a motion by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, followed by a debate and a vote in the chamber. The procedure is provided for in the proposed new rules.
We also propose a rule to allow for the new sanction of “motion of censure”.
I am pleased to move motion S4M-15867, which stands in my name,
That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 3rd Report 2016 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes - Admissibility of Petitions and Minor Rule Changes (SP Paper 904), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 22 April 2016.
One of the roles of the Public Petitions Committee is to keep under review the operations of the Parliament’s petitions process. I would like to say a little bit about the effect of the proposed rule changes on that process.
The change to rule as inadmissible a petition that breaches the rule of law reflects a similar requirement in relation to motions.
As has been indicated, the proposed rule change in relation to a petition being on a matter of national policy or practice is the formalisation of a long-standing practice. Petitions can, and frequently do, derive from personal or local issues, and that will continue to be the case.
Far and away the majority of petition proposals that are received are serious in the subject matter that they raise. However, on occasion proposals are received that are technically admissible but clearly frivolous. Changing the admissibility rules in the way that is proposed will make responding to such proposals a clearer and easier task.
At present, the rules say that a petition cannot be brought in the same or similar terms as a petition that was brought by the same person and was closed fewer than 12 months previously during the same session. The changes to standing orders that are proposed would remove the “same person” element from the rules. Doing so would strike the balance between the opportunity to petition being open to all and the effective use of parliamentary time.
Overall, the changes are intended to provide additional clarity in the operation of the petitions process. The revised standing orders will complement the determination on the proper form of petitions and new guidance for petitioners that will be developed. Together, those things will support the on-going delivery of a robust and transparent system that allows the public to put issues directly on the Parliament’s agenda.