Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer, that is clearly a lot of time.

It has been a very good stage 3 debate. A number of powerful speeches have been made, particularly by members who are retiring, some of whom are from the class of 1999. It feels as though those of us from the 1999 intake are becoming a dwindling band—I know that some members are looking at me and thinking, “There’s no way that young man came in here in 1999”. It may be that the electorate will decide that some members of the dwindling band will be retiring, even though it is not their choice.

I was struck by the remarks that Elaine Murray made at the beginning of the debate and some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Parliament’s committees. I have no doubt that there are ways in which our committee system could be improved—show me a legislature anywhere in the world that has a perfect system. Some of the points that were made by Annabel Goldie about the ways in which our committees operate have some weight and merit and they would add further value to the Parliament.

I was also struck by Elaine Murray’s point about the volume of work that the Justice Committee has had to deal with. As a member since 1999, Elaine Murray will know that that is not an uncommon or infrequent complaint from Justice Committee members. Having spent seven years on the Justice Committee, over two parliamentary sessions, I know that it was a complaint. We moved to having two Justice Committees for a while, in order to deal with the volume of work.

As Alison McInnes mentioned, some 17 bills have passed through the Justice Committee during session 4. Over the last year and a half, since coming into post, my colleague Paul Wheelhouse and I have taken six of those bills through, alongside three members’ bills. That demonstrates the level of legislation that the committee has dealt with.

In the year and a half that I have been engaged with the Justice Committee on a regular basis, I have greatly valued the contribution of committee members and their shared commitment—although they have held differing opinions at times—to improving our justice system in the way in which they believe it needs to be shaped and modernised for victims of crime, and in the way in which we deal with individuals in the criminal justice system.

Committee members have played a tremendously important part in helping to shape and improve many of the bills that the Government has brought before the Parliament. Those bills have been improved as a result of the committee’s diligence, commitment and scrutiny.