Point of Order

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Section 27(1)(a) of the Scotland Act 1998 says that the Scottish law officers

“may participate in the proceedings of the Parliament to the extent permitted by standing orders”.

Rule 4.5 of standing orders, on the participation of the Scottish law officers in proceedings, says:

“1. This Rule applies where the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General ... is not a member of the Parliament.

2. The Scottish Law Officer may ... participate in any of the proceedings of the Parliament as fully as any member”,

except in relation to voting and membership of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and Parliamentary Bureau. It also says:

“3. These Rules ... apply to the Scottish Law Officer” when they participate

“in any proceedings of the Parliament, as if the Scottish Law Officer were a member of the Parliament.”

Earlier, during portfolio questions in relation to justice and the law officers, I asked what the Lord Advocate’s position is on the Scottish Government’s competence to authorise another referendum on Scottish independence without a section 30 order. Presiding Officer, please note that, in my initial question, I did not ask what his advice was to the Scottish Government; I asked directly what his view was. The Lord Advocate was present in the chamber, but the Scottish Government chose to have the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans respond. Over the years, I have not thought of asking about the Lord Advocate’s view, because he is head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and has previously always answered questions about prosecutions. However, last year, he entered the fray in relation to the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill and responded to questions from MSPs on his duties in the chamber.

After my earlier point of order, the Deputy Presiding Officer quite correctly pointed out that paragraph 1 of standing order rule 13.7 allows any minister to respond to an oral question in the chamber. Therefore, the letter, if not the spirit, of standing orders was complied with. I accept that entirely. [


.] I hear members say, “That’s all that matters”, but it is not.

Presiding Officer, as chair of the Parliamentary Bureau, will you have the bureau re-examine Parliament’s standing orders to see whether they are fit for purpose in allowing members, as in this instance, to directly question our law officers on their duties, as they see them, in the chamber? If you raise the matter with the bureau and it decides that the standing orders need revision in relation to this case, will you outline the process that would need to be followed?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I thank Mr Rumbles for advance notice of his point of order. I assure him that I followed the earlier proceedings. I heard the question that the member asked, the response from the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, the further exchange with the Deputy Presiding Officer, who was in the chair, and her response, which the member highlighted. The member recognised that the response was right in that it is up to the Government to choose which minister to put forward to respond to questions to the Government.

Having said that, I have looked further into the matter. Although I recognise the point and the concern that the member has raised, it is not for the bureau to look at standing order changes; such matters are for the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. If the member wishes to take the matter further, he might wish to write to that committee. In turn, that committee could ask the bureau for its views. That would be the procedure to follow.