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The next item of business is consideration of three Parliamentary Bureau motions. I call Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move motions S5M-21904, on designation of a lead committee, S5M-21906, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument, and S5M-21926, on parliamentary recess dates.
That the Parliament agrees that the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee be designated as the lead committee in consideration of the legislative consent memorandum in relation to the Environment Bill (UK Legislation).
That the Parliament agrees that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (Supplementary Provision) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees, further to motion S5M-17943 and under Rule 2.3.1, that the parliamentary recess dates of 27 June to 30 August 2020 (inclusive) be replaced with 27 June to 9 August 2020 (inclusive) with the exception of 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the Bureau.—[
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In relation to motion S5M-21926, on recess dates, under rule 3.1 of our standing orders, part of your role is to represent the Parliament publicly. I hope that we are going to unanimously agree the proposal on recess dates that has been discussed by the Parliamentary Bureau, as it will allow the Parliament to continue to conduct its important scrutiny of the Government throughout the summer, including by the use of hybrid and online sessions. We should also unite in thanking the Parliament’s officials, who have worked hard to make such sessions possible. However, we have recently seen attempts to mislead the Scottish public as to the amount of work that the Parliament has been doing and to denigrate its work, including the work of officials in making the sessions possible. In your role in representing the Parliament publicly, what action, if any, will you be able to take to firmly rebut any future attempts to mislead the public of Scotland about the work that this Parliament is doing, whether those misrepresentations come from members or from anybody else?
The Presiding Officer:
I thank Mr Harvie for advance notice of his point of order. It gives me the chance to draw members’ attention to the fact that motion S5M-21926 gives all members the chance to vote on our new approach to the summer recess.
As members will appreciate, we are in very unusual times, and the business managers unanimously agreed that we would not be able to take our usual approach to recess. It is proposed that we hold virtual meetings every Thursday throughout the recess, other than on 9 and 30 July, when we will meet here, in the chamber. That will be a hybrid meeting, which members will also be able to access remotely. Members will have a chance to vote on that proposal shortly.
I can confirm to Patrick Harvie that my duties and responsibilities as Presiding Officer encompass representing the Parliament. I try to represent the views of all members of the Parliament and to promote the Parliament’s work. I also try to be proactive in ensuring that members of the public are fully aware of the activities that are undertaken here, and I will continue to do that as appropriately as possible, as I always do.
The questions on the relevant motions will be put at decision time, to which we will come shortly.
The next item of business is consideration of two motions on Scottish statutory instruments. I invite Graeme Dey to move motions S5M-21915 and S5M-21916.
That the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) Order 2020 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Representation of the People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.—[
I believe that Liam Kerr wishes to speak against motion S5M-21916.
Yes, I do, Presiding Officer.
I do not propose to rehearse the arguments, as that was done in depth on 20 February this year. However, I have read the
Official Report of the relevant proceedings on that day, and I note that four key arguments were advanced in favour of giving the vote to prisoners who are serving sentences of less than 12 months. The first of those was that the Hirst judgment requires it, but anyone who has read that judgment knows that it does not. The second argument was that it was required to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights, but anyone who is familiar with the ECHR knows that that is not the case. [
.] I beg your pardon.
The third argument was that those prisoners who are serving sentences of less than 12 months have committed less serious crimes, but the statistics show that such sentences are also given for crimes that include attempted murder, serious assault and sexual offences. Finally, it was argued that giving prisoners who are serving sentences of less than 12 months the vote will help the process of making them more responsible citizens, who will make a greater contribution to society when they leave prison, but no evidence was adduced to support that assertion.
Therefore, the four key arguments that underpin this legislation do not stack up, and—unlike with other matters that fall within the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs—I think that the cabinet secretary is aware of that. Indeed, some might say, on the basis of reading the
, that he tacitly accepts it. Despite that, he pushed through the initial prisoner voting change without scrutiny during last summer’s recess. Now, the SSI before us is being considered by a half-empty chamber, without the cabinet secretary present, in the middle of a pandemic. That is not transparent and it is not good law making; it is a slap in the face for victims and it is shoddy politics, and I will have none of it.
Unlike Mr Kerr, I will not fight old battles; instead, I want to focus on what is actually before us. The two measures in question are a result of the extension of the electoral franchise in devolved elections to foreign nationals and certain prisoners as a result of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020.
The changes relate mainly to the local government electoral register, which is also used for Scottish Parliament elections. As a result, most of the following is contained in the Representation of the People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020, which are made under the Representation of the People Act 1983. They make consequential changes to the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/497). The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc) (Amendment) Order 2020 makes one change that is specific to Scottish Parliament elections; it is made under section 12 of the Scotland Act 1998.
The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020’s provisions on prisoner voting came into force on 2 April 2020, which was the day after royal assent. No elections have occurred since then and none are scheduled until October, but it is now possible for eligible prisoners to seek to register to vote. Electoral professionals have requested a number of changes to make that process operate smoothly. The regulations therefore require prisoners to provide their prisoner number in applying to be added to the register. They also remove the requirement for an electoral registration officer to personally visit a prisoner who does not respond to three successive invitations to register. That is what is before us tonight.
A commencement order that was made at the end of May means that the bill’s extension of voting rights in respect of eligible foreign nationals will commence on 3 August. The introduction of those new voters requires changes to be made to electoral management systems, including a new marker for the recording of foreign national and prisoner voters on the electoral register.
The regulations make that change with a new “M” marker to be applied in respect of qualifying foreign nationals from 3 August and eligible prisoners from 1 September. Those dates were agreed in discussion with electoral professionals and system providers. The regulations and the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc) (Amendment) Order 2020 update existing statutory references to EU nationals, who will now come within the new category of “qualifying foreign national” that is adopted in the 2020 act.
The order also makes the necessary technical changes to provide that a qualifying foreign national who is registered as a local government elector or is entered in the list of electoral proxies is not excluded from voting at a Scottish Parliament election on the ground that they were not a qualifying national on the relevant date, which in most cases will be the date on which their application was made.
The two SSIs therefore make various necessary consequential changes to secondary legislation to ensure that citizens of all countries will be able to vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections as long as they have the right to remain in the UK and ordinarily reside in Scotland. I ask the Parliament to support the instruments.