Business Motion

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 30 April 2024.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is consideration of business motion S6M-13040, in the name of George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on changes to the business programme. I call George Adam to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees to the following revisions to the programme of business for—

(a) Tuesday 30 April 2024—

after

followed by Stage 1 Debate: Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill

insert

followed by Legislative Consent Motion: Victims and Prisoners Bill - UK Legislation

(b) Wednesday 1 May 2024—

delete

followed by Scottish Government Debate: Equality and Modern Positive Masculinity

and insert

followed by Motion of No Confidence

followed by Scottish Government Debate: WASPI: Women Against State Pension Inequality

(c) Thursday 2 May 2024—

delete

followed by Ministerial Statement: Publication of the Mental Health and Capacity Reform Programme – Initial Delivery Plan—[George Adam]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I call on Douglas Ross to move amendment S6M-13040.1. You have up to five minutes, Mr Ross.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative 2:05, 30 April 2024

The business of Parliament this week is fluid. Indeed, last night, the business managers were presented with a proposal from the Scottish Government to debate and vote on two motions of no confidence—one was a motion of no confidence in the Scottish Government and one was lodged by me on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives as a motion of no confidence in Humza Yousaf. That one has been successful: Humza Yousaf is resigning as First Minister of Scotland. Therefore, I thought it was right to use the time that the Scottish Government had found for a debate, of just 30 minutes, to get a statement from the Lord Advocate, here in the Scottish Parliament, on her current position and the Scottish Government’s position on the Horizon scandal.

That is a crucially important issue that must be discussed and debated here in the Scottish Parliament. The proposal was put forward by my business manager at the Parliamentary Bureau, and it was rejected by the Scottish Government. I understand that the Scottish Government will look to bring forward that business at a later date, and I hope that it will do that even if this amendment is not successful.

The issue is important. We decided to bring the amendment to the chamber this afternoon so that the discussions are not held behind closed doors and so that sub-postmasters across Scotland can see that MSPs from, I think, across the political spectrum want answers on their behalf. The amendment would not delete any business tomorrow, because the Government has come forward with another debate and there will be a vote of no confidence. The amendment simply proposes that, instead of finishing at 5 o’clock tomorrow night, we stay for an extra 30 minutes until half past 5 to get the Lord Advocate in front of us to make a statement to the Parliament and to the people of Scotland and to answer questions. Across the chamber, there is a clear consensus that the wrong of sub-postmasters being wrongly prosecuted because of a faulty information technology system must be resolved, and resolved as quickly as possible.

It is abundantly clear that a blanket exoneration must be legislated for as soon as possible. However, given the independent legal system—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Given the independent legal system that we have in Scotland, the issue is an entirely devolved matter for the Parliament, and the fastest way for a blanket exoneration to be taken forward is through primary legislation here, in the Scottish Parliament.

Just before I give way to Keith Brown, I will say that this is where we come to an issue. We have heard positive comments from Scottish Government ministers that they want to legislate as quickly as possible, and we welcome that, but we have also heard conflicting comments from the Lord Advocate, who serves not just as the head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland but as a member of the Scottish Government, sitting at the Cabinet table. Until we know whether her position has changed or whether it remains the case that she is against a blanket exoneration, we will be no further forward.

The reason why I think that it is so important that we have the statement tomorrow—I hope that the Scottish Government business manager will accept this on the Government’s behalf—is that we last heard from the Lord Advocate on 16 January. Three and a half months later, this Parliament and, more importantly, sub-postmasters deserve to know the current position of both the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government.

I will give way to Mr Brown.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I think that Mr Ross and I are agreed that we want to see this happen as quickly as possible. Given that the activity involved was undertaken by the Post Office, which is a reserved function, and overseen by the United Kingdom Government, does the member not think that the quickest approach would be for the UK Government to incorporate the process at the UK level, where the issue started? Has he asked the question at Westminster about why we cannot use that approach, which is the quickest and most effective way to do it? Surely he supports that. Is there any reason why he does not support it?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Not only have I asked that question, but I heard the responses yesterday from the minister, Kevin Hollinrake, and from MPs of all political persuasions, with the exception of the Scottish National Party. The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill was passed in the House of Commons yesterday, which is why we need to know what is going to happen in Scotland.

The crucial difference is that prosecutions in Scotland were led by the Crown Office, not by the Post Office, as they were in England and Wales. I therefore think that there is agreement across the Parliament—I hope that there is agreement—that we need answers on behalf of the sub-postmasters.

I would simply ask this. We are now in the era of a minority Government, when we have to work together, so surely it is in the interests of that fresh start, and of the Parliament for it to be able to do its job, that the Government accepts that, tomorrow night, we will stay for an extra 30 minutes until half past 5 to hear from the Lord Advocate and to get answers. Then we can move forward to bring in the important legislation.

I move amendment S6M-13040.1, after

“followed by Scottish Government Debate: WASPI: Women Against State Pension Inequality

to insert:

“followed by Statement by the Lord Advocate on Post Office Horizon Prosecutions

delete

5.00 pm Decision Time

and insert

5.30 pm Decision Time”.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party 2:10, 30 April 2024

First and foremost, the people involved in the Horizon scandal are the most important ones here. They have waited for decades for Westminster to find a solution to the issue.

This is all very disappointing from the Conservatives, and I feel that I have to educate Mr Ross on the way in which this Parliament works. He seems to be more au fait with how Westminster works. The Parliamentary Bureau was set up as a way for all parliamentary bodies and parties comprising members of the Parliament to have a discussion on how business goes forward. We have open discussions as a safe place for everyone. It is not for us to sit here and start chuntering on about that in the chamber, two hours after the meeting; it is to be done there, in the bureau.

Douglas Ross is quite right that our meetings do not take place in smoke-filled rooms or anything like that; they are perfectly open for everyone to see. The disappointing part, and the misunderstanding, relates to this: during today’s debate and discussion, I said, “I have just received this information this morning. I have been to Cabinet, and things have been quite busy. I will get back to business managers in the usual manner.” Surely we have built up enough trust with individuals to deal with that.

Let us just deal with the clarity of the situation. There is no clarity needed. The Scottish Government has repeatedly made clear its position that proposed legislation will be brought forward to the Scottish Parliament as required. Late last night, it became clear that the United Kingdom Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill would not be extended to Scotland, and the Scottish Government is deeply disappointed with that decision by the UK Government.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

We have heard enough from Mr Ross.

The Scottish Government has always said that we would bring forward a Scottish bill if that was the case. I would not mind giving way if Mr Ross had anything of any value to add to the debate.

I normally respect the parliamentary process. On this occasion, when the Tories are playing politics with people’s lives, I can confirm that a bill is currently going through the usual parliamentary process and will be introduced shortly.

With that in mind, I point out that people have waited years, if not decades, for the Westminster establishment to do something on the issue, but the Scottish Government will not let the postmasters down and it will deliver.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment S6M-13040.1, in the name of Douglas Ross, which seeks to amend motion S6M-13040, in the name of George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on changes to the business programme, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division.

There will be a short suspension to allow members to access the digital voting system.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We come to the vote on amendment S6M-13040.1, in the name of Douglas Ross. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. There was a problem with my app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Ms Don. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app froze. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Mr Ruskell. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. There was a problem with my app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Mr Kidd. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Division number 1 Business Motion

Aye: 57 MSPs

No: 68 MSPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 2:18, 30 April 2024

The result of the division on amendment S6M-13040.1, in the name of Douglas Ross, is: For 57, Against 68, Abstentions 0.

Amendment disagreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next question is, that motion S6M-13040, in the name of George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on changes to the business programme, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the following revisions to the programme of business for—

(a) Tuesday 30 April 2024—

after

followed by Stage 1 Debate: Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill

insert

followed by Legislative Consent Motion: Victims and Prisoners Bill - UK Legislation

(b) Wednesday 1 May 2024—

delete

followed by Scottish Government Debate: Equality and Modern Positive Masculinity

and insert

followed by Motion of No Confidence

followed by Scottish Government Debate: WASPI: Women Against State Pension Inequality

(c) Thursday 2 May 2024—

delete

followed by Ministerial Statement: Publication of the Mental Health and Capacity Reform Programme – Initial Delivery Plan