Holyrood chamber set to meet three times a week, as committee recommends reform

21/12/2011

First Minister's Question Time being held in the chamber on 09 June 2011Measures to improve the Scottish Parliament’s topicality and responsiveness to events have been set out by a Holyrood committee.

Considering it time for an ‘MOT’ of the Parliament’s procedures, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee has recommended improvements to increase Holyrood’s ability to react more quickly to developing events and improve scrutiny of the Scottish Government.    

Recommendations include:

  • Parliament to sit three days a week with committees in the morning and chamber business in the afternoon, Tuesdays to Thursdays
  • question time to start each day’s chamber business; more questions asked at short notice; and more entirely spontaneous questioning of Ministers
  • increasing the influence of backbenchers through a package of changes to members’ business debates 
  • responding better to peaks in workload by encouraging late sittings of the chamber and allowing committees to meet at the same time as the Chamber where necessary.

SPPA Committee Convener Dave Thompson MSP said: “Our Parliament is now twelve years old. There is a clear need for us to be more responsive to topical issues, and to scrutinise the Government more effectively as issues arise.

"At present, if something significant happens in Scotland on a Thursday night the first chance the whole Parliament has to deal with it is on a Wednesday afternoon. We believe this needs to change.

“There is also a need for change to improve Holyrood’s flexibility, specifically our ability to respond to peaks in workload to hold the Government to account more effectively.”

The SPPA Committee’s report includes:

  • a proposal for ‘topical questions’ to Ministers which should start Tuesday and Wednesday’s business in the chamber to allow members to ask questions about urgent issues
  • First Minister’s Question Time already provides for spontaneous, topical questions, it should remain at 30 minutes' duration and should be the first item of chamber business on a Thursday
  • increasing the influence of backbenchers: the number of debates brought forward by them should increase from two to three a week; debates could feature earlier in the day; the rules should allow them to last longer; and the backbencher should have the right of reply by making the closing speech
  • the Wednesday chamber session should be used for business which is best dealt with in one long session, and should have a finishing time appropriate to that business
  • Parliament should sit all day Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with committees meeting in the morning and the chamber in the afternoon. Constituency work should continue to take place on Fridays to Mondays.

Background notes

All of the committee’s findings are unanimous with the exception of the proposal for Parliament to sit three days a week with committees in the morning and chamber business in the afternoon, Tuesdays to Thursdays (Deputy Convener Helen Eadie MSP and Margaret McDougall MSP did not support this proposal).

The committee undertook its inquiry following proposals from the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick.  The committee considers that changing sitting patterns to the framework proposed by the Presiding Officer will improve responsiveness and topicality.

For these changes to be implemented, the relevant rule changes must be drawn up and agreed by the Parliament as a whole. The committee is recommending that this should take place in early 2012 with the changes being implemented after the Easter Recess.