INVITING WITNESSES TO GIVE EVIDENCE IN FORMAL COMMITTEE MEETINGS
1. Rule 12.4 of Standing Orders provides that a committee may, in connection with any competent matter, invite any person to attend its proceedings for the purpose of giving evidence.
2. The normal practice is that witnesses are agreed by the committee and are invited in advance. Their details are published on the committee agenda and in the Business Bulletin.
3. In situations where an organisation is invited to give evidence, wherever possible, the individuals who will be attending should be identified and named on the agenda.
4. The Standing Orders do, however, allow committees to take evidence from witnesses not listed on the agenda. The Procedures Committee is of the view that such circumstances are unlikely to arise frequently.
5. If it is proposed to take evidence from a witness who is not listed on the agenda, the agreement of the committee is required.
6. In reaching such a decision, a committee should have regard to the following considerations:
the importance of the potential contribution to be taken without notice;
in order to make proceedings open and accessible, it is helpful to members of the public to know in advance who will be giving evidence;
unscheduled contributions do not allow people the opportunity of attending committee proceedings to hear particular witnesses giving evidence;
unscheduled contributions may not allow the committee members to get the best from the witness;
members may not have had the opportunity to read a written submission from the witness;
members may not know the witness's background and experience;
members will not have had the opportunity of preparing questions;
the witness may not have had the chance fully to prepare for the meeting;
if contributions are to be invited from the public gallery, issues relating to the keeping of order may arise; and
it may be difficult to achieve a balance across a range of opinion.
7. These factors do not constitute an exhaustive list and the decision is one for the committee.
8. The Procedures Committee considered that it should be normal practice to provide notice of witnesses, but recognised that there could be exceptional circumstances where a committee would wish to exercise its discretion to hear from someone without notice. It was, however, felt unlikely that such circumstances would arise frequently because the test of the relevance and timeliness of the unscheduled contribution was a significant one to pass.
9. Where a committee wishes to hold an open forum or public meeting where contributions are taken from the floor, this can be done outwith the formal setting of a committee meeting as part of a fact finding exercise. When this occurs a range of options for recording such contributions is available, including the possibility of having Official Reporters produce a transcript of the proceedings which could be annexed, if the committee so agreed, to a Committee Report.
10. It should be noted that an informal meeting such as an open forum does not form part of the proceedings of the Parliament and as such statements made during such an event do not attract privilege under section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998. Conveners may wish to draw this to the attention of participants in such an event.