Conduct of committee meetings

36. The convener is responsible for keeping order in a committee meeting and calling speakers. The committee clerk will prepare a “Convener's Brief” to assist in managing the meeting.

37. Any MSP can attend a committee meeting but may only participate if invited to do so by the convener. Members can only speak when called by the convener. In calling speakers, the convener is required to have regard to the business under consideration. There is no provision which specifically requires the convener to reflect the balance between the parties in calling speakers. However, it is normal practice, in the interests of promoting consensus, for conveners to do so.

38. The convener is not required to be impartial and is entitled to participate in the work of the committee and express his or her views on the topic under consideration. However, in practice, there may be difficulties in a convener participating fully whilst exercising his or her role in keeping order and calling speakers. This can cause particular problems where a convener is the sole representative of his or her party on a committee. Handing the chair over to the Deputy Convener for part of the meeting can help in this situation. (see also paras 79-82 below).

39. Members are required to conduct themselves in a courteous, respectful and orderly manner and to respect the authority of the chair.

40. Conveners are entitled to allocate speaking times. In practice, this does not normally occur in committee meetings which are generally less formal in their nature than proceedings in the Chamber. However, conveners may find this a useful tool when managing Stage 2 of a Bill to ensure that the timetable for completion is met. Even where speaking times have not been allocated, the convener is entitled to order a member to stop speaking if the member departs from the subject or repeats himself or herself.

41. The convener may order a member who breaches any of these rules of conduct to leave the meeting, although this would be a rare event and one only to be taken as a last resort.

42. Members of the public also require to adhere to a Code of Conduct and must not disrupt proceedings in any way.

43. If a convener is of the opinion that a member of the public is disrupting proceedings, he or she can order that person to be excluded from the proceedings.

44. There are no specific provisions in Standing Orders or in the Code of Conduct for members of the public which cover communications between committee members (or anyone else sitting at the committee table) and the public gallery whether by passing notes or otherwise. It is entirely a matter for the convener to determine whether any behaviour constitutes a breach of the provisions dealing with the keeping of order whether by members or members of the public and to deal with it accordingly. Most conveners have taken the view that this practice is disruptive and do not allow notes to be passed to members from the public gallery during meetings

45. If a disturbance interferes with the conduct of business, a convener can suspend the meeting, although this is a rare occurrence.

46. In such a situation, the convener must order the person creating the disturbance to stop. The convener must clearly state that he or she is suspending the meeting and must leave the chair.

47. The committee meeting may be re-convened later in the day. If the meeting is not re-convened later in the day, it is deemed to have been closed when suspended.