Legacy report

 

It has been the practice of Conveners Group to produce a legacy paper at the end of each session looking back at how committees have operated and making observations and recommendations for the future.

The Conveners Group published its Legacy Report on 23 March 2016.

Contents

Report
Introduction
Committee Activity
Programme for Change

Engagement
Scrutiny through Inquiries and Topical Issues
Committee Reports
Annual Reports
Capacity Building for Members

Role of Conveners Group

Quarterly Reports
Meeting With the First Minister

Inter-Parliamentary Co-Operation
Conclusion
Annexe A
Annexe B
Annexe C

Coveners Group - Legacy Report

Introduction

1. It has been the practice of Conveners Group to produce a legacy paper at the end of each session looking back at how committees have operated and making observations and recommendations for the future.

2. At the start of this session as part of the Presiding Officer’s reform agenda, we adopted what was called a ‘Programme for Change’ – designed to encourage and support improvements to the way that committee business is conducted. In this legacy paper, we reflect on the initiatives that have taken place, both in committees and in the operation of this group, under this Programme and make recommendations as to how our successor Group can build on this in the next session.

Committee Activity

3. Committees have a fundamental role in conducting parliamentary oversight of the Scottish Government, through scrutinising government legislation and policy. The scale and breadth of committee activity is captured in the following statistics—

4. In this session there have been:

Programme for Change

5. A key focus of the Conveners Group work in Session 4 has been what we have called the ‘Programme for Change’. The overall aim of the Programme has been to improve performance in holding the Government to account by strengthening the way committees scrutinise policy and legislation. To achieve that objective, we pursued an agenda that would encourage and support the development of improvements to the way that committee business is conducted. In this paper, we look at what has been achieved and make suggestions for the next Conveners Group to consider.

Engagement

6. Committees have always sought to engage with the wider public but this session has seen a marked increase in engagement activity with committees seeking to involve people in their work in a number of different ways. This engagement activity has been particularly evident in external meetings and fact-finding visits, and in the use of social media.

External meetings and fact-finding visits

7. Committee have always undertaken external meetings and fact-finding visits as a way of ensuring that people don’t have to come to the Parliament to engage. In this session, we have not only seen an increase in more informal ways of engaging but we have also seen an expansion of the activities that take place in both formal and informal external visits.

8. The concept of “Parliament Days”, introduced by the Presiding Officer, was designed to take the Parliament out of Edinburgh and into communities across Scotland and Committee meetings were a central component of these days. One of the key aims was to inspire local people to take an interest in, and engage directly with, the Parliament. Therefore, these days included a range of engagement activities, such as MSP sessions in local schools, and engagement sessions focussed on local issues or targeted at specific local groups.

9. Committees have also sought to include engagement activities in other formal, external meetings which were not part of a specific Parliament Day and in informal fact finding visits and events.

10. These maps show the geographical spread of committee activity across Scotland.

Social Media

11. We believe that engagement is not just about physical presence in the community; it’s also about how committees can make themselves more accessible using a variety of methods. Committees have made much greater use of social media to promote their work and to engage over the course of this session. For example, 13 committees have active twitter feeds which have not only been used to share information but also to gather views and sometimes questions for particular evidence sessions. In addition, Committees have gathered views by way of promoted Facebook posts, Facebook pages and online surveys. Increasingly, Committees are making use of video packages to seek evidence, explain parliamentary processes and publicise reports and the impact of public submissions and contributions.

12. At the heart of all of this work is a desire to seek a more diverse range of views which in turn will help to inform scrutiny and we recognise the important part that committees play in the Parliament’s overall Public Engagement Strategy. We have endorsed work that is being undertaken which will result in each significant piece of committee inquiry work (including scrutiny of legislation) being supported by an engagement plan. These plans will be designed to help committees identify who they need to engage with and to suggest the most appropriate methods of engagement.

13. We can build on work that has been undertaken in this session. A number of committees have sought to engage with individuals who are more likely to be impacted by certain policies, for example, the Your Say initiative developed by the Welfare Reform Committee. Experience has shown that it’s very important to find different ways to allow people to tell their stories, not just through public, formal meetings. We need to break down any barriers to ensure people feel able to engage with us.

14. 50/50 initiatives have highlighted the need for women’s voices to be heard, to identify and break down barriers and to have balanced panels. Anecdotally, we have not made as much progress here as we have in other areas of engagement and therefore, this is an issue that committees should be particularly encouraged to consider.

We recommend that the next Conveners Group continue to encourage effective and innovative engagement, ensuring a diversity of views to inform and improve scrutiny.

Scrutiny through Inquiries and Topical Issues

15. Committee inquiries are a fundamental part of scrutiny. Under the Programme for Change, we wanted to encourage committees to examine the way they conduct inquiries to better define objectives and timescales, leading to more focussed activity and effective outcomes.

16. The engagement methods outlined above have obviously played a significant role in the way in which committees conduct inquiries. In addition, a number of committees have undertaken scoping work prior to launching full inquiries, such as holding sessions or visits with relevant stakeholders and communities.

17. Some committees have also held committee debates in the chamber before or during an inquiry to inform their future work, rather than having a more traditional debate once the committee has published an inquiry report.

18. Committees have also sought to become more topical, frequently holding one-off evidence sessions to respond to events or developments. There has also been a growth in the use of what can be termed mini-inquiries on topical issues.

19. Overall, committees have conducted a large number of inquiries, highlighting issues to be addressed and recommending improvements to be made. The outcomes of inquiries have led to changes in policy and in legislation. A number of committees have adopted approaches which ensure inquiry work feeds into other work they are doing. For example, undertaking financial scrutiny of specific areas or bodies throughout the year and using the results to inform scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s annual budget or to help inform the scrutiny of legislation.

20. This highlights the benefit of taking a strategic approach towards committee work programmes. However, we also recognise that some committees have fewer opportunities to undertake inquiry work due to the nature of their work (eg, the Petitions Committee) or to a heavy legislative workload.

Given the benefits, we recommend that, where appropriate, committees should set strategic priorities at the start of each session and use these to inform priorities for their work programme.

Committee Reports

21. The way in which a committee decides to report on an issue will depend on a number of factors:

  • what is the purpose of the work being undertaken?

  • who is the audience?

  • are the key messages clear?

Does the written output reflect what the committee wanted to achieve?

22. There has been a significant change in the format and style of committee reports with the introduction of a more visually attractive and accessible template. Where appropriate, some committees have sought to produce shorter, ‘punchier’ reports . Some reports have also made much more use of plain English to make them more accessible and readable. Executive summaries are now more routinely used so that conclusions and recommendations can be more easily identified.

23. A number of committees also now use published letters (to Ministers and others) as the agreed output of inquiry work, rather than formal, lengthy reports.

We suggest that the next Conveners Group considers whether any further work could improve either the format or content of committee reports and the way in which committees present their conclusions and recommendations.

Annual Reports

24. Allied to our work on committee reports, we also discussed the purpose and value of annual reports.

25. Under Standing Orders, committees are required to produce an annual report at the end of each Parliamentary year. This requirement dating from 1999 has remained and committee annual reports continue to detail committees’ activities during that Parliamentary year, including details of meetings and the number of times the committee has met in private. Information on how each committee has taken account of equal opportunities in its work is an addition made in 2009.

26. A number of committees have used their reports to highlight their work and achievements, to report on scrutiny undertaken along with successes and show the relevance to the electorate.

27. If the next Group wishes to look at whether further changes need to be made, clerks have undertaken some initial work and come up with some suggestions for improvements or (if appropriate) replacements for the reports.

We suggest that the next Conveners Group examines this issue and the suggestions that have been made, and consider whether any changes should be made to annual reports. If any changes were required to Standing Orders, the issue would need to be referred to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

Capacity Building for Members

28. Under the auspices of the Programme for Change, we also looked at the issue of capacity building for members on committees. We know that almost all committees undertook some induction for their members as part of their initial planning days, and that committees have taken part in sessions on questioning techniques and on the procedures for considering primary and secondary legislation.

29. We are also aware that work is being taken forward on a comprehensive programme for members in Session 5 which will build on the induction work taking place immediately after the election.

30. We are very supportive of having such a programme and it will be important that the scrutiny work undertaken by committees, and the skills committee members require, features prominently in that programme and in the support that’s provided to members more generally.

We suggest that the next Conveners Group looks at how the programme for members is working and the Group may wish to consider whether there are specific areas of committee work and management that should be included in the Programme.

Role of Conveners Group

31. Our Programme for Change has not only focussed on how improvements might be made to committees but also on the role that we play.

Quarterly Reports

32. It was important to us that we continued to monitor the impact the Programme was having on the work of committees. Therefore, since April 2014 we have compiled quarterly reports which have specifically focussed on inquiry work undertaken by committees, topical events, and public engagement.

33. These reports describe various innovative ways in which committees have undertaken their work. Increasingly, these reports have also detailed the impact and outcomes of particular pieces of work or ways of working.

34. An example of a quarterly report is attached as Annexe B and all reports can be accessed via this link: www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/95342.aspx

35. We recognise that it is not always easy to record all outcomes in a quarterly report since the outcomes of a particular piece of work might not become evident until much later.

36. We believe the quarterly reports have been extremely useful as a way of monitoring and publicising the breadth of work carried out by committees. These reports are now published separately from routine committee papers on the Conveners Group webpage.

37. However, we should look at how we can further publicise these reports as they can give a more comprehensive picture of committee work and can highlight some good work that often goes unnoticed in the media.

We suggest the next Conveners Group look at ways in which quarterly reports can be further improved and publicised

38. As stated earlier, while quarterly reports are increasingly focussing on the outcomes of committee work, it is not always possible to capture all outcomes in that format. These reports remain a good vehicle for highlighting the work of committees, but it might be useful to look at different ways in which we can more systematically evaluate the impact that committees are having. Some committees have already undertaken such work, for example, the Public Petitions Committee.

We suggest that the next Conveners Group look at what work has been done and consider whether it wants to make any recommendations for any further, appropriate evaluation work.

Meeting With the First Minister

39. As part of the Presiding Officer’s Programme for Change we wanted to raise the profile not only of committees but also of the Conveners Group. We therefore decided to hold a public meeting each year at which we would question the First Minister on the government’s legislative programme, from the perspective of committees. We have held three such meetings in this session.

40. Committees of course take evidence from Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers on a regular basis. We think these meetings with the First Minister are also important because they allow us, as the group representing the parliament’s Committees, to draw on the work of the Committees to question the First Minister on the Scottish Government’s overall legislative programme. They also provide an opportunity to highlight the work being taken forward by Committees in a number of areas.

41. After each of these meetings, we have reflected on what worked well and what could be improved, and as part of that we are aware that other legislatures (predominantly in the UK as the UK seems to be unique in holding their Heads of Government to account in ways other than by question time or in the chamber) have conducted similar sessions in a variety of ways.

42. We commissioned a short research paper from SPICe outlining how other parliaments scrutinise their Head of Government and we attach this as Annexe C.

We recommend that the next Conveners Group continue to hold meetings with the First Minister. We do not wish to make any recommendations in relation to what is the most appropriate format for these meetings, but would encourage the next Group to consider this strategically on an on-going basis.

Inter-Parliamentary Co-Operation

43. We recognise that the proposed transfer of additional powers under the Scotland Bill brings into even sharper focus the need for and benefit of joint working between committees of the Scottish and UK Parliaments.

44. We recognise there are some provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 which currently prevent formal, joint committee meetings being held and there would be a number of related issues to consider. This includes considering which statutory form of Parliamentary privilege and whose powers to summon witnesses and documents would apply to joint meetings, and whose Standing Orders would govern proceedings. Powers in the current Scotland Bill, once transferred, would allow this Parliament to make changes to the Scotland Act 1998 in relation to how the Parliament operates.

45. Having said that, there are a number of ways in which committees can work together. There is no restriction on our sharing information, co-ordinating parallel activities and meeting informally, including having joint seminars. Within the context of a formal meeting, there is also scope to invite the chair of a Westminster Committee to appear as a witness, or indeed inviting an entire committee as witnesses to a formal meeting. On this latter point, many committees here are now used to working in a ‘roundtable’ format where members and witnesses are interspersed and dialogue takes place between them.

46. It is important that we understand there must be parity of esteem in whatever method of joint working we look to take forward.

We recommend that the next Conveners Group meet informally with the House of Commons Liaison Committee to discuss these issues further.

We think it is important to remove barriers to joint working wherever possible. Therefore, we recommend that when the powers to do so are transferred to this Parliament, the next Conveners Group liaise with the Presiding Officer and the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to explore the changes that would be required to allow formal, joint committee meetings to take place.

Conclusion

47. The impetus behind the Programme for Change was to have strong and effective committees. As can be seen from this paper, committees and the Group itself have instigated a number of changes in approach and ways of working. While a number of improvements have been made, we believe the next Conveners Group should continue to see itself as a reforming body, promoting innovation and change in parliamentary scrutiny.

48. We are drawn to the definition of effective scrutiny from the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CPS) that also featured in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee report on committee reform. The CPS suggests that good scrutiny:

  • involves constructive ‘critical friend’ challenge

  • amplifies the voices and concerns of the public

  • is led by independent people who take responsibility for their role

  • and drives improvement in public services

49. As was noted by the SPPA committee, there are already many examples of committees working with great effectiveness and, as the SPPA committee also noted, more changes are needed if we are to see committees working at this level of effectiveness more of the time.

We believe that if the next Conveners Group takes forward the suggestions we have made in this paper, committees can continue to build on the progress that has been made and drive further improvements

Annexe A

Suggestions Regarding Committee Annual Reports

1. Should a future Conveners Group wish to consider any changes in committee annual reports, below is a list of suggestions for consideration.

  • Producing brief quarterly summaries of a Committee’s work on its Twitter feed (or webpages) – this could build on the committee quarterly reports that are already prepared for Conveners Group and which the Group agreed should be publicised more.

  • Online interactive reports, enabling the readership to read as much, or as little, of the reports.

  • Short video reports (hosted on committee webpages and the Parliament’s YouTube channel) to include personal accounts from stakeholders and sound bites from Committee Members. These could complement other reports and cover significant items of work; and

  • Narrated slideshows containing a photographic record of the committee’s work (as piloted by the RACCE Committee’s Parliament day in Kirkwall in June 2015);

  • Reports to cover work that directly affects the electorate and work/legislation the Scottish Government has acted on as a response to a committees scrutiny - listing achievements in place of activities;

  • Using “plain English”;

  • Identify a reporting period which fits better with the electorate; and

  • Trialling other styles of reporting, for example a magazine style format for increased readability, infographics to show statistical information, embedding video extracts to show significant events in committee:

2. A single combined (annual) report to reflect the work of all committees in place of the existing report for each committee to highlight what committees as a body have achieved.

Annexe B

Programme for Change: Committee Quarterly Reports (September 2015 to January 2016)

Background

1. As part of its work on the programme for change in relation to committees, the Conveners Group has agreed to gather periodical monitoring reports from all committees. These reports allow each committee to provide some high level details of work undertaken under three areas: inquiries, topical events and public engagement. The Conveners Group has previously considered reports for the last two quarters of 2014 and for the first and second quarter of 2015.

2. The purpose of this paper is to bring together the reports submitted for the period from September 2015 to January 2016 to give the Group an overview of committee initiatives in the three areas. Members should note that the longer period for these reports is to allow committees to report on activity as far as is possible before the end of the session.

Inquiries

3. The reports provided highlight a number of initiatives and encompass inquiry-type work undertaken by committees, including those committees that may not be viewed as undertaking the more ‘traditional’ inquiry role. The examples below provide evidence of the variety of inquiry work that has been undertaken by the committees, as well as some of the outcomes achieved.

Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee

  • The Committee has led on the scrutiny of two Bills during this period: the Succession (Scotland) Bill and the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill. Being the second only Scottish Law Commission Bill and the second consolidation Bill considered by Parliament respectively, the Committee continues to develop parliamentary process in this area. The Committee’s recommendations on both Bills have led to valuable changes.

Devolution (Further Powers) Committee

  • The Committee’s work on the Scotland Bill and associated Fiscal Framework has intensified during this period with the aim of being complete before dissolution. Innovative approaches included publication of a simple, accessibly-written Citizen’s Guide to the Scotland Bill and Devolution.

Education and Culture Committee

  • As part of the budget process, the Committee scrutinised five public bodies spending £2bn: the first occasion such bodies had been scrutinised in this way. Subsequently, letters were sent to the Cabinet Secretary in relation to each body and a follow up evidence session was held with the Cabinet Secretary.

  • As part of the ongoing inquiry into Attainment and Education Spend, 50+Directors Finance or Education from local Authorities discussed topics in informal session with Committee.

Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee

  • The Committee completed and reported on three substantial inquiries during the period: Plugged-in Switched-on Charged-up: Ensuring Scotland’s Energy Security; Work, wages and wellbeing in the Scottish labour market; and Future Prospects for oil and gas in Scotland.

  • The Committee also followed up the recommendations made in its report on The economic impact of the film, TV and video games industries by holding an evidence session with Scottish Enterprise, HIE and Creative Scotland to assess the extent of progress towards delivering the commitments made in response to the inquiry report.

Equal Opportunities Committee

  • The Committee published its Age and Social isolation inquiry report, launching it at a care home’s innovative arts project with extensive tv, newspaper and radio attendance and high coverage across all media. On receipt of a response from the Scottish Government the Committee held a chamber debate with high take-up from members and good media coverage of the Convener’s and other members’ speeches in print media the following day.

  • The Committee also concluded its Race Ethnicity and Employment inquiry. It adopted a “main findings” approach in addition to recommendations so that it could put forward the thoughts of the Committee in a user-friendly way for stakeholders and media. The Committee also used case studies, developed by Media Relations Office to illustrate the main points of the report. These were used extensively across both broadcast and print media.

European and External Relations Committee

  • The Committee has focused on its inquiry work on the implications of the EU Referendum and EU reform for Scotland, and on the implications of a reform or repeal of the Human Rights Act in Scotland. The evidence sessions for both of these inquiries have been designed to respond to political developments as they unfold.

  • The Committee has continued the practice of taking evidence from the Ambassador of the Member State holding the EU Presidency and scrutinising the Scottish Government’s priorities for the six-month Presidency by questioning the Cabinet Secretary or Minister at the same Committee meeting.

Finance Committee

  • The Committee’s key focus in this period has been on its scrutiny of the Draft Budget 2016-17, the Scottish Fiscal Commission and Land and Building Transaction Tax (Amendment) Bills and its ongoing scrutiny of Financial Memorandums accompanying all other Bills. For the first time, this year’s draft budget contained proposals for the Scottish Rate of Income Tax so this has formed a significant part of the Committee’s workload. The Block Grant adjustment has also been a topic which the Committee has considered in detail. Prior to dissolution, the Committee expects to scrutinise Scotland’s Fiscal Framework and to conduct an inquiry into progress made during the current session on implementing the prevention agenda.

Health and Sport Committee

  • Parliament agreed to the Committee meeting at the same time as the Chamber in order to deliver scrutiny of six Bills.

  • The Committee agreed a key summary of the main provisions of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill to assist the public’s understanding of those parts of the Bill.

  • The Committee agreed that Committee members or the clerks could take evidence over the phone from those who had experienced pregnancy or baby loss but who felt unable to provide formal oral or written evidence. This approach has secured comments from across Scotland from people who because of the sensitivity of the issue may not have otherwise provided their views.

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee

  • In its scrutiny of the Draft Budget, the Committee reported to the Finance Committee on how the spending within the Committee’s remit affects the Scottish Government’s national performance indicator on reducing Scotland's carbon footprint, following up on last year’s budget scrutiny. The Committee heard from a number of relevant stakeholders in advance of the publication of the draft budget, in order to allow a fuller consideration of the issues. Following the publication of the draft budget, the Committee followed up on issues raised in evidence and the draft budget with the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities and the Minister for Housing and Welfare, prior to reporting.

Justice Committee

  • As usual, legislation has dominated the Committee’s agenda, with seven Bills considered during this period. These included:

    • Community Justice Bill –Major reform to the administration of community justice;

    • Abusive Behaviour etc Bill – 6 different reforms to criminal and civil law to address abusive behaviour;

    • Two members Bills, one approved at Stage 1 by the Committee (Apologies); another not (Criminal Verdicts).

  • The Committee is taking evidence on 1 March from the Chief Constable on Police Scotland’s internal communications and its policies and procedures on the protection of staff who report wrongdoing or malpractice within the organisation. This builds on the Committee’s evidence-gathering on the interception of communications by Police Scotland, while also seeking to move the debate on to related matters of public interest
  • The Sub-Committee on Policing held evidence on:

    • HM Inspector of Constabulary’s report of his review on call handling which was prompted by failings linked to two deaths on the M9,

    • John Scott QC’s report on stop and search, prompted by the Sub-Committee’s ongoing concerns around Police Scotland’s approach, and

    • progress with developing the i6 programme, Police Scotland’s national ICT project.

Local Government and Regeneration Committee

  • The Committee scrutinised two Bills at stage 1; Burials and Cremation and the Footway Parking and Double Parking Bill. It also conducted an inquiry into the Governance of ALEOs.

  • The Committee considered in inquiry into whether local authority pension funds should be investing more funds locally in infrastructure projects; looked at the early operation of City deals and made a series of recommendations around governance, outcome monitoring and the role of communities with proposed and running deals.

Public Audit Committee

  • The Committee conducted an in-depth, high-profile inquiry on the back of a very critical Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) report about Coatbridge College and even more damning oral evidence session with the Auditor General for Scotland. Witnesses attacked the integrity of the AGS, which was unprecedented. The Committee undertook a detailed, forensic inquiry. The outcome was praise and support for the work of the Committee which was seen as providing a strong example of effective non-political working and meaningful scrutiny.

  • In relation to NHS 24, the Committee continued to consider the failures around this ICT project. It is significantly over-budget and not yet operational. The Committee held high-profile evidence sessions with responsible officers at NHS24 and will be following this up with the Scottish Government accountable officers at its next meeting.

Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee

  • In this period the Committee’s main piece of work was its scrutiny of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Committee’s Stage 1 scrutiny featured—

    • Two external Committee meetings in Skye and Dumfries;

    • Public meetings in Jura and Dumfries which featured Q&A with members of the Committee;

    • Fact-finding visits to Falkland; Kinghorn; Jura; Islay; Roxburghe; Kelso; and Edinburgh;

    • 200 written submissions received and extensive oral evidence taking at the Parliament

    • Comprehensive and widely praised Stage 1 report which featured infographics and photographs

    • Press launch of the report at the office of the Registers of Scotland in Edinburgh

    • Video of the press launch published on You Tube

    • Extensive social media campaign on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter with very high levels of interaction.

  • The Committee also took an innovative approach to the budget process, whereby it looked back across the session to date and reported on the trends during that period, using infographics to highlight key issues, and made recommendations to the Scottish Government, and asked a number of questions, on that basis

Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee

  • The Committee undertook an inquiry into committee reform, which included a survey of Members on their views on Committee reform to inform the report.

  • In order to scrutinise the lobbying bill, the Committee held a roundtable discussion on and used a leaflet and the twitter account (#splobbying) to make interested parties aware of the inquiry. The SG has made several changes to the bill in response to the committee’s report.

  • The Committee’s own bill on Members’ Interests received royal assent in January 2015 (the only committee bill this session).

Welfare Reform Committee

  • The Committee conducted a major inquiry into ‘The Future Delivery of social security in Scotland’ to create cross-party position on future Scottish social security system post the powers devolved by the Scotland Bill. It also undertook early widespread engagement on, and took evidence directly from Work Programme participants.

Topical events

4. Below are examples of committee work on topical events. These are defined as sessions outwith the planned work programme of a committee but which it is considered are important to deal with at the earliest opportunity.

Devolution (Further Powers) Committee

  • The Committee had to respond quickly to the publication of a General Policy Memorandum by the Scottish Government on the Trades Union Bill, take evidence, produce a report and have it debated in the Chamber, all within the period of around one month. The outcome was a very strongly worded report, with substantial backing of most parties in the Chamber.

Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee

  • In November and December 2015, the Committee took evidence on future prospects for oil and gas in Scotland prompted by recent difficulties in the offshore sector caused by the falling oil price. The Committee published a report in January 2016 seeking action from the industry, regulators and Government agencies.

  • The Committee returned to the subject of the closure of Longannet Power Station in January 2016, taking evidence from representatives of the Scottish Government task force set up in the wake of the announcement by ScottishPower.

Education and Culture Committee

  • The Committee held an inquiry into issues around grants for T in the Park, including two evidence sessions with Cabinet Secretary and follow up exchanges of correspondence.

  • The Committee held an inquiry into BBC Charter renewal for full Parliament to agree its submission as part of Charter process (separate to Scottish Government input) calling for increased transparency and accountability with enhanced production in Scotland.

Equal Opportunities Committee

  • The Committee’s Convener supported a stand in January 2016 to publicise the work of projects working with those affected by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and to highlight the upcoming International Zero Tolerance Day on FGM on 6 February 2016.

  • The Committee Convener, with members’ support, also sponsored a Committee evening event on FGM on 2 February, with speakers including the Cabinet Secretary, an individual affected by FGM from the Dignity Alert and Research Forum project and the My Voice research project to highlight current issues in Scotland to MSPs, stakeholder groups and representatives from social work, health and the police. The event allowed close networking with a range of groups and assisted members to make connections and discuss the main issues in tackling FGM.

European and External Relations Committee

  • The Committee held a round table on the refugee crisis in September to assess the emerging situation, to consider the work of Scottish aid agencies and how Scottish local authorities could help to integrate the refugees coming to Scotland.

  • The Committee held an evidence session with European Commission trade officials to scrutinise the Comprehensive Trade Agreement with Canada in response to concerns about the agreement from members of the public and stakeholders in Scotland. It agreed to send a letter to the UK Minister for Trade highlighting key concerns about the agreement in relation to Scotland.

Finance Committee

  • The Committee took evidence in January from Robert Chote, Chair of the Office of Budget Responsibility and from Paul Johnston, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies following the autumn statement and spending review. The Committee is expected to take evidence on the Fiscal Framework from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Deputy First Minister in late February.

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee

  • The Committee began its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the Forth Road Bridge closure, in mid-January. The inquiry focused on the circumstances which caused the failure and closure, rather than the economic and wider impact. Following a session with the Minister on 24 February, the Committee will report on the outcome of its inquiry and expects to hold a debate in the Chamber prior to Dissolution.

Justice Committee

  • As part of its scrutiny of the Abusive Behaviour etc Bill, the Committee, with the assistance of Victim Support Scotland, arranged an informal private meeting with victims of domestic abuse. Attendees provided testimony in person and via Skype.

Public Petitions Committee

  • An example where a petition was considered in connection with a particularly topical event was the taking of evidence on the findings of the independent review group report on the use of mesh medical devices. The Committee took evidence from the chair and members of the review group and the Cabinet Secretary for Health four days after the publication of the report. This enabled the petitioners and other campaigners who have engaged with the petition to hear, in person, an apology from the Scottish Government for their experiences. This resulted in positive coverage of the Committee and was welcomed by the petitioners.

Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee

  • The Committee followed up topical concerns regarding the Governance of the Scotland’s Rural College and its consultation on the future of its veterinary laboratories by taking evidence from the SRUC and issuing correspondence.

  • The Committee responded to concerns raised by the fishing industry regarding the designation of Marine Protected Areas in Scotland by taking evidence from fishing representatives and reporting to the Scottish Government. The Committee involvement directly led to the relevant secondary legislation being deferred until after the Committee had concluded its investigations and reported to the Government.

  • The Committee followed up serious concerns raised by the tenant farming sector regarding its engagement with the Scottish Government relating to the agricultural holdings remedial order 2014, which corrected a part of the 2003 Act which the Supreme Court had ruled was not compatible with ECHR. The Committee engaged regularly with the Scottish Government, issuing public correspondence and statements, and insisting on bi-weekly updates from the Government, and was part of a large campaign seeking an urgent remedy in the case of Mr Andrew Stoddart which resulted in a final agreement between the Government, Mr Stoddart and the landowner involved in the case.

  • The Committee responded to pleas from farmers and crofters to intervene on the issue of Common Agricultural Policy payments which the Committee did, including asking for weekly updates from the Scottish Government.

  • The Committee took evidence from the Minister ahead of her travelling to Paris to take part in the widely publicised climate change negotiations.

  • The Committee continued to scrutinise the devolution of the Crown Estate through the Scotland Bill by taking evidence, liaising with the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and writing with its views to the Scottish Government.

SPPA Committee

The Committee made space to quickly consider a proposal from Mary Fee proposing a change to Standing Orders in relation to legislative consent motions.

Public engagement

5. The total numbers of external meetings and fact finding visits for the period covered by this paper are—

  • External meetings: 6

  • Fact-finding visits: 28

6. Beyond the statistical information, committees are also asked to provide commentary on any activities in relation to public engagement and some of the potential outcomes of these activities. This is set out below.

Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee

  • The Committee organised a public engagement event to raise awareness of legislation (including secondary legislation) and to provide information about how people can engage in the process. Around 40 Scottish Young Planners have been invited to a short evening event involving the Committee’s Convener, Committee and Chamber Clerks, Scottish Government Officials and the Royal Institute of Town Planning (given that planning is a policy area heavily affected by subordinate legislation).

Education and Culture Committee

  • The Committee held stage 2 Education Bill regarding amendments to attainment in Dunfermline (the first stage 2 outwith parliament) taking Bill out of order to engage local school pupils. All as part of Parliament day leading to positive feedback.

Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee

  • As part of Parliament Day Paisley in September 2015, the Committee met with almost 50 local people to hear about how their working lives had changed since the 2008 recession. This session informed the Committee’s inquiry on the issue of ‘work, wages and wellbeing’. The Committee also created an online survey for this inquiry which received more than 600 responses.

  • The Committee held well-attended breakfast briefing sessions with representatives from social enterprises and employee-owned businesses in January and February 2016 as part of a short inquiry into these sectors.

Equal Opportunities Committee

  • The Committee visited two positive action employment programmes designed to improve the situation of those from an ethnic minority background in the work place. They used summary evidence from these sessions to inform their report, design case study evidence and build recommendations on positive action on employment in Scotland.

Finance Committee

  • The Committee held an external meeting in Pitlochry at which it took evidence on Draft Budget 2016-17 from the Scottish Futures Trust and then from the Deputy First Minister (DFM). The session was preceded by informal workshops with local stakeholders/residents who highlighted their key concerns to members who then reported back on them during the formal meeting before raising some of the points with the DFM. Members of the Committee also undertook two fact finding visits in the timescale; 1) visit to Dublin to meet the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (re the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) Bill) and to the Basque Country to discuss the operation of a fiscal framework in sub-national jurisdictions. Both visits proved invaluable in assisting the Committee in its respective consideration of the SFC Bill and the expected Fiscal Framework.

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee

  • In the Committee’s scrutiny of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill, the Committee used a smart survey to allow respondents to provide submissions to its inquiry using social media. This allowed the Committee to access a wider group of stakeholders and engage with those who may have been otherwise unaware of the Committee’s work. This exercise provided almost 500 responses and an analysis of the responses was used to inform the Committee’s scrutiny.

Justice Committee

  • The Sub-Committee on Policing visited Elgin to meet with the divisional command team, community officers, local councillors, partnership groups and community councillors, to see how local policing was operating in practice under the single force. This was the final in a series of visits to local areas conducted as part of the Sub-Committee’s local policing work, which was followed up by an evidence session with the divisional commanders from the areas visited.

Health and Sport Committee

  • Committee members held an evening meeting with women who had lost babies, to hear their views on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. The women commented how valuable it was to be able to give their views on the Bill and in private.

  • The Committee visited hospices as part of its inquiry into Palliative Care and also then met with staff to seek views on parts 2 and 3 of the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill. This provided valuable evidence on how the Bill affected staff ‘on the ground’ but the visits also enabled direct feedback from service users and staff on Palliative Care. The Committee secured good media coverage locally.

  • In relation to the duty of candour provisions from the Health Bill, the Committee met with people affected by the Penrose Inquiry to understand what this part of the Bill would mean to them. As well as the participants welcoming the opportunity to provide their views candidly to Committee members, real experiences were provided about the importance of candour in the NHS (when things go wrong) for patients and their families.

Local Government and Regeneration Committee

  • The preliminary work to scrutinise the Footway parking and double parking bill used a video, online questionnaire and a Facebook posts which together resulted in over 3,500 submissions being received.

Public Petitions Committee

  • The Committee held a fact-finding visit and external meeting in Inveraray in connection with scrutiny of local petitions. The fact-finding visit allowed the petitioner and local media to attend to learn about work on an important issue to the local community (the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful). Meeting attracted a local audience of 40-50 people and comments in the Q&A after the meeting were complementary of the Committee and Parliament’s approach to external meetings.

  • A listening workshop will be held by the Committee in Dundee in February 2015 to gather the views of a range of people on the petitions process. This is in response to research commissioned by the Committee which found that the ‘typical’ petitioner is unrepresentative of the diversity of Scotland’s population. The outcome of this workshop will inform the development and promotion of the petitions process into Session 5.

Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee

  • In this period the Committee carried out an unprecedented level of public engagement as part of its Stage 1 scrutiny of the Land Reform Bill. Two external meetings (which made three on the Bill in total as the Committee met in Orkney in June) – in Skye and Dumfries; two public meetings (in Jura and Dumfries) and fact-finding visits to Falkland, Kinghorn, Jura, Islay, the Borders and Edinburgh, during which the Committee met with a large number of people who are likely to be affected by the Bill and who had strong views on it. Alongside this the Committee carried out a social media campaign – making and publishing two videos on You Tube, putting up posts on Facebook, and engaging with people on a daily basis via Twitter. Between September and December the Committee gained over 200 additional Twitter followers and had some extraordinary levels of engagement. Following the publication of the Stage 1 Report the Committee was inundated, via social media and email etc, with comments about the report – the vast majority of which were extremely complimentary.

Welfare Reform Committee

  • Event hosted for all 'Your Say' witnesses in Parliament to take their views at the start of ‘The Future Delivery of social security in Scotland’ inquiry.

  • Three visits to minority groups in Glasgow to take views at start of inquiry: Asian women, refugees, Roma people.

  • Visit to Inverness to examine pilot of Universal Credit in the Highlands. Identified future problems once Universal Credit rolled out.

For discussion

7. The Group may wish to discuss the highlights provided by committees in relation to the programme for change and any lessons learned about approaches that have been particularly successful.

Susan Duffy
Clerk to the Conveners Group

Annexe C

Parliamentary Scrutiny of Heads of Government

1. The Conveners Group in the Scottish Parliament has held three meetings with the First Minister (FM). At its last meeting, the Group reflected on what had worked well and what could be improved about the way these meetings are conducted. Issues that were explored included the frequency and length of the meetings, the approach to questioning, style of transcript publication and meeting publicity. It is likely that the Group will include some recommendations about its meetings with the FM in its legacy paper.

2. The Group therefore requested a brief research paper outlining whether and how other parliaments hold similar meetings.

Examples of Parliamentary Scrutiny of Heads of Government

3. The legislatures in the United Kingdom appear to be unique in holding their prime minister/first ministers to account in ways other than question time on the floor of the chamber.

4. A quick survey of legislatures outwith the UK has not identified any innovations and it appears to be unusual for Prime Ministers to be questioned by committees or groups of committee chairs. If asked to appear before committees Prime Ministers in other countries will usually argue that it is more appropriate for specific government ministers to answer questions on government policy and the work of their departments.

5. In the UK, given its unique set-up, the Northern Ireland Assembly immediately had a Committee of the Centre, which supported and scrutinised the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

6. The next legislature to introduce a new form of prime ministerial accountability was the House of Commons. This move was precipitated by a growing concern about the dwindling role of parliament in government accountability and the growing absence of Prime Ministers in the chamber.

UK House of Commons

Prime ministerial accountability

7. The post of Prime Minister is not formally accountable to Parliament. The Prime Minister’s leadership role is not set out in constitutional text or legislation, it comes from convention. The Prime Ministers are therefore able to shape the rules as they see fit. Consequently, the status of the Prime Minister (PM) within the chain of delegation and accountability can be seen as problematic. There is no Westminster equivalent of the Scottish ratification of the leader and cabinet so the PM remains in place only for as long as they maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. The PM decides how often, and when, to appear before Parliament, therefore, the degree of accountability they are subject to is in their own gift. This complex accountability relationship between the Prime Minister and Parliament is fundamentally fluid. The Prime Minister has no department with formal accountability to Parliament, and appears in the House largely by convention (answering parliamentary questions, making statements, making formal speeches and intervening in debates).

Liaison Committee scrutiny of the PM

8. In 1999, the Hansard Society set up a Commission on Parliamentary Scrutiny. The Commission published its report, The challenge for Parliament: making government accountable, in 2001.

9. The Commission found that an important task for Parliament was to bolster the accountability to its committees of the emerging Prime Minister's department, which the Commission saw as becoming increasingly important in determining policy across a range of government departments.

10. The report noted that attempts, by the Committee on Public Administration (CPA) – which was responsible for scrutinising the work of the Cabinet Office – to get the Prime Minister to appear before it, in 1999-2000, had been unsuccessful. This meant that the work of the Prime Minster (PM) and the No 10 policy unit was not being fully scrutinised.

11. To rectify this lack of scrutiny the CPA recommended that the PM should appear before the Liaison Committee once or twice a year.

12. The Commission agreed with the CPA recommendation and suggested that the Prime Minister should appear before a select committee on an annual basis to account for the work of government. It thought that the most appropriate time was once a year to give evidence on the Government’s annual report.

Liaison Committee evidence sessions

13. In 2002, the PM, Tony Blair, agreed to appear twice a year before the Liaison Committee –which comprises the chairs of the House of Commons select committees – to answer questions on policy matters. This formal scrutiny function has now operated for thirteen years, covering three Prime Ministers.

14. The Committee, as a result of its early experiences, has narrowed the number of topics covered and the number of questioners, and increased the appearances to three sessions a year. Primarily, the sessions are seen as a way to challenge the PM on the Government’s record in a less partisan manner than weekly PM question time. The sessions are generally thought to be informative exchanges on broad government strategy and contemporary issues, which provide for far more detailed prime ministerial justification of policy decision making. When it investigated the Hansard Society learnt that the public found these sessions positive, but knew little about them. In its 2014 report, Role and powers of the Prime Minister, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee determined that:

15. “The Liaison Committee has the potential to be a very effective mechanism by which Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account. […]. The fewer the topics, and the questioners, the more in depth and serious the scrutiny will become - a welcome balance to the superficial nature of Prime Minister’s Questions.”

16. In its March 2015 legacy paper the Liaison Committee noted that it believed that a number of changes made to its sessions with the Prime Minister had rendered the Committee more effective in holding the Government to account.

17. The changes were:

  • three meetings a year for 90 minutes each (instead of two for two and a half hours).

  • focusing on only two subjects for each meeting and concentrating on areas where the Prime Minister makes a difference within government. (See Annex A for all the topics covered in 2010-15 Parliament)

  • limiting the number of Members taking part at each meeting to about 8 to 12 the normal size of a select committee oral evidence session—instead of the full committee of 30+.

  • extending the Committee’s reach by also taking oral evidence on one occasion from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Funded research on Prime Ministerial accountability to Parliament

18. Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church) and Alix Kelso (Southampton) have been awarded research funding from the Nuffield Foundation to analyse the Prime Minister’s appearances before the House of Commons Liaison Committee

19. The academics believed that in many respects the Liaison Committee is ideally suited to conduct scrutiny of the PM as:

20. “The chairs of the departmental select committees have, since 2010, been elected by the whole House of Commons, giving enhanced legitimacy and autonomy. Being able to draw on the prior policy knowledge of the chair of any of the relevant select committees can help to redress the resource asymmetries between parliament and the executive. It constitutes a considerable repository of parliamentary leadership capacity.”

21. The research project will examine this example of executive scrutiny seeking to deliver useful insights. It will look at:

  • the goals of those participating in the scrutiny sessions

  • what the goals say about the nature of parliamentary scrutiny.

22. The project will combine detailed empirical analysis, interviews with participants, and comparative study, and hopes to add to the understanding of executive accountability, political leadership, and parliamentary development.

23. At present the academics are not aware of similar forms of scrutiny in other legislatures so one aspect of the comparative study will be to try to identify any examples of similar scrutiny in overseas legislatures.

National Assembly for Wales

24. The Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister was established on 2 May 2012 with a remit to scrutinise the First Minister on any matter relevant to the exercise of the functions of the Welsh Government.

25. The Committee meets once a term and aims to hold one meeting a year in North, Mid or West Wales, ideally in the summer term if that corresponds with the First Minister's diary commitments.

26. It was agreed that at each meeting the Committee should look at one broad topic related to the strategic vision of the Welsh Government as well as a specific subject area that was central to the Welsh Government’s programme. Annex B lists the location and topics of the Committee sessions since 2012.

Northern Ireland Assembly

27. The situation in Northern Ireland is quite different and the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has a very different role.

28. The Committee (originally called the Committee of the Centre) is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee was established to advise and assist the First Minister and the deputy First Minister on matters within their responsibilities as Ministers.

29. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the FM and deputy FM and has a key role in the consideration and development of legislation.

Francesca McGrath
Senior Researcher
25 November 2015