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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 17, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Higher Education Workers Dispute, Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Devolution), Decision Time


Points of Order

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. On Tuesday 15 November, I asked minister Lorna Slater:

“When did ministers first become aware that they were using a figure that, to quote Scottish Government officials, had not ‘been properly sourced’?”

She responded that

“ministers became aware of the issue on Tuesday 8 November”.—[Official Report, 15 November 2022; c 6.]

Emails that are in the public domain reveal that civil servants wrote to at least two ministers in October 2020, saying that, to their knowledge,

“the 25 per cent estimate has never ... been properly sourced”.

Therefore, the information that minister Slater provided to Parliament two days ago does not, apparently, accord with the facts. Parliament has been misled, again.

On Tuesday, I also quoted section 1.3.(c) of the ministerial code, which is on how ministers who mislead Parliament should respond. To the best of my knowledge, the only correction to the record has been made by the First Minister, after I called her out on her previous use of misleading energy consumption statistics.

Apparently, none of those members who misled Parliament on the 25 per cent claim have acted. This Government appears to hold the ministerial code and the honour and privilege of office in utter disdain. The implications of ministers consistently and brazenly misleading Parliament are huge, as are the implications of ministers not acting in accordance with the ministerial code after having done so.

Presiding Officer, I am concerned that a perceived lack of integrity by Scottish ministers in not abiding by our processes and codes risks bringing the Parliament into disrepute and undermining your position as Presiding Officer. Is there any way, therefore, that you can preserve the trust that is placed in us in this Parliament by ensuring that Government ministers abide by all aspects of the ministerial code, particularly section 1.3.(c)?

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Thank you. The member will be aware that the ministerial code is a matter for the Scottish Government, but it is clearly of paramount importance that members, including ministers, give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.

I believe that members are fully aware that the Parliament has a corrections procedure and of how that works. The current mechanism that is available to me through standing orders reflects the procedures and practices that Parliament itself has agreed. If there is a view that they should be revisited, the matter should be raised with the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek your guidance on the procedures around correcting the Official Report after what we have just heard from Liam Kerr, which is, frankly, astonishing. The energy minister at the time and the current Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise were informed in 2020 that that statistic of 25 per cent had no basis. It is important that Parliament gets the proper facts.

At the same topical question time exchange on Tuesday 15 November, the minister, Lorna Slater, said:

“The figure relating to Scotland having 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential was first set out in a 2010 publication, and it is now outdated.”—[Official Report, 15 November; c 6.]

The First Minister’s spokespeople have also said that it was

“quoted accurately at the time”.

How can the Scottish Government confidently say that the figure was correct in 2010 when it was told by civil servants in 2020 that it had not “been properly sourced”? Quite simply, nobody knows where the figure came from. In truth, the statistic has always been make-believe, but to suggest that it is outdated would sound to any reasonable person as though it had been true at some point. I am concerned that, in an attempt to excuse the original falsehoods, the Government is now creating fresh falsehoods to cover its tracks.

Presiding Officer, I seek your guidance on what mechanisms exist to correct the record on whether you have been approached by the Government on the point that, rather than being outdated, the statistic was never accurate to begin with.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Mr Cole-Hamilton for his point of order, but I have already ruled on the issue in my response to Liam Kerr. The procedures that are in place have previously been agreed by this Parliament. The corrections mechanism exists, and I am sure that members understand what it is. Mr Cole-Hamilton has made his points on the record.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. On Tuesday, you provided a statement to the Parliament in response to a woman being ejected because of the colours of her scarf. You apologised and explained that it had been an “error”, but we still do not know why that happened to an innocent member of the public. Is any form of investigation being done into this sorry episode? A key question is whether any members or parliamentary staff ordered or encouraged security staff to act in that way.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Mr Findlay for his point of order. Some of the matters that he raises are not matters for the standing orders and, therefore, are not matters for me to rule on from the chair. I made my views on the matter very clear in my statement to the Parliament on 15 November, so I refer Mr Findlay to the Official Report of that date.