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Chamber and committees

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Agenda: Subordinate Legislation, European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1


Contents


Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Convener

Agenda item 5 is consideration of recent developments in relation to the Transport (Scotland) Bill. Committee members received an amendment to the agenda yesterday afternoon to allow this matter to be discussed.

Last Thursday, I met the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans at his request, and he proposed that stage 2 of the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which was originally pencilled in for late March or April, be delayed. At this stage, we do not know how long the delay will be, but it is partly because of resource capacity within the Scottish Government and partly because of the announcement that was made the same afternoon that the Scottish Government would be lodging an amendment to the bill at stage 2 to introduce a workplace parking levy.

At this stage, it is probably appropriate to bring in John Finnie.

John Finnie

I just want to confirm that I have contacted the convener and the clerk to advise that, in fact, I will be the member lodging the amendment on the workplace parking levy and that the Scottish Government has indicated its support for it. I felt that it would be a courtesy to say that in advance.

Moreover, the adjusted timeframe, which I assume has nothing to do with this, might afford the committee the opportunity to take some evidence on the proposed amendment. Certainly, I am keen to make available the wording of the amendment to facilitate that and to ensure that we can have some discussion about it. That might be helpful.

The Convener

Thank you for that.

I have a couple of questions. I think that we can class this as an evolving situation, with different bits of information coming in at different levels, and the discussion that I think the committee should have is about the process and how we will manage things rather than the merits of the proposal itself. Mr Finnie, will you be consulting on the proposal before you lodge the amendment?

John Finnie

It is not my intention to consult formally; there has been engagement with local authorities and others, but not in a formal capacity. I thought that bringing the amendment to the committee would afford members the opportunity to carry out that level of scrutiny.

The Convener

On that basis, I believe that if the committee consults on this matter—and it will be for the committee to decide whether that is appropriate—members will welcome sight of any proposed amendment at the first possible opportunity to ensure that, if we carry out any consultation, we do so with that in mind.

I am happy to make the proposed amendment available, perhaps with some background papers.

Other committee members have indicated that they would like to say something—I see a few of them lining up. I will take Mike Rumbles first.

Mike Rumbles

I thank John Finnie for answering some of the questions that I was going to ask. It was my understanding that a Green member, not the Scottish Government, would be lodging the amendment, and it is good to have that confirmed formally.

I know that John Finnie has said that he will make the proposed amendment available as soon as he can, but it would be helpful to know the probable date when we might get sight of it. It is essential that we consult on it, hear people’s views as we would during the normal stage 1 process and then take evidence. That is the process that we need to follow.

John Finnie

As members will be aware, the workplace parking levy proposal became part of the negotiations on the draft budget, but the fact is that I would have lodged such an amendment anyway, completely independent of that. Normally, I would have done so knowing some people’s views but without necessarily initiating any formal consultation. As I have said, I would have lodged such an amendment, in the way that any member can lodge a stage 2 amendment, but the amendment has developed a status that it would not ordinarily have had.

Colin Smyth

It is fair to say that the proposed change to the bill is a material one. The committee went through a detailed consultation at stage 1 that allowed many organisations to comment on the bill, and it would be unfair not to follow exactly the same process for such a proposed major change, so it will be important to follow that process. Unfortunately, the timescale for stage 2 is unclear; the convener has said that the Government does not know what it will be yet. Will we have sufficient time to carry out the process that it is only fair for us to follow?

I will store up the questions, distil them and answer them at the end.

Everyone knows my view on a workplace parking levy.

I do not.

Richard Lyle

Well, when a witness raised the issue previously, I said that I was against it.

It is interesting that the Greens are bringing forward this proposal. Given that he will be introducing the proposal, I would like Mr Finnie to answer one question, if possible: will the levy be charged on companies or on employees?

The Convener

I am sorry, but I said at the beginning of the item that I do not want to get into the policy discussion, and I would like to stick to that approach without upsetting every committee member. I would like the committee to discuss how it would like to handle the proposal, the consultation and the evidence.

Mr Finnie can tell me the answer to my question afterwards.

With a smile on my face, I ask Richard Lyle to park his question. I would appreciate it if he asked it later.

John Mason

I largely agree with Colin Smyth. On the whole, we have a good legislative process, but one weakness can be that, if a major amendment appears at stage 2 or 3, it might not be consulted on as thoroughly as the issues that were raised at stage 1 were. I agree with Colin Smyth that the proposal deserves proper consultation.

I am a bit unsure but relaxed about whether we delay completing our stage 1 report to take evidence on the levy—and then include that evidence in the report—or whether we let the report go ahead and do the consultation between stages 1 and 2. I do not have strong views on either side, but I think that we should carry out proper consultation.

Maureen Watt

I will follow what John Mason said. We have two options. The proposal will form a substantial part 7 of the bill. Because we have already taken evidence, we would normally complete our stage 1 report now, have the stage 1 debate and consult before stage 2. I think that we have heard from the Government that the intention to delay stage 2 came before the budget stuff happened and is related to Brexit. Given the delay, we have a window in which to decide whether to consult before completing the stage 1 report. I am not sure that I have decided one way or the other, although I probably support consulting at stage 2, but the committee should decide on that and we should hear every member’s view.

Colin Smyth

That is a good point. My view is that we should complete the current stage 1 report and make it clear that we will consult further. All the evidence that we have been given for the stage 1 report is based on the bill as it stands. The organisations might have different views, but they have not yet had the opportunity to consider the proposed workplace parking levy, so it would be unfair to cite their evidence on that.

In effect, we might almost need two stage 1 reports—in which case, perhaps we should not use that particular term. Our current stage 1 report should be based on the evidence that we have received on the bill before us. It is important that we follow a similar thorough process for the material change that is proposed.

The proposal will not affect other parts of the bill—it will stand alone.

12:00  

Stewart Stevenson

With regard to process, I very much welcome the fact that we have a window to look at the issue before we consider the stage 2 amendments. I suspect that the parliamentary process would allow us to open up the issue and put it in the bill, but that might disadvantage people who participated at stage 1.

We should complete the report and contemplate publishing it, and we should then have a separate report on the narrow point that we are discussing and consult on it. The point is narrow in the sense that we do not need to go back to all the witnesses who have already participated and ask for their views.

Does John Finnie or Jamie Greene want to say something? I will then try to sum up where I think we are going on the issue.

Jamie Greene

I will not comment on the merits of the amendment or the related policy. That debate is not for this arena; it is for another day, and I am happy to park it.

My comments are more about the process that we should follow. These are just my views, but if we are talking about a substantive addition to the bill—by which I mean, say, a new section or a new concept on which evidence has not previously been taken—the committee should not entertain the prospect of including it in the bill. In fact, I would ask whether the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee was actually the place to consider that policy or legislative proposal; instead, one might argue that the Government should introduce a stand-alone piece of legislation that would be assigned to the appropriate committee to which the subject matter is relevant. However, if the committee agrees—[Interruption.]

The clerk is whispering in my ear.

I appreciate that that would be very off-putting.

The Convener

I am absolutely listening to you. In my previous occupation, I was used to having a radio in one ear and another radio in the other ear, but I find it difficult when people shout over each other. I am listening to exactly what you are saying—crack on.

Jamie Greene

I am enthused by your hearing abilities, convener.

If the committee agrees that it is willing to accept the additional subject matter—I will call it an amendment—in the bill, I will just note that we are at the end of the stage 1 process, and it is my understanding that the stage 1 report has to be debated by members in the chamber and then voted on so that the bill can proceed. I do not see how the Parliament can proceed with the bill as drafted in the knowledge that a substantive piece of it on which we have taken no formal evidence will be added at stage 2. It is imperative that stakeholders be given the opportunity to go through the due process with the committee that every other bit of the bill has gone through if the bill is to proceed.

As a matter of principle, I do not support adding this additional subject matter to the bill. If it is to be added, I request that we extend the stage 1 process to allow it to be included in our report.

Is John Finnie happy to listen to what people are saying and then come back in?

Yes, convener.

Peter Chapman

I have a lot of sympathy with what Jamie Greene has just said. I wonder whether the proposed amendment would fit into this bill—indeed, I have serious doubts whether it would. That is what we need to decide on first.

If we decide that it fits and becomes part of the bill, it is absolutely imperative that we take plenty of evidence on it, as we have done for all the other parts of the bill. We will need time to take that substantial evidence, because we will need to take on board a huge amount of additional information. I do not know how that should be done, but I have to wonder whether the issue should be in the bill at all.

Mike Rumbles

What we are dealing with is completely different from our normal process and the normal way in which we deal with things. At stage 2, people often say that evidence has not been taken on a particular amendment; in fact, I have said it myself, and I would disagree to such an amendment on that ground alone. However, this is not a normal process.

For the first time—I think that it is the first time—we have a situation in which there is a political agreement between the Scottish Government and another party in the Parliament, whereby Scottish National Party members will support the amendment that the Greens lodge on the issue. As far as I am aware, that is what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work told the chamber. Therefore, it will not be a normal amendment that we will be considering, because when it is lodged, the majority of members of the committee will already be committed to voting for it, as the finance secretary made such a commitment in the chamber. That is despite the fact that we do not know what the amendment will look like, we have not taken any evidence on the issue and we do not know what the conclusion will be. As I have said, this is not a normal process.

Normally I would say that we should complete our stage 1 report, have the stage 1 debate and then move on to stage 2, but this is not a normal process. The committee could find itself in a rather strange situation if it were to complete its stage 1 report and hold a debate on the bill’s general principles, with everybody knowing that there was a major issue that could not be debated. All my experience since 1999 leads me to suggest that we are in an unusual, if not unique, situation that we must deal with in a special way.

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans has made it clear that he is happy for Parliament to delay the stage 1 debate, and John Finnie has said that he is happy to provide us with his amendment as soon as it is written down so that we can consider it. I think that we should delay the publication of the stage 1 report to allow us to consult and take evidence on the proposal. That way, we will be able to have a proper stage 1 debate on the bill.

Are you saying that the issue that the amendment will deal with should be covered in the report that we are doing at the moment or in a separate report? I am not bothered either way.

I think that it would look odd if we produced our stage 1 report in the knowledge that there was a major element of the bill that we could not refer to.

That is fine. My question was a narrow one.

I am proposing that we postpone the report so that we can do it properly.

Richard Lyle

I remind members—I will check the Official Report to make sure—that, during our consideration of the road works part of the bill, we heard from a chap who raised the issue of a workplace parking levy. That was when I made my comment. I do not see what the problem is with those who are saying that such a provision should not be included in the bill. I look forward to the Greens producing their proposal, and I expect that I will vote for Mr Finnie’s amendment. I am not prejudging the issue, but it was raised by a witness during our consideration of the road works part of the bill. The convener asked the panellists whether they had anything else to say, and one of them mentioned the workplace parking levy.

Jamie Greene

I want to respond to Mike Rumbles’s point about the usual due process when committees consider a bill. He said that the process that we are discussing is not the standard one. I think that the committee ought to be prepared to say to the Government that we will not accept an unusual process but will continue to follow the usual due process, because that is how committees operate when it comes to legislation. Because the Government of the day has requested that a member of a different party introduce a policy by amending an existing bill, it is, by default, veering away from the due process that we should be following.

I am not arguing for or against the proposition—that is an argument for a different day. There will be many views on it, and we will have ample opportunity to express them. My premise is that we should ensure that the committee does what it is supposed to do in the way that it is supposed to do it. Therefore, I do not think that we should veer away from the normal process, and we should not accept the workplace parking levy proposal as an addition to the bill.

After John Finnie responds, I will summarise where I think we are and try to find a route forward.

John Finnie

I thank colleagues for their comments. Indeed, it was the reason why I contacted the convener and the clerk.

I know that we are not discussing the merits of the amendment, but I just want to say a few things about it. I have had a written amendment on this matter for a considerable time now, and it has featured in discussions with another party. I will lodge this amendment, and the committee can safely assume that I will lodge others. However, I am not going to flag them up. I am flagging this amendment up only as a courtesy, given the profile that the issue has received. I do not want to circumvent any procedures, because I think that they are absolutely important. I will be lodging other amendments at stage 2, and, as with the amendment that we are discussing, they will stand or fall on their own merits.

With any amendment lodged at stage 2 to any piece of legislation that did not in some way fit with the work that the committee had already done, people could say that we had not taken enough evidence. We cannot always scrutinise to the level of detail that we might want, but I expect the committee to scrutinise the amendment, and I have tried to be helpful by flagging it up in advance.

I am grateful that there has been an opportunity to discuss this on the agenda. I will assist the convener and the clerks in helping the committee to look at the amendment.

The Convener

I do not want to cut anyone off, but I think that everyone has had the chance to say something on this matter.

First, I just point out that this is a Government bill, and, as such, any member can lodge amendments to it at stage 2. However, we should also bear in mind the importance of standing orders and the procedures of the Parliament, and I must ensure that we as a committee comply with them. I would also sound a note of caution by pointing out that it is clear that everyone wants to hear evidence from people on this amendment and we should have the ability to do so.

I have logged the point that the committee wants to take evidence and consider the amendment, but the fact is that, in theory, John Finnie could have lodged the amendment at stage 2 without telling us if its existence had not come out. Personally, as committee convener and a committee member, I think that introducing such a proposal at stage 2, without the committee having looked at it at stage 1, is wrong. With any amendment that I lodged at stage 2, I would like the issue at least to have had some air time at stage 1.

I therefore propose that we continue to work on the stage 1 report, which is based on the bill that is in front of us. We will not be in a position to publish that until after the recess, in any case, so we have some time. I will then clarify the Parliament’s procedures; speak to the Government minister Graeme Dey about business matters and find out more about deadlines and timings; and then speak to John Finnie about the amendment and try to get its wording. I will then come back to the committee with appropriate proposals, based on today’s discussions, for hearing evidence on the amendment, which we have not yet seen.

At that point, we can decide how we take the stage 1 report forward and whether we publish it now or hold off. My feeling is that it would be wrong to make that decision now or to prejudge the issue in any way; the committee needs to take evidence on the amendment, hear that evidence clearly and, on the basis of that evidence, make up its mind whether the proposal is good, just as we do with all amendments and Government bills.

That is how I propose to deal with the matter. Have I missed anything fundamental? Am I wrong?

I did not hear you say the word “consultation”, convener. I think that the committee needs to carry out a short consultation before it invites people to give evidence.

12:15  

The Convener

Let me look at the procedure and find out exactly what is being done, but my understanding is that a lot of people out there might want to comment on the matter. We need to make sure that, when the Government works out the timescale for the bill, the committee is given time to do its job properly. The committee has always made it clear to me as convener that we will be driven not by the Government, but by the way in which we look at legislation. I am mindful at all times of the need to do that properly and not to be constrained by Government timescales.

Jamie Greene

I do not disagree with anything that you have said, convener, but I am still unclear whether this additional subject matter should or will be included in the stage 1 report, or whether it will be dealt with as a stage 2 amendment. If it is the latter and if we know as much in advance of our completing and publishing the stage 1 report, we are fundamentally missing the point. If we know that the subject is coming up—and if we know about it because it has been well rehearsed publicly—it should form part of our stage 1 consideration and allowed to go through due process as it deserves. For that reason, I do not consent to the overall approach that you have proposed, convener.

The Convener

Let us consider the matter after recess, when I will have more information. As for the stage 1 report, all the committee can do is consider what is in the bill—that is as far as we can go. We can caveat it, but I will look to the clerks for advice on that. I do not want to make a decision until the committee has discussed how we want to handle that.

We could say in our report that we were aware of what was coming down the track because it was put into the public domain by the finance minister in Parliament.

The Convener

Indeed we could, but until we have more information and know more about what is happening, the timescales and so on, it would be wrong to make a decision on any particular item.

With that in mind, I ask the committee to support my proposal so that I can report back to members after recess. Does the committee agree?

Members indicated agreement.

Thank you very much. We now move into private session.

12:16 Meeting continued in private until 12:27.