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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 4, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 March 2021

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Scottish Parliamentary Standards (Sexual Harassment and Complaints Process) Bill: Stage 3, International Women’s Day 2021, Motion Without Notice, Decision Time


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. I ask members to take care to observe those measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber and when accessing and leaving their seats.

Legal Advice

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body how much it spends annually on the provision of legal advice for the Parliament and its committees.

Before I answer that, I note the presence of David Stewart and Sandra White, who are attending their final SPCB question time. We all come into the corporate body from different parties and we leave our party politics behind, and we do our best for all MSPs and for the reputation of the Parliament. I wish both members well for after the end of the current parliamentary session.

In response to Mr Neil, I confirm that, in 2020-21, the SPCB has a budget of £1,597,000 for the staffing of its legal office, inclusive of employer’s national insurance and pension costs.

The Scottish Parliament’s legal team fulfils a vital, impartial and professional role in supporting members’ work. As well as providing advice to the SPCB and the Presiding Officers, and supporting scrutiny by all of Parliament’s committees, a proportion of in-house time will be spent on matters for members either through the member advice scheme or to other SPCB offices that support members. Unfortunately, it is not possible to accurately attribute costs between the different areas of the service, such as committee support, as in-house time is not recorded in that manner.

In addition, in 2020-21 the SPCB has a budgeted spend of £46,000 for the provision of external legal advice across the full range of its services. Legal advice is outsourced to external solicitors under the management of the legal office when particular expertise is required or to manage workflow at times of pressure.

I thank Mr Carlaw for that information, and wish all members of the corporate body all the best for the future as I will be stepping down myself.

What legal advice did the corporate body receive on how to respond to the recent demand made of it by the Crown Office regarding redactions from a witness statement, even though that statement had already been published on the Parliament’s website?

I also wish Mr Neil all the best. He actually looks like he is escaping from a mug photo at the moment. It looks as though he is in witness protection because we cannot see him; we can see only a shadow on the screen. However, given that he has said who he is, I will carry on in that spirit.

The SPCB’s decisions in relation to the publication of submissions is set out in written answer S5W-35498 to Miles Briggs. The SPCB’s decision was informed by advice from officials, external solicitors and senior counsel. The SPCB was fully aware of its legal obligations to abide by the terms of the court order and, after careful consideration of all factors, it collectively decided on 22 February that, on balance, it was possible for the submission to be published.

Following receipt of subsequent correspondence from the Crown Office, the Presiding Officer called an urgent meeting of the SPCB for the morning of 23 February to consider the terms of those letters. Clarification was sought from the Crown Office and received, and it was available for the SPCB’s consideration at its meeting that morning.

After due consideration of its contents, and mindful of the balance of judgments that it had undertaken in relation to its earlier decision, the SPCB decided that, although the submission could still be published, some of the content of the former First Minister’s submission required to be redacted.

That concludes questions to the SPCB on this occasion.

14:36 Meeting suspended.  

14:38 On resuming—