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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 08 June 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Point of Order, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Tackling Poverty and Building a Fairer Scotland, Business Motion, Decision Time, Tariff-free Trade Deals


Point of Order

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek your help in a matter that should concern every one of us as parliamentarians. Last Friday, the First Minister made yet another televised Covid statement and went on to take questions from journalists. That happened even though the Parliament sat last Thursday. That was only the latest occasion on which the First Minister has chosen to speak to TV cameras rather than to come to the chamber to make a statement and to take questions from the members of this Parliament. Parliament is where statements should be made first—we are elected to hear statements first. The First Minister should give the Parliament the respect that it deserves.

Presiding Officer, I wish to ask you three things. First, will you confirm that it is in order for the First Minister to come to the chamber to make Government statements, and that it is not in order for her to ignore the Parliament and instead to make statements in front of TV cameras and journalists?

Secondly, if the First Minister was not in a position to make her statement on Thursday, which is an excuse that she might try to offer for the apparent disrespect to the Parliament, would it have been in order for the First Minister to ask her party’s business manager to seek a sitting of Parliament last Friday?

Finally, Presiding Officer, I ask you to make further representations to the Scottish Government and, in particular, to the First Minister to the effect that Government statements should first be made in Parliament in order to allow for proper scrutiny and to show respect for our Parliament.

I thank Stephen Kerr for advance notice of his point of order. I note that those matters were discussed by the Parliamentary Bureau today. As I outlined at its meeting, it is my expectation that all substantial announcements in relation to Covid-19 will be made to the Parliament. Issues relating to timetabling of business are, in the first instance, for discussion at the bureau’s meetings and are, ultimately, for the Parliament to decide. Any concerns that members have about timetabling of business can be raised through their business manager or directly with me.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wish to make a further point of order on the matter. These are extraordinary times and Governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures, which make accountability and parliamentary scrutiny more important than ever.

Paragraph 3.5 of the ministerial code states:

“When the Parliament is meeting, Ministers should ensure that important announcements of Government policy are made, in the first instance, to the Parliament”.

The Scottish Parliament’s standing orders provide flexibility to ensure that ministers can meet their obligations under the code. When a minister wishes to make a statement “of an urgent nature”, rule 13.2 allows them to request time for a parliamentary statement that day. Rule 5.5.4 makes clear that if

“emergency business arises, the Presiding Officer may allow that business to be taken”

and will

“make any necessary alteration to the daily business list.”

Parliament can also agree to meet outwith our usual sitting days, if necessary. We recently met for four hours on a Friday to elect our Deputy Presiding Officers. We could, if it was required, easily meet on a Friday to consider urgent matters that are of national importance, such as the levels of tiered coronavirus restrictions that apply to our constituents.

When critical announcements and statements are made by the First Minister to a press conference instead of to the Parliament, members are denied the opportunity to question the First Minister and the Scottish Government about their decisions as a situation develops. There is no reason why the Parliament should be denied the opportunity to fulfil its role in holding the Government to account, and to do so in good time.

I would be grateful if the Presiding Officer would confirm that there is no barrier to the Parliament meeting on Fridays, or to the Scottish Government requesting parliamentary time for urgent or emergency business concerning its response to the pandemic, as we all seek to support the country through this crisis.

I thank Neil Bibby for his point of order. As I said previously, it is my expectation that all substantial announcements in relation to Covid-19 or any other issues will be made to the Parliament. I am certain that we will return to discussing the issue at our next Parliamentary Bureau meeting.

As I have also said previously, issues relating to timetabling are a matter for the bureau and, ultimately, Parliament to decide.