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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 March 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, European Union Withdrawal Negotiations, Point of Order, Decision Time, Mesh Implant Removal


Point of Order

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. On 1 February, I lodged a parliamentary question regarding the future of the air discount scheme, following an earlier response that I had received that suggested an announcement would be made “in due course”. I asked the Scottish Government:

“in light of the current scheme ceasing on 1 April 2019, whether it will confirm by what date the announcement will be made.”

A further reply from the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity was received on Friday last week. It stated:

“The Scottish Government ... will make a formal announcement before the current scheme ends.”—[Written Answers, 1 March 2019; S5W-21378]

Today, a mere two working days later, the Scottish Government made such a full announcement on the air discount scheme.

Paragraph 3.5 in the Scottish 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”.

It is hard to see what possible justification there could be for a minister to wait a month before giving Parliament a non-answer to a written question on Friday, only for the substantive announcement to be made to the media two working days later. Surely the appropriate action for the minister to take would be to provide a holding reply on Friday and a substantive response today.

Presiding Officer, can you advise on how ministers might avoid such a discourtesy to Parliament in future? Indeed, what is the point now of lodging a parliamentary question in the first place?

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I thank the member for advance notice of his point of order, on which I can advise. While I am not responsible for the operation of the ministerial code, I note that, in making that announcement, the Scottish Government did not follow one of the methods set out in the good practice guidance on announcements. Those methods include ministerial statements, as well as Government-inspired questions—or GIQs—as they are now known. That guidance exists to ensure that announcements by the Government on matters of importance do not enter the public domain before being communicated to Parliament. That underlines the point that ministers are accountable to Parliament and that Parliament should be able to hold ministers to account. It also ensures transparency in proceedings.

I appreciate that some judgment is required about whether an announcement should be made using one of those methods and, if so, which method should be used. However, it is clear that the member has shown an interest in this matter, and his written PQ offered the opportunity for the announcement to be made to Parliament. I am also sure that other members would be interested in this matter. I therefore invite the Government to reflect on that point and to give some consideration to how it will inform Parliament of policy matters in future.