Presiding Officer sets out Programme for Change
Jul 08, 2011 No Comments
Parliament’s current sitting patterns do not always leave MSPs in the best position to respond to urgent and emerging issues and this must be resolved, the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer (PO) has said.
In a letter received today by MSPs, Tricia Marwick, who took over as PO at the start of the new session in May this year, says that Parliament should address chamber and committee issues “as a matter of urgency”, with change implemented as soon as possible.
The letter further sets out Marwick’s ambition for “a Parliament that is responsive to developments” and ensures “topicality and relevance in its deliberations”.
One of Marwick’s first actions as PO was to change the format of First Minister’s Questions to allow more backbenchers the chance to ask questions. She is now working on plans for further change and has been holding meetings with party leaders, committee conveners and business managers.
Top of the list of plans for change are the sitting patterns of the Parliamentary Chamber. While the letter does not make it clear the exact changes she would like to see made here, it does indicate that moves to increase sitting times from the current sitting pattern of half a day on a Wednesday and a full day on a Thursday could be on the horizon.
On this, Marwick states: “The business itself is, of course, a matter for the Bureau and the Parliament but I am not persuaded that the current sitting patterns always leave us in the best position to respond to urgent and emerging issues.”
She goes on to say that current arrangements for questioning Ministers may be enhanced, explaining: “For example, I do not think that Themed Question Time has worked as well as intended: there is scope in my view for more frequent and topical question sessions. Indeed, such changes might be linked to any alteration in our sitting patterns.”
Marwick has also proposed that changes should be made to the way committee business is dealt with, suggesting that the Convener’s Group of committee conveners should consider whether or not the First Minister should be invited to attend meetings on an annual basis.
For committee inquiries, Marwick suggests these should change from being relatively broad in remit to more focused and objective-based in the hope that this “should lead to increased quality of scrutiny and greater impact”. For committee debates in the chamber, she proposes a move away from relying on committee reports as a basis for debate and instead using debates to inform possible inquiries at their early stages.
All MSPs have been asked to put forward their suggestions for change, with Marwick stating that she will: “continue a dialogue with everyone I feel can best assist in bringing about the changes which I believe will ultimately improve our Parliament and better serve the people of Scotland.”