Scottish Parliament committees need to undergo a culture shift that will see them more responsive and topical, Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick has said.
In an interview with Holyrood, Marwick, who took up the position following last May’s election, wants to see the Parliament become better at holding Government to account.
Marwick wrote to MSPs last year and said she would like to seek improvements to chamber and committee business as “a matter of urgency”. She acknowledged that wider reforms must be led by the Parliament itself, but told the group it has “the opportunity to take the lead in driving through reform that would re-balance committee business to the benefit of the Parliament”.
Earlier this month MSPs voted to hold chamber questions and debates on three afternoons a week, rather than the current Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday.A new ‘topical question time’ session, allowing MSPs to grill ministers at short notice on emerging issues, will also be introduced. Other reforms include allocating more time in the chamber for questioning ministers and increasing the number of backbench debates, from two to three a week.
In her interview with Holyrood, the PO says recent reforms should allow Parliament to be more effective.
She said: “I have said quite openly that our committees weren’t working particularly effectively and the Parliament wasn’t working as it should and in terms of the reforms that have just gone through then the Parliament will work much more effectively.
“I am also working with the conveners’ group to try and encourage the culture change that needs to happen so the committees are much more responsive, more topical and are getting ministers in to hold them to account and not just when legislation is going through but that the committees are initiating their own legislation, for example.
“All these things, the committees can do already and that doesn’t need change to the standing order; that needs changes to culture and what I am trying to do is encourage the committees to have the confidence to do that as members, as committee conveners and as clerks, the confidence to move forward and be innovative and make sure the Parliament continues to be relevant and responsive and topical.” Marwick says it “is not a revolution, it is an evolution” and insists “it is not my job to hold the Government to account; it is my job to facilitate other people to hold the Government to account”.
In the interview, Marwick, who was first elected to the Parliament in 1999, concedes her time as PO has not been as difficult as her predecessors.
She said: “I think in lots of ways I have been the lucky Presiding Officer. The first PO was David Steel and he had to essentially preside over a new institution, and George Reid was the guy that ended up actually getting this place built and Alex Fergusson was the PO that had to deal daily with a minority government and so much of his time was taken up with negotiating with all sides and I am the lucky PO because not only do I have five years in post but I don’t have these other pressures and so I can look at this institution based on the experience I have within the Parliament and then look to how we can drive the Parliament forward. That is very exciting.”