The Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, has warned MSPs to be on their best behaviour ahead of next week’s return to business amid signs of growing frustration over a lack of courtesy inside the chamber.
Members arriving at Holyrood after the summer recess are set to see the introduction of a new three-day sitting pattern instigated by Marwick and endorsed by the Parliament.
In a letter to all 129 MSPs today, Marwick said the move – complemented by a new ‘topical question time’ session allowing ministers to be grilled at short notice on emerging issues, and an increase in the number of backbench debates – represents the “biggest single change to the Parliament’s working practices since 1999″.
Reform of the committee system is now considered an immediate priority with Marwick in discussion with the Conveners Group on ways to ensure they become more reactive and topical.
However, of particular interest is the second last paragraph written by the Parliament’s fourth presiding officer in which she intimates a growing frustration over the inability of certain members to abide by the rules.
“Finally, following a number of requests from Members themselves, I am attaching to this letter a brief reminder about courtesy in the Chamber,” she writes. “I hope that this will be useful and helps outline the expectations that I and my deputies have for maintaining consistent conduct across the chamber.”
An attached annex contains three paragraphs devoted to general courtesy and noise levels, guidelines on questions, and attendance in the chamber.
The reiteration of the rules comes after the First Minister’s parliamentary aide Joan McAlpine MSP issued an apology to the chamber in May for failing to turn up during her ministerial questions slot.
It later emerged the South of Scotland MSP had been dining with Alex Salmond in the parliamentary restaurant and had, she told MSPs, “lost track of time”.
In an interview with Holyrood in June, Marwick said members found to fall short of the rules would be punished, irrespective of which party they represent.
She said: “… anyone who treats the Parliament with discourtesy will feel the full wrath of me because the Parliament must be treated with respect and courtesy and people must make sure that they are acting on behalf of their constituents or the people they represent and when they are in the Parliament, they must give the institution respect and it does not matter to me what party they come from because I will not tolerate a lack of respect.”