Justice Committee is just a ‘legislative machine for government bills’, warns convener Margaret Mitchell
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she did not have the “magic answer” to the issue of workload but all the legislation was necessary
Margaret Mitchell - Image credit: Scottish Parliament
The convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has raised concerns with the First Minister that the committee has become “merely a legislative machine for government bills”.
Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell voiced misgivings to Nicola Sturgeon that as the committee is already scrutinising three bills, with a fourth imminent, committee members have little time for anything else.
Sturgeon answered that it was an issue that had been raised over the years, including by Mitchell’s predecessor, Christine Grahame, and that she didn’t have the “magic answer” to the problem.
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The First Minister was appearing before the Conveners Group of the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from committee conveners on aspects of the Scottish Government’s programme for government.
Mitchell said there had been “justifiable concern” over the years that the Justice Committee has not time to do anything but scrutinise forthcoming government legislation and asked the First Minister what consideration was given in the work programme to the other functions that the committees, such as carrying out inquiries and post-legislative scrutiny.
Mitchell said: “If we continue to pass more and more legislation without doing practically any post-legislative scrutiny that isn’t effective government, it’s not effective legislation.”
She added: “And also there’s very little opportunity for committees to actually instigate legislation, because we as a committee representing people feel this is legislation that should be brought forward and we are the people’s voice to do that.”
Sturgeon responded that the Scottish Government deliberately phases legislation over the year to avoid overloading committees and that all the pieces of legislation the Justice Committee was being asked to look at are necessary.
“I’m not sure there’s anybody telling me that any of these pieces of legislation are not required, so the first question we ask is what’s the purpose of a piece of legislation and we take it from there,” she said.
She continued: “So I would sit here and argue very, very strongly that every bill that we are proposing to the parliament is a bill that has a purpose.
“And you can disagree with us on the contents of these bills, but unless you’re telling me any of these particular bills are not necessary, then the question cannot be we just don’t do them, it has to be how do we properly manage that workload, and we will continue to engage in those discussions.”
Sturgeon added that the Scottish Government had been criticised by the Conservatives for not producing enough legislation.
“I’m sure I was as unfair on governments when I was in opposition,” she said.
“I’m absolutely convinced I was. But often as a government you can’t win, because, certainly over recent months, the accusation has been we haven’t legislated enough.
“Well…by summer recess next year I think…we will have passed 20 pieces of legislation and I think all of them are necessary pieces of legislation.”
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