Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Geez it!

TRICIA Marwick, the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer, is trying to take the lead on / wrest control of the reforms proposed by Bruce Crawford, the Secretary for Parliamentary Business.

On Saturday, Crawford opened up a debate on possible changes to Holyrood's sitting times, workload, responsiveness and committee investigations.

Calling for cross-party ideas, he said: "I believe that there are options on how to take these and other ideas forward. The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee could conduct a review or it may be useful to take the review outwith Parliament but I am clear that any review should seek the views and contributions of people across Scotland."

But it looks like Marwick has other ideas.

In a statement issued this afternoon, she said it should be Holyrood's committee conveners' group (which she chairs) driving the reforms, adding: "I am firmly of the view that the process of reform must be Parliament-led".

In other words, everyone else hands off.

Here's her statement:

Please find below the text of the Presiding Officer’s letter issued this afternoon to All Members of the Conveners’ Group at Holyrood.

The letter sets out ways in which the PO believes the committees can be reformed for the benefit of Parliament, if the Conveners’ Group takes the opportunity to drive reform.

The PO also states that she believes the time is right to reflect on how we organise chamber time and will be speaking with Party Leaders and Business Managers to discuss taking forward this agenda.  

The PO concludes by saying she believes the process of reform must be Parliament-led.

Full text is below:



To: All Members of Conveners Group

15 June 2011

Dear Colleagues,

The Conveners Group will meet next week for the first time in Session 4.  I am writing to you in advance of that meeting to let you know that I intend to chair the Group for the foreseeable future.

When I asked for your support in being elected as Presiding Officer, I said I believed the time was right for a fresh look at how our committees can operate to best effect and at how we organise our chamber time.  I know too that suggestions about how the Parliament can reform have come from various quarters over the last few months and it is healthy to have such public debate.  That said, it is now time to start putting words into action where we can and I regard CG as playing a vital role in influencing parliamentary-led change to ensure that committees are at their most effective.

The Group has the opportunity to take the lead in driving through reform that would re-balance committee business to the benefit of the Parliament and I will invite CG at its first meeting to consider what we can do together to progress matters.  There are several issues that, if we achieve consensus, can be moved on apace. 

I believe these include:

·         increasing committees’ agility to hold sharper focused inquiries that deal with topical issues of the day;
·         greater use of Ministerial evidence sessions – for instance inviting Ministers to inform committees of their priorities and to provide oral updates;
·         improved presentation of committee reports to make them more accessible and thus make a greater impact in scrutinising policy; and
·         initiating legislation.

Last month, I asked parliamentary officials to work up papers that would provide more detail on these issues and the first in a possible series of such papers will be presented to the Group next week for us to consider.

Like many Members across the political spectrum, I believe the time is right to also reflect on how we organise chamber time and I will be speaking to Party Leaders and Business Managers over the coming weeks to discuss how this agenda can best be taken forward.  You will be aware that I have already initiated changes to First Minister’s Questions which, while still giving the Party Leaders the opportunity to hold the First Minister to account, have also provided more time for backbenchers to ask questions.  In addition, and with the support of Business Managers, I have ensured speeches of 6 minutes with time added on for interventions becoming the norm and these changes have been welcomed across the chamber.  I am aware that more needs to be done with respect to how we use the time in the chamber but any additional measures could involve changes to Standing Orders and will therefore need to be carefully considered. 

Based on my experience of the first 12 years of devolution - as a backbencher, a Committee Convener, a member of the Bureau and the Corporate Body - I am firmly of the view that the process of reform must be Parliament-led.  I invite all Conveners to start the ball rolling at our first meeting and I very much look forward to working with you all.  

I am copying this letter to Party Leaders and Business Managers.

Yours sincerely


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