News In Focus
Report presents blueprint for "stronger and more efficient" Holyrood
More flexible procedures, enhanced legislative scrutiny and new ways of engaging with the public are among the proposals of the Commission on Parliamentary Reform, whose report on the workings of the Scottish Parliament is published today.
Set up by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh MSP under John McCormick, the former Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, to review the operation of the Parliament in holding the Scottish Government to account and its engagement with the Scottish public, the Commission comprised a further 10 members drawn equally from the political parties and other aspects of Scottish public life.
Mr Macintosh has welcomed its 100 page report, containing 75 recommendations, as a “comprehensive and impressive piece of work which marks a coming of age for the Scottish Parliament".
Regarding the legislative process, the report proposes that the current three stage legislative process should be replaced with a five stage process, to include pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. While the existing process would remain core, committees should include the extra stages in their work programmes. They would become involved when ministers consult on draft legislation, documents published with bills should provide more detail about the research and evidential base behind the legislation, along with impact assessments and key outcome measures, and the Government (or other relevant public body) should be required to provide the Parliament with a post-legislative statement a set period after a bill is passed – potentially the new stage 5.
The Parliament should also establish a Legislative Standards Body, to "provide a Scotland-wide approach and understanding of what constitutes good legislation".
Regarding committees, the Commission agrees with an earlier report from the Parliament recommending smaller committees of no more than seven members, with members elected by the chamber and developing a "more strategic approach" to scrutiny across committees. Greater weight and more time should be given to seeking views by alternative methods to committee meetings, including by trialling emerging technlogies.
Committees should also provide "meaningful feedback" to those who engage with them, as an important part of the process of producing their final report.
Within the chamber, a more flexible approach, not necessarily by party, should establish a better balance in who speaks in debates, and more time should be provided for backbench speakers. First Minister's Questions should do away with introductory diary questions. The Presiding Officer should also meet with party representatives and "agree key principles of when party discipline is appropriate in parliamentary business".
Finally, "Following a period of bedding in, the Parliament should review the operation, capacity and effectiveness of the Parliament no later than the latter part of session 6" – the session following the next Holyrood elections.
Receiving the report, the Presiding Officer commented: “It recognises the central role Holyrood has played in Scottish political life over the last 18 years and shows how we can build on that and continue to mature as an institution as we take on additional powers and grapple with major issues ahead such as Brexit."
He added: “Some of the proposals, such as making more effective use of new technologies, simply reflect the way in which the world has changed over the last 18 years. Others, quite rightly, challenge us to think differently and more creatively about how we develop and evolve. All will help to strengthen the Parliament.
“This thorough and thoughtful report gives us a unique opportunity to renew and refresh our relationship with those we represent, to promote robust scrutiny, strong committees and trusted parliamentarians.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues across the political spectrum to take forward this package of proposals and deliver the open, engaging and effective Parliament the Scottish people want.”
Click here to view the full report.