01 February 2007

Point of Order

Point of Order

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My point relates to what the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Nicol Stephen, said in response to question 1, from Derek Brownlee, at general question time, to which there were supplementaries. Rule 7.2.3 of the standing orders says:

"The Presiding Officer may order a member to stop speaking if ... the member departs from the subject".

There is a clear view in the Parliament that this morning Nicol Stephen, in no sense in any of his remarks on question 1, addressed the subject of the Executive's policies and their impact on economic growth. He was entirely silent on that subject and confined his remarks to the policies and practices of other parties.

You might of course point me to rule 13.7.7 of the standing orders, in the section on oral questions, and to rule 13.7.8, which states:

"A member may ask a supplementary question only on the same subject matter as the original question and shall, in asking the question, do so briefly."

That rule clearly constrains the questioner to stay on the subject, but it is silent in relation to the minister.

For your further information, you will, no doubt, be aware that the headings that precede sections in acts form no part of the legislation—they are merely descriptive—and that the legislation is encompassed wholly within the sections themselves. If that same test is applied to the standing orders of the Parliament, rule 7.2.3, on which I found my comments to you, is a general prescription, which is not constrained by its happening to be in a section described as:

"Calling speakers and content of speeches."

It would apply equally to responses to questions, particularly given that no other rule addresses the issue of answers given by ministers.

I realise that this is a somewhat complex point of order, but it is clear and to the point. I hope that if you are not able to give an immediate response, you are able to give a response that will satisfy the many members of this Parliament who thought that the minister's performance this morning was egregious in the extreme. 

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): I will not knock that point of order back. Mr Stevenson raises an interesting point and makes some clever cross-references. However, I had only a short amount of advance notice of the matter and it will take time to consider. I am not going to make snap judgments. We shall have to examine the veracitude of your terminological exactitude, which is what I propose to do over the next few days. I shall then write to you.


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