29 January 2014

S4M-08833 Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer Elections

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is consideration of motion S4M-08833, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer elections. I call Stewart Stevenson to move the motion on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Thank you, Presiding Officer—I know that this will be a matter of considerable interest to the Presiding Officer and to other members.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is proposing some changes to the rules on Presiding Officer elections.

The Scotland Act 1998 places a number of requirements on Parliament in relation to the election of its Presiding Officers—rightly so, given the importance of the role. However, in our first few years of operation, it became clear that the rules are rather too restrictive and some real operational difficulties have arisen. For example, when our first Presiding Officer, Sir David Steel, had to undergo an operation, his two deputies had to carry his workload between them—there was no scope to appoint a temporary Deputy Presiding Officer to fill the gap.

A different difficulty arose at the start of session 3, when we had our first experience of minority government. Given the importance of every seat in the parliamentary arithmetic of that session, it took some time for possible candidates for Presiding Officer to emerge, yet Parliament was required to elect a Presiding Officer at its first meeting. A procedural fix was devised and we were able to elect Alex Fergusson on our second meeting day, but that situation was unsatisfactory—[Laughter.]—and could arise again in the future. I see that Alex Fergusson is volunteering again already.

The Scotland Act 2012 addressed both those problems. The changes that I am proposing on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee will translate those changes into the standing orders.

The first change will allow the Presiding Officer elections to take place at any time within 14 days of the general election, counting from the day after the poll. The oath taking must be completed first, and no other business can take place until the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officers have been elected, but we are no longer restricted to the first meeting.

The committee took the view that some flexibility is desirable. In general, Parliament will want to elect the Presiding Officer as soon as possible so that it can get down to business, but that may not always be possible. Therefore, the rules that we have drafted will allow the elections to take place on the first meeting day, or at a later meeting, or for the Presiding Officer to be elected on one day and the deputies on a subsequent day.

The committee took the chance to review all the rules on Presiding Officer elections, and concluded that they generally work well. We did not detect any appetite for significant changes, but we agreed that the timetable was a little tight. We therefore propose that, for both elections, there should be an hour between the close of nominations and the start of voting, rather than 15 minutes, as is the case at present. That would provide a short space to allow members to reflect on and discuss the nominations before they have to vote. We also propose that there should be an hour, rather than 15 minutes, to submit nominations for Deputy Presiding Officers.

The rule changes will allow additional deputies to be appointed. The most likely reason for that is illness, but there could be other reasons. We have therefore left it to the Presiding Officer and the Parliamentary Bureau to decide when and for how long an additional deputy would be needed, with the safeguard that any proposal must be agreed by Parliament. The overall political balance of the Presiding Officer team is also protected by the new rules.

As with the previous motion, Parliament is invited to agree that the changes to standing orders will come into effect from 3 February.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 9th Report 2013 (Session 4), Presiding Officer & Deputy Presiding Officer Elections (SP Paper 433), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in annexe A of the report be made with effect from 3 February 2014.

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