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  1. MSPs take evidence from the Malta High Commission to the UK on the EU presidency
  2. The first minister is accused of not giving a "straight answer" to parliament on delays to EU farm payments
  3. MSPs debate the Commission on Parliamentary Reform’s Report on the Scottish Parliament

Live Reporting

By Craig Hutchison and Colin Bell

All times stated are UK

Parliament's out..... for summer


That brings to an end our coverage of the Scottish Parliament for Thursday 29 June 2017.

The Scottish Parliament is now in recess and we will return on 5 September.

Have a good summer.

Here's the summer recess barbecue preparation................have a lovely holiday!

That takes us into summer recess

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh says he wishes everyone well for the summer recess and that he looks forward to welcoming everyone back refreshed and reinvigorated in September.

Ms Lamont says she the commission's report is a package and should be delivered as such

Labour MSP Johann Lamont
Labour MSP Johann Lamont

Ms Lamont says people who really care about an issue should be afforded the opportunity to ask a question or make a speech.

The Labour MSP says there is some debate about the need for a second chamber and committees must be absolutely committed to the their role in scrutiny.

She says there should be flexibility in questions and speeches.

Ms Lamont says she the commission's report is a package and should be delivered as such.

She says the assumption should be that the recommendations will be delivered.

'You cannot be what you cannot see'

Ms Lamont says a theme that kept emerging was diversity and this applies to MSPs elected and their partners.

"You cannot be what you cannot see," she says was a point made to the commission.


The Labour MSP says the recommendations of questions is not that they should stop, but that a number of questions that are never going to be asked are not selected.

She says the recommendations recognise frustrations of the poor quality of engagement in the chamber.

Ms Lamont says it cannot be good that people are referred to FOIs because the quality of answers are so poor.

'I have played on every part of the pitch'

Labour MSP Johann Lamont
Labour MSP Johann Lamont

Labour MSP Johann Lamont says it is really important that the commission report is taken seriously.

She says the presiding officer and herself are the last MSPs that have been at Holyrood all the way through since year dot and she says "I have played on every part of the pitch".

Ms Lamont cites her CV from party leader, to backbencher to committee convener.

The commission member welcomes the chair John McCormick for his work and thanks her felllow members for their efforts too.

MSPs should vote in the interests of constituents not their party says Mr Findlay

Labour MSP Neil Findlay

Labour MSP Neil Findlay says he didn't intend to speak in the debate but that he pressed his button to make a few points and that there is more of that required instead of pre-prepared lists on who will speak.

Mr Findlay says the epitome of parliamentary integrity are those who go against their parties on certain issues and that there needs to be more of that.

The Labour MSP says if this report encourages people to come to the parliament and vote in the interests of their constituents and not the interests of their party then it will be very welcome indeed.

Everyone should embrace the scrutiny of legislation says Tory MSP

Tory MSP Alexander Stewart

Tory MSP Alexander Stewart says everyone should embrace the scrutiny of legislation.

Mr Stewart says the greater focus on post scrutiny legislation is also very important.

He says it is fantastic to be involved in debates in the chamber but that there are opportunities for things to happen outside.

SNP MSP says it is about encouraging more debate

SNP MSP Clare Adamson and Tory MSP Edward Mountain

SNP MSP Clare Adamson says she is not convinced that Mr Mountain's "guillotine approach" to FMQs would encourage debate.

Tory MSP Edward Mountain intervenes to say in the Canadian government the convener brings his hand down towards the table to indicate how long a person has to answer a question.

He says once that hand lands on the table the answer stops which mean politicians answer more quickly.

Ms Adamson says she thinks there would have to be more discussion on that because she is not convinced it would encourage more debate.

Tory MSP says committees must be strong and effective

Edward Mountain

Tory MSP Edward Mountain says he agrees with the commission in the need for strong and effective committees, as they are, as the report states, "the engine of the parliament".

Mr Mountain says the report calls for the loosening of party control over committees and he says his party does not do that.

The Tory MSP says calling for party politics to be left at the committee door is "fanciful".

He agrees a there should be a maximum of seven members on a committee.

Need for reform? Term limit for MSPs and other electoral reforms

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

A number of respondents suggested reforms to the additional member system (AMS) method of electing MSPs, which uses regional top-up lists as well as more traditional constituency members.

Mr McLeish said there was a case for "a serious look at our electoral system", saying that while the AMS system is "certainly better and more democratic" than the first-past-the-post method used at Westminster, there were "merits" to using more proportional representation.

Meanwhile, Lord McConnell wrote that the mixed-member electoral system had seen the balance between MSPs representing their constituents and their parties slip too far in favour of the latter.

He said there should be term limits on MSPs, to prevent list members having "jobs for life", and suggested candidates should have to choose between running in a constituency or on a list, not both.

Some have suggested shaking up Holyrood's electoral system
Some have suggested shaking up Holyrood's electoral system

Mr Salmond broadly backed AMS, but suggested that regional lists could be scrapped in favour of a single national list. He said he had "never been convinced by the regional aspect of the list", saying there was "absolutely no reason" why lists couldn't be national and "balanced across the community".

Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles suggested binning the current electoral system altogether, in favour of the single transferable vote (STV) method.

He said there was a public perception that list MSPs were "second class" members who made it into Holyrood by "creeping in the back door", and said using the council-style system of multi-member constituencies - larger than the current single-member constituencies but smaller than the regional list areas - would solve this.

Meanwhile, a submission from the Evangelical Alliance called for consideration of whether there was "a way of electing MSPs that is less dependent on party position or patronage".

Committee questions should not pre-prepared by the clerk says SNP MSP

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson says Mr Macintosh's predecessor was keen on reform but brought about some changes he did not agree with.

Mr Gibson says no consideration has been given to how the additional work in these recommendations will impact on constituents.

The SNP MSP says committee questions should not pre-prepared by the clerk.

He says he is disappointed that the suggestion is to reduce general and portfolio questions and he believes the recommendations should not be taken as one package.

Need for reform? Change to committees

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

Committees have more work than ever with Holyrood's growing powers
Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Committees have more work than ever with Holyrood's growing powers

There has been broad support for bringing in elections for committee conveners, as is done at Westminster. Dr Hannah White from the Institute for Government think tank said this could break the link between committee activity and party positions and encourage a sense of independence among conveners.

Similarly mirroring the Westminster approach, the Labour group said committee conveners should have more powers to compel witnesses to appear before them.

Several people suggested expanding the amount of time committees have to sit in, including calls to let committee and chamber business overlap.

As well as some discussion of having more members on each committee, SNP backbencher John Mason suggested having more committees in general.

The MSP suggested having smaller groups, of no more than seven members, so there could be more committees engaging with more people. "I consider it a considerable step backwards that committees have increased in size to 11," he said.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Women's Convention called for a mechanism to enforce gender balance on committees.

Call for committee scrutiny to improve from Tory MSP

Conservative MSP Liz Smith
Conservative MSP Liz Smith

Conservative MSP Liz Smith says there has not been wholly competent scrutiny of legislation in committee stage.

Ms Smith points to the Children and Young People Act.

She says judges at the UK's highest court ruled against the Scottish government's Named Person scheme within the act.

Ms Smith calls for committee scrutiny to be improved.

Supreme Court rules against Named Person scheme

Lib Dem MSP calls for the parliamentary bureau to be open

Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles and Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh

Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles congratulates Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh for bringing this commission about.

Mr Rumbles focuses on recommendations 43 to 45 on the parliamentary bureau.

He says these include that the bureau operations should be observed openly.

The Lib Dem MSP says all 75 of the recommendations should be implemented as best they can.

Need for reform? Making the committee system more robust

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

Holyrood's committees have quizzed some high-profile figures from beyond the direct orbit of Scottish politics
Holyrood's committees have quizzed some high-profile figures from beyond the direct orbit of Scottish politics

Holyrood's committees play a vital role in the work of parliament; and as Audit Scotland put it in its submission, with "significant new fiscal powers" exercised at Holyrood, scrutiny "has never been more important".

Some changes have already been made - such as the move in 2016 to bar ministerial aides from sitting on the committees which scrutinise their bosses - but the commission has heard calls for much more reform.

Lord McConnell was critical of how committees have performed, saying that "with a few notable exceptions, they have neither significantly influenced legislation nor the direction of national policy". He said the groups have been "more partisan and reactive than was expected", saying changes were needed to rebalance the roles of legislative scrutiny and longer-term inquiries.

Former MSP Cameron Buchanan said that during the 2011-2016 period of majority government, "most of us felt we were becoming a one-party state", saying it was vital for committees to be "robust" and "not to be cowed by the government of the day".

And current rural economy convener Edward Mountain said the groups "should be treated with more respect". He highlighted incidents where important reports were issued hours after ministers had appeared in committee and the limited time ministers are available for questioning.

'It shouldn't be a cherry-picking exercise'

Green MSP Andy Wightman

Green MSP Andy Wightman says there is a strong case for treating the recommendations as a package and that a lot of people have given a lot of time to this and the parliament should be respectful of that.

Mr Wightman says "it shouldn't be a cherry-picking exercise".

The Green MSP says committee conveners should be elected because the work of committees is vital to parliament.

He says there should be a committee away day week at the beginning parliamentary recess.

'FMQs is the shop window to this place'

SNP MSP Ben Macpherson
SNP MSP Ben Macpherson

SNP MSP Ben Macpherson says: "FMQs is the shop window to this place."

Mr Macpherson says the report seems to wish to implicitly remove tribalism in FMQs.

He says there is an ambition amongst those in communities to have a more substantial FMQs.

Labour MSP Daniel Johson says if it became less dramatic it would get less attention.

Mr Macpherson agrees some people like the drama, but many people do not like party politics as it is now.

Need for reform? Two lots of FMQs

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter


Perhaps the most-watched part of the parliamentary week is the Thursday session of questions to the first minister. However, the commission heard a range of complaints about these sessions and the other times when ministers are quizzed.

Lord McConnell said question times "need to change", telling the commission there were too many "non-challenging" closed questions. This was echoed by Mr Stewart, who said chances to question portfolio ministers were "extremely limited".

Lord Foulkes, meanwhile, said presiding officers "do not seem to have understood their responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of question time", arguing that their powers should be beefed up so they can ensure ministerial replies are "short and answer directly the question asked".

Other suggestions included a time limit on contributions at FMQs to allow more speakers and more off-the-cuff backbench questions.

The SNP parliamentary group pointed out that at the likes of portfolio questions, only around half of the scheduled questions are ever asked; MSP Sandra White suggested either having more time or less questions scheduled.

She also suggested having a random draw of which question is selected next, giving members lower down the order paper a better chance of having their question selected in the chamber.

Labour also wanted to see the system of written questions shaken up, with shorter timescales for answers and "a system which has teeth".

And Action for Children Scotland suggested having two sessions of FMQs - one for party leaders to spar, and a second one where business and third sector groups could put forward questions, via MSPs.

'Removing some of the powers of the business managers would be helpful'

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson says it is important for MSPs to take their parliamentary roles seriously.

Mr Johnson says he is glad that his colleague James Kelly isn't here to hear this but "removing some of the powers of the business managers would be helpful."

He then says he knows that his other colleague in the chamber will "clype on him" after this debate.

Need for reform? How about working later?

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

"What time have you guys got?"
Getty images
"What time have you guys got?"

Another approach to getting more work done at Holyrood examined by the commission is expanding working hours, something backed by a number of respondents.

Lord McConnell said the parliament needs to "work harder and longer", suggesting that evening sittings could add much-needed "drama" to a presently "predictable" chamber.

Lord Foulkes said parliament's "preoccupation with 'family friendly' sitting hours has seriously restricted its effectiveness", calling for sittings on weekday evenings and either Monday or Friday to allow "proper time for adequate scrutiny of legislation".

The SNP's parliamentary group suggested having more flexibility in the currently allotted time, saying the current chamber procedure discourages interventions "or more thoughtful contributions" due to the limits on speaking time.

The Labour group also backed this, suggesting the set speaking times and allocated slots per party leave "pre-written and unchallenging speeches" taking up time and "preventing quality debate".

Meanwhile, the Association for Scottish Public Affairs suggested yet another possibility - a "slower legislative process", taking more time over passing new bills so that all the possible consequences can be digested and improvements considered.

Committees should be reduced from 11 to 7 says SNP MSP

SNP MSP John Mason

SNP MSP John Mason says a recommendation of his is to reduce committee members from 11 to 7.

Mr Mason says this would allow certain committees to be split into two.

The SNP MSP says he agrees the first question in FMQs should perhaps be dropped.

Need for reform? Call for more MSPs

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

Henry McLeish gave his views on the workability of the parliament and the number of MSPs being asked to carry out that work
Henry McLeish gave his views on the workability of the parliament and the number of MSPs being asked to carry out that work

One of the few things that more or less all submissions to the committee agree on is that with Holyrood's powers growing, the parliament's capacity is starting to be stretched.

In his written submission, former First Minister Henry McLeish said the current number of MSPs is "incredibly limiting" given the extra powers taken on in recent years.

He said adding to the current cohort of 129 was "of vital practical importance and significance if Holyrood was to be fit for purpose in this rapidly changing political landscape".

This was backed by another former top dog, Alex Salmond, who said a "relatively modest" increase in the number of elected members could help scrutiny.

However, others have spoken out against this; a third former FM, Jack McConnell, said he was "strongly against" increasing the number of MSPs, while several others cited Scotland's relatively healthy ratio of representatives to constituents.

Commission chairman John McCormick has written that "much of the evidence we have received would suggest that more MSPs is not the solution", but said it was a possibility which will be examined in the final report.

Green co-convener Patrick Harvie suggested a different approach to expanding capacity. He said "significant change" was needed, with Holyrood "straining at the limits of its capacity for scrutiny", but said this could be rectified by having more public participation through consultations, crowdsourcing and "citizens' juries".

And Tory MSP Alexander Stewart suggested changing the current balance of parliament, saying there were "perhaps too many ministers", leaving "fewer backbench MSPs from the governing party to hold the executive to account".

Recommendations may produce 'unintentional consequences'

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson says the last few years has seen the biggest transfer of powers to this chamber.

Ms Davidson says the work and recommendations are balanced but do require more scrutiny and debate.

She says some of the recommendations will improve the ability to hold the government of the day to account.

Ms Davidson says some of the reforms to the format for FMQs may produce "unintentional consequences" because the questions are designed for the parliament to hold the government to account.

She says she is worried that under recommendations the first minister may be able to respond and say that the appropriate minister will write back to the member.

Ms Davidson says that it is important that the first minister is put on the spot to answer questions.

Is the Scottish Parliament in need of reform? Here's our colleague Philip Sim..........

Philip Sim

BBC Scotland political reporter

There are currently 129 MSPs at Holyrood

Does a parliament less than 20 years old need reforming?

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform was set up to give Holyrood an "MOT", on the basis that the parliament's systems "are not broken" but could do with a metaphorical lick of paint.

However, it has heard calls for "radical" reforms from former first ministers, while one peer described the parliament as "totally inadequate" in scrutinising legislation.

In fact, from the electoral system and the number of MSPs to committee structures and Holyrood's working hours, more or less every aspect of the parliament has been questioned.

One man even sent in some poems about how he would like Scotland to be governed.

The group is expected to submit its report to Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh in the summer - and there are some key themes which have emerged.

SNP MSP says committees should have no more than seven members

SNP MSP Colin Beattie
SNP MSP Colin Beattie

SNP MSP Colin Beattie says he fully agrees with the commission's report that Holyrood committee's should have no more than seven members.

Mr Beattie says this would release members to be depolyed in new committees.

He warns against renumeration for committee conveners.

Labour MSP Johann Lamont asks if Mr Beattie thinks ministers sought their role for the same reason.

Commission members welcomed to the chamber

Public gallery
Members of the commission in the public gallery

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh welcomes Commission Chairman John McCormick and other members to the public gallery.

Commission on Parliamentary Reform chair praised

Commission on Parliamentary Reform
Commission on Parliamentary Reform

Labour MSP Neil Findlay says at least one party in the chamber has a committee whip and he asks if the commission took any evidence on that.

Mr Finnie says the Commission on Parliamentary Reform too evidence on that and he says it is commented apon in the report.

He praises the work of the commission chair John McCormick.

Commission piloting use of technologies to engage with people in remote areas

Mr Finnie says the commission has piloted the use of technologies to engage with people who are more remote.

The commission member says it wants to re-invigorate the role of MSPs and make the parliamentary bureau more transparent.

The commission's report contains 75 recommendations

John Finnie

Speaking on behalf of the commission, John Finnie says the commission was established by Presiding Officer Ken McIntosh.

Mr Finnie says he was delighted to be a member of the commission in its inception.

The Green MSP says there has been a lot of meaningful engagement by the commission.

He says some people who met with the commission wanted to know more about the parliament and what it does.

Mr Finnie says the commission's report contains 75 recommendations.

Background: Independent commission sets out 75 Holyrood reforms

Getty Images
The commission was set up to give Holyrood "an MOT" but has heard calls for "radical" reforms

An independent review of the Scottish Parliament has set out more than 70 recommendations for improvements.

The Commission for Parliamentary Reform was set up in October 2016, tasked with giving Holyrood "an MOT".

Suggestions include having committees with elected conveners which can sit at the same time as the main chamber and expanding the legislative process.

Chairman John McCormick said the changes suggested would equip Holyrood to meet future challenges "head on".

The group has heard a wide range of views from respondents including MSPs and several former first ministers.

Some have called for "radical" reforms, including changes to the electoral system, the number of MSPs, sitting hours, ministerial question times and how committees are run.

Commission on Parliamentary Reform’s Report debate begins

MSPs debate the Commission on Parliamentary Reform’s Report on the Scottish Parliament.

'The Scottish Conservatives have let down everyone in Scotland'

A fiasco is a secretary of state for Scotland who forgets to stand up for Scotland, says Ms Sturgeon.

She says this government will continue to deliver for farmers and others across Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon concludes: "The Scottish Conservatives have let down everyone in Scotland."

Nicola Sturgeon

Rural Scotland has lost all faith in this government, says Tory MSP

Tory MSP Finlay Carson asks whether the Scottish government will meet the 30 June deadline for the processing of 2016 CAP payments.

Ms Sturgeon says the government is doing all that it can to do so and rapid progress is being made on a daily basis.

Mr Carson says rural Scotland has lost all faith in this government.

He says the fiasco must come to an end. He says it is "Payment Fiasco 2" and he asks if there will be a further fiasco next year.