Scotland politics

What's on at Holyrood? Three big bills for MSPs to debate

Fair Isle
Image caption The Islands Bill faces its third and final stage

Find out what's going on at the Scottish Parliament this week - from debates on key bits of legislation like planning to MSPs discussing support for the families of missing people.


Three debates on three pieces of Scottish government legislation dominate proceedings at Holyrood this week.

  • The Planning Bill, which has been described as a "missed opportunity" by opposition members, undergoes its Stage 1 debate on Tuesday.

While no party is expected to stand in the way of any of this legislation, the devil is as ever in the detail.

The local government committee called for more widespread changes to planning reforms in its report earlier this month, expressing particular concern that the Bill did nothing to soothe community frustrations that they are not being included in decision-making.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart responded to the committee report last week confirming his intention to bring forward amendments to put increased engagement on the face of the Bill.

Meanwhile, MSPs will have their last chance to alter the Islands Bill before it is placed on the statute books - assuming it passes at decision time.

Here is a rundown of the rest of the week........

Tuesday - Missing people and bank closures

Image caption Fulton MacGregor raises the issue of support for the families of missing people as Police Scotland report missing people cases re on the rise

Aside from the Planning Bill debate, topical questions could cause some turbulence. The SNP's Growth Commission report, published last week, is likely to dominate the 20 minutes allocated.

The day's members' business will see SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor lead discussion on support for the families of missing people - timely given recent Police Scotland figures indicating cases had risen by nearly 1,000 in the last year.

Mr MacGregor is calling for improvements to the way in which families are left with "little or no emotional, practical and legal support in coping with the disappearance of their missing loved one".

The committee of the day will no doubt be economy, jobs and fair work, which is looking at the impact of bank closures. Citizens Advice Scotland, Unite the union, the Scottish Building Society and two community councillors have been highlighting the impact on communities throughout Scotland.

Image copyright Getty Images

RBS boss Ross McEwan defended the recently announced closures to Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee last month, pointing out that mobile banks serve 440 communities. Meanwhile Unite called for a moratorium on the branch closures following reports of RBS's profits increasing.

The environment committee will be taking evidence on the Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018 - perhaps a little dull sounding, but this framework will have a big impact on how SEPA delivers "outcome focused" regulation.

Wednesday - Islands Bill and learning disabilities

The Islands Bill is anticipated to take up most of the day, meaning little else has been scheduled in the chamber that afternoon and decision time has moved to the later time of 5.45pm.

After the vote though, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine will open a members' debate on appropriate housing for people with learning disabilities.

In her motion she welcomes a shift away from people being housed in residential care homes and towards supported accommodation - but also highlights challenges around availability of housing, accessibility of tenancy agreements and balancing care provision with housing preferences. Any opposition members taking part will probably raise concerns about the postcode lottery of care costs.

Image copyright Calmac

The rural economy and connectivity committee will be looking at ferry services and hearing from CalMac's MD Robbie Drummond.

An array of problems has troubled the Clyde and Hebrides services since the beginning of the year, but Mr Drummond will insist that serious lessons have been learned.

The committee session also follows last week's announcement that the Scottish government will put the Northern Isles Ferry service out to tender in June - will CalMac be bidding for it?

At the same time, the local government committee will be hearing from the Accounts Commission on its Local Government in Scotland: Challenges and Performances 2018 report, as well as a report on councils' use of Arm's Length Organisations (ALEOs). These have recently come under scrutiny because of a perceived lack of transparency in their operations, despite the use of public funds.

Thursday - FMQs and licensing of police firearms

The chamber will be fairly busy this afternoon, with three sets of oral questions to take place: the usual general and first minister's questions over lunchtime, followed by a rescheduled portfolio questions at 2.30pm (owing to the extensive Islands Bill debate on Wednesday).

Stage 3 of the Housing (Amendment) Bill will begin at 3.10pm - a technical Bill designed to alter the Office of National Statistics' classification of registered social landlords.

A decision in 2015 means RSLs are currently public bodies, meaning housing association borrowing is placed in government books. The Bill will alter the powers of the Scottish Housing Regulator to ensure they can instead be classified as private bodies.

The hallowed halls of Holyrood will be quiet in the morning though, with all three committee's only meeting for private session. The justice sub-committee on policing begins at 1pm though, and on the agenda will be Police Scotland and Unison talking about the police firearms licensing process.