Parliament returns to new three-day sitting pattern

31/08/2012

The Scottish Parliament returns to business next week (Tuesday 4 September) with the introduction of its new three-day sitting pattern.

Instigated by Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick as part of a package of reform measures, the new format will see the chamber sit three afternoons a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the committees meeting during the morning of these days.

The move, endorsed by the Parliament as a whole, is designed to make Holyrood more topical and responsive to events, and to provide an increased opportunity for Members to question and hold Ministers to account.

In a letter to all MSPs today, however, the Presiding Officer indicates that reform to the “culture and working practices” of committees is likely to follow.
 
Mrs Marwick writes: “The new pattern to the week will now provide the specific opportunity, at the start of each chamber session, for MSPs to question Ministers on topical issues.  I hope this will enable our Parliament to be more responsive and agile in responding to the major issues of the day and holding the Government to account.”

On reforming committees she adds:  

“Further initiatives to reform our processes clearly remain however.  More than twelve years into devolution, it is crucial that the culture and working practices of the Parliament evolve and keep pace with new developments as we strive to be the responsive, relevant body that the public expects.” 

The Presiding Officer asks each Member to consider how the work of committees can be improved, and notifies them she is already working with the Conveners Group on ways to enable committees to be more reactive and topical. 

Please find the full text of the Presiding Officer's letter (982KB pdf) and annex (74KB pdf).

Background

The new look parliamentary week begins on Tuesday 4 September.  Each day’s chamber business now has the potential to start with Oral Questions to Ministers.

Tuesdays will see the introduction of Topical Questions, which will have short lead-in times to allow questions on emerging issues. 

Members will now be able to lodge ‘topical’ questions up until 12 noon on a Monday, which the Presiding Officer may select for answer at the start of Tuesday’s chamber business. 

It will be for the Presiding Officer to determine whether the questions be put to Ministers, taking into account the topicality and significance of the subject matter.

Wednesdays will begin with Portfolio Questions, and Thursdays will start with General Questions followed by First Minister’s Questions.

A report from the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee in May 2012, said the reform measures will support:

  • the creation of a robust parliamentary working week by moving to morning committee meetings and afternoon plenary session;
  • plenary meetings on Tuesdays to allow Parliament to question the Government and debate topical matters earlier in the week;
  • the introduction of topical question time to enable backbenchers to question the Government at short notice on matters that have national implications or national significance;
  • more time in the chamber for questioning ministers (and indeed the proposed working week produced by the Bureau based on the committee’s report also increases the time available for debates);
  • shorter periods between lodging questions and them being asked in the chamber, to enable backbenchers to ask more up to date questions on current affairs; and
  • an additional Members’ business debate a week, including during the day after First Minister’s Questions, thus increasing the time available for, and the status of, backbench business.

Chamber business on Tuesday 4 September will include a statement from the First Minister on the Scottish Government’s Programme.  Full details of next week’s parliamentary business will be published in Monday’s Business Bulletin: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/BusinessBulletin.aspx