Committee Inquiries

5. COMMITTEE INQUIRIES

5.1. All committees can conduct inquiries into matters within their remits (Rule 6.2) and the committee inquiry is an important tool used by committees to hold the Scottish Government to account and to scrutinise in detail its policy and administration.

Planning an inquiry

5.2. When a committee is considering its work programme25 it will consider possible topics for committee inquiries. The number of inquiries that a committee can hold in any Parliamentary year will depend, in part, on the amount of time that it requires to set aside to consider Bills or other items of business, including subordinate legislation, petitions, European legislation and the Scottish Government budget, referred to it by the Bureau, the Parliament or other committees or which a committee is required to consider under standing orders.

5.3. The balance of the various elements of work varies from year to year and from committee to committee. In any year, some committees will have more time available than others to undertake inquiries of their own choosing.

5.4. Suggestions for possible topics for committee inquiries can come from a variety of sources. These would include members of the committee, other MSPs, external interest groups and members of the public (including petitioners). On occasions, inquiries can be prompted as part of a wider initiative, for example, as part of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill or to allow the committee to make its own contribution on an issue of public concern or in response to a Scottish Government consultation. Inquiries can be conducted into how legislation passed by the Parliament has worked in practice – this is sometimes referred to as “post-legislative scrutiny”. In some cases, committees will simply wish to bring areas of Scottish Government policy under detailed scrutiny and hold ministers to account.

5.5. Topics for inquiry must fall within a committee’s remit. There are some topics which fall within the remit of more than one committee. Where a committee is considering an inquiry into such a topic, it is essential that there is good liaison between the conveners and the clerking staff, at the least as a courtesy to the other committee, to discuss the intention to hold an inquiry. This will avoid duplication of effort, allow the committees to consider cooperating in the inquiry and avoid witnesses being called to two committees on the same topic.

5.6. Such cooperation can be formally achieved, under Rule 6.14, by securing the agreement of the Parliamentary Bureau (which must consult with the Conveners Group) to have a topic considered jointly by committees or, informally, by having committees agree that members of another committee with an interest in the topic should regularly attend meetings and, with the agreement of the convener, participate. Such members may be appointed as committee reporters by the other committee to report back on the progress of the inquiry.

5.7. If there is any disagreement between committees about whether a topic falls within the remit of the committee wishing to carry out the inquiry, Rule 6.13 allows the matter to be determined by the Parliamentary Bureau which must consult the Conveners Group. If the Bureau finds that the matter falls within the remit of more than one committee, the Bureau can designate one committee to be the lead committee responsible for that matter, in which case the other committee or committees may report on the matter to the lead committee. In practice, the provision has not been used as committees have been able to reach agreement on how such inquiries should be conducted without recourse to the Bureau.

5.8. When the committee has reached formal agreement to include an inquiry in its work programme, the next stage is generally for the committee to consider its overall approach to the inquiry and to agree detailed terms of reference. Whilst the terms of reference should be sufficient to give clarity and purpose to the inquiry, committees will wish them to be sufficiently flexible for the inquiry to extend into issues and concerns which may emerge as the inquiry progresses.

5.9. The scope of an inquiry needs to take account of the overall amount of time available to complete it and the number of competing priorities for the committee during that period. It is important to consider at an early stage how the inquiry can be timetabled around other possible committee business to ensure that the inquiry does not lose impetus and focus.

5.10. A committee will also wish to consider, at an early stage, whether to seek the appointment of an adviser26.

5.11. It is also good practice at this stage for a committee to consider whether the inquiry lends itself to undertaking fact finding visits, commissioning external research or holding one or more committee events to facilitate participation by a wider range of stakeholders and interested parties than can normally be achieved through evidence taking in formal committee meetings27. Committees should also consider whether some meetings should be held and evidence taken outside Edinburgh (External Meetings Policy). This is particularly important if the inquiry is relevant to particular areas of the country generating a high degree of local interest and possibly being the home location of a number of witnesses. All of these types of activity require advance planning and approval from the Parliamentary Bureau and/or the Conveners Group.

Witnesses

5.12. Committees can invite and have the power to require witnesses to submit written evidence and attend to give oral evidence.

5.13. The power to require the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents is derived from section 23 of the Scotland Act and from Rule 12.4. It applies in relation to any subject for which the Scottish Government has general responsibility.

5.14. There are some statutory limitations on this power. Committees cannot require a judge or tribunal member to give evidence and a person is not obliged to answer questions or produce documents if he or she would be entitled to refuse to do so in proceedings in a court in Scotland. A procurator fiscal is not obliged to answer questions or produce documents concerning a criminal prosecution if the Lord Advocate considers that to do so would prejudice criminal proceedings or would be contrary to the public interest.

5.15. If a person were to be required to attend or produce documents, he or she would be notified in writing by the clerk. A person who, without reasonable excuse, did not comply with such a requirement could be prosecuted for a criminal offence.

5.16. Although committees have this power of compulsion, it has not to date been used and in practice witnesses attend in response to an invitation from the committee.

5.17. At a very early stage in an inquiry, and often before the formal launch, committees may give preliminary consideration to identifying possible witnesses to give oral evidence. Consideration of possible witnesses at this stage should be regarded as only a preliminary as the range of witnesses may extend as the inquiry develops.

Launching the inquiry

5.18. Most committees launch their inquiries with a press release and publicity on the Parliament’s website. Publicity of this kind is important at the start of an inquiry to ensure that all individuals and groups who have an interest in the topic and who might want to contribute their views to the committee are made aware that the inquiry is under way and of how they can make their views known to the committee.

5.19. At this early stage, the committee can find it useful to hold briefing sessions for members at which they can be brought up to speed with the factual background to the inquiry.

Written evidence

5.20. The launch of a committee inquiry usually coincides with the issue of a “general call for evidence” which invites organisations and individuals with an interest to make a written submission to the committee. In addition, some key organisations and individuals may also be sent information alerting them directly to the call for evidence.

5.21. Committees will ask for written evidence to be submitted by a particular date. Ideally, written evidence should be received by a committee in advance of the start of oral evidence sessions so that consideration can be given to calling those who have submitted written material to give further oral evidence. Committees will always try to give a reasonable timescale for the submission of such material as they recognise that external organisations will have their own procedures and processes for clearing and approving submissions to be made to committees. However, committees require to weigh this against the time available to them to undertake an inquiry, having regard to the other competing claims on the committee’s time. It is common, in practice, for the period for submitting written evidence to overlap with the period when oral evidence is being taken. It is usually clear from the outset who some of the witnesses are going to be and they can be invited to give their oral evidence first, while written evidence is still coming in.

5.22. Individuals and organisations who follow the work of particular committees can plan ahead by monitoring the committee web pages and, in particular, by taking into account the published work programmes of committees which will give an indication of inquiries “in the pipeline”. It is also possible for stakeholders and interested parties to contact the committee clerks, whose details can be found on the website, to discuss possible timescales.

Format of written evidence

5.23. There is no prescribed style or format for written evidence and anyone with an interest can submit written material to a committee. However, committees often receive a substantial volume of written material during an inquiry and it is helpful if written submissions can be restricted to no more than around six pages and, where possible, submitted electronically in Microsoft Word format.

5.24. Written evidence is normally published on the committee’s web page and circulated to committee members. The call for evidence on the website will make clear the committee’s intentions in relation to publication. In addition, receipt of written evidence will be acknowledged and that acknowledgement will contain information about how the evidence will be handled. If the person or body submitting written evidence does not wish the material to be published, then this must be specifically indicated. However, even where this is done, the Parliament cannot guarantee that the material will not be made available to a third party as the result of an application under the freedom of information legislation. In addition, a committee may decide to edit or not to publish written evidence that it considers to be potentially defamatory or which contains obscene or offensive material or which gives rise to issues under the data protection legislation. It is also possible that material which is irrelevant, frivolous or repetitive will not be published or circulated to the committee. Where a committee publishes written evidence on the web site, other than as part of a committee report, it does not form part of the proceedings of Parliament and, as such, is not covered by Parliamentary privilege. Neither the Parliament nor the author of the evidence therefore has a defence of privilege to an action for defamation.

5.25. All data processors require to comply with the data protection legislation but when evidence is submitted to committees by public bodies in particular, committees would normally expect those bodies to have taken steps to ensure that the material submitted does not contain any material which would require to be redacted prior to publication by the committee. Accordingly, public bodies are normally expected not to submit material which contains sensitive personal data as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998 or any material which could identify a living person who has not specifically given his or her consent to have that personal data made public.

Oral evidence

5.26. In addition to considering written evidence, committees will normally use the power given to them in Rule 12.4.1 to invite witnesses to attend the committee to give oral evidence. The statutory power (under section 23 of the Scotland Act) to require witnesses to attend has not yet been used.

5.27. It is important to note that whereas any individual or group can submit written material to a committee, there is no right to give oral evidence. It is entirely a matter for the committee to decide from whom it wishes to hear. Committees will normally agree their initial selection of witnesses to give oral evidence at the start of the inquiry based on their knowledge of stakeholder groups and interested parties. However, this list can be added to as the inquiry progresses and the committee’s knowledge develops. It may well be expanded after a committee has considered the written evidence. Early identification of witnesses allows witnesses to prepare for their appearance before the committee and to consider what further papers they wish to provide to the committee by way of background information.

5.28. Where an invitation is issued to an organisation, it may specify the individuals from whom the committee wishes to hear. There may, however, be scope to amend or extend the invitation to ensure that the witnesses combine appropriate seniority with the in-depth knowledge required to provide meaningful answers to members’ questions. Organisations may find it useful to discuss such matters with the committee clerks.

5.29. It is possible for witnesses to give evidence by video conference and this can be a cost effective method, in appropriate circumstances, of obtaining evidence from witnesses in remote locations. Committees can also consider evidence submitted by non-interactive technology although this has its drawbacks in that members are not given the opportunity to challenge or question witnesses. Where a non-interactive format is the only option available, a transcript should be provided for the assistance of the Official Report and the content must be authenticated to the committee’s satisfaction.

5.30. Committees sometimes invite “panels” of witnesses or hold “round tables” where individuals and representatives from a number of organisations give evidence at the same time. “Round tables” can be an effective method of gathering information in a short timescale in a way that allows interaction between witnesses.

5.31. Wherever possible, committee agendas give the full names and designations of all the witnesses who will be giving evidence. This is important for people who are trying to keep track of committee proceedings and should be departed from only in exceptional circumstances (e.g. a last minute substitution of a witness representing a particular organisation).

5.32. Rule 12.4 does allow a committee to take evidence from a witness who is not listed on the agenda – although it is anticipated that this would only occur in exceptional circumstances. See also Annexe D.

5.33. There is a general expectation that oral evidence will be supported by a written submission to the committee. This should be submitted well in advance and no later than 3 working days before the meeting to allow it to be circulated to the members for the meeting at which the evidence is to be taken.

5.34. Conveners may invite witnesses to make an opening statement. However, this is not invariably the practice and will depend on the preferences of members as well as on the time available to the committee. Witnesses can find it helpful to discuss in advance with the clerks whether they wish, or will be expected, to make an opening statement. If permitted, an opening statement will normally be time limited and should be used to emphasise key issues. It is particularly important for witnesses to avoid the tendency simply to repeat their written submission as it does not require to be “read into the record”.

5.35. Members can ask witnesses any questions which are relevant to the inquiry topic, including, but not limited to, questions based on the written submission. Witnesses may find it helpful to make contact with the committee clerk in advance of the meeting to discuss the structure of the session. The clerks will be able to provide some general advice and briefing, including briefing on the possible areas that questioning might cover. Witnesses, should, however, bear in mind that committee members are always free to ask any questions that they consider relevant and hence that lines of questioning can never be fully anticipated in advance.

5.36. Witnesses should normally answer the member who has asked the question and there is no need to answer each question through the chair. Witnesses should refer to members by their names (or as “convener”) which appear on the name plates in front of the members.

5.37. The length of each evidence session may vary depending on the complexity of the topic and also on the number of other items on the committee agenda. In general, each witness or group of witnesses tends to be at the table for around 45 minutes to one hour. A “round table” session will normally take longer than an hour, depending on the topic and the number of witnesses.

5.38. Committee meetings are regulated by the Parliament’s Standing Orders and constitute “proceedings of the Parliament”. Accordingly, under section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998 any statements made at a committee meeting are absolutely privileged for the purposes of the law of defamation. This provides witnesses, as well as members, with a defence of privilege in the event that an action for defamation is brought arising from statements made during the meeting. Committees may, however, be reluctant to provide a platform to allow potentially defamatory comments to be made and it is a matter for the convener to decide whether to allow a witness (or member) to continue to make such remarks. It is important to distinguish between meetings of the committee which are part of the proceedings of the Parliament and other informal information gathering exercises by committee members which are not regulated by Standing Orders and which do not constitute part of the proceedings of the Parliament. If a witness is in any doubt about the status of the event, he or she should obtain clarification from the clerk prior to giving evidence.

5.39. It is possible for committees to take evidence in private, although this is very rare and a committee would require to be satisfied that there was a good reason for so doing. A committee would, however, consider whether to take evidence in private if it wished to hear sensitive personal information, to take evidence from a vulnerable witness or to maintain commercial confidentiality. Any witness who feels that his or her evidence should be taken in private should contact the committee clerks well in advance to discuss the matter. The decision is, however, one for the committee and not for the witness. Normally, there is no Official Report of evidence taken in private.

5.40. There is provision in section 26(1) of the Scotland Act 1998 and Rule 12.4.3 for witnesses to be required to give evidence under oath. In practice, however, this has scarcely been used.

5.41. With all committee proceedings in public, a substantially verbatim record of any oral evidence is taken by the Official Report and is normally published in hard copy and electronic form shortly after the meeting. Witnesses are sent a copy of the Official Report and given the opportunity to make any corrections. This is, however, limited to correcting any errors of transcription and cannot be used by witnesses to alter the substance of what they said.

Witness expenses

5.42. The Parliament has agreed (under Rule 12.4.3) a witness expenses scheme which allows a committee to agree to pay expenses to witnesses whom it has invited to submit written evidence or give oral evidence. If a committee has required a witness to submit written evidence or give oral evidence, then a committee must pay claims for expenses under the scheme if these are submitted. The amounts payable under the scheme are uprated each year in line with the retail price index.

5.43. Any witness who wishes to make a claim under the scheme should contact the clerk to the committee in advance of his or her appearance.

Other information gathering

5.44. In addition to considering written evidence and hearing oral evidence from witnesses in formal committee proceedings, committees use a range of other methods to gather information relevant to the inquiry. The methods adopted by committees vary depending on the time available to them and the nature of the topic under inquiry.

5.45. With the agreement of the Conveners Group, committees can commission external research. This is particularly useful where no published research exists on a subject or where published research is out of date. An example is the research commissioned on Access to Dental Health Services in Scotland28, which provided the Session 2 Health Committee with information about the provision of NHS dental services in Scotland. Research can also be commissioned to gauge public attitudes and views on the topic under inquiry. In 2002, the Justice 1 Committee commissioned research into Public Attitudes Towards Sentencing and Alternatives to Custody29. This research used a range of techniques including focus groups to establish public attitudes toward sentencing.

5.46. Committees may also decide to run events that help them engage with a wide range of stakeholder groups, experts and individual citizens. Depending on the nature of the inquiry, these events may be targeted to bring together groups with a particular interest in the subject under consideration. On other occasions, the events can be used simply to allow people to engage with members in an informal setting, if a topic is of particular local interest. Sometimes, the focus of the event may be to bring together both experts and non-experts in a forum where topics can be considered by a wide range of participants. Approval to hold a committee event requires to be obtained from the Conveners Group.

5.47. The following are examples of successful committee events

  • The Justice 1 Committee held an event in 2002 on issues of sentencing and alternatives to custody30. This event allowed 86 citizens to be involved in a series of activities based on case studies to gauge their attitudes to sentencing on imprisonment. The event followed on from the publication of the research referred to in para 173 and both the outcome of the research and the event helped inform the conclusions of the committee’s inquiry into alternatives to custody31.

  • The Health Committee held an event in Perth in October 2005 which enabled service providers, health professional and service users to contribute views which helped the committee finalise the remit of its inquiry into the care legislation.

5.48. Committees, in addition, regularly undertake fact finding visits/case studies to enable committee members to put evidence in context and to meet people who are affected by the topic or policy under scrutiny. Approval for a fact finding visit/case study in the UK requires to be obtained from the Conveners Group. Approval for travel outside the UK requires to be obtained from the Bureau and the Conveners Group under Rule 12.10.

5.49. The following are examples of fact finding visits/case studies during Session 2

  • in 2005, the Local Government and Transport Committee undertook a series of fact finding visits to freight terminals (e.g. Bellshill, Prestwick Airport) in connection with its Freight Transport Inquiry

  • in 2005, the Enterprise and Culture Committee undertook fact finding visits to a range of destinations including Dundee, Thurso, Bremen and Helsinki in connection with its inquiry into Business Growth.

5.50. These are only examples of methods used by committees to gather information outside formal committee meetings. In considering whether to undertake informal work of this kind, committees make use of the Participation Handbook which offers guidance and help for committees in deciding how best to reach and engage with a wider public and, in particular, to involve those groups and individuals who are not normally engaged in the political process.

5.51. Where committees work informally in this way they may wish to keep a record of the discussions and outcomes. A range of options is available to committees in these circumstances as set out in guidance on Recording Informal Meetings agreed by the Conveners Group in November 2002.

Advisers

5.52. Rule 12.7 allows a committee to appoint an adviser or advisers to work with the committee in connection with its work. An adviser is appointed on the basis of his or her expertise to assist the committee with the specialised or technical aspects of an inquiry. Unlike witnesses who will often wish to advance a particular viewpoint, an adviser is appointed to provide impartial expert advice. An adviser could, for example, assist a committee in analysing written evidence, suggest witnesses to give oral evidence, identify lines of questioning and draft relevant sections of committee reports for consideration by members. Advisers are not permitted to participate in committee proceedings and cannot themselves ask questions of witnesses. It is, however, quite normal for a committee adviser to be in attendance at a committee meeting and, if requested by the convener, to provide advice to members during a meeting.

5.53. The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) maintains a database of individuals who wish to be considered for appointment as committee advisers. An online Registration form is available for potential advisers.

5.54. After obtaining approval from the Parliamentary Bureau for the appointment of an adviser, a committee places a notice on its web page inviting nominations/applications to act as an adviser. Potential candidates then have their details included in the database. On conclusion of the period for applications, SPICe identify potential candidates based on the person specification approved by the committee. Candidates are asked to declare any interests, including political activity. All candidates meeting the person specification and requirements of the post are put to the committee which agrees an order of preference. The selection process is normally done on paper, although, exceptionally, candidates can be asked to make a presentation to the committee. Candidates are then approached in order of preference and offered the appointment. Appointments are made to provide specific services for a set number of days (normally fifteen or fewer) at a fixed daily rate.

Reporters

5.55. Committees may, under Rule 12.6, appoint one or more members to be “reporters”. The role of a reporter is to report to the committee on any matter within its remit.

5.56. Reporters should have a clear remit and timescale to work to and appointments of reporters should be agreed formally by the committee and recorded in the minutes. Reporters carry out their work on behalf of the committee and are accountable to the committee. This should always be made clear, for example, when dealing with the media.

5.57. Committees sometimes appoint reporters to attend meetings of another committee inquiring into a topic falling within the remits of both committees. The reporter (like any other MSP) may, with the agreement of the other committee’s convener, participate in the other committee’s proceedings.

5.58. The Equal Opportunities Committee has appointed reporters to monitor developments in particular aspects of its remit (disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion/belief and age).

Committee reports

5.59. At the conclusion of evidence taking and other information gathering, a committee will analyse that information with a view to publishing a report to the Parliament.

5.60. Most committee reports are formally made to the Parliament. There are two exceptions: sub-committee reports are made to the parent committee (Rule 12.5.7) and, if the committee is not the lead committee, its report is made to the lead committee.

5.61. A draft report, which is normally prepared by the committee clerk and/or the adviser, in consultation with the committee convener, is placed before the committee for consideration. Consideration of a draft report is an item which committees often decide to take in private. The Conveners Group has recognised the benefits that can be derived from taking draft reports in private, including an enhanced likelihood of achieving consensus and compromise. Consideration in private also ensures that media attention is not focused on preliminary views which may not feature in the final report. However, a decision to meet in private to consider a draft report has to be taken, in the same way as any other decision on meeting in private, on the basis of the facts and circumstances of each individual situation32.

5.62. The style and structure of committee reports varies according to the committee, the nature of the subject matter and the preference of the committee itself. However, a common approach is to begin with a brief explanation of why the inquiry was undertaken and how it was conducted, followed by an overview of the topic considered, the views of witnesses, and then the committee’s conclusions and recommendations. A summary of recommendations is often included in larger reports.

5.63. It is also possible for a committee separately to publish a separate leaflet containing a summary of its report and conclusions and recommendations. This can be particularly useful where there has been widespread public interest in the subject of the inquiry and where the report is to be debated by the Parliament. The Session 2 Enterprise and Culture Committee, for example, published a summary of its report on Renewable Energy in Scotland33.

5.64. It is quite common for committee reports to achieve a high level of consensus between members and for findings and recommendations to be agreed without the need for divisions. This has the advantage of adding weight to the conclusions, and the likelihood of their being accepted more widely.

5.65. However, it is not always possible to achieve unanimity and a diversity of views may exist between committee members. In such a situation, members may, by consensus, agree on a form of words that reflects the divergence of views, e.g. “A majority of us believe that…”, or a footnote to a disputed section saying, e.g. “X dissented”.

5.66. If text cannot be agreed by consensus, then there will be a division and the majority view will prevail. Where that occurs, the minutes (in the form in which they are published, as an annexe to the report) will give details of the text voted on and the result of the division. This will clearly indicate which members voted for and against the text finally agreed on.

5.67. There have also been examples of situations where committees have agreed (by consensus or by majority) that the views of the minority should be published as an annexe to, or as a commentary on, the report itself.

5.68. It is not possible for a minority of committee members to publish their own report against the wishes of the majority, in the name of the committee or as a parliamentary document. If a minority of committee members do publish their views on the topic of the inquiry, such a document would not form part of the proceedings of the Parliament and would not attract privilege under section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998 in relation to actions of defamation.

5.69. Committee reports are normally published along with a series of annexes which contain the written evidence received (unless the amount of evidence submitted makes this impractical), the Official Reports of the oral evidence given in public session, and extracts from the relevant minutes. For larger inquiries, reports are often published in two volumes with the report in the first volume and the evidence in the second volume.

Publishing reports

5.70. Once a committee has agreed its report, the committee clerks arrange for it to be published. Reports published under the authority of the Parliament are covered by section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998 in relation to privilege.

5.71. If committees have considered draft reports in private, the content of the drafts and the final agreed text remain confidential until published and any member who discloses the content of the report is in breach of section 7.4 of the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament.

5.72. Under the terms of the

  • protocol agreed with the Scottish Government (107KB pdf)

    advance embargoed copies of committee reports are provided to the Scottish Government. This is on the understanding that neither the Parliament nor the Scottish Government will place such embargoed reports in the public domain in advance of publication.

    5.73. On publication, copies of the report are also normally sent, as a courtesy, to all witnesses who have given oral evidence.

    5.74. A committee may decide to arrange a media launch of its report at the time of publication. Depending on the level of interest in the report, this may be done either by news release or by press conference. The launch of a committee report will always be reported on the committee’s web page and in section H of the Business Bulletin.

    5.75. Committee reports are normally published both in hard copy and electronically on the committee pages of the Parliament’s web site. MSPs can obtain hard copies from the Parliament’s information centre (SPICe). Hard copies can be purchased from bookshops and viewed free of charge in the Parliament’s partner libraries.

    Scottish Government responses to committee reports

    5.76. Under the

    the Scottish Government is expected to respond to relevant recommendations contained in the report within two months of its publication. Where a response is to take longer than two months to prepare, the Scottish Government will write to the committee convener or clerk explaining the reasons and indicating the likely timescale.

    5.77. The form that the response should take is not specified and is a matter for the Scottish Government to decide. It is often in the form of a letter from the minister to the committee convener. In practice most responses concentrate on the main recommendations of the report which are directed at the Scottish Government.

    5.78. Committees cannot require the Scottish Government (or any other external party) to take action on or accept their recommendations. The recommendations do, however, represent the considered views of cross-party committees who have taken into account evidence submitted to them during the course of their inquiry and there is an expectation that due weight will be given to the conclusions and recommendations agreed.

    Debate of committee reports

    5.79. Under Rule 5.6.1(a) the business of committees is given priority over the business of the Scottish Government in meetings of the Parliament on at least twelve half sitting days in each Parliamentary year. It is normal for these half days, informally known as “committee half days”, to be used to debate previously published committee reports. The dates of the committee half days are decided by the Parliamentary Bureau. In practice, the Conveners Group prioritises “bids” from committees who wish to have their business debated during a committee half day, and makes recommendations to the Bureau as to the business to be taken. Under the protocol with the Scottish Government a debate on a committee report would not normally take place until the expiry of the two month period for a Scottish Government response.

    5.80. Where a report is debated in the chamber, it is normal for the motion to be a “take note motion” in terms of which the Parliament debates and notes the report but is not asked to agree the recommendations. However, this does not apply to reports which, for example, make proposals for Committee Bills, where the agreement of the Parliament is required to allow a Bill to be introduced (Rule 9.15.7) or for reports by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee which propose changes for Standing Orders and where the agreement of the Parliament is required to bring these into effect (Rule 17.1). There may be other circumstances in which a committee would wish to have the recommendations of a report endorsed, although it is likely that this would be the exception rather than the rule.

    Reports by secondary committees

    5.81. Reports to a lead committee by other committees are normally sent in unpublished form to the lead committee, and then published by the lead committee as an annexe to that committee’s report. In most instances, the other committees’ reports are not publicly available at all in the period between their being agreed and their publication by the lead committee. There may, however, be circumstances in which it is appropriate for the secondary committee to publish its report separately in advance of the lead committee. This might, for example, be done where there is likely to be a long gap between publication of the two reports; where the lead committee would be assisted by public debate on the secondary committee’s report or where the public availability of the secondary committee’s report would assist the lead committee in questioning witnesses.

    5.82. The decision on whether to publish is one for the secondary committee although the Conveners Group has agreed that it is good practice for the secondary committee to secure the agreement of the lead committee and take their views on timing into account. The secondary committee report is normally published only on the website, rather than as a paper document. See also the Good Practice Note on publication of reports from secondary committees (reproduced in Section F).

    5.83. The Finance Committee reports to the lead committee on Financial Memorandums which accompany Bills. Its objective is to agree its report before the lead committee takes evidence from the relevant Minister to enable it to question the minister on financial matters. Therefore, the Finance Committee’s current practice is to publish its report on its web page (but not in hard copy) when it forwards its report to the lead Committee.

    5.84. Similarly, although not a secondary committee, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee must report to the lead committee, at Stage 1 of a Bill, on any provision in the Bill conferring powers to make subordinate legislation and may report on any provision conferring other delegated powers.

    Follow up work

    5.85. It is normal for committee reports to make recommendations directed at the Scottish Government or other public bodies concerning policy and/or operational matters. Committees can find it useful to build into their work programmes sufficient time to revisit inquiries with a view to assessing the extent to which their recommendations have been adopted and implemented, particularly where the Scottish Government response has indicated that recommendations have been accepted.

    Footnotes:

    25 For more information on consideration of work programmes, see paragraphs 4.1 to 4.4.

    26 For more information on advisers, see paragraphs 5.52 to 5.54.

    27 For information on evidence gathering, see paragraphs 5.44 to 5.51.

    32 For more information on meetings in private, see paragraphs 4.16 to 4.21.