Reforms can increase trust in Scottish Parliament - Ken Macintosh

Proposals for sweeping reforms of the Scottish Parliament would promote 'trust' in Holyrood, Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh has said.

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh MSP and Chair of the Commission on Parliamentary Reform John McCormick in the Debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Picture; PA
Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh MSP and Chair of the Commission on Parliamentary Reform John McCormick in the Debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Picture; PA

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform recommended an overhaul of the committee system but stopped short of calling for a second chamber or more MSPs.

The commission said that while Holyrood was generally well-regarded, changes would result in “significant improvements” in its effectiveness and ability to act as “a more successful and stronger force for good”.

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Mr Macintosh asked commission chairman John McCormick to draw up recommendations for reform after questions were raised about how effective Parliament committees are at scrutinising Scottish Government legislation.

It also comes at a time when MSPs are taking on new powers over income tax and welfare.

Among the 75 recommendations is a call for smaller and stronger committees with conveners not nominated by party whips but elected by Parliament, which the commission’s report said would “emphasise the independence of committees and give conveners a mandate for pursuing their scrutiny agenda”.

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Report proposes sweeping reforms of Scottish Parliament

A committee engagement unit should be created to support committees in innovation and risk-taking and committee membership should reflect Parliament’s gender balance.

Holyrood should replace the current three-stage legislative process with a five-stage process including pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, allow committees and chamber to meet at the same time, scrap the “pointless” scripted diary questions party leaders open First Minister’s Questions with and no longer require advance publication of chosen questions.

Other recommendations include the parliament working with political parties and others to agree benchmarks for diversity in Holyrood election candidates.

A further recommendation is to create a working group to examine the case for increasing resources, such as pay and staffing, for MSPs who take on extra roles, such as committee convener, and for party leaders.

The commission, which heard from more than 1,200 people including former first ministers, also recommends establishing a legislative standards body.

Amid some calls for the number of MSPs to be increased, the report did not rule out any options but concluded “all the options to maximise the capacity of the existing Parliament must be tried before more radical proposals are considered”.

Mr Macintosh accepted the recommendations and said: “The long-term gain is that it will promote trust in the Scottish Parliament and in parliamentarians generally in the eyes of the Scottish people so that they can have confidence in the Scottish Parliament.

“They can believe in this institution as somewhere to be trusted, that’s carrying out its work effectively on behalf of all the people of Scotland.”

The report does not contain costs for the reforms but Mr Macintosh said it is “not an expensive wishlist” and Mr McCormick said the extra cost would not be “significant”.

“Taken as a package, these 75 recommendations will bring significant change to the parliament and, we believe, deliver a more strong parliament and certainly a more effective parliament,” Mr McCormick added.