Tricia Marwick calls for fewer Holyrood committees

HOLYROOD’s Presiding Officer has set out reform proposals which would see fewer but larger and more powerful committees in the Scottish Parliament.

The Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick wants fewer but larger and more power committees at Holyrood. Picture: Jane Barlow

In a lecture to the David Hume Institute, Tricia Marwick called for a fundamental look at how the committees operate and for committee conveners to be elected by their peers.

The Scottish Parliament currently has 17 committees, with 132 places shared among 80 MSPs.

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Mrs Marwick set out an argument for reducing the number to 10 or 11.

She said: “I have now come to the view that changing our culture is not enough and we need to consider structural change.

“Does our current committee structure serve us well enough?

“Why has no committee proposed any committee legislation since 2002, apart from procedural legislation. Why have we carried out virtually no post-legislative scrutiny?”

She added: “Larger committees could provide a better overall policy fit, bringing together some subjects that, although separate just now, may work better under one larger committee.

“These larger committees could be focused on what is important to the Parliament in terms of policy fit.

“I think the Parliament should actually be clear in setting out its own policy priorities and, as such, shape its own committees according to its own needs.

“Larger committees would be able to break into smaller sub groups ... meeting to discuss in a more flexible way ... it simply doesn’t need all the committee members to be working on all the committee business all at the same time. We need to be more creative in how we work.”

Mrs Marwick also supports the introduction of elected committee conveners as part of a cultural shift within Holyrood.

Parties would still have a proportional share of committee conveners but those conveners would be directly accountable to Parliament as a result of a secret ballot of all MSPs.

The Presiding Officer added: “I want to see more powerful conveners with a stronger voice, not feeling driven by any government’s legislation programme.”

Holyrood’s committees have previously been criticised for a lack of teeth when it comes to scrutinising the Scottish Government, with opposition MSPs accusing the SNP administration of suppressing dissent.