Presiding Officer sets out changes to the Green Party’s allocation at FMQs, debates and Short Money

31.08.2021

The Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone MSP has set out changes to the Green Party’s allocation of questions at First Minister’s Question Time.

 

 

The move follows the Green Party’s co-operation agreement with the SNP and the imminent appointment of two new Ministers from within the party’s ranks.

The ruling means the Green Party will no longer be entitled to a leader’s question at FMQs. The Presiding Officer also says she will no longer automatically call the party to speak at the start and close of debates.

The party’s Short money – public funds paid to political parties to assist MSPs perform their parliamentary duties – will also be reduced by £15,687.61 on account of two Members becoming Ministers.

In a message to all MSPs this afternoon, the Presiding Officer said she hoped all Members would agree the changes “recognise” the nature of the Co-operation Agreement and would be fair for all parties across the Chamber.

Full text of message

The full text of the Presiding Officer’s message is as follows:

Dear colleagues

I hope you return to Holyrood this week well-rested and ready for another busy term.

I am writing to update you on changes to the management of certain important aspects of parliamentary business in light of the Co-operation Agreement reached between the SNP and the Scottish Greens over the summer and confirmed on Saturday 28 August. I have discussed these changes with my Deputies and with colleagues on the Parliamentary Bureau today.

This political agreement is unparalleled in Scotland and indeed the UK. While it contains significant areas of agreement and co-operation across a wide range of government portfolios and policies, it stops short of being equivalent to the coalition governments in place during Sessions 1 and 2. However, the scope of the Agreement (and accompanying shared policy programme) together with the “no surprises” approach to matters of parliamentary business establishes a different relationship between the Scottish Government and Green Group than exists between any other parties and the position of the Scottish Greens as the third largest opposition party in the Parliament is fundamentally altered. The Agreement therefore requires a bespoke response here at Holyrood, one which draws on precedents and practices, is fair to all parties represented in the Parliament, and is commensurate with the requirements of robust parliamentary scrutiny.

Members will be aware that some parliamentary business matters are for me to decide as Presiding Officer, including the calling of speakers. Others are set out in Standing Orders, are decided by the Parliamentary Bureau or have been established by convention or practice.

First Minister’s Questions

Members will be aware that parties of five or more members are allocated leaders’ questions at FMQs. The cycle for FMQs that I put in place at the start of the session gave the Greens a leader’s question at question 3 in four weeks out of six and a backbench question on one of the other weeks.

In my view, the nature of the Co-operation Agreement, which would see the two Greens co-leaders being appointed as Junior Scottish Ministers, removes their entitlement to a leader’s question at FMQs. It is, instead, my intention to allocate the Greens a backbench question in three weeks out of six, and further, to call them at question 3 in two of those six weeks.

As an aside in relation to FMQs, from this week onwards I intend to revert to calling constituency supplementaries after question 2 and general supplementaries after any other party leaders’ questions have been asked. This week general supplementaries will be called after question 3. I would also like to again take this opportunity to appeal to members across the Chamber for shorter questions and answers. It is my hope that taking supplementaries throughout the question period rather than at the end, along with snappier contributions will help move proceedings along apace and enable me to call more Members on more issues important to your constituents.

Ministerial statements

The current arrangement is for questioners from the Greens and Liberal Democrats to be taken before any other backbench questions on Ministerial statements of particular significance. My Deputies and I do not now intend to call the Greens in this position unless the topic of the statement is not covered by an area of co-operation set out in the Agreement.

Debates

In light of the scope of the Agreement and the “no surprises” approach it sets out in relation to parliamentary business, I do not intend to allocate an opening and closing speaking slot to the Greens unless a Green Party amendment to the motion for debate has been selected. Selection criteria will be adjusted to take account of the scope of the Agreement. I now plan to allocate to the Greens one speaking slot during each debate in the same way as is allocated to the Liberal Democrats. Where no amendment is selected, I now plan to allocate to the Greens one open debate speaking slot during each debate. The consequence of this is more time for speakers from the other parties as well as added flexibility to encourage interventions.

Opposition debates

The Parliamentary Bureau is required to ensure that 16 half sitting days each Parliamentary year are set aside to consider business chosen by political parties which are not represented in the Scottish Government. As the Co-operation Agreement provides for two Scottish Greens members to be nominated for appointment as Junior Scottish Ministers, the Parliamentary Bureau has decided that it will not allocate any of those half sitting days to the Scottish Greens.

Questions other than FMQs

Green backbench MSPs remain entitled to submit their names to the draws for Portfolio and General Questions, and to request Topical, Urgent and SPCB questions. It is established convention that Ministers do not lodge questions. It is my view that the Co-operation Agreement would allow Ministers from the Greens to submit questions only on matters where they are not bound by collective responsibility or on topics not subject to the Agreement and shared policy programme and I would otherwise expect them to respect this convention. In addition, I would request that those Ministers do not submit General Questions as I wish to avoid a situation where a Minister could be asking and answering questions at the same item of business.

Committees

It is long-standing convention that Ministers do not sit on Scottish Parliament committees and it is my expectation that Lorna Slater MSP and Patrick Harvie MSP should resign their committee membership should they be appointed as Ministers this afternoon. The Greens’ entitlement to Convenerships and Deputy Convenerships remains the same. Having looked at the consequences of re-allocating according to the d’Hondt calculation, I do not see any detriment to other parties compared to the allocation established in June.

Short Money

I would also like to advise Members of the position regarding ‘Short Money’ – public funds paid to political parties for the purpose of assisting Members of the Parliament who are connected with the party concerned to perform their parliamentary duties.

The SPCB has considered the statutory framework and noted that it provides for payments to parties providing fewer than 20% of the ministerial team and that the Green group therefore qualifies for ongoing support. The SPCB has, however, authorised changes to payments to the Greens in accordance with the Order, subject to the Parliament approving the appointment of two Greens Members as Ministers. The multiplier setting the amount of monies payable to the Scottish Green Party will be reduced by the number of Scottish Greens Ministers. This will be applied from the date on which the Ministerial appointments are formally made and will reduce the Scottish Green Party’s allocation of funding by £15,687.61.

I hope colleagues will agree that this approach to parliamentary business is one that both recognises the nature of the Co-operation Agreement, supports robust parliamentary scrutiny, respects the representative role of all Members and is fair for all parties across the Chamber. I intend to keep the matters set out above under review.

Kind regards

Alison

 

 

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