SPPA Committee sets out Holyrood committee reform proposals

19.01.2016

The Scottish Government should be required to publish a post-legislative report on each Act of Parliament, three to five years after implementation.

And Holyrood committees should normally have a maximum of seven members to ensure focused and effective scrutiny of Government.

Key recommendations on Holyrood Committee Reform, by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee. In its report published today, the Committee said it was not, however, persuaded by arguments for the introduction of elected conveners.

SPPA Committee Convener, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“The aim of any change must be to make committees more effective at scrutinising legislation and government policy, and holding the government of the day to account.

“We believe there are already many examples of committees working with great effectiveness - challenging the Government, questioning Ministers, airing public concerns. 

“Our recommendations, and a greater emphasis on post-legislative scrutiny, will see committees working at this level of effectiveness, more of the time.” 

Background information

In addition to key principles which should underpin any future change, the committee made the following recommendations:

  • We recommend that next session’s committees should normally have a maximum of seven members (the effect of which is that Members serve on only one committee).
  • If the next Parliament aimed for around 14 committees, with no more than seven members each, the number of committee places to be filled would be similar to the number of members available to serve on committees. Each additional committee, or each committee of more than seven, will increase the number of members who have to sit on two committees.
  • On avoiding ‘churn’ of members - We recommend that in proposing changes to committee membership, the Bureau should attempt to minimise turnover of members.
  • On committee remits and the Justice Committee - We do not think that there is a case for significant changes to the way in which the remits of subject committees are decided. 

…The one exception is the Justice Committee which, in every session of the Parliament to date, has been more consistently burdened with legislation than any other committee…

…the Parliament could consider for next session establishing two justice committees but this time with distinct remits – analogous to the split in the House of Commons between Home Affairs and Justice.

  • In a previous report on post-legislative scrutiny, we suggested steps that committees could take to increase post-legislative scrutiny. We think a further step is needed to build this scrutiny routinely into committees’ work. We recommend that, within 3-5 years of Royal Assent, the Scottish Government should be required to publish a post-legislative report on the implementation of each Act of the Scottish Parliament.
  • Nothing we have heard has persuaded us that the introduction of elected conveners would result in more effective committees or conveners. We do not recommend that the Parliament makes any change to the current system of choosing committee conveners.

On next steps:  The best time to make significant changes to working practices is at the start of a new session. The Committee hopes that this report will lead to discussion across the Parliament and broad agreement on the steps needed to increase committees’ effectiveness next session.

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