Reform of parliamentary sitting patterns to be examined


Changes to the Parliament’s sitting patterns, including proposals for its chamber to meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, are to be considered by MSPs, it was announced today.

Following a request from Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee is to examine how best the Parliament’s week should be structured to ensure effective debates and scrutiny.

The committee is also to consider changing the format of the Parliament’s Question Times, including Themed Question Time, which in the opinion of the Presiding Officer “has not worked as intended”.

SPPA Committee convener Dave Thompson MSP said:

“The Parliament is now twelve years old, and this is a timely opportunity early in the new session to consider reform of the Parliamentary week.

“There is a desire amongst members for more spontaneity in the chamber and for chamber business to be more responsive to topical issues.

“Voices from within and outwith the Parliament have made constructive calls for change over the past few months. And since her election, the Presiding Officer has sought to build momentum for change.

“Our committee intends to play its part in full in this process, but will consider change not simply for its own sake, but to improve how we scrutinise the Government and how we debate the issues which matter to the people of Scotland and to their lives.”

The committee will hold a two phase inquiry. The first phase ‘Inquiry into the reform of parliamentary business – remodelling the parliamentary week’ – will make recommendations by Christmas. The Committee is now calling for evidence which will inform both phases of its inquiry.

The remit for phase one will be:

to consider how the parliamentary week can best be organised to allow the Parliament to be effective in its key roles of scrutiny and debate; and specifically:

  • the potential benefits of changing chamber and committee sitting patterns;
  • the potential benefits of changing the format and regularity of question times;
  • how to make best use of chamber time; and
  • the potential to introduce new forms of business into the chamber.

Phase two, which will commence after Christmas, will give wider consideration to themes emerging from phase one.

The committee invites comments from all interested individuals. Comments should be submitted by the end of October.


The call for written evidence can be found on the committee’s homepage

Correspondence from the Presiding Officer

The Presiding Officer’s letter to the SPPA Committee, published today, includes the following comments:

“My aim in all of this is to develop the Parliament as an institution. My ambition is for a Parliament that is responsive to developments and meets the needs of the people of Scotland by ensuring topicality and relevance in its deliberations.”

On sitting patterns:

“The current time gap between the Parliament rising on a Thursday evening and resuming on a Wednesday afternoon means that the Parliament may not always be in a position to respond to emerging or urgent issues. I consider this to be a weakness that could be addressed by, for example, the Parliament meeting in plenary session on three afternoons a week (ie Tuesday to Thursday) to reduce the times during which the Parliament is not able to consider issues.”

On Themed Question Time, she added:

“My personal view, for a number of reasons, is that Themed Question Time has not worked as intended. It is not always very well attended and often does not engage many more Members than those who have a question selected for answer”

The full text of the Presiding Officer’s letter is available on the committee’s homepage.

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