Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, January 19, 2023
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Points of Order
- Fire Brigades Union DECON Campaign
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy
- Carbon Neutral Islands Project
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
Points of Order
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. On Tuesday 15 November, in relation to the misleading claim that Scotland had 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential, I asked Minister Lorna Slater when ministers first became aware that they were using a figure that had not been properly sourced. She responded:
“Ministers became aware of the issue on Tuesday 8 November”.—[Official Report, 15 November 2022; c 6.]
On Thursday 17 November, I raised a point of order that Minister Slater appeared to have misled the Parliament in her assertion, and I reminded her that section 1.3(c) of the ministerial code requires the correcting of the record. I stated—[Interruption.]
Mr Kerr, if you could just give me a moment. Members who are leaving the chamber should do so quietly, and members who are conducting a conversation should please do that elsewhere.
I am slightly stunned to see the minister in question leaving the chamber as I am speaking. On 17 November, I stated that the utter disregard from certain ministers
“in not abiding by our processes and codes risks bringing the Parliament into disrepute and undermining your position as Presiding Officer.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2022; c 27.]
The record remains uncorrected by Minister Slater or, indeed, to the best of my knowledge, any other ministers who have deployed that statistic.
On Monday 16 January, in relation to the claim that Scotland had 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential, Minister Michael Matheson was asked at the Scottish Affairs Committee when he became aware that the figure was inaccurate. He said:
“If I recall correctly, sometime back in September.”
Both statements cannot simultaneously be true. Either Ms Slater has misled the Scottish Parliament, or Mr Matheson has misled the House of Commons.
Presiding Officer, since ignoring and disrespecting the ministerial code is endemic among the Government, and none of its members feels any obligation to do anything about it or, indeed, to listen to points of order, I wonder whether you might request that Minister Slater appear before the Parliament to make a statement as to why she apparently misled the Parliament, why she and her colleagues feel that it is unnecessary to abide by our codes, and, finally, to give an honest and accurate answer to my original question.
I thank the member for his point of order. As he will be aware, I have dealt with related matters before. I repeat that issues in relation to the ministerial code are a matter for the Scottish Government.
As all members know, the Parliament has a corrections mechanism that enables any member to request a correction to any factual inaccuracy that may have been contained in a contribution during our proceedings. As a matter of courtesy and respect, I expect all members to be accurate in their contributions and to seek to remedy any factual inaccuracies, whether that is through the corrections mechanism or through other methods, at the earliest possible opportunity. All members—[Interruption.]
I suspend the meeting briefly.12:50 Meeting suspended.
12:53 On resuming—
All members are aware that it is not the Presiding Officer’s role to make rulings on the accuracy of contributions; rather, whether each member considers their contributions to have been accurate is a matter for them. If a member is dissatisfied with information that has been provided to them, it remains open to them to pursue the issue through all the avenues that are available to members.
Mr Kerr asked whether I could call the minister to make a statement to the chamber. That is not something that is within my power, but, in seeking a ministerial statement, Mr Kerr may wish to raise the matter with his business manager, who can raise it in the Parliamentary Bureau.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con) rose—
Edward Mountain has a point of order.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I do not raise this lightly; I realise that there has been some delay in getting to this point.
In response to my topical question on 6 September last year, the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Ivan McKee, assured the Parliament that the budget and completion timescales for vessels 801 and 802 were on target. Just four days before I asked that question, I visited the shipyard, where I met the chief executive. He was clear that the budget would be exceeded and that vessel 802 would not be delivered on time. The notes of my visit are available, should they be required.
Ivan McKee’s answer to my topical question baffled me, as it appeared that it was more than a political non-answer of the type that we can often expect. Subsequent freedom of information requests revealed email exchanges between Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and Ferguson Marine showing that they both knew of the problems before my question was asked. That begged the question: was the minister aware before he answered my topical question that there were, indeed, further delays and expenses relating to hulls 801 and 802?
Through an FOI request, I obtained Ivan McKee’s briefing notes—
Mr Mountain, might I ask what your point of order is?
I am coming to the point of order. If I can just finish this sentence, I will come back to it.
I obtained, through the FOI request, Ivan McKee’s briefing notes, which had been prepared by his staff in order to allow him to answer my questions. I can only assume that he read those briefing notes, and it was clear from them that he was aware of the delay to hulls 801 and 802 and of the extension to the budget cost.
Presiding Officer, I know that it is disrespectful and unacceptable to suggest that somebody has lied to or misled the Parliament, so I will not do so, but it is clear from the unambiguous evidence that I have here that the minister’s response was, at best, a misrepresentation of the facts or, worse, plainly untruthful. Therefore, I seek your guidance on how members of this Parliament can hold the Government to account if it takes numerous FOI requests to prove that a minister has clearly been economical with the truth.
I think that all members will be aware that a point of order takes precedence where a member has concerns that proceedings have not taken place in a proper way. The points that the member raises are not points that I can rule on from the chair. I have just addressed a point of order regarding the accuracy of members’ contributions in the chamber, and, again, I point the member to the many avenues that exist for members to pursue one another on issues when they are dissatisfied with a response.
Alex Cole-Hamilton has a point of order.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. On the basis of what you have just said, I will withdraw my point of order on this occasion.
Thank you. We will move on to members’ business. I will allow a moment for the gallery to clear.