Memorandum from the Clerk/Chief Executive
of the Scottish Parliament
1. This memorandum is submitted to the Procedure
Committee of the House of Commons in response to the request from
the Chairman of the Committee of 4 December 2001. It sets out
the process for lodging Parliamentary Questions (PQs) (both oral
and written) and also sets out the background and the procedures
adopted by the Scottish Parliament in the electronic processing
of PQs, motions and amendments to motions.
2. All questions, written (the Parliament
has no "priority" written system) and oral, are lodged
with the clerks in the Chamber Desk (the equivalent of the Table
Office) who implement Rules 13.3-13.9 of the Parliament's Standing
Orders which set out the framework for the lodging of PQs to the
Scottish Executive, including the First Minister, and to the Presiding
Officer. In addition to these Standing Orders, the clerks need
to ensure that the Detailed Guidance on Parliamentary Questions,
which provides more expansive detail on the procedures to
be followed in respect of these Rules, is complied with. For ease
of reference, the Rules on admissibility in Standing Orders are
i. Questions shall be in writing and lodged
with the Clerk.
(a) be brief, clearly worded, and address
(b) relate to a matter for which the First
Minister, the Scottish Ministers or the Scottish Law Officers
have general responsibility;
(d) be prefaced by the name of the member
(e) not contain offensive language;
(f) not express a point of view;
(g) not breach any enactment or rule of law
or be contrary to the public interest; and
(h) not contravene Rule 7.5.1 (sub judice).
iii. A question is admissibile unless:
(a) it does not comply with the requirements
of the above or
(b) the information sought has been provided
in response to a similar question in the six months before the
member seeks to lodge the question.
Any dispute as to whether a question is admissible
is determined by the Presiding Officer.
3. Answers to written PQs are lodged with
the Clerk, normally within 14 days of the question being lodged.
In the case of a question lodged during the seven days before
a period when the Parliament is in recess for more than four days
and during that recess, an answer shall be lodged normally within
28 days of the question being lodged.
4. Oral Question Time (QT) lasts up to 40
minutes each week (normally on Thursdays). First Minister's Question
Time (FMQT) lasts up to 20 minutes each week immediately following
QT. A member may lodge an oral question for answer at QT during
the period commencing with the completion of the QT before the
preceding one (normally 3.10 pm on the Thursday) until 2.00 pm
the next Wednesday for the QT on the Thursday of the next week.
Thirty questions are selected (using an electronic random selector
in Microsoft Word) for each QT. For FMQT, normally questions may
be lodged from 3.30 pm on the Thursday until 2.00 pm the next
Monday for the FMQT that Thursday. This can allow for more topicality
5. Six questions are selected for FMQT and
these are selected by the Presiding Officer, taking into account
the following criteria:
(a) preference is given to topical questions
and questions suitable for supplementary questions;
(b) reasonable political balance between
the parties in their share of questions is maintained over time;
(c) questions from the opposition party leaders
are taken first and second but otherwise "diary" questions
on the lines of "To ask the First Minister when he last met
X" are avoided;
(d) unnecessary duplication with questions
already randomly selected for question time is avoided; and
(e) subject to the above, account is taken
of individual Members' previous record of selection for First
Minister's Question Time.
6. Members may lodge an Emergency Oral question
but only on a day when there is a meeting of the Parliament (normally
Wednesday and Thursday). The question must be lodged with the
clerks in the Chamber Desk no later than 10.00 am on the meeting
day. If the question is, in the opinion of the Presiding Officer,
sufficiently urgent, he shall allow the question to be put and
answered at an appropriate point during the meeting of the Parliament.
7. Members may address a question on a matter
concerning the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to the Presiding
Officer. A question addressed to the Presiding Officer shall normally
be for written answer but may, exceptionally, be for oral answer.
There has been no time given to oral questions to the Presiding
Officer to date.
8. Members can either lodge questions in
person or can, upon completion of the necessary authorisation
form, delegate a named person (researcher, assistant) to lodge
questions on their behalf. The clerks will then accept questions
in the name of the MSP which have been signed by members of staff
(see also paragraph 14 below).
9. As at 18 December 2001 over 21,000 written,
4,300 oral and 1,500 First Minister's questions have been lodged.
It is not possible to give a breakdown as to the number lodged
electronically but it would certainly be more than half.
10. The First Report, 2000 by the Parliament's
Procedures Committee, Preliminary Report into the Volume of
Written Parliamentary Questions and the Scottish Executive's Speed
of Response, identified the concern expressed by a number
of members into the timescale in receiving a substantive answer
to a written PQ and the volume of questions receiving a holding
answer. This problem was added to by the increase in the volume
of PQs being lodged compared with the number of questions tabled
to the Secretary of State for Scotland pre-Scottish Parliament.
The Report recommended measures to improve performance in answering
PQs and that the Committee would continue to monitor this situation
11. The Second Report, 2001 by the Parliament
Procedures Committee, Report into the Volume of Written Parliamentary
Questions and the Scottish Executive's Speed of Response and Related
Matters, which has been agreed by the Parliament, included
a recommendation that the joint Parliament/SE monitoring exercise
which has been established should continue for the time being
and that the Procedures Committee keeps the outcome of the monitoring
under regular review. The figures provided in Annexes A and B
were extracted from a paper submitted to the Procedures Committee
for consideration at its meeting on 18 December 2001 when the
issue "Written PQs: Monitoring Volume and Speed of Response"
was on their agenda.
12. Annex A shows in both table and graph
form, the total number of written questions lodged to both the
SE and the Presiding Officer in each month since June 1999. The
table shows that, although the peak volume of questions lodged
in March 2000 has not been repeated, there is no clear annual
cycle to the volume of questions. The volume of questions fluctuates
between 500-600 in recess months and circa 1,000 in the
13. Annex B shows the figures for speed
of response for the four-week periods since April 2001. The Second
Report of the Procedures Committee covered the period up to the
end of March 2001. These four-weekly figures are also published
in the Written Answers Report. The figures show that improvement
in the SE's performance has continued sharply since April 2001.
Performance has reached over 70 per cent of answers being given
within the due period (14 days) in the last three four-week periods.
Electronic processing of PQs
14. The Report of the Consultative Steering
Group on the Scottish Parliament highlighted the need for
the Parliament to utilise IT in its procedures. It was against
this background that the Parliament sought to ensure that members
were able to lodge questions, motions etc and, importantly, that
the answers to questions could be processed electronically.
15. The PQ system which has been developed
and which has been in operation since the Parliament started in
May 1999, allows members to lodge questions electronically either
using a basic Word template or by simply sending the text of the
question in an e-mail message. The Standing Orders allow for a
PQ to be lodged electronically but only if the member has completed
the necessary authorisation form to allow the clerks to accept
questions electronically from their Parliament, constituency and/or
home e-mail address(es) (this authorisation also allows members
to e-mail to the clerks motions, amendments to motions, support
to motions, amendments to Bills and support to Bills).
16. Persons authorised by the member to
lodge questions on their behalf (see paragraph 7 above) can also
e-mail questions but only if the e-mail shows the member's name.
This means that clerks will accept questions e-mailed which show
"name of authorised person on behalf of name of MSP".
Clerks will not accept questions electronically if they do not
come from one of the authorised e-mail accounts or if the question
does not show the member's mailbox name. Questions cannot be lodged
by fax (as faxes are open to fraudulent use).
17. Once the question has been received
in the Chamber Desk, the clerks can edit it electronically before
it is dropped into a PQ template. After all questions are given
their final check (late afternoon), including those received in
paper form which have been typed into the PQ template, they are
then e-mailed to the Scottish Executive (SE). This allows the
SE then to transmit each question to the relevant official for
preparation of the draft answer which is then e-mailed back to
the SE's Parliamentary Office who, upon receiving Ministerial
clearance to the draft answer, e-mail the question and answer,
normally late afternoon or early evening, to the member and the
Chamber Desk. The Chamber Desk clerks then arrange for all questions
and answers to appear on the Parliament's website by early afternoon
of the next day. In addition, the question and answer are used
in the preparation of the weekly Written Answers Report,
which is published each Monday morning.
18. The recognised advantage of electronic
lodging of questions is that text can be recycled and amended
more easily than a question lodged in hard copy thereby making
it easier for clerks and allowing for the speedy transmission
of questions through the Chamber Desk, to the SE and for publication
in the Parliament's Business Bulletin (the daily "order paper")
and on the web. It also allows members to submit questions when
they (or their staff) are not in the building. This is an obvious
advantage on Mondays and Fridays when the Parliament and its committees
do not meet and members can e-mail questions to the Chamber Desk
while in their constituencies.
19. As stated earlier, members can lodge
motions, amendments to motions and support to motions electronically
in the same way as they lodge PQs.