Corrie Innes provides a preview of the final week at Holyrood before the Christmas recess.
The Westminster engine will rumble back into life this week after the general election. The first order of business on Tuesday will be the election of a speaker – the re-appointment of newly-installed Lindsay Hoyle will be nothing more than a formality. The swearing in of new MPs begins immediately after and continues throughout the week. On Thursday, the Queen will formally open the Session with her Speech to Parliament, in which she will lay out Boris Johnson’s Programme for Government. Of the 26 Bills which were introduced in the last Speech, the first that will reappear is the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. With an 80-seat majority and having campaigned vigorously to “get Brexit done”, the Conservatives are keen to pass the Bill as quickly as possible and plan to hold a vote on Friday.
UEFA (European Championships) Bill
While MPs are sworn in at Westminster this week, a busy week will kick off at Holyrood. The UEFA (European Championships) Bill will be debated at Stage 3 on Tuesday. The Bill contains measures to protect sponsorship interests and criminalise ticket touting during the Glasgow portion of next summer’s European Championship. The Bill is modelled on one which was passed for the 2014 Commonwealth Games but proposed “enforcement officers” with significant power to search individuals and property proved controversial at Committee.
Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill
FGM has been illegal in Scotland since 2005 but this Bill seeks to strengthen the law and make it easier to protect at-risk women and girls. Proposed “protection orders” would empower authorities to protect at risk individuals and sanction potential offenders. Despite the illegality of the practice, no-one has been prosecuted to date, despite medics treating hundreds of victims in Scotland in the last two years. The Stage 1 debate on the Bill will take place on Wednesday.
Referendums (Scotland) Bill
Nicola Sturgeon has argued the strong SNP result at the general election has provided her with a mandate to hold a second independence referendum next year, while senior Scottish Labour figures including Monica Lennon have suggested they agree. The Scottish Government has pledged to publish a “detailed, democratic case” for allowing Parliament decide whether to hold a vote, and will hold the Stage 3 debate for the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which could facilitate a referendum, on Thursday. So far, the UK Government has remained firm regarding its perspective that the 2014 referendum was a “once in a generation” decision.
The first FMQs since the general election, and the last one of 2019, is likely to be a lively affair. The SNP’s redoubled effort to secure a second independence referendum is likely to face criticism from the Conservatives and Lib Democrats while Labour may continue to press the Government on ongoing crises in the NHS. Pauline McNeil will raise the link between mental ill-health and homelessness, while Edward Mountain will ask about alternative holiday arrangements for emergency services staff who work on Christmas and Michelle Ballantyne will seek information on school pupils with additional support needs.