Foulkes calls on presiding officer to quit

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SCOTTISH Parliament presiding officer Alex Fergusson is under pressure to stand down because he is to be a Conservative candidate at the Holyrood elections in less than three months from now.

Lothians Labour MSP George Foulkes has tabled a motion in the parliament calling on Mr Fergusson to give up the role on the grounds he can no longer be seen as impartial.

Lord Foulkes claimed there were already signs Mr Fergusson’s handling of proceedings in the parliament was not impartial. He said: “He is particularly hard on Labour people.”

Mr Fergusson recently threatened to suspend Lord Foulkes from the debating chamber after he called Education Secretary Mike Russell a “charlatan” and challenged the presiding officer when he was rebuked.

Lord Foulkes said Mr Fergusson should be free to stand for re-election as a Tory if he wanted, but should not remain in such a sensitive role in the run-up to the election. He suggested Labour MSP Trish Godman, one of two deputy presiding officers, who is retiring at the election, could take on the role for the last few weeks before parliament is dissolved.

Mr Fergusson was elected as a Conservative MSP but gave up his party affiliation, as presiding officers are expected to do, when he took on the role after the 2007 Holyrood elections. Both the parliament’s previous presiding officers, Sir David Steel and George Reid, retired from parliament after their four-year term in the chair. But Mr Fergusson announced last year he planned to stand as Tory candidate for the redrawn seat of Galloway & Dumfries West. He has said he does not want another term as presiding officer.

Lord Foulkes said: “This is unprecedented because David Steel gave up being a Liberal Democrat and didn’t stand again and George Reid gave up the SNP and didn’t stand again. It’s also unprecedented at Westminster because the Speaker becomes impartial and if he stands again he stands as ‘Mr Speaker seeking re-election’.”

He said Mr Fergusson should arguably have been urged to stand down as soon as he announced he was to seek election under a party label this year.

But he said there was an urgency about the issue now because the political focus had shifted to the impending contest.

“He has said himself we are now in an election period and people are getting more excitable and raising election issues. The recess this week provides an opportunity for him to stand down,” said Mr Foulkes.

A parliament spokesman said: “The presiding officer announced in June 2010 that he would stand for re-election to Holyrood. Mr Fergusson has always been strictly impartial in carrying out his duties as presiding officer and will remain so for the remainder of his tenure until May 11 when he hands over to his successor.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com