Despite this issue having been known about well in advance, it was withheld from the two Parliamentary Committees which considered the additional bridge. The £100m liability was only approved this week in an unusual private session of the Finance Committee, months after the legislation had been passed.
Raising a Point Of Order at today’s First Minister’s Questions, Green MSP Patrick Harvie asked the Presiding Officer to rule on whether Parliament’s procedures have been broken. In particular, the rules governing a Hybrid Bill like this specify that the Financial Memorandum must set out the best estimate of the costs and margins of uncertainty associated with the work, a rule which appears to have been broken in this instance.
Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“All the evidence points to a serious cover-up here on several fronts. First, Ministers knew about this issue years ago, yet they withheld the information from Parliament until the legislation had been passed. Second, around 800,000 barrels of oil pass through this pipeline every day, and we still have no information about what the risks are to the local environment and economy or indeed what other liabilities the public finances are exposed to. BP appear to have been open with Ministers, unsurprisingly given the serious consequences of their actions in the Gulf of Mexico, but Ministers have decided to withhold vital information.
“What’s more, the decision by the Finance Committee to discuss this substantial sum in private is entirely unjustifiable – everyone knows that the route crosses the pipeline, but Parliament and the public have a right to know on what basis such a substantial sum of money has been allocated. This issue will not go away, and neither Ministers nor the Finance Committee can be allowed to get away with what looks like a shabby coverup.”