Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee
COVID Vaccine Passports
Letter from the Minister for Parliamentary Business to the Convener, 9 September 2021
COVID Vaccine Certification
Thank you for your letter outlining the discussions that the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee have had in relation to which procedure might be used for any regulations related to a possible vaccine certification scheme and our rational for such a choice.
As you are aware there is a Parliamentary debate on COVID Vaccine Certification scheduled for later today, and therefore any indication in relation to which procedure will be used that I set out below does not prejudge the outcome of that debate.
I am aware that over 90 of the coronavirus SSIs have been made subject to the ‘made affirmative procedure’ which allows the Scottish Government to bring regulations into force immediately but generally requires them to be approved by the parliament within 28 days in order to remain in force. During the pandemic this has allowed the Government to respond quickly to the many challenges presented by coronavirus.
However, Covid case numbers remain high as set out in the latest State of the Pandemic report, published 3 September, and the winter period ahead will pose significant challenges of increased transmission and related pressure on the National Health Service. Action is therefore needed across all sectors to ensure compliance with baseline Covid mitigations, and it is vital to consider further targeted and proportionate measures that can reduce risk further.
Vaccine certification is one such measure. In line with the Scottish Government’s strategic intent to ‘suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future', a COVID vaccine certification scheme will aid us in reducing the rate and impact of transmission.
Research evidence indicates that being vaccinated reduces the risk that a person will become infected with the virus, and likely further reduces their risk of transmitting coronavirus. Ensuring only those who are vaccinated attend higher risk venues and events therefore directly reduces the risk of transmission.
Where someone does catch the virus, being vaccinated significantly reduces the likelihood of serious harm or death and in doing so alleviate pressure on the healthcare system.
As a result, certification provides a targeted and proportionate means to reduce risk while maximising our ability to keep open certain settings and events where transmission is a higher risk.
In addition, the need to be vaccinated is expected to encourage the remaining sections of the eligible population yet to be vaccinated to take up the offer of the vaccine.
Work is also ongoing to develop an exemptions approval process including medical exemptions that can be clearly set out in regulations. This is a complex matter that requires careful consideration in order to have a finalised process published ahead of implementation on 1 October. Further detailed policy decisions will likely flow from that and the Scottish Government will have to take time to make sure the required regulations effectively deliver on those policies. That means that regulations will likely only be finalised close to the date when the Government thinks that the policy will have to take effect. The intent then is to use the ‘made affirmative procedure’ for the proposed COVID Vaccine Certification regulations.
I absolutely accept that the made affirmative procedure must only be used when the test for using it set out in Schedule 19 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 is met. Here, I am clear that the relevant regulations will need to be made urgently, given the state of the pandemic and the need to take steps without delay to address the harms posed. I also accept that made affirmative procedure should not become “standard practice”. I believe that in this instance however that the proposed approach is justified. The Debate in the Chamber today, and – if circumstances permit – consideration by the Covid-19 Committee will ensure that there is some Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals before any regulations come into force.
Please be assured that such measures will only continue as long as absolutely necessary and vaccine certification will be kept under regular review, with three weekly Parliamentary reviews and any proposed changes to the settings or venues in which certification would apply will be brought back to Parliament for approval.
Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee
Letter from the Convener to Minister for Parliamentary Business, 7 September 2021