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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 29 September 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19 Vaccination Certification Scheme, Legal Right to Recovery, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Poverty (Purchase of School Uniforms)


Points of Order

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

In this afternoon’s debate on Covid vaccination passports, reference was made to the absence of draft regulations and of an evidence base to support the policy. I understand from media reports that the Scottish Government’s senior counsel, when appearing this afternoon at the Court of Session, stated that the regulations would be considered by the COVID-19 Recovery Committee tomorrow morning, despite the agenda for that meeting having been published already and there being no room on the committee’s agenda to do so.

Moreover, the same senior counsel produced in evidence to the Court of Session a 71-page evidence paper from the Scottish Government in support of its policy. The draft regulations and that evidence paper were then emailed to members of the COVID-19 Recovery Committee after the debate in the chamber had concluded. It is clear that the documents would have been very helpful in informing that debate and were, I presume, ready long before the debate commenced.

Presiding Officer, will you investigate why the Scottish Government made the documents available to the Court of Session, but not to Parliament, and why it is treating the chamber with contempt?

I thank Mr Fraser for his point of order. At this moment, I am not aware of the precise detail of the information that has been provided, or the basis on which it was produced in the Court of Session.

However, it is, of course, extremely important that members and committees be provided with information to enable scrutiny in a timeous manner. I will review the information that has been provided, and I will return to the chamber if I consider that a further ruling is appropriate.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

The material that has been provided to the COVID-19 Recovery Committee has been provided in accordance with routine arrangements, which have existed throughout the pandemic, for supplying regulatory information to committees in advance of their deliberations. That material was provided at 4 pm this afternoon, in accordance with the normal arrangements that are in place.

I thank Mr Swinney for his point of order. I will satisfy myself as to the situation and I will, as I said previously, return to the chamber with a further ruling if I consider that to be appropriate.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I believe that Mr Kerr’s point of order is next, after which I will return to Ms McNeill.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I have previously raised concerns with you about the Scottish National Party Government’s blatant disregard for Scotland’s Parliament. This morning, the SNP snuck out the answer to Government-initiated question S6W-03408, which announced:

“the NHS will remain on an emergency footing until at least 31 March 2022.”—[Written Answers, 29 September 2021; S6W-03408.]

Surely that kind of significant and substantive announcement must be brought to the chamber in the first instance, with members being given an opportunity to question ministers on its consequences. Yesterday, we heard the First Minister’s Covid update statement. There was ample opportunity for the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care to make a statement to Parliament in person and to answer questions.

Therefore, Presiding Officer, I seek your guidance on three matters. First, you will know that, on 22 June, I raised a very similar point of order. You said then that you had

“asked the Scottish Government to reflect on the use of GIQs when Parliament is sitting.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2021; c 12.]

Do you believe that today’s events demonstrate that the Scottish Government has taken any notice whatsoever of your request?

Secondly, on 22 June, you also said that

“all significant and substantive announcements should be made to the Parliament, whenever that is possible.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2021; c 12.]

I do not think that anyone can argue that the announcement was not significant and substantial, or that it was not possible for the cabinet secretary to make a statement to Parliament yesterday, or even today or tomorrow. Do you still believe that what you said on 22 June is correct, and do you share my concern that the Government is disrespecting your office and Parliament by its behaviour again today?

The Government has shown this week how quickly it can, and does, change business when doing so suits it. Based on the approach that we have seen from the Government today, I fear that the Scottish Government’s elusive winter national health service plan might well be snuck out over recess with minimal scrutiny.

The one thing that we know about this SNP Government is that it cannot abide transparency or scrutiny. What can be done to ensure that members of Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise that plan before the October recess?

I thank Stephen Kerr for his point of order.

Government-initiated questions are recognised as a mechanism through which the Government can make announcements. As I set out in June, all significant and substantial announcements should be made to Parliament, wherever that is possible. There will, of course, be instances in which it is not possible to make an announcement in the chamber.

In relation to question S6W-03408, I have noted that the GIQ mechanism has been used both in this session and the previous session to confirm extensions to the period for which the NHS will remain on an emergency footing. The guidance on announcements also notes that GIQ answers can be followed up with a debate. The member might wish to raise that at the next meeting of the Parliamentary Bureau, at which I will visit the issue that the member has raised.

Further to the question that you will consider about scrutiny in Parliament—in particular, of the vaccination passport regulations—I note that, in a radio interview that was given by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care after the debate, he said that the evidence to back the Government’s position was lodged with the Scottish Parliament information centre. However, I pursued that and was told that no such evidence exists.

I therefore ask the Presiding Officer to consider whether members of Parliament who have an interest in this debate but are not part of the COVID-19 Recovery Committee—that includes me and many others—must have access to all the Government’s advice and evidence, so that we can consider what position we want to take. It is really unsatisfactory, when we are considering the whole basis of the Government’s argument on Covid vaccination passports, if that advice and evidence are not available in our information centre.

I thank Ms McNeill for her point of order.

As I said previously, I will review the information that has been raised with me this afternoon. I will return to the chamber with a further ruling if I consider that that is appropriate.