Presiding Officer announces plans for further virtual scrutiny at Scottish Parliament

30.04.2020

Plans for further virtual scrutiny at the Scottish Parliament have today been announced by the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer.

In a letter to MSPs, the Rt Hon Ken Macintosh MSP updates Members on plans for enhanced scrutiny measures which will be implemented over the coming weeks. These measures build on work which has already seen a number of virtual question time sessions and seven virtual committee meetings take place to date.

These plans ensure that all Members have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government and raise constituents’ concerns whether in person at Holyrood or remotely from home.

The letter includes information on:

  • Extending First Minister’s Questions to 1 hour providing the opportunity for more Members to participate;
  • Increasing the capacity for Chamber and committee business so that by next week the Parliament can support 16 meetings over four days each week:
  • More virtual question sessions allowing Members to ask supplementary questions;
  • Plans for a fully virtual Parliament involving all MSPs; and
  • The creation of a ‘hybrid’ style Parliament where all Members can ask their questions, speak in debates, and vote remotely in all business that takes place at Holyrood.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear colleagues

You know just how devastating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been on the people we represent and the many ways we have all had to adjust and adapt over recent weeks. Everyone’s mailbox will have been inundated with constituents sharing their fears and anxieties and in some cases, their grief and these are stories you rightly want to highlight in Parliament and prompt questions you want to raise. I fully recognise your frustration when there are insufficient opportunities to do so and I wanted to assure you that addressing your needs is at the heart of my thinking. The primary focus of our efforts at the Parliament has been on supporting you in finding new ways of working both in the Chamber and on committees, in person and remotely. We are conscious of avoiding any undue risk to our colleagues and staff, but have applied ourselves with alacrity, introducing new and innovative ways to enable the Parliament to continue to function and scrutinise the Government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak,

I believe that much has been achieved in a short space of time and I am also confident we can further expand opportunities for virtual scrutiny. As some colleagues may have heard me say in the Chamber this week, I am working with the parliamentary authorities and business managers to explore new options which will help us meet your needs. In setting out our immediate and longer-term plans below, I hope I can assure you that the primary aim is to give all Members the chance to raise their constituents’ concerns whether in person at Holyrood or remotely from home.

As you know, we’re holding a virtual Covid-19 question session focusing on the impact on local government and communities later today from 2.00 pm until 2.45 pm. In addition to this, I’m pleased to confirm that the Bureau will also schedule an additional virtual question session on Friday this week with Cabinet Secretaries Michael Russell and Fiona Hyslop, our seventh such session.

Next Wednesday, we are scheduling an extended session of First Minister Questions from 12.30 pm until 1.30 pm at Holyrood, allowing more time for more members to participate. I am very aware of the demand amongst members for more time to ask questions following Ministerial Statements, a pressure that is particularly acute when we are only sitting one or two days a week. As well as working closely with business managers to ensure that additional time is scheduled for these in future, the Deputy Presiding Officers and I will also continue to use our discretion to call as many members as possible.

Committees have a crucial role in scrutinising the coronavirus response and its impact and I am aware that a number of committees have already started work in this area, issuing calls for evidence and hearing from witnesses. Parliamentary colleagues and staff have been working incredibly hard to ensure that remote committees can meet formally as well as informally and, by the end of this week, there have been seven formal virtual committee meetings, including two virtual meetings of the recently established Covid Committee. We continue to expand our capacity and I can confirm that we can now support 16 virtual meetings of the Parliament and committees over four days.

I am also pleased to advise that by next Thursday we will also be in a position to hold a full virtual meeting of the Parliament involving all Members should there be demand to schedule this. The format of that meeting has still to be agreed, however, I would expect it to be a mix of a set number of Members indicating in advance that they wish to participate, with all other Members able to request to speak during the meeting and called at my discretion in the normal course.

I am also very keen to ensure that those at risk who may be at home for a longer period of time are able to participate fully in all aspects of parliamentary business. While the Bureau continues to consider options for proxy voting arrangements, we’re now working towards creating a ‘hybrid’ style Chamber where all members can ask their questions, speak in debates, and in time vote remotely in all business that takes place at Holyrood. It is my hope that by the week beginning 11 May we will be in a position to test this hybrid approach, with a view to it being operational by the following week.

Finally, can I thank you as Members for your continued support, assistance and patience as we navigate our ways through these changes. Feel free to contact me directly at any time should you have any issues you wish to raise and I assure you that I will continue to work with colleagues to address your concerns and ensure Parliament fulfils its role effectively at this difficult time.

Best wishes

Ken

Rt Hon Ken Macintosh MSP

Presiding Officer

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