The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-24275, on the campaign recess.
That the Parliament agrees—
(a) for the purpose of the pre-election campaign period from 25 March to 4 May 2021 (inclusive), that the office of the clerk be closed from 25 March to 4 May 2021 (inclusive);
(b) in respect of meetings of committees and sub-committees during the pre-election campaign period, that, in rule 12.3.3, the word “normally” in the second sentence be suspended and the words “, except in the case of the COVID-19 Committee which may be convened by the Convener in an emergency” be inserted after “recess”; and
(c) for the purpose of the lodging of written questions immediately prior to the pre-election campaign period, that rule 13.3.4A be suspended and replaced with—
“The last day on which written questions may be lodged in the current session is Thursday 11 March 2021.”—[
I wish to speak in opposition to Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-24275. The motion is titled “Campaign Recess” but its essential point is that it brings forward the closure of the office of the clerk, which restricts and inhibits members from submitting written parliamentary questions. The important thing to understand about the period that we enter is that, although we head towards an election, we will not have the dissolution that would normally happen. Instead, we are moving into a period of recess, and all MSPs will continue in post until 5 May.
Understandably, because a pandemic is on-going, the Government will be dealing with issues around that. All MSPs continue to get multiple requests on issues such as vaccine roll-out and requests from businesses that are struggling with support, people who are unsure about their job prospects, and pupils and parents with concerns about the on-going issues in the education system. It is important that MSPs are able to continue to submit questions to Government ministers and to hold Government ministers to account. Closing the office of the clerk and stopping the ability to submit written questions from Thursday 11 March restricts MSPs in their ability to do their job of representing their constituents and holding the Government to account. Scottish Labour is therefore not able to endorse that motion tonight.
The Parliamentary Bureau has considered the implications of the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Act 2021 on parliamentary business on a number of occasions. In December last year, it agreed that any business during the short campaign period should be limited to matters that are absolutely necessary in response to the pandemic. That agreement is consistent with the purposes of the act and the elections guidance from the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which anticipates that the Parliament would not meet during the short campaign period unless for emergency reasons. It is intended to help ensure that parliamentary resources are not used for any party-political or election campaigning activity and that all candidates are treated the same during what would normally be a period of dissolution; at the same time, it allows for Parliament to be recalled in an emergency.
The bureau therefore agreed to propose to Parliament that we should go into recess during that period, with the usual option of recall where necessary. However, essentially, it is a recess period, not a dissolution, for one primary purpose, which is to ensure that, if it became necessary to cancel the election because of an escalation in the pandemic, members of Parliament could return to take that decision. The proposal was unanimously agreed to by the Parliament on 17 February 2021.
The bureau recognises that all members will be aware of the policies that restrict the use of parliamentary resources during the short campaign. However, it was also agreed to look at further procedural steps to limit what business could be transacted, while allowing, if necessary, business in relation to the pandemic to take place. In considering possible steps, the bureau was conscious of balancing the interests of providing flexibility for any necessary scrutiny to take place against the limitations of the short campaign period. It is for that reason that an exception is proposed to enable the COVID-19 Committee, if it considers it necessary, to meet in an emergency. To be clear, the Scottish ministers are required to ensure the lifting of any restrictions that are no longer necessary in order to protect public health. However, if changes were made that the COVID-19 Committee felt were significant enough to invite its attention, it could sit, and the Government would provide a minister to attend.
Of course, Presiding Officer, you retain the power to recall Parliament during any period that it is in recess, although, as you have indicated previously, a very high bar would have to be set in order for you to interrupt the election recess period.
I summarise matters in the following way: this Parliament is far from unable to hold ministers to account during the pre-election period, but a sensible, proportionate approach is being taken to ensure that that is the case, in keeping with other decisions that the Parliamentary Bureau has previously taken.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. The question on that motion will be taken at decision time.
The next item of business is consideration of five Parliamentary Bureau motions, S5M-24276 to S5M-24280, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments.
That the Parliament agrees that the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 (Adult Carers and Young Carers of Terminally Ill Persons: Timescales for Adult Carer Support Plans and Young Carer Statements etc.) Regulations 2021 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Modification) Order 2021 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Low Emission Zones (Emission Standards, Exemptions and Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the National Bus Travel Concession Scheme for Young Persons (Scotland) Order 2021 [draft] be approved.—[