Covid-19 (Vaccination Passport Scheme)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2021.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

5. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the Covid-19 vaccination passport scheme, including on the hospitality sector. (S6O-00376)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

In line with our legal duty, statutory measures are reviewed every three weeks. We consider the necessity, proportionality and targeted nature of the regulations, taking into account a range of evidence across the four harms. Covid vaccination certification is part of that package of measures, and considering whether the impact on the business sector, including hospitality, and society at large remains proportionate is part of the review.

Ministers always consider whether our measures could be relaxed or ended, but, given the state of the pandemic, we have also been clear that we are considering whether it would be necessary and proportionate to expand certification.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

It is not clear to me what the cabinet secretary means by an impact that is “proportionate”, but we know that the introduction of vaccination passports has had a negative impact on hospitality. Why is there still no sign of any additional support for the businesses that have been affected by the introduction of vaccination passports and the many more that will be when he extends the scheme? Why is the Government now saying that it plans to consider not just a vaccination passport or a negative test being required for entry into venues, but both? What assessment has been made of the potential impact of such a decision?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

No decisions have been taken about extension of the vaccination certification scheme. That will be the subject of discussion at the Cabinet on Tuesday, and Parliament will be advised in the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday afternoon. Any suggestion by Mr Smyth that decisions have been taken is not correct.

Mr Smyth asked whether measures were proportionate. That is the test that ministers must satisfy in relation to any measures that they intend to take—such measures must be proportionate to the scale of the pandemic and the threat to public health. That is a very material issue, on which ministers have been challenged in the courts. In the most recent case, the courts did not support those who challenged the Government’s decision to apply a limited certification scheme to nightclubs and other limited venues, with which Mr Smyth is familiar.

The Government will give consideration to the issue at the Cabinet on Tuesday. Any question of financial support must be considered in the context of the resources that the Government has available to it. Mr Smyth will be familiar with the fact that, over the course of the past 18 months, the Government has provided in excess of £4 billion of support as part of its Covid-related activities to deal with the challenges that businesses and other organisations have faced.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will allow a couple of brief supplementaries. I ask for brief questions and brief responses.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I have been contacted by a number of businesses in the hospitality sector that are extremely concerned that they might be brought within the reach of the vaccination passport scheme, given the announcement that is due on Tuesday. Is the Scottish Government carrying out an economic impact assessment of the impact on such businesses, should the scheme be extended? If so, will that be published in tandem with any announcement being made?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As the First Minister set out yesterday, the Government will produce an evidence paper on some of those questions later this week. The Government must consider a range of factors in assessing the proportionality of the actions that we propose to take, should we decide to take those actions. As I explained to Mr Smyth, that is the legal obligation in relation to which we must satisfy ourselves, and it is one that ministers take very seriously.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Cinemas are only just getting back on track, yet we are told that the Scottish Government is considering expanding the use of Covid identification cards to cinema attendance. Will the Scottish Government explain to stakeholders why that is being considered when no outbreaks have been traced back to cinemas?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Part of the judgment is about ensuring that we have sufficient resilience in the measures that we have in place to protect the population against wider impacts that could be damaging to the public health of the country.

On many occasions, we have gone through the dilemmas that the Government faces. The principal dilemma is about the damage to health, and—[Interruption.] We have had countless demands, even from heckling Conservative members, for us to protect public health. When the Government comes forward with measures to protect public health, we are criticised for bringing forward those measures. Such are the dilemmas that we face.

Mr Simpson says that there is no evidence. If Mr Simpson wants to ask me a question, he is perfectly entitled to appeal to the Presiding Officer to be invited to ask a question. I am always here to answer questions. What evidence does Mr Simpson need? How much evidence of the harm to public health does he need for the Government to have to act? If Mr Simpson wants to stick his head in the sand, he is free to do so, but the Government has a duty to act proportionately to protect the health of the population.