Scottish Parliament committees to be held remotely

Changes to Holyrood's standing orders to formalise virtual meetings are to be proposed on Tuesday.

Holyrood: MSPs to approve changes. Pixabay
Holyrood: MSPs to approve changes.

Holyrood committees are to be held remotely in rule changes set to be approved by MSPs.

Changes to Scottish Parliament standing orders are to be proposed on Tuesday, presiding officer Ken Macintosh announced, when MSPs return to Holyrood after the Easter recess.

They will formalise virtual meetings, whereas previously only committee hearings held in person within the Scottish Parliament were considered formal meetings.

The announcement comes after three virtual sessions were held, two for party leaders to question the First Minister and another for MSPs to interrogate some members of the Cabinet.

ADVERT

The presiding officer said it is “quite clear” Holyrood should continue to work throughout the pandemic, adding there is a “pressing need” for scrutiny of the government.

Sessions at the parliament have been limited to just one a week, rather than the usual three, and Macintosh said there are no plans to scrap face-to-face sittings of the whole chamber.

He added: “We will also work with colleagues remotely with committees meeting around the country in their homes and constituencies and these will be formal meetings, so they will be broadcast and publicly accessible and officially recorded in the official report.

“And if they take decisions, these will be decisions of the parliament.”

ADVERT

The presiding officer said there have already been bids from the delegated powers and law reform committee and the justice committee to hold virtual meetings this week.

In recent months, three MSPs have announced plans to step down from parliament at next year’s election, citing the lack of a work-life balance and distance as being the key contributing factors.

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, communities minister Aileen Campbell and SNP MSP Gail Ross have all said they will not stand for re-election.

Macintosh said work was already under way to look into how the pressures could be eased when the pandemic started, including on remote working.

He said more needs to be worked out to increase remote working, taking into account voting and other decision-making provisions.

“Covid-19 has already left its mark on the Parliament and I’m pretty sure that a lot of that will continue, in what shape I can’t say,” the presiding officer said.

He also praised MSPs and parliamentary staff for their work to during the pandemic.

ADVERT

Macintosh said parliamentarians had been “inundated with emails, letters and phone calls from worried people”.

He continued: “I really want to pay tribute to them, because although they’ve not been in Parliament, they’ve been absolutely flat out trying to keep across those emails and phone calls.

“I take my hat off to them for doing that because I think it’s a vital service that parliamentarians provide.”