Scrutiny of the Covid-19 pandemic by parliamentary committees

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Scrutiny of the pandemic is a huge, complex and fast-moving task for the Parliament. By early November the Scottish Government had published over 900 documents on COVID-19, whilst the Parliament has had the task of scrutinising two Scottish coronavirus bills, one UK bill affecting devolved areas, plus over 100 regulations (as set out in the Scottish Government’s regular two-monthly reports

It is perhaps not surprising then that the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, Michael Russell MSP pointed out to the COVID-19 committee in September that

a lot of information is available.

Scrutiny by committees is a substantial component of the parliamentary scrutiny effort, and this blog briefly summarises, and provides links to, some of the work that has been undertaken or is still live, as at November 2020.

COVID-19 committee

The COVID-19 Committee’s remit is to consider and report on the Scottish Government’s response to the pandemic.  That includes a focus on the relevant legislation and scrutiny of related regulations.  This has also included a look at (so far) three two-monthly reports on regulations.  In the spring the committee took evidence on the options for easing restrictions, and wrote to the Cabinet Secretary on 24 June.

The committee will continue to review regulations, (including the two-monthly reports). It also plans to look at the social and economic impact of restrictions over winter.

Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs (CTEEA) Committee

The CTEEA Committee has been taking evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on the culture and tourism sectors since late April.  This has involved an open call for evidence (which remains open); a closer look at newspaper and print journalism; and a look individually at tourism, culture and heritage.  The committee also publishes written answers on COVID-19 relevant to the Committee’s remit on a weekly basis, and receives regular written updates from the relevant Cabinet Secretaries and from Creative Scotland on their response to COVID-19. 

Pre-budget scrutiny is focused on the impact of COVID-19 on culture and tourism.

Economy, Energy and Fair Work (EEFW) Committee

The EEFW Committee has been running an inquiry since March on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, workers and the economy.

This has involved gathering written evidence and oral evidence from a range of organisations and people with a focus on the impact on businesses, young people, the role of the enterprise agencies and economic recovery.  The committee looked more closely at four areas:

As part of its work on business support the committee also commissioned research on international comparisons of business support from the Institute for Government.

The committee has also focused its pre-budget scrutiny on the impact of COVID-19.

Education and Skills Committee

The Education and Skills Committee has looked at COVID-19 in a number of areas including:

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee

The ECCLR Committee launched an inquiry into a ‘green, just and resilient recovery’, in response to the pandemic, and published its report on 8th November.  The committee also framed its 2021-22 pre-budget scrutiny around ‘green recovery’.

Equalities and Human Rights (EHR) Committee

In April, the EHR Committee opened an inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on equalities an human rights, including a look at the groups and individuals disproportionately impacted by the virus.  The Committee has written to the Scottish Government about inclusive communication, emergency mental health provisions, domestic violence against women and children, older people and DNACPR forms. Whilst its pre-budget scrutiny also focused on the impact of the pandemic, it looked at the impact on the third sector supporting those most affected by the pandemic, as well as placing equalities and human rights at the centre of the budget process and economic recovery.    

Finance and Constitution Committee (FCC)

The FCC launched an inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on the public finances and the fiscal Framework, followed by correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance in the Scottish government, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the UK government.   Pre-budget scrutiny for 2021-22 has also focused on the impact of, and response to, COVID-19. The committee’s budget guidance to other parliamentary committees recognised the challenges of effective budget scrutiny in the public health emergency, but also its importance at this time.

Health and Sport Committee

The Health and Sport Committee took evidence on various aspects of COVID-19 between April and June.  This included evidence from Professor Hugh Pennington, and a look at Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing, care homes, and resilience and emergency planning. Work has continued scrutinising regulations relating to quarantine measures, a combination of oral evidence and correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, and other Ministers, and scrutiny as part of pre-budget scrutiny 2021-22.

Justice Committee

The Justice Committee has looked at the challenges of re-opening courts and tribunals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and by correspondence has considered the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s courts, prisons, and criminal social justice sector.  The impact of COVID-19 is the main focus of this year’s budget scrutiny, including a look at the resources needed to embed some of the more positive changes brought about by the necessity of responding to COVID-19.  The committee has also considered a number of COVID-19 related regulations.

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

The Policing sub-committee has considered the impact of COVID-19 on policing in Scotland.  This included evidence sessions in June and August, and a range of related correspondence.  As with the Justice Committee itself, the impact of COVID-19 is the main focus of this year’s budget scrutiny, including consideration of the resources needed to embed positive change.

Local Government and Communities Committee

The Local Government and Communities Committee continues to scrutinise the Scottish Government on COVID-19, and its support for local government and the voluntary sector.  Some specific areas of focus have included homelessness and housing, the Third Sector Resilience Fund, as well as scrutiny of COVID-19 regulations. 

Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny committee (PAPLS)

The PAPLS committee has  held several evidence sessions with the former Auditor General to explore the impact of Covid-19 on Audit Scotland’s work and the annual audit and accounting process, including emerging risks.  This included an evidence session with the Permanent Secretary in June to examine the governance and assurance arrangements in place in connection with the Scottish Government’s response to Covid-19.  The committee also took evidence from the Auditor General on his briefing paper on Implications of Covid-19 on public finances in Scotland and is carrying out follow-up work on the provision of funding support to businesses.  And the Committee recently wrote to stakeholders in the health and social care sectors to ask for their views on the impact of Covid-19 on existing leadership and workforce challenges.  More generally the impact of Covid-19 is also explored in its regular scrutiny of audit reports.

Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee

In the spring the REC committee issued a general call for written evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on the rural economy and connectivity in Scotland, and took evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism. More recently it decided to look at the implications of COVID-19 for the Scottish budget as this relates to the rural economy and connectivity.

Social Security Committee

The Social Security Committee recently launched an inquiry to understand the role of social security in supporting social and economic recovery, with a focus on deliverable change from 2021 onwards.  The consultation closed in October, evidence taking is due in November, with a report in early 2021.

Standards, Procedures and Public appointments (SPPA) Committee

The SPPA committee has launched an inquiry into the resilience of the Scottish Parliament’s practices and procedures.  Practices and procedures have been adapted during the pandemic, with changes to some Standing Orders, and parliament meeting in a mix of virtual, hybrid and socially distanced formats.  The inquiry will review what has happened so far, and what changes might be made permanently.  The call for views was launched in October, and closed on 9 November.

Simon Wakefield, SPICe

10 November