FMQS: Nicola Sturgeon challenged on 'democratic deficit' of Covid restrictions

All proposals for future Covid restrictions – including any “circuit breakers” – should be brought before Parliament for approval rather than being “imposed” by the Scottish Government, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has demanded.

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 3:24 pm
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: Getty Images
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: Getty Images

At First Minister’s Questions he said a “democratic deficit” was developing, with the government releasing new rules “via late night press releases, Twitter and TV interviews", circumventing Holyrood in the process.

His complaint echoed that of the House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who yesterday said Boris Johnson's government was showing “disregard for the House” by publishing laws "hours before they come into force" and not allowing parliamentary scrutiny.

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Mr Leonard said MSPs had so far not had an opportunity to give consent to local restrictions, "unless they have already expired". He said a “lack of due process" had led to confusion over the advice given to students returning to university.

“The guidance agreed between the Scottish Government and universities blurred the lines between mere advice and harsher, even criminal, sanctions,” he said. “This is a worrying trend that is developing.

“Since the need for local and targeted restrictions, new rules have increasingly been announced via late night press releases, Twitter and TV interviews. This is no way to govern. Parliament is supposed to provide checks and balance to government power. Without this we risk a real democratic deficit.

“There has been a suggestion in the last 24 hours the government is considering a two-week lockdown as a circuit breaker. Does the First Minister accept that such a move would require the consent of this Parliament and will she agree to bring future regulations to a vote in Parliament before they are imposed?”

However, Nicola Sturgeon said the government needed to act quickly to “protect the public”.

She said: "Yes I will give an undertaking that where it is possible we will seek to bring things to Parliament in advance. But this is an infectious virus and we have to act quickly and flexibly sometimes if we have sudden spikes or outbreaks putting health and life at risk. That's an important flexibility for government to have.

"The restrictions made under the regulations are reviewed every three weeks and the coronavirus legislation has to be reviewed periodically and that process is underway right now. But yes, I do agree that we need to build in more and earlier parliamentary scrutiny and I would happily give an undertaking to do that."

She added: “It's important governments are able to act quickly to protect the population from the threat of a virus and if there are restrictions in place Richard Leonard thinks are wrong he should get up now and tell us what they are. Every three weeks when I've stood here and outlined the decisions the Scottish Government are making, Richard Leonard has stood up and said he agreed with what we're doing.

"I’m happy for parliamentary scrutiny, but let’s not forget in the hurly burly of politics we are dealing with a virus here and have an obligation to protect the public from it.”

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