Note 5: The Scottish Parliament and its Committees
Dissolution of Parliament
1. Under normal circumstances, Parliament would have been expected to dissolve on 25 March. However, in order to ensure that the Scottish Parliamentary election can take place fairly and safely, the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Act 2021 provides for the dissolution of Session 5 of the Parliament on 5 May 2021. MSPs will remain in office until 5 May, and up to that point they could be recalled from recess in order to debate and pass emergency primary legislation, including to change the date of the election in the lead up to polling day on 6 May, should this be required.
2. It should be noted that:
a) In practice, the election period is still expected on 25 March, with legislative and parliamentary business ceasing in the same way as had dissolution taken place at that point. Instead of being dissolved six weeks before polling day, the Parliament is expected to move into a 'pre-election recess' for an equivalent period of time, with the possibility of recall in exceptional circumstances;
b) You should continue to plan on the basis that any legislative proposals which do not complete their parliamentary process by 25 March will not be considered by the Parliament until after the election;
c) When Parliament returns after the election, the process of committee formation means that the Parliament will have limited capacity to transact business before summer recess (which normally covers the months of July and August).
Possible Recall of Parliament
3. Once Parliament enters its pre-election recess period, it is expected to remain in recess unless and until there is a need to meet in emergency session (for example, to postpone the election). However, given the exceptional circumstances and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the Parliament's corporate bodies will continue to review the exceptional basis upon which Parliament might need to reconvene during the pre-election recess in order to respond to developments, including in relation to the potential requirement to scrutinise significant changes to the Scottish Government's COVID-19 Regulations.
4. Mandatory Committees are established for the whole session of the Parliament. Under Rule 6.1.3 of the Standing Orders, the Parliament may determine the duration of subject Committees that it establishes. All Committees cease to exist at the dissolution of Parliament. The memberships and any outstanding work of the Parliament's Committees also ceases at this point.
5. While dissolution of the Parliament in 2021 will occur later than normal (on the day before the election) in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that most subject Committees will not hold meetings from 25 March, when the Parliament will enter a unique pre-election recess period (any Committee Activity after that point is expected only in exceptional circumstances).
6. During this period, the point of contact for Scottish Government Directorates continues to be the Committee Clerk, who remains in post to process any basic administrative work of the Committee.
7. No Government responses to Committee reports will be published during the pre-election recess. Directorates should continue to work, on a contingency basis, on any outstanding evidence required by Committees and on any outstanding Government responses to Committee reports.
8. It is for Committees of the new Parliament to decide whether to continue with the previous Committees' inquiries and for the incoming administration to determine the Government's response.
9. For further information, please contact the Parliament and Legislation Unit:
- Al Gibson