THE SNP minister whose name appears on new regulations for easing the coronavirus lockdown has admitted not knowing what’s in them.

Michael Russell told MSPs he was “unaware” that they had deleted all reference to the restrictions on people’s lives only applying during “the emergency period”.

The new regulations, which came into effect on Friday as Scotland entered Phase 1 of lockdown exit, are authorised by “Michael Russell, a member of the Scottish Government”.  

They contain 13 separate references to deleting the “emergency period” restriction - almost half the amendments in the four-page document. 

The Scottish Tories said people would be shocked that Mr Russell was "clearly not on top of his brief".

The Government later said the regulations merely tidied up a "superflous" term.

The admission came at Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee, when a Tory MSP asked about the emergency period phrase being removed from the main lockdown regulations. 

Adam Tomkins said the move implied the lockdown was becoming “a new normal” and challenged Mr Russell’s description of the changes as “small easements”.

Mr Tomkins said they were “fairly significant changes to the way in which people are able to live their lives lawfully in this country”, yet had received no parliamentary scrutiny till now.

He said: “Is this an appropriate way of making law for the people of Scotland?”

Mr Russell, the cabinet secretary for the constitution, said: “Normally it isn’t, but we are not in normal times. Therefore we are taking actions which are abnormal. We hope to stop doing that as the situation eases and changes.

“We have to balance the issue you rightly raise with the need to protect public health and save lives and we are not out of that situation at the present moment.”

Mr Tomkins then asked Mr Russell about the new regulations deleting all the references to the emergency period, saying he was a “bit concerned” about it.  

He said: “There is too much or a risk at the moment that the current extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves operating become the new normal, and we must not let that happen.

“When the emergency regulations were  first made in March it was absolutely clear to everyone that they were to deal with a public health emergency.

“And yet now what we find, without a word of parliamentary scrutiny or oversight, that every reference to the emergency period has been taken out of those regulations so they no longer read as if they pertain to an emergency. 

“They read as if they do govern what is being called the  new normal.

“Can you explain to us why all of those references to the emergency period have been removed and what the thinking is behind that?”

Mr Russell replied: “I would want to go and look at them very carefully because I’m unaware of what you’ve said. I don’t dispute it, I’m just unaware of it.

“But my immediate reaction is that they amend the principal regulations which still refer to the emergency. They are not of themselves the last word. They are amendments to the regulations which deal with the emergency.”

He added: "I absolutely accept that these regulations should not last a moment longer than necessary.

"I've made that commitment on every occasion I've addressed them."

The committee was examining the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 2020, which amend the main regulations governing the lockdown, the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

The regulations are Government generated secondary legislation which is presented as a quick take-it or leave-it package to Holyrood, rather than a long-debated Bill.

They cover the opening up of outdoor leisure activities and socialising by households, as well as the reopening of drive-throughs, garden centres and recycling centres.

Discussing the lockdown easing, Mr Russell said "Sunday was the worst day that we have had in this entire process for dispersal", describing the 797 compliant dispersals and 146 dispersals after police issued warnings as "unacceptable".

He added the Scottish Government may have to turn current guidance, such as not travelling more than five miles from home for exercise or socialising, into law if a "small minority" continues to flout the advice.

Mr Russell insisted there would be "common sense" and "restraint to be applied", particularly for those in rural areas who may live further than five miles from shops or essential services.

"You could take five miles as being shorthand for within your local area," he explained, adding people making journeys should always be asking themselves: "Is this necessary?"

The committee also heard businesses that are currently closed are now able to make preparations to reopen during the next phase of the government's "road map" out of lockdown.

Mr Russell suggested shops are able to start implementing safety measures, such as rearranging stores and installing screens at tills if they believe they can reopen when further restrictions are lifted.

Mr Tomkins said later: "This is clearly a minister who’s not on top of his brief.

“People will be shocked that the minister who signed off these regulations doesn’t know about the details of them.

“It’s classic SNP – all show, but when you dig into the detail there’s very little there.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There is no intention for continuing with emergency regulations for any longer than is absolutely necessary in light of the Coronavirus pandemic – and it remains the case that the regulations will expire on 26 September as initially indicated.

“The term ‘emergency period’ was superfluous when the new regulations were drafted.”