Government publishes Bill to make some pandemic powers permanent

The Bill would give ministers powers to respond more quickly to future public health emergencies.

Neil Pooran
Wednesday 26 January 2022 14:33
MSPs will debate the legislation to make some powers permanent at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)
MSPs will debate the legislation to make some powers permanent at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Government has published a Bill which would make some of its emergency coronavirus powers permanent.

The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill would give ministers the powers to respond to public health emergencies in a similar way to legislation passed in response to Covid-19.

This includes powers to impose lockdown restrictions, allow court hearings to take place remotely and restrict access to schools.

A consultation took place last year and MSPs will now scrutinise and debate the Bill.

The legislation also makes changes to eviction proceedings in the private rented sector.

It means certain tribunal cases will no longer have to automatically grant an eviction.

John Swinney said many measures had been removed (Fraser Bremner)

John Swinney said: “Scottish ministers have already removed many of the temporary measures that supported our response to the pandemic, which are no longer needed.

“However, we believe those pragmatic reforms that have delivered demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland should continue.

“Whilst it has been incredibly disruptive, the urgency of the pandemic has driven the pace of digital adoption, and in some cases more efficient ways of working, and better service to the public.

“I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to our consultation, which has been considered very carefully in the drafting of this Bill, to embed these beneficial reforms in Scotland’s public services, along with the temporary extension of some justice measures to assist the courts with clearing the backlog of cases arising from the pandemic.

“Our priorities are to continue to lead Scotland safely through and out of the Covid pandemic, to address inequalities made worse by Covid, make progress towards a wellbeing economy and accelerate inclusive, person-centred public services, and this Bill supports those aims.”

Murdo Fraser said the Tories would oppose the Bill (Fraser Bremner)

Responding to the publication of the Bill, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Whilst there may be measures in this Bill that are sensible long-term reforms, too much of it amounts to an unwarranted and unacceptable power-grab by the SNP.

“The powers it would hand the Scottish Government permanently were only ever meant to be temporary for the duration of the pandemic.

“The most worrying of the proposals is the power to close schools and to release prisoners early – and the proposed Bill lets them do this without prior parliamentary approval.

“This Bill is an alarming and unnecessary overreach by the SNP, so the Scottish Conservatives will oppose measures which put too much power in the hands of ministers.”

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie also said the Bill is a “power-grab”.

She said: “These emergency powers were a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis – not a free pass for ministers to hoard new powers.

“This Bill would give ministers permanent powers to shut down schools and confine people to their homes at the drop of a hat.

“There is simply no excuse for bypassing Parliament, when Holyrood has shown time and time again that it can respond with the urgency needed.”

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