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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader 5:51 pm, 23rd March 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Hunt. I do not think he will mind my saying that I cannot think of another time when I have agreed with almost every single word he said. I hope that people listen to his wise words, which come from his experience; there was an awful lot in his speech that was sobering. The way we are conducting this debate and the collegiate style of the contributions from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State are a testament to the importance of the crisis we are all experiencing. In this national emergency, the desire shared by all our constituents is that we all work together.

I will begin by saying something that is often repeated, but cannot be said enough. On behalf of all who sit on the Scottish National party Benches, I thank all of those who work in our NHS—our doctors, our nurses and all those in support roles around them who day after day make the choice to go into work, literally risking their own health to save the lives of others. At a time when the fragility of human life occupies the thoughts of us all, their example, their care and their limitless compassion are a source of inspiration and comfort to us all. They are nothing short of heroic. In return, they deserve all our thanks, but even more important, they need all our support. Today we would all do well to keep it in mind that the primary purpose of the emergency legislation is to help them—to help those who work in our NHS across all these islands. They need our help to slow the spread of this virus. They need our help to flatten the curve of infection. They need our help to reduce the pressure on their services.

In passing these emergency measures, we have to be fully transparent and open. That means being honest about the uncertainty of the timeline ahead. There are few things we can say for certain, but we know we are only in the foothills of this mountainous challenge. There remains a long way to go. We have to be honest that in fighting this virus, we may only be approaching the end of the beginning. No one knows for sure when this will end, but we do know that NHS and governmental action will not be enough on its own. Everyone has a part to play. We can get through this and overcome it only if we all work together.

On the specifics of the Bill, first, I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government have worked constructively with the UK Government on this legislation. It is important to say that, given the context of the last few years. It is no secret that there has been a virtual stand-off in other legislation, but the joint efforts and the extensive co-operation on this Bill highlight the extraordinary public health and economic challenges posed by the virus. Passing this legislation is fundamentally about protecting and saving lives. Politics cannot and will not be allowed to get in the way of that.

The Scottish Government tabled their legislative consent motion, with advice to approve consent, in Holyrood last Thursday. The LCM will now be considered by the Finance and Constitution Committee at Holyrood on Tuesday morning, and will be debated in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon. The urgency of that timeline is, unfortunately, necessary. It is clear, and we accept, that this Bill cannot be scrutinised in the way we would normally wish. The immediacy of the pandemic, and the unprecedented challenges facing Scotland and the rest of the UK, simply does not permit that. The stark reality is that there is simply no time to lose.