The cabinet secretary opened the debate by saying that the restrictions that came into effect at midnight last night will feel difficult and strange to many of us. Nonetheless, I agree with him that those measures and the powers in the bill are essential to slow down the virus.
Responding for Scottish Labour, Alex Rowley made clear that the Government has our full support in the battle against Covid-19.
In recent weeks, I know that many of us in the public eye have talked about possible draconian measures and lockdown as something scary. However, Willie Rennie expressed it really well on behalf of the Liberal Democrats when he said that it is not about wielding a big stick, but about making sure that life is possible.
I thank Bruce Crawford and the committee for their work. Bruce Crawford was right to say that these are extraordinary powers, and that our democratic processes need to be stepped up at this time. He is also right that the bill treads a fine line between public health and our civil liberties not being infringed upon. Other members have talked about trust, transparency and scrutiny to make sure that we get this right. Ruth Davidson was right to say that these are unprecedented powers, but that we all understand why and support the Government’s endeavours. Murdo Fraser was right when said that the bill is about supporting the NHS and our social care staff by making sure that they can deal with the significant additional pressures that are coming their way.
I agree with other members that, in normal times, the bill would be overreach, but these are not normal times. In addition, there are safeguards; the bill is time limited and will be renewed every six months. Colleagues talked about their willingness to uphold our democracy and to be involved in that important scrutiny work, and we will continue to ask questions. A number of colleagues touched on the questions and concerns that have been raised outside the chamber, including by the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Scottish Care, and many mental health charities. We know that we cannot take our eye off the ball.
The emergency legislation covers a range of areas, because the health service alone cannot solve this crisis. The purpose of the legislation is to relieve pressure on our health service so that as many lives as possible can be saved. However, although that is the driving force of the bill, it is clear that we need a collective approach to the crisis that will require every part of Government to work together, and all of us to support that work.
I know that time is short, Presiding Officer. I note that many colleagues touched on really important issues. For example, just a moment ago, Anas Sarwar sought clarity and reassurance for some people in our community who are concerned about the provisions in the bill that change burials and funerals as we know them. The bill and the measures that are being taken will change life as we know it, from cradle to grave. Baptisms are on hold, weddings are being postponed, and attendance at funerals and those final farewells will be restricted to a few loved ones. These are extraordinary powers and unprecedented times, but our job here is to do everything that we can to support our NHS, to uphold democracy, and to provide that on-going scrutiny. Our NHS needs us like never before, we need our NHS like never before, and we all need one another like never before. My appeal to my constituents, and to my friends and family, is this: please stay at home to protect your loved ones and help save lives.