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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I also thank members for the very constructive nature of the debate. I will try to get through a number of the points that have been raised, if members will bear with me.

I thank Bruce Crawford and the Finance and Constitution Committee for taking evidence this morning. I am sure that all of us, as members, were faced this weekend with a tidal wave of concern from the constituents whom we represent. There will have been different concerns for each of us according to our constituency. For me, it was access by ferry to the 23 islands that I represent. I know that others have been dealing with issues to do with mobile homes, staff accommodation and protective gear.

Our job is to provide information, so we will continue to do that in the weeks and months ahead.

However, our real job is to give leadership; it is to ensure that we are leaders in this situation and that people are not merely comforted or reassured, but are given what they need by those whom they have elected.

I was struck by the speeches by Ruth Davidson, Adam Tomkins and Willie Rennie. I rarely speak of being struck by their contributions, except in a negative sense, but on this occasion I will be very positive about them. They talked about trust, which Ruth Davidson spoke about extensively. They talked about the appropriate responses that we will make. Adam Tomkins talked about the necessity of the job that we are undertaking and how we must undertake it.

I think that Willie Rennie had the last word on that—I know that he loves to have the last word, so he will be very pleased—when he said that he looks forward to the time when we do not need the legislation. It is important that, as leaders and as a Government, we say very clearly that we wish to let go of the legislation at the very first appropriate moment, but not a moment too soon. Therefore, “necessity” has to be the watchword. We must have the legislation for the period for which we need it. We will all have to live up to the trust that the people of Scotland and our individual constituents will put in us, and are putting in us now by watching and listening to what we are saying.

I will respond to some detailed points that have been raised. There were a huge number, so I will not get through them all. If members have more points to make, they should get in touch with me by email. All Government ministers are willing to respond; Jeane Freeman, for example, has said that she will be happy to respond to Alex Rowley on the detailed points that he raised.

On Bruce Crawford’s point about switching on and off of the powers, schedule 22, for example, clearly says that the switching on of the power occurs with the declaration that

“the incidence or transmission of coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health”.

That is the trigger. The trigger for switching it off will be when the threat no longer exists, advice on which must come from the chief medical officer. Throughout the bill the triggers and switches are mentioned. We need to be aware of them.

With regard to parliamentary scrutiny, we need to ensure that it is built in to the new bill and will be done retrospectively on the legislation. I am not in favour of a three-month reporting period.