Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Coronavirus Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No. I am sorry, but I do not have time. I have to get through this.

I am in favour of a two-month reporting period, and I commit myself to that and will put it in the bill. I have already said to officials—who have been working incredibly hard on the bill, as has Jenny Gilruth—that we must ensure that we have a reporting schedule such that people understand what we are reporting, why we are reporting it and what it means.

With respect to the food-stock matters that were raised by Patrick Harvie and Pauline McNeill, I wish we had the power to deal with price gouging. However, I am pretty certain that that power is reserved to Westminster, as part of trading standards. However, we have the power—as Mr Harvie pointed out in committee this morning—to purchase food if we require it. We already do so for food banks. I will check that, but I hope that that power already exists. If there are such powers already in statute, we should tell people that they exist and are available if we need them.

On Willie Rennie’s point about care assessments, I reassure him that the provision in the bill is not an excuse for local authorities not to act. It enables them to act more quickly than they might otherwise do under existing legislation. That is a power that we need to keep an eye on, because no authority should use it as an opportunity not to act.

I have dealt with escalating prices, on which Anas Sarwar raised not one point, but five—or six; I probably missed one. I acknowledge his industry as well as his inquiring mind. The reporting period will be two months. The legislation on cremation already requires that the people who are involved in a cremation must take account of the faith or belief of the person who is to be cremated. The bill emphasises that point and does not change it. I heard Mr Sarwar’s earlier question to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on the issue. I think that we can give reassurance on that.

We will be involved in the UK action on supply chains—I heard the Scottish Grocers Federation make that point on Radio Scotland this morning.

We must act very sparingly in relation to mental health legislation. The provisions are extensive and many of us are uncomfortable with them. I know that Angela Constance, with her experience in the mental health profession, raised that issue in the Finance and Constitution Committee today. We will ensure that the powers are used sparingly and we will make sure that we report on their use, so that people know about them.

We have spoken with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and we are continuing to listen to it as we discuss best practice in drafting the new bill, which we will discuss with Opposition spokespeople this evening—and we will continue to discuss the bill with them as it progresses. We will also keep the protection of vulnerable groups scheme under review. That is a sensitive issue and, as the former Cabinet Secretary for Education, I am aware that the scheme is a vital service that keeps children safe. There is no intention to weaken the service, but we mighty have to streamline it; that could eventually be where we end up.

The Coronavirus Bill is a difficult bill; it is full of detail and it is required now. I will go back to where I started. I look forward very much to the day when the legislation is no longer necessary and we can put it behind us, but necessity will drive us. In the circumstances, I hope that everybody will support it.

I hope, moreover, that parties will continue to work with the Scottish Government—because the offer exists, as Alex Rowley acknowledged—to make sure not only that we get the emergency bill that we are already working on, and which we hope to bring to the chamber for a single day next week, through Parliament, but that we can progress other legislation, as gaps occur.

This will be the third time that I have referred warmly to Willie Rennie, so I think that this will be the end of it, for today, but I want to make the point that he made. We need to look at the legislation and its operation to see whether there are things that we did not get right, or that we need to build on. We will try to do that in further legislation, as required.