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Coronavirus Bill

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

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Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

We find ourselves in exceptional circumstances. We are considering a bill and a legislative consent memorandum that seek extraordinary powers in an effort to keep our communities and families—all of us—safe.

We all know that Governments would normally seek such powers only in times of war. We also know that, right now, we are in a war against an unseen and deadly enemy. As a result, MSPs and MPs are, understandably, being inundated by emails and calls from constituents who are anxious, concerned and scared about the impact that Covid-19 might have on their health, their families, their friends and their livelihoods.

The bill and its accompanying LCM aim to help Governments to support and protect us at this time of great need by increasing the available health and social care workforce; easing the burden on front-line staff; containing and slowing the virus; managing the deceased with respect and dignity; supporting people; and maintaining the food chain.

In view of the wide range of powers in the LCM, the Finance and Constitution Committee was designated as the lead committee. We considered the Coronavirus Bill LCM this morning, and I can confirm that the committee has recommended to Parliament that it should agree the draft motion as it is set out in the LCM. We have written to the Scottish Government to confirm our decision.

The LCM covers a wide range of policy areas including health, social care, justice and business, and it identifies that the powers will become operational in a variety of ways. In some areas, existing legislation will be amended so that powers will come into force upon enactment; in other areas, the powers will become operational only once certain conditions are met. For example, the Scottish ministers will be able to give directions to impose restrictions in relation to events, gatherings and premises. On areas in which the powers may be more reactive to changing circumstances, I would welcome information on how the Scottish Government is working with others, such as local government and the police, to inform its decisions on when to implement the powers.

In the committee this morning, the cabinet secretary dealt with a significant range of issues and was able to respond concisely and with clarity on matters ranging from who a key worker is to the security of food supplies, and from the impact on the vulnerable to the need for employers to act responsibly.

As the cabinet secretary explained last week, creating these powers does not automatically mean that they will be used—he repeated that today—or that all the powers will be implemented at the same time as the bill gains royal assent. The bill treads a fine line between allowing a flexible public health response and ensuring that human rights and civil liberties are not unnecessarily infringed upon. The transparency with which these additional powers are exercised in practice will be key to ensuring that that balance remains appropriate. As the cabinet secretary said in our meeting earlier, now is the time for democratic process to be stepped up.

The LCM seeks to enable the Government and to allow it to react quickly to protect us, particularly those who are most vulnerable to this terrible virus. It seeks a wide range of powers, but these are unprecedented times. I urge members to support the motion. Let us give our Governments the powers to win the war against this unseen and deadly enemy.

I say to the people of Scotland: stay safe, keep well, let our marvellous NHS staff do all in their power to save us and, please, stay at home when you can.