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Coronavirus Bill

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

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Photo of Bill Bowman Bill Bowman Conservative

I speak as the convener of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. We discussed the bill at our meeting this morning, although, given the urgency of the situation, our consideration was limited.

The committee is interested in the bill in relation to the powers that are being delegated to Scottish ministers to make legislation. Of those, the power that the committee considered to be the most significant is the one that allows

“Scottish ministers to make regulations for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence of, or spread of, infection or contamination”.

That power is necessarily broad given the wide range of responses that may be required to control an outbreak. However, the bill puts in place important and appropriate restrictions on the use of that power.

The committee is also reassured that the affirmative procedure, or the made affirmative procedure in urgent cases, will apply. We think that that strikes the right balance between allowing the Government to act quickly and allowing the Parliament to scrutinise those actions.

The bill also delegates significant direction-making powers to the Scottish ministers. Although that is not something that the committee must consider in relation to LCMs, it is something that the committee would have liked to explore more under ordinary circumstances. We are, however, mindful of the extreme circumstances in which we are operating and of the need for the Government to act swiftly.

The committee notes that the substantial powers—both legislative and direction making—that are being delivered by the bill are appropriately time limited to a specified emergency period. That will allow the Government to act to address this unprecedented situation but not allow the powers to be retained indefinitely. The committee considers that to be an appropriate balance.

These are unprecedented times, and we hope that these powers can help the Government in addressing the pandemic.