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Coronavirus Bill

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

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The Greens will also support the legislative consent motion. I say that as someone who has a long-standing grievance—I know that that word is sometimes used pejoratively—with the legislative consent process, which has been made relatively meaningless in recent years. However, in these circumstances, we have a responsibility to take the legislation seriously, and we will agree to the legislative consent motion. I do not think that any of us should be happy about doing so. The bill is not the kind that any of us would wish to be consenting to, but it is necessary.

I do not pretend that the bill is ideal, even in these circumstances. When I saw it for the first time, I found that much of what I had been looking for was not there. I wanted not just an expansion in the eligibility for statutory sick pay but an increase in the level of pay to that which is closer to being liveable and which a lot of our neighbouring countries already have. Better still would have been the introduction of a universal basic income, which would be the clearest and simplest way to give everybody a basic safety net in these emergency circumstances. Such provision is not included, and I urge anyone who has colleagues at Westminster—I have one colleague in the House of Commons—to make the case for improvements to the bill on this and other matters.

I was surprised to see that, on food supplies, there are provisions only in relation to providing information. I do not know whether, in the coming weeks, public authorities will need to have the power to acquire stocks of food or other emergency supplies, such as hygiene supplies, so that they can distribute them to the public. However, it is possible that we might need such powers. There is certainly a need for measures to prevent those who control such supplies from taking part in price gouging and exploitation. At the moment, I do not think that that applies to the big retailers, but we have all seen examples of prices for critical supplies being hiked up in some places.

Previously, I have referred to the emergency volunteer provisions in the bill. There is a commitment that there will be remuneration for loss of earnings for those who sign up as emergency volunteers. However, we know that there are people who have already lost their jobs and who will be available and willing—they will potentially have the skills and talents—to be emergency volunteers. Nothing in the bill allows for their remuneration. Providing that would meet their economic need, and the social need for those volunteers to be available.

I know that this is not part of the devolved aspects that are covered in the LCM, but I encourage the Scottish Government, in its discussions with the UK Government, to make the case to ensure that our asylum seekers in Scotland, and elsewhere, are protected. Detention and deportation are, frankly, intolerable in the current circumstances. Doing that would be deeply dangerous. It would also be intolerable for anyone in asylum accommodation to be faced—as they have been in recent months—with the prospect of lock-change evictions.

I agree that there are welcome changes to the renewal period, but there are other potential unintended consequences of that. Members will know that the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, many disability and care organisations and others have talked about the fears that are being generated. None of us knows how long the emergency powers will last for. Those people, including many disabled people, whose quality of life is directly dependent on how the law deals with those issues, have genuine fears about what is to come, and the Scottish Government must address and allay those fears.

I warmly welcome Aileen Campbell’s announcement earlier today that the devolved emergency legislation will include provisions to ensure that evictions in the private rented sector and elsewhere do not take place. We will work with the Scottish Government to improve those provisions, if we can. This is not just about the accrual of arrears. We do not want people coming out of the process with unpayable debts. We want to make sure that people are protected in relation to their rents and that they have a secure home to live in in these dangerous times.