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Coronavirus Bill

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

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Bruce Crawford summed up the situation well when he said that

“we are in a war against an unseen and deadly enemy”,

and that we need to work in partnership to defeat it. The slogan “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives” will become part of our daily language during the next few months.

We need proportionate powers, and we agree that the powers in the bill are proportionate, considering the crisis. As a liberal, I am nervous about the extent of powers in normal times but, considering the challenge, the powers in the bill are necessary. It is not about wielding a big stick to the population; it is about ensuring that life is possible and that the reckless few cannot threaten the lives of the many.

It is therefore reassuring that the cabinet secretary will seek the six-month renewal process and that the Scottish Government will use the powers only when it determines that it is absolutely necessary to do so in Scotland’s circumstances. That is reassuring, as is the fact that the cabinet secretary will come back regularly to report on how the powers are being exercised. I welcome the UK Government’s announcement yesterday to go for the six-month renewal, too. That was a sensible compromise, and an indication of the partnership approach that we have among the parties and Parliaments across the United Kingdom to address the crisis.

In addition to the measures to protect us from the reckless few, the legislation is about adopting more flexibility in how government works and about improving standards. I ask the cabinet secretary to address the concerns of organisations such as Inclusion Scotland, which is anxious about care assessments. I know that support packages can proceed without care assessments, but those take place for a purpose—they provide a comprehensive assessment of all the individual needs of vulnerable people. I hope that the cabinet secretary will encourage those who normally apply care assessments to continue to do so if possible. We understand that those people will be under inordinate pressure during the next few months, but everybody would benefit from that process taking place.

The Scotland-specific bill will come next week. I appreciate the minister’s engagement and the discussion that we had last week about what will be in it. Does the minister think that that bill will provide a process to address any emerging flaws in the UK legislation? I understand that other legislation may be introduced in future weeks. If we adopt a learning approach and we discover that improvements can be made, we can perhaps include those in future legislation.

I look forward to the day when we can repeal the legislation so that we can return to the freedoms that we all enjoy. During this oppressive period, it is important to understand that we have enjoyed those freedoms for a long time and that, the sooner we get back to them, the better.