Covid-19 Restrictions (Travel Ban)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th November 2020.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. Tomorrow, a travel ban will become law. It is a law that Parliament will have barely scrutinised, let alone voted on. The ban will mean that people in levels 3 and 4 will be acting criminally if they travel outside their local authority area for anything other than essential journeys. The same is true of those travelling into level 3 and 4 areas. Is the First Minister confident that, by 6 o’clock tomorrow night, everyone will have sufficient knowledge and full understanding of what constitutes an essential journey, so that they can act in accordance with the law?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will do my best, as I have done every single day during the pandemic, to ensure that people have an understanding of the guidance and the rules that are in place and how they can abide by those rules. I think that I have already said in the chamber today—I will say it again—that anybody who is in any doubt can go on to the Scottish Government website and look at the rules and what the exemptions to the travel restrictions are.

I think that we all understand the reason for the travel restrictions. Travel restrictions have been in place previously in the pandemic—in Wales, for example. If somebody has a reasonable excuse to travel, that exempts them from the restrictions. The regulations give a number of examples, non-exhaustively, of what a reasonable excuse might be.

We will continue to take the steps that we have been taking through the daily media briefings, parliamentary occasions such as this one and our advertising campaigns to ensure that people have awareness. We also make the information available for people to check.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank the First Minister for that answer and especially for her commitment that the list of exemptions is not exhaustive.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs told an incredulous public and a committee of the Scottish Parliament that, although international travel continues to be perfectly legal, travelling to the airport may be a criminal act. Let me describe what that means to one family.

Linzi Page lives in Fife. She has stage 4 cancer and she is just 38 years old. She has a family holiday in Tenerife booked with her seven-year-old son and her four-year-old daughter. I spoke to Linzi this morning. She told me that the family has had a tough year and that the holiday would be a nice memory for them. She said that it is a precious time with the family that they will never get back. The family are due to fly out from Edinburgh a week today. However, by then, it will be illegal for her to travel to the airport. What is the First Minister’s advice today to Linzi Page?

The First Minister:

I wrote to Linzi this morning to clarify the situation. She wrote to me last night to outline her situation, which is, indeed, tragic. My heart goes out to her, as I am sure the heart of each and every one of us does. She asked me for clarity on whether she can go on a final holiday with her family. As I said, I have written back to her today, and I have advised her that, under the regulations, anyone who is in a situation such as hers can go on a final holiday.

As I have already said, the travel restrictions come with a general exemption. People can have what is termed in law “a reasonable excuse”, and the regulations give a list of examples of what a reasonable excuse might be. As I have already said, that list is not exhaustive, but there should be no doubt that Mrs Page would absolutely meet the exemption, because one of the explicit examples that are given in the regulations is travel for compassionate reasons that relate to the end of a person’s life.

Linzi’s situation is tragic but, on both compassionate and legal grounds, she can go on her holiday. I wish her and her family well.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank the First Minister for that undertaking, which will, I am sure, be greatly welcomed. I am sure that we all approve of the compassion that lies behind that.

In general, people want a Government that works with them, not against them, on things such as the travel restrictions. The overwhelming majority of people are just trying to keep up with the regulations in order to follow them. However, as things stand, the best-case scenario is that the travel ban will confuse them; the worst-case scenario is that it will criminalise them. The travel ban is a red herring. Instead, the First Minister must take action on some of the things that members of the Scottish Parliament and the people have been calling for, such as a properly resourced test and protect system; appropriate personal protective equipment for our doctors and healthcare workers; safer schools for our children, school staff and teachers; the comprehensive testing of departing and returning students; additional support for our businesses and working people; routine testing for all front-line workers; and a public inquiry into our care homes.

I raise those issues because, as I have repeatedly said, it is in all our interests for the Government to get this right. Will the First Minister admit that she has not got this right? Before it is too late, will she rethink the travel ban and its application?

The First Minister:

All along, I have said that I have not got everything right and I will not get everything right. I will continue to try to get things right and be candid when we do not. I will also take the actions that I consider—and people are entitled to disagree—are necessary to keep the country as safe as possible.

In a situation like this, it is absolutely incumbent on someone like me to do my level best to do the right and the necessary things, even if they are not always popular or welcome. I would be failing in my responsibility if I did not do that.

On travel restrictions, we have a situation in Scotland whereby a significant proportion of the population will go into the highest level of restrictions from tomorrow evening. I have set out the reasons for that. I am making no criticisms, but, unlike the situation in England and the situation in Wales a few weeks ago, so far, we are avoiding a national one-size-fits-all level of restrictions, because we do not think that it is right for areas with low rates of the virus to have the same restrictions as areas with higher rates of it if we can avoid it. However, in order to maintain that proportionate, targeted approach, we must avoid taking the virus from higher-prevalence areas to lower-prevalence areas and having people from lower-prevalence areas going to higher-prevalence areas and taking the virus back, so that prevalence in those areas goes up.

To sum up:

“levels of the virus have risen and people living in those areas are not able to travel beyond their” local

“boundary without a reasonable excuse. That is designed to prevent the spread of infection” within the country

“and to other parts of the UK. I am determined to keep the country safe.”

That is what the Labour First Minister of Wales said when he introduced statutory legal travel restrictions in Wales. He was right, because he is determined to keep his country safe. I am as determined as he is to keep my country as safe as I possibly can.