The next item is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-24043, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument.
That the Parliament agrees that Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 12) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/17) be approved.—[
It gives me no pleasure to take up members’ time to speak against the motion, but I feel that it is important to raise how unsatisfactory it is that SSIs are presented to the Parliament with a broad range of elements that we have either to support or reject en masse. I have raised the matter at the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and hope that, in the next session of Parliament, the manner in which SSIs are presented can be reviewed.
This afternoon, we are being asked to support seven different restrictions and requirements in one SSI, with the only connection between them being that the Scottish Government considers them important in suppressing the Covid virus. However, I am struggling to find the evidence to support some of them.
For example, what happens to landlords who are not receiving rent but cannot take action? Will they lose their properties if they cannot pay their mortgages? If the properties are then sold on, what happens to the tenants?
Do parents who can, by court order, see their children only at a contact centre lose the right to see their children during this difficult time?
How does having a number of people waiting and chatting outside a takeaway door—as I have experienced—aid management of Covid, when people can stand inside and queue in a supermarket?
Finally, why is it necessary to prohibit consumption of alcohol in a public place in a level 4 area, when the regulations require people to stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse not to, and when many areas already have byelaws governing the matter?
I am reserving my position until I hear whether the minister can give rational and evidence-based explanations for the regulations, and explain how the risks that they pose will be mitigated.
I wonder whether my fellow MSPs are fully conversant with the content of what they are voting on and, as lockdown continues, of the risk that some of the regulations pose when the bundling of them is so disconnected.
The regulations tighten aspects of the lockdown restrictions in a number of ways, in order to help to bring the virus under control. I stress that they are to bring the virus under control.
They regulations adjust restrictions surrounding click-and-collect services, prohibit consumption of alcohol in outdoor public places and disallow customers from physically entering food takeaway outlets.
The regulations tighten the existing stay-at-home requirement to ensure that non-essential activities are not undertaken when leaving the home, and they will restrict work in other people’s homes to essential work only, in level 4 areas. The regulations also require closure of child-contact centres, with the exception of those that are provided by local authorities.
The regulations also provide for a number of positive changes. They prohibit evictions from taking place in level 3 and 4 areas in order to ensure that renters are protected and do not have to form new temporary households with friends and family at this time. They also allow premises that are required to be closed to reopen if that is for the purpose of providing a venue for vaccination.
I understand that Michelle Ballantyne does not agree with lockdown being imposed, but lockdown is in place in all four nations. It is supported by all commissions advising Government and by the medical community as a whole—not just in the four nations, but internationally.
“dangerous, unethical and lacking a sound scientific basis”, all the measures are necessary for limiting social contact and bringing the new strain of the virus under control, thereby preventing our health service from being overwhelmed and, ultimately, reducing infections to the level at which we can consider lifting the restrictions.
As the First Minister has set out in her regular updates to Parliament, there are some encouraging signs that the measures are beginning to have an effect in Scotland. I would like that to continue and not be derailed in the way that Ms Ballantyne is suggesting. We know that it can take a number of weeks for measures to feed through into the numbers of cases and of people in hospital. We need to stay the course and see this through, and not throw away the hard-won progress that we are making by relaxing restrictions too quickly, or for ideological reasons.
For those reasons, I invite Parliament to support the motion.
The Presiding Officer:
The question on the motion will be put at decision time.
That the Parliament agrees that the Provision of Early Learning and Childcare (Specified Children) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020 [draft] be approved.—[
I have had notification from two members who wish to speak on the motion, but I can take only one. I apologise to Jamie Greene. I had advance notice from Beatrice Wishart first, but it is noted that Jamie Greene wished to speak.
I have supported the move to a legal right to funded deferrals throughout the “Give them time” campaign, but I have great concerns about what the Government has brought forward today. People who are working on the campaign are disappointed by the proposals that are set out in the SSI. It says that there will be a full right to deferral, but that right will not exist across Scotland until 2023. The five local authority areas where full funding will now be piloted were already accepting 100 per cent of applications.
This year, children have missed out on so much because of the virus. Some will barely remember socialising with anyone outside their bubble, and we know how critical the early years are to life chances and attainment.
More families than ever before will be wondering whether their four-year-old is ready to start school this August. Those children will turn up to school for the first time having missed out on 18 months of normal play. Playgroups and social events have not been an option and nurseries have been stop-start. The plan for 2023 fails to recognise how difficult the next group of school starts might find the adjustment. The Scottish Government speaks about getting it right for every child, but this August there will be a £4,500 price tag hanging over families who want to give their children more time.
The Education and Skills Committee took evidence from the minister, but I have yet to hear a convincing justification for why 2023 is the best that we can do. Why should deferral not be available to every family that thinks that it is right for them? Parents should be given the legal right both to defer primary 1 and to have it replaced with funded early learning and childcare.
Parents should be allowed to concentrate solely on what is best for the child, not on the family’s financial situation. That should be an important part of the education system’s response to the pandemic and the plan to help children to catch up. Children start school only once. The Government could remove the extra financial barrier, guarantee full funding for all parents who need it and empower families to do what they feel is right.
On that basis, the Scottish Liberal Democrats cannot support the regulations today.
I am delighted that we have laid legislation on deferral to ensure that children whose primary 1 place is deferred can benefit from high-quality funded early learning and childcare. I am pleased that we have also now legislated to reintroduce the statutory duty to deliver 1,140 hours of childcare by August 2021. However, we must be mindful that delivery in parallel with our deferral commitment requires a balanced approach, particularly with the continued backdrop of the challenges that are imposed by the Covid-19 response.
It is essential that the introduction of the SSI does not put at risk successful delivery of the early learning and childcare expansion, for which the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated strong support. It is important to note that the deferral policy has the potential to have a significant impact on the number of children attending ELC. Around 20,000 children will become newly eligible for funded ELC as a result of the SSI, but it is difficult to predict likely uptake. We do not know what impact the change will have on parental behaviour, in terms of changing demand for deferred places.
Local authorities have planned carefully for the 1,140 hours expansion and are working to full capacity to ensure that sufficient places will be available across the public, private and third sectors in August. To add the additional pressure of the deferral obligation during the final stages of preparation would introduce an unacceptable and unnecessary level of risk to successful delivery of the expansion. We must therefore gather robust evidence to help us to better understand likely changes in uptake of the entitlement, ahead of full roll-out.
That is why we announced £3 million in December to support five local authorities to pilot implementation in 2021-22, which we intend to extend to more authorities during 2022-23. We will learn from all the pilots, including those in authorities that have previously funded most or all requests for discretionary deferrals. We will, for example, learn more about behaviour change in terms of parental demand if there is not an application process.
I am acutely aware that this year has been a difficult one for children, and that it will continue to be so for many families. I have said previously and say again that it is important that we do not think of children as being school ready, but of schools as being child ready. Most children will be eager to start school as normal in August, and I know that schools and ELC settings will be carefully considering the needs of the cohort, as they plan their transition. Ahead of full implementation, I expect local authorities to continue to use their discretion on funded deferrals, with the interests of the child being at the heart of those decisions, whether the request is due to the impact of Covid-19 or otherwise.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you, minister. Again, the question on the motion will be put at decision time, to which we will come shortly.
The next item of business is consideration of 11 Parliamentary Bureau motions. I call Graeme Dey to move and speak to motions S5M-24044 to S5M-24051, on approval of SSIs, and to move motions S5M-24052 and S5M-24054, on approval of SSIs.
That the Parliament agrees that Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 13) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/25) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 25) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/474) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/5) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/6) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/7) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/19) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 5) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/21) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Pre-Departure Testing and Operator Liability) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/20) be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Agricultural Holdings (Relinquishment and Assignation) (Application to Relevant Partnerships) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Rules of Procedure in Children’s Hearings) Amendment Rules 2021 [draft] be approved.—[Graeme Dey.]
I will speak to two of the motions. One prohibits evictions from taking place in level 3 and 4 areas. Regulations also allow premises that have been required to close to the public to reopen for the purposes of their becoming vaccination venues, and require child contact centres to close. They impose a prohibition on people consuming alcohol in public places outdoors in level 4 areas, prevent customers from entering takeaway outlets in level 4 areas, and restrict to essential work only the ability in level 4 areas to carry out work or services for the upkeep and maintenance of homes. Those regulations came into force on 16 January.
The other SSI moves the isles of Barra and Vatersay to level 4 lockdown restrictions, and came into force on 20 January.