Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd June 2021.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S6M-00447, in the name of John Swinney, on treating the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill as an emergency bill. Member who wish to speak against the motion should press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move and speak to the motion.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

As members will agree, over the past weeks I have tried to be reasonable in my work with colleagues on the bureau, but sometimes reason is one sided. As I have previously explained to members of the bureau, the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 18 June, and having a stage a day from 22 to 24 June to maximise the scrutiny time is obviously a change from how previous versions of the bill were scrutinised, when all three stages were done over one day. That means that stage 1 will be today, stage 2 tomorrow and stage 3 on Thursday. To create further flexibility, the bureau agreed to 6.30 pm decision times today, tomorrow and on Thursday 24 June.

I believe that the issues around the passage of the bill are not too difficult for members to understand. If we do not pass the bill before summer recess, there will be significantly less time for citizens and public authorities to respond to the changes before they come into effect in September. Taking into account the time needed for royal assent, if the bill is not introduced and passed by the end of June, we run the very serious risk of the provisions expiring on 30 September and temporary measures that enable public authorities to continue to operate in the pandemic falling away. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer:

Colleagues, we will hear the minister.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

As I have said countless times, the bill does not introduce any new provisions; it merely removes temporary measures that are no longer necessary or extends the expiry date to March 2022 of measures to ensure that public bodies can continue to operate while public health measures remain in place. Officials have engaged with stakeholders on the on-going use of the temporary measures throughout the reporting periods and have engaged on an informal basis with stakeholders to consider which temporary measures should be extended and which should expire.

It is clear why we must progress with the bill this week. To leave everything else to chance, as others propose, would not be a prudent way forward.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill be treated as an Emergency Bill.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

This bill should not be treated as an emergency bill. “Emergency” implies that there is a sense of urgency and that we need to go against established processes of consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. However, we do not have such a sense of urgency, as the powers granted by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 do not run out until 30 September 2021. Instead of steamrollering the bill through Parliament in a few short hours over the next three days, the Government should use the summer recess to consult more widely on the proposed extension to the emergency provisions.

The summer recess should also be used to see how Covid develops. Thanks to the United Kingdom’s vaccine procurement and the tireless work of national health service staff and volunteers throughout the UK, more people are developing immunity each day. All the data is telling us that the vaccines are highly effective against all the known variants. In the weeks and months ahead, rates of immunity will continue to increase as the vaccine continues to be rolled out at an accelerated rate.

Hopefully, that will cause the rates of transmission and the numbers of people who require to be hospitalised to decline and, if it does, the situation when we return from recess will be more optimistic. As the powers will run on until at least March 2022, it would be appropriate for the Parliament to debate and vote on an extension of the emergency powers only after the Government has held a proper consultation and we have seen the impact of the continued vaccination roll-out over the summer.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I had not intended to rise in this debate but, as the minister would not take my intervention, I feel compelled to speak.

This bill once again empowers the executive branch of the Government to an unprecedented level. We are being asked to pass in three days a bill for a landscape of the virus that we will not understand for many weeks. We are being asked to give the Government a set of powers that will come into force towards the end of the year and carry on into next year. In any other circumstance, no other party in Parliament would endorse or support the level of powers that we are talking about. As such, I cannot support the timetabling of the bill as it stands.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

As I have said to members, we have tried to be reasonable in lodging the bill. We are still living in extremely difficult times. There is still a pandemic happening in Scotland. Not having those powers in place at this stage would put the situation at risk. The idea of putting our hands in our pockets and waiting to see what will happen during the next couple of months is not a way forward.

We need to go through with the bill in the next three days. There will be opportunities for those who are involved in the process to ensure that we have the bill that we all want.

The Presiding Officer:

The question is, that motion S6M-00447, in the name of John Swinney, on the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill, be agreed. Are we all agreed?

There will be a division. We will have a short technical suspension.

14:11 Meeting suspended.

14:18 On resuming—

Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is now closed

Division number 1 Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill

Aye: 87 MSPs

No: 31 MSPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Presiding Officer:

The result of the division on motion S6M-00447, in the name of John Swinney, on the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill, is: For 87, Against 31, Abstentions 0.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill be treated as an Emergency Bill.