Bill to extend emergency coronavirus laws backed by MSPs

The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill was passed at stage one on Tuesday.

Bill to extend emergency coronavirus laws backed by MSPs iStock

A Bill which would extend emergency powers put in place early in the pandemic by at least six months has been backed by MSPs.

The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill was passed at stage one on Tuesday after 92 voted for it, with 27 voting against.

Earlier in the day, MSPs voted to treat the new legislation as an emergency Bill, meaning it would be debated over three days by MSPs and could be passed before the summer recess starts at the end of this week.

The legislation, if passed at the final stage on Thursday, will allow for the extension of some measures – and expiry of others – put in place through emergency legislation passed last year until March 2022, with a possible extension further to September 2022 with parliamentary approval.

The Bill will extend a number of provisions in the acts including allowing courts and tribunals to continue to act remotely and the increased notice period for evictions in the private and social rented sectors.

Meanwhile, measures to ensure marriages and civil partnerships could take place during the pandemic and emergency measures to protect children’s rights will be ended.

But despite the support from a majority of MSPs, the Scottish Tories urged the Scottish Government to postpone the introduction of the Bill until after the summer recess.

Scottish Conservative Covid-19 recovery spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “These powers do not expire until the end of September – this parliament is sitting in the first week in September.

“It would be possible to consider this Bill, even as an emergency, in the first week in September.

“That would give us eight or nine weeks over the summer to properly consult.”

Fraser also said the Scottish Parliament would be in a “much clearer position” in terms of the trajectory of the pandemic.

He added: “We cannot support this rush to legislate, particularly when we have external stakeholders tell us, as they are, they have not had the opportunity to input into what are very serious discussions.”

Speaking in parliament, Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney said it was “necessary” for the Bill to be passed before the recess.

He said: “Given the pre-election period and the upcoming summer recess, to ensure that a number of those measures that we consider to be essential can continue beyond (September 30), it is necessary that this Bill completes its passage before recess.

“I appreciate this means there is limited time to consider the content of the Bill, but I want to reassure members that the primary purpose of this Bill is to extend measures only temporarily.”

He added: “Passing the Bill this month will not only take account of the time needed for it to come into effect, but crucially it will give public services and people in Scotland the time to plan for what extension or expiry of these measures will mean for them.”

The Covid Recovery Secretary also announced a new £10m grant fund for tenants who have fallen into rent arrears as a direct result of the pandemic.

The move was welcomed across the chamber, but Greens co-leader Lorna Slater questioned how far the money would go.

Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie also said her party had planned to table an amendment to create such a fund, but now would not need to.

Bailliealso said Labour would put forward an amendment to extend the current eviction ban to those living in level one and level two areas in Scotland.

A further amendment from the Scottish Government will seek to extend protections for commercial tenants from eviction, which the Bill currently seeks to end, according to Swinney.

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