Government publishes Bill to make some pandemic powers permanent

Opposition parties accuse ministers of 'power grab' following publication of Covid Bill on Wednesday.

Government publishes Bill to make some pandemic powers permanent iStock
Covid: Bill would powers to impose lockdown restrictions.

Some emergency coronavirus powers would become permanent if MSPs pass a Bill published by the Scottish Government on Wednesday.

The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill would give ministers the powers to respond to public health emergencies in a similar way to legislation passed in response to Covid-19.

This includes powers to impose lockdown restrictions, allow court hearings to take place remotely and restrict access to schools without parliamentary approval.

MSPs will now scrutinise and debate the Bill following a consultation that took place last year.

The new legislation also makes changes to eviction proceedings in the private rented sector. It means certain tribunal cases will no longer have to automatically grant an eviction.

Deputy first minister and Covid recovery secretary John Swinney said: “Scottish ministers have already removed many of the temporary measures that supported our response to the pandemic, which are no longer needed.

“However, we believe those pragmatic reforms that have delivered demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland should continue.

“Whilst it has been incredibly disruptive, the urgency of the pandemic has driven the pace of digital adoption, and in some cases more efficient ways of working, and better service to the public.”

But opposition parties described the proposed legislation as a “power grab”.

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “These emergency powers were a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis – not a free pass for ministers to hoard new powers. 

“This bill would give ministers permanent powers to shut down schools and confine people to their homes at the drop of a hat. 

“There is simply no excuse for bypassing Parliament, when Holyrood has shown time and time again that it can respond with the urgency needed. The SNP must listen to the public and stop this gross overreach.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Whilst there may be measures in this Bill that are sensible long-term reforms, too much of it amounts to an unwarranted and unacceptable power grab by the SNP.

“The powers it would hand the Scottish Government permanently were only ever meant to be temporary for the duration of the pandemic.

“The most worrying of the proposals is the power to close schools and to release prisoners early – and the proposed Bill lets them do this without prior Parliamentary approval.

“This Bill is an alarming and unnecessary overreach by the SNP, so the Scottish Conservatives will oppose measures which put too much power in the hands of ministers.”