MSPs pass Bill to extend emergency coronavirus measures

The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill was passed on Thursday by 90 votes to 32.

MSPs pass Bill to extend emergency coronavirus measures PA Media via PA Media
MSPs voted on the extension of the measures at Holyrood on Thursday.

MSPs have voted to extend emergency coronavirus measures put in place last year.

The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill was passed on Thursday by 90 votes to 32 following an accelerated process that saw the Bill debated, amended and passed in just three days.

The Bill would allow the extension of the powers, which allow for the early release of prisoners because of coronavirus, as well as the extension of protection for renters and continuing to allow courts and tribunals to work remotely.

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.

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The extension would see the powers, due to end on September 30, continue until at least the end of March 2022, with the possibility of a further six-month extension should ministers deem it necessary.

An amendment tabled by Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie intended to ensure the extension would last just six months, but it was voted down.

Baillie was, however, able to amend the Bill to ensure the Scottish Government must come to the Scottish Parliament at most 24 hours before any changes are made to coronavirus-related restrictions.

Covid recovery secretary John Swinney said: “Having the Bill agreed today by the Parliament leaves appropriate time for the Bill to receive Royal Assent early in August and my officials will use that time to make sure that all necessary guidance is updated and made available to stakeholders and the public more widely so it is clear to all which provisions Parliament has decided should remain available beyond the end of September and which ones will be expiring at that time.”

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He added: “I believe this Bill makes an important contribution to our national response against the pandemic.

“I’m very grateful for Parliament’s swift action in addressing this.”

Swinney previously announced that a new £10m grant fund for tenants who have fallen into rent arrears as a direct result of the pandemic would be created.

But, Labour MSPs have pushed ministers to convert Government-backed loans made to tenants into grants.

The legislation has met with opposition from the Scottish Tories, who have questioned if it is necessary to pass the Bill ahead of the summer recess, instead urging ministers to use the break to consult on the Bill, before introducing it in the next session.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats also opposed the Bill, with MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton saying there needed to be a “better Bill” put forward.

He said: “We appeal to the Government to use the summer to bring to Parliament after our return a better Bill, one that is informed by the landscape of the virus as we find it in the late summer, one which safeguards the supremacy of this chamber and that shortens to the bare minimum the time that ministers have to exercise those powers.”