Holyrood votes to pass legislation on emergency coronavirus powers

The Coronavirus Recovery and Reform Bill was passed at Holyrood by 66 votes to 52 on Tuesday night.

MSPs vote to pass legislation on emergency Covid powers which will give Scottish Government ability to impose lockdowns iStock

MSPs have voted to pass legislation allowing some emergency coronavirus powers to become permanent, despite opposition parties labelling it a “power-grab”.

The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill was passed at Holyrood by 66 votes to 52 on Tuesday night.

The legislation will give the Scottish Government the ability to impose lockdown restrictions, allow court hearings to take place remotely and restrict access to schools in the event of any future public health emergencies.

John Swinney told the chamber that in response to concerns expressed over the move, an explanation will be required as to why regulations would need to be introduced urgently, and an expiry date set for instances where there is no time limit.

So-called “Henry VIII” powers in the legislation will be subject to parliamentary approval, he added.

The Covid Recovery Secretary said: “In all of these changes, the Government has been listening to the concerns expressed by the external stakeholders and by members of parliament to ensure that we satisfy the objective of ensuring our statute book is updated to have the necessary powers to deal with the pandemic.”

Use of such powers will be undertaken with an “appropriate” level of scrutiny from MSPs, he said.

Murdo Fraser, of the Scottish Conservatives, said there were aspects of the Bill that his party would have been “happy to support had they been brought forward in another form”.

“But too much in this Bill to us was simply not necessary at this stage, and it does represent a power-grab on the part of Scottish ministers,” he said.

“The Covid Recovery Committee heard in evidence at our consultation just how much concern there was from stakeholders over a lot of what was proposed in this legislation.

“The committee survey had nearly 4,000 responses, which I think may well be unprecedented, with as many as 90% of people who responded expressing concern about what is proposed in this Bill.”

Mr Fraser said such feedback proved there is “no broad consensus” in support of the Bill.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie complained that the legislation – which she branded a “Frankenstein-like Bill” – will see powers “handed over to Government ministers”.

The Scottish Labour deputy leader added that concessions by the Government to address concerns “simply don’t go far enough”.

Ms Baillie said: “The executive will still have far-reaching powers which will potentially lead to ministers making rushed, ad hoc decisions, without the benefit of the appropriate level of scrutiny.

“This Bill will not in and of itself lead to a better response to a future pandemic, and would diminish scrutiny and accountability.

“Let’s be clear as to what ministers are attempting to do today, they are wrapping up a plethora of issues into one Frankenstein-like Bill which is wholly unjustifiable.

“There are many individual provisions that Labour supports, but the Government have deliberately wrapped all these up in a Bill that hands sweeping powers to ministers.”

The Liberal Democrats also criticised the Government’s approach, with Beatrice Wishart describing it as a “unprecedented and unsavoury power-grab by the Scottish Government”.

She said: “With this legislation the Government is seeking to retain powers that they solemnly promised they would return as soon as possible.”

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