Coronavirus Bill achieved after ‘tireless’ cross-Government collaboration
Scotland’s Constitutional Relations Secretary has praised the level of cross-Government collaboration in creating emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
In a statement to MSPs, Mike Russell announced the Scottish Government plans to support the Coronavirus Bill through a legislative consent motion (LCM) in Holyrood.
He told the chamber current events are “unprecedented” and the new legislation laid before the Commons on Thursday is the result of “tireless” work from officials across the UK.
In a paper published on Tuesday, officials outlined policies that will feature in the Bill, including making it easier for retired health and social care staff to return to work, reducing the number of administrative tasks needed to be completed by front-line staff and bringing in stricter powers to limit social contacts.
The Bill will also enshrine in law the assertion by Chancellor Rishi Sunak that people will be able to claim statutory sick pay from the first day they are off work, as well as measures aimed at helping the death management system deal with a potential increase in demand.
The Constitutional Relations Secretary sought to assure MSPs that, despite the powers made available by the Bill, they may not necessarily be used to tackle the outbreak.
Mr Russell told MSPs: “(The Bill) is the result of a great deal of intensive work between the UK Government and the devolved administrations – unique and extraordinary given the virtual stand off on other legislation that has been the norm for the past three years – and is required because of the extraordinary public health and economic challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are grateful to everyone who has been part of that process and particularly the officials across all the Governments and many departments who have worked tirelessly to make sure the bill is now available for scrutiny and passage.”
Tory constitution spokesman Murdo Fraser asked Mr Russell when the believes the legislation will be enacted.
The Constitution Secretary said the LCM will be completed by the end of Tuesday next week, with the Bill potentially gaining royal assent by March 31.
Responding to Labour MSP Alex Rowley on measures in the Bill to stop price hikes on household essentials, Mr Russell said new legislation to be brought to Holyrood will seek to take action, should the Parliament have the power to do so.
Mr Russell also told MSPs he foresaw further emergency coronavirus legislation to be put before the Scottish Parliament in the week before the Easter recess.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “What struck me from an initial reading was not so much what is in the Bill, as what is not in the Bill.
“There is nothing to mandate an increase in statutory sick pay for example.”
He added there was nothing in the Bill that “would allow public authorities to acquire stocks of food, households essentials or hygiene supplies in order to prevent price gouging”.
Mr Russell said these are issues that need to be discussed – adding while this is the first piece of legislation in response to the coronavirus outbreak it may not be the last.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie spoke of his “nervousness” over the new powers lasting for more than two years, which Mr Russell said he believed required “very careful consideration”.