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Coronavirus emergency legislation to be extended despite opposition warnings

The Scottish Parliament building with Arthur's Seat in the background.

MSPs voted to extend emergency coronavirus measures despite opposition warnings of “confusing and contradictory” advice.

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.

But the legislation has met with opposition from the Scottish Tories, who if the Bill was needed before the summer recess.

“Confusing”

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser accused the government of a “lack of consistency”.

He said: “At the heart of this Bill process lies an essential contradiction. On the one hand we had the First Minister telling us in the Parliament  chamber that things were getting better and that we should be back to some degree of normality, all being well, by mid-August.

Murdo Fraser MSP.
Murdo Fraser MSP.

“In contrast, the deputy first minister said that extraordinary and unprecedented powers for Ministers must be extended, at least for another six months and potentially for another six months beyond that. In the worst-case scenario, they could be in place for a year and two months – that is quite extraordinary.

“This confusion, this lack of consistency, cuts right across the SNP Government approach to Covid, and I know from communications from constituents how concerned they are about it.”

He added: “Similarly, people can’t understand why a travel ban has been introduced for Manchester, when we have seen a very similar case rate in the city of Dundee, but no steps taken to restrict travel in and out of that city, when we have a ban affecting Manchester.

“It is this lack of consistency and lack of clear messaging that is undermining public health messaging.”

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.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie

Ms 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.

Swinney thanks Parliament

Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney said: “Having the Bill agreed 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 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.

John Swinney MSP

“I thank members of Parliament for the way in which they have engaged in the process to enhance the legislation, to advance issues that were of importance to members, and to ensure that we have the correct statutory framework in place to deal with what is an ongoing threat that we face from coronavirus.”

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