Some emergency laws put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic could be extended by up to a year if a new Bill to be introduced by the Scottish Government passes.
MSPs passed two emergency coronavirus Acts last year, both in single day sittings, that were aimed at helping the country fight the virus.
The new laws made changes to the justice system, including allowing for the early release of prisoners if the virus caused issues within the prison service, the rental sector and the functions of public bodies.
Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney announced on Wednesday that work is being done on a new Bill that would extend some of the provisions until March 30 next year, with another possible extension – pending parliamentary approval – to September 30.
Mr Swinney said some of the measures will be dropped, though he did not say which.
“It is clear that some of the provisions in the Act will be required after the current expiry date of September 30 this year in order to respond to the ongoing threat to public health in Scotland posed by Covid,” he said.
“To ensure that public services are able to discharge their functions in the way they were intended to, the Coronavirus (Extensions and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill has been prepared with a view to its introduction later this month to allow scrutiny by the Parliament before the summer recess.”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said it is “hard to see” how extending the powers until September next year could be justified.
But Mr Fraser said what is “more worrying” is the timetable for the Bill.
He added: “The Scottish Government are trying to railroad this new law with its extension of extraordinary powers through Parliament in two weeks’ time, before the summer recess, with no time for detailed consultation or scrutiny and more than three months before the current powers are set to expire.”
With the initial Acts due to expire on September 30 of this year, the Tory MSP asked why the extension cannot wait until after the summer recess to be debated by MSPs.
In response, Mr Swinney said it is important for public services impacted by the new legislation to have enough time to be able to implement what is passed in the Bill.
He added: “I have asked for there to be the maximum amount of parliamentary time to consider this legislation before Parliament rises for the summer recess.
“The Government will propose to the parliamentary bureau that the debate is not held over one day – which is often the way that emergency legislation is handled – but is in fact handled over three separate days, providing the opportunity for members to reflect on provisions that have been taken forward.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie asked Mr Swinney if an eviction ban will be included in the new Bill.
The ban, which covers any area under Level 3 or 4 of Covid restrictions – currently no part of Scotland – began before Christmas to ensure no-one could lose their home during the pandemic, but is not part of either of the two emergency Acts.
Mr Swinney, who has previously said an extension to the ban was “under close consideration”, told Ms Baillie it is being looked at by officials.
“I give Jackie Baillie the commitment that the Government will engage constructively on this particular question, recognising the seriousness of the issue that she raises and the threats that are posed to individuals as a consequence of evictions,” Mr Swinney said.