A new Coronavirus Bill, extending some of the emergency provisions enacted at the start of the pandemic for up to a further year, will be presented to the Scottish Parliament before the summer recess, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed.
Mr Swinney told the Parliament that the Scottish Government remains committed to expiring or suspending specific provisions as they become no longer necessary. "Nevertheless, it is clear that some provisions in the Acts will be required after the current expiry date of 30 September this year, in response to the ongoing threat that COVID poses to public health in Scotland...
"To ensure that public services are able to discharge their functions in the way that was intended, a Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill has been prepared, with a view to its being introduced later this month to allow scrutiny by Parliament before the summer recess."
The bill will amend the expiry date of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts to 31 March 2022 – a six month extension—and give the Parliament power to agree a further six month extension, to 30 September 2022. At the same time it will expire a number of provisions that are no longer considered to be necessary, in the same way that other provisions have already been expired.
Mr Swinney said that coronavirus continues to pose a significant threat to public health, "public health measures that are needed to control and limit the spread of the virus continue to require significant adjustment to the lives of people who live in Scotland, to businesses in Scotland and to how public services are delivered and regulated". All restrictions would be kept under review in the event of new developments, such as the emergence of a new variant of concern, "to ensure that they remain proportionate and necessary to support the ongoing public health response".
Murdo Fraser for the Conservatives queried the justification for extending the "extraordinary and unprecedented" powers by up to a year, and why the bill could not wait till September by which time it would be clearer whether the powers were still necessary, but Mr Swinney replied that the Parliament would have to agree after the first six months if a further six month extension was to apply, and that organisations such as the courts would need more notice than a bill passed in September would provide. He had asked for the maximum parliamentary time to be available before the recess, and hoped the bill would be published on 18 June.