Parliamentary safeguards to be strengthened
Recovery and Reform Bill passes first stage.
Legislation proposing the permanent adoption or temporary extension of some measures enacted during the pandemic to support Scotland’s recovery from Covid has passed its first stage.
MSPs voted to support the general principles of the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill, which proposes changes in around 30 specific legislative areas temporarily modified by Scottish and UK coronavirus legislation.
Speaking at the Stage One debate on the Bill, Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney confirmed the Government will strengthen parliamentary oversight of key provisions with amendments at the Bill’s next stage of scrutiny.
This would mean that any regulations engaging the so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, that allow Ministers to modify primary legislation on public health grounds would require Parliamentary approval before they could come into force.
Key aspects of the public health protection powers and educational continuity powers in the Bill would also be subject to a vote as part of a ‘gateway’ mechanism, to ensure the powers could only be used with parliamentary authorisation in the event of a future public health threat.
Mr Swinney said:
“This Bill aims to update our statute book, based on lessons learned during the pandemic, to support Scotland’s recovery. I am pleased Parliament has voted to support its general principles.
“While it is vital that Government has the legal powers required to protect the public in the event of any future public health threats, it is equally important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise the use of those powers.
“To ensure that necessary parliamentary oversight is in place, the Government will bring forward amendments to introduce a ‘gateway vote’ mechanism which would mean that key aspects of the public health protection and educational continuity powers would only have effect if a parliamentary vote, on a formal Government declaration, is held and approved.”
Links to the Bill, the consultation analysis report and other Bill documentation are available here.
Following today’s Stage 1 vote, the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill will proceed to amendments at Stage 2 and Stage 3 before a final vote of Parliament to pass the Bill.
Where the Bill allows for regulations to be enacted immediately under the ‘made-affirmative’ procedure, an explanation will be required as to why Ministers consider the regulations need to be made urgently.
Measures proposed in the Bill for permanent adoption or temporary extension include:
- maintaining provisions that enable Scottish Ministers to enact measures via public health regulations for any future public health threats, bringing Scotland into line with England and Wales where these powers are already permanent
- ensuring Ministers have powers in relation to educational establishments (schools, childcare, and Further and Higher Education), school boarding accommodation and student accommodation, to enable them to take action to protect public health and ensure the continuity of educational provision, and mitigate against wider harms caused by threats to public health
- maintaining pre-eviction protocols relating to rent arrears in the private rented sector, ensuring that tenants have all the information they need about their rights, and placing more responsibility on landlords to ensure correct procedures are followed
- a temporary extension to statutory time-limits for criminal proceedings and provision for certain hearings to be held over audio or video link, to help manage the backlog of cases arising from the pandemic and ensure cases can continue to be heard, through greater flexibility in the programming of court business
- maintaining remote registration of deaths and still-births by phone or other methods, without the need to go to a registration office in person, in addition to a new proposal to extend this flexibility to live births
- adjusting the minimum debt level that an individual must owe before a creditor can make them bankrupt from £10,000 to £5,000, up from £3,000 pre-pandemic
- giving licensing boards the flexibility to be able to hold remote hearings, where they consider it appropriate
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