This is the sixth, two-monthly report on the Coronavirus Acts in which the Scottish Government sets out the status and operation of the necessary legislation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It is also the last such report to be produced in the current parliamentary session. Although it cannot be laid in Parliament at the time of publication due to the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary election on 6 May 2021, the report will be formally laid when the first opportunity arises in the new Scottish Parliament. Regular reporting on coronavirus-related legislation has ensured that the Scottish Parliament has had continued oversight of the legislation, allowing it to hold Scottish Ministers to account for their use of the powers available to them. This regular reporting will continue in the new parliamentary session until the expiry of the Coronavirus Acts.
While the fight against the virus has been a long, challenging journey, we believe that the rapid roll-out of our vaccination programme and the consequent impact on infection levels provide grounds for cautious optimism. However, we cannot take this progress for granted. We need to remain vigilant to the threat.
Now that we are 12 months on from when the impact of coronavirus was first felt in Scotland, and in this, my last coronavirus report to Parliament, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of, in particular, the Scottish legislation over the last year.
Impact of the Scottish Coronavirus Acts
The provisions of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 ("the first Scottish Act") and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 ("the second Scottish Act") cover a wide range of activities. These continue to have a vital role in maintaining the functioning of key institutions, or offering direct support to those particularly affected by the pandemic.
- There are provisions supporting the criminal justice system, such as the creation of remote jury centres, and the introduction of virtual trials for summary criminal cases. In addition, measures were introduced to enable parole hearings to continue. From 23 March 2020 to 5 March 2021 nearly 100% of Tribunals/Oral Hearings scheduled have been heard successfully, with only 3 of 1,196 unsuccessful.
- The Acts include provisions that provide flexibilities in how local authorities and children's hearings respond to children in need of care and protection. In the context of this emergency, these provisions are designed to enable best use of resources in local authorities, and the children's hearings system, so that efforts can be focused on safeguarding the welfare of Scotland's most vulnerable children and on supporting families and carers who need it most.
- And for Scotland's lowest income carers, the Acts include measures providing additional funds through a special Coronavirus Carer's Allowance Supplement payment.
- A social care staff support fund was also established using provision in the second Scottish Act which helps to prevent social care staff from experiencing financial hardship if ill or self-isolating as a result of Coronavirus.
- While provisions in the second Act offer additional protection from eviction to tenants who, as a result of Covid, have fallen into rent arrears.
These are only a few examples of the positive impact of the Acts during this extremely challenging period, and as the coronavirus remains in Scotland, these measures can continue to help and support the people of Scotland.
Ministers' Review of the Sixth Report - Statement by Ministers on necessity and status of provisions
This sixth coronavirus report covers the period from 1 February to 31 March 2021. Scottish Ministers have undertaken a review of the operation of the provisions of Part 1 of the first and second Scottish Acts, and the provisions of the UK Act for which the Scottish Parliament gave legislative consent, in order to consider whether the provisions remain necessary. Ministers are satisfied that the status of those provisions at the end of this reporting period is appropriate.
Scottish Ministers have also undertaken a review of the Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs) to which section 14 of the second Scottish Act applies. Ministers are satisfied that the status of those SSIs at the end of the reporting period is appropriate.
I am pleased to recommend this sixth report but it will be for the new incoming Administration to further update the Scottish Parliament on the operation of the Coronavirus Acts and to continue the required two-monthly reporting process.
I am grateful to all those who have supported me in putting together these reports since this process started in March 2020 and to all colleagues in the Scottish Parliament for the work we have done collectively to ensure that emergency legislation and regulation has been able to be used in a proportionate and appropriate way to help meet the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.
It is not a challenge I ever thought I would have to face and it would have been impossible without close cross party working which is still the key to the successful suppression and the eventual elimination of the virus.
Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs