As we set out in our previous two-monthly reports on the Coronavirus Acts, in seeking the Parliament's approval for the necessary legislation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has always been clear that the legislation agreed by Parliament should be proportionate to the challenge and last only as long as required and that the Scottish Parliament must have continued oversight of those provisions and hold Scottish Ministers to account for their use. This has continued to be central to the implementation, monitoring and review of the legislation, and will remain so beyond this third report covering the reporting period up to 30 September 2020.
Our first report was published a short time after the publication on 21 May 2020 of 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis' (the 'Route Map'). At the end of the third reporting period, we remain in phase three of the Route Map. Since our second report was published on 11 August 2020, additional restrictions, as announced by the First Minister on 22 September 2020, have been put in place in order to bring COVID-19 back under control as we enter winter.
Our position has always been that creating additional powers does not automatically mean we will be required to use them and that decisions would be taken at the appropriate time, based on the situation here in Scotland and other parts of the UK. Through this and our previous reports, we have demonstrated that the powers in the legislation continue to be used proportionately and only where necessary.
It remains the case that some provisions have not yet been commenced as there has not been a need to do so, or have commenced but have not been required to be used in practice. In some cases, this is because these powers will be an important tool in supporting the lives and health of people living in Scotland, the economy, the public sector, and the third sector as we continue to progress through the Route Map. In other cases, the powers are judged to continue to be necessary because they may be required to respond to a future resurgence of the virus – which remains a very real risk, even as we have taken urgent action and put in place new restrictions in order to stem the recent rise in cases and bring COVID-19 back under control.
Since our last report to Parliament, regulations to extend the expiry dates of Part 1 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (the 'first Scottish Act') and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 (the 'second Scottish Act') from 30 September 2020 to 31 March 2021 have been made and came into force on 29 September 2020. In taking the decision to seek to extend both Scottish Acts, we gave careful consideration to the requirement to balance the needs of many stakeholders and partners who wish to see the powers remain available, against the commitment given when the Acts were introduced that the powers would not remain in place unless necessary.
Regulations to expire certain provisions within Part 1 of the Scottish Acts which were deemed to no longer be needed beyond 29 September 2020 and which would not therefore be covered by an extension, also came into force on 29 September 2020. Expiring provisions which were no longer required and suspending through separate regulations provisions which are not required at this time - but may be required at a future point - reflects the commitment given when the legislation was introduced that powers should not be in place for longer than they are needed. The approach we have taken was judged to be proportionate and appropriate to the scale of the ongoing risks posed by coronavirus.
The continued necessity of the legislation will of course be kept under review throughout the reporting process. It is also important to note that, throughout the six month extension period to 31 March 2021, if provisions under the Scottish Acts are deemed to be no longer necessary during that time, they could be subject to suspension (with subsequent revival) or early expiry.
The Scottish Government 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making' which was published in April 2020 set out seven core principles across our approach to responding to coronavirus (COVID-19). One of these was 'fair and ethical': committing us to uphold the principles of human dignity, autonomy, respect and equality, as we deal with the pandemic. In continuing to develop our approach to legislation and reporting, human rights and equality impacts have continued to be a key consideration.
We remain committed to ensuring transparency in the implementation of, and reporting on, the legislation, but we equally continue to be cognisant of the important balance to be struck in the processes for obtaining information to support openness and transparency, with the need to avoid undue pressures to provide information on those at the frontline of the coronavirus response. We have therefore continued in this report, our approach of going beyond the statutory reporting requirements, by providing additional information for provisions which, at this time, we have judged to be of most significant impact and/or interest because of their impact on human rights, children's rights or equality, or because they are areas in which the Scottish Parliament has indicated a particular interest.
Coronavirus legislation: our approach to reporting
We have always made clear that it would be essential that this legislation be supported by safeguards including regular reporting and review, and these were built into the first and second Scottish Acts. Section 15 of the first Scottish Act, and section 12 of the second Scottish Act require Scottish Ministers to review the operation of the provisions of Part 1 of those Acts in each reporting period, and every two months, report on the status of the provisions and make a statement that they are satisfied that the status of those provisions is appropriate.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 ('the UK Act') does not contain equivalent reporting requirements for the Devolved Administrations to those which require the UK Government to report on its non-devolved provisions every two months. However, as was the case in our previous reports, we have reported in this third review period on the provisions of the UK Act for which the Scottish Parliament gave legislative consent, in a manner which is consistent with the reporting on the Scottish Acts, and which is in line with our previous commitment to do so.
This report therefore includes information on the status and operation of the provisions under Part 1 of the first and second Scottish Acts in this reporting period, and the provisions of the UK Act for which the Scottish Parliament gave legislative consent. It also includes reporting on Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs) made by Scottish Ministers where the main purpose relates to coronavirus, other than those made by Scottish Ministers under the first or second Scottish Acts or the UK Act, as SSIs made under those Acts are already included in our reporting.
This report also reflects the duties set out in section 15A of the first Scottish Act and section 13 of the second Scottish Act, that require Scottish Ministers to take account of information from the Scottish Police Authority or the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland about "the nature and the number of incidents of domestic abuse occurring during the reporting period to which the review relates", and to explain in the report on that review period, how the information was taken into account. We are clear of the need to ensure that robust and regular exchange of information about incidences of domestic abuse is collected and monitored during the pandemic and we were pleased to support these duties. This ensures that the specific impact that the current situation is having on those experiencing domestic abuse is considered when reviewing the operation of the provisions in the Scottish and UK Acts.
We have, in the development of this third report, continued to reflect on the views and publications of key stakeholders whose focus is on the areas of human rights, children's rights and equality impacts. We also recognise views of the Parliament's Equalities and Human Rights Committee which is paying particular attention to this in relation to the Government's response to the pandemic through its inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on equality and human rights. We are grateful for the work that is being undertaken by the Parliament, stakeholders and others in scrutinising the work of the Scottish Government to ensure that human rights, children's rights and equality are protected at this time. We will continue to work to ensure that we consider carefully recommendations and best practice coming from this.
Use of powers contained in the Coronavirus Acts
Some of the powers in the legislation which were commenced immediately have supported key elements of our response to the pandemic, whilst others have not been needed due to effectiveness of other action taken or because thresholds for use have not been met.
The UK Act enables Ministers to consider suspension and revival of certain powers where they may be needed again in future. It also enables Ministers to permanently expire certain provisions which are considered to no longer be needed in advance of the two year sunset clause in section 89 of that Act, and to extend certain provisions beyond the two year sunset period.
The first and second Scottish Acts contain similar provisions for suspension and revival, and provisions can be considered for expiry in advance of the six month sunset provision which applies to Part 1 of the first and second Scottish Acts. Part 1 of both Acts can be extended for a further six months to 30 September 2021 through regulations subject to the agreement of Parliament. Taken together, these safeguards help to ensure the powers in the legislation can be used appropriately and proportionately, and that the powers do not remain in force longer than they are required.
The regular reporting cycle for the provisions of the Scottish and UK Acts will enable us to keep the overall operation of the powers under review and inform decisions on when specific measures are no longer needed. Our decisions will be guided by the course of the pandemic and by the expert advice underpinning the Scottish Government's overall response to it.
Statement by Ministers on necessity and status of provisions
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. This report contains information as required by section 14 of that Act.
As at the end of the reporting period on 30 September 2020, all of the provisions in the UK Act for which the Scottish Parliament gave legislative consent have been commenced, with the exception of those in section 10 and schedule 9, and sections 25-29.
All provisions in the first Scottish Act commenced the day after Royal Assent, with the exception of paragraph 11(1) of schedule 3 which had not commenced in the period since Part 1 of the first Scottish Act came into force, and which has now been expired through the Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts (Early Expiry of Provisions) Regulations 2020 (the 'expiry regulations'). All provisions in the second Scottish Act commenced the day after Royal Assent.
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts (Amendment of Expiry Dates) Regulations 2020 (the 'extension regulations') which extend the expiry date of Part 1 of both Scottish Acts from 30 September 2020 to 31 March 2021, came into force on 29 September 2020.
The expiry regulations which expire provisions under Part 1 of both Scottish Acts which were judged not to be required also came into force on 29 September 2020.
Separate regulations have been made to suspend schedule 3, Part 2, paragraph 11(2) and (3) of the first Scottish Act which relate to adults with incapacity provisions, and schedule 7, paragraphs 32 and 33 of the first Scottish Act which relate to muirburn.
Within the material for each of the provisions covered in the report, links have been included to other relevant published material including declarations and directions relating to, or made under the powers in the Acts.
We welcome the opportunity to further update the Scottish Parliament on the operation of the Coronavirus Acts and stand ready to engage with the Parliament in its scrutiny of this third report.
Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs