Chapter 1: Introduction and policy background
1. The Scottish Government is working to lead Scotland safely through and out of the Covid pandemic and to re-open the country as quickly and safely as possible. The Scottish Parliament passed the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill (now the “Extension and Expiry Act”) on 24 June 2021, contributing to that objective by extending on a temporary basis a range of existing legislative measures which support various aspects of the ongoing response to the public health emergency caused by the global pandemic.
2. This consultation paper begins with discussion in this Chapter of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for Covid recovery and ends in Chapter 5 with an open question, inviting comments and proposals on the boldness of action that respondents think is required. The core Chapters 2 to 4 of the paper invite views on specific legislative proposals that we think have the potential to support Covid recovery:
- Proposals for greater public health resilience, to protect Scotland against future public health threats (Chapter 2);
- Proposals for public services and justice system reform, to ensure that the benefits of practical modernisations put in place during the pandemic are not lost (Chapter 3);
- Proposals to respond to the impact of Covid in the justice system specifically, where backlogs have unavoidably built up (Chapter 4).
3. The Extension and Expiry Act extends Parts 1 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (the “First Scottish Act”) and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 (the “Second Scottish Act”) which otherwise would have expired on 30 September 2021. Broadly, temporary provisions are extended for 6 months to the end of March 2022, with the potential for further extension by secondary legislation to September 2022, subject to the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. The Act also expires a number of temporary measures that are no longer required to respond to the pandemic. Some of the provisions contained in the First and Second Scottish Acts have already been expired in line with the Government’s commitment to remove provisions that are no longer necessary to support the ongoing public health response. Further details of the policy for the Extension and Expiry Act, in particular the public health context underpinning it, are contained in the Policy Memorandum published together with the Bill.
The provisions of the First and Second Scottish Acts are complemented by provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the “UK Act”) applicable to Scotland. The majority of the UK Act expires at the end of March 2022, with the potential for extension by secondary legislation, subject to the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.
Covid recovery policy
4. As we emerge from the pandemic we are committed to addressing the underlying inequalities that have been exacerbated by recent events. To inform not just what we do but how we do it, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery held a number of Stakeholder Recovery Roundtables over the summer recess and the outputs from those meetings will be reflected in a Covid Recovery Strategy that will be published in autumn 2021.
5. People have told us they want a Scotland that achieves financial security for all: through good quality work and sustainable employment; that supports health and well-being for young people in particular; that promotes equalities; and that strengthens people’s rights.
6. Achieving these ambitions will in some instances require changes to the law and to the practices that determine how the law is enforced and affects the lives of individuals, families, businesses and the third sector in Scotland.
7. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 set out specific proposals where the Scottish Government considers that specific legislative reforms have the potential to support our recovery from Covid. Chapter 5 does not seek views on specific legislative proposals but more widely asks for views on the sort of changes that respondents believe will help us to achieve the transformation we are seeking.
Proposals in this paper
8. The Scottish Government proposes that some of the legislative measures from the First and Second Scottish Acts and the UK Act be given permanent effect. These are the measures that are clearly showing a benefit and are discussed in Chapters 2 and 3. We want to capture the good practice that has helped people during the pandemic, for example where moving to improved digital services, or the use of technology, has increased access to services and made them simpler and easier for service users. In other cases, the Scottish Government considers that there is a case for longer extension of some temporary justice system measures than has been provided for in the Extension and Expiry Act, to deal with backlogs that have unavoidably built up during the pandemic. These measures are discussed in Chapter 4.
9. Primary legislation – a Bill or Bills in the Scottish Parliament - would be required to extend provisions from the First and Second Scottish Acts and the UK Act beyond what is permitted by those Acts, or to give measures permanent effect or to amend them. This consultation paper invites views on the Scottish Government’s proposal to develop and introduce such primary legislation. Finally, Chapter 5 addresses equalities, human rights, financial and other impacts of the Government’s proposals, as well as setting out the general Covid recovery question mentioned.
A guide to legislative references
10. This consultation paper makes reference to sections and schedules of the First and Second Scottish Acts and the UK Act. These legislative provisions will be more familiar to some readers than others, and therefore hyperlinks are offered to key provisions of these Acts from www.legislation.gov.uk. A “section” is a numbered provision in the main body of an Act and a “schedule” is a numbered annex, introduced by a section and sitting at the end of the Act after the sections. The numbered provisions within a schedule are known as paragraphs. Each of the First and Second Scottish Acts and the UK Act are distinct Acts with their own schedules.
What is meant by ‘making permanent’
11. In Chapters 2 and 3, ‘making permanent’ means bringing forward primary legislation making equivalent provision which is not temporary. The Scottish Government is considering what adaptions might be required to existing provisions so that they function effectively as permanent provisions and would not be limited to use only for a Covid pandemic. It should be noted, however, that permanent changes to the law are permanent only in the sense that they will not expire; there will be nothing to prevent the law being changed again by subsequent legislation in the usual way.
12. Respondents are invited to express any particular views on these points, including to propose adaptions or comment on any already included in the “free text” box assigned to each question for each topic.
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