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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 December 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Budget Update, Education, Economy, Coronavirus Acts Report, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, Bus Services


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-23640, on the approval of a Scottish statutory instrument. It is the one that refers to travel restrictions. I call Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to speak to and move the motion.

18:15  

The purpose of the Scottish statutory instrument is to amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No 3) Regulations 2020, to move 11 areas of Scotland into level 4 and to introduce travel restrictions for people who are entering or leaving a level 3 or level 4 area. The regulations came into force on 20 November.

Can I double-check, minister, to which SSI you were speaking? I was expecting you to speak to the travel restrictions SSI; that is, SSI 2020/389.

I think that we have a bit of confusion, Presiding Officer.

Yes. I think that that particular one might have been SSI 2020/392. SSI 2020/389 is the one that restricts travel into and out of level 3 and 4 areas. That is the one that members of the committee moved against and which Colin Smyth wishes to speak against.

I apologise, Presiding Officer.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No 3) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/389) be approved.

Colin Smyth wishes to speak against the motion.

18:15  

One of the consequences of the Parliament not voting on or scrutinising Covid regulations until several weeks after they have been imposed is that the regulations can be out of date when we eventually come to debate the matter.

That is certainly the case with the regulations on travel. They were introduced at a time when England was in lockdown, Wales had a ban on non-essential cross-border travel and Northern Ireland was considering what further action was needed to bring the virus under control there. However, England is no longer in lockdown and, although there is, rightly, travel guidance in place, there are no legally enforceable travel restrictions south of the border or in Northern Ireland. Crucially, Wales has amended its travel regulations to allow non-essential travel between Wales and tier 1 and tier 2 areas in England.

Scotland remains the only country that allows non-essential travel in Scotland between low-level areas but bans non-essential travel between Scotland and a low-tier area in England. The Scottish Government’s regulations mean that constituents of mine in the Borders, East Lothian and Dumfries and Galloway can travel freely between those areas and to any level 1 or 2 area of Scotland, but would be breaking the law—they would be criminals—if they carried out any non-essential travel to Cumbria, which is just a few miles away.

Does Mr Smyth recognise that Conservative members have reservations about the travel ban, but because it is contained in regulations that contain a number of other measures that we support, we have difficulty in opposing them? To reflect the point that I made earlier in an exchange with the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, does Colin Smyth agree that it would be better if those matters were in separate regulations, on which we could then vote on a stand-alone basis?

I certainly would have no objection to that, but the really important thing is that the Government should update the regulations to reflect changes in circumstances, and we simply have not had that.

To take the example that I just gave, non-essential travel to Cumbria is banned, although people can have non-essential travel between the Borders and Aberdeenshire, even although the prevalence of Covid in Cumbria is lower than the prevalence in Aberdeenshire. Travel to Cumbria is banned for one reason alone: it is because the regulations ban any travel outwith Scotland to any other part of the United Kingdom. There is no public health argument for that approach. Frankly, in my view that is discrimination against Borders communities, who regularly use services and visit friends and family in the nearest town or city, which is often in the north of England.

That is not the only anomaly in the system. Let us be clear that no one disputes that limiting travel is an important way to manage spread of the virus, and no one is arguing against the need to avoid non-essential travel between low-prevalence and high-prevalence areas, but the Scottish Government’s regulations actually make it a criminal offence to travel between two low-prevalence areas just because one of those areas happens to be in England. That is the anomaly and concern that I am raising on behalf of constituents, although I have to say that it is not the only anomaly in the regulations. [Interruption.]

Order, please.

I recently highlighted the case of constituents of mine who live in East Ayrshire, on the boundary with South Ayrshire, both of which are on the same level of restrictions. Their kids can travel to the nearest school half a mile away in South Ayrshire, but cannot take part in their twice-weekly organised outdoor activity with kids from the same school, purely because it is in neighbouring South Ayrshire. Outdoor organised activities are rightly allowed, but the travel restrictions regulations have failed to allow travel to that activity to be a reasonable excuse, or even to allow the same five-mile discretion that exists in the regulations when it comes to travelling for leisure.

There are lots of other anomalies in the regulations. That is an inevitable consequence of trying to enforce in law a complex levels system and not allowing adequate scrutiny before it becomes law.

It is for those reasons—in particular, the Government’s failure to update its regulations to allow non-essential cross-border travel—that I, and Labour, cannot support the regulations.

The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are supposed to represent all of Scotland.

Will you wind up, please, Mr Smyth?

Frankly, however, passing the regulations today will send a signal that that does not include South Scotland and our Borders communities.

I remind members that they are supposed to speak for three minutes on such motions, not five.

I apologise to the minister, who spoke to the right motion. I was expecting him to reply, but I will now ask him to respond to Mr Smyth.

I do not want to take up any more of the chamber’s time—not least because members are concerned about late decision times. I simply say that such statutory instruments are introduced after great consideration. Frankly, the suggestion that there is discrimination against one area of Scotland is reprehensible.

I clarify that the vote on the relevant SSI will be taken at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-23641, on approval of an SSI. I call Graeme Dey to move—and, I think, to speak to—the motion on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau.

The purpose of SSI 2020/392 is, or was, to move Midlothian and East Lothian from level 3 to level 2 restrictions and requirements. It came into force on 24 November.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/392) be approved.

The next item of business is consideration of two Parliamentary Bureau motions. I call Mr Dey to move, on behalf of the bureau, motions S5M-23642, on approval of an SSI, and S5M-23643, on committee meeting times.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Civil and Family Justice (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that, under Rule 12.3.3B of Standing Orders, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee can meet, if necessary, at the same time as a meeting of the Parliament from 3.00pm to 4.00pm on Tuesday 15 December 2020 for the purpose of taking evidence from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, in relation to the future relationship negotiations between the European Union and the UK Government.—[Graeme Dey]