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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 22 March 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, David Hill, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Complex Care (Out-of-area Placements and Delayed Discharge), Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Tourism Month 2022


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motions.

I ask Ben Macpherson to speak to and move motion S6M-03722, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument.

17:04  

In response to the shocking and developing situation in Ukraine, the Scottish Government continues to take urgent steps to resettle people who are fleeing here.

The Home Office has announced the creation of new schemes through which Ukrainian people may come to the United Kingdom to settle: the Ukraine family scheme, which allows people who live in the UK and who have family in Ukraine to bring family members to the UK to settle; and the homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to support a Ukrainian person to come here.

Normally, many forms of social security assistance have eligibility restrictions on people who are subject to immigration control. However, people who come from Ukraine will not be subject to immigration control, which means that they will not be affected by any such restrictions.

Moreover, the immigration restrictions are not the only obstacle that people arriving from Ukraine, including those who already have the right of abode in the UK, would normally face. Yesterday, the Department for Work and Pensions laid emergency regulations, which come into force today, that seek to exempt such individuals from two remaining obstacles to immediate eligibility for social security assistance: the habitual residence test and the past presence test.

Those tests appear in UK and Scottish social security legislation. Application of them, each of which requires an individual to have spent a certain amount of time in the UK in order to establish their eligibility, would be likely to stop individuals who are arriving from Ukraine being able to claim support until they had been here for up to six months. The DWP regulations seek to disapply those tests for people in specified groups who arrive from Ukraine. If the regulations are agreed to, they will enable such people to access social security benefits from day 1. I commend UK ministers for their actions in that regard.

The regulations that are before Parliament include mirroring modifications to devolved social security legislation. The amendments will be made to UK benefits that are delivered under agency agreement in Scotland, and to regulations that have been made under the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. In addition, we are making, in the same instrument, equivalent amendments to the regulations on council tax reduction entitlement.

I appreciate that Parliament has not had its usual opportunity for full scrutiny of the regulations, and I am aware that that is far from ideal. However, the pace at which the legislation has had to be developed in order to meet the necessary timescales means that normal scrutiny is simply not possible, in this case. I hope that Parliament empathises, given the situation and the circumstances.

I am grateful to the Scottish Commission on Social Security for working with Scottish Government officials to help them to introduce this urgent legislation in the shortest possible time. It is commendable that Scottish Government officials also worked at pace with UK Government officials.

Scotland is a welcoming country, and it wants to be so for new arrivals from Ukraine. I hope that colleagues will agree that the instrument that is before them is necessary so that we can ensure that people who arrive from Ukraine, who are fleeing situations that we cannot even imagine, can access crucial social security support on their arrival in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Ukraine) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 [draft] be approved.

The question on that motion will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is a Parliamentary Bureau motion on approval of another SSI. I ask Clare Haughey to move motion S6M-03688.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exclusions and Exceptions) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2022 [draft] be approved.—[Clare Haughey]

The question on that motion will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of four more Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the bureau, to move motions S6M-03736, S6M-03737, S6M-03738 and S6M-03741, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Alteration of Expiry Date) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 (SSI 2022/40) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts (Amendment of Expiry Dates) Regulations 2022 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Directions by Local Authorities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2022 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 5) Regulations 2022 (SSI 2022/74) be approved.—[George Adam]

I call Brian Whittle. Can you confirm that you will speak to motions S6M-03736 to S6M-03738?

17:08  

That is correct, Presiding Officer. I will speak to oppose the motions, on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

At the COVID-19 Recovery Committee, my colleague Murdo Fraser and I had the opportunity to question the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, on why the Scottish Government was pushing forward with its plans to extend emergency powers. It is fair to say that we did not get any satisfactory answers. When he was asked, John Swinney could not tell me of any advantage that would have been gained if the Scottish Government had had the powers in question at the start of the pandemic.

We must remember that, at that time, when it was asked to do so, Parliament acted quickly to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s plans and to pass the emergency legislation. I suggest that, with the hybrid technology that has been deployed, we would now be able to do that even more quickly. Therefore, the question must be this: why is the Scottish Government trying to bypass Parliament?

Does Brian Whittle accept that one of the answers that we got at committee was that the number of people who are in hospital with Covid is exceptionally high, and that this is not a good time to reduce the Government’s powers?

John Mason is a member of the committee and knows that, according to answers that were given there, although many people are in hospital, the severity of their condition is low, and the number of deaths is low.

I go back to the point—[Interruption.] I go back to the point that Parliament can make legislation extremely quickly. The majority of the rules are not in law—they are just guidance. Given that we know that the public adheres quite strictly to public health guidance, it is our view that we should proceed to address Covid through public health guidance rather than by extending extraordinary and emergency powers by another six months, as the instruments seek to do.

We recognise that some aspects of the instruments will be beneficial, such as the provision to allow nurses rather than doctors to administer vaccines. However, given the fact that we cannot amend statutory instruments and must accept or reject them as a whole, and given the extent of the emergency powers that the Scottish Government seeks to extend, we must reject the motions. After all, all that we are asking is that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise legislation before it comes into being, as is Parliament’s responsibility. As we have come to expect, however, the Scottish Government is not comfortable with scrutiny, and there is no need for the extension that is being requested. I ask Parliament to reject the motions.

17:11  

On scrutiny, I regularly appear in front of the COVID-19 Recovery Committee to explain the necessary measures that the Government has been having to take in these extraordinary circumstances. I will happily appear in front of the committee any time that the committee wishes to see me so that it can scrutinise what I say and so that I can answer any questions that the committee wishes to put to me.

I answer faithfully the questions that Mr Whittle and his colleagues put to me in committee. I cannot be responsible for the fact that Mr Whittle does not like the answers that I give him. I faithfully attend that committee to give answers on behalf of the Government.

In that case, will Mr Swinney answer the question that I asked him at the COVID-19 Recovery Committee? How would we have benefited if the powers had been in place prior to the pandemic? Mr Swinney did not answer that question at committee.

That is a pretty fundamental issue, and it will affect the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill that the Parliament will scrutinise fully in the normal parliamentary process. It relates to whether we have a statute book that is capable of addressing emergency circumstances such as we have faced. In the past, the United Kingdom Parliament has legislated for England and Wales to have statutory powers to—[Interruption.]

Mr Whittle is muttering from the sidelines that this is not the same thing—it is exactly the same thing.

The UK Parliament has legislated for powers that can be exercised by ministers in an emergency such as a pandemic. We did not have those powers in Scotland; we had to legislate for them in a great hurry at the start of the pandemic. The Government—Parliament having considered the legislation—is asking that we extend some limited provisions for six months. Parliament can consider the full legislation.

There are motions on four sets of regulations before Parliament today. I will not rehearse all the details in them. However, if they are not passed today, local authorities will not be able to make the wider public health interventions that they have been using to deal with the pandemic at local level, because the interventions are in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Directions by Local Authorities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2022.

Also, if we do not extend the deadlines for the regulations tonight, we will lose our ability to maintain in place the arrangements for face coverings. As Mr Mason has just pointed out when he asked about hospital cases, more than 2,000 people are in hospital with Covid. We have never had so many people in hospital during the pandemic.

We need to continue to address the gravity of the situation. There are measures that the Government will remove as a consequence of the regulations, which is consistent with what we say in the strategic framework—that we will not retain any of the powers or responsibilities for a moment longer than is necessary. I therefore invite Parliament to support the motions on the statutory instruments at decision time. They are essential to ensuring that we have in place the public health protections to deal with the continuing severe situation with Covid. It is the duty of Parliament to ensure that we have a properly considered legislative framework that can address that situation.

The questions on the motions will be put at decision time.