Election 2021

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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 01 April 2020

Agenda: Point of Order, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Bill), Business Motions, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Deputy Presiding Officer, Scottish Government Legislation Programme, Covid-19 (Social Security), Covid-19, Business Motion, Committee of the Whole Parliament, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2, Meeting of the Parliament, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I can confirm that no amendments have been lodged at stage 3, so we will shortly move to the stage 3 debate.

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. During today’s debate, I got some legislation mixed up with regard to illegal evictions. I mixed up the fines that are involved in relation to that offence with the fines that are in the landlord and letting agent registration legislation, and I would like to correct the Official Report to set the record straight on that front. The summary conviction and maximum fine for an illegal eviction is £10,000.

I apologise to Parliament. It has been a day during which things have happened extremely quickly, and I have mixed up pieces of legislation. Again, I apologise for that mistake.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Stewart. I am sure that members are grateful for that speedy clarification.

Before we move to the stage 3 proceedings, I have a determination to make. As members are aware, I am required under standing orders to decide whether, in my view, any provision of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it would modify the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In my view, no provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.

I advise members that decision time will be at around 10 to or five to 8. We will ring the division bell 10 minutes before the vote and again five minutes before, to give members an indication of when the vote will be.

We turn now to the debate on motion S5M-21371, in the name of Michael Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. I invite the cabinet secretary to open the debate and call on him to signify Crown consent to the bill.

19:32  

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

Crown consent has been received.

I will be very brief indeed, Presiding Officer; it has been a long day.

I express no pleasure at having spent this day passing this bill. It would be far better if none of us had been called on to do so. However, we have been, and we have had to face up to our responsibilities.

I was a member of the first Parliamentary Bureau in the Parliament—indeed, I think that I am the only founding member of the bureau who is still a member of this Parliament. It was a great privilege to move some of the early points of order, to be involved in the setting up of the structures and to be a first in lots of different ways. However, I did not ever think that I would be the first person to bring forward this type of emergency bill in this way and in these circumstances. It is not something that I would have anticipated or wished for.

Nor would I have anticipated or wished for some of the outcomes that we have had today. There is no great pleasure in winning debates and votes in relation to this particular piece of legislation. We operate according to what we believe to be true. As the First Minister has constantly said in relation to this matter, we operate according to the best advice that we have. We try to be honest and transparent about that advice.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I thank Mike Russell for his reflective tone, because this is a serious moment for the Parliament. Would he reflect on the fact that the Government won a number of votes, especially the ones relating to freedom of information legislation, on the basis of a misunderstanding or an alteration of the provisions that have been made in this chamber for the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Will the Government reflect on the fact that some of the things that are in the bill are there because of those circumstances? Will it proceed with due consideration of that fact?

Michael Russell

I do not want to enter into a dispute about that. I have spoken to our business manager and I know that pairs have been honoured. However, that is not really the issue; the real issue is that we have a bill that we will operate—I give this commitment to Daniel Johnson and to the rest of the chamber—with great sensitivity, and we will always be mindful of the fact that we do not unanimously agree on all of the elements in it.

It would not help the people of Scotland if we were to go back to bits of the bill and say, “That bit was not approved by such and such”, and so on. I made a commitment that I would not bring amendments back at stage 3. I also decided mid-afternoon—mid-evening now—that I would not bring issues back at stage 3 if we lost amendments at stage 2 because that would have been the will of the chamber. We made decisions on a whole range of issues and we will now press forward to implement them. However, we will do so with great sensitivity.

Although I have sometimes fallen out with both Neil Findlay and Adam Tomkins—sometimes at the same time—I believe that their points about action short of legislation are worth considering. I hope that, in all the things that we do, we can ensure that we operate in a way that does not require the legislative sledgehammer, if we can do so. I make that commitment and I am happy to have that discussion.

We will also work very closely with Anas Sarwar’s proposal, which might help the flow of information and ensure that people get what they want. I repeat my point: information can come out in many ways, and I want to see all of them used.

This is the first bill that my colleague Jenny Gilruth has been involved in in this chamber. I suspect that nobody will ever have quite that experience again. I am grateful for the work that she has done; she will do a great deal more work on the whole issue as we move forward. At the start of the debate this morning, she said in her opening remarks that these are

“dramatic and unprecedented measures for dramatic and unprecedented times.”

These times are, of course, not totally unprecedented. Many generations have lived through, and survived, the challenge of a global pandemic, with people nervous, frightened and concerned about their future and their lives. However, we have a job as leaders—political leaders and leaders in our community—to encourage, to support, to guide, to legislate where we have to, although that is not our first resort, and at the end of the day to work alongside our fellow citizens so that we can come through this challenge together, and we will do so.

No aspect of our lives will be left untouched and we will take all the necessary measures to control and limit the transmission of the virus. However, in the end, it is collective action that will make the difference. We have added to that collective action today. It has not been easy, we have had differences of opinion, but we have done it together in the end. I hope that, when we come to a vote on the bill in a few moments, we will vote together unanimously and indicate to the people of Scotland that their Parliament is leading and intends to lead and deliver for them, no matter what the difficulties are.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill be passed.

19:38  

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will begin by making a few brief comments about some aspects of the bill process. Colleagues made the point during the stage 2 consideration that it is important during stage 2 of emergency legislation that we lodge amendments that do not pursue a particular political or policy agenda when no proper opportunity exists for scrutiny, consultation and engagement with stakeholders. That is important for any bill but particularly so for emergency legislation, wherein we deal with amendments and try to understand their legal import in a matter of minutes. We need to reflect on that.

We looked at significant policy issues in the course of the day. This morning—which feels like a long time ago now—we faced the proposal to remove trial by jury, which caused a great deal of concern not just in this chamber but across wider Scottish society. I am pleased with the Scottish Government’s approach, which is to look at the issue again and promise to bring it back in a new bill. I hope that the Government does some serious work around the issue and that we do not find ourselves back in the chamber in three weeks, facing the same proposal, with the Government saying, “We’ve looked at the alternatives and we don’t think they work.”

It is clear that there is a great deal of disquiet across the chamber regarding the proposal to remove jury trials, notwithstanding what the Lord President has said. We want the Government to do some serious work in looking at the alternatives, such as using premises in which appropriate spacing is possible, using videolinks and perhaps testing jurors for the virus before they assemble.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Murdo Fraser for his comments. He will accept that serious work has been done in relation to alternatives and that our decision was not taken lightly. We will work constructively, but we might get to a position where we have to choose between going down the route that was suggested today or halting solemn proceedings altogether until public health guidelines allow jury trials to take place. In the latter case, we will all have to have our eyes wide open to the implications and effects of a potential backlog.

Murdo Fraser

The cabinet secretary’s intervention is very helpful, but it is clear where many members are with regard to ending jury trials. We will continue the debate in a few weeks.

During the passage of the bill, we have talked about how there will be points that we have missed, and there is talk of introducing another bill. We have already put forward some ideas that might go into a subsequent bill. My colleague Graham Simpson has made some suggestions around property rentals, recognising that properties that are currently designated as self-catering lets but that will not be taken up as such at any point in the near future might be available for use in the private rented sector. Changes to some legislation would be required to allow that to happen, and I encourage the Government to look at that possibility.

Another minor, though important, point that has been raised is that current licensing laws prohibit the purchase of alcohol in supermarkets before 10 am. For people in vulnerable groups or national health service workers who have been given allocated time to do their shopping before 9 in the morning, that means that they cannot purchase alcohol. That might not seem an important point to many people, but for the affected individuals it is an unreasonable restriction. I therefore encourage the Government to look at that.

We are granting new powers to ministers and seeing more powers being granted to the police, so it is very important that those powers are exercised in a proportionate manner. There has been concern about some police forces down south taking actions that are disproportionate. We believe in policing by consent, which requires the police to act in an appropriate and proportionate manner. So far, we have not heard any such concerns about Police Scotland, but we need to keep an eye on that. We look forward to engaging with the other parties on how we properly scrutinise the Government.

I thank the bill team for all the work that it has done, and I thank the cabinet secretary for his engagement and the open way in which he has approached the bill. We are in exceptional times. I never again want to be in a situation in which we have to deal with legislation that responds to a crisis of this nature. It is having a huge impact on people’s lives, on their health and on the health service. We are also already seeing a huge impact on the economy, and who knows what all the consequences of the crisis will be?

Everybody should stay at home, stay safe and save lives.

19:43  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I acknowledge the approach that the Government has taken to the bill. Last week, we debated the legislative consent motion, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government has built into this bill far greater accountability than was contained in the bill that went through Westminster. That is important.

In this bill, there is provision for a six-month review to enable this Parliament to decide whether to extend the time limit. There are also two-monthly reporting duties in relation to the use of the bill’s powers, and we are now moving towards a system—possibly a system such as the one that Anas Sarwar suggested—that will hold the Government to account. We can therefore be satisfied with the position, and Labour will support the bill.

In my opening speech, I said that we had had 10 years of austerity in this country and that we need to be realistic about the impact that such austerity has had on front-line public services. Those very public services are now expected to be on the front line, supporting the people and communities who need support at this time of great crisis.

We should all be thinking about front-line workers in health and social care—everyone who is working in a hospital or providing care in their community. They need personal protective equipment, they need social distancing measures and they need access to testing.

We should also remember the refuse collectors and front-line workers who do emergency work in housing, for example. There are workers on the front line right across the public sector and local government, and organisation is going on to make sure that people who are trapped in their houses get food and support.

Never in my lifetime have we needed front-line public services more than we need them right now. Parliamentarians should send those people a clear message: we are with them and we support them, and we will do whatever is necessary to get support and resources to them.

19:46  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the many people who have got us to this point, not least the Government staff and everyone who provided a briefing.

A briefing from the Scottish Human Rights Commission came in very early—indeed, it came in blind, in advance of the introduction of the bill. The commission said:

“The State has positive obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights ... to take reasonable steps to minimise the risk to life posed by the current outbreak.”

The amended bill, which the Scottish Greens will support at decision time, is proportionate. In his opening speech, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs said that the bill is designed “solely” to address the current issue. He talked about the necessity of the bill and about the positive collaborative working that has gone on, which I hope will continue, with the single aim of saving lives.

Much has been made of the need to monitor the extensive suite of powers that are being made available. It is important that we have detailed discussions on the matter.

The Scottish Green Party focused on one element: housing. I am grateful to the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, for his positive engagement in that regard. My colleagues Andy Wightman and Ross Greer were active in addressing concerns that I know were shared across the Parliament. The minister himself said that it is essential to keep people in their homes. That is absolutely the case in ordinary times; in these stark times the argument is more compelling than ever.

I associate myself with Alex Rowley’s remarks about the ordinary people—as we might refer to them—who are the bedrock of our communities. The people who drive our buses, clean our hospitals and work in our shops are fundamental, and I hope that there will be greater appreciation of them in future.

The bill contains a number of significant justice measures, some of which have not even been touched on in today’s debates. The alteration to fiscal fines is a very positive measure, which I hope will continue. The move to divert people from prosecution, keep them out of the system and offer alternatives is positive.

There are changes to the approach to cases in which someone appears from custody, which are very minor in one respect. There are also the national custody hubs that the Scottish police are putting in place. I hope that the new approach does not become the de facto situation. People need to be detained and to appear in their own areas. I am sure that we will be alert to that.

There are extensions to time limits—with phraseology about intending to prevent that in so far as is possible. There are a lot of positives in that regard, particularly in relation to a justice system that is depleted of judges, prosecution agents and defence agents. The policy memorandum talks about an anomalous situation that the measures will address.

Members talked about the release of prisoners. I have had many exchanges with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on the matter and I have expressed my frustration with the risk aversion in the process. I see that the cabinet secretary is shaking his head; I know that he agrees that benefits can come from such an approach—he has shared that with me.

Of course everything is subject to risk assessment. The key element, which was mentioned in the debate, is that the measure would not apply to someone who posed an immediate risk of harm to an identified person.

That is—of course—crucial in domestic violence cases, and it is crucial that there is an awareness of controlling and coercive behaviour and how that might manifest in these circumstances. There was a suite of things covering corporate parents who have responsibility, and child assessment orders and child protection orders. The Scottish Green Party will support the bill. We believe that these are reasonable steps to deal with the crisis that confronts us.

19:50  

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I start by offering my thanks to Mike Russell, the bill team, and all the officials who have made this possible, including for their patience—this is not my natural sphere of operation.

I also associate myself with the remarks of everyone who mentioned the people who are doing their bit today on the front line, whether in critical care work on wards, in our pharmacies, or even in the hubs. My wife, Gill, will be teaching at one of the childcare hubs tomorrow.

Today has been really important. It has shown that Parliaments still matter, which is a really important message to send out to the people who we all represent in our communities—even at a time of crisis, we have a functioning legislature that still knows how to exercise that function. It is at times of great national peril that democracy is at its most threatened. That is often seen in other countries where Governments overreach in terms of civil contingencies and the powers that they pull back towards themselves, so that, under the guise of protecting their nations, they begin down the path towards tyranny. We see some of that in countries such as Hungary. I am very glad that this Parliament has today asserted its supremacy, and that the Government has worked closely with Parliament to recognise and build that consensus.

If someone had told me three weeks ago that we would now be living in a Scotland where members of the public would have to account to the police for their movements, I would have been appalled. However, today, I accept it without question. The coronavirus pandemic has completely altered the rules by which we play and it has changed our sense of reality. That is typified in the fact that we are cheering on police officers upending a barbecue in Essex or shouting at a pedestrian on Perth high street for violating quarantine restrictions—so changed is our reality.

As we heard from Murdo Fraser, policing by consent is one of the principles of our free society. Police follow rules that are determined by democratically elected parliamentarians, and that has not changed. The powers of lockdown are clearly limited to the duration of this emergency, and I know from discussion with my friends in the force that they are powers that police officers are keenly looking forward to handing back.

Policing by consent is part of our social contract. Today, we have protected another part of our social contract—trial by jury. I am very grateful for the movement that the Government made on that today, and I very much look forward to joining it, and members of other parties and the judiciary, in working towards workable solutions. I say to Mike Russell that I am still wedded to my cinema idea.

The sense of national urgency is why we meet today, and I applaud the Government for the spirit of consensus that it has sought to build, not least around jury trials, but also around the other amendments that it moved on today, such as my amendment, which was accepted unanimously. It makes it clear that we still want witnesses to give evidence in real time and that written statements are no substitute for the ability to cross-examine witnesses in order to get to the truth—the heart of the matter—in cases that come before our courts.

I still think that the freedom of information provisions in the bill will cast a long shadow. The even division on Ross Greer’s amendment—the equal split between 82 members—will sound a hollow ring in our democracy. I very much hope that subsequent opportunities to legislate on an emergency basis as this crisis develops will see that remedied. For now, however, I am happy to offer the bill the full-throated support of the Liberal Democrats.

19:54  

Michael Russell

I want to be very brief. I had an opportunity to speak at the beginning of the debate, so I will make just a few points. I take the point about working across parties. In a sense, we have all learned from that. I have, in the past—many years ago—worked very well with Alex Rowley. I have also, on occasion, worked with Patrick Harvie, and I have worked with a variety of Liberal Democrats. However, it is an entirely new experience for me to have close engagement with Murdo Fraser. I am not sure that it is something that I ever aspired to, and it is not something that I particularly wish to continue forever. However, in an emergency, you have to take exceptional action. So, I look forward to working with Murdo Fraser and others to make sure that we get this right. There is a serious point in that. We have learning to do on the exchange of information and other bills will come along with the necessary work and scrutiny. I look forward to doing that. I even look forward to close engagement with Murdo Fraser.

We are the public tip of a very large iceberg. Alex Rowley made an important point about all the people who are working in Scotland, of course to maintain essential services in the national health service, but also those who are working in shops and trying to keep essential services going, those who are trying to make sure that those who have to go to work are supported by public transport and in other ways, and those who are working in Parliament.

I want to pay tribute to three groups of people. The first is the parliamentary staff, led by David McGill. It has been an extraordinary experience for them as it has for everybody else to do this today, and I am grateful to every single one of them. [Applause.] They did a remarkably good job of coping with more than 50 stage 2 amendments in the time they did.

Secondly, I pay tribute to all the staff who work for MSPs in our local offices or here. They have also taken a tremendous burden upon themselves recently, particularly with the enormous increase in the number of inquiries that we are receiving. I thank every single one of them. [Applause.]

Finally, I pay tribute to our officials in the civil service who have worked so hard on the bill and who are working to support the effort of the Government at every level in every department. The extraordinary bill team took a bill from nowhere eight days ago, to what I hope we will pass shortly. It has done an exceptional job and it carried on today by supporting individual members from across the chamber who lodged amendments. There are civil servants and officials in every part of the Scottish Government and every part of the public service who are doing this day in, day out. We owe them a great deal and we will not forget them. [Applause.]

As I drive to Argyll tonight, I know that I will pass roadside signs that have three messages on them, and I want to repeat those messages now. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. That is what we are doing today and we will have to go on doing it for a period to come. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes our debate on the bill.

The question is, that motion S5M-21371, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill at stage 3, be agreed to. Members should cast their votes now.

For

Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Golden, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is, For 80, Against 0, Abstentions 0. The motion is agreed to unanimously and the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill is passed. [Applause.]

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill be passed.