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Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill

Overview

The Bill contains temporary changes. These will help public services continue to operate during this emergency situation. It also includes changes to support businesses and people who use public services. These reflect changes to the way people can live and work during the emergency situation.

The Bill includes:

  • measures to ensure that business and public services can continue to operate well
  • changes to the obligations and duties on public services
  • changes to the law on evictions that will protect renters
  • changes to criminal procedure to ensure that essential justice business can continue

The Bill contains the following safeguards:

  • most of the measures in the Bill will expire 6 months after they come into force (they could be extended up to a maximum duration of 18 months, if the Parliament approves this)
  • where a measure is no longer needed, Scottish Ministers can bring it to an end earlier
  • Scottish Ministers must review and report on the measures every 2 months

You can find out more in the Explanatory Notes that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

The aim of the Bill is to respond to the emergency situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Bill adds to the changes that affect Scotland that were made by the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the 2020 Act”). This Act was passed by the UK Parliament on 25 March 2020.

The coronavirus outbreak is a severe and sustained threat to human life. A severe pandemic could infect a large number of people. Public health measures are needed to control and limit the spread of the outbreak. Public health guidance means changes to:

  • the lives of everyone living in Scotland
  • the way business in Scotland operates
  • the way public services are delivered and regulated

Large parts of workforces may be unable to work. Others are being re-deployed to prioritise essential services.

The Bill makes changes to some of the duties of public bodies. This will let them focus on work which responds to the coronavirus outbreak. It makes changes that will:

  • allow essential public services to continue to be delivered
  • support businesses
  • protect the health of people living and working in Scotland

You can find out more in the Policy Memorandum that explains the Bill.

Becomes an Act

This Bill passed by a vote of 80 for, 0 against and 0 abstentions. It became an Act on 6 April 2020.

Introduced

The Scottish Government sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill as introduced

Related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

Opinions on whether the Parliament has the power to make the law (Statements on Legislative Competence)

Information on the powers the Bill gives the Scottish Government and others (Delegated Powers Memorandum)

Scottish Parliament research on the Bill 

Financial Resolution

The Presiding Officer has decided under Rule 9.12 of Standing Orders that a financial resolution is required for this Bill.

Stage 1 - General principles

This is an Emergency Bill progressing and completing through Scottish Parliament in one day.

Emergency Bill procedure

The Parliament agreed that the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill should be treated as an Emergency Bill at the meeting of the Parliament on 1 April 2020.

An Emergency Bill is a Government Bill that needs to be enacted more quickly than the normal timetable allows.

An Emergency Bill must be introduced as a Government Bill first and then be changed to an Emergency Bill by the Parliament, on a motion by a Cabinet Secretary (or Minister). Stages 1 to 3 of an Emergency Bill are taken on the same day unless the Parliament agrees to an alternative timescale.

Stage 2 of an Emergency Bill must be taken by a Committee of the Whole Parliament. 

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

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Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I am grateful for being able to speak in the debate on emergency legislation relating to the coronavirus pandemic. We are in a strange and unprecedented time. I pay tribute to everyone who has been working on the bill in such difficult circumstances so that we could receive it before Parliament sat today, and I acknowledge the joint working across Parliament.

It is important that all front-line workers—whether they are in our health and social care services, in the shops serving food, or lifting our refuse—know that the Scottish Parliament will work collectively in their best interests when they are all putting themselves and their families on the line.

We are facing something that none of us has faced in our lifetimes. It is still just as important, however, that legislation that is passed in this country, and which affects the lives of Scottish people, faces proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The bill tackles some difficult areas, and I can see that difficult decisions are having to be made, and will continue to have to be made. We are facing this crisis at a time when many of our public services are under massive pressure, after year upon year of austerity that has left some services with real difficulties in facing up to normal everyday life—never mind the current crisis.

Last night I heard someone say that today would be the blackest day in legal history if the bill were to proceed and jury trials were to be stopped in the short term. We believe that the Law Society of Scotland makes a fair point when it says that there is a need for more information, and that the issue requires

“fuller consideration and consultation in order to avoid unintended consequences.”

I am pleased that the cabinet secretary has picked up on that point this morning and proposes to address it and, after doing so, to bring another bill to Parliament on 21 April.

We are facing the blackest period in our history, and I feel that the blackest days are still to come. As parliamentarians, we must accept our collective responsibility to make the right and necessary choices. It is clear that what is required in these extreme circumstances is balance between competing interests. That said, the health of our country should always be considered to be of paramount concern; I hope that that is the intention behind many aspects of the bill.

The difficulty lies in those competing interests, particularly in relation to civil liberties and human rights. I agree with Amnesty International that

“Any restriction on the individual’s human rights must meet the criteria of necessity, proportionality, legitimacy, be time-limited and subject to regular review.”

I note that the cabinet secretary has proposed that the legislation be reviewed every six months, with Parliament having the power to continue it if necessary. I also note the proposal that there be a report back every two months. I believe that one of my colleagues is considering lodging an amendment that will propose monthly reporting, instead.

When legislation that gives the Government such unprecedented powers is introduced, having the confidence that Parliament will hold the Government to account through scrutiny will be important. That is why the point that Neil Findlay made earlier about accountability of the Government to Parliament is crucial.

I believe that emergency legislation is necessary, and I welcome the Government’s having brought forward the bill. I suspect that we will see more emergency legislation as we grapple with outcomes from the virus pandemic that are, at this stage, unknown to us. However, we must ensure that, even although the bill is well meaning, it will have as few unintended consequences as possible, especially given how quickly we are dealing with a fast-moving situation.

The economy is going to go through a time of major difficulty. Although we need to look at what further support will be needed, we need also to accept that the economy is not going to be the same as it was, and that the Government will have to play a far greater role in our economy and our society in the months that lie ahead.

10:09  



Financial resolution

A financial resolution is needed for Bills that may have a large impact on the 'public purse'.

MSPs must agree to this for the bill to proceed.

MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered in the Chamber and then voted on by the Committee of the Whole Parliament.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to the Emergency Bill – these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the Committee of the Whole Parliament.

The membership of a Committee of the Whole Parliament is all 129 MSPs.

How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?

When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.

The Committee of the Whole Parliament then votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

First meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at the meeting held on 01 April 2020:

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill with Stage 2 Amendments

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill printing changes after the Bill as amended at Stage 2

Stage 3 - Final changes and vote

MSPs can propose further changes to the Bill and then vote on each of these. Finally, they vote on whether the Bill should become law

Debate on the proposed changes

MSPs get the chance to present their proposed amendments to the Chamber. They vote on whether each amendment should be added to the Bill.

Final debate on the Bill

Once they've debated the amendments, the MSPs discuss the final version of the Bill. The final vote on the Bill was taken directly after the debate and is included here.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill as passed

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill had no further amendments at Stage 3. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill with Stage 2 Amendments is the final document for this Bill. 

This Bill was passed on 1 April 2020 and became an Act on 6 April 2020. 
Find the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 on legislation.gov.uk

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