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Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill

Overview

 

The Bill makes changes that will help public services continue to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes changes to support businesses and individuals. 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 some obligations and duties on public services 
  • changes to protect certain student tenants 
  • support for carers and power to reduce non-domestic rates
  • 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 at the end of September 2020. (They could be extended up to a maximum duration of a further year, 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 made by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. This Act was passed by the Parliament on 1 April 2020. Changes that affect Scotland were also made by the Coronavirus Act 2020 . 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. These changes will allow essential public services to continue to be delivered. It also makes changes that will support businesses and individuals in Scotland.

 

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

Where do laws come from?

The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • justice and policing
  • local government
  • some aspects of tax and social security

These are 'devolved matters'.

Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:

Becomes an Act

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill passed by a vote of For 76, Against 0, Abstentions 0. The Bill became on Act on 26 May 2020

Introduced

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

Bill as introduced Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill

Related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

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

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Emergency Bill procedure

The Parliament agreed at the meeting of the Parliament on 12 May 2020 that the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill should be treated as an Emergency Bill.

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. The timescale agreed for this Bill is:

Stage 1, 13 May

Stage 2, 19 May

Stage 3, 20 May

Stage 2 of an Emergency Bill is normally taken by a Committee of the Whole Parliament, but the Parliament has agreed that Stage 2 of this Bill will be taken by the COVID-19 Committee. 

Have your say

Read the views that were given.

Committees involved in this Bill

Lead committee: COVID-19 Committee

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.

It looks at everything to do with the Bill.

Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

First meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 2 is evidence on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. I am pleased to say that we have been joined from the Law Society of Scotland by Michael Clancy, who is its director of law reform, and Gillian Mawdsley, who is a policy officer.

I remind members that my entry in the register of members’ interests includes that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland.

I welcome you both to the meeting. Members will direct their questions to Michael Clancy in the first instance. If you wish Gillian Mawdsley to contribute, Michael, you can confirm that at the relevant time. Before we turn to questions, I invite you to make brief opening comments.

Michael Clancy (Law Society of Scotland)

Good morning, convener and committee members. It is a delight to be at this historic event—the first time that evidence has been given from our best parlour, here at home.

I am delighted that the committee saw fit to invite the Law Society to give evidence on such an important bill. My colleague Gillian Mawdsley is a policy officer at the Law Society, and I am the director of law reform. Consequently, a lot of the coronavirus legislation has crossed both our desks, and we have been very interested in that legislation from a number of perspectives.

The Law Society works to a number of principles when looking at legislation. The first is that it should end up as good law that is coherent and comprehensible, and which works in practice. In the current circumstances and on legislation relating to the Covid-19 crisis, we have also sought to ensure that people are kept safe in the justice system.

We have also been looking at maintenance of the rule of law and the interests of justice in the system, as well as at upholding human rights. In particular, when we are dealing with emergency legislation, or expedited legislation such as the bill, our objective is to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of the proposed measure, and that the Government is held to account.

Those are the introductory parameters that we have been working to; we can look at them in more detail as we go through questions on the bill.

It is worth recalling that the World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that

“we are in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world”.

We picked up that quotation early in our scrutiny of the Coronavirus Act 2020 of the United Kingdom Parliament. That message still resonates today, when we have seen much more of the significant impact of Covid-19, with its tragedies and its devastating economic impact.

That is probably enough from me, at the moment. We would be delighted to take the committee’s questions.

The Convener

Thank you for that introduction. The Law Society of Scotland gave evidence on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. You highlighted, at that point, a number of concerns about whether the right balance had been struck between measures to tackle coronavirus and restrictions that might impinge on human rights. Does the bill that is before us strike the right balance, or are there areas of concern in which you think changes are needed?

Michael Clancy

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill is much more technical and less wide-ranging than the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. Therefore, its impact on human rights is not of the order of some of the restrictions that were contained in the first bill.

Nevertheless, the European convention on human rights is engaged in relation to many areas of the bill. It is important for us to remember that human rights is not a discrete area of the law: it affects all aspects of the law in Scotland, and it affects the competence of Parliament to legislate and of ministers to make executive orders.

We welcome the way in which human rights are respected in the policy memorandum. We can highlight provisions in the bill that engage the convention. I am holding up the bill to show that I have a copy: compliance with ECHR and with convention rights flows through it. For example, part 1 of schedule 1, which relates to student residential tenancies, engages with article 14 of the convention, and with article 1 of protocol 1 of the convention, which deals with property rights in bankruptcy matters.

There is also engagement with article1, protocol 1 of the ECHR in the provisions that relate to criminal justice, with article 5, which is the right to liberty, and with article 6, which is the right to a fair trial.

As we go further through the bill, we also see that part 3 of schedule 2, which includes provision on paper notices on court walls, engages with article 8 of the convention, which deals with the right to a private life.

Some aspects of the bill have, as the policy memorandum correctly points out, no significant ECHR implications—for example, part 1 of schedule 3, which deals with reports under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. There are other elements of that provision in schedules 3 and 4.

It is fair to say that the bill has an impact on human rights. However, the rights that are impacted on are not absolute rights, but are conditional rights that are subject to lawful interference where there is a public health threat or a danger to health.

Those are our comments on the interaction between the bill and human rights.

The Convener

Thank you. I will move on to questions from members. Shona Robison has just joined us; I will let her catch her breath and come back to her later. I will go first to Beatrice Wishart—if she is there—who has questions about property transactions.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Good morning, Mr Clancy. My questions are about the land and buildings transaction tax. We know that Scotland’s property market has frozen up, that transactions have stalled and that home owners are unable to move. That does not mean to say that no one should be contemplating a home move.

Even though some applications for registration are being processed, capacity is much reduced. The bill proposes that the time frame for selling an old property before attracting the second-home tax should be extended from 18 to 27 months. What is your impression about the sector’s mid-term to long-term outlook, from your members?

Michael Clancy

We have just finished conducting research on the impact of the coronavirus on the profession and our business, and we have certainly picked up from it that the conveyancing market is flat, as you said. The research has not yet been published—we are still analysing the results—but what you suggest clearly reflects everyone’s experience in the current market.

In terms of the particular impact on the land and buildings transaction tax, it is difficult to say what point for deferral dates would be right. We are all in uncharted waters and do not know what the effects of the disease will be. We are aware that scientific evidence suggests that any loosening of restrictions might create a second spike, which might in turn require further restrictions. We have to be very cautious about picking a future date and saying, “That is it—that is when all the restrictions will be removed.”

That is one reason why some aspects of the bill that allow ministers to make orders that they can put to sleep and revive are important. There needs to be flexibility in the law making that applies in this case.

We welcome the provisions of part 4 of schedule 4, which concern amendments to the additional dwelling supplement, or ADS. They will allow people who bought a new house between 24 September 2018 and 24 March 2020, and paid ADS on the purchase, to reclaim the ADS if they sell their old house within 27 months. Ministers might have to look at that again, which is why there is provision for two-monthly reviews, because the situation is fluid. I hope that that answers your question.

Beatrice Wishart

Yes. That is very helpful. It will be interesting to see the research that you mentioned, when it is concluded.

I am conscious that, at the best of times, the market in rural, remote and island areas can operate at a very different pace from the market in the highly populated parts of Scotland. Are there areas where you would expect property markets to be slow? How can the bill best prevent people who have a genuine interest in selling their old home, and are making every effort to do so, from being caught out by the slow market through having to pay the additional dwelling supplement?

09:45  



Michael Clancy

I think that we have to adhere to the Scottish Government guidelines on that. The restrictions on movement clearly have a significant impact on buying and selling of property, no matter where the property is located, and I am not sure that we have got to a point at which the Scottish Government is able to refine application of the guidelines specifically for rural, small town, suburban or urban areas. We have to be aware that the restrictions are in place and we must adhere to them. I wish that I could offer some fantastic solution, but I cannot.

Beatrice Wishart

Thank you. We all agree that we are in uncharted waters and unprecedented times. I have asked all my questions, and am conscious that members have plenty of other questions, so I will call it a day.

The Convener

Thank you. Next on the list is Shona Robison, who has questions on carers allowance and mental health issues.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Good morning. Mr Clancy, schedule 1, part 4 is on mental health and, in particular, the nomination of named persons. As you will be aware, the bill temporarily removes the necessity to have a nominee’s signature witnessed by a prescribed person, so it removes one of the safety checks against someone being coerced into nominating a particular named person.

Do you have any concerns about that? What assurances are there that a nominator has not been coerced into nominating as their named person a particular individual who might not have the best intentions? Without the presence of a prescribed person, who would explain to the nominee the role of the named person and the implications of nominating a named person?

Michael Clancy

The Law Society’s mental health and disability committee looked at that provision, which amends the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 to ensure that a nominated person’s signature will no longer be witnessed by a prescribed person. The committee said that the provision is a pragmatic solution to the potential difficulties of arranging for a prescribed person to witness a nominated person’s signature during the outbreak. The committee thought that it was important that individuals remain able to nominate a named person, subject to appropriate safeguards, and that such a nomination is recognised.

The policy memorandum, at paragraph 82, confirms that, in the view of the Government, rights under the ECHR are not engaged. Broadly speaking, the Law Society was content with those provisions and did not see that much difficulty with them.

Shona Robison

That is helpful; thank you.

If you have any comments on the carers allowance supplement, that would also be helpful.

I also want to ask about the extension of time limits in criminal proceedings, which affects such things as appearances in court from police custody and undertakings to appear in court. Have you identified any human rights issues or other difficulties related to those extensions?

Michael Clancy

I am awfully sorry, but we do not have any comments on the carers allowance supplement.

My colleague Gillian Mawdsley is best placed to comment on criminal justice matters, so I will pass that question to her.

Gillian Mawdsley (Law Society of Scotland)

The bill makes a number of changes to time limits, which, largely, follow the changes to time limits for court business that were in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. Shona Robison asked whether we have concerns about the changes. Fundamentally, they are there to make it easier to reduce the number of court hearings and the number of people who have to come to court; to a large extent, they are pragmatic and non-objectionable.

However, as members are well aware, the whole purpose of time limits in criminal proceedings is to ensure that the human rights aspects—the article 6 right to a fair trial, which Michael Clancy mentioned, and the rights of the accused not to have an uncertain future as a result of a long, drawn-out process—are respected.

Different time limits are being extended. The ones that are to do with procedural matters—such as cases that are continued without plea and sections 145 and 145A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995—are fine; they relate to administrative, procedural hearings and do not cause concern. They do not affect someone who is in custody.

The other two extensions, which relate to medical reports and breaches of community payback orders and drug treatment and testing orders, allow for matters to be continued at the court’s discretion. They are not per se objectionable, but we have concerns about their open-ended nature, in relation to people who are in custody. Although it is perfectly reasonable to look at the timeframes, they are there for a purpose and we suggest that a finite period might be put on the court’s discretion.

We are perhaps two stages slightly further forward, and we have talked about being in uncharted territory and the need for flexibility. I totally respect that, but we are looking at something that is not going to be done and dusted in a short period. I therefore encourage members to consider putting a finite period on remand, to provide clarity and certainty—while respecting the need not to have repeated court appearances, the difficulty of getting doctors and psychiatrists to provide necessary reports, the pressures on social workers, the need for social distancing at work and so on. I hope that that helps your consideration.

Shona Robison

That is helpful, thank you.

The Convener

Annabelle Ewing has questions on the proceeds of crime process and court notices.

Michael Clancy

May I suggest that such questions be passed to Gillian Mawdsley? They are in her remit more than they are in mine.

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

Okay. I have several questions, but before I start, I do not want to forget to refer people to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and hold a current practising certificate, although I am not currently practising.

On proceeds of crime, the approach is to treat the coronavirus situation as an exceptional circumstance—as it blatantly is—for the purposes of the legislation, such that confiscation hearings may be postponed and the period in which individuals must pay may be extended. I am not suggesting that the approach is not reasonable; I understand that—[Temporary loss of sound.]—arrive at a confiscation hearing is rather complicated by the fact that court hearings are not taking place as they normally would, with Crown and defence agents requiring to be present and so on. I understand the reasoning behind providing for such extensions, but do you have thoughts on whether they might facilitate evasion?

Gillian Mawdsley

We looked at the provisions, which we thought were substantially sensible in all circumstances. You touched on clarity of the law by stating that the Covid-19 circumstances would be exceptional, which at least takes away from what would appear to be a technical issue. It would require to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, so that provides clarity and is certainly understandable.

It is important to stress that the proceeds of crime mechanism will still be in place. All that is being attributed is that delays will be afforded when people who are subject to it might suffer the adverse effects of Covid-19 in trying to pay or in relation to extended periods for payment. It must be stressed that proceeds of crime mechanism is terribly important, particularly in the criminal justice context, because a lot of the penalty comes through that process rather than through actual conviction, and it is important that people pay their dues.

The provision will not go away; all that has happened is that people are being afforded a degree of leniency when they are, as was discussed earlier, perhaps inhibited in relation to selling property and realising assets in order to pay. It would seem somewhat unfair if they suffered the consequences, when we are fully aware of the full impact of Covid-19 on all economic and financial matters. However, I stress that the confiscation order will still apply and the money will still be required to be paid.

I am not sure whether that fully answers your question.

Annabelle Ewing

It does. I see the provisions as reasonable, and it is fair to say that, for as long as there are difficulties in the conveyancing market, those difficulties will apply to everybody, by and large. However, the matter should be looked at very carefully, because Scotland has had great success with proceeds of crime confiscations and, when we get to the new normal, whenever that might be, it would be a pity if there was any backtracking in that regard.

Gillian Mawdsley

I totally support that point. I was involved in aspects of the proceeds of crime provisions years ago, and they have been a major success, with some of those who have been convicted finding them much more onerous than a conviction such as a prison sentence, so I would not like to see anything taken away. I understand that the Crown Office is totally in support of the provisions and, in fact, was involved in identifying the need for the changes. The legislation remains in place and will still be effective. As I said, only people who are affected by Covid-19-related circumstances will find themselves with extensions and postponed payments or interest payments.

Annabelle Ewing

Michael Clancy talked about the engagement of article 8 of the ECHR and intimation on the walls of court. In particular, there is a requirement to intimate that a petition for appointment as an executor dative has to be posted on the walls of court, and that can also be an option in other circumstances. The bill would instead require the intimation to be made by way of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website. It would be helpful if Michael Clancy could give his initial thoughts on that provision.

Michael Clancy

Thank you very much for that interesting question. It is right that we move to a position in which the documents that are placed on the walls of court are instead placed on the virtual walls of court, as it were, on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website.

10:00  



There is, of course, an issue around the preservation of the right to a private life and the protection of data. The courts and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service are bound by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the general data protection regulation to protect data and adhere to and comply with article 8 of the ECHR. Currently, documents that relate to family life and which contain important and private matters are not put on the walls of court, but are retained as private documents. I would expect the same kind of approach to be taken by the courts just now.

The provisions of proposed new paragraph 1(A)(2) of schedule 4 to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 allow that publication on the website does not apply to a document if it is of the type that the Lord President of the Court of Session or the Lord Justice General—same person; different offices—has directed that it should not apply to. That would mean that the document would not go on to the website or that some of the information on it would be redacted.

I think that sufficient safeguards for individual privacy are embedded in paragraph 9 of schedule 2 to the bill and that we can rely on Lord Carloway to exercise the direction power with those thoughts in mind.

Annabelle Ewing

I have a supplementary question. I very much take cognisance of the right to privacy issues that are engaged, but I want to look to the new normal of our lives, whenever that happens. On electronic registration, the register of inhibitions and the register of judgments, for example, putting some things on the SCTS website might be a better way to do things in the 21st century. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Michael Clancy

I am not sure that people would describe me as a moderniser, but I recognise the important role that the internet and all the other forms of media play in people’s lives now. It is important that the courts and other public administration offices move along with that flow.

The change may become a permanent one for the future, but it is bound by the same limitations that the rest of bill’s provisions are bound by. It applies until 30 September this year, with potential extensions to 31 March and 30 September next year. We may see such changes being adopted once this period is over—it may be looked on as a trial period for how such things work. That is entirely in keeping with the modernisation of procedure and process that started with the Gill reviews a few years ago, which Lord Carloway has pushed forward with as the legislation has bedded down and changes have taken place. I predict that that will probably be the way of the future.

The Convener

We will move to Stewart Stevenson, who has mostly technical questions.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Given Michael Clancy’s introductory remarks, I have the faint feeling that he might direct this question towards Gillian Mawdsley.

I will start with the electronic signature of forms provisions in the part of the bill on bankruptcy, which is all well and good. In particular, I want to focus on what the bill does in paragraph 10(2)(b) of schedule 1 by inserting a new provision into the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Regulations 2016 (SSI 2016/397). That provision states:

“‘electronic signature’ ... includes a version of an electronic signature which is reproduced on a paper document.”

References are made to section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000, which makes no reference to taking an electronic signature and putting it on to paper, and to the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Regulations 2016, regulation 2(2) of which talks about people being able to use electronic means in substitution for paper. The provision in paragraph 10 of schedule 1 appears to be the first legislative attempt to substitute the use of an electronic signature with a paper version. Does the Law Society have any concerns about that?

To provide context, I will explain my concern. Section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000 refers to

“an electronic signature incorporated into or logically associated with a particular electronic communication or particular electronic data, and ... the certification by any person of such a signature”.

The certification of an electronic signature involves looking at every dot, comma, number and letter in the electronic document thus being signed, together with an electronic piece of information that is uniquely known by the signer and a computation that is in the public area. In other words, when the signature is put on paper, the electronic connection between the big number that is the electronic signature and what might be on that bit of paper is lost. A number could be changed without it being known that that has happened.

Has the Law Society thought about what seems to be a novel move—I use the word “novel” in a non-endorsing way—to allow electronic documents to be put on paper and to have the same validity?

Michael Clancy

I had an agreement with Gillian Mawdsley that I would pass questions that dealt with matters relating to bankruptcy to her, but as that question deals with a much more specific issue than the generality of the bankruptcy provisions, if Mr Stevenson does not mind being disappointed, I will attempt to answer his question.

The provision in question does not appear to have been considered by our information technology committee, but I will ask it to look at it. If we are talking about electronic signatures properly so called, I agree with Mr Stevenson that it seems to be a novel and perhaps even, in some respects, a retrograde step to recognise as an electronic signature

“a version of an electronic signature which is reproduced on a paper document.”

That makes me question what the drafter thought when the phrase “electronic signature” was used. I am sure that Mr Stevenson and other members of the committee will be aware that some people advance the idea, which I believe to be erroneous, that an electronic signature is a person’s wet signature that has been scanned into a letter, which is then put on the internet. That might be the

“version of an electronic signature”

that is referred to in paragraph 10 of schedule 1. Perhaps the cabinet secretary should be asked what he thinks that the phrase

“a version of an electronic signature”

means. The committee will have an early opportunity to do that.

Stewart Stevenson

I suspected that that might be the character of the answer that I would get. Like Michael Clancy, I think that the use of a reproduction of an image of a wet signature in this way is perfectly proper and reasonable, but that causes difficulty because section 7(1)(b) of the Electronic Communications Act 2000 requires

“certification by any person of such a signature”.

By context, that makes it very clear that certification means electronic certification; the image of a signature on its own is not sufficient in the context of that act. That is an observation. I will not ask you to comment on this further because, as I suspected, I will have to ask the cabinet secretary about it. However, it would be helpful if the appropriate Law Society committee were to consider the matter. It is always difficult when we have to dive down into various bits of legislation and tie them together. Mere laypeople such as me are easily confused on these matters.

I have a question on a very technical drafting issue. Again, I might have to defer to the cabinet secretary on it. It is about schedule 1, which covers student residential tenancy. The bill is talking about the ways in which a tenancy may be terminated. Referring to part 1, paragraph 1(2) of schedule 1 says

“references in this Part to the landlord are to any of those persons”

and paragraph 1(3) says

“references in this Part to the tenant are to all of those persons”.

I read that to mean that all the persons who are party to the tenancy have to provide notice, but any single person who might be part of the landlord’s stake might be sufficient to give effect to it. Is that the meaning of what the drafting says?

Michael Clancy

I have to confess that I had not turned my attention specifically to subparagraphs (1), (2) or (3). However, you are correct that there is a distinction made between the notification in the case where two or more persons are the landlord, in which case references to the “landlord” are to any of those persons, and the notification in the case where two or more persons are the tenant, in which case references to the “tenant” are to all of those persons. The reason for spelling that out is probably that, as members will be aware, general provision 6(c) of the Interpretation Act 1978 says that

“words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular.”

A reference to a single landlord might mean a company, partnership or joint venture of some description that has a corporate identity, particularly if the landlord is a partnership or limited company. In those cases, the landlord would be a single entity and therefore any of the components of that single entity who are operating as the landlord could be notified, whereas, in paragraph 1(3) of schedule 1 to the bill, if two or more persons are tenants, one would expect that they are not working in a corporate environment and are instead operating as individuals. If one flatmate in a tenancy gave up the tenancy but the others did not, it would cause difficulties with the continuity of the agreement that they had, the responsibilities that adhere to that agreement and the individuals who are party to it.

That was a good question, and Stewart Stevenson was right to highlight that issue. It is not an error or a mistake; it is a deliberate approach to ensure that a tenancy comes to an end, full stop, for everyone.

10:15  



Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

I am interested in the criminal justice aspects of the bill. They have been largely covered in answer to Shona Robison’s questions, but I am interested in the specifics of the arrangements for custody of detained persons at police stations and whether there is enough clarity around the transition in the role of custodian between prison officers and police officers for the purposes of having those detained at police stations, for example, to take part in court appearances.

Michael Clancy

In accordance with our pact, I will pass that to Gillian Mawdsley.

Gillian Mawdsley

You have highlighted a very important aspect of the criminal justice system. Many of you will be familiar with the fact that the trial starts in the police station, so before you even consider all the provisions that the committee and the Parliament have been considering, it is essential that the processes at police stations are safe for everybody concerned.

You have picked out one aspect, which is the use of prisoner custody officers. We understand that that is entirely to facilitate the remote access of people who will no longer be required to be taken to court to appear, which is obviously very important. The largely technical revisions to the 1994 act are to take account of prisoner custody officers undertaking those duties to, quite correctly, free up police officers to do other things. That aspect of the bill is fine.

I would highlight that there are on-going discussions with regard to facilitating the interviews of suspects and the safety of all persons involved. That matter is receiving the attention of the Scottish Government; indeed, only today, my president was asked to join a working group that is looking at it. I stress that that aspect is very important and it is not covered by the bill, because it is not necessarily required at this stage. The intention, we understand, is to facilitate remote access in due course, when that can be arranged, and that will be essential to avoid contact. It is essential that we also consider the safety of the appropriate adult—the adult attending with the child—the interpreter, the police officers, the legal professional and, indeed, the suspect themselves.

Those are on-going matters that are worthy of consideration at the appropriate juncture. That aspect is on-going, because clearly these facilities were not in place before, as everybody would attend in the close confines of a small room in a police station.

As far as the bill is concerned, prisoner custody officers are fine. There are obviously comments, if we are going to come to it, with regard to undertakings that relate a little bit to people who are appearing in custody.

Does that answer your question?

Ross Greer

Yes. That was a very useful update on those on-going discussions as well. When they are concluded and agreement has been reached on how to have those facilities in place, do you envisage that that will require any further change to primary legislation, or could that be achieved through secondary legislation?

Gillian Mawdsley

That question would be best directed towards the cabinet secretary and the appropriate people. There are obviously provisions in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, with which you will have been concerned a couple of years ago, that refer to a solicitor being present. That is a matter that perhaps you could seek clarification on. However, your question is best directed to the cabinet secretary to clarify whether any legislative fix would be required to facilitate the recommended route to afford access to solicitors and ensure the safety of everybody who is required in connection with cases.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The convener asked Michael Clancy a very helpful question about the balance between human rights considerations. He helpfully set out that the bill is largely technical, and the impact on human rights is not of the same order as for previous bills. I am largely satisfied with his answer to Shona Robison’s question about the nomination of named persons with respect to the care and treatment of mental health patients.

To what extent did your team look at the cumulative impacts of other parts of legislation that are in force? Under part 4, the named person has considerable power over an individual and we know that people in closed institutions are completely reliant on others for their care and treatment. I am concerned that, in England, the Care Quality Commission has intervened because deaths in mental health hospitals have doubled since last year, but the data is not yet available for Scotland. I will have questions for the cabinet secretary on that, but how satisfied are you that Scotland has enough data and is able to properly monitor the impact of the legislation and look at it in a cumulative fashion?

Michael Clancy

It is probably early days for enough data to have been gathered. I would be surprised if the Law Society’s committee had data that it had not passed on to me in the notes for the purposes of today’s discussion, unless the committee members thought that that question was not going to come up.

It is obviously a difficult situation as we are still getting to grips with the legislation. It has only been five weeks, or just over a month, since the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 was given royal assent on 6 April. One needs to have a critical mass of evidence from the operation of an act of Parliament before one can begin to tease out the research points and information that are needed. It may be the case that ministers have access to information that people like me do not have. That is probably more likely than not because, as Monica Lennon will know from her interest in such matters, health questions are constantly being looked at and data is being generated all the time so that clear policy directions can be given and clinical decisions can be made. I am awfully sorry, but I do not have that information to hand.

Monica Lennon

Thank you. Do not apologise—I just wondered whether we need to consult further with the human rights committee on that point.

I will turn to another matter that, again, might be a minor point. With reference to schedule 2, part 1 on criminal justice and schedule 2, part 2 on proceeds of crime, I note that the term “reason relating to coronavirus” is loosely defined. I imagine that that is to ensure sufficient flexibility. Is the term specifically defined enough, or does it need more clarity? A person could say that they have coronavirus, but has not been, or will not be, tested. What would the practical implications of that be?

Michael Clancy

I might ask Gillian Mawdsley to cover the criminal justice elements. Clearly, the phrase “reason relating to coronavirus” crops up in many places in the schedules; for example, in schedule 1, part 1 on student residential tenancy. What is a “reason related to coronavirus”? We know what coronavirus is: one might take actions because of it, which are not limited to being a victim of, or having contracted or developed, the disease.

A knock-on effect might happen in the instance of student accommodation, for example, when a university is no longer offering a course, which is clearly a coronavirus-related reason. The same effect might apply in relation to bankruptcy: a coronavirus-related reason exists when people are not able to pay their debts because they have been made unemployed. There are other reasons: the person might not have been sick with the disease, but the entire structure, legal relationships and arrangements around their situation might have been impacted by coronavirus. Gillian Mawdsley might have further comments on criminal justice matters.

Gillian Mawdsley

The definition of “coronavirus-related reason” is very broad. From a criminal justice perspective, we took the definition’s being broad to be in the genuine interests of the accused. As Michael Clancy has outlined, there are all sorts of reasons why one might not appear at court. Fundamentally, undertakings that would, for example, require one to get out to a police station or to appear in court on a specific date might suffer because of a Covid-related reason, such as the person having care responsibilities or thinking that they have Covid-19. The fact that the term is not defined with greater clarity affords discretion that allows for reasons that we might not have thought about, and it allows the courts not to define it too prescriptively.

A point was raised about whether the bill covers mental health conditions for individuals who suffer as a result of people around them having Covid-19, or as a result of natural anxiety. The definition is broad enough that, from a criminal justice point of view, the courts would not seek to grant warrants when a reason was put forward that they could accept was a result of Covid-19.

One might argue that the broad definition means that latitude will been shown in favour of the accused, which would not otherwise be shown. That is a slim possibility, because the day of reckoning will ultimately come, and the individual will be required to appear before the court. The bill’s provisions allow the court to offer flexibility and fairness in order to avoid people travelling when they should not, if they are to respect the Government’s health advice.

Monica Lennon

I do not have any more questions. I got a bit tongue-tied at the end of my questions to Michael Clancy. To correct the record, I note that I was, of course, referring to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, not to the committee.

The Convener

Thank you for that clarification.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Michael Clancy mentioned at the outset some principles that should underpin any legislation: he said that the law should be “coherent and comprehensible” and that it should work “in practice”. Can you see those elements in the bill, which has had to be introduced in a bit of a hurry in order to deal with an emergency situation? Where are the safeguards for the public in respect of application of such legislation, particularly with regard to unintended consequences?

Michael Clancy

That is an interesting question that goes to the heart of the job of MSPs in scrutiny of legislation. The bill contains many order-making powers, some of which are in the body of the bill and some of which are in its schedules.

10:30  



It is important for us to remember that scrutiny that is done at speed might result in unintended or unforeseen consequences. The whole point about unforeseen consequences is that no one foresees them, which is a difficulty. A compressed timetable such as the one that the bill is subject to—the evidence session today, the stage 1 debate tomorrow, stage 2 on 19 May and stage 3 on 20 May—is better for scrutiny than the process for emergency legislation under Parliament’s standing orders rule 9, in which all the stages of the bill take place in one day, as we had with the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill on 1 April. This process is better than that, but it still means that we have to be on our guard, because there should be as much scrutiny as possible of the legislation and the subordinate legislation that comes from it.

Currently, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee is considering eight orders that are labelled as Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 orders—I found eight on the website last night. The UK Parliament is dealing with 70 coronavirus orders, and the Hansard Society has recently done a survey on the UK Parliament’s approach. I will pass that work on to Jim Johnston, the clerk, for him to circulate; it is instructive work that I found interesting. Michael Russell wrote to the convener of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee on subordinate legislation a few weeks ago, and said that the made affirmative procedure was being used. That is a kind of fast-track procedure for subordinate legislation, which needs to be watched very carefully. The House of Lords Constitution Committee, in its “Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards” report, said:

“The made affirmative procedure is often used in Acts where the intention is to allow significant powers to be exercised quickly. It is a kind of ‘fast-track’ secondary legislation. In most cases the parent Act specifies which form of procedure should be applied to instruments made under it. In some cases however the Act may provide for either the draft affirmative or the made affirmative procedure to be used. If the made affirmative procedure is used then the instrument is effective immediately.”

The report went on to say:

“Instruments laid as made instruments almost inevitably place a serious time pressure on those drafting them. The JCSI’s 8th report of this session drew the special attention of both Houses to three statutory instruments which had been laid as made affirmatives ... ‘revisions were being made to the terms of the instruments down to the moment that they were made’”,

and there had been “serious time pressure” in the making of the instruments.

Does that mean that all legislation that is made in haste has to be reflected on at leisure and mistakes found? Clearly, it does not. The Scottish parliamentary counsel’s office and the solicitors in the Scottish Government’s legal department are clearly expert in drawing up instruments, but the speed at which they are produced and the speed of scrutiny are things that we must be careful about—although I am sure that the DPLR Committee has that on its radar.

What is to be done about that? There is provision for a two-month review period in the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, at section 15. That is replicated in section 12 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and in section 95 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Automatic expiry is also a safeguard, and is a significant factor in section 9 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, section 12 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and section 89 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

We have suggested in previous commentaries on coronavirus legislation that we should support not only the COVID-19 Committee—the formation of the committee is welcome—but other committees, including the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, that have an interest in inquiring into coronavirus legislation and the coronavirus crisis generally.

We also consider that a quadripartite interparliamentary group could be formed to bring together legislators in the UK, in much the same way as was the case for Brexit, to discuss common themes that affect the legislation.

I hope that that answers Mr Coffey’s question about safeguards and the need for vigilance in examining the bill and the subordinate legislation that will flow from it.

Willie Coffey

Thank you for that detailed answer. That will do for me, convener, because I think that Adam Tomkins wants to cover a similar area.

The Convener

Adam Tomkins is shaking his head. Michael Clancy so comprehensively answered that question that Adam Tomkins has nothing to add. Annabelle Ewing has a follow-up question.

Annabelle Ewing

I return to the topic of mental health and the witnessing of the named person’s signature, which is an important issue. I want to double-check that no change is proposed to the requirement that the patient will have to put in writing the nomination, and that it will be required that their signature be witnessed by a prescribed person, to deal with any possible worries about coercion. Is my understanding correct?

Michael Clancy

I believe so, but we will get that checked out by our mental health and disability committee and write to you.

The Convener

I thank Michael Clancy and Gillian Mawdsley for their time. I appreciate that it is a significant challenge to give the bill detailed consideration, given that it was published only yesterday morning, but you have done a very good job and helped us on a range of subjects.

Michael Clancy

We are very grateful to the committee for the invitation to give evidence. Of course, a vast team—including all our sub-committees and my colleagues in the policy departments—is working on the topic. Your tribute should really go to Andrew Alexander, the head of policy, and to Alison McNab, Jennifer Paton and Gillian Mawdsley. All those policy officers have done so much hard work in the past 12 hours with their committees to produce comments.

The Convener

Before we move on to the next evidence session, I will suspend for about five minutes.

10:39 Meeting suspended.  



10:43 On resuming—  



The Convener

Under our second agenda item, we are due to hear from Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, and Luke McBratney, the bill team leader from the Scottish Government. I welcome you to the meeting.

Cabinet secretary, because of the technology, I suggest that if you wish to invite Luke McBratney to speak, you can confirm that at the appropriate time and bring him in. I also remind you that, because of the technology delays, when you are asked a question you should stop and take a breath before you answer it. That would be helpful.

Before we move to questions, would you like to make a short opening statement to the committee?

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

Thank you, convener, and thank you for the invitation to give evidence this morning and to answer your questions.

The timetable that we are entering into for the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill is a little more relaxed than that for the first bill, but it is still pretty hectic. Before I remind members of where we are in the flurry of legislation and regulation that we have done since the start of the process, I want to thank Luke McBratney and his colleagues in the bill team. The team has been responsible for two complex bills in six weeks, and that is utterly remarkable.

Of course, those bills have involved a range of individuals and a range of ministers. From time to time, as the bill progresses, my colleagues will be coming to the chamber or to the committee. They will certainly be coming to the chamber tomorrow, when I expect to be joined by Kevin Stewart and Shirley-Anne Somerville. When it comes to amendments to the bill, other ministers will wish to take part at stages 2 and 3. That is unusual, but I hope that it will be helpful to the Parliament and the committee.

10:45  



We passed the legislative consent motion for the UK bill on 24 March. The first bill—the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill—was passed on 1 April, and we are now considering the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. Inevitably, we have learned from those experiences.

We have also published a detailed series of regulations, starting on 25 March, when we published the business and social distancing guidelines. On 26 March, we made and brought into force the health protection regulations—the so-called lockdown regulations. The physical distancing guidelines were published on 27 March. Small amendments were made on 1 April. The regulations were reviewed on 16 April. On 21 April, we made more substantive changes, which I discussed previously with the committee. We reviewed the regulations on 7 May, and on 11 May we updated those with one change, which the committee is familiar with. That is all a flurry of activity.

I anticipate that we will have more regulations to consider as we go forward. We also have the reporting process to put into place; that will start at the end of this month, when we bring forward the first set of reporting, not just on the first bill but on the second bill and the LCM.

The second bill, which is simpler than the first bill, contains a number of provisions that we regard as urgent. I heard the tail end of Michael Clancy’s evidence and I entirely agree with him. Urgency in both primary and secondary legislation is a difficult issue. We must be sparing with such legislation, and we must apply judgment that such legislation is urgently required. We must ensure that such legislation can be used only when it is needed and that it will pass out of use as soon as possible.

The bill covers four broad topics: individual protections; the operation of the justice system; adjustments to deadlines for reports and accounts; and some miscellaneous measures.

The reporting on this bill is exactly the same as it was for the previous bill. It will be coterminous with the bill. The bill will be set for expiry on 30 September 2020 and can be renewed only twice. That means that the timetable for review and reporting is essentially a simpler one. As I said, we will start that process at the end of this month.

I will not go into much detail on the substance of the bill, because I am sure that I will be asked questions about it. However, I will pick up one or two headlines. The issue of student residential tenancies was raised by a number of members, including Green Party members, during the passage of the first bill. We have been able to find what we think is a solution to that, which is in the bill.

Tomorrow, Shirley-Anne Somerville will be able to talk about social security and, in particular, the coronavirus carers allowance, which we hope to be able to pay in June.

There are key issues on bankruptcy, because debt will, regrettably, be an issue during this crisis.

I heard Annabelle Ewing’s question about mental health and the requirement to relax the need to witness a named person nomination. That is a very sensitive issue, which I am happy to discuss.

There are some criminal justice issues, including those relating to proceeds of crime and intimation of documents.

There is a range of other matters, including the fact that the UEFA championships will be postponed for a year; we will need to alter the legislation that we passed on that only recently.

The bill also deals with the land and buildings transaction tax, so that people are not put under undue burden if they are due to have money refunded once they have sold a property. There is a power on non-domestic rates relief, which is as yet unspecified but might be a useful tool in the armoury as we go forward.

I am grateful to the Opposition parties for making suggestions about what is in the bill and, from some, what they would like to see included in the bill. As I have consistently said, during every bill that I have been involved with, bills improve as they age. We have a period in which we can improve the bill. It will not be possible to take on every issue, but we will give issues serious consideration and discussion.

Finally, the timetable for the bill is clear. There will be a stage 1 parliamentary debate tomorrow afternoon. The committee’s stage 2 consideration will take place next Tuesday morning. That could take us some time, if that is what members choose to do, because the standing order that prevents committees from meeting while Parliament meets has been suspended. We hope to have stage 3 in the Parliament on the afternoon of Wednesday 20 May.

I have already written to the Advocate General for Scotland, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Scotland requesting expedited royal assent if the bill is passed on Wednesday 20 May, so that the provisions in the bill that make it through will be available by Thursday 28 May.

With that, I am happy to answer questions, and I am sure that Luke McBratney will be happy to do so, too.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. That was a very helpful summary of where we are. Committee members have some questions on what is in the bill and some questions on matters that are not covered by the bill but which they are interested in pursuing through amendments at later stages.

I will start with a general point that I suspect will be in the minds of some people who are watching this meeting at home. They will have seen the First Minister’s announcement at the weekend about some relaxation of the restrictions in the current lockdown, and we all hope that the direction of travel is towards a loosening of the restrictions. If that is the case and we are potentially through the worst of this, or perhaps the worst of the first phase of it, people might be wondering why we need a new bill at this point, with more restrictions and more measures being brought in.

Michael Russell

We need to apply proportionality. Clearly, it will be in our minds that the regulations may change over the coming weeks and months. I think that the First Minister used the phrase “baby steps”, and it will be a lengthy process. That has been made clear by everybody. We made only a very small change in the regulations this weekend.

The powers in the bill will be required for some time, and we have said that of the powers in the act, too. While there is still major disruption, some things cannot be done—or, if they are to be done, will be disproportionately burdensome, given the work that will continue to be done to protect Scotland and take Scotland forward with the threat of the virus.

I do not think that even the most optimistic of us would believe that a switch is going to be flicked and we will be back into the old world. That is not going to happen. It is going to take us a considerable time, and in those circumstances what is in the bill is what we believe is required.

I hope that this will be the last such bill, so there is that small glimmer of legislative light at the end of the parliamentary tunnel. With the bill, I think that we will have dealt with the vast majority of items that we feel we need to deal with. There are still issues such as the jury trial issue, and I understand that there is an announcement today that Lady Dorrian will take forward a judicially led group to look at how that should be dealt with. It has been a difficulty and it is not yet resolved.

Other issues might come forward. As Michael Clancy rightly pointed out, the thing about unforeseen issues is that we cannot foresee them. However, to the best of our ability, we are trying to deal with what we need now and what we will need in the next period.

The judgment about the next period can be made in terms of the legislation, either when we switch powers on and then off, or at the end of September. The staging posts to the end of September are the end of May and then the end of July, when we and the Parliament will be able to say whether the measures are still required or whether they should be phased out. There will then be a decision about the whole bill and whether it should be renewed at the end of September.

I think that we have safeguards in place, but the answer is that we need these powers.

The Convener

Okay. Thank you for that clarity.

Some aspects of the bill, including those that relate to the UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Act 2020, are not directly related to the coronavirus emergency. The aspects relating to UEFA would have to be made whenever the championship was held. That has also been the case with some other secondary legislation, where most of the provisions relate to the coronavirus pandemic but some provide for other, unrelated policy changes.

Can you explain why you have included in the bill changes that are not pandemic related, such as those on the UEFA championship? More generally, what is the Government’s approach to including non-pandemic policy changes in coronavirus bills and Scottish statutory instruments?

Michael Russell

It is not our intention to do that as a matter of course or with anything major. The change that you refer to is a small one in the 2020 act. It was decided that as that would require an additional piece of secondary legislation, it might be best to save everyone’s time by rolling it up within what was required.

The overwhelming majority of the powers refer to the coronavirus. The 2020 act is connected to the coronavirus, because the championship has been postponed for a year, as a result of which the legislation that we have cannot be imposed. We must move it on. The small change that is in the bill is designed to save time. If there was an objection to that, we would have to use time outwith the bill, which would not be in anybody’s interests.

The judgment that we applied was to ask whether items are essential at this stage. In the vast majority of cases, the answer was yes. Anything else is tangential and is just to save us a little time, but there are very few of those things.

Willie Coffey

Cabinet secretary, you have introduced new provisions that relate to students who terminate tenancies. Those provisions also protect students from being forced to pay for accommodation if the restrictions continue into the new term. Will you outline the provisions that you are introducing and explain the issues that they will resolve for Scotland’s students?

Michael Russell

There was great sympathy when the Green Party raised that issue during the progress of the first coronavirus bill. We would have liked to take that forward at that stage.

There were considerable concerns about how that should be done and there was a lot of consideration as to whether it was possible to do it. We have decided that it is possible, and we have brought in something pretty simple. The bill will introduce a seven-day notice period for students who are currently tied into tenancies and a 28-day notice period for agreements that are entered into while the act is in force.

Those provisions are simple to understand, but they deal with something that has been a problem. Most students are not at university as the universities are not functioning normally. In those circumstances, tying students into rental arrangements is unfair and detrimental. We feel that it is right to take this step.

Some accommodation providers will be concerned about that, but we think that it is natural justice. Kevin Stewart will talk in greater detail about the provision, and about how he has found a way to resolve the issue. However, the right outcome has been reached at this stage. It is fair that we are doing that.

Willie Coffey

Some students have not been allowed to end their contracts, particularly if they rent purpose-built accommodation. Will the provision that we are introducing allow claims for a rebate? Will students be able to seek a rebate of payments they have made?

Michael Russell

The regulations do not permit that at present and it would also be difficult to do legally. The issue is worth discussing. I know that Ross Greer was very concerned by that during the first bill and he may wish to pursue the issue.

It is hard enough to legislate promptly and effectively in this area. If a further burden was added to that—most desirable—outcome, it would be even harder to do so. The provision is simple, focused and does the job that we must do now: we cannot do every job.

Willie Coffey

My other question is about the UEFA championship, which the convener mentioned. We know that the championship has been delayed by a year. Why have we introduced a two-year extension to the sunset clause?

Michael Russell

UEFA is determined that the championship will go ahead. We are creating the context in which that can happen. There is no dubiety about that, as far as I am aware.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I broadly welcome the way in which you have engaged the other political parties in the Parliament in the construction of the bill, as you did earlier in the construction of the bill that we passed on 1 April. I want to raise with you some concerns and questions about not what is in the bill, but what has been left, as it were, on the cutting-room floor.

11:00  



In particular, I know that I am very far from being the only MSP who is receiving an increasing volume of increasingly anxious emails from constituents about getting married. We all understand the reasons why we cannot yet permit large wedding ceremonies, parties and receptions, but there is a world of difference between that and making it really very difficult for people to get married at all. As I understand it—although please correct me if I am wrong—in Scots law, only five people are required to be present for a lawful wedding: the registrar, the two parties, and two witnesses. There are many rooms available in which we could have social distancing with only five people present.

Correct me if I have misunderstood or misinterpreted anything, but why did you decide not to include in the bill provisions to enable people who need to, to get married—for example, people who are at or nearing the end of their lives—as was proposed by the parties represented in the Parliament?

Michael Russell

I can answer that; I will get the exact detail from my papers. It is possible for those in the circumstances that Adam Tomkins mentioned to get married. To take two sets of circumstances in particular, it is still possible for marriage to happen when someone is at the end of their life, and when somebody requires to leave the country for work or whatever.

The technical situation presently is that licences are not being issued, but that could happen in those circumstances. The registrar general has the right not only to approve that, but to waive the notice period. It is possible to do that, and I am happy to provide the committee with a written account of how that can be done. Marriage is possible in those exceptional circumstances.

The question whether marriages more generally should be permitted is to do with capacity and safety, and also with seeing whether there are alternatives. I know, for example, that a number of people have coalesced around the idea of having marriages by videolink, which is apparently being introduced in New York. However, there is a very great fear of abuse in those circumstances, and that would be entered into only with a great deal of thought and preparation about how we could verify things. Forced marriage, for example, would be easier if there were no physical presence and no possibility of assessing, as a registrar will often do, what the circumstances are. As such, I think that the videolink alternative was written off.

There was also a view that, given that we are maintaining the lockdown as it is and—with one small exception—not moving it this week, it would be the wrong time to introduce arrangements that would loosen the lockdown in one place. We would then also have to loosen it in a number of other places. For example, the very difficult issue of funerals would require to be dealt with; Adam Tomkins and I will both have had representations about that. It is difficult to deal with weddings unless you deal with all those things too, and, if you deal with all those things, it becomes almost impossible to contain.

Registrars are also dealing with issues of capacity and are finding themselves under a great deal of pressure, particularly in relation to the registration of deaths, to which there have been big changes. We are saying—without any pleasure in doing so—that it will be difficult to make arrangements for weddings. We understand the problem and it is an area that will have to be factored into the loosening of lockdown regulations when that happens, although I stress that we are not at that stage. However, it is possible to deal with the emergency circumstances that have been raised, and they have been dealt with.

Adam Tomkins

I am grateful for that response, and I am sure that the committee, as well as the wider Parliament, would welcome clarity on the law with regard to the registrar general being able to waive ordinary notice periods and registrars being able to license marriages within the lockdown rules. That is contrary to what my constituents who are writing to me seem to believe. As I understand it, registrars in Scotland are not licensing marriages.

If it is possible for a registrar to license a marriage within the existing rules, and if there are exceptional circumstances in which it is in people’s interests that the registrar does so—because someone’s life is ending or someone needs to travel overseas and so on—why are registrars not licensing marriages and what should the Parliament be saying to encourage them to do so?

If what you say is accurate—I have no reason to dispute it—there is an unfortunate mismatch between what is happening on the ground, which is nothing, and what could happen on the ground, which is that, in exceptional circumstances, registrars could license marriages, albeit that we cannot sanction large wedding parties or receptions, for understandable reasons.

Michael Russell

I would be happy to provide the committee with the information that I have and to expand on how applications can be made in a very limited set of circumstances. As I understand it, those circumstances are if one of the people who are involved is dying, or if somebody is about to leave for or be posted overseas, particularly if they are in the armed forces. I am happy to get that information and provide it to the committee and the Parliament. My sense is that these things are happening, but if they are not happening, we can look at how they can be made to happen.

For the rest of it, the decision was based on the issues that I have outlined. The decision was that we felt that it was not possible to go any further at this stage. Of course, if and when the lockdown is eased, people will wish there to be a return to some form of public affirmation, even if it is with a limited number of people, which it will have to be.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. We move on to questions from Monica Lennon and then I will bring in Annabelle Ewing.

Monica Lennon

Cabinet secretary, in your opening remarks, you acknowledged that debt will, regrettably, be a consequence of the pandemic. The provisions in the bill that provide greater support for people who are in debt are therefore welcome. In schedule 1, part 3, on bankruptcy, you propose a reduction in the level of fees and set out the amount that a debtor must owe a creditor before bankruptcy can be declared. How did you decide on the amounts for fees and for what debtors owe? I think that the latter figure has gone from £3,000 to more than £10,000.

You might be aware that my colleague Jackie Baillie has proposed amendments that would give people greater breathing space around fees and other interest charges accruing. Is the Government willing to consider that?

Michael Russell

Of course, and you have put your finger on the key issue within that proposal, which is not whether the proposal should be made but how far it should go. I know that Jackie Baillie has views on that and I welcome them; we can have a debate and a conversation.

There are a number of issues in your question, one of which is fees for bankruptcy. They have been difficult for some people to meet and we are trying to address that in the bill, while recognising that debt will continue to be a real issue for people beyond the end of the pandemic, whenever that is. There will be people who will have consequences to face.

There has been limited, and what I would call informal, consultation with a range of bodies. Jackie Baillie is aware of that because a number of members of the Scottish Parliament and other bodies have been thinking about it. There will be different views about the level of fees and what the limits should be under both parts of the proposal.

There is always a compromise, and we think that this is the right compromise. We think that it broadly gets support from money advisers and others. Creditors are wary of the proposals, because they are wary of people who are running up debt and will not be able to pay it; regrettably, some people are irresponsible in that regard and some will do it deliberately. However, debt advice bodies want it to go further, so those two views are pulling in opposite directions. We think that we have probably ended up with the right compromise but, of course, there should be a conversation about it.

If there is to be a change, it can move only against the creditors and in favour of the debtors, or move the other way. We would move further in favour of either those who are owed money or those who owe money. Perhaps we should try to strike a balance. Our position is not on tablets of stone; there can be a debate and discussion about it, and there should be.

Monica Lennon

Thank you. That is a helpful starting point, and I am sure that members will engage in wider discussion on that matter.

I do not know whether you heard my earlier question to the Law Society relating to the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 and in part 4 of schedule 1 to the bill, which affects the nomination of named persons and the issues that that raised regarding signatures. On its own, the change is relatively modest, but, as you mentioned that the bill is cross-cutting and that other ministers are involved, can you say what the cumulative sense so far is of the impact on human rights of the other acts and regulations that have been passed? Has there been consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission on particular parts of the bill?

You might be aware that concern has been expressed in England about the doubling since last year of the deaths of people who have been detained under mental health legislation there. I have not seen the data for Scotland. Can you provide any reassurance around that?

Michael Russell

I heard Annabelle Ewing’s last question, but I did not hear your earlier question in full; I came in from Cabinet just as Michael Clancy was answering it.

There has been consultation with a range of bodies on that, and all of us would be very cautious here. There is agreement that it is needed, but it cannot be a power that does not have checks as well as balances. The checks are, as Annabelle Ewing indicated, the continuation of the witnessing. That refers simply to the detail of the requirement for the docket to be attached and signed by the named person and for a specific type of person to witness that and sign the docket. It is the availability of that type of person on every occasion that is the issue.

It might be one of those things that is never used, or used only on a very few occasions, because it is possible to use a default position. However, if it is not possible to use a default position, there will be a problem that becomes a complication in, to be blunt, the lives of people who do not need complications. We need to keep the process as seamless, smooth and untroubled as we can.

I think that it is a proportionate power and that it should be considered very carefully. Of course, it will be reported on, and I want to stress that feature. Michael Clancy’s detailed answer about rushing to legislation and the difficulties of these circumstances missed out a key element, which is reporting. We have made a very strong commitment to reporting, every two months, on all the aspects of the first and second coronavirus bills and of the powers that we were granted under the LCM. There will be an opportunity every two months to see whether there is any tendency for this to get out of control.

I have been working on the issues of reporting, and I hope to make some suggestions shortly that will give the committee as well as the chamber a role in reporting, so that there is an additional check on what is happening. We are right to look at the issue very carefully and, through the reporting process, we will need to look back and see whether parallel powers in other areas have been used and to learn from that. I know that Monica Lennon is aware of that, because she has asked me about it previously.

11:15  



Monica Lennon

Part 2 of schedule 1 to the bill, on the carers allowance supplement, is welcome as a starting point. The cabinet secretary will be aware that young carers are not entitled to carers allowance, so they will not be entitled to the carers allowance supplement. Like Adam Tomkins, who has had casework inquiries about marriage, I have had inquiries about whether the young carers grant will be increased and whether there are plans to increase funeral support payments. The cabinet secretary mentioned that his colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville will make some remarks in the Parliament tomorrow. Will he discuss those issues with her?

Michael Russell

Of course. Shirley-Anne Somerville will talk about her proposals tomorrow, and I am quite sure that points can be made to her. It would be nice to do everything that we want to do, but that is very tough in circumstances in which resources are very tight. To be blunt, the Scottish Parliament does not have the borrowing powers and some of the tools that we need to do such things, so there are always compromises to be made.

The carers coronavirus grant is a big step forward. It is up to Shirley-Anne Somerville to have a conversation about what else can be done. We are absolutely aware of the enormously strong role of young carers, and there are other ways in which we can continue to recognise and build on that. It is always best to leave some areas to somebody else’s portfolio, and I am sure that she will want to discuss those matters tomorrow.

The Convener

I was hoping to bring in Annabelle Ewing, but she seems to have dropped off, so we will move on to Ross Greer.

Ross Greer

I am interested in the timescale for the expiration of the bill’s provisions, which you mentioned in your opening statement and in answer to a couple of questions. I do not know whether you caught this in our previous session, but Annabelle Ewing highlighted that we might want to keep some of the practical changes that are being made, such as displaying court documents on websites rather than physically on the walls of court. As you said, bankruptcy will be an issue as a result of the crisis, but it will be an issue long after the public health aspect of the crisis is over. What are the Government’s thoughts on—and how amenable would you be to—more variation in the timescales by which the bill’s provisions expire?

Michael Russell

It is really important that we differentiate between what we need to do now and what we would like to do in the future, but I entirely agree that they are not unconnected. We have been running very fast to get to this position, and we have put in place provisions that have not been able to have the detailed scrutiny that you and I, and the committee and others, would like to see. If we are to make some of the provisions longer lasting, we need to consider two things: the further scrutiny that we should give to them, because they might be able to be improved, and whether they are working as we intended them to work, because, if not, they might need to be improved.

The short and clear answer is that all the powers under the coronavirus legislation expire on 30 September, but they can be renewed twice. During the reporting process, it might well be that you, me or others say, “Gosh, that’s worked rather well.” For example, I mean no disrespect, but displaying documents on the walls of court does not seem quite as relevant as having them on a website, so maybe we should do both. We can say to ourselves that we should take forward certain things but, if a member or the Parliament says that they want to do that, we need to find a way to do so. However, I do not want to say that anything that we are doing now will last beyond the cut-off date, because that would be to do something greater than we have said we will do.

Bankruptcy is an example of an issue in relation to which the legacy of this situation will last for a long time. We might well want to consider what we can do to help with the process beyond the cut-off date. Those are conversations that we will need to have, but they are not conversations for today: the conversations for today are about getting the powers that we need now.

Ross Greer

Thank you.

You said that you hope that this will be the last of the emergency bills. There is further work to be done on solemn trials and the role of juries. In discussion with the Law Society of Scotland this morning, we picked up that the society’s president has been asked to be involved in a working group on the facilitation of virtual court appearances from police stations, for example. What approaches would require further changes to primary legislation? If you are not envisaging the need for further emergency bills, do you have an idea of what will be included in a justice bill? Should we expect a number of smaller bills to be introduced?

Michael Russell

I certainly do not want to cut off the route of legislating when we need to do so. As I made clear, and as Michael Clancy made clear, unforeseen means unforeseen. It might well be that something will be introduced.

As I said, a judicially led group has been set up, under the lead of Lady Dorrian, to consider jury issues. The group might recommend primary legislation—I do not know whether it will do so, but if it does, its recommendation would have to be expedited and might require emergency legislation.

Other things might come along to which we will have to react in that way. I talked about the portfolio bills that I have been co-ordinating, of which this is the second. I am not immediately going to say to the bill team that a third bill is coming along; I think that we have done the trawls that were needed and talked to the Opposition parties about what they want. However, if we find ourselves in a situation in which we need to do something urgently, we will of course do it.

Ross Greer

Thank you.

The Convener

Shona Robison has questions about mental welfare and carers allowance.

Shona Robison

Mental welfare has been covered, so I will ask just about the carers allowance supplement. I welcome the £19.2 million investment in recognition of the added pressures on carers at this time. Cabinet secretary, you said that Shirley-Anne Somerville will set out a bit more detail, but, given that the cut-off in the bill is the end of September, I assume that we are talking about a one-off payment. Is it the Government’s intention to keep that under review, in case unpaid carers have to deal with Covid and bear additional pressures and caring responsibilities over a very prolonged period? Will you keep under review the potential for a further payment to be needed at a later date?

Michael Russell

I cannot commit my colleague or the Government to additional expenditure. All I can say is that the intention is to make the additional one-off payment of coronavirus carers allowance supplement in June.

The timescale to which we are working will be extended and we might well have to return to consideration of a range of financial help. What happens will be dictated by the resources that are available to us.

You should treat the investment as a one-off—it would be unfair to people to say anything else. However, you are entitled to make your point, and I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People will want to consider it and return to the issue, within the limits of her abilities, financially. You have been in such circumstances yourself, financially, and you know that that is always tough.

Shona Robison

That is helpful. It is right and fair to be clear with people. Is it also fair to say that other support that has been made available, such as the additional funding for the Scottish welfare fund, could be used to support carers who are not in receipt of carers allowance? I know that local authorities have been given additional discretion. It would be helpful to have that confirmed.

Michael Russell

Absolutely. There are a number of other routes for unpaid carers who are not in receipt of the carers allowance. You are right to say that the Scottish welfare fund is one of those routes. People have been applying for crisis grants and community care grants. We urge people to apply for what they are entitled to, and we want them to have that.

It is essential that we help people as much as possible, but there will be people who fall outside the scheme and do not qualify for assistance from it, as there are in every scheme that we currently operate. I am quite sure that you, in the work that you are doing in your constituency, are, as I am in my constituency, trying to find ways in which individuals can qualify even if they have failed to get the grant that they first went for. I say that doubly in relation to carers. We should do everything that we can to help people to get the resources that they need. There are other routes for those who are not paid the carers allowance.

Shona Robison

That is very helpful, and I certainly agree with it.

You will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has written to the committee about a stage 2 amendment that puts beyond doubt that health boards and other bodies have the powers to purchase a care home or care-at-home service if the service is unable to continue. Has the Government brought forward that proposal in light of challenges with the pandemic, or is it a belt-and-braces proposal in case we end up in a situation in which our care service has particularly sharp difficulties, given the pressures of the pandemic? It would be helpful to hear a little more about the Government’s thinking and where that power might end up being used, if at all.

Michael Russell

I am still discussing the details of that with Jeane Freeman. However, I am glad that the committee has been notified of the thinking that is going on, as it should be.

I think that it is a matter of both things that you have suggested. The proposal is to make absolutely certain that the existing powers can be used when they are required. It is a matter of polishing them down and ensuring that they are there, but also of sharpening them so that they can come into use quickly if they are required. There is a feeling that circumstances might arise in which they could be required, so there should be no question of delay. We should be able to move as quickly as possible. It is a belt-and-braces approach and a reaction to some things that we see around us, which we want to ensure that we are able to take action on.

Beatrice Wishart

Good morning, cabinet secretary. I am interested in the thinking behind the part of the bill to do with the land and buildings transaction tax, which extends the time that people have to sell their old homes without attracting the second home tax. I am led to believe that, in England, even before coronavirus, people had three years to sell up. The bill proposes an extension, which will, obviously, be welcome news to many people, but it still does not allow quite as much breathing space as is allowed in England. Many people will, through no fault of their own, be unable to sell their old home, especially in areas in which property markets are slower, such as the islands. That can cause real anxiety. What was the thinking in choosing the specific timeframe? Did the Government consider taking it to the same level that England has?

Michael Russell

The decision was made on the basis of what appeared from discussion with stakeholders to be a reasonable period of extension. We cannot extend perpetually. There is an issue around a tax that is due to be paid, and that cannot be avoided for ever.

Monica Lennon asked about bankruptcy. The issue in question is another one in respect of which a judgment is made on whether there should be expansion. The Scottish property market is different from the property market south of the border. By and large, the sums involved in Scotland are smaller than they are south of the border. We may concur on decisions about those matters. It is clear that, if members wished to suggest different figures, they would be part of the debate.

However, it is a compromise between not having the income that is required and the rights and difficulties that those who are selling properties would have. We have to make a choice. We have put in the bill what we think is the right choice, and that is for debate and discussion. That is what a bill is about.

11:30  



Beatrice Wishart

That is helpful. That was all my questioning; thank you.

The Convener

I will bring in Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson

Cabinet secretary, I have a single issue to raise. Essentially, it is about drafting, but it also touches on policy. It is quite complex, so do forgive me.

I am looking at the electronic signature of forms in relation to the bank, and in particular, at paragraph 10(2)(b) of schedule 1, which will amend section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000, on electronic signatures and related certificates, by including

“a version of an electronic signature which is reproduced on a paper document.”

I am, of course, a lay person but as far as I can determine, and the Law Society did not suggest that I was wrong when I put this to its witnesses this morning, this is a novel provision. There are provisions in, for example, regulation 2(2) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Regulations 2016, which says that anything that can be done on paper can be done electronically. However, the primary reference that this part of the bill makes is to section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000, which makes no reference of any kind to paper. In particular, it requires that there be certification of any such electronic signature.

I am just going to get techie for a brief second here. My understanding is that that certification is where you have an electronic signature that is essentially a number computed from the contents, including every dot and comma, and the layout of the document, combined with a secret piece of information provided by the signer and a published algorithm. It is checkable, and that is the certification.

In introducing that this may transfer and be put on paper, you lose that link between the representation of the document and the associated signature in so far as you are verifying whether a change has not been made to the body of the document, whereas electronic signatures are designed to prevent that from happening.

Did the drafter intend to cover a pictorial representation of what the Law Society has described as a wet signature, which is in an electronic system and is then removed and put on paper, or was it meant to be that wider expression of a signature that I have just described?

I recognise that this issue is quite complex, minister, and you might not wish to give me an answer just now, but it would certainly be useful to have one before the closing date for lodging amendments to stage 2.

Michael Russell

I would dearly love to give you an answer now but I have not got a clue what you are talking about. In those circumstances, it would be best if I did not give you an answer just now. I will refer the question to my officials and give you an answer in writing. I have no idea whether it will have a wet signature or a pictogram, but I will get you an answer.

The Convener

Thank you, Mr Stevenson, and thank you Mr Russell for your refreshingly honest answer to that last question.

We seem to have lost Annabelle Ewing for the time being; I hope that we can get her back. In the meantime, I want to ask about an issue that has not been raised so far and is not covered in the bill: relaxing the licensing laws. I have raised the issue in debate and in correspondence with the cabinet secretary. At the moment, it is not possible to purchase off-sales alcohol in supermarkets before 10 o’clock in the morning.

There are very good reasons why we have those licensing laws, but they put an unreasonable restriction on individuals who can do their shopping only in the early hours of the day. I am talking about people who might be in vulnerable groups, or indeed, national health service workers. The large supermarket chains and smaller convenience stores have set aside specific shopping times before 9 o’clock in the morning for many of those people, so that they do not come into contact with others. That is a very reasonable and responsible thing to do, but it puts people at a disadvantage, because it means that they cannot purchase alcohol with their weekly shop. If they want to purchase alcohol, they have to come back into the shop at another time, when it is busier. It seems rather unfair to those individuals to be disadvantaged in that way. Has the Scottish Government considered that? Will amendments to the bill on the issue be looked at a later stage?

Michael Russell

You have referred to that issue in the chamber and you have spoken to me about it. I asked for advice on and considered the issue, as did the relevant health ministers, and the balance of opinion was that, although the issue was a concern when dedicated shopping hours started—I think that that is what you are referring to—the level of concern seems to have fallen away quite substantially. I have not received anything on the issue for some weeks.

There was also a view that, given Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, extending licensing hours was not something that we wanted to do. Some of the stakeholder groups made that pretty clear the last time that you raised the issue in the chamber, although I indicated that the issue could, of course, be discussed.

All I can say is that an extension to licensing hours is not in the bill as drafted, as you know, and the Scottish Government does not intend to bring forward such provisions. If someone lodged an amendment, the Parliament would have to discuss it. Any such proposal would have to be incredibly tightly drawn: it would have to be sunsetted very clearly, as all proposals are; it would have to focus on those who simply could not go to a shop at any other time; and the range of shops involved would have to be pretty tightly controlled, given the potential for abuse. There are some difficult technical, legal issues as well as a practical issue.

As I have consistently said, the process of legislation is about change, discussion and debate. You have raised the issue several times, and we will wait to see whether anyone else raises it and whether your proposed approach is supported.

The Convener

Thank you. Stewart Stevenson wants come back in, I presume on that point.

Stewart Stevenson

I recall that the licensing provision that we are talking about was advocated by Frank McAveety. The arguments that he deployed at the time are ones that I continue to adhere to, having seen how things happened. That we are in lockdown really does not change the argument in relation to alcohol licensing at all. I know that, as a nation, Scotland is an important manufacturer of alcohol, but our consumption continues to be a matter of some concern. I would be reluctant to see the proposal to extend licensing hours brought back, especially as such an approach would create longer-term confusion about the rules. I would like to stick to the position that Frank McAveety took in the amendment that he lodged to a previous bill.

The Convener

Thank you, Stewart. I am not sure that that was a question for the cabinet secretary, but if the cabinet secretary wants to respond, he is welcome to do so.

Michael Russell

No, I am okay.

The Convener

We can discuss the issue at stage 2, if it comes to that.

I am delighted that Annabelle Ewing has rejoined us.

Annabelle Ewing

Thank you, convener, and good morning, cabinet secretary. Can you hear me?

Michael Russell

Yes.

Annabelle Ewing

I am at a slight disadvantage, because there was a connection problem, so I am not entirely sure what has been covered. If I am going over old ground, please let me know.

My first question is about referrals between local authorities on applications for accommodation by the homeless on the ground of local connection. The bill has a provision to put back to May 2021 the ministerial statement that was due in November 2020, which, in turn, was to be proceeded by a statutory consultation. What are the reasons for that? Am I correct in reading the provision as making an additional extension to November 2021 possible? Given the obvious importance of the issue, what would be the reasons for such a long delay?

Michael Russell

I know that Kevin Stewart will be talking about that complex issue tomorrow. However, Luke McBratney, the bill team leader, can speak to the detail.

Luke McBratney (Scottish Government)

Extending the deadline for making the ministerial statement and therefore giving [Temporary loss of sound] via consultation, plenty of people in the private and third sector front-line services much-needed time and space to [Temporary loss of sound]. Essentially, six months is intended to find space in order to deal with the uncertainties.

An important point [Temporary loss of sound] is that that is the backstop deadline for the publication of the statement—

The Convener

I am sorry to interrupt, but I think that we are all having difficulty hearing you. I do not know whether there is a problem with your microphone. I see that you have made an adjustment. Try talking, and we will see how it works.

Luke McBratney

Sure; my apologies. An important point is that the initial extension of six months is a backstop date by which time the statement must be made. The statement can still be published at any time up until that deadline. The Government’s intention is to [Temporary loss of sound] as pressure on the third sector allows. In the meantime, [Temporary loss of sound] continue to have power under section 33 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 to require an applicant [Temporary loss of sound], if the applicant does not have a local connection with that authority.

The Convener

Annabelle Ewing, did you catch enough of that response to make sense of it? If not, maybe we could ask Luke McBratney to provide details in writing following the meeting. I had difficulty hearing the response.

Annabelle Ewing

[Temporary loss of sound] to explain the situation on the ground in the interim. People will be concerned about what is happening now and what will happen between now and then.

I turn to my second question. There is a provision on the possibility of introducing a retrospective non-domestic rates relief during this financial year—I do not know whether that issue has been raised. I do not know whether I will get a direct answer to my question today, but is that a signal that the Scottish Government intends to introduce such a proposal in the near future? I am sure that business would very much welcome that.

Michael Russell

I have to say that I am not prepared—not even for Annabelle Ewing—to go to the lengths of saying what the Government’s intentions were, not that I know. I think that we have all thought that that power requires to be there, because it must be in the armoury of powers that we need to support businesses. However, I have no information whatever as to what its usage would be. I am sure that that can be asked of Kate Forbes.

Annabelle Ewing

Because I have not really been able to participate in a lot of this debate, I will leave my questions there, convener.

The Convener

Thank you, Annabelle. I am sorry that we missed you earlier and that you dropped out of the conversation.

As there are no further questions, I thank the cabinet secretary and Luke McBratney for their evidence. It has been a very helpful session. We now move into private, to consider the evidence heard and the terms of our response to the wider Parliament.

11:44 Meeting continued in private until 12:10.  



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12 May 2020

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:

  • bring a section or sections of a law that’s already been passed, into force
  • give details of how a law will be applied
  • make changes to the law without a new Act having to be passed

An Act is a Bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved).

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

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-21712, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill.

Three ministers will contribute at the start of the debate, within the Government’s allotted time.

14:34  



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

On 24 March, the Parliament considered and gave legislative consent to the United Kingdom Coronavirus Bill. That bill contained the first part of the emergency legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak, empowering the making of public health regulations to control the transmission of the disease and making necessary changes to reserved law in Scotland to enable the so-called lockdown regulations.

At the start of April, the Parliament considered, amended and passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, which addressed the major challenges of coronavirus that relate to our legislative responsibilities. It protected tenants and those who might be suffering from financial distress as a result of the outbreak. It also made changes that allowed our system of justice to continue, and it provided flexibility and relief to public services on the front line of the fight against the outbreak.

I was clear at the time that, as I said to members in the chamber, the Government was considering further primary legislation on the subject of the coronavirus. It is that further primary legislation, the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, that we are considering today. It will supplement and complement those first two pieces of primary legislation.

The bill has arisen as a result of two processes. First, there has been a thorough process of consideration and testing across all Scottish Government portfolios of any remaining measures that are required as a result of the pandemic. Secondly, there has been a process of engagement across the parties in the Parliament and with stakeholders to see what further ideas there were for urgent or necessary measures that could be delivered only through primary legislation. That process is in keeping with the frank and transparent approach that the Scottish Government has tried to take to all aspects of the legislative response.

However, legislation is only a small part of the effort to control the virus and adapt to the extraordinary steps that, as a society, we have to take. A range of secondary legislation is also part of the response. Recent Scottish statutory instruments considered by the Parliament include those that have adapted the system of school placing requests, provided relief for certain non-domestic rates and provided much of the system of electricity consent applications online.

With emergency legislation, we believe that bills—that is, primary legislation—should contain only provisions that are urgent, necessary and unavoidable. Where a policy can be achieved outwith a bill, through an SSI or through a change to guidance, that is what we will do and have been doing.

With emergency legislation, we believe that giving Parliament a proper and full role in post-legislative scrutiny is essential, and the same applies to scrutiny of all secondary legislation. We agree with the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee on that point, but it is up to the Parliament to decide how that should be done.

The second coronavirus bill follows exactly the scheme of the first in all regards. It will expire at the end of September unless it is renewed by the Parliament, and it can be renewed only twice. The reporting obligations in the bill follow exactly the same timetable as those in the first bill. That means that the Parliament will receive a single report on the provisions of the United Kingdom act—the Coronavirus Act 2020—the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and the bill, keeping Parliament and the public informed about the use of the powers and ensuring that none of them lasts a moment longer than is proportionate or necessary. I will shortly make proposals to the Parliament about the structure and nature of that reporting, first approaching the Presiding Officer, the Parliamentary Bureau and the convener of the COVID-19 Committee.

The bill also has the same equality and non-discrimination duty that was put into the first bill—that duty is reproduced on the face of the bill.

My colleagues the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People will shortly cover two major policies in the bill. The outbreak is, however, causing financial difficulty to many, so I will outline some other proposals in the bill.

The bill contains temporary changes to the system of bankruptcy to make it easier and cheaper to access. It also contains a power allowing non-domestic rates relief, which already includes 100 per cent relief for 2020-21, to help support businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, applying retrospectively, where necessary, in 2021.

The bill makes some amendments to the justice system to complement those made by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. For example, it will temporarily allow adjournments in summary cases to last for longer than 28 days. It will extend the time limits by which people have to pay confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It will allow electronic registration in the register of inhibitions and the register of judgments, and it moves the courts from a system of advertising court actions on the walls of the court to advertising them online.

All the measures are temporary; that is written on the face of the bill. It is not impossible that we may, as a Government, as a Parliament and as a society, learn a great deal about what is possible from how we have adapted to this crisis, but that is for later.

The bill also makes a number of changes to statutory deadlines, reflecting the reality that the effects of the outbreak on our society will continue for some time yet. However, the absolute priority of the Government at all levels remains the protection of human life.

Minor changes include amendments delaying the 2020 Union of European Football Associations European championship until 2021; allowing more flexibility about when the citizens assembly on climate change can be held; giving registered social landlords more time to file their audited accounts; and giving ministers more time to make a statement on local connection under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.

I want to mention one other thing, which reflects the cross-party process that the bill has been part of. Earlier this week, Mr Fraser raised with me the question of marriage and the fact that, for many people, it appears impossible to get married during the current period. Mr Tomkins raised the same issue with me yesterday at the COVID-19 Committee. We recognise that there has been an immense burden on registrars and that it would not be possible under the social distancing legislation to provide wider permission for marriage than exists at present. However, it is an important issue. Marriages are sometimes sought for intensely personal, unavoidable and sad reasons, which can include a terminal diagnosis, a need to leave the country—for example, for military service—or a need to get married to maintain status under immigration and asylum law.

I am satisfied that no change to the current law is needed. Under normal circumstances, there must be at least 28 clear days of notice before a marriage takes place, but it is possible for the registrar general to waive that rule. However, yesterday at the COVID-19 Committee, Mr Tomkins raised important points about public understanding of that, how to access the facility and the consistency of approach across Scotland. I thank Mr Tomkins, Mr Fraser and others for raising those issues.

I can announce today that the Scottish Government is urgently preparing guidance on the matter in conjunction with the National Records of Scotland. The guidance, which will be published and publicised shortly, will set out how and who to ask for an emergency marriage and where to find the information that people need. In the meantime, anybody who needs a marriage urgently should contact their religious belief body and the National Records of Scotland at the email address marriage@nrscotland.gov.uk.

The measures in the bill might seem like a miscellany of technical and temporary fixes, but the bill cannot be seen alone; it should be read alongside the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, the UK Coronavirus Act 2020, the public health regulations, the programme of SSIs and the range of action and advice by Government, industry and society. Taken together, those are our collective response to the greatest challenge of our times. Not everything can be fixed by legislation, but there are some very important protections in the bill for those who most need them.

I will pass over to my colleague Mr Stewart to set out some of those protections.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill.

14:41  



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

During consideration of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, I committed to bringing to Parliament a proposal to deal with the invidious situation that is still facing some students who live in purpose-built student accommodation. Although students who live in the mainstream private rented sector have been able to end their tenancies early by giving their landlord 28 days’ notice under the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, that has not been the case for those in purpose-built accommodation.

Many providers have behaved fairly and reasonably in these extraordinary circumstances. I am pleased that all universities and colleges and a number of the larger providers have allowed their tenants to end their contracts early. However, some students have not been allowed to do so, which has led to the provisions that are proposed in the bill.

We are talking about student tenancies the only purpose of which is to facilitate the accommodation of students while they are at university or college. The coronavirus outbreak and the need to observe the lockdown and stay safe have led to universities and colleges closing down and moving their students online where possible. Of course, many students have chosen to move home to be with their family rather than stay in accommodation in a place where their course is no longer being provided. Clearly, the purpose of those tenancies can no longer be fulfilled and, in these unprecedented times, students must be able to end them.

That demands a response. As a result, the bill introduces a seven-day notice-to-leave period for those who are currently tied into a student accommodation contract, and a 28-day notice-to-leave period for agreements that are entered into while the provisions are in force. The seven-day period provides an effective out for those who are currently tied into such contracts yet cannot benefit from them. The 28-day period will give students who are seeking accommodation for the next academic year reassurance that, should the uncertainty about the operation of universities continue, an appropriate notice period will exist in respect of their tenancy.

The Scottish Government regards such provisions as a fair and balanced solution that reflects the fact that, in many cases, we are dealing with contracts with a fundamental purpose that can no longer be delivered. They will bring welcome relief to those who are bound into such contracts currently and those who are contemplating entering such a contract in the near future.

I now pass on to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Shirley-Anne Somerville. If you could use up less time than four minutes, that would be useful, cabinet secretary.

14:45  



The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

Scotland’s unpaid carers are a vital lifeline for the people for whom they care. It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic has put an additional pressure on them. Many now face higher costs and extra caring responsibilities as a result of the changes that we have all had to make to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.

This Government values hugely the support that Scotland’s carers provide to their friends, family and neighbours. The first devolved benefit that Scotland introduced was the carers allowance supplement as an additional payment to the carers allowance. The twice-yearly payment has helped tens of thousands of carers over the past two years with support of around £460 a year that is not available outside Scotland.

Now, we need to do more. Therefore, I am introducing a one-off coronavirus carers allowance supplement to give carers the extra support that they need at this time. I propose, through the bill, to make an additional payment of £230.10 alongside their normal supplement payment in June. That payment will be made automatically by Social Security Scotland, which means that carers do not need to do anything to get that extra financial support. Provisions that are already in place for the supplement mean that this financial support will not be taken from elsewhere in the benefits system. Around 83,000 eligible carers in Scotland will get £690.30 this year in addition to their carers allowance—an additional investment of £19 million from this one additional supplement.

The people who are in receipt of carers allowance are some of our lowest-income carers with some of the most intensive caring roles, and I hope that the additional payment will reduce the financial pressures that they are experiencing, particularly as the majority do not benefit from the UK Government’s increase to universal credit.

In addition, we have already made changes, through the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and through regulations, to protect carers’ access to carers allowance, carers allowance supplement and the young carers grant. Those changes mean that carers can still be eligible for support in many circumstances where the pandemic has affected their ability to apply on time or changed the nature of their caring role.

We continue to build on a wide range of support and guidance that we have already put in place for all Scotland’s unpaid carers, young and adult. We are working alongside carers’ organisations to make sure that carers can get the right support to help to protect them and their loved ones, including short breaks from caring, access to personal protective equipment and testing, and financial support.

Much of that information, advice and support is provided by local carer and young carer services. Recognising that those services are a lifeline for carers in our communities, we have made available a £500,000 fund to support them to move to remote working, ensuring that carers can get the most up-to-date information and support over the phone or online.

We have heard from many carers about the difference that our carers allowance supplement payments have already made to their lives. I hope that members will support the bill, which will ensure that eligible carers receive a double supplement in June.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before we move on, I gently remind ministers that it is for the chair to call speakers, not for them to pass on. Thank you very much. I call Murdo Fraser, on behalf of the COVID-19 Committee—up to 10 minutes, please.

14:48  



Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am in the slightly unusual role of being the convener of a committee that no one wanted, and which no one wants to exist for any longer than is necessary. The COVID-19 Committee was created to scrutinise the wide range of mainly expedited legislation that is necessary to address the impact of coronavirus. It was within that remit that the committee carried out its stage 1 scrutiny of the bill yesterday.

I thank our committee clerks who have worked so hard in a very short time to support the committee in its work; the Scottish Parliament information centre for its briefing; and all the other parliamentary staff who have assisted, particularly those in broadcasting, by dealing with the technology that is required for the committee to meet virtually. I also thank my colleagues for the collegiate way in which they have approached the legislation and committee working, and for their patience and understanding as we grapple with the technology that has been required to make those virtual meetings work—most of the time, successfully.

The bill that is before us proposes a range of measures. It seeks to make adjustments to laws protecting individuals so as to ensure their effective operation during the coronavirus outbreak; it makes adjustments to criminal procedure and other aspects of the justice system to ensure that essential justice business can continue to be disposed of throughout the period of the outbreak; and it makes a range of provisions designed to ensure that business and public services can continue to operate effectively during a period when controls on movements have been imposed and when pressures on public services are acute.

The committee took evidence yesterday from the Law Society of Scotland and from the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs on the provisions in the bill, and it then reported its views. I thank the Law Society for giving evidence to us less than 24 hours after the bill was published. At this point, I remind members that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland.

To summarise our conclusions, the committee recommends that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the bill. I will say a little bit more about some of the issues that we touched on when taking evidence.

In committee yesterday we asked why the bill is necessary, given the decisions that Governments across the UK have taken to ease some of the previous restrictions. As the cabinet secretary explained, despite changes in lockdown restrictions in Scotland, there remain major disruptions to everyday life, which are likely to continue for some time. Therefore, the bill is necessary in requiring adjustments to the way we operate.

It was good to hear that the Scottish Government does not envisage introducing any further emergency Covid-19 bills, although there may well be a justice-related bill regarding jury trials. However, that will depend on the outcome of the consideration that is currently being done by the judiciary-led group.

One of the key issues that arose during our consideration of the bill is whether it achieves the right balance in responding to the pandemic while not unreasonably impacting on people’s human rights. The Scottish Government explains in its policy memorandum that it

“is satisfied that all of the measures contained in the Bill are appropriate and proportionate, but it recognises that many are far-reaching and unprecedented.”

The Law Society considered that, overall, the bill strikes the right balance in its impact on human rights while seeking to address the impact of Covid-19. To help achieve that balance, the bill includes some of the same safeguards that are included in its predecessor, now the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020.

Part 1 of the bill has a built-in time limit of 30 September 2020, which can be extended by approval of the Parliament for a maximum duration of 18 months. That ensures that Parliament will have its say on whether the powers are being used appropriately and whether they should be extended.

The committee welcomes the requirement for Scottish ministers to keep part 1 of the bill under review and to report every two months on their assessment of the need for the bill, of whether parts of the bill remain in use and of how the powers have been used. That builds on a similar commitment contained in the existing 2020 act. The committee looks forward to considering the reports that will come forward and to working with the cabinet secretary as the measures develop.

The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee highlighted to us in a letter that it would be beneficial, in the interests of effective scrutiny, if the Scottish Government would review, and report to the Scottish Parliament on, all subordinate legislation made in response to the coronavirus emergency, whether it is made under the provisions of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 or under the bill that is before us today.

As the lockdown restrictions continue, the impact on the viability of many businesses will increase. The bill therefore makes proposals aimed at making bankruptcy easier for those who need it by reducing or removing application fees and increasing the maximum level of debt covered by the process, including by removing student debt from the calculation. The bill also makes it harder for creditors to make individuals bankrupt, by raising the minimum amount that must be owed before the creditor can go to court. The Scottish Government considers that those proposals are fair and proportionate. It would therefore be helpful for the committee to understand how the revised figures in the bill were arrived at in order to understand how that view was reached.

One area of discussion in the committee, to which the cabinet secretary has already referred, was the question whether the bill needed to provide greater clarity on whether marriage ceremonies can now take place, particularly, but not exclusively, in the end-of-life circumstances to which the cabinet secretary referred. We welcome the clarification that he provided yesterday that, in certain exceptional circumstances such as the end of life or where one partner may be leaving the country for work, marriages can take place subject to registrars waiving certain conditions. We support the decision to issue further guidance, which is being considered by National Records of Scotland and the Scottish Government. I welcome what the cabinet secretary said about that a few moments ago. The guidance should help to provide the public with greater clarity.

However, if those powers already exist, it would be helpful if we could get some further clarification of the extent to which marriages and civil partnerships are already happening in exceptional circumstances, and whether the public are aware of the powers. We should also remember that not everyone who wants to get married will be in exceptional circumstances. There will be people who want to get married for other good reasons, perhaps religious reasons, and I do not think that we should forget about their situation.

Although many of the changes in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill are being made to address negative impacts from the current pandemic, the committee recognises that some of them could be good practices that should continue in the longer term. Because of the truncated bill processes, however, it would be wrong simply to continue them without further consultation and, if appropriate, new legislation. To that end, we recommend that further consultation and post-legislative scrutiny of the coronavirus legislation will be essential once the emergency situation is over in order to help to inform any such decisions.

I again thank my colleagues and those who have assisted the committee. Assuming that the bill is agreed to at stage 1, we will proceed to stages 2 and 3 next week, when we will consider amendments. For now, I am pleased to support the general principles of the bill.

14:56  



Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Here we are again, for the third successive time, debating emergency legislation that responds to the coronavirus crisis. Let me say straight away that we will support the general principles of the bill at decision time this afternoon, but I do not like it. I do not like it at all.

Let me go back to the beginning, to set my grumpiness in a little context. On 24 March, we gave our consent to the UK Government’s Coronavirus Bill, and Westminster duly passed that legislation with, I think, no more than four days’ debate and scrutiny. A week later, on 1 April, we took our Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill through all its stages in a single day, and today we are here again, as I said, for the third time.

As the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs said, the pieces of legislation are all parts of the same overall package, and together this body of emergency law enacts an extraordinary curtailment of our most fundamental and hitherto cherished rights and liberties. I think that it was Willie Rennie who said, in one of our earlier debates, that he looks forward to the day when it can all be repealed, and so do I—I am sure that we all do.

It is not just the unprecedented incursion into rights and liberties that should give us pause; it is also the very fact of legislating in a hurry. If we have learned anything in the past few days about the management of the coronavirus crisis, it is surely that we need to think things through. I appreciate that, unlike the previous bill, the one that we are considering today is to be considered in a week rather than in a single day. However, when we legislate in a hurry like this, we lose the time to think not only about what is in the bill but about what is not in it; the time to think about amendments; the time to consult; and the time to build coalitions of support. This is a Parliament of minorities, after all. None of us here can do anything without seeking and obtaining the support of others, and that takes time. So, I make no apology for being grumpy.

I recognise that, within those unwelcome constraints, the cabinet secretary has tried to do his best, and I thank him for that. As the bill was being prepared, he reached out to other parties to seek their input, and he has put in place in the bill the same procedural checks and safeguards that are contained in the earlier coronavirus legislation that we have passed. All of that is welcome and is to be commended. I also welcome what the cabinet secretary told the COVID-19 Committee yesterday—that the bill is intended to be the last piece of emergency legislation that the Scottish ministers will bring to the Parliament in response to the coronavirus crisis.

However, I want to reflect on three matters. The first, which the cabinet secretary and the convener of the committee have already touched on, is the right to marry. I am sure that I am not the only MSP in receipt of an increasing amount of correspondence from constituents who are increasingly anxious about not being able to get married or make plans to get married. We all understand why large wedding parties cannot go ahead as normal at the moment, but, as I understand it, only five people—the two parties, the registrar and two witnesses—need to be present for a lawful marriage to take place. There are hundreds of locations across Scotland where gatherings as small as that can take place while people still observe social distancing at all times.

As the cabinet secretary recorded in his remarks, I raised the matter with him yesterday in committee. He has since written to the committee—I thank him for his letter—explaining that there is no legal ban on marriages at the moment but that, as a matter of practice, registrars appear not to be issuing marriage licences because they are prioritising their work regarding the registration of deaths. In response to that, I gently point out to the cabinet secretary and the registrar general that the right to marry is exactly that—a right. Indeed, it is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in article 12 of the European convention on human rights. As such, its exercise should be denied to people only where there is a “pressing social need” to do so. Disproportionate interferences with the exercise of the right to marry will be unlawful.

There are circumstances—sometimes very sad circumstances—in which the right to marry needs to be exercised quickly, such as when one of the parties is at or near the end of life. The cabinet secretary explained in his letter—he also said this in his speech—that the 28-day notice period that is normally required for a marriage licence can be waived in exceptional circumstances.

Perhaps the cabinet secretary is right in saying that there does not need to be a change in the law to facilitate marriages in the time of coronavirus, but, at the very least, there needs to be a change of perception both among members of the public and, I would say, among registrars. The cabinet secretary said in his letter that

“there is a need to ensure public understanding of what is possible”

with regard to marriage ceremonies. I agree, and I am raising these matters now—as he did in his speech—in order to shine some parliamentary light on them in the hope that we can move to a position where more marriages can take place lawfully and, of course, safely. In that spirit, I warmly welcome what the cabinet secretary had to say about the matter in his speech.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I support—100 per cent—what Adam Tomkins has said. He has brought something really important to the chamber. Obviously, people marry for love, but does he agree that there can be real consequences for someone if anything happens to their partner and they have missed out on the chance to be married?

Adam Tomkins

Absolutely. I fully agree with that, which is why it is recognised that marriage is not just a privilege or an interest but a fundamental right. The same goes for this right as goes for all other rights that we are trampling all over in our attempts to suppress the spread of the coronavirus. The interferences with those rights must be justified in the public interest; that is how we have to approach all of these matters.

The second matter that I want to reflect on, in the time that I have left, is freedom of information. In last month’s debate on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, there were vigorous exchanges in this chamber—and a series of knife-edge votes that were decided on the casting vote of the Presiding Officer—about the Scottish Government’s proposals to exempt itself from the ordinary rules of freedom of information, which gave it and other public authorities much longer to respond to requests for information than the law normally stipulates.

It is notable that, yesterday, in what was, I have to say, a high-quality debate with outstanding contributions from right across the chamber, every Opposition MSP who spoke argued that the Scottish Government needs to be more transparent with us and with the public in its handling of the coronavirus crisis—whether that is transparency about the R number, transparency about failures in care homes or transparency about what happened at the Nike conference earlier in the year. The way that we left our FOI laws after last month’s bill was passed has left a sour taste in the mouth and is deeply unsatisfactory—and I give notice that I intend to lodge amendments at stage 2 of this bill to put that right. At a time like this, there is neither justification nor excuse for ministers seeking to shield themselves from the glare of openness and transparency.

Finally, there are two procedural points that are bothering me. The first is that, although we are all agreed that emergency legislation might be necessary to deal with a public emergency, not all of the provisions in this new bill deal directly with the public emergency. Some go beyond it and make changes that, although they are perhaps innocent and no doubt expedient, are not strictly required by the emergency that we face.

For example, the new bill makes changes to legislation regarding what is now to be next year’s UEFA football championship. The changes are admittedly minor, but it is not appropriate to use emergency legislation to make changes to policy that do not pertain to the emergency in question and that are not strictly required by it.

Finally, I want to underscore a point that was made by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which Murdo Fraser has already referred to. We know that the bill, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 enact safeguards including reporting requirements and sunset provisions. Those are important safeguards, but by no means all of the secondary legislation that has been made by ministers in connection with the coronavirus has been made under those acts. Much of it has been made under other legislation, which means that the safeguards on reporting requirements and sunsetting will not apply. I note the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s recommendation that, at the very least, the Scottish Government should report regularly to the Parliament on all provisions relating to the coronavirus crisis and not only on those made under the emergency legislation. That is another matter that could usefully be considered at stage 2.

First, however, we have to get through stage 1. As I have indicated, subject to those reservations, we will support the general principles of the bill this afternoon.

15:06  



Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In opening for Labour, I acknowledge the on-going co-operation with the Government in addressing the Covid-19 crisis. I thank the cabinet secretary for the inclusive approach that he has taken to the bill and other legislation that is being introduced in the Parliament, and we will support the bill at stage 1.

The public expect all of us in the chamber to work together in the best interests of our country during the crisis and in the best interests of the people. That is the right thing to do.

As we move through this uncertain period, there may well be a need for further legislation. If that is the case, we will continue to work with the Government to make it happen.

Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister confirmed that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture is working with employers and trade unions to put in place guidance and a framework for safe working. We need to see the outcomes of that work, but we also need a massive expansion of health and safety representatives in workplaces across the country. If that or any other aspect of safe working in a safe working framework needs to be put into law, we will be willing to help to do that at pace.

I was very disappointed as I read the change of message from the UK Government on Sunday and by the even more confused national address from the Prime Minister on Sunday evening. It is important that we do all that we can to avoid confusing messages, but that is difficult when the Westminster Government breaks rank and goes off in a separate direction.

It is important that the Scottish Parliament makes it clear that we are at one with the Government of Scotland when it comes to how we move forward and on the message, “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” It is also important that we ensure that, as we move forward in supporting workers to get back to work, clear rules and guidance are in place and all health and safety laws apply. That is why I ask the Government to explore further the role of health and safety representatives in workplaces. I hope that the cabinet secretary will take that on board.

This year, the theme for international workers memorial day, on 28 April, was, fittingly, coronavirus. The Trades Union Congress reminded us of the importance of health and safety in the workplace. It said:

“We could not have a starker reminder of the important role of trade union health and safety reps in saving and protecting workers’ lives, than the current crisis we are living through.”

As I have said, I ask the cabinet secretary to take that issue on board and to look at a massive expansion of health and safety representatives across our country.

Given the speed of the legislation, it is vital to pick up concerns and issues that have been flagged up to us. In fairness to the cabinet secretary, many of the measures in the bill have been flagged up by individuals and organisations.

Shelter Scotland has welcomed the changes that will be brought in by the bill to allow students to terminate their current student accommodation tenancy by giving seven days’ notice. Shelter Scotland says that:

“Student accommodation providers must provide maximum flexibility in these unprecedented times–and these proposed changes will ensure protection for all students who cannot remain in their student residential accommodation due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Law Society of Scotland states:

“Compliance with ECHR means that legislative change must be lawful, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and nondiscriminatory.”

It goes on to say that it welcomes

“the respect for human rights in the Policy Memorandum.”

In highlighting some particular features, it makes it clear that

“close post-legislative scrutiny of how the Act works in practice”

will be crucial. I agree with that. I put on record the Scottish Labour Party’s thanks to the Law Society for the support and impartial advice that it provides all year round—particularly now, when there is less time to scrutinise what is sometimes difficult and complex legislation.

I accept that lessons will need to be learned during the crisis as we make progress. The lesson we have learned this week from the Nike conference that took place at a hotel in Edinburgh must be that no one can come into Scotland through our airports unless they are tested and quarantined for 14 days. We will, and we need to, learn when mistakes are made. That highlights why the Scottish Government has been right to insist that all nations of the UK should work together and why the UK Government must learn the lessons of this week, think before it acts and do so only in partnership with all nations and Administrations of the United Kingdom.

In this crisis, Opposition members—indeed, all members—have a duty to hold the Government to account where there are weaknesses and gaps and where things must move at a faster pace. That is not simply to criticise—party politics must be put to one side—but to make sure that the right decisions are made during a difficult situation. That said, we must also recognise the enormity of the challenges and support ministers as they face up to them.

Four weeks ago, I asked the Government why, given our established life sciences sector, it is not making greater use of the expertise in Scotland’s universities and research institute labs to increase testing capacity for the coronavirus. We are not using all the capacity in Scotland’s labs to test for the virus, and testing and tracking are nowhere near the level that they should be at. The measures in the bill are just part of a widespread approach, and we need every bit of that approach to be working. We all have a duty to work together to make that happen.

15:13  



Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

The Scottish Green Party supports the general principles of the bill and will be voting for it.

My focus will be on what can and should be added to the bill. We are particularly pleased with the provisions on student accommodation, after having lodged amendments on that matter to the first bill on coronavirus. I am glad that the human rights concerns have been resolved. As the minister mentioned, proposals now allow students to terminate existing contracts with seven days’ notice and cancel new contracts with 28 days’ notice. I thank the National Union of Students and many members of the Scottish Youth Parliament for their work in securing that.

Before proceeding, I will raise an important point about this and the previous bill, which the cabinet secretary also mentioned. Both are emergency bills and expire by the automatic rule of law on either 30 September 2020 or 31 March 2021, if they are not terminated sooner by regulation. However, as we now know, the pandemic will affect people not only during the crisis. It will have impacts beyond the emergency period on, for example, indebtedness—I think that that is very obvious—and, importantly, housing. Our contention is that those impacts are Covid-19 impacts and that they need to be addressed. Housing has always been a public health issue and, as we continue to stay at home, people need greater security to allow them to plan for the future and deal with the financial difficulties that many of them are, or will be, facing. At stage 2, therefore, the Greens will lodge amendments on housing that relate to the post-emergency period.

Those amendments will ensure that any arrears that are a consequence of Covid-19 can never be grounds for eviction in future. They will introduce a tenant hardship fund to balance the landlord hardship fund that was developed by the Tories and the Scottish National Party. Most critically, because tenants will continue to face hardship over the coming months and years as a result of already high rents and reduced incomes, we will lodge an amendment to introduce a rent freeze for two years following the expiry of the emergency period, to give tenants some limited certainty in a world that is so full of uncertainty.

We also want to ensure that women’s right to access reproductive healthcare is not curtailed by the crisis. We want to give pharmacists the ability to issue contraceptive pills free of charge, bringing policy in Scotland in line with that in England. Currently, contraceptive pills can be accessed free of charge only with a prescription from a general practitioner. Our proposal is very much in line with the Scottish Government’s own advice that couples should think seriously about whether they should start a family during the pandemic. The Scottish Government has already extended the minor ailments service for the period of the pandemic. Our proposal is that the contraceptive pill be issued through that service. Many women are at higher risk of domestic abuse, including coercive control, at present. Ensuring that they have the greatest possible access to contraception is an important part of providing support through the crisis.

One of the known impacts of the virus is that we will require to physically distance for many months in the future. Plans are already taking shape in cities to redesign road space to accommodate safely cycling and walking. When restrictions are lifted, we will face an enormous risk of a major increase in car use and the resulting congestion and air pollution. As my colleague Alison Johnstone highlighted at First Minister’s questions today, before the pandemic, thousands—the same order of magnitude as have been dying from Covid-19—were already dying as a result of air pollution. We are a bit disappointed to see no measures in the bill to address that issue, although we accept that they might not be required. We are, however, keen to explore that, because councils will be investing millions in making our streets safer, and we must make it easier for them to make those changes more permanent.

On education, there are on-going challenges for students who have received their final payment from the Student Awards Agency Scotland. The summer work that many depend on will almost certainly not exist. The National Union of Students Scotland has said that there is a “ticking time bomb” of student deprivation. Even in a normal year, summer is the period in which drop-outs spike, due to financial pressures. We support the Scottish Government student hardship fund, but it is administered by colleges and universities. We need a more systematic increase in student support, such as an extension of SAAS payments over the summer.

Universal credit is the only alternative for many students. As ministers are well aware, the problems with that system—not least the five-week waiting time—are significant.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

Will the member take an intervention?

Andy Wightman

I am happy to, if it is brief.

Neil Findlay

I wanted to intervene before the member entered the final minute of his speech.

Adam Tomkins raised the issue of FOI. I understand that Mr Wightman was not happy with the way in which FOI was treated in the previous bill on coronavirus. Would the Greens support amendments to repeal the restrictions on FOI that were in the previous bill?

Andy Wightman

The short answer is yes.

It is clear that this deadly virus will be around for some considerable period to come. We welcome the Government’s emergency bill to make further adjustments to the law in order to deal with the impacts of Covid-19, but we are also clear—in a way that we were not when the first bill was passed—that we now need to think beyond what is strictly the emergency period and to address the on-going Covid-19 impacts that will continue to affect peoples’ lives beyond the expiry of this bill. Thus there is a strong case for making provisions now that will give some confidence and certainty to Scotland’s tenants to ensure that the human right to housing is not compromised by a legislative framework that never anticipated the crisis that we are now living through.

15:19  



Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I thank the Scottish Government and, in particular, Michael Russell for the inclusive manner that characterised the first emergency bill of the crisis and this one, and I assure him of Liberal Democrat support on the general principles.

I echo Andy Wightman’s excellent comments, particularly those on women’s reproductive health and student accommodation, which are issues that have materialised—and they will not be alone—as things that the Parliament has to deal with.

I commend the Government and civil servants for the quick turnaround on the bill; it is well written and there are only a few areas that we will seek to slightly amend. I hope that, with the exception of one, they will prove uncontroversial.

The first of those covers the additional dwelling supplement; we would like to extend the timeframe from 27 months to 36 months, bringing it into line with provisions in England. The ADS came into force on 1 April 2016 via the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2016. In 2016, my colleague Liam McArthur raised concerns about the

“fear that the 18 month threshold will prove particularly problematic in places like Orkney, and could adversely affect the local market”.

The housing market in Orkney, and other island communities, operates differently from that in mainland Scotland. Properties can remain on the market for prolonged periods, often extending beyond 18 months. At the time, Derek Mackay said that the provisions had not been in place long enough to be reconsidered. Liam asked for an island communities impact assessment in May 2019, but Kate Forbes said that she did not consider a change to be necessary. That tax has a specific purpose: to protect the interests of first-time buyers who want to enter the Scottish property market, but at the moment people who have a genuine interest in selling their old home, and are making every effort to do so, are being caught out by a slow market. That is not the point of the tax. An extension of the timeframe would provide breathing space for those who are trying to sell up in areas that move more slowly. Given that we just do not know how the property market is going to react to the coronavirus crisis, that breathing space could make all the difference.

The second area that we will explore by amendment covers the loopholes that have appeared through support for businesses. Eligibility for that support is currently linked to the non-domestic rates system. Each of us will know businesses in our communities that have fallen through the cracks. One particular concern is the qualification date that the Scottish Government set of 17 March. Some businesses may have sublet their operation for a short time, so the tenant stands to benefit from the whole grant—that was the case for the Queensferry Motor Company in my constituency, whose owner had to sublet the business for three months at the start of the year and was due to take back occupancy at the start of May. He will miss out on that business-saving grant.

Of additional concern is the issue of those who do not pay business rates to the council but do so indirectly as part of a management charge or rental agreement to a management company or factor. Many companies operating in the Gyle industrial estate in my constituency occupy serviced office space. Their business rate liability exists but is factored into the fee that they pay to the company that manages that space. We shall seek to explore how we might close these loopholes by amendment.

Those are the areas that I hope that the Government will look kindly on. The one that I fear will be met with controversy—it has been mentioned several times—is on the freedom of information section in the first bill.

On any normal day, the rejection of any proposal by all four Opposition parties to a proposal in the chamber would spell the end of it. That would reflect the decision and settled will of the Scottish electorate in the 2016 election, but the balance of votes in the chamber on 1 April was askew and the result distorted. That prompted Catherine Stihler from the Open Knowledge Foundation to point out that

“Scotland is now in the unenviable position of being the first country in the world to introduce new restrictions on freedom of information as a result of the coronavirus outbreak”.

In the days afterwards, the BBC called for the official count of the number of suspected cases of coronavirus in care homes—something that is already being given to councils, health boards and the Government—but the Care Inspectorate told it that the request was being treated as an FOI, meaning that the inspectorate had three months to respond. We know that the health secretary resolved that issue, but a robust system should not need the good grace of its ministers.

A Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that 52 per cent of respondents believe that

“restricting the public’s right to information is an unnecessary measure”

in this emergency. I have asked clerks to draft an amendment for stage 2 repealing this section of the act, but I am quite willing to withdraw those instructions and work with Adam Tomkins and other parties to repeal the provision. I want to use the amendment to spark a properly balanced discussion and a vote on what the system should be for the duration of the pandemic.

Ross Greer and Neil Findlay put forward some of the options in our previous discussions. Last time around, we had only minutes to talk this through. This time, we have a week or more to agree alternatives, and I invite ministers to convene those talks now—to listen to what they have heard and to the unanimity among Opposition members asking them to go and think again on the provisions around time limits for freedom of information.

As Liberals, we have sought at every stage in this emergency to ensure that Scotland’s liberal values are retained throughout the whole of this emergency—whether that be in relation to jury trials or to freedom of information. For those reasons, we hope that we will persuade Government to adopt those changes.

15:25  



Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I am pleased to have been called to speak in this stage 1 debate on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. I sit on the Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee. As a member of that committee, I too thank its clerks for the tremendous amount of work that they have done in such a short time in order to meet the tight deadlines of this emergency legislation. I also thank the Scottish Parliament information centre and, in particular, the broadcasting and information technology staff, who are very patient indeed with people who are not hugely technically skilled.

As we have heard, assuming that the principles of the bill are agreed to tonight, as looks likely, we will see a virtual stage 2 committee meeting next Tuesday, which will, I believe, be a first for the Parliament—at least, in terms of primary legislation. I am sure that all the committee’s members and the clerks are up for the challenge, so we will see how all that transpires. It seems, from what members have said, that there might be quite a few amendments to be scrutinised. We will then, of course, have stage 3 next Wednesday. A fast-tracked royal assent process thereafter has been requested.

In considering the bill, the first question that we must ask, as a Parliament, is whether there is a need for the legislation to be introduced and to be dealt with on an emergency basis. For my part, the clear underlying rationale for the bill is the recognition that we are in this for the long haul, and that we therefore need to plan ahead, to act prudently and with caution, and to facilitate the continuing functioning of our society while we strive to arrive at the new normal—whatever and whenever that will be. I believe that the provisions in the bill reflect those imperatives.

I turn to some of the matters that are covered in the bill, with a view also to reflecting on their appropriateness and proportionality. First, I very much welcome the provision in the bill that will allow, for the first time, backdating of any further rates reliefs that might be introduced. That will permit the Scottish Government, were it to introduce further business rates reliefs for the financial year 2020-21, to backdate that relief to April 2020. That will be of significant benefit to business, so I look forward to hearing from the Scottish Government about its plans in that respect.

Another key provision of the bill is that it will make a special coronavirus carers allowance supplement of £230.10, in addition to the two other carers allowance supplements that were due to be paid this year, in that amount. Thus, if the bill is passed, that money will automatically be paid next month to all those who are in receipt of carers allowance. As the cabinet secretary said, that special supplement recognises the tremendous pressures on unpaid carers—in particular, those caused by the pandemic. I am sure that the special supplement will be very much welcomed.

The bill covers a number of important areas in relation to our justice system, including proceeds of crime confiscation orders. Under the bill, the coronavirus pandemic would be deemed to be an exceptional circumstance, such that the timing of confiscation order proceedings could be extended if they are impacted directly or indirectly by the pandemic. That reflects the practical difficulties at this time in progressing confiscation orders, and will ensure that the prospect of recovery of proceeds of crime is not hindered.

I understand from our stage 1 evidence session at committee yesterday that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has raised that issue because it was concerned that investigation orders, for example, could not be routinely considered by a court at this time because of the need for both Crown and defence agents to attend in person. A concomitant provision in the bill, in part 2 of schedule 2, would also extend time limits within which individuals who are subject to confiscation orders must pay.

That reflects the current difficulties in, for example, realising assets such as heritable property. I know that in Scotland recovery of proceeds of crime has, to date, been a huge success story, so I am pleased to see that the significant efforts of the Crown Office and of Police Scotland in that regard will not be undermined as a result of the pandemic.

The bill covers many other important issues, but I am conscious that time is moving on. I have raised a representative sample of the kinds of issues—technical, in many regards—that the bill deals with. It is evident that the provisions that concern them are appropriate and proportionate. The need for the legislation has been established.

I end on a reference to the important issue of safeguards. As parliamentarians, the other key issue that we need to look at in emergency legislation is whether sufficient safeguards are in place. In that respect, it should be noted that, as is the case in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, the operative provisions of the bill will expire on 30 September 2020, with two possible further periods of extension only if Parliament approves.

As we have heard, the Scottish Government is also required to provide reports on the legislation every two months. I was pleased to hear Michael Russell’s comments in that regard, on the Government looking at ways to involve the chamber and the COVID-19 Committee in scrutiny of the reports. I look forward to further details on that process. In addition to those scrutiny opportunities, post-legislative scrutiny also plays an important role. Safeguards are, therefore, in place, so I am content to agree to the principles of the bill at stage 1.

15:32  



Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

The Scottish Conservatives recognise the need for many of the elements of the bill, as the Scottish Government seeks to continue to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 public health emergency, and its impact on individuals, public services, businesses and our economy.

I will focus my initial comments on the bill’s proposal for extra financial support for carers. That is something that I have called for from the start of the crisis, and I welcome Shirley-Anne Somerville’s positive engagement on the matter. I pay tribute to the carers, paid and unpaid, in my Lothian region and across Scotland, who have worked so hard during the pandemic to look after some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom are at most risk.

Carers play a vital role in our society and are often forgotten. As we consider the role that they play, I hope that the legislation will make the difference that we need to see being made for them. From speaking to carers and carers’ organisations in my region, I know that the extra support that is offered in the bill, on top of the carers allowance supplement, is welcome. Scottish Conservatives support it. I hope that ministers will also consider engaging with carers and their representative organisations during this time, and that they will continue to look at possible additional measures to support carers.

I make a further plea around restarting and development of respite services and carers’ breaks. I have written to the cabinet secretary about that today, because we need those services to be given priority. Many of our fellow Scots have not had respite care during this period, and want the matter to be moved forward urgently. I hope that that can be looked at.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I thank Miles Briggs for giving me the opportunity to say that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and I have spoken about that exact issue. The matter clearly relates to some aspects that the First Minister brought up today. We need also to bear in mind the vulnerability of people who might use respite facilities, but the issue is under active consideration in the priorities that the First Minister mentioned.

Miles Briggs

I welcome that clarity, and I hope that I will be able to hear how that can be taken forward as soon as possible.

Since the outbreak of the crisis, a number of students at the University of Edinburgh have contacted me about their concerns about being unable to exit leases for student accommodation, so I welcome the legislative proposals on that. It is right that students should be able to exit their leases, so I am pleased that additional provision is being made in the bill for those who might enter accommodation in the coming academic year. Student representative groups have rightly welcomed the measures.

I have also raised with the Scottish Government a number of constituency cases in which people face being unable to claim back the additional dwelling supplement, so I welcome the commonsense proposals on that.

Notwithstanding the support schemes that have already been introduced, it is appropriate, with many small and retail businesses continuing to struggle and being fearful of the future, that the bill will give ministers powers to set new rates reliefs, and to backdate them to 1 April 2020. We await further detail of what ministers have planned in that regard.

Although much of the bill is welcome, Scottish Conservatives have concerns about a number of aspects, particularly in relation to justice proposals, which my colleague Liam Kerr will outline later.

Ministers have also failed to make an adequate case for why it is necessary to delay publication of data that is vital in our fight against climate change, and to delay publication of annual accounts. I presume that officials are still working on those and are in a position to provide updates to Parliament. We believe that it is essential that we are still able to scrutinise the Government’s spending, as officials make progress in those areas.

I will pick up on Adam Tomkins’s earlier grumpiness. I, too, have become concerned about the persistent delays, sometimes for a number of weeks, in ministers answering written questions.

I also have reservations about the cabinet secretary’s intention to lodge at stage 2 next week a Government amendment on powers to purchase care homes. That move has already created concern and distraction in the care sector, at the very time when we are seeing coronavirus engulfing many homes. The priority of us all must be to deliver the safe and high-quality care that people who live in care homes desperately need. In the middle of a pandemic, none of us wants care home staff across Scotland to be worried about the future of their jobs or the future viability of the homes in which they work. Also, I have seen nothing in the way of consultation of the independent and charitable sectors on the proposal. Jeane Freeman said that she wants to work in partnership with the care sector; instead, that move by ministers risks creating a negative relationship, which I hope ministers will recognise.

Alex Rowley

I accept what Miles Briggs said about care home staff being worried about the future of their jobs. Does he agree that care home staff across Scotland are absolutely terrified right now about going to work, and that that is the issue that we need to tackle?

Miles Briggs

I absolutely agree. That is why we should by now have a timetable for when all care home staff in Scotland will be tested. We know that people are testing as asymptomatic to Covid-19, but are still working in care homes, so the matter should have been addressed long before now.

The point that I was making was that SNP ministers admit that they already have common-law powers to enter agreements with the charitable and independent care providers to purchase financially struggling care homes, and we support that. However, the cabinet secretary has made no effort to reach out to Opposition spokesmen on the issue and, by not setting out what the proposed amendment will be today, is not giving Parliament a full opportunity to scrutinise the proposal, given the rapid passage of the legislation.

Michael Russell

As I have not seen an amendment, and Miles Briggs has not seen an amendment, I suggest two things. The first is that we wait to see an amendment, and the second is that we do not make the assumption that amendments at stage 2 are inherently wrong. There might be many amendments lodged at stage 2, some of which will come from the Conservatives. I do not assume that they are inherently wrong, and I do not think that we should assume that that is the case for any amendment until we have seen it. Certainly, we should not stir up fears about an amendment without having seen the detail of it.

Miles Briggs

In the past, Mr Russell has outlined his concern about the unintended consequences of poor legislation, and I agree with that. I fear that such an amendment could be a prime example of ministers not engaging and not listening to concerns. The charitable and independent homes are expressing concerns and want to make sure that the proposal will not negatively impact on the sector, so it is important that we raise those concerns in Parliament. The care sector is, critically, facing an uncertain future, so it needs help and support, not yet more uncertainty.

I welcome large parts of the bill and believe that it is correct that ministers are putting the measures in place. I hope that the Scottish Government will look again at a number of specific proposals about which members from across the chamber have expressed concern, and that it will consider removing or revising them as we move to the next stages of the bill next week.

15:39  



Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I am pleased to be able to speak in this important stage 1 debate on the proposals to further protect the people of Scotland from consequences arising as a result of the health emergency.

The new COVID-19 Committee held a good online evidence-taking session yesterday with Michael Clancy and Gillian Mawdsley from the Law Society, followed by the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, Mike Russell.

The Law Society has kindly provided a briefing that covers most of the topics in the bill, and I am grateful to it for doing that at so late a stage in the day, yesterday. The bill covers a number of areas, including bankruptcy, student accommodation, criminal justice, proceeds of crime, help for carers and changes to the land and buildings transaction tax. It seeks to introduce protections for individuals who, through no fault of their own or action on their part, may find themselves in difficult circumstances, financial or otherwise, as a result of the health emergency and regulations that are now in force.

Initially, my interest was to ask Mr Clancy about the basic principles that underpin any legislation and whether they still apply in this case, when we are having to expedite legislation on a far tighter timescale than we would normally be comfortable with. Of course, I also wanted to ask about the safeguards for the public in a process such as this. Those basic principles—that any law should be clear, coherent, effective and accessible and should work in practice—should all still apply, even in these circumstances. Further, fundamental protections for people in relation to equality and human rights must remain in place.

Mr Clancy and the Law Society welcomed a number of provisions in the bill that engage the European convention on human rights and explained that it was even more important to do so when legislating for emergency laws. Other, more obvious, safeguards are the review periods in which the Scottish Government will review and report progress with the bill, as well as the automatic expiry of many of the provisions, with none of the measures in part 1 lasting beyond September 2021. Possibly lastly, it is important that the Parliament feels that it has been able to scrutinise the bill in some detail, and I would imagine that our Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee might take the opportunity to consider how the legislation has performed when it gets the chance to do so.

I was happy to see the proposals relating to protecting our students, many of whom have been particularly disadvantaged by the outbreak of the virus because, although they have returned to their homes, they are still required to pay for the accommodation that, as many other members have mentioned, they have been unable to use. Those students who were in halls of residence or purpose-built accommodation have no right to terminate the tenancy agreements and, sadly, many of them are still being forced to pay for it. When he gave evidence to the COVID-19 Committee yesterday, the cabinet secretary confirmed that it was the Government’s intention to introduce a seven-day notice period for students who are currently tied into tenancies and a 28-day notice period for agreements that are entered into while the act is in force.

With universities unable to function and students unable to attend, I think that that is a fair and reasonable compromise that will help many students and their families at this difficult time. The Law Society, too, supports the measure, albeit that it seeks some clarification of exactly who can serve the notice, especially if it has come about as a result of the virus itself. Indeed, the provision might fall foul of article 14 of the ECHR, which deals with discrimination towards people who are enduring similar circumstances.

I would like to say a word or two to welcome the proposals in the bill to award a payment this June of around £230 to recipients of the carers allowance, which is to be paid on top of the carers allowance supplement. That payment will surely help some of our lowest paid carers—nearly 2,500 in East Ayrshire alone—who are doing an incredibly difficult and crucial job helping the most vulnerable people in our communities.

In drawing my brief remarks to a close, I would like to comment on the courtesy, respect and concern that has been shown by all of our colleagues in the committees that I am serving on during this crisis. It has really been welcome, and I hope that we might see some more of that in the chamber sometime, too. Ministers and their officials trying to get us through this and those who have kindly participated to help us by appearing online to give evidence despite extremely difficult circumstances have been inspiring, to say the least. All of that may well be pointing us to a new normal with regard to how we conduct our business from now on, and I suggest that that would be no bad thing.

My last word goes to the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said:

“We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world.”

Hopefully, we can keep that close to our own hearts in the weeks and months to come. With that, I am happy to draw my remarks to a close and state that I support the principles of the bill.

15:45  



Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank the committee for its work. Although I was not here for it, yesterday’s debate was excellent, and I commend all the members who spoke in it.

I support the general principles of the bill but, like Andy Wightman, I think that there might be scope for amendments at stage 2. I agree with other members who have said that, throughout the emergency, we need transparency and honesty and to correct the things that we have done wrong. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we must learn from any mistakes that we make along the way.

I whole-heartedly welcome the provisions in relation to students who are being forced to pay for their accommodation despite having returned to their family homes for lockdown. That provision will go a long way to help students who are facing financial hardship. Many of students have lost their jobs in the hospitality sector and are not eligible for help through universal credit.

As I said in my intervention on Adam Tomkins’s excellent speech, the raising of such issues shows how carefully we need to examine the day-to-day damage being done to normal life. We must point such issues out and not overlook them. I hope that the minister will listen carefully to what Adam Tomkins said.

We have said in the past that we work with the Government for the greater good, but we also do our job as the Opposition for the greater good. We all need to look ahead to where the crisis might take us and anticipate what might happen. I will talk first about the impact on women and, secondly, about where we need to help renters.

Women are bearing a lot of the impact of Covid-19; they are overrepresented in professions that are on the front line. Women make up the majority of workers in health and social care; that is a measure of the slow progress that we have made on gender segregation, and why we must plan for change. In addition, a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic women work in those sectors and an alarming proportion of the victims of the virus come from the BAME communities. Data should be published so that we can understand why that is the case. Scotland is not alone; it is an international trend but ministers need to look to section 6 of the bill, on the advancement of equality and non-discrimination, so that we get the response right.

Although it is early days, the current trend is that women are more likely to have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19; 17 per cent of women are newly unemployed, compared with 13 per cent of men. The closure of schools has had a huge impact on those who have not been made unemployed—on all parents, but more so on women who are trying to work from home while caring for children.

However, the most worrying aspect is the evidence that incidences of domestic violence have increased during the lockdown. According to Police Scotland, the number of requests from people for information about whether their partner had been abusive in the past was 18 per cent higher in the first month of the lockdown, compared with the same period in 2019. The number of calls to the national domestic abuse helpline was almost double the rate that would have been expected. Members will agree that it is horrifying to think of women and children who are trapped in homes that are like pressure cookers. It might not be appropriate in this emergency legislation but it is worth considering what more can be done in the short term to give women a way out of that horrendous domestic violence.

I will spend the remaining minutes talking about renters and fuel poverty. I am interested in what Andy Wightman said about the Greens’ position on how renters could be helped. We need to help more renters beyond the freeze on evictions. During the crisis and beyond it, it is important that tenants are not forced into unmanageable debt; otherwise, when the freeze ends, we will face a massive round of evictions. During the passage of the first emergency legislation, I raised a possible national fund with the cabinet secretary.

Kevin Stewart

As was pointed out in the previous debate, we have advised any tenants who have difficulties to go to their landlords in the first instance to see what help is available, and we have encouraged folk to sign up to universal credit if that is the right thing to do. Beyond that, we have expanded the amount of money that is available through discretionary housing payments, and I urge folk who have any difficulties to go down those routes and to access DHPs in particular if there is nothing else to help them at that time.

Pauline McNeill

I am not saying that the Government has not done quite a lot to help renters, because it has. I am arguing that we might have to go further. I appreciate that, at this stage, we do not know what the picture will look like, but we need to anticipate that we might have a massive round of evictions and that not every landlord will be that helpful.

Many people will find that they are not entitled to universal credit—I think that it has been acknowledged that there might be a gap in that regard—or that their housing payment is not large enough. We are urging people to stay at home and not go to work, but that means that they could be faced with the stress of accumulating rent arrears.

That point is also true in relation to energy. The website comparethemarket.com shows that the average UK energy bill will increase by something like £32 a month. As jobs continue to be furloughed and as many people lose their livelihoods, we need to try to anticipate what the picture will look like. People might need some help from energy companies to pay their debts. Why should energy companies not put something in, because they are certainly reaping the benefits? I have written to the big six energy companies to ask what they propose to do about that issue.

We need to think about a detailed assessment of who needs help. We need to have a bigger conversation about how to reshape society and not leave people behind. The scars of the pandemic are likely to be deep. However, by working together and with some creative thinking, collective action and radical and inclusive polices, we can create a better society.

15:53  



Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

I support the general principles of the bill. As a member of the COVID-19 Committee, I, too, pay tribute to the clerks, SPICe and broadcasting staff for their efforts.

We are certainly all facing circumstances that we have never faced before. The whole Scottish Government is, of course, entirely focused on dealing with the pandemic, whether through the day-to-day response or through the necessary legislative changes that are required in responding to the pandemic. Today, we are dealing with the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, which is the second such piece of legislation. It is a technical bill, and I will focus my remarks on a small number of the areas that it covers.

As the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People said, part 2 of schedule 1 provides for a carers allowance supplement payment of £230 in addition to the two payments that are also due this year. In total, those payments come to more than £690. That will provide much-needed extra support to some of Scotland’s lowest-income carers who have the most intensive caring roles. If the bill is passed, the measure will support about 83,000 carers with the additional costs of caring during the pandemic. The payment will be delivered automatically alongside the June carers allowance supplement, and carers will not need to do anything to get the extra payment if they were receiving carers allowance on the qualifying date of 13 April.

For unpaid carers who are not in receipt of carers allowance, a range of financial and wider support has been made available through, for example, the Scottish welfare fund, and I hope that local authorities will consider the needs of unpaid carers in the allocation of the fund.

Given that the legislation is due to come to an end at the end of September, a one-off payment is being provided, and it is important to be clear with carers about that. However, if the effects of the pandemic stretch over a longer timeframe, I hope that the Scottish Government will keep an open mind about what further support will be offered to that vital part of the caring effort.

The second area that I will mention concerns part 4 of schedule 1, on mental health. Section 250 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 allows for a person over the age of 16 to nominate a named person to represent their interests and provide support. That nomination must be made in writing, and the signature of the nominee must be witnessed by a prescribed person—that is, a regulated health professional, a social care worker, a social worker or a solicitor.

The pandemic and issues caused by social distancing measures have meant that processes such as tribunal work have slowed down. Paragraph 12 in part 4 of schedule 1 temporarily removes the necessity of having a prescribed person witness a nominee’s signature by amending section 250 of the 2003 act. That change removes one of the safety checks against someone being coerced into nominating a named person, which could be a cause for concern. The issue was raised with both the Law Society of Scotland and the cabinet secretary, Mike Russell, at the COVID-19 Committee yesterday, and the committee received assurances from both that adequate safeguards remain in place to prevent coercion.

Michael Clancy from the Law Society said that the society’s mental health and disability committee had looked at the provision and had said:

“the provision is a pragmatic solution to the potential difficulties of arranging for a prescribed person to witness a nominated person’s signature during the outbreak. The committee thought that it was important that individuals remain able to nominate a named person, subject to appropriate safeguards, and that such a nomination is recognised.

The policy memorandum, at paragraph 82, confirms that, in the view of the Government, rights under the ECHR are not engaged. Broadly speaking, the Law Society was content with those provisions and did not see that much difficulty with them.”—[Official Report, COVID-19 Committee, 12 May 2020; c 6.]

The final area that I want to touch on is the very welcome letter to the COVID-19 Committee from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, which signalled her intention to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to put it beyond doubt that health boards and other agencies, including councils, have the power to take over care homes or care-at-home services where there is a service failure. Such a failure could be

“due to financial distress or if there is a threat to the life ... or wellbeing of any person.”

My view of that amendment is the opposite of Miles Briggs’s view. I think that it will provide assurance about quality and continuity of care in these unparalleled and challenging times. Like everyone else, I hope that that power will never need to be used. However, it is important that the amendment is lodged, because it will provide additional reassurance to some of the most vulnerable people in our society and those who care for them, and will put what is already in common law beyond any doubt. I think that that will be broadly welcomed by those affected.

I repeat that I support the general principles of the bill.

15:57  



Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

This is the second emergency bill to deal with the situation in Scotland during the Covid-19 epidemic, and because it is an emergency bill to deal with a particular set of circumstances, we must deal with it differently from how we deal with other bills.

We do not have the usual time on our side, so we cannot take evidence as we might like to take it. Our approach must be to identify issues that are specifically caused by measures taken by the Government to tackle Covid-19 or by the virus itself, and to introduce time-limited laws to deal with those problems. This is not an opportunity to test out hobby horses, and I hope members will not do that at stages 2 and 3. I made the exactly same point during the debate on the first coronavirus bill, when my contribution was amusingly described by Neil Findlay as the worst that he had ever heard in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that my good friend Mr Findlay will be less disparaging after today’s effort. However, that is not to say that ideas cannot be introduced at later stages—I would be happy to talk to Andy Wightman and others about that.

In the interest of flagging things up, I will mention some thoughts—and they are only thoughts.

There is little in the bill that does not meet the tests that I set out. For example, after talking to the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, I suggested that the deadline for the submission of the accounts of registered social landlords be extended. The SFHA asked for a three-month extension to the deadline for signing off and submitting their audited accounts to the Scottish Housing Regulator. It is likely that there will be a backlog, and RSLs cannot hold their annual general meetings until the accounts are done. The bill does what the SFHA has asked for, and the provision is very sensible.

The proposal in the bill on the additional dwelling supplement is also eminently sensible. I put a similar proposal to Murdo Fraser, but I understand that he was not as fleet of foot as usual and that someone else beat us to it, although I do not know who. However, the proposal in the bill is to be welcomed anyway.

If someone buys a second property but has still to sell their main residence, they pay the ADS and then get a refund if their main home is sold within 18 months. The housing market has pretty much ground to a halt: April and May would normally be the busiest months of the year, but nothing is happening and I cannot see things picking up quickly. It therefore makes sense and is only fair to extend the period within which a previous main residence can be sold and a repayment of the ADS claimed for certain transactions. The proposal to extend that period to two years seems about right to me. However, I am happy to speak to Alex Cole-Hamilton, who indicated that he might wish to go further.

We could go further on the land and buildings transaction tax. If we accept that the housing market has temporarily been stopped because of lockdown, a cut to, or even a time-limited suspension of, LBTT could help to revive the market. Maybe the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs could give that some thought. He may not consider the bill to be the place for such a measure, but we need to think about how to get things going again.

There are two other areas that might be considered, and I thank the cabinet secretary for liaising with us on those already. They both relate to rental properties that are lying empty, either because tenants have had to leave or because the properties are holiday lets.

I have had representations from landlords about tenants who have had to leave rental properties. In a number of cases, tenants have had to leave simply because their rental property was near their place of work and was not their main home. Some rental properties share facilities, which is clearly not appropriate right now. I am talking about furnished properties that will be used again and which are lying empty. If they were unfurnished, they would receive a six-month exemption from council tax. We do not wish to lose those properties from the rental sector and we do not wish to see landlords go under.

Most, if not all, short-term holiday lets are empty. Again, we do not want to see properties lying empty. We put forward the idea of allowing owners some flexibility so that they could let them as private rents for a fixed term and then be able to switch back to holiday letting when things pick up. We need such flexibility during this crisis—but only during the crisis.

I will briefly mention the proposal on carers allowance. I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, for her constructive approach on that issue and in general. The idea of paying an extra £230 to carers is one that we can easily support. However, that comes at a cost of £19 million, and I wonder where that money will come from.

The provision in the bill on student tenancies has been raised with me. The policy memorandum says that the seven-day notice period is intended for students currently in occupation, but there is a concern that the legislation as drafted is not sufficiently clear and could be taken as allowing the seven-day period to apply to tenancies already agreed for the next academic year. I ask the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs—when he reappears—to look at that issues and make changes, if necessary, at stage 2.

16:03  



Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

My good friend Graham Simpson is always a hard act to follow.

After the initial UK Coronavirus Bill and the first Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill were passed, frameworks were provided as immediate reactions to the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it is of the utmost importance that we as the Scottish Parliament pass crystal-clear legislation.

Having no clear strategy of what to do in the case of a pandemic, not taking the coronavirus seriously at an early stage, not issuing clear instructions, and a dithering leadership have meant that, unfortunately, the UK now has the second-highest absolute death rate in the world. The UK is behind only the United States, which with over five times the UK’s population has seen just over two and a half times as many deaths. The UK also now has the world’s fourth highest per capita death toll.

Sadly, at least 33,186 people have died across the UK after testing positive for Covid-19, including 1,973 in Scotland. Every recorded number represents a human being—a person who loved and was loved, who was needed, who mattered and who will be missed. I am sure that I speak for us all when I say that our thoughts continue to be with their family and friends.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill covers similar matters to those in the first Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill; it also covers matters that are required to overcome issues with statutory deadlines, which, due to the crisis, cannot now be met. In addition, it addresses issues that reflect the fact that the disruption that the pandemic is causing will be with us for some time yet.

As someone who represents the islands of Arran and Cumbrae, I am pleased that the Scottish Government has assessed the potential impact of each proposed measure on island communities and concluded that none of the bill’s provisions will have any significantly different impact on them. Even at stage 1, the bill is island-proofed, and I am sure that colleagues who represent the many other island communities across Scotland will share my sense of reassurance at that.

The impact of the bill will be felt directly in the pockets of the 2,765 unpaid carers in North Ayrshire. They will welcome an additional £230.10 payment, which will benefit around 83,000 unpaid carers across Scotland. I welcome the comments of Graham Simpson and the Conservative Party in support of that.

Thanks in part to the bill, unpaid carers in Scotland will receive £690.30 this year on top of their carers allowance and any other income—a supplement that is unavailable to their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. How we treat our carers says something about how we value them, and I am proud that Scottish ministers continue to convert that recognition into tangible financial support.

Others will welcome measures in the bill reflecting the realities of our housing market due to the crisis. Those who paid the additional dwelling supplement on a property sold between 24 September 2018 and 24 March 2020 will be helped by the bill’s extension of the time period in which to sell their previous main residence to 27 months, enabling them to claim a repayment from Revenue Scotland over a longer period.

Another practical issue that the bill provides for is building consent in conservation areas, by extending the duration of a listed building consent or a conservation area consent that would otherwise lapse during the emergency period because works authorised by the consent have not begun.

The emergency period begins with the coming into force of the provisions and ends on 6 October. The changes made apply to conservation area consent by virtue of section 66(3) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997. Consents to which the provision applies will instead lapse at the end of an extended period ending on 6 April 2021, unless works have commenced before the end of that extended period. Such building consents are not the first subject to spring to mind; nevertheless, they are of importance to those who intend to keep our heritage safe.

A matter further down the line, which nevertheless requires anticipation at this stage, is the timetable for holding a citizens assembly on climate change. That will now be relaxed, although Parliament has been reassured that that will not diminish the Scottish Government’s commitment to the project.

As reported in January, more than 2,500 people from across Scotland had engaged in the big climate conversation, with different audiences reflecting differing views on food, land use and energy. The findings from that conversation will directly inform the update to the climate change plan and the development of a new public engagement strategy for climate change. Due to Covid-19, the arrangements for that needed to be made flexible.

The bill is a product of further thinking by ministers and of cross-party engagement. It is more modest and technical than the first bill, as colleagues have mentioned, which is appropriate at this stage. It contains proposals for statutory timescales and medium-term changes, primarily to reflect the fact that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for Scotland will, to a greater or lesser degree, be felt for a considerable time.

While workers and volunteers continue to do their best by stocking shelves, making food deliveries, providing care and medical services and so on, let us make sure that we stick to our end of the bargain. Evidence shows that social distancing is working. Although I, too, find it challenging at times, we must remember that it is a temporary measure. It is necessary to continue with it, as I am sure that everyone who has suffered from or lost someone to the coronavirus will tell us. Like many others, I thank all those who are maintaining social distancing. That is keeping the number of deaths and illnesses from coronavirus to a number that would otherwise be very difficult for our NHS to cope with.

The COVID-19 Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee looked at the bill last week and yesterday. I thank civil servants for their continued high-quality and speedy work, in difficult circumstances, to help progress the emergency legislation. People who work in the Parliament are sometimes not given the credit that they deserve for supporting not just parliamentarians but our staff to do the jobs that we must do at this difficult time.

I urge members to vote in favour of the general principles of the bill.

16:10  



James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

That today the number of deaths in Scotland from Covid-19 has exceeded the 3,000 mark is a sobering thought to bring to the Parliament’s consideration of this second set of emergency legislation.

I return to an issue that was in the original draft of the first emergency bill, which Murdo Fraser mentioned in his contribution: no-jury trials. The Government withdrew from that bill its proposals for judge-only trials. The issue that brought that to the fore was the backlog in criminal cases, which was of real concern to victims and to those held on remand.

However, six weeks after the original emergency legislation was considered, and four weeks after the justice secretary hosted a round-table discussion with Opposition parties and interested stakeholders—at which there was some degree of consensus on alternatives to judge-only trials, in terms of reducing the number of jurors and looking at social distancing in venues where trials would be heard—a working party has been set up. I have a concern that the Government’s progress on that matter has been far too slow to deliver on the objectives of speeding up the process of justice, dealing with the backlog, and ensuring that victims of crime see justice being delivered.

Schedule 2 deals with

“Criminal proceedings: extension of time limits”.

However, in some sections, time limits have been removed. The Law Society of Scotland has raised that as a concern. In some elements of adjournment, and in the remand of prisoners, the time limits have been taken away altogether. Two consequences of that have to be considered: whether it is consistent with human rights laws and conventions for people to be held, and for trials to be put off, for an unlimited time; and that it causes concern about access to justice, which goes back to the point that I made in my speech on the first bill. It could lead to cases taking longer to conclude. That is of concern not only to victims but to those who are remanded in custody. That has to be examined as the bill progresses over the coming week.

The custody arrangements that are proposed in the bill are logical and practical. There are custody hubs in the current arrangements. The practical consideration is that, because the custody hubs are in police locations, prisoner custody officers legally are not allowed to access them. Because a number of trials take place through video links, it makes sense that provision should be made for prisoner custody officers to access the custody hubs.

Another provision that members have mentioned is the extension of time limits for the payment of confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, in situations in which Covid-19 is a factor. On the face of it, that seems logical and sensible. However, that has to be really tightly controlled, to ensure that the situations relate to coronavirus.

A recent freedom of information request highlighted that there was £6 million in unpaid and unrecovered confiscation payments. That was before Covid-19, so this is clearly an area that needs to be more tightly controlled because we must always ensure that we recover those proceeds of crime.

An area that is not covered in the bill is how we treat our care home workers. Today it was announced that, in the past week, 57 per cent of deaths in Scotland involving Covid-19 have occurred in care homes. That highlights the issue; we are asking care home workers to go into a workplace to protect people but potentially to put their lives at risk.

Every Thursday, ministers come out and clap for NHS workers and care home workers, but the reality is that 50 per cent of care home workers are not being paid a real living wage and that is a scandal. When that issue is raised with ministers, they wring their hands as opposed to clapping them. If we are going to have emergency legislation, ministers should be giving consideration to how to properly remunerate and treat with dignity those who are putting themselves at risk on the front line.

I support the general principles of the bill, but there are some issues of concern and there are also some gaps that we should look at.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

I call James Dornan, who will be making a virtual contribution.

16:16  



James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on this essential piece of emergency legislation. I am also grateful to be able to join the Parliament virtually from the comfort of my own home, and I hope that there are no technical difficulties. I thank the staff who have made this possible for me and for other members.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a heartbreaking period for us all, and the unprecedented nature of our public health emergency requires unprecedented actions and interventions by the Government. Today’s bill and the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, which became law last month, are necessary and proportionate measures that will help our country to pull through these difficult times.

Although a large portion of the measures in the bill are technical adjustments to deadlines due to the difficulties caused by the coronavirus outbreak, there are a number of provisions that will, among other things, assist individuals and businesses who are facing hardship.

Our priority has, of course, been the health of the population and the protection of our NHS. However, the steps that have been required to control and limit the spread of the outbreak have impacted upon many areas of everyday life—none more than our wider economy. The legislative changes and various pieces of published guidance have made life more difficult for us all, albeit for good reasons, and this has had a major impact on the finances of individuals and businesses.

I am sure that members across the chamber will have heard—as I have—of people and companies experiencing real challenges, but also of many who are taking advantage of the financial support that is available to them. I therefore welcome the steps that have already been taken by the Scottish Government, through its business grants, rates relief measures and the unique newly self-employed hardship fund, among other industry-specific support packages, which are helping many of my constituents in Glasgow Cathcart. On that point, I sincerely thank Glasgow City Council for administering those packages on behalf of the Scottish Government.

No one is arguing that those measures will fully replace lost income, but they will help to ensure that our economy is on the best possible footing when we get through this devastating pandemic. As the coronavirus crisis sadly continues, assistance from all spheres of government will be required to continue, too. Thankfully, today’s bill builds on the support measures that are already in place.

One of the key elements of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, as has already been mentioned, is the additional £19.2 million investment in the carers allowance supplement. The supplement is an extra payment made to carers in Scotland twice a year, in recognition of the important contribution that they make to our society—a contribution that has been brought into sharp focus during these times.

Should the bill become law, as we hope it will, more than 13,000 carers in Glasgow will benefit from a further one-off payment during the coronavirus pandemic. That will mean that eligible carers, who are often people on low incomes but who have some of the most intense caring roles, will receive an additional £690 this year on top of their carers allowance and any other income.

The additional payment of £230 will be an acknowledgement that carers are providing vital support to family, friends and neighbours and playing an absolutely crucial role in our collective efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Our unpaid carers ease pressure on our hospitals and care homes, allowing our NHS and social care staff to continue doing their incredible work in keeping us safe. Many of my constituents are involved with the Rainbow day care centre in Carnwadric, COJAC—Caring Operations Joint Action Council—in Castlemilk or the Glasgow south east carers centre, which covers part of my constituency. Along with many others, those constituents are deserving of recognition, and I hope that a number of them will benefit from the added payment.

Another part of everyday life that is being severely impacted by the coronavirus is our further and higher education sector. I have two grandchildren who have been doing their university exams in the house. I do not know whether that is a good or a bad thing—we will not know until the results come through. For the institutions, which are facing a loss of international student income, and for the students who are enrolled in courses, this will be a challenging couple of months.

One aspect of the bill that I would like to briefly mention is the introduction of notice-to-leave periods for students in purpose-built student accommodation and halls of residence. Students living in the mainstream private rented sector have been able to end their tenancy early by giving their landlord 28 days’ notice, but that has not been the case for some of those living in halls of residence or purpose-built student accommodation. The bill will bring the student rental sector in line with the private sector, in a move that the National Union of Students Scotland president described as a “victory for students”. In normal circumstances, our students often struggle financially, so it is welcome that the bill will relieve them of a significant extra financial burden.

None of us wishes to be in the position of requiring new legislation to deal with an emergency situation. In an ideal world, the Government’s legislative programme would be progressing as normal; instead, we are facing a new normal. This is the biggest challenge that we have faced in our lifetimes. Life as we know it will be changing for some time, and it will be a societal effort that gets us out the other side.

In closing, I take the opportunity to thank our key workers, from carers to bus drivers, from NHS staff to shop workers and from volunteers to council staff. We are living in extraordinary times, and I will be delighted to vote for the principles of the bill in order to help many individuals, businesses and public services. I urge colleagues across the Parliament to give their support, too, and I encourage them to work constructively with the Government over the next week, as they have done today, throughout the bill’s final stages.

16:22  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

As this is my first opportunity to speak in a parliamentary debate since the Covid-19 crisis began, I put on record my thanks to the many workers in my region who have been working on the front line in the most difficult circumstances. I know of the personal tragedy that the virus has brought to many and the lasting effect that it is having on the physical and mental health of us all.

Many outside the chamber will be asking why we need emergency bills to progress through the Parliament with such haste, in the absence of normal consultation and in place of what I suspect is now a lengthy backlog of bills that the Government and members would rather be progressing—or, in some cases, not. Scrutiny might be routine to the seasoned legislator, but it is still important to the outside world, as is manifest from the volume of briefings and letters that we get when a bill arrives on our desks. The bill that we are considering today is no different.

In normal times, the Government of the day presents its programme for government and uses legislation to deliver its policy intentions, whether or not we agree with them. Instead, however, the bill is reacting to the unforeseen and unwelcome circumstances that we face. Whatever legislation we pass, it must help those who need help the most. The focus has shifted from the normal economic and statistical debates of which we are all guilty and that involve the politics of Government and Opposition to a debate about the fragility of our health, both physical and financial. That gives a much-needed human face to legislation, which is often theoretical and mundane in nature.

The feedback on our work today from the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland was striking. It said:

“We know that vulnerable and disadvantaged people are most at risk from Coronavirus so an equality-driven approach which considers the needs of different groups at the outset will ensure that actions are not only inclusive but effective.”

We all have a duty to scrutinise this legislation. The task is not made easy by our circumstances, but I ask that we keep that advice in the back of our minds. Our actions must be inclusive, not just effective. Technical as the measures in the bill are, what we agree to will affect real people in the real world. This crisis has reminded us all of the privilege and the gravity of passing law.

The pandemic also means that we must make significant changes to our legal frameworks. Some of those changes are uncomfortable and would not be acceptable in normal times, but these are not normal times. We lend our support to Government to give it the required powers that it needs to deal with the crisis on the principles of temporality and trust in ministers to use those powers responsibly and proportionally. In turn, the general public trusts us to judge that balance.

Much has been said on the specifics of the bill. I will pick up two issues. The first is around bankruptcy. We have spoken a lot about the impact on business and the economy. We have all had unsettling correspondence from individuals and businesses who are worried about their futures. Today, we found out that the economy has already contracted by 2 per cent. Unprecedented measures have had to be taken to protect incomes and jobs—measures the likes of which I think have surprised people on my side of the political spectrum at least as much as those on the other side.

Yesterday, the chancellor extended the furlough scheme until October, which was welcomed by ministers today in the chamber. However, the elephant in the room is that not everyone will financially reach the other side. Many people are genuinely worried about their finances and livelihoods. We are some of the lucky ones.

We cannot underestimate the debt crisis that is lurking around the corner on the other side of these dark days. The debt issue is real. For a person who has gone from being in a well-paid job to being made redundant, through no fault of theirs or their company’s, it comes as a physical and mental shock—there is no doubt about that. Their income reduces but their outgoings—the credit cards, store cards, bank loans, car finance and tax returns—do not, and those are just the credit. The physical outgoings—utility bills, rent, taxes and overheads—also continue.

The same can be said for individuals and businesses. When this crisis recedes, the debate that we will need to have is not just about the fees that we charge for bankruptcy or how we allow electronic meetings of creditors to revert to physical meetings. We will need to have a grown-up conversation about how we tackle Covid-related bankruptcy per se.

The other area of the bill that I will briefly touch on is the proposed changes to statutory deadlines and reporting. What is expected of legislators during times of national emergency? The priority for the Governments that led during world wars was to tackle what faced them at the time, and our invisible enemy provides parallels for how we govern today. The fact that those Governments could still be held to account maintained vital public faith and trust in the extraordinary powers that Government needed and was granted.

I have a general uneasiness about section 4, which seeks to modify the duties of the Government in respect of how it prepares and reports to us. Just as in the previous debate, on freedom of information, it is up to the Government to make the case why there is a need for the provisions, and my view is that that case has not yet been made. The current crisis cannot be the go-to explanation for everything when the Government is asked difficult questions.

I accept that resource must be redeployed and that the civil service is working in new ways, but it is fundamentally important that the Government cannot use the workload of its advisers as a reason for avoiding scrutiny. There are facts and figures that the Government must collate, track, publish and defend. Life has changed, but life must go on. Scrutiny has changed, but scrutiny must go on.

The Government will enjoy our support, in extraordinary times, for the extraordinary measures that it has asked for, but it pushes that consensus at its peril.

16:29  



Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

The proposed legislation that we are debating today could not have been predicted six months ago but, as many members have said, we have had no choice but to introduce the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. I will be happy to support the general principles of the bill at decision time today, because it is essential to do so. The bill encompasses a wide range of areas, such as justice, health, individual rights, changes to public services and—of crucial importance—student tenancy rights and further carer support.

Yesterday, we had an excellent and moving debate in the chamber about where we are in the current crisis and where we are going. There are no easy answers, and it is impossible to get everything right, but I honestly believe that everyone is doing their best. Every Government wants an end to this horror as soon as possible. However, we must respect the different decisions that are being made—for very good reason—by the four nations, and I am confident that the Scottish Government is making the best decisions for our nation.

Today, I wish to concentrate on the justice provisions in the bill. Before I do that, I place on record my thanks to Police Scotland for everything that it is doing during the current pandemic to keep us safe. Officers have had to adapt, as we all have, to a whole new set of circumstances, enforcing new laws with empathy and patience, and I believe that the police are doing a fantastic job. Reports of the abuse that some officers have faced from a small minority of mindless individuals are horrifying, and offenders should be dealt with appropriately.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should be congratulated, too, as it stands ready as ever to bravely carry out its already difficult and dangerous job in these extraordinary new circumstances.

What does the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill mean for the justice system? The briefing from the Law Society of Scotland sums it up well. The society states that we must

“protect the rule of law and the interests of justice, ensure that access to justice remains available and that the fundamental protections ... of equality and human rights laws, are maintained.”

It rightly says that,

“In a crisis of this scale, it is even more important that these aims are upheld. Compliance with ECHR means that legislative change must be lawful, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and nondiscriminatory.”

The bill introduces statutory time limits relating to criminal procedure and it enables prisoner custody officers to provide services for hearings conducted in police stations, giving greater safety and providing the ability to adhere to strict guidance regarding self-isolation and physical distancing through virtual custody court hearings taking place in dedicated police hubs across Scotland.

There will be a continuation of undertakings in relation to non-attendance at court, and there will be no sanctions on the accused if non-appearance is as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. I am concerned, however, that there are risks with that, particularly in cases relating to domestic abuse.

The bill contains amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, whereby the court may postpone confiscation proceedings for a specified period if there are individuals who have been unable to pay a confiscation order within the permitted period for reasons arising from the outbreak.

On a practical but important level, the bill will allow documents relating to sheriff court business to be displayed on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website, removing the existing requirement in commissary procedure to intimate petitions on the walls of court. Is that our legal system finally moving into the 21st century?

The bill will help many people facing bankruptcy—we have heard a lot about that in the debate—by adding to the emergency measures that the Parliament has already approved. I believe that to be entirely fair and sensible.

The new temporary legislation will provide the Scottish ministers with the power to introduce reductions in non-domestic rates payable during 2020-21, and it makes a wide range of changes that are necessary to support public services to continue to operate as intended during what are exceptional circumstances.

It has been a horrendous few months for so many families who have lost loved ones, and my sympathy goes out to each and every one of them. It has also been heartbreaking for family members not to have physically seen one another. Grandparents are desperate to hug their grandchildren, and elderly parents and those in care homes have been forced to isolate. There have been small funerals and cancelled weddings.

Of course, lessons will have been learned during the pandemic whenever it is finally over. For now, however, we must ensure, as a responsible Government, that we have sufficient and robust legislation in place to cope with the here and now. I am pleased to support the general principles of the bill.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We move to the closing speeches.

16:34  



Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests regarding my work with the SFHA before I returned to the Parliament last year.

As others have commented, yesterday’s debate was incredibly moving at times, and it must set the framework and the backdrop for today’s debate. That is why Scottish Labour recognises the need for the emergency bill and will lodge amendments to strengthen and improve its powers.

Alex Rowley made some important points about protecting people’s social and economic rights and standards and the need for a precautionary approach that is underpinned by an effective testing strategy and a “Stay at home” message. Andy Wightman was also right in what he said about the need to take action now on our air quality. That means making sure that we promote active and sustainable travel, especially given what we now know about the long-term after effects of the coronavirus on people’s health. We must not ignore that.

Like several colleagues who spoke in the debate, I am glad to see the proposals on student accommodation. I raised the issue during our consideration of the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill, highlighting the cost to students and the lack of rights for them as tenants. The difficulties that students have had in releasing themselves from such leases has been made alarmingly clear by the pandemic. Like other members, I have had parents and students getting in touch to highlight the enormous financial cost to some students for rooms that they are not using. I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s moves to ensure that students can leave their leases, but I put down a marker that it will be vital, as we come out of the crisis, that we do not return to the way that things were, with private purpose-built student residences operating without proper rent regulation or protection for students.

Likewise, Pauline McNeill was absolutely right to raise concerns about people who are struggling to pay their rent due to the impact of the pandemic. They need to be supported now to keep their homes.

The City of Edinburgh Council has done sterling work on homelessness throughout the crisis. We have seen rough sleeping almost eradicated from our streets during the pandemic. We must not under any circumstances allow it to return, so it will be vital that the council in Edinburgh and others across the country have the necessary resources to make sure that that job is completed.

I highlight that Jackie Baillie has been debating how we can improve the bill by amending it to go a bit further to protect those who find themselves in debt due to the loss of their jobs. I hope that the cabinet secretary will support her proposals.

We have all had local businesses get in touch with us that are falling through the net financially. I have a constituent who was ready to open his business. He had recruited the staff and invested in the premises, but he just missed the capacity to open up and he is not eligible for any support. We have been pushing to see what is available, but he is not even able to get a response from HM Revenue and Customs. The job of supporting businesses in the short term is not yet done.

I am also still hearing about employers not being prepared to furlough their staff. I hope that the minister who sums up will make clear the Scottish Government’s support for employers doing the right thing, because we need businesses to be able to come back to life after the pandemic, rather than seeing their staff’s livelihoods being crushed for years.

It is also good that the Scottish Government is considering giving local authorities new powers to buy care homes, especially if that is about improving the quality of care. There is clearly an issue to do with how staff are treated, and people do not have access to appropriate PPE or widespread testing. That has been raised across the parties.

James Kelly was right to flag up the importance of better pay for staff. We also need to look at career opportunities and end the characterisation of care work as being low skilled. If the crisis has shown us anything, it is how fundamentally wrong that view is, whether in relation to carers who work from home or those who work in care homes.

Pauline McNeill raised the important issue of equality. There is an important link that we need to highlight given the impacts of the pandemic on older people and people from BAME communities. They need to be properly supported whether they are being cared for or doing the caring, and there are equalities issues for both.

We will work with the Government to strengthen the bill, but it is crucial that, as well as taking short-term action to keep businesses afloat and ensure that everyone has a safe place to stay, we think about and start planning for how we will come out of the crisis and strengthen our economy. The social distancing rules will be in place for months to come and we need businesses to start thinking about that and planning for it now, even though we are all doing the right thing in staying at home.

We also need to think more about the safety net that our communities need. There is something about dealing with the urgent crisis now, but the pandemic has cruelly exposed the deep-seated inequalities that people in our society face, and we need to work together to get rid of them.

When constituents who are not being well treated by their employer and are suffering because they are not getting access to PPE have got in touch with me, I have said to them, “Are you in a trade union?” The number of them who are not, and who do not have that moral or practical support in making representations to their employer, is astonishing.

There is a lot of stuff that we can do as MSPs to support people. We need to think about the short term, but we also need to think about what kind of society we want to live in. The bill is emergency legislation and we need to get it right, but let us also think about the future and how we can work together to create a better society in Scotland.

16:40  



Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

In closing for the Scottish Conservatives, I want to finish the debate where Conservative members started. Although I am, famously, of a much sunnier disposition than the legendarily grumpy Tomkins, I found several aspects of his contribution to be very well founded.

Many members have highlighted that we are in an emergency situation that requires emergency measures; however, it is imperative that legislation be properly scrutinised and that the Government be held appropriately to account. For understandable reasons—the current emergency—the bill, like its predecessor, is being dealt with through an expedited procedure that significantly curtails parliamentary scrutiny.

In another forum earlier this week, I referenced the great Scottish law lord, Lord Reid, who insisted?that laws must be

“clear, certain and capable of enforcement.”

That is no less an imperative when a bill is an emergency bill. Its being so means that we must do our job to the best of our ability during the process. Jamie Greene was absolutely right: it is, indeed, a privilege to be in a position to pass law. It also means that we should support the work of the new COVID-19 Committee—the Official Report of whose meeting yesterday I read with great interest—and the inquiry that will, I understand, be undertaken by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee.

That also, I suggest, requires us to be somewhat cautious about what is in such a bill. In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary correctly said that

“there are some very important protections in the bill”.

That is unquestionably true, but the Law Society of Scotland has raised the provisions in respect of the UEFA European championship, for example, and Kenny Gibson talked about citizens assemblies, which might not fall within the category that is covered by those protections.

Those are important matters. It is right, in my view, to gently question whether it is appropriate to use such legislation for matters that some people would suggest fall outside the stated aim of addressing an emergency situation. I understand the rationale for including such things: time is short, so if something can be dealt with quickly, it should be. However, I remain to be persuaded that matters that are not directly an emergency should be considered in legislation such as the bill.

Michael Russell

I will not disagree with Liam Kerr, but let us take the example of the citizens assembly on climate change. There is a statutory commitment to establish that assembly within a timescale, and the inability to meet that timescale is directly related to the coronavirus pandemic. I might debate some examples, but I would defend that one and others, because there is a direct connection.

Liam Kerr

I look forward to that debate. However, the point remains: we should be very cautious about using an expedited procedure for anything that does not absolutely mandate it.

On a similar point, I note that we must be very careful that everything in the bill is subjected to appropriate scrutiny. If Parliament will permit me to corrupt an aphorism, I say that we must avoid legislating in haste, and repealing at leisure. On that note, Alex Cole-Hamilton spoke powerfully and persuasively on the freedom of information provisions, and about how rejection of the provisions by four parties on 1 April nevertheless led to a “distorted” result.

In 2009, a House of Lords select committee, the Constitution Committee, recommended a raft of measures to ensure that emergency powers are exercised appropriately. Clive Walker, who is professor of criminal justice studies at the University of Leeds, gave evidence to the inquiry. He has said that

“The various parliamentary stages are there for good reason. Members of both houses get to properly debate and discuss the issues, while people outside ... can also lobby and make a contribution. If you have legislation that’s being enacted in a week, then none of this happens. There isn’t time to take evidence.”

Clearly, that is correct.

As we move through the process, we must be cognisant of the inability to ensure that changes that we propose or make will be subjected to the same interrogation as would normally be possible.

The cabinet secretary was right to suggest in an intervention that not all amendments are inherently wrong, but Miles Briggs was right to counter that by saying that we must guard against the consequences of poor legislation. In that regard, it was good to hear that there looks to be cross-party support in principle for Adam Tomkins’s proposed FOI-related amendments at stage 2. It was also good to hear Willie Coffey’s call for prompt post-legislative scrutiny.

To stick with that theme, the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s report recommended that, in order to ensure that the emergency legislation is as robust as possible, it

“should include a ‘sunset clause’ setting out the timing for the new measures to end”.

We agree. As we have heard, the bill does that. That is why I was so concerned to hear Adam Tomkins’s point—that by no means all the secondary legislation that has been made by ministers in connection with coronavirus has been made under the coronavirus acts. That being the case, I presume that safeguards such as the sunset clause will not apply to it. If Willie Rennie really does look forward to the day when all that legislation is repealed, I presume that he will want to be reassured of what falls within the category “all that”.

Several members have referred to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s recommendation that the Scottish Government report on all subordinate legislation that is made during the crisis. I would be pleased to hear the minister’s thoughts and conclusions on that, in closing.

I turn to some other contributions. Obviously, I am concerned with the justice provisions. Today, the Justice Committee has sent a letter to the convener of the COVID-19 Committee that makes important points, which I am sure will help the process.

I listened to Annabelle Ewing make an important point about the proceeds of crime provisions and whether, as she put it in committee yesterday, the provisions could “facilitate evasion” and potentially backtrack on some of the good progress that has been made. That was of concern to me too, but, as she is, I was reassured to hear that the Crown Office has raised the issue, supports the provisions and, in fact, was involved in identifying the need for the changes.

James Kelly demanded that that area be tightly controlled. He was right to demand that, with figures such as he quoted that existed pre-virus being very concerning.

In conclusion, I remind members of the COVID-19 Committee convener’s reference to the policy memorandum, which states that the changes are “far-reaching and unprecedented”. We will support the principles, but it is clear that we must hear from as many voices as possible.

I echo the cabinet secretary’s opening remarks about the positive cross-party nature of the bill’s development, but I remind people who are watching that the COVID-19 Committee is seeking views on the bill. Is the bill necessary? Will it achieve its purpose? Crucially, how can it be improved? Details on how to submit views can be found on the Scottish Parliament website, and must be in by noon tomorrow.

I opened by saying that the purpose of the bill is to respond to the emergency situation that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In its principles, it does that. I look forward, with my colleagues across the chamber, to honing it over the coming week of its progress.

16:47  



The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

I thank Murdo Fraser and the members of the Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee for their consideration of the bill yesterday and, of course, for their contributions to today’s debate. The debate has been consensual, which is welcome, given the topic at hand.

Liam Kerr mentioned the House of Lords. Members will not often find me citing the House of Lords here but, as has already been said, in 2009 it suggested five good principles that should apply to all emergency legislation.

The first principle is that scrutiny should be maintained as far as possible. Through Mr Fraser’s dedicated committee, the use of technical measures, and agreeing a slower timetable for the bill with Parliament, we have sought to allow for as much scrutiny as we can—as grumpy as that may have made Adam Tomkins.

The second principle is ensuring the technical quality of all legislation. The bill may have been prepared at pace, but it has been prepared by a large number of officials from across the Government, and the full range of accompanying documents, including the detailed explanatory notes and a detailed financial memorandum, have been prepared alongside it. It is not rushed legislation.

The third principle is that other bodies should be involved in the process where possible. Again, I commend the COVID-19 Committee for being able to take evidence from the Law Society of Scotland yesterday, and I am thankful to those bodies with which consultation was able to happen again. The bill’s policy memorandum sets out each policy and who has been involved in its development. We have conducted as much formal and informal consultation as was possible in the circumstances.

The fourth principle is that emergency legislation should be used only where it is justified. As Annabelle Ewing said, we need to act prudently and with caution. Again, I point to the policy memorandum, in which we have set out the connection to coronavirus of each measure in the bill and our reasons for regarding each change as necessary and urgent.

Adam Tomkins

I am grateful to the minister for giving way. She says that the legislation is not rushed. The deadline for members of the Parliament to lodge amendments for stage 2 is at noon on Friday 15 May. When will we see the Government amendments for stage 2?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Adam Tomkins for that intervention. He says that the legislation is rushed; well, we are where we are. The coronavirus is not slowing down any time soon and we are working as quickly as we can on the legislation. The reality is that we are faced with an unprecedented situation. As advised by the cabinet secretary, you will see the Government amendments on Friday.

The final principle is that additional transparency should be built into the emergency legislation. The cabinet secretary has set out how the use of the bill will be controlled, reviewed and reported on by Government and Parliament. Scrutiny of the bill will not end with its passage; in many ways, that will be only the beginning.

I turn to some specific points that members have raised during the debate and, in particular, to points that the COVID-19 Committee raised in its stage 1 letter on the bill. Several members mentioned student residential leases and the changes were widely welcomed by Andy Wightman, Willie Coffey, Pauline McNeill and Miles Briggs. The committee has asked for some clarification on how the new provisions on purpose-built student accommodation would work in practice. I confirm that the phrase

“for a reason relating to coronavirus”

was deliberately chosen to allow for the termination of leases not simply as a direct result of the virus, a particular case of infection, or to control transmission, but also because of the wider social and financial effects of the virus and as a result of the way that universities are reorganising their teaching.

Graham Simpson asked about the application of the new seven day notice period for those who are already in a tenancy. I have been advised by the housing minister that he will write to Mr Simpson on that point directly.

I did not peg Adam Tomkins, Murdo Fraser and Michael Russell as old romantics but, more seriously, marriage is an important right, as Adam Tomkins outlined. As the cabinet secretary confirmed, the Government is preparing guidance on that in conjunction with the National Records of Scotland. For Mr Tomkins’s information, 20 marriages were registered on an emergency basis between 26 March 2020 and today. However, he is right to raise a point about messaging. As the cabinet secretary confirmed, there is nothing in the legislation preventing marriages from taking place, so that will be looked at.

Both the COVID-19 Committee and James Kelly questioned the changes to criminal law time limits in the bill. The Scottish Government is satisfied that both the interests of the accused and the wider interests of society in having an effective system of justice are appropriately taken into account in the bill as drafted. The Minister for Community Safety will be happy to meet Mr Kelly to further discuss that issue.

The extension of the period for reclaiming the additional dwelling supplement was welcomed by Miles Briggs and Graham Simpson, who thought that we had stolen his idea. The committee asked us about the increase of nine months in the period during which an additional dwelling supplement could be reclaimed. That length of time was chosen as a result of our analysis of Scotland’s housing market and the impact that coronavirus is having on people’s ability to sell their houses. That includes Scotland’s substantial rural housing market, which Alex Cole-Hamilton alluded to. I appreciate that the Liberal Democrats will lodge amendments on that point.

Rona Mackay

I thank the minister for taking an intervention. My question is about timing and the provision in the bill about those arrested and released on an undertaking. The bill extends the period for the expiry of such undertakings to 90 days; currently the period for expiry is set at 28 days in general cases and 14 days in domestic abuse cases. Will the minister comment on that?

Jenny Gilruth

That is an important issue and I know that the member will take it seriously as the deputy convener of the Justice Committee. The Government is aware of, and is particularly sensitive to, the increased risk that those vulnerable to domestic abuse face while they are required to stay in their homes, where possible. That point was picked up by Pauline McNeill.

A key reason for the temporary change is to protect those at risk of domestic abuse. During the coronavirus outbreak, a person who is arrested may not be able to attend court, in accordance with their undertaking, due to public health guidance or infection. That change is about ensuring that any protective conditions included in an undertaking are prevented from expiring because someone is unable to appear in court. Without any action, those undertakings would expire in an increasing number of cases, putting those who are at risk of domestic abuse at further unneeded risk. I reassure all members that that measure has no impact on a person’s existing right to apply to a court to have their conditions reviewed, or to have further conditions attached. That being said, the law currently makes a differentiation for domestic abuse cases, and I will look at how that can be adapted with my officials. I imagine that the Minister for Community Safety may wish to have some input on that.

Andy Wightman

I thank the minister for taking an intervention—I was not sure what the appropriate point for it would be. Are ministers aware of the briefing that we received today from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, and in particular his concerns about ensuring that children under the age of 18 are excluded from the criminal provisions of the bill and that the regulations are amended to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation of 16 and 17-year-olds?

Jenny Gilruth

I am aware of the briefing from the children’s commissioner. It makes a number of points, including recommendations around human rights and the child wellbeing assessment, which is already included in the legislation papers.

With regard to the point about 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, that is not something that the bill would seek to look at. We have to bring the legislation into line with Scots law as quickly as we can—

The Presiding Officer

The minister should address the front, please.

Jenny Gilruth

Sorry—and at the moment, this is where we are. To get the legislation that is in front of us through, we need to bring it into line with where we are at the moment, but I am sure that in future we could look at that in terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. [Interruption] I would quite like to make some progress.

Coronavirus will impact us all in different ways, but carers who are on the lowest incomes and who have the most intensive caring roles will inevitably be among the most significantly impacted, including by bearing higher costs while other services are not available. Pauline McNeill was right to point to the fact that women are disproportionately more likely to find themselves in a caring role. All those who receive the carers allowance provide 35 hours of unpaid care weekly, at a minimum, and many provide significantly more. The earnings threshold is £128 a week, but for many with caring responsibilities, holding down any sort of job is just not possible. Young carers who are aged 16 or over and who have that sort of intensive caring role can apply for a carers allowance supplement.

There are a couple of points that I want to come to before closing. The issue of FOI deadlines was raised by Adam Tomkins, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Andy Wightman, and I suspect that that is why Neil Findlay was on his feet. I accept that that issue continues to cause some debate, and we want consensus on the legislation; I think it was Alex Rowley who said that this should not be about party politics. We will work with all parties at stage 2 to ensure that we get that consensus. [Interruption] I am concluding.

Alex Rowley raised a point about work that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture has done with trade unions. As the First Minister said at FMQs today, we remain concerned about those who are being forced to attend their work when the clear message from the Government is to stay at home unless your work is absolutely essential.

Sarah Boyack mentioned the messaging from the Government to employers. I want to say again on the record that that message is clear: stay at home, save lives. That is our messaging and that is where we are in our advice to employees and employers.

This emergency situation undoubtedly demands emergency legislation, but emergency legislation demands care—not just in terms of scrutiny and transparency, as I set out earlier, but also in a more fundamental way. It demands care to ensure that important values are not forgotten as we develop and pass laws at pace.

I again point members to the policy memorandum, where we have set out our human rights analysis of the impact of each measure and the balance that has been struck by it. We built consideration of the human rights impact of each measure into the process of policy development, and we will put the human rights impact at the heart of our approach to reviewing and reporting on the emergency bills. We have also had equality and an assessment of impact at the core of our policy development. Our policy memorandum sets out our assessment of each measure’s impact on island communities, on local government and on sustainable development.

We also published on Monday a business and regulatory impact assessment for the bill, an equality impact assessment, a fairer Scotland duty interim assessment and a child rights and wellbeing impact assessment, the last of which was requested by the children’s commissioner in his briefing ahead of the debate. They are all available on the Scottish Government website.

Human rights impact and equality are not optional extras that can be dispensed with in emergency legislation. They are matters that are more important than ever in emergency legislation. They are at the core of what we do.

Presiding Officer, I hope that members will join me in supporting the general principles of the bill.

The Presiding Officer

Adam Tomkins has a point of order.

Adam Tomkins

We have just heard from the Government’s front bench that it does not intend to publish its amendments for stage 2 of the bill until Friday. The deadline for stage 2 amendments for all of us ordinary, non-Government members is Friday at noon. Presiding Officer, can you confirm that the convener of the COVID-19 Committee, which will take the bill at stage 2, will have the discretion to take manuscript amendments from us—they will perhaps amend Government amendments that we will not have had advance sight of—even if we are unable to make the Friday noon deadline? Can you also urge ministers to submit their amendments to their own bill substantially in advance of that deadline, so that we have time to consider them?

The Presiding Officer

Michael Russell has a point of order.

Michael Russell

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I will make it clear: the Government will attempt to lodge its amendments as early as possible. I am happy to share them as quickly as I can with the COVID-19 Committee and other members; this is not an attempt to hold anything back and I support the lodging of manuscript amendments if for any reason those amendments could not be lodged until closer to the deadline. I want to be as helpful as possible; there is no intention to hold anything back. I would also like to see amendments from other members, so that we can make sure that the process is as easy as possible. I have made that point to individual parties today and I would be happy to exchange amendments at any time.

The Presiding Officer

I thank the cabinet secretary for that helpful contribution. With regard to the point of order, I will clarify that the Parliamentary Bureau discussed the matter when agreeing the timetable and proposing it to the Parliament, which agreed to it yesterday. The convener of the COVID-19 Committee will have the discretion to select manuscript amendments and, much as I would do in selecting them at stage 3, I would expect the convener to exercise discretion. It will be up to the convener. Thank you for the point of order.

Vote at Stage 1

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Vote at Stage 1 transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The first question is, that motion S5M-21712, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill at stage 1, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill.

The Presiding Officer

The second question is, that motion S5M-21710, in the name of Kate Forbes, on a financial resolution to the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament, for the purposes of any Act of the Scottish Parliament resulting from the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill, agrees to any expenditure of a kind referred to in Rule 9.12.3(b) of the Parliament’s Standing Orders arising in consequence of the Act.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motion S5M-21727, in the name of Graeme Dey, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Against

Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)

Abstentions

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 36, Against 16, Abstentions 19.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motion S5M-21728, in the name of Graeme Dey, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 50, Against 0, Abstentions 19.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Environmental Regulation (Enforcement Measures) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020 [draft] be approved.

Meeting closed at 17:10.  



MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.

The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.

The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

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 group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

First meeting on changes

Documents with the changes considered at the meeting that will be held on 19 May 2020:

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First meeting on changes transcript

The Convener (Murdo Fraser)

Good morning, and welcome to the fifth meeting of the COVID-19 Committee. The only item on our agenda today is stage 2 consideration of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. Joining the committee today are a number of ministers and other MSPs, and I welcome you all.

We have lot to get through this morning, but it will work well if we take it slow and steady. When I call you to speak, please take a breath before speaking, to allow your microphone to be switched on. I remind members that they can request to speak by tapping “R” in the BlueJeans chat function. Once I call the relevant group, please speak only when I call your name.

Only committee members are eligible to vote, and voting will also take place using the BlueJeans chat function. Once I have read out the result of the vote, should you consider that your vote has been incorrectly recorded, please let me know as soon as possible. I will pause to provide time for that.

Depending on how long proceedings take, I will suspend the meeting for a five-minute comfort break at a suitable point. Given the time constraints, I encourage short, succinct contributions from all those who speak today.

We now move to declarations of interests from members. I declare that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and I have a property interest from which I derive rental income.

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. Therein, members will note that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and hold a current practising certificate, albeit that I am not currently practising. I also rent out a flat.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I am a member of Unite the union.

The Convener

We come to the stage 2 proceedings. Members will have in front of them the marshalled list, which shows the order in which amendments will be considered.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

Schedule 1—Protection of the individual

The Convener

The first group of amendments is on housing and tenancies. Amendment 15, in the name of Graham Simpson, is grouped with amendments 16, 22, 17 to 20, 42, 46 and 47.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Good morning, everyone. Good luck today—I know that you have a lot to get through. I have the convener’s words that we should keep things brief ringing in my ears as I start this first group, which could be quite meaty. Before I get into it, on behalf of everyone taking part I thank the Parliament’s bill team for getting through 56 amendments, which was quite a hefty task. I hope that they do not have such a hefty task when we move to stage 3 tomorrow.

Amendment 15 relates to the provisions in the bill that give students the right to give seven days’ notice to end their tenancy with a student housing provider. Amendment 15 is aimed not at damaging those provisions but at clearing them up.

I ask members to look at subparagraph 3(2)(b)(i) of schedule 1. My reading of the subparagraph draws the same the conclusion as has been drawn by Universities Scotland and the Scottish Property Federation, and is that it applies to anyone on an existing tenancy. However, I cannot imagine that there will be many students still around or many who have signed a lease for the next academic year, knowing the risks that are associated with that.

Kevin Stewart wrote to me about the issue, for which I am grateful. He said:

“The provision purposely makes the distinction between leases ‘entered into’ before the Bill comes into force and those entered into after that date ... the main category we are seeking to address is leases which have already started, where the tenant has been in occupation, and which are about to come to an end. But we were also aware that the proposal would affect other leases.

We have chosen to treat all leases entered into before the pandemic (including those yet to start) in the same way because they have been impacted by an unforeseen event which we consider to be a justification for giving students the right to terminate on seven days’ notice.

On the other hand, students agreeing tenancies after the Bill comes into force will be aware of the risks and impact of the pandemic. We therefore don’t intend to make any amendments to the way the provisions are currently drafted.”

There is a gap between those who are currently students and who signed leases before the pandemic, and students who sign leases after the bill comes into force. My amendment 15 seeks to ensure that anyone who entered into a lease during the pandemic for the next academic year would not be covered by the provisions, which I think is the intent. It is simply a tidying-up amendment.

In a way, amendment 47 ties in with amendment 15, because it relates to the part of the Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 that deals with student accommodation. Many large providers of purpose-built student accommodation have done the right thing and offered to release students from their leases for the summer term, but that could lead to an unintended consequence of those providers being charged vacant property council tax rates. Amendment 47 seeks to sort that out.

Amendment 46 also relates to council tax. It would exempt all former rented properties from council tax. I have had representations from landlords whose tenants have left—perhaps because they have lost work or were living away from home and have gone back home—with the landlords left with empty furnished properties. The landlords will fill the properties again if they are still in business, but they need help now. Amendment 46 would simply remove the burden on them of paying council tax, but only for now.

My final amendment in the group, which is probably the most controversial, is amendment 42. It seems to have set off alarm bells with ministers, but they should not be quite so worried. It relates to holiday lets. Members will be aware of the difficulties that the tourism industry is facing. Amendment 42 is intended to help those who run genuine self-catering businesses to fill their properties, while allowing them the flexibility of being able to return to business at a later date. The properties could be used to house key workers such as lorry drivers for a while. The Scottish Government fears that we could end up with mass evictions, but I really do not see those fears being realised.

A recent survey by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers of its members found that 61 per cent of respondents felt pessimistic about their businesses’ sustainability and 37 per cent felt pessimistic in the longer term. The association is supportive of amendment 42. I realise that the amendment is far reaching—it deals heavily with tenancy law and would allow people running holiday lets to convert them into normal tenancies on a short-term basis. We would not ordinarily do that, but we are in an emergency. I commend amendment 42 to members.

I turn to the amendments in the group that Andy Wightman and Pauline McNeill lodged, on which members have had quite a bit of correspondence. Mr Wightman’s amendment 16 and Ms McNeill’s amendment 22 deal with funds for tenants. In my view, such an approach is not required; the issue should be dealt with through the welfare system. Amendment 22 is slightly better than amendment 16, but I suggest to Ms McNeill that a better solution to the issue that she is trying to address might be to change the criteria for seeking assistance from the Scottish welfare fund so that they include rent arrears.

Perhaps the most controversial of Mr Wightman’s amendments is amendment 17, which provides for a rent freeze. Many landlords have reduced rents to help tenants during the crisis; for example, I know landlords in Edinburgh who have reduced rents by 30 per cent for a minimum of three months. Of course, that is what should happen: tenants should tell landlords when they are facing difficulties and landlords should respond flexibly.

The committee has received a number of pieces of correspondence on amendment 17—members might or might not have had a chance to read them. The Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations said:

“Amendment 17 seeks a two-year rent freeze from the date on which the No 2 Act comes into force. Currently it is impossible to estimate the financial losses which housing associations will incur as a result of lost rent and void costs during Covid. No association will want to impose large increases in the coming years”.

On amendment 18, the forum said:

“Amendment 18 seeks to have liability for rent arrears incurred during the Covid period ‘extinguished’”—

that is the word that the amendment uses. The GWSF went on to say:

“In GWSF’s view this measure would be catastrophic, as it would effectively send a signal to 600,000 social housing tenants that rent was no longer payable during the Covid crisis. This would lead to many thousands of tenants who could still afford to pay their rent not doing so”.

We had similar comments from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

I urge members to reject amendment 18 and all Mr Wightman’s amendments in the group, and to reject Ms McNeill’s amendments.

I move amendment 15.

The Convener

I remind members that if they want to contribute to the discussion on the amendments, they must type “R” in the message box, please.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

As members are aware, the first coronavirus bill—the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill—provided welcome protection for tenants by ensuring that notice periods for eviction would be extended beyond the current statutory limits. The approach ensures that, for tenants who are evicted during the emergency period, there is a longer period before they actually have to leave their homes. I lodged amendments to that bill that sought to ban the bringing of eviction proceedings during the emergency period, but my amendments were defeated.

As we consider the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, I want to provide further protection for tenants, including beyond the end of the emergency period, when it is anticipated that tenants will remain vulnerable to eviction as a result of the financial hardship that they have experienced during this period.

I will briefly summarise my amendments in this group; last night, I circulated to committee members a note on their purpose and effect.

Amendments 16 to 20 would apply to all statutory tenants—social and private. If committee members are concerned about whether the amendments should apply to all social tenants and/or private tenants, we can discuss their concerns and perhaps make changes at stage 3, if that is deemed necessary.

09:15  



Amendment 16 is designed to relieve hardship for tenants by placing a duty on Scottish ministers to establish a tenant hardship fund. Ministers were quick to establish the landlord loan fund, but tenants who face hardship—and we heard this from Mr Simpson—will have to rely on the benefit system. That is useless to many private tenants: it does not adequately cover their rental liabilities, particularly in expensive areas such as Edinburgh. The detailed eligibility and administrative criteria for the fund would be left to ministers to set out through regulations.

Amendment 17 recognises that existing hardships will be exacerbated if tenants face rent increases during and after the emergency period. To provide some certainty amid so much uncertainty, amendment 17 freezes rents at the level they are on the day of royal assent for a period of two years and prohibits any increase in rent during that period. If there are concerns about the date, in light of what Mr Simpson said about landlords reducing rents, it could be changed to, for example, 1 March.

Amendment 18 recognises that many tenants will be unable to pay their full rent because of their personal financial circumstances. The amendment provides for writing off any rent liabilities for any tenant who is unable to pay rent during the emergency period. The exact definition of such inability is for ministers to specify in regulations, but I envisage that being framed very narrowly, and it should apply only to tenants who are in greatest distress.

I reject the notion that responsible tenants will take that as a signal not to pay their rent. I would hope that they would find that any regulations that were approved under my proposed new provision would not cover them, so they would continue to be due to pay that rent. Amendment 18 is a significant amendment because it writes off rent, rather than simply ensuring—[Temporary loss of sound.]

That is what amendments 19 and 20 do. Amendment 19 is a very significant amendment, and I hope that committee members will approach it sympathetically. It is designed to ensure that, after the emergency period is over, no landlord can seek to evict a tenant for rent arrears that were accrued during the emergency period. It is important to point out that we are not writing off any rents with this amendment. Any rent that has fallen into arrears will continue to be owed to the landlord; the landlord will be able to recover those arrears through the normal process of debt recovery. I am just seeking to ensure that no one loses their home because of rent arrears; in other words, I am seeking to ensure that arrears cannot be used as grounds for initiating eviction proceedings.

Amendment 20 has the same basic effect as amendment 19, although it is much narrower in scope. The landlord loan fund was established by ministers to assist landlords in financial distress, but there has been no equivalent for tenants. Amendment 16, as I have just outlined, would provide for such a fund. Amendment 20 seeks some conditionality around the landlord loan fund. In return for a loan—as a condition of receiving a loan—a landlord would lose the power to evict a tenant for rent arrears arising during the emergency period. As with amendment 19, the rents concerned would continue to be due, but would be disregarded for the purpose of seeking an eviction.

The Convener

Pauline McNeill will speak to amendment 22 and other amendments in the group.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

As Andy Wightman said, many tenants will face severe economic hardship due to Covid-19. Government should seriously consider the importance of trying to avoid building up debt for tenants during this period and should consider the wider social implications if people are unable to hold on to their tenancies, building up huge arrears and debt.

Although I have accepted from the beginning that the Government has done a great deal, I do not believe that it has gone far enough. Graham Simpson is right to point out that there could be an option to expand the welfare fund but, like Andy Wightman, I believe that there will be a wider range of people who need help and who are not on universal credit. Amendment 22 seeks to set up a tenant rent support fund, because I believe that a wide range of tenants will be affected.

I agree with Andy Wightman that Government policy must be aimed at ensuring that no one loses their home because of Covid-19. A range of tenants who may need help, including key workers and nurses. We also need to anticipate what might happen at the end of the period. Although we have an analysis of what is going on now, we need to think about what the severe implications might be for the future.

During the passage of the first emergency bill, I raised the idea of a fund to assist people who are affected by having a reduced income as a result of Covid-19—it is important to emphasise that the reduced income must relate to Covid-19. Amendment 22 would allow ministers to set up a support fund for tenants who have fallen through the gaps of universal credit or who are short of rent. It would be for ministers to set the rules on that.

Amendment 16, in the name of Andy Wightman, on a tenant hardship fund, seems to do the same thing as amendment 22, and I ask members to support that as an alternative to my amendment.

On amendment 17, which would provide a rent freeze for all tenants, Andy Wightman needs to address the question of the impact that that would have on local authorities and registered social landlords. We all have a great deal of sympathy for a rent freeze in the sector and for the wider benefits to society of trying to stabilise tenancies, but that needs to be weighed against the losses that will be experienced by councils and registered social landlords, in particular.

Amendment 18 proposes a disregard for rent arrears. That could be crucial in stopping debt and preventing people from losing their homes and is definitely worthy of consideration. Amendment 19 seems quite sensible in suggesting that rent arrears cannot be grounds for eviction. That is an important principle.

Finally, Amendment 20 is in line with my own views, which I made clear during the passage of the first emergency bill. Arrears should not be grounds for eviction, in line with the Government’s no-evictions policy.

The Convener

As no other members wish to speak at this point, we will hear from the minister.

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

There are several amendments in the group, and I will address each in turn.

I will start with amendment 15, in the name of Graham Simpson. I thank Mr Simpson for his helpful scrutiny of the bill. I accept the point that he makes in amendment 15 and I support its aim, which is to provide clarity. However, as I have said to him, the drafting of the amendment needs to be considered further, so I ask him not to press amendment 15. I will work with him to ensure that an amendment can be made at stage 3 that will achieve his aim.

I will cover amendments 16 and 22 together, as they seek to do the same thing. We want to ensure that tenants who are facing financial difficulties that lead to rent arrears are supported to access all the help, support and advice that are available. Support for housing costs is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, through reserved benefits such as universal credit, which includes housing.

We have actively encouraged tenants to apply for the financial support for which they are eligible, including through a specific campaign letting tenants know about their rights and the changes that we made to support them through the first emergency act. I remind members that the Scottish Government took action under the first emergency act to protect tenants from any eviction action for six months.

In addition, we have provided Citizens Advice Scotland with £3 million to provide support to people struggling financially at this time. That includes an additional £100,000 for a new national helpline.

Although we have welcomed the UK Government’s changes to the welfare system, equally, we have urged it on several occasions—prior to and during the coronavirus crisis—to go further and use its social security powers to make additional improvements to support those accessing benefits, including tenants who are struggling to pay rent.

The Scottish Government budgeted £71.2 million in this financial year for discretionary housing payments for tenants to ensure that we mitigate the bedroom tax in full and to help those struggling with their housing costs. The committee should note that that is an increase of nearly £10 million on the previous financial year. We expect the cost to increase significantly over and above that amount due to the additional numbers of people moving to universal credit who will be hit by the bedroom tax. All of that will need to be paid for out of Scottish Government funds.

I make it clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. We expect landlords to be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship and to signpost them to the sources of financial support that are available.

A landlord who is facing financial difficulty due to a tenant being in arrears is able to access a loan from the Scottish Government where they have discussed rent issues with their tenant and made an agreement on managing arrears. For many landlords, there is a genuine prospect of rent being unpaid. If they face a delay in payment, the loan will provide them with a short-term financial support that they need for the longer term. Of course, the loan must be repaid. That support is vital, given that it will do no good to tenants and the private rented sector in general if a landlord has to sell a home or has it repossessed because they cannot meet their final obligations on the property during the coronavirus emergency.

I urge the committee to reject amendments 16 and 22.

Amendment 17 does not take into account tenants’ or landlords’ individual circumstances, including their financial circumstances. It does not consider the negative impact of its effects, including on the ability of landlords to adequately service their properties, or the potential severe financial impact on registered social landlords, who are already concerned about the loss of income as a result of the coronavirus emergency. Therefore, it is no wonder that stakeholders such as the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations are united in their opposition to this amendment. They have expressed their deep concerns to the committee.

Legislation is already in place that provides stability to tenants in the private rented sector, and rents can be increased only once a year and with three months’ notice. If a tenant is waiting for financial support, such as benefits, action cannot be taken. In addition, tenants have the right to challenge unfair rent increases. In the social sector, the current legislation ensures that landlords have a legal duty to consult tenants about rent setting. They must also take into account the importance of what current and prospective tenants, and other customers, are likely to be able to afford when they are setting rents.

Amendment 17 also pays no regard to the impact that it might have on the housing supply across the private and the social sectors. The committee should reject it.

09:30  



In relation to amendment 18, as I said earlier, we have encouraged tenants to still pay their rent, if they can, during the course of the pandemic, to apply for all forms of financial assistance for which they are eligible and to seek advice and support. Although the emergency legislation will expire on 30 September, it can be extended for a further six months, and then a further six months after that, through affirmative regulations. We have made it clear that the Government will be flexible to meet the needs of people as we assess the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

Amendment 18 takes a blanket approach to rent arrears that are accrued during the period for which the bill is in force. It does not consider the potential impact on landlords or the potential knock-on effect for housing stock that would occur should funds not be available to carry out the servicing of properties or, indeed, to make payments on the security of properties. We want to ensure that tenants can stay in their homes. Amendment 18 is a very blunt instrument, and I urge the committee to reject it.

The arguments against amendment 19 are much the same as those against amendment 18. As I said, we have made it clear throughout the crisis that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship as a result of Covid-19. We have asked landlords to signpost tenants to the range of support and advice that is available to help tenants to pay their rent.

As I said of amendment 18, amendment 19 takes a blanket approach to rent arrears. I also believe that it would not be right to include in the bill provisions that would, in effect, direct the First-tier Tribunal—an independent judicial body—to disregard particular evidence on why rent arrears occurred in a particular case.

I recognise the need to manage the effective transition from the temporary provisions in the coronavirus legislation to the provisions in the pre-Covid-19 legislation. That is why I am actively pursing making the rent arrear eviction grounds discretionary in nature, which will enable a tribunal to examine all the reasons for the accumulation of rent arrears as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. For those reasons, I encourage the committee to reject amendment 19.

I turn to amendment 20. We have acted to protect tenants from eviction action during the emergency period. In addition, we have given the First-tier Tribunal discretion in considering whether it is reasonable to grant an eviction order. It can take the full circumstances of the case into account, including whether the landlord has been a recipient of our landlord loan fund. Of course, landlords will not profit from such loans—they must be paid back—and it does not benefit the tenant if a landlord’s property is at risk because the landlord cannot service the debts or the mortgage on a property. Amendment 20 risks landlords being put off applying for the loan and, instead, seeking eviction at the earliest opportunity. To take a loan, landlords would need to be willing to accept the lack of transparency on the period during which the provision would impact on their ability to operate the rental property.

However, I recognise the need to ensure that we do our utmost to protect tenants, so I will lodge an amendment at stage 3 for a new regulation that will make a power to create private landlord pre-action protocols similar to those that are currently in place in the social sector. It will place on landlords a duty to undertake certain actions to support their tenant prior to being able to go to a tribunal to seek an eviction order. That approach will support tenants far more effectively. For those reasons, I encourage the committee to reject amendment 20.

I turn to the amendments on council tax. It is in no one’s interest if housing stock sits idle and unused, which is why the Government has taken concerted action to get empty homes back into use. However, we must ensure that any action that we take in the midst of this crisis does not have unintended consequences. We oppose any relaxation of the rules on private rented tenancies to enable eviction to take place on the ground that the landlord wishes to return a property to the short-term rental market. That could lead to mass evictions when social distancing restrictions are lifted, and it would undermine our policy of providing tenants in the private rented sector with security of tenure. There are no unreasonable legislative barriers that would prevent the owner of a short-term let from moving into the private rented sector; indeed, there is evidence to suggest that a number of owners have already made that switch. We therefore do not believe that any change to legislation in this area is necessary.

A fundamental principle of our private rented sector policy is to provide tenants with security and stability. Once a property is let under a private rented sector tenancy, it becomes the tenant’s home. We will not dilute those rights by making special provision for short-term let owners to move in and out of the private rented sector market. I therefore urge Graham Simpson not to press amendment 15 and, if he chooses to do so, I urge the committee to reject it.

Amendment 46 would exempt from the payment of council tax all dwellings that are “available for rent” and “not occupied”, but I do not believe that it is required. Dwellings that are empty and unfurnished already qualify for such an exemption for several months. In addition, the Government is strongly encouraging local authorities to use the powers that they already have to defer payment of council tax bills for which landlords are liable now. That would remove the immediate pressure on landlords and would mean that the tax could be paid once their income has increased. Furthermore, there is financial support available to help landlords, whether their property portfolios are small or large.

There are a number of flaws in the wording of amendment 46. One such flaw concerns the term “available for rent”, which could apply to types of properties beyond what I think Graham Simpson intends the amendment to cover. For example, the wording means that the amendment, if it is passed, could apply to self-catering lets, bed and breakfasts and other situations that do not involve private landlords. Another flaw is that the amendment sets no timescales in respect of lack of occupancy and gives no clarity on how long properties would need to be vacant before the proposed exemption from council tax would apply. As a result, the measures could apply to properties that have lain unoccupied for just one day or since last year. I therefore oppose amendment 46 both on policy grounds and because of legal issues with the drafting.

This has been a long discussion on this group. It began with one of Mr Simpson’s amendments that we will return to at stage 3, when I hope we will agree on a way forward in co-operation. As I said, I support amendment 15 in principle, but there are some issues with its drafting.

On amendment 47, the Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 sets out dwellings that are exempted from paying council tax, including dwellings that are occupied by one or more students, a student’s spouse or dependant, school leavers or people under the age of 18. Under amendment 47, properties that would in usual times be covered by those exemptions but which are not covered due to being unoccupied for coronavirus-related reasons would be exempt. That would cease to have effect when the provisions of the eventual act end. Given that amendment 47 relates to properties that would be exempt from council tax in normal times and that the measure introduced by the amendment would last only as long as the bill itself is in force, the Government supports the principle of the amendment. However, there are areas where it needs to be refined. Therefore, if Mr Simpson does not press amendment 47, I will be happy to make a commitment that the Government will work with him to draw up an appropriate stage 3 amendment.

I thank the committee for bearing with me through that lengthy discussion about this group of amendments.

The Convener

Thank you, minister. As you have said, that was a comprehensive assessment of the group.

Graham Simpson

I thank members who have taken part in the discussion on the group, and I thank the minister for what was, as has been said, a comprehensive look at all the amendments in the group.

I accept what the minister had to say about my amendments 15 and 47, which both relate to student properties, and I fully accept the points that he made, so I am prepared not to press the amendments, on the basis that he will work with me over the next few hours to get better wording.

I also heard what he had to say on my amendment 46, which relates to council tax. Having reviewed the wording in that amendment, I agree with him that it is flawed and would not achieve what I seek, so I will not move amendment 46, which we will come to later.

I will move amendment 42, which relates to holiday lets. I have not heard from other parties their views on it, but we should have the flexibility that I described earlier.

We have covered the other amendments in the group in some detail, so I will leave it there.

Amendment 15, by agreement, withdrawn.

09:45  



The Convener

Amendment 16 is in the name of Andy Wightman. Because the technology that we are using does not allow interventions, it is reasonable to allow members who have lodged amendments a brief opportunity, in determining whether to move them, to respond to what they have heard in the debate. I invite Andy Wightman to respond briefly to what he has heard, and to say whether he will move amendment 16.

Andy Wightman

Thank you, convener. I will move amendment 16.

The minister said that no landlord should evict a tenant because of coronavirus, but the reality is that tenants will be evicted because of it. He also said that the Government wants to ensure that tenants can stay in their homes, but the reality is that many tenants will not be able to stay in their homes, because of coronavirus.

The minister mentioned the defence in the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, which has powers of discretion, but they will last only as long as the emergency period.

I am disheartened that the minister, who had advance sight of the policy intentions of my amendments a week ago, has made no attempt to discuss them with me or to seek to strengthen the rights of tenants. I acknowledge that some of the amendments might be rather too far-reaching or too coarse, but there is no reason why they cannot be refined.

Amendment 16 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 16 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 16 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 22, in the name of Pauline McNeill, has already been debated with amendment 15. I invite Pauline McNeill to respond briefly to the debate, if she wishes to do so, and to say whether she will move amendment 22.

Pauline McNeill

I will move amendment 22.

I agree with Andy Wightman that tenants will potentially be evicted from their homes if we do not take a more radical approach to protecting them. The times that we are living in are unprecedented, so I ask the committee to think ahead. What we know now is nothing to what we might experience in the months to come; the impact could be profound.

I believe that my proposed national fund and Andy Wightman’s proposed fund are much the same. Ministers will have to go much further in order to prevent tenants from building up huge arrears and from being evicted from their homes.

I ask the committee to consider that, if people lose their homes and build up huge debt, and we do not do more to help folk who are renting in all sectors—the private rented sector, in particular—there will be an impact on individual tenants and there will be massive and much wider social and economic impacts.

I urge the committee to support amendment 22.

Amendment 22 moved—[Pauline McNeill].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 22 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 22 disagreed to.

Amendment 17 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 17 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 17 disagreed to.

Amendment 18 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 18 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 18 disagreed to.

Amendment 19 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 19 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 19 disagreed to.

Amendment 20 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 20 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 20 disagreed to.

10:00  



The Convener

Amendment 21, in the name of Neil Findlay, is grouped with amendments 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 33, 34 and 50.

Neil Findlay

Amendment 21 seeks to establish a system of national collective bargaining in the private care home sector. When I was the convener of the Health and Sport Committee, Scottish Care, which represents care home owners, and the trade unions that represent the workforce asked for such a system to be introduced. The bill gives us the opportunity to do that.

Whether we like it or not, adult social care is an industry. Hands-on care is highly skilled and increasingly complex. However, the terms and conditions of employees are precarious and unacceptable. Poor-quality jobs and reward mean poor-quality care.

Individual rights are insufficient to remedy those problems. Care workers have been silenced by the structure of the care market. The Government must act to raise the quality of employment across the care sector. Sectoral bargaining would create decent work and, crucially, would raise the quality of the care that is provided.

At present, many people who are not deemed by their employer to be front-line workers are not paid the living wage in the care sector; they are paid the minimum wage. They include cleaners, drivers, cooks, laundry staff and handymen. Many of those people work 12-hour shifts. If they are off work, they lose 12 hours’ pay and, as we have become aware in recent weeks, they are put on statutory sick pay. As a result, they try their best to come to work, even when they are sick. That is not a good thing.

As an example of a major player in the sector, HC-One has been very topical recently; it has not paid a penny in corporation tax in the UK since 2011, but has managed to pay shareholders £48 million.

Small, family-run care homes have a good record for the way in which they treat their staff and have good relations with them, but many such homes pay little more than the rates that I have already referred to.

Home carers have their own issues. Some have to buy their own uniforms; some have to use their own phones for work; and they are given no travelling time between clients. Those issues in the sector have long been documented.

In a sector that is supposed to protect elderly and vulnerable people, and which has its profits provided by exploiting workers where there is no trade union to intervene, the current crisis is nothing new. We have been speaking about it for years. The Covid-19 crisis has merely exposed it and brought it into the public domain a bit more. We have the opportunity to intervene, and to start the beginning of the end of a public service and health disaster.

On Thursday evenings, people stand on their doorsteps and clap for key workers. That is a good thing. The committee can turn that easy symbolism into something real, genuine and practical—something that will deliver positive and much-needed improvements in the pay, terms and conditions and morale of the workforce and, crucially, in the quality of the care that they provide.

I plead with members to support amendment 21. In my opinion, one of the most important things that we can do is to have a proper system to reward those who deliver that crucial care, keep them safe, and build a respectful relationship between the owners of those homes and the workers who deliver the care for us.

I move amendment 21.

The Convener

I call Monica Lennon to speak to amendment 24 and all other amendments in the group.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Amendment 24 in my name seeks to establish a social care staff support fund. Like many other members, I have serious concerns about what is happening in our care homes—they really are the crisis within this crisis. There are on-going issues with testing and there is confusion about the application of guidance. Even in the past couple of days, care workers have spoken out in the media about their worries that they will be unable to live on statutory sick pay should they test positive for coronavirus. That should not be a factor in whether they can continue to earn a living. We need staff to be safe and well at work, but if they have Covid-19 or are awaiting test results, they should not be in the workplace putting themselves and, of course, the residents at risk. I believe that a mechanism needs to be in place, because many have already faced financial detriment.

Amendment 24 seeks to address that. The committee has heard from experts such as Sir Harry Burns that staff are unwittingly spreading Covid-19 in care homes. Many staff have been asymptomatic and care homes have not had the benefit of routine testing. Whether or not Covid-positive staff are asymptomatic, they should not be at work, but nor should they suffer financial detriment because of that. I have consulted trade unions. I should have said at the beginning that I am a member of the GMB union and Unite. I believe that amendment 24 is necessary at this juncture in the crisis, so I hope that members support it.

I will briefly address the other amendments in the group in my name. Amendment 30 would introduce a duty on the Care Inspectorate to lay a report before Parliament every two weeks during the emergency period setting out which care home inspections have been carried out and the findings of those inspections. There is so much concern about the way in which care homes are handling the crisis. Amendment 30 would improve transparency and ensure that information is available quickly to all MSPs to give an overall picture about on-going problems with particular care homes or providers across the country and, importantly, a picture of where extra support is needed.

Amendment 31 seeks to put a duty on Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland to impose temporary management on a care home during the emergency period if the existing management is unable to perform its functions due to reasons connected to the coronavirus.

Amendment 50 would put a duty on ministers to establish the position of national social care officer to advise the Scottish Government on the needs of the social care sector in relation to the coronavirus. We all agree that the social care sector has been badly hit by the virus, and the needs of workers and care home providers for PPE have not always been heard. Dr Donald Macaskill of Scottish Care has publicly stated that the response has been patchy and not joined up. I believe that the appointment of a national social care officer is needed to strengthen the voice of the care sector and ensure that a unified approach is taken. None of us wants a postcode lottery in relation to the quality of care and PPE.

On the other amendments in the group, I support amendments 33 and 34 in the name of my colleague Jackie Baillie, which I believe will increase transparency and reporting, although I am sure that Jackie Baillie will speak for her own amendments. I also support amendment 21, which Neil Findlay has just spoken to.

I welcome Government amendments 26 and 27, in the name of the cabinet secretary, which would give ministers powers to take control of a care home service and give local authorities the power to purchase a care home or service during the emergency period if that was necessary. There is a case for extending that provision beyond the emergency period, although I appreciate that we are dealing with the immediate term at the moment. I believe that those amendments can work with my amendment 31, which relates to temporary management and could also apply due to short-term illness, but might stop short of full control being taken of a service.

In summary, I support all the amendments in the group.

The Convener

I call Michael Russell to speak to amendment 26 and the other amendments in the group.

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

This is a serious part of the bill, and the Scottish Government has taken this group of amendments seriously. I am grateful to Neil Findlay, Monica Lennon and Jackie Baillie for their contributions to the debate.

We must provide whatever urgent or emergency actions we can to improve the situation, or to do things that we feel would otherwise be in doubt. We need to remember that this is not about taking actions beyond that emergency situation—I will return to that point in a moment. The actions have to be possible, practical and proportionate; we have tried to make them so, particularly in the amendments in my name. Some elements in the other amendments reflect that, too, and I will refer to those.

We are endeavouring to assure the most important people in the situation—those who are being cared for, and the staff—that we are trying to do all the things that are possible, practical and proportionate, to help them at this difficult time. The amendments in my name do that in two ways. We put beyond doubt that health boards, agency bodies and local authorities have the power to purchase a care home or care-at-home services, if—I want to make that clear—there was a failure to continue service, the provider of that service was in serious financial difficulty or the provider had ceased to provide a service and was willing to sell.

Amendment 27 will allow the Scottish ministers to make an application to a sheriff to appoint a nominated officer—someone whom they consider suitably qualified to carry out the running and operation of a care home, to direct existing staff and to bring in additional staff as necessary. The sheriff must grant the order if it appears to them that there is a serious risk to the life, health and wellbeing of any person in the care home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Importantly, that provision will enable Scottish ministers, in extreme situations, to exercise those powers before making an application to the sheriff, provided that they apply to the court for the necessary order as soon as it is practical. I will lodge amendments at stage 3 to make that even clearer and ensure that there is a strong limit on what can be done.

Scottish ministers would exercise that power in advance of the judicial process only if they judged that it was essential to prevent that serious risk to life, health and wellbeing. In normal circumstances, residents at risk would be moved to another home: it would be impossible and unsafe to do that during a pandemic and nobody would support that action.

We are trying to provide practical, proportionate and possible actions that can make a difference. We have to support the social care sector and we have already made substantial efforts to do so. We have put in enhanced clinical leadership, provided by directors of public health with the support of medical directors, nurse directors, chief social work officers, care inspectors and others.

We have put in enhanced testing regimes in care homes, as well as access to appropriate PPE, additional support for the workforce and direct intervention on infection and protection control. Extensive work is already under way to support the social care sector: an initial £50 million has been announced to support the immediate challenges in the sector, which the health and social care partnership mobilisation plans have identified.

We are taking forward that work across the board, with providers, directors of public health, health and social care partnerships, regulatory bodies and other key professional groups. I hope that all of that is providing not just the assurance, but the practical difference that will take things forward. By clarifying the purchasing powers, we are again trying to ensure that the risk is reduced for the vitally important people who are helped and served by the social care sector. We are also reassuring staff that under no circumstances would their employment cease: we know that their work is so important that it must continue, and we are taking exceptional steps to ensure that it does.

If amendments 26 and 27 are agreed to today, we will make minor technical adjustments at stage 3 to clarify that the ability for ministers to act in advance of court order will relate to the prevention of an imminent and serious risk, and we will tighten the time limit to get a court order, so that it must be obtained within 24 hours of intervening. I hope that the committee will agree to amendments 26 and 27.

The intention of amendment 31 is not dissimilar. Every member—not just those who are speaking in committee—and everyone in society is concerned about the safety of staff and residents. It is right that the Care Inspectorate should be clear about its rights and responsibilities. However, Scottish ministers already have the power to confer additional functions on it, and amendment 27 deals with any concerns that might exist about that. We acknowledge what Monica Lennon is asking for in amendment 31, but I hope that she will accept that that power is already there.

10:15  



Neil Findlay, when speaking in support of amendment 21, raised very serious concerns that will need to be addressed. However, the question is whether amendment 21 is the way in which to address those concerns and make progress. The demography of the workforce and the historical status of care work mean that, as the member knows, only a small proportion of the workforce are members of unions. If we were to put in national collective bargaining instantly—I dispute whether that would be possible—we could end up in a situation where there might be a negotiation between a purchaser and a provider but without organised labour being in the right place in those negotiations.

We have made additional funding available to increase the capacity of social work support and ensure fair working conditions. We will continue to provide support. We have made a commitment to pay at least the real living wage for those working on publicly funded contracts; we have introduced sick pay for those who are sick or self-isolating; we have introduced access to childcare, testing and PPE; and we have given guidance on the use of PPE and infection control and made sure that that is clear and up to date. There is also a national approach to the recruitment of social care staff, to maintain service levels.

We recognise that there are differences in terms and conditions between workers who are employed in different sectors. We are clear that that is not desirable, but, in my view, change cannot be made by a simple amendment to the bill.

Last year, the Fair Work Convention published “Fair Work in Scotland’s Social Care Sector 2019”, which commits to establishing fair work practices. The fair work in social care implementation group exists—it has been established to focus exactly on that issue. It will make recommendations to a group that is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ health and social care spokesperson. It would be wrong to legislate on this issue in an emergency bill in a way that cannot be effective. It would be far better to back what is going on and to take the urgent actions that are being taken to support the workforce.

Amendment 24 relates to the establishment of a social care staff support fund. We agree that the workforce is essential, is a priority and should be supported. Anyone who develops Covid-19 symptoms must self-isolate and must be supported by their employer to do so. It is not acceptable for any of our key workers to feel under financial pressure to keep working if they fear that they may have the virus.

The issue of workers experiencing financial hardship is of real concern to the Government, and we have taken—and continue to take—extensive action on that. We have agreed with COSLA to meet the additional costs incurred through Covid-19, which includes payments to the third sector and independent care providers.

Let me be clear that social care employers have a duty of care to their workforce. We would expect them to be guided—we insist that they are guided—by the coronavirus fair work statement, which says:

“No worker should be financially penalised by their employer for following medical advice. Any absence from work relating to COVID-19 should not affect future sick pay entitlement, result in disciplinary action or count towards any future sickness absence related action.”

Some private social care providers, which are businesses, have terms and conditions for their staff that allow for the proper payment of sick pay. Those that do not, should—and they are governed by the coronavirus fair work statement.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has already asked employers to discuss with her what they are doing to improve the situation. The Government will continue that work. We need to put in place a workable system, with funding via local authorities, and we are doing so.

I turn to amendments 30, 33 and 34. Access to information is crucial. All inspection reports compiled by the Care Inspectorate are published. That practice already happens; there is no need to legislate for that to happen. However, Monica Lennon is right that we need to look at accelerating the publication timescales during the current crisis. There may be an opportunity to consider publishing a summary of the new weekly reports, which we have insisted on from the directors of public health. That is being explored.

If Monica Lennon will allow us to have the opportunity to explore that, we will see whether we can integrate that into our reporting processes, to make sure that additional information is provided. Monica Lennon has asked for reports every two weeks. However, provided that we can make it work, which is what we are trying to do, our proposal would give us weekly reports.

Amendment 33 requires daily reports on deaths in care homes. We provide daily data on suspected Covid-19 cases, and National Records of Scotland provides weekly data. We have examined the existing legislation on data collection and there are powers in place to issue daily reports on deaths in care homes, if that can be done. However, we must be careful that we are not providing a number of sets of data that are increasingly hard to reconcile and for the public to understand. We really must not get into the situation that we have seen elsewhere in which there is confusion about how deaths are reported and published. Publishing a third set of data would cause such confusion. We are committed to transparency and to seeing whether we can publish weekly reports. We recognise the need for accurate data and we will continue to pursue that.

On amendment 34, the Care Inspectorate is not responsible for the supply of PPE; its role is focused on the scrutiny and inspection of services. There is no role for the Care Inspectorate in that, and therefore it is not possible for the Government to address that issue in the bill.

Amendment 50 would require the Scottish ministers to appoint a national social care officer. I give you the name of Iona Colvin, who currently holds the position of the Scottish Government’s chief social work adviser. That is an existing, established role that provides advice to ministers on all matters relating to social work and social care. For example, the chief social work adviser is a member of the health and social care management board and has been fully engaged in all the planning and response in relation to the virus.

The chief social work adviser is also the Scottish Government sponsor of the Scottish Social Services Council, which is the registration body for all social care workforces. There is no space for an additional officer in this; indeed, that would further confuse the chains of information and reporting. I am sure that Monica Lennon is not seeking to impose confusion and I hope that she will take my assurance that that is the situation.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Amendment 33 would place in statute a requirement on care homes to report all deaths to the Care Inspectorate on a daily basis and, in turn, for the Care Inspectorate to report those figures on a weekly basis to the Scottish Government for publication. That is no different from what already happens—the reporting requirement on care homes is currently contained in guidance—but such is the importance of the situation, I believe that that requirement should have statutory underpinning during the emergency period of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill.

Members may recall the lack of transparency at the very start of the pandemic, when the Care Inspectorate suggested that people should use freedom of information legislation to access information about the number of Covid-19 deaths in our care homes. I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s instruction to the Care Inspectorate to publish that information, but what a scandalous lack of accountability there was at the beginning. Amendment 33 puts beyond doubt the requirement for transparency placed on the Care Inspectorate.

Amendment 34 recognises the areas that require to be monitored if we are to effectively tackle Covid-19 in our care homes. I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. We would all acknowledge that care homes have become the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that there were issues with a lack of availability of PPE at the beginning and that, in some cases, the quality of PPE was poor. In the HC-One care home in my constituency, staff told of PPE being locked in cupboards while Covid-19 raged through the care home. HC-One care homes in Scotland, from Castle View in Dumbarton to Home Farm on Skye, have experienced more than 200 deaths from Covid-19. Our sympathies are, of course, with those who have lost loved ones, but they need more than our sympathy; they need us to act.

Then there is the issue of testing. The lack of testing for staff and residents is frankly appalling. The hesitation and, in some cases, the refusal by care homes to engage in testing has been incredibly counterproductive. The Scottish Government may have been slow to start testing, but some care homes appear to be reluctant to test in case staff then go off sick. It is as if they would rather have care home staff carrying the virus in work than being off. I want the Care Inspectorate to monitor that. Placing these issues as a condition of registration of a care home shows that we regard these issues as important and ensures that the Care Inspectorate knows what is expected of it.

I have to say that the Care Inspectorate has been posted missing during the pandemic. It is beyond disappointing that, when it should have been stepping up to the plate, the Care Inspectorate appears to have taken a light-touch approach and stepped back. At a time when people are dying in their hundreds in care homes across the country, that is an extraordinary decision and I am surprised that ministers would have agreed to it.

The amendments would put beyond any doubt our expectations and demand action on the areas that we know would make a difference. I support all the other amendments in the group, but I have a question for the cabinet secretary. The Care Inspectorate already has the power to close down care homes, although it is not a power that it has used much, which is surprising. Will the new power be exercised by the Care Inspectorate or by ministers directly?

My amendments are complementary to all the other amendments in the group, so I hope that members will support them all.

The Convener

A number of members wish to speak in the debate. I should say, for the benefit of those members and those who are moving amendments, that once we have had the open debate I will allow everyone who is moving an amendment to respond briefly to the points that have been made, in lieu of the fact that we cannot have interventions during the debate. If members have questions to pose to the movers of amendments, the movers can respond to them when they wind up.

Annabelle Ewing

I wish to make a brief intervention in support of amendments 26 and 27, in the name of Michael Russell, the cabinet secretary. As we have heard, they would allow the Government to make a swift intervention in the running of a care home in circumstances in which, because of coronavirus, the status quo presents

“a serious risk to the life, health or wellbeing”

of any person in the care home.

As we have heard, the powers would be exercisable by way of application to a sheriff, except in exceptional circumstances. I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary will have a further look at the conditions that would pertain to proceedings in the first instance without a prior application to the court.

The provisions would put beyond doubt that health boards and local authorities could seek to purchase a failing care home. That could happen when there was a willing seller. The prescribed circumstances that are set out in the provisions would also require to be met.

In the context of the pandemic, the emergency powers are patently necessary, proportionate and appropriate. They are also an appropriate safeguard, not only because of their scope and the prescribed conditions that they set out, but also, crucially, because of the Government’s power to intervene in the running of a care home. The provisions are time limited and decisions made under them can be appealed.

I am happy to support such important amendments. It is particularly important that they will provide much needed reassurance to the public.

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

I will be brief. I am broadly supportive of the amendments in the group, but I have one question on amendment 31 for Monica Lennon that I hope she will answer in her closing remarks. It is very much in line with what the cabinet secretary said.

My thoughts are that what is intended by amendment 31 is perhaps better covered by amendment 26, especially given that that involves a multiagency approach. If Monica Lennon intends to press amendment 31, will she outline what specifically it will contribute that is not covered by amendment 26, in the name of the cabinet secretary?

The Convener

I have some brief comments on amendments 26 and 27 in the name of the cabinet secretary, on care homes. Although I do not necessarily intend to oppose the amendments, they have caused a degree of concern in the care home sector. The majority of care homes in Scotland, whether they are run by local authorities, charities or the private sector, are well-run institutions that provide an excellent standard of care for their residents.

10:30  



Over the past few days, the care home sector has expressed concern that it is being made something of a scapegoat for failings elsewhere. On issues such as testing and PPE, the sector feels that it is being unfairly blamed by the Scottish Government for some of the problems that it has had to face. I would welcome some assurance from the cabinet secretary that that is not the case and that the care sector, whether its services are run privately, by the third sector or by local authorities, is highly valued.

Can the cabinet secretary tell us what discussions there have been with the care sector, including bodies such as Scottish Care, about the wording of amendments 26 and 27? Amendment 27 grants local authorities the power to take over care providers. Has that been discussed with COSLA? In the past decade or more, we have seen a trend in local authorities moving out of care homes. It seems a strange reversal of that direction of travel to give local authorities the right to step back in. I am interested to know whether local authorities have expressed any interest in stepping back in, given the trend that we have seen in recent times.

I invite each member with an amendment in the group to respond briefly to the points that have been made and to answer any questions. I will start with Jackie Baillie.

Jackie Baillie

Amendment 33 requires care homes to report to the Care Inspectorate daily, and requires the Care Inspectorate to report to Scottish ministers weekly, so I am confused by the cabinet secretary’s comments—that is what happens now and is what Scottish ministers have instructed. We need transparency and it is clear from the behaviour of the Care Inspectorate at the outset of the pandemic that that requirement needs to be in statute.

Amendment 34 is pragmatic and focuses entirely on the issues that we know will make a difference in tackling Covid-19. It is not evident that the Care Inspectorate has been fulfilling its functions and so we need to put that beyond any doubt. At the end of the day, we need to put in statute what matters to us rather than stay silent.

Monica Lennon

I ask members to support amendment 24 on the social care staff support fund. Amendment 24 is not just about trying to address a financial issue; it is about saving lives.

We have seen an extraordinary number of deaths in care homes. Right up until this morning, I have been contacted by care workers and their family members asking for support for this measure. I welcome the discussions between the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and COSLA, but the fund would be a direct way of addressing the issues that care homes across the sectors are facing. I ask the committee to support amendment 24.

I accept Mike Russell’s point about there already being a chief social work officer but the trade unions have been asking for a dedicated officer and they feel very frustrated. Unison and GMB Scotland have been writing to ministers and Government officials on that point since March—I have seen several letters—and they feel that they have not had a response. For the duration of the crisis, it would be helpful to have a senior officer who is focused on social care. The officer that Mike Russell mentioned has a much bigger portfolio and their responsibilities include children and families. Having a dedicated officer would be important for the duration of the crisis. The First Minister’s appointment of an additional deputy chief medical officer was very welcome, so I would have thought that the Government would want to keep such issues under review at all times.

Ross Greer’s question is a good one. My honest answer is that I am not entirely sure. I am supportive of the Government’s amendments; I take it in good faith that the amendments in Mike Russell’s name broadly tackle what I am asking for in my amendment. However, at this moment, because there has not been a lot of dialogue about the amendments, I would feel safer moving my amendment in the hope that we can have conversations with the Government later on.

I know that we are pushed for time, convener, but I ask committee members to support all the amendments in the group. I think that there is broad consensus but there are things that we could perhaps debate and further negotiate later today.

Fundamentally, we are lodging these amendments because we want to protect people’s lives and people’s livelihoods; that is what is at stake.

The Convener

I invite the cabinet secretary to respond.

Michael Russell

Briefly, on what Monica Lennon has just said, I believe that her amendment 31 is dealt with entirely by amendment 26, which has additional elements in it so I think that it is clearer. Amendment 26 is also drafted in such a way that it achieves what we set out to achieve. I therefore ask Monica Lennon, despite what she said, not to move her amendment. I am happy to talk to her and to make sure that the health secretary has a conversation with her in case there are things that occur to her between now and stage 3 that she would like to add.

Jackie Baillie asked whether we are standing back or whether we are going to intervene. I think that our amendments speak for themselves. The power to directly appoint somebody to take over a care home when that is required is within the bill. That shows that we are determined and we are already acting in a determined fashion. However, I agree with Murdo Fraser that all actions have to be proportionate. That is why I stressed the need for actions to be proportionate, practical and possible. There will continue to be discussions with Scottish Care, COSLA and others about how the provisions will be implemented and we will continue to refine them at stage 3, looking at how they should operate. They are designed to be proportionate and I do not think that anything is served—I make this point strongly in light of the debate—by worrying people about what is a generally high standard of care. Everybody knows people who are in care homes. People will be worried. There is a high standard of care from very committed and high-quality carers and we have to make that absolutely clear.

When the circumstances demand change, change should take place and when the circumstances demand that that change should take place urgently, it should take place urgently, so we will do that. I do not believe that amendment 21 is either possible or practical at this stage although I do not disagree with the intention behind it; there has to be a workable system.

Finally, on amendment 50, I can certainly take away the suggestion that the chief social work officer should have an additional member of staff available to them—that may be something that we can do—but that is not what the amendment says. As we already have somebody fulfilling that function, it is neither sensible nor practical to have an amendment that duplicates that. I am happy to consider what Monica Lennon has said. If she does not move amendment 50, we can see what can be done.

The Convener

I invite Neil Findlay to wind up the debate and indicate whether he intends to press or withdraw amendment 21.

Neil Findlay

Convener, I intend to press amendment 21. I agree with some of your comments that some care homes are being unfairly blamed for the failings at a much higher level in relation to PPE, the care that the homes have been able to provide and the safety of workers in those care homes.

Many care homes are providing good care despite the system, not because of it. They are providing good care because of the commitment of people within those care homes, who are often the lowest paid and in the most precarious work, and I think that that is happening despite the system.

If we look back over the past few weeks and months at the major issues—PPE, testing, whistleblowing, statutory sick pay, death in service and pay and conditions—those issues are all raised time and time again by people in the care sector, yet they are having to be raised in the media and ministers are having to be dragged to address them.

That is not how it should be. Formal systems should be set up through which staff can raise issues and be confident that they will not be victimised for doing so. I am sure that, during this crisis, many members have been contacted by staff in various sectors, and the first thing that they say is, “Please don’t mention my name.” They are afraid of being exposed, victimised at work or sacked. That is because we do not have collective bargaining and trade union representation in some sectors.

These are hugely important issues. The cabinet secretary said that there must be an emergency, if we are to take action. Well, the Scottish Government thought that the restriction of freedom of information rules was an emergency measure, and I think that the protection of workers in our care sector is an emergency. The provision of good PPE, testing and protection for whistleblowers and people who want to raise concerns about care is an emergency measure.

Time and time again, we hear from Government about working parties and committee reports. We could fill the Parliament with the reports on social care that have come out over the years. The cabinet secretary said that the Covid fair work statement covers everything that we are talking about, but that is a statement, not legislation; we need legislation that puts in place a formal structure. I tried to bring in such an approach when the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill was going through the Parliament, but my proposal was rejected. We have an opportunity to remedy the situation.

I think that I am correct in picking up that the cabinet secretary said that the Government has made provision for the living wage in public contracts. If that is the case, how is it that some cleaners, drivers and laundry workers in the care home sector are being paid the minimum wage, not the living wage? They are engaged in contracts with councils and other public sector agencies.

The cabinet secretary has not reassured me. We are talking about the quality of care, safety and wellbeing of residents, and the safety, wellbeing and dignity of the staff who provide services. I ask members please to support amendment 21.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 21 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 21 disagreed to.

The Convener

We move to the next group, which is on a young carer grant supplement. Amendment 23, in the name of Alison Johnstone, is the only amendment in the group.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

Good morning, committee. I will be brief.

Amendment 23 would direct the Scottish Government to provide a supplement to the young carer grant. Members will be aware that the bill makes provision for a supplement to the carers allowance, which is welcome recognition of the additional and, perhaps, more intensive care that is required in many homes at this time. However, many 16, 17 and 18-year-old young carer grant recipients are also doing a considerable amount of care—at least 16 hours per week—and will be under similar pressure, but will not be eligible for the supplement unless they care for 35 hours or more.

10:45  



I am sure that we all agree that the young carer grant is not purely a symbolic payment; it is a reflection of the value and importance of the care that is provided by young carers, and it is paid for specific purposes, including to promote the health and wellbeing of the young carer. That purpose applies even more during the current period, which is why it is especially important that we recognise the contribution of, and pressures on, eligible young carers by paying them a little more.

I understand that Carers Trust Scotland has been making similar calls for additional hardship payments for young carers at this time. However, I am not asking the Scottish Government simply to replicate the supplement for carers allowance recipients. Because the young carer grant is a yearly payment, a supplement would have to work differently, which is why I have left it to the Scottish Government to establish how it might best support young carers.

Young carers are providing incredible support in challenging circumstances, so it is vital that we show them parity of esteem with provision of support through a supplement to their carers allowance. It is important that Parliament has the opportunity to consider offering that, which is why I have lodged amendment 23.

I move amendment 23.

The Convener

Thank you. I invite Shona Robison to contribute.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

I have sympathy for amendment 23, which is in Alison Johnstone’s name, but I am not convinced that it is the best route for giving more support to young carers. There are a couple of specific issues. First, the young carer grant is not supposed to be an income replacement. I also have concerns that a supplement might put additional pressure on Social Security Scotland, which we know is already under pressure due to Covid-19.

I would like to know what engagement Alison Johnstone has had on whether her proposal is the best way to support young carers. I also have a question for the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People about whether the Scottish Government is actively considering ways to support young carers, other than that route.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People)

I am very pleased that the coronavirus carer’s allowance supplement has been welcomed by many people, including Alison Johnstone, who has always been an advocate for carers—in particular, young carers. The supplement aims to support those who have the most intense caring roles and are on the lowest incomes, using the coronavirus carers allowance as a proxy for that. Supporting carers aged 16 and over who are facing financial pressures is the right thing to do. I very much hope that the supplement will be passed as part of the bill tomorrow.

The young carer grant, like the carer’s allowance supplement, remains a Scotland-only benefit, but its aim is very different. Young carers play a very important role in our society, and the brand-new young carer grant supports young carers aged 16 to 18 to access life opportunities that are the norm for many of their non-caring peers. It is important to recognise that the grant is not intended to be an income replacement for households; there is no means testing, nor are there income or earnings requirements. The number of hours of caring that is required is less than half that which is required for eligibility for the carers allowance.

The Scottish Government continues to promote the young carer grant through the Covid-19 crisis. We have also been working with Young Scot to ensure that the opportunities that are available for young carers aged 11 to 18 through the Young Scot card are suitable in respect of social distancing and self-isolation, and that new rewards are being made available to that wide range of young carers. That very much deals with the health and wellbeing aspects that Alison Johnstone talked about in her opening remarks. The Young Scot card has no eligibility criteria related to the level of care, and cards are available to a broader age range than the young carer grant, which is only for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds.

We think that working with organisations that support all young carers who are aged 11 and upwards, as we are doing, is the best way to use our additional resources—as well as using the young carer grant. I absolutely assure Alison Johnstone and the committee that we are working on plans to do much more in that respect.

I firmly believe that Alison Johnstone and I start with the very same question: how can we best support young carers at this time? I believe that the alternative approach that I have suggested is the right one, for three key reasons.

First, the support will be available to a wider age range of young carers. Secondly, it aims to encourage more young carers to engage with local services as a potential way to access other information and support, such as the development of a young carer statement. Thirdly, we want the focus of support to be on what young carers say they want, and on their taking breaks and looking after their own wellbeing—the key outcomes that we all want to be achieved for young carers.

However, I would have concerns if amendment 23 were to be passed. First, I want to support all young carers of all ages—not just those who are eligible for the young carer grant. Secondly, I do not want funds to be diverted from the wider group just to those who are eligible for the grant.

Finally, I wish to impress upon members, who might not be as immersed in the detail of the social security programme as members of the Social Security Committee are, the seriousness of my main concern, which is the pressure that would be placed on Social Security Scotland. The agency is rightly concentrating on continuing to pay the much-needed benefits that we have already implemented, and on increasing their take-up. That is being done with the added pressure of ensuring that we are keeping our staff safe and providing advice as they work from home while meeting increased demand on services, as more people become eligible for our benefits during this difficult time.

Any additional pressure on the service puts that work at risk. For example, we are now gearing up to ensure that people are aware of, and are encouraged to apply for, the best start grant school age payment, and we want to be able to process those applications as soon as possible, so that people get funds in their pockets.

We are also planning to do more to encourage people who are new to the benefits system—there are many—to apply for benefits. If effort is diverted to another project, work will inevitably be negatively impacted.

The Government is supporting and will continue to support young carers, as we deal with the current crisis. We absolutely agree with Alison Johnstone that young carers should be supported. However, I urge her not to press amendment 23, and I ask the committee to vote against it if it is pressed, given its potential impact on work that we are already doing to support young carers and the risks that it would pose to on-going delivery of live benefits and to the planned work to support people who are new to the welfare system.

Alison Johnstone

I will respond first to Shona Robison. I have been discussing the issues at some length with young carers organisations. It is important to note that, when the young carer grant was established last year, a number of organisations that help young carers called for a much higher rate. The Carers Trust recommended £600, which is double the current £300, and I do not believe that the trust would have suggested that amount if it thought that it would provide an inappropriate incentive to care.

In lodging amendment 23, I was taking account of the fact that 78 per cent of unpaid carers in Scotland are having to provide more care for their loved ones during the pandemic. Two in five of them are providing more care because their local care and support services have been reduced or closed.

However, it seems that many of the arguments that have been put forward in favour of the carers allowance supplement apply just as much to recipients of the young carer grant. I have listened very carefully to the cabinet secretary’s assurances that the Scottish Government has plans to get a range of extra support to young carers through means other than the young carer grant, and that that might be quicker than focusing solely on the grant itself. I have been discussing those issues, too, with young carers organisations.

I am reassured that the Government shares the broader intention behind my amendment 23, and that it has robust plans to support young carers, albeit not in exactly the way that I have suggested. I appreciate the cabinet secretary’s comments that her proposals will reach a greater range of young people, from the ages of 11 to 18, not just those aged from 16 to 18. I very much look forward to hearing more about those plans as soon as possible.

That said, I am happy not to press amendment 23.

Amendment 23, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 24 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 24 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 24 disagreed to.

The Convener

It is 3 minutes to 11; we will have a short suspension for a comfort break before we move on to the next group of amendments. We will reconvene at about 5 past 11.

10:57 Meeting suspended.  



11:05 On resuming—  



The Convener

We move to group 4, on the extension of services under the minor ailment service. Amendment 25, in the name of Alison Johnstone, is the only amendment in the group.

Alison Johnstone

Amendment 25 seeks to do two things: it would extend

“minor ailment service consultations”

to anyone

“seeking information or advice about oral ... or other forms of self-administered contraceptives”,

and it would enable pharmacists to

“prescribe ... free of charge, oral ... or other ... self-administered contraceptives.”

On 23 March, the extension of the minor ailments service was announced, and it can now be accessed by anyone. However, many organisations have called for the service to be extended further, specifically to cover the prescription of contraceptives.

One of my amendment’s most important aspects is its potential at this time to ease the pressure on the national health service and general practitioner surgeries. In addition, the potential for a coronavirus baby boom has become apparent at a time when men and women are confined to their homes together and access to birth-control measures, such as the fitting of coils and implants, is severely hampered. Enabling women to access contraception and advice at their local pharmacies will therefore surely help to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Sadly, we are only too aware of a reported increase in domestic violence at this time. Women may not have the agency or the ability to make GP appointments, or they may find themselves unable to keep an appointment, so it is hugely important for them to be able to access contraception and advice at their local pharmacy, where they can also access other advice from a pharmacist. At this time, a consultation with a pharmacist is one of the few informal face-to-face encounters that people can have with the health service, so that access is very important.

In recent days, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, Community Pharmacy Scotland and Reform Scotland have all discussed the proposed amendment with me, and I think that it is fair to say that they warmly welcome it. The Scottish Government has already taken steps to mitigate the impact on reproductive rights at this time; my amendment seeks to build on that work and remove barriers that may prevent access to contraception.

I move amendment 25.

The Convener

I do not see that any committee members want to contribute to the discussion, but Alex Cole-Hamilton would like to do so.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Thank you, convener. I am not a member of the committee, but I want to voice my support, and my party’s support, for Alison Johnstone’s amendment 25. I was a co-signatory to a letter that was issued on the subject at the start of the emergency, and I echo the points that Alison Johnstone made about the propensity for unwanted pregnancies at this time and, more critically, about the use of pregnancy as a tool of coercive control in abusive relationships. We therefore need to make it as easy as possible for family planning to continue in order to enable women to have ready access to contraception and to relieve the burden on the NHS.

Michael Russell

I thank Alison Johnstone for lodging amendment 25. I will lay out the situation briefly, which I hope will persuade Alison Johnstone that her amendment is unnecessary.

Most individuals access long-lasting oral contraceptives through one of a range of existing service providers: GP practices, community-based clinics and some young people’s services. Many of those services are continuing, even at a distance, and we encourage individuals to engage with those services for the strong reason that they need safe and effective access that takes proper account of the risks and benefits to them as individuals. The Scottish Government is already undertaking a detailed scoping exercise on how to make bridging and long-lasting oral contraception available through the Community Pharmacy Scotland network, which is exactly what amendment 25 is about.

Consideration is being given to the availability of long-acting oral contraceptives to the network outwith the existing minor ailment service or the new pharmacy first Scotland service. Scoping work has identified key issues that need to be addressed to deliver the service safely and effectively and in accordance with the risks to, and benefits for, each individual. Briefly, appropriate, accredited training would need to be in place for community pharmacists to make sure that they can safely prescribe the medication and patient group directions would be needed to give pharmacists the necessary legal basis to do so. In Scotland, amendments to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/1916) would be required to enable pharmacists to prescribe prescription-only medicines, and alas, those changes would have to be made by UK ministers.

Pharmacists in Scotland can supply prescription-only medicines without a prescription in certain circumstances, but further work would be required on the patient group direction. We also want to make sure that those services align effectively with those of existing providers to ensure a seamless referral to the most appropriate service provider. We need to consider whether an individual would benefit from an alternative form of contraception, such as a long-acting injectable contraceptive or an intrauterine device.

The Scottish Government recognises what Alison Johnstone is arguing for and thinks that the on-going scoping exercise has the potential to deliver change, but it is not a straightforward policy to deliver and especially not in an emergency. Also, primary legislation is not required to deliver the change.

I invite Alison Johnstone not to move amendment 25. While her point is well made, the work is being done and I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and others who are responsible will note her view that that work should be speeded up. I do not think that including the provision in the bill would provide any effective change and it would push things in a direction in which we do not believe it is presently safe to go.

The Convener

I invite Alison Johnstone to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 25.

Alison Johnstone

As members are aware, unplanned pregnancies can be incredibly costly in many ways and amendment 25 seeks to prevent a significant rise in their numbers during the lockdown. The British Pregnancy Advisory service stated that one quarter of the abortion clinics in its network closed at the start of the outbreak of Covid-19 and that there are serious concerns about women’s health. It said that

“Women with severe health issues who have been told to self-isolate”

may be

“forced to choose between risking their health by leaving the house and being compelled to continue an unwanted pregnancy that also threatens their health. ”

While the decision to allow women to take both abortion pills at home will have a positive impact, we need to take steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies to further mitigate any risk to women’s health. Follow-on contraception is already being supplied along with the morning after pill by pharmacists, and some pharmacies already provide the birth control pill without a GP prescription—for example, Superdrug allows patients to order the pill online. However, the big difference is the cost—and that is what I am trying to remove. People are currently charged for that service and we cannot expect them to pay for necessities such as contraception, especially given the financial hardship that many will now be facing.

Amendment 25 seeks to make birth control free and as easy to access as possible at the current time. The cabinet secretary has expressed reservations on whether the minor ailments service, as written in my amendment, provides the right vehicle for that. However, the minor ailments service enables individuals to consult with a pharmacist, receive advice and, in some cases, medicine can be prescribed for minor issues. Prescription would be free of charge, just as it would have been had the individual visited a GP with the complaint.

11:15  



Pharmacists have such expertise, skills and experience and they can already prescribe for a range of conditions. All that I am asking for in my amendment is that that scope be widened. From the discussions that I have had in the past week with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Community Pharmacy Scotland, I believe that the cabinet secretary’s reservations can be overcome and we can move to a situation where those who require contraception—emergency contraception is already available—and need that bridging, supportive prescription at this time can access it.

I will push ahead and press amendment 25.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 25 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 25 disagreed to.

The Convener

Group 5 is on bankruptcy. Amendment 1, in the name of Jackie Baillie, is grouped with amendment 2.

Jackie Baillie

I am pleased to speak to my amendments 1 and 2. The scale of the economic devastation due to Covid-19 is yet to be fully appreciated. Thousands of people have already lost their jobs and, if it had not been for the job retention scheme, thousands more would probably have joined them. We need only look at Ovo Energy’s announcement today of the loss of 2,600 jobs, the majority in its customer services division in Scotland, to understand how bad this will get.

We all know that we have debts. We have debts from mortgages, car loans, store cards and credit cards. Debt is a factor in how we live our lives. When a person is working and they have an income to service that debt, it is not a concern or a worry, but if they lose their job, that balance is gone, the equilibrium is shattered and they find that they are in a position in which they are simply unable to cope financially and they cannot service their debt. We know that the anxiety, the sleepless nights and the spiral into poor mental health all follow, so people desperately need help.

Amendment 1 builds on the Scottish Government’s proposal in the first coronavirus emergency bill for a debt moratorium. That proposal was welcome but, to be honest, it felt like a job half done, because we know that, unless we freeze interest rates, charges, fees and penalties, the debt will continue to grow.

If we are honest about this, there are many responsible lenders that already do the right thing, because they get it. However, there are lots that do not, most notably payday lenders, whose additional interest charges and fees can lead to the debt increasing exponentially. An initial debt can increase by thousands of pounds, taking the individual into even more financial strain and worry.

The proposal is very much time limited—it is not intended to be in place for ever and a day. It would go hand in hand with the moratorium and would allow people the time to arrange to settle their debts or, if they cannot do that, to be subject to full diligence and recovery action. It would give people a much-needed breathing space. Of course, breathing space is the name given to the proposal that is being consulted on by the United Kingdom Government, which is exactly the same and was a Conservative manifesto pledge. Some would say that it is radical, but it is just a matter of decency and common sense. If members need further convincing of that, I would say that, if the UK Government were to implement the proposal ahead of Scotland, that would be an opportunity missed by us all.

Amendment 2 is the easiest thing in the world to agree to. The Scottish Government recognises that it should lower the up-front charges that it levies for access to bankruptcy solutions. That is absolutely correct, but it has been a little timid. People who are considering bankruptcy are not cash rich, and fees act as a huge barrier to people accessing that debt solution. Instead of lowering the fees a little, which still leaves a problem, we should remove them completely for the current short period of time when the pressure is the greatest.

If members need further convincing on amendments 1 and 2, let me say that they are supported by Citizens Advice Scotland, StepChange Debt Charity, Money Advice Scotland, the Govan Law Centre and specialist money advisers such as Alan McIntosh. They are the experts in the field, and we should listen to them because they know the scale of what is coming.

Amendments 1 and 2 are about recognising the terrible times that we are in and providing a lifeline to people whose world has just come crashing down. If members need reminding of the scale of the problem, I point out that, in April alone, an extra 900,000 people across the UK became unemployed.

I move amendment 1.

The Convener

As no committee members wish to comment, we will move on to the minister, Jenny Gilruth.

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

Jackie Baillie is a long-time advocate on debt issues, and I have some sympathy for her amendment 1. If it were in any way possible to accept it in the circumstances and the timescale that we have, I would consider doing so, but it simply is not possible.

Last November, we included the ideas in Jackie Baillie’s amendment 1 in our consultation on the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014, and we look forward to further developing them in the near future. However, I note that fewer than half of the respondents agreed that we should adopt such an approach.

As Jackie Baillie noted, over the past three years, the UK Government has been working on a similar plan, but it has not yet been able to introduce a suitable scheme. That shows how complicated it is to implement what seems to be a simple idea. It may be doable in time but, as we know, the bill is emergency legislation that we hope will be in force by the end of the month, and it is simply not possible to introduce such a fundamental change in a fortnight. That would not be possible even outwith the current unparalleled times.

Under amendment 1, the Accountant in Bankruptcy would need to develop a system for collecting the details of all an individual’s creditors and a way of notifying them that a moratorium was in place. Creditors would also need to adjust their systems. Creditors include many smaller bodies such as credit unions, for whom system development is not easy, especially when it has to be done rapidly. Such creditors could suffer disproportionately from the amendment, which is why the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd has written to the committee opposing the amendment.

Because of the simplicity and speed of our current system, a change such as the one that Ms Baillie proposes would mean that we would need to look again at the whole approach. Not to do so would potentially leave the system open to wide-scale abuse. The UK Government, which has been working on the matter for much longer than we have, is struggling to deal with that issue. It is worth pointing out that the UK Government’s proposals would apply for a period of 60 days rather than six months.

Of course we want to ensure that anyone who is in debt speaks to their creditors, as they will often need help through things such as reduced payments, payment plans, freezing interest or repayment holidays. I encourage anyone who is in debt to seek appropriate advice and support. I remind members that we have provided Citizens Advice Scotland with £3 million to provide support to people who are struggling financially at this time, which includes an additional £100,000 for a new national helpline.

The Scottish Government is keen to do more in the area where we can, but we cannot move on the issue at this moment because of the timescales accorded to the bill. I therefore urge Ms Baillie not to press amendment 1. If it is pressed, I urge the committee to reject it.

On amendment 2, I am sympathetic to abolishing all up-front fees for debtor applications. We have, of course, moved a very long way in that direction in the proposals that we have included in the bill by exempting individuals who are in receipt of certain benefits from the fees that apply to the minimal asset process and reducing the other application fees, with the MAP fee falling from £90 to £50.

I appreciate the consensual way in which Jackie Baillie has approached the matter, and of course we want to help people who are in debt. I ask Ms Baillie not to press amendment 2. We will then work together to agree a position for stage 3.

Jackie Baillie

It is fair to say that we live in unprecedented times and that the scale of the impact on household finances and people’s lives is not yet known. There are huge implications for our economy and our society, and the amendments were lodged in light of that.

This is an emergency and the proposed measure is temporary. Far more sweeping changes, which the committee will support, are being brought in elsewhere in the emergency bill. I have every confidence that the Scottish Government can put the necessary changes in place in time. Working with the sector will enable it to do that.

Arguments have been made about notifying individual people about a moratorium. That would need to happen anyway, because the first bill put a moratorium in place. I do not accept that that would lead to additional work that would be impossible to do.

I hope that the Conservatives on the committee will vote for their own party’s policy and that all members will listen to the experts, such as Citizens Advice Scotland, Money Advice Scotland, StepChange Debt Charity and Govan Law Centre. We have a responsibility to support hard-pressed people in our communities, and we should put their interests first—and certainly before the interests of high street loan sharks in the form of payday lenders, with their exorbitant charges and interest rates.

We can all talk about social justice; now is our opportunity to do something about it. Tackling poverty must be more than something that we simply put in the nice-to-do box. We need to act, and there is no time more important than now to take that action.

I heard what the minister said. I will therefore not move amendment 2, but I intend to press amendment 1, so that we make a difference to the lives of people in Scotland who are struggling financially.

The Convener

Jackie Baillie has indicated that she intends to press amendment 1. A member has a connection problem, so we will have a brief suspension while we try to resolve that before we go to a vote.

11:28 Meeting suspended.  



11:34 On resuming—  



The Convener

We are now back and, thankfully, the connection problem has been resolved.

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 2 has already been debated with amendment 1.

Jackie Baillie

I am happy not to move amendment 2 and to work with the minister to bring something back at stage 3.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Amendments 26 and 27 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

The Convener

Group 6 is on regulation of businesses. Amendment 28, in the name of Colin Smyth, is grouped with amendments 29, 32 and 49.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Amendments 28 and 29 aim to tackle the problem of Scottish Government guidance on business closures not currently being enforceable in a number of areas. That is because the guidance has been backed up in law through regulations in some areas but not others. As members will know, the Government has used regulations to close a prescribed list of non-essential premises from cinemas to nightclubs. Regulations have also been used to bring an element of enforcement to social distancing in the workplace.

However, although guidance states that

“all business premises, sites and attractions”—

apart from those listed in specific exemptions—should close, and that those within exempted categories must

“apply social distancing requirements and keep open only those premises or parts of premises that are truly critical or essential to the national and international COVID effort”,

the guidance on what is “critical or essential” has no basis in law. Although the vast majority of businesses have followed the guidance as best they can, some have not, because they know that the guidance cannot be enforced. Amendment 28, in my name, would require the Government to bring forward regulations to enforce its guidance on “essential work”.

We will all have been contacted by constituents who have been told to go to work by employers who claim that the work that they do is essential, when those workers know that it does not fit into any reasonable definition of “essential work”. Those workers have consequently been forced to put themselves and others at risk. That has undermined the Government’s “Stay at home” message, and I have no doubt that it has led to some people contracting Covid-19, which has meant that it has taken longer to begin to lift wider restrictions on other businesses that have followed the guidance.

I know that some businesses that have remained open will have based their decision on their genuine interpretation of what is “essential work”. The Government’s argument may well be that it is difficult to define in law the guidance on what is “essential work”, but that raises questions about the clarity of the guidance. If there is a need to underpin the guidance in law through regulations, that process will improve the clarity of the guidance. More important, it will ensure that we have a route to enforcing that guidance.

Amendment 29 seeks to learn from the problems that have been caused by not backing up the guidance on essential work in law by making it a requirement for the Scottish Government to introduce regulations setting out what businesses must do to protect health when they reopen. Again, the aim is to provide a statutory basis for forthcoming Scottish Government guidance.

It is clear that not all workplaces have been taking proper precautions so far. Indeed, 390 complaints have been made to the Health and Safety Executive about Scottish workplaces since early March. That is going to become more of an issue as more businesses are advised by the Government that they could reopen, and we need to ensure that robust, enforceable guidelines are in place and backed up in law. Although there is legislation in place that requires social distancing to be implemented in workplaces, that is not enough to ensure the safety of workers and customers. It is also far from clear how that is being properly enforced at present.

Amendment 29 would allow for the creation of more comprehensive and legally enforceable regulations as we move to the next stage of safely allowing more businesses to reopen. I have sought to avoid being prescriptive with regard to what should be covered by those regulations in order to give the Scottish Government freedom to make decisions based on the evidence that is available to it.

If the cabinet secretary is not supportive of my amendments, I hope that he will give an assurance that the Scottish Government will review the regulations on business closures that are currently in place—including those that relate to the enforcement of social distancing—to assess their effectiveness. It is clear that, at present, there is not sufficient enforcement in the workplace. I also ask the cabinet secretary to confirm that the Scottish Government has the powers to regulate on business closures without further primary legislation being required.

As we move to the next stage of easing the lockdown, I ask the Government to take on board the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the initial guidance on business closures and essential work not being legally enforceable, and to commit to working with the trade unions to agree what elements of any future guidance could be legally underpinned through regulations.

I move amendment 28.

Neil Findlay

Amendment 32 is an important amendment. Throughout the pandemic, we have watched as trade unions have played a very important and responsible role. Without them, the furlough scheme, the business support schemes, the PPE crisis and safety in care homes and the NHS, among many other issues, would not have been brought to the public’s attention or have been addressed as quickly as they have been, and I think that initiatives would have been watered down, with many more workers and members of the public losing their jobs, their livelihoods and, potentially, their lives. The value of trade union health and safety reps, who have long been derided and mocked by those who criticise their role as a burden on business or “health and safety gone mad”, is now all too evident to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Amendment 32 calls for the establishment of a trade union health and safety fund that would build and sustain a network of workplace health and safety representatives across Scotland. Those reps would be trained and would be well able to ensure that all our workplaces were safe for workers and the people they serve. The setting up of such a fund would be a positive public health initiative that would benefit employees and employers alike. As I said earlier, we will all have been contacted by employees with concerns about safety in the workplace. All of them begin by saying, “Please don’t pass on my name to my employer.” The proposal in amendment 32 would give those workers protection and a voice in the workplace.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I again thank the committee for allowing me to take part in this morning’s proceedings.

I will not take up much time. I will begin by setting out what amendment 49 is not: it is not a charter for cafes, pubs and restaurants to invade pavements. It states clearly that it would be an offence to obstruct pathways or thoroughfares for people with any kind of disability.

11:45  



Amendment 49 is about the restarting of the hospitality industry, on a socially distanced basis for as long as the virus is with us. We need to think about how we do that, for it is a critical part of the employment sector and a huge provider of jobs in Scotland. Other countries that are slightly ahead of us in the virus curve have attempted to do that in two ways. Examples are Australia and Lithuania.

Australia has started to allow businesses to open but has limited the number of customers to five or 10. Customers and proprietors agree that that is not really worth the candle; in many cases, businesses have shut back down.

Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania. It has in effect turned its centre into an open-air cafe, encouraging businesses to adopt streets and squares, and closing, on a temporary or more permanent basis, certain city centre roads, so that cafes can reopen on them. [Temporary loss of sound.]

My proposal would build on the progress that we have already secured on adaptations in our towns and cities—widening our pavements and closing streets to traffic—and concerns only the introduction of cafe furniture on thoroughfares on which vehicles which are no longer allowed.

The Convener

No committee member has indicated that they want to speak on group 6, so I call the cabinet secretary, Michael Russell.

Michael Russell

I thank Colin Smyth for a thoughtful and interesting contribution about the bill. Before I come to the issue of regulations, I want to give him some early assurances.

Last week, the First Minister was very clear about the legal protection for workers who are being asked to go into unsafe workplaces. I reiterate that not only is there no obligation on them to do so, they are actively entitled to refuse. In those circumstances, they should have all the support that the Government and we as politicians can give them.

There is a role for the HSE, and others such as council trading standards, environmental health and—eventually—the police on the issue of unsafe workplaces and people being pressured to return to them. However, Mr Smyth’s concerns go further—and I accept them.

There is a requirement to look at the guidance that is given, and the regulations that exist, and to make sure that there is a possibility—no, a certainty—of legally enforcing issues to do with return to work. Mr Findlay mentioned that in talking about amendment 32, and it has been an issue for all of us as MSPs. People have come to us saying, “Don’t tell anybody who I am, but I am concerned about going back to work.” For many people, there will be an issue in going back to work, which we need to resolve.

I therefore want to make it even clearer that we will take on board the concerns that have existed, given that the trade unions had initial guidance that some elements were not legally enforceable. We will look to work with the trade unions and others to agree what other elements of the lockdown regulations require to be made legally enforceable, as some elements already are. We will do that when the regulations are reviewed next week and subsequently.

We have a distance to travel in terms of regulation; that is clear to every one of us. That travel has started, albeit very slowly, and I assure Mr Smyth that we recognise the issues.

However, I want to make a point about regulations that also relates to Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendment 49, and to another amendment later on.

The Government believes that making changes to the regulations should be done as part of the on-going review process. That is under way. It is well understood; it gives the opportunity for participation in that process; and, most of all, it makes sure that the process is informed by the available scientific and medical evidence and the assessment of risk that the health protection regulations themselves demand.

We are setting out our strategy for the relaxation of the lockdown. That will include publication of the analysis and the modelling and, therefore, amendments 28 and 29 are not within that process. I hope that the assurances that I have given Mr Smyth tell him that we as a Government and I personally are very concerned about those issues. We will feed that into the consideration of the regulations, and we will make sure that the aims and concerns of working people are addressed.

I therefore ask Mr Smyth not to press amendments 28 and 29 but to work with us on the strategy.

On amendment 32, Neil Findlay will be aware that matters of public safety relating to employment and industrial relations are reserved. That is a difficulty for us. Amendment 32 aims to establish a trade union health and safety fund to enable trade union health and safety representatives

“to conduct inspections of workplaces”.

There are dangers that such an amendment would be outwith the Parliament’s legislative competence. That is not a small matter for an emergency bill, and I will return to that issue when I speak to another amendment.

The bill is being taken through Parliament using our emergency procedures, and it will require royal assent to be expedited. Anything that might hold it back would hold back all its provisions, including those on the carers allowance. Therefore, we need to be careful.

The bill reflects the importance that the Scottish Government places on responding in a way that we can. I am in favour of being able to legislate on everything—not all committee members are. In the circumstances, we have to bear in mind how the bill is to progress and how it will require to have royal assent expedited.

We are undertaking continuous review. We know that the majority of employers will be responsible. We want to make sure that the roles of the Health and Safety Executive, council environmental protection officers and trading standards officers and the police are recognised in the bill.

We have established groups to look at how people go back to work. We are trying to progress that, but amendment 32 would put us in a difficult position with the whole bill and does not recognise the way in which the regulations—[Temporary loss of sound.]—so I urge the committee not to support it.

Amendment 49 also reflects on the issue of regulations. I know that Alex Cole-Hamilton is well intentioned, but there are issues relating to regulations and of public expectation that need to be thought about. This is a process of continuous review. To change the regulations in the way sought would be outwith that process and would not pay attention to the scientific or modelling aspects of what we are trying to do.

When lockdown measures are adjusted to allow the businesses that Alex Cole-Hamilton has mentioned to operate, that power will be exercisable in line with the applicable legal requirements at the time under the regulations. Businesses operating under such a provision would not commit an offence under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, because the regulations will cope with that. I do not think that the amendment is appropriate or necessary. It would cause confusion. It would confuse the public, who would think that what is covered in the amendment will happen at some point in the near future in some way. That will not happen at some point in the near future, and it would be wrong to include it in the bill in that way.

I ask the members not to move their amendments in this group. If they move them, I ask that the committee does not support them. Colin Smyth’s amendments are the most substantial. They make important points. I hope that I have reassured him on those points, and I am happy to continue to do so, and to make sure that other ministers do so as well.

The Convener

I invite Colin Smyth to wind up briefly and to indicate whether he will press or withdrawal amendment 28.

Colin Smyth

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his comments and reassurances. He has emphasised that the current guidance, which the Government has stressed, is not legally enforceable in relation to non-essential work. He has also made clear that the Government has the power, through regulations, to underpin in law the guidance that it has issued on business closures. Crucially, I think that the cabinet secretary has given a commitment that, as we move to the next stage of easing the lockdown, the Government will work with the trade unions to agree what elements of any future guidance can be secured with regulations and what elements of the existing guidance—for example, on social distancing—should be reviewed to ensure better enforcement. On that basis, I will not press amendment 28, and I will not move amendment 29 when the time comes.

I have a brief word to say about Neil Findlay’s amendment 32, which would establish a trade union health and safety fund. I think that it is clear to us all that trade unions have an invaluable role to play in protecting workers—and no more so than during the pandemic. In the absence of more robust legislation, greater support for our trade unions is all the more vital, so I hope that members will support amendment 32.

Amendment 28, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 29 not moved.

Amendment 30 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 30 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 30 agreed to.

Amendment 31 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 31 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey ,Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 31 disagreed to.

12:00  



Amendment 32 moved—[Neil Findlay].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 32 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 32 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 33, in the name of Jackie Baillie, has already been debated with amendment 21. I believe that Monica Lennon will move the amendment on Jackie Baillie’s behalf.

Jackie Baillie

It is okay, convener—I am still here.

The Convener

I am sorry—you had disappeared from my screen. I take it that you will move your amendment.

Jackie Baillie

Yes, I will move my amendment—you do not get rid of me that easily.

Amendment 33 moved—[Jackie Baillie].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 33 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 33 agreed to.

Amendment 34 moved—[Jackie Baillie].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 34 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 34 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 35, in the name of Alison Johnstone, is in a group on its own, on the Scottish wealth fund—monitoring applications.

Alison Johnstone

Amendment 35 aims to ensure that the Scottish Government considers what further support may be needed for the Scottish welfare fund during the crisis. The Scottish welfare fund is one of the Scottish Government’s primary means of getting money to people who are struggling. Preliminary management information published by the Scottish Government shows a 59 per cent national increase in applications for crisis grants in March 2020 compared to 2019. I understand from some local authorities that changes in some areas are much higher, even in the context of the significant increase. Understandably, there is now considerable pressure on the fund, so it is vital that we consider systematically whether there is a need for more funding.

Yesterday, the convener of the Social Security Committee received a letter from the cabinet secretary outlining the mechanisms that the Government has put in place for overseeing the fund. The letter was received after the deadline for lodging amendments, so I was unable to consider it when working up amendment 35. I will listen carefully to anything further that the cabinet secretary has to say on that issue. However, with so much pressure on the fund, for now, amendment 35 would provide for sensible and modest good governance measures.

I move amendment 35.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Although I agree with the sentiment behind amendment 35, I ask Ms Johnstone not to press the amendment, as it would require us to do less than we do at present. Since the amendment was lodged, we have provided the Social Security Committee with further information on the processes that we have established. The Government is already requesting and receiving monthly management information from local authorities on applications and expenditure relating to the welfare fund. With some caveats, we are now able to aggregate and publish monthly data returns and the national demand for and expenditure on grants from the Scottish welfare fund. We have also published the first data on the Scottish Government website.

I assure the committee and Ms Johnstone that I am absolutely committed to continuing to monitor demand and expenditure and will maintain close engagement with local authority decision makers to ensure that they are able to keep providing this vital service. That will include working with local authorities to assess needs and how best and when to allocate the balance of the £23 million as we assess the impact of the current pandemic.

Amendment 35 would dilute the current good working practice that we have established by requiring the Scottish Government to request information from local authorities without specifying the nature of the information or the frequency with which it is to be requested and without requiring local authorities to provide that information.

It may be helpful for me to remind the committee that the Scottish Government has already committed an additional £45 million to the welfare fund to help to meet additional demand as a result of Covid-19. That means that local authorities have more than £80 million available for the Scottish welfare fund awards in 2021, compared to £33 million in the previous financial year. Recent data shows that local authorities have sufficient funds to meet the current demand.

However, we are going further than considering the data every month. The Scottish Government continues to engage regularly with local authority welfare fund practitioners, and officials exchange information by email and conduct regular teleconference discussions to understand directly the impact of Covid-19 on the Scottish welfare fund in each area. That approach enables us to gauge demand for assistance from the fund and any need for further support and flexibility for local teams to meet that demand.

I understand why the member has lodged amendment 35, but, given that the information is already regularly requested, provided, carefully considered and published, there is no reason to introduce a legal obligation in the emergency bill to ensure that that occurs. On that basis, I urge Ms Johnstone not to press her amendment.

Alison Johnstone

The current health crisis is turning into an income crisis for hundreds of thousands of Scottish households. A recent survey for the Scottish Government revealed that 41 per cent of Scots believe that the coronavirus is already having a negative impact on their household finances, and research by the Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland and the Standard Life Foundation revealed that 49 per cent of households with dependent children in Scotland find themselves in the two most serious categories of financial stress: “In serious financial difficulty” and “Struggling to make ends meet”.

It is therefore vital that we ensure that the Scottish welfare fund, which is one of the main ways in which Scotland can get support to people who are struggling, is in as strong a position to help as possible. That is why I lodged amendment 35. It is vital that people can access the cash that they need, when they need it, and it is central that we keep the issue under active consideration.

The cabinet secretary has expanded on the mechanisms that are being put in place to ensure that the fund is able to respond to the increased pressures on it. I note that she has put in writing to the convener of the Social Security Committee that she will

“continue to monitor demand and expenditure and will maintain close engagement with local authority decision makers to ensure that they are able to keep providing this vital service.”

That being the case, I am assured that the matter is in hand, and I will not press amendment 35.

Amendment 35, by agreement, withdrawn.

The Convener

We move to group 8, on marriage and civil partnerships. Amendment 36, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is grouped with amendment 37.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

In the context of an earlier group of amendments, Mike Russell said that, in this bill, we should do that which is possible, practical and proportionate. Those are exactly the tests that I have sought to apply in lodging amendment 36.

There is no legal bar to, or ban on, people getting married in Scotland, but, as a matter of fact, we know that people are not able to get married in Scotland at the moment, principally because registrars are not licensing, registering or solemnising at marriage ceremonies.

No part of amendment 36 seeks to permit anyone in Scotland to hold a large wedding party or reception of any sort. All that is needed for a lawful marriage or civil partnership ceremony to take place in Scotland is the presence of five people: the registrar, the two parties to the marriage or civil partnership and two witnesses. We all know that there are hundreds of rooms in Scotland that are more than capable of holding five people who could at all times maintain social distance and comply with all the public health regulations.

Why is it, then, that in practice people are not able to get married? One reason that is proffered is that registrars are so busy registering deaths. We all know that, tragically, there is an increased mortality rate in Scotland because of Covid-19.

However, it is important that we bear in mind at all times the tests that the cabinet secretary has brought to bear in this bill—that we must do that which is possible, practical and proportionate. It is possible for people—it ought to be possible for people—to get married in Scotland subject to safe social distancing. It is practical to enable those steps to be taken, and it is disproportionate to have any sort of blanket ban, whether that is a ban in law or just in administrative regulation and practice, on practically any wedding taking place anywhere in Scotland at any time.

That matters for two reasons. First, it is disproportionately and unfairly adding to stress and anxiety for people who might have any number of reasons for not just wanting but needing to get married quickly. Since I raised the issue in Parliament last week, I have had a lot of correspondence from not just constituents in Glasgow but people all over Scotland who have given me all sorts of reasons why they need to get married quickly. Their visas are about to expire, or they are at or near the end of life. There are any number of reasons why people need to get married quickly.

12:15  



It matters for people’s mental wellbeing and for the reduction of anxiety, but it also matters because the right to marry is exactly that, as I said in the stage 1 debate in the chamber last week. It is a convention right under the European convention on human rights. It is a human right. It is unlawful for us—and, indeed, for the Registrar General—to interfere with the practical exercise of that convention right unless there is a pressing social need that requires that restriction or interference. A disproportionate lack of ability for people to get married, even if it is not a legal ban, is unlawful and is contrary to our international human rights obligations.

In trying to remedy all of that, my amendment is actually quite modest. It does not require that all marriages must take place; it simply requires the Scottish ministers to take steps with the Registrar General to ensure that, even in this time of the coronavirus and the public emergency, such marriages as can safely take place are able to safely take place. I suppose that it represents a sign in legislation that ministers must take steps with the Registrar General to ensure that that which is possible, practical and proportionate happens. For those reasons, I hope that the committee will support my amendment.

I move amendment 36.

The Convener

I invite Gordon Lindhurst to speak to amendment 37.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

Sorry, convener, did you call me?

The Convener

I did. We are ready for you, Mr Lindhurst, whenever you are ready.

Gordon Lindhurst

My apologies. Your voice—your dulcet tones—cut out after your first two words, so I was not sure whether you had called me.

My amendment 37 seeks to allow marriages to take place in places of worship again by amending the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. As members will be aware, regulations 4, 6 and 7 place a ban, as it were, on the use of places of worship except for certain limited purposes. One of those is the conduct of funerals, which is subject to social distancing restrictions and the relevant health guidelines.

Because of the regulations, there is in effect a prohibition on weddings, which can at least theoretically still take place in other places, but not in places of worship. That might seem somewhat surprising. The issues that my colleague Adam Tomkins raised with the committee with regard to his amendment apply equally to my amendment. I will not go over those again. However, it seems that the provision—no doubt unintentionally, but effectively—discriminates against Christians and members of other religions who wish their marriage ceremony to take place in their place of worship. I think it is fair to say that, at the current stage, the restriction is no longer appropriate.

It may be that those with legal training or minds think alike, but while listening to the cabinet secretary on other points I, too, thought of the three-point test of the practicality, possibility and proportionality of what is set out.

My first comment is that what amendment 37 seeks to achieve is practical, because places of worship are public buildings that are designed to be used for a variety of purposes. If they are being used for funerals while social distancing and other requirements are place, there is no practical reason why they should not be allowed to be used for weddings under the same restrictions. Those who would like their marriage ceremony to take place at this time realise and accept that they cannot have the bigger party or ceremony that they might have wanted. Therefore, it is practical.

What the amendment seeks to achieve is also possible, because, as I said, funerals are allowed in places of worship under the regulations.

Viewed against what is, in effect, a general prohibition on the use of places of worship for the purpose of marriage as a result of the emergency regulations, the question is whether that prohibition that is proportionate. It does not seem so to me, given the background that it is possible for weddings to take place in other buildings, including some public buildings, subject to health guidance and social distancing regulations.

I encourage the committee to support amendment 37, because it fulfils the three tests that the cabinet secretary set out: practicality, possibility and, in light of the stage that we have reached, proportionality.

Ross Greer

I am supportive of Adam Tomkins’s amendment, but I have a question for Gordon Lindhurst. I sympathise with amendment 37, but I am concerned that it raises an accidental issue of inequality, because it covers marriage but not civil partnership. Obviously, religious representatives can conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

Perhaps I have misunderstood and Mr Lindhurst or the cabinet secretary could offer clarification. If civil partnership is simply an omission, that can be resolved in an equitable manner by lodging the amendment again at stage 3, with the clarification that it refers to marriage and civil partnership. If Mr Lindhurst would consider doing that, I would most certainly support such an amendment.

The Convener

Mr Lindhurst will get a chance to respond in a moment.

Pauline McNeill

I thank Adam Tomkins for bringing the issue to the Parliament, because it is a serious matter. He spoke about it last week and the cabinet secretary replied, but I do not think that ministers have a complete understanding of the implications for those who plan to marry and have been unable to.

I am not a practising lawyer, but I am a law student. I was taught that marriage is essentially a contract, and that contract is all important. We will be equalising the law in relation to civil partnerships this afternoon. The consequence of being married or in a civil partnership is that people have legal rights.

I am sure that, like me, other members have had many couples writing to them who are more concerned about refunds for postponing their marriages. I think that the Government has a responsibility to emphasise to couples who delay their marriage that a promise to marry does not convey any rights on them. The all-important date is the one when they enter into a marriage or a civil partnership in law.

Therefore I fully support Adam Tomkins’s amendment 36. I will not be able to vote on it, but I urge committee members to think about the importance of the matter. There will also clearly be a backlog when couples are able to choose their dates, so we need to smooth that out. The public will thank ministers if they deal with the issue by backing Adam Tomkins’s amendment 36.

Like Ross Greer, I am very sympathetic to amendment 37. When Gordon Lindhurst sums up, he could perhaps address the question that was raised. Today in the chamber, we will equalise the law; at least, we will certainly discuss making sure that marriage and civil partnership are on an equal footing.

The Convener

I will go back to Gordon Lindhurst to respond briefly to the points that have been made.

Gordon Lindhurst

Thank you, convener—I think that I am live again.

On Ross Greer’s point, the drafting happened rapidly over the past week, following the bill’s introduction. The intention was not to exclude any type of ceremony that a public place of worship of whatever religion may choose to hold. I would certainly be supportive of widening the scope of amendment 37 through an amendment at stage 3.

Places of worship may hold any number of different religious ceremonies that are not general public gatherings, whether marriage ceremonies or other ceremonies such as those that Mr Greer referred to. I do not think that there is, at this stage, a practical reason why those ceremonies should not be allowed. They are, in essence, ceremonies relating to private individuals that can be subject to the guidelines on social distancing.

Amendment 37 was restricted perhaps because of the urgency with which it was lodged and the question of simplicity and clarity. However, I would support broadening it out to include whatever other ceremonies are held in public places of worship, or whatever ceremonies public places of worship, of whatever religion, choose to lawfully hold within their premises. I hope that that addresses the question raised by Ross Greer and Pauline McNeill.

Michael Russell

I welcome the opportunity to speak to these amendments, whose sentiment I agree with. It is perfectly possible for the committee to support one of them. However, the other one has difficulties, and I will explain what those are.

I say to Pauline McNeill at the outset that, if I did not understand the complexity of the issue, I do now. Like Mr Tomkins, a number of people contacted me after the issue was raised at stage 1. Of course, immediately after stage 1, we were able to provide information from the National Records of Scotland about marriages and civil partnerships during the pandemic, which—contrary to what people believe—are possible and are continuing in emergency circumstances. We will continue to provide that information.

Mr Tomkins’s amendment is worthy of support because it goes further than that. It makes it absolutely clear that the registrar general and the Scottish Government should be considering how we should take the issue forward. It recognises the points that Pauline McNeill made in relation to legal difficulties and legal obligations, and it recognises Mr Tomkins’s points in relation to civil rights.

When we consider how to make the proposal real, we have to take into account a number of practical points, such as the capacity of registrars to act. Many registrars are working from home and it is not possible to solemnise marriages or civil partnerships on video, Zoom, BlueJeans or any other platform; nor should it be—we agreed on that earlier.

There is also the need to consult local authorities, which provide day-to-day registration services. A vital point in relation to Mr Lindhurst’s amendment is the need also to make sure that any relaxation of anything under lockdown regulations is supported by scientific and medical evidence in the context of moving forward from where we are.

Mr Lindhurst talked about the judgment on lockdown and “the stage that we have reached”, but that has to be supported by the scientific evidence. I made the point in relation to earlier amendments that, in general, I have resisted changing the lockdown regulations on the basis of judgments other than those that are based on widely available scientific and medical evidence.

It is perfectly possible to accept Mr Tomkins’s amendment and I would like to do so. However, some of the wording in it requires to be changed. For example, civil partnerships need to be included, and the provision needs to recognise that they are not solemnised but registered. In the circumstances, changes need to be made to the amendment, and if it is agreed to by the committee, I would like Mr Tomkins to commit to working with us to get the wording exactly right.

12:30  



On Mr Lindhurst’s amendment, I have some further points to make. It is possible, at present, for a marriage to take place anywhere. We do not require amendment 37 to allow marriages—once they start up—to take place in religious premises. We must also listen to what religious bodies are saying. They recently held a virtual conference with the Scottish Government and have taken a cautious approach to reopening places of worship. Before we take any such step, it is important that we engage fully with religious bodies about what it would mean.

The use of a Scottish statutory instrument is not the only way to amend regulations. We have a binding commitment in legislation: as soon as the evidence—led by scientific and medical advice—suggests that a restriction is no longer necessary, we are under a duty to withdraw that restriction.

I want Mr Lindhurst to understand that my reservation is not about the principle of the matter; it is about how we proceed. I can give him a commitment that as the regulations—which are reviewed every three weeks—are considered, the issue will be high on the list of matters to be considered and we will consider it carefully. However, the right way to do that is in the light of scientific and medical evidence.

Both Mr Tomkins and Mr Lindhurst quoted my use of the terms “practical, possible and proportionate”. I do not want to overdo this, but although I think that Mr Tomkins’s amendment meets all three of those tests, I do not think that Mr Lindhurst’s amendment meets the test of being possible, because the issue that it raises is not being judged in the way that every other move out of lockdown must be judged. I think that we have all accepted that.

I ask Mr Lindhurst not to move amendment 37, but to accept that we will work with him and with others to ensure that the issue is considered in the review process. I am happy to discuss the review process with him in the coming weeks as further discussions take place. I am sure that the Deputy First Minister will do that too; he has taken a significant role in that work.

I think that we can move forward with Mr Tomkins’s amendment 36, which will restore a human right and will give people what they want: the right to get married. I hope that we can do that as soon as the medical and scientific evidence allows us to do so.

The Convener

I invite Adam Tomkins to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 36.

Adam Tomkins

It does not happen very often, but I agree with everything that the cabinet secretary has said. I sincerely welcome the all-party support that amendment 36 has obtained. I am grateful to Ross Greer and Pauline McNeill for their kind words earlier in the debate.

I want to mention one thing that the cabinet secretary talked about and which I did not mention in my opening remarks. I share the view that we should not conduct marriage ceremonies online via Zoom or Skype. There is a very real risk that it might be easier for sham marriages to get under the radar in those circumstances than through marriages that take place offline and not virtually.

I do not think that there was ever any intention by any minister or parliamentarian of any political persuasion to interfere unnecessarily with the right to marry. It is an issue that we did not think about when we were focused on the first coronavirus legislation, which we enacted a few weeks ago. However, the discussion shows that parliamentary democracy is still able to function, and to function well, even in difficult and challenging times.

The issue came to our attention because of representations from constituents across Scotland. We have been able to bring those representations to Parliament in a non-partisan way, to try to ensure—within the very real limits of social distancing and behaving safely in public at all times—that people can continue to exercise their fundamental right to marry.

I press amendment 36.

Amendment 36 agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 37, in the name of Gordon Lindhurst, has already been debated with amendment 36.

Gordon Lindhurst

In the light of the cabinet secretary’s comment that his reading of the regulations is that they would not actually prohibit wedding or marriage ceremonies taking place in places of worship, and his commitment to move forward with speed on that—[Interruption.]

The Convener

I am sorry, but we are going to have to suspend, because an announcement has just been made about a fire in the Scottish Parliament building.

12:35 Meeting suspended.  



12:40 On resuming—  



The Convener

I apologise for that interruption. I suggest that we finish the group that we are on and then have a suspension for lunch. I hope that that will allow the fire that is going on in the background to be put out. [Laughter.]

I will go back to Gordon Lindhurst. I am sorry that we cut you off in mid flow.

Gordon Lindhurst

Thank you, convener. I am sure that everyone is looking forward to lunch, so I will be very brief, as I had intended to be before we had to suspend the meeting.

In the light of the cabinet secretary’s point that the regulations would not prevent the use of public places of worship for weddings or marriages—[Interruption.]

The Convener

I apologise, but there is another announcement about the fire. [Interruption.] It seems that the fire has been dealt with, so you may continue.

Gordon Lindhurst

I will try to get this finished. It seems to be me that is causing these interruptions.

In the light of the cabinet secretary’s point and his commitment to work with religious bodies on resolving the matter and to move forward as soon as possible, as well as the fact that the committee accepted Adam Tomkins’s amendment 36, I will not move amendment 37 at this stage.

Amendment 37 not moved.

The Convener

It is appropriate to take a break at this point before we move to group 9. I suggest that we reconvene at 1.15.

12:42 Meeting suspended.  



13:15 On resuming—  



The Convener

Welcome back, everybody. We move to group 9, which is on concessionary travel. Amendment 38, in the name of Neil Findlay, is the only amendment in the group.

Neil Findlay

Amendment 38 is supported by the Poverty Alliance. The amendment recognises the economic hardship that is being faced by low-paid people, many of whom are the workers who have got us through the depths of the crisis. Working people, some of whom are in the lowest-paid sectors of the economy—cleaners, carers, shopworkers, bus drivers, bin men and women, and many others—have been at the forefront in the crisis.

We will all have been contacted by constituents who have lost their lift to work because the person they car-share with is no longer working, or their shifts or hours have been cut or changed. We will also have heard from many people who have lost their jobs or fear that they will lose their jobs when lockdown is lifted. Today’s unemployment figures show just a glimpse of what is to come, which will be a huge crisis for many families.

My proposal would help people in the circumstances that I have mentioned by providing free bus travel for people who are in receipt of qualifying benefits, including carers allowance, for the duration of the provisions of the 2020 act being in place. That would help some of the lowest-paid people get to work, and it would help those who are out of work to get to interviews and appointments to seek employment.

The Covid-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on women, young people and the poor, and the unemployment figures are really stark. The proposal is a relatively modest one that would help some people who are in the depths of the crisis.

I move amendment 38.

The Convener

Thank you, Mr Findlay. No other member wants to comment on amendment 38, so we will go to the minister.

I am sorry, minister—we are not hearing you. We will suspend briefly to resolve the issue.

13:19 Meeting suspended.  



13:22 On resuming—  



The Convener

I apologise for that. We can start again. Minister—it is over to you to speak to amendment 38.

Jenny Gilruth

Before I start, I will check that you can hear me.

The Convener

Yes, we can hear you.

Jenny Gilruth

Great. Thank you.

As Mr Findlay outlined, amendment 38 seeks to introduce free bus travel for people who are “unemployed and seeking work” and who are in receipt of certain benefits, or who have partners who are in receipt of those benefits. An extension to the existing concessionary fares scheme such as is proposed by amendment 38 would normally require careful planning, impact assessment and consultation, and could not be implemented by the expiry of the bill in September. Also, 7,500 electronic ticket machines, mostly on buses, would need to be updated to accept a new category of entitlement, which normally takes six to eight weeks to plan, deliver and test.

New concessionary travel cards would need to be issued. The card-issuing process is currently suspended because local authority staff have been diverted to Covid-19-related work, and the company that produces the cards has ceased operations for safety reasons.

Entitlement under the proposed scheme would also present problems. Existing concessions are based on criteria that are well defined and easy to evidence. Being in receipt of benefits is relatively easily evidenced, but it is not clear how applicants would adequately demonstrate that they are seeking work. The process for assessing eligibility would therefore require to be devised.

Cost is also a very significant consideration. The largest cost of an extension to the concessionary travel scheme would come from the need to replace bus operators’ lost revenue. Estimating that cost would be complex, but the immediate additional cost per month is likely to be between £420,000 and £1 million. If the scheme were to be extended into a period during which demand for bus travel returned to normal, that cost would rise to £2.8 million, and potentially up to £6.7 million, per month, which is the equivalent of £33.6 million, or up to £80 million, per year. There is no budget provision for such a scheme at this time, especially given the need to focus resources on maintaining essential services despite reduced income and higher unit costs.

Finally, we need to strike a balance between safety, affordability and ease of travel. We want people who need to travel to be able to do so safely, including by bus where that option is suitable. However, capacity on buses will for some time remain severely constrained by the need for physical distancing. That means that we must be mindful of the need to manage demand. An extension of free travel could be seen to run counter to that.

That said, the committee might be interested to know that before the Covid-19 outbreak, Transport Scotland officials had been working on a number of proposals to extend free bus travel, including to companions of disabled children under five and to recipients of the new young carer grant, and it had been reviewing the case for extending travel concessions more generally to young people under the age of 26. That work has been affected by the need to enable officials and our stakeholders to focus on the response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Given the need to focus resources on fighting the outbreak, and based on the understanding that the Government is already committed to, and planning for, a properly supported extension of the concessionary bus fares initiative, I urge Neil Findlay not to press amendment 38. If he presses it, I ask the committee to reject it.

The Convener

I ask Neil Findlay to wind up and to say whether he wishes to press or seek to withdraw amendment 38.

Neil Findlay

It appears that the civil servants have been busy with their big list of excuses for why certain things cannot happen. In my opinion, they have been pulling these responses from a very deep book.

It appears to be that while we are able to provide financial support to landlords, Airbnb owners and private schools, we are unwilling to help those who have got us through the crisis: the low paid and people in precarious employment, who would benefit greatly from such an initiative.

The bill is testing the Government’s claims that it is progressive on so many fronts. Every progressive amendment that has been put forward today has been rejected by the Government, with the support of the Conservative Party, so it is no surprise that they have chosen to reject amendment 38, too. I press amendment 38.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 38 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 38 disagreed to.

13:30  



The Convener

Group 10 is on sale of alcohol. Amendment 39, in my name, is the only amendment in the group.

My amendment 39 seeks to make a temporary adjustment to the licensing laws for off-sales of alcohol. Presently, alcohol can be purchased only after 10 am, Monday to Sunday. Amendment 39 would allow that to be temporarily suspended so that alcohol could be purchased from 8 am throughout the week.

The reason for that is very simple. I have highlighted the issue previously, during proceedings on the first emergency bill and again in the stage 1 debate on the current bill. As we know, groups of individuals, most notably those who are in vulnerable groups, but also NHS workers, have had specific shopping times reserved for them in supermarkets—usually, before 9 o’clock in the morning—in order to avoid their coming into contact with large numbers of other people. The measure, which many retailers have introduced, has been warmly welcomed by people in those groups.

Although the issue is not as prominent as it was several weeks ago, it is, nevertheless, still an issue for individuals in those groups. Indeed, when I was in my local Co-op the other day, I saw that it still had signs up saying that shopping before 9 o’clock is reserved for individuals in those categories.

Of course, that puts those people in an unfair position, because although they can do their weekly shop, the one thing that they cannot do is buy off-sales alcohol, whereas people who are shopping after 10 o’clock are able to do so. That means that if they want to purchase alcohol, they have to make another trip the shop after 10 o’clock, and to put themselves at risk, so there is a good health reason why amendment 39 is necessary, as well as there being an issue of fairness. We should not discriminate against people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to shop at the same time as everybody else.

Of course, the current licensing laws were made at a time when we did not imagine that there would be any issues as a result of vulnerable individuals not being able to shop at a particular time of day.

For me, it is an issue of fairness. I have had quite a lot of representations from constituents who have raised the matter with me. I know that there are people who have increased health issues in relation to alcohol more generally, but it seems to be unfair that although people can freely purchase alcohol after 10 o’clock if they wish—there are no restrictions on that—people in the relevant group face restrictions.

The arguments have been fairly well rehearsed. It is a very modest proposal, so I am happy to move amendment 39.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I will not take long. I just want to say that the Liberal Democrats support amendment 39, which is in the convener’s name.

I understand the arguments that have been articulated on both sides. We have to recognise the exceptional times that we are in. The licensing tool of opening hours is rather ineffective in tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Had the convener brought to the committee an amendment calling for a change to minimum unit pricing or its abolition, we would not have been able to support it, because that is an efficacious measure.

The current situation is rather arbitrary—as you described it, convener. It impacts and impedes two particular groups—vulnerable people and hard-working NHS employees—who might have only that opportunity to go to the shops. Therefore, for the duration of the emergency, and with the recognition that we can change the measure back when things settle down and we go back to normality, the Liberal Democrats support amendment 39.

Monica Lennon

I think that the convener already knows that I do not support amendment 39; I do not believe that now is the time to relax laws that are in place to protect public health and to reduce harm in our communities. The World Health Organization has advised that, if possible, people should be avoiding alcohol at this time, or cutting down on drinking, because alcohol can suppress the immune system and make us more susceptible to infections and diseases. We have to be careful to avoid mixed messages on public health during the pandemic.

I have consulted organisations including Alcohol Focus Scotland and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, both of which advise against the proposal. Findings from initial research show that alcohol sales have already increased during lockdown—alcohol is still widely available and can be purchased during many hours of the day. The proposal is not reasonable and does not provide reason enough to change the existing laws.

As well as my role on the committee, I am the health and social care spokesperson for the Scottish Labour Party and am in contact with front-line workers most days. No one has expressed concern to me about not being able to buy alcohol during certain hours. They have raised issues about PPE and about pay and conditions, which is why I lodged amendment 24, on a social care staff support fund, which the committee did not support.

We are in the business of considering emergency legislation and proposals, so I do not believe that changing alcohol licensing laws is necessary at this time. I am very concerned. People who have issues with and dependency on alcohol come from all walks of life, including the older population and NHS and social care workers, who are under considerable stress at the moment.

Before the pandemic, we knew that approximately 60,000 young people were living in homes in which alcohol is a problem. At the moment, those young people do not have the escape of school or youth clubs, and are not able to see their friends. We must be careful of any unintended consequences of the proposal, so I will vote against it. I urge the convener not to press amendment 39.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I am designated as a vulnerable person as I am in my eighth decade. Therefore, every 10 days or so, I am shopping at 8 or 8.30 in the morning, when alcohol sales are currently forbidden. During my visits to various retail outlets, I have found that none of my fellow septuagenarians or those who are older are heading to purchase any drink. We can be quite clear that alcohol is not a necessity of life.

In 2005, I was present, as were two other committee members, when Frank McAveety persuaded us to introduce the provision to ban alcohol sales before 10 in the morning. At the time, I was doubtful, but events have shown that that restriction has had no adverse effects and I would be reluctant to make a special case for the short period of time during the coronavirus pandemic—it sends entirely the wrong message to do so. With hindsight, Frank McAveety was right in 2005, and we should try to do the right thing now and stick with the policy that he persuaded us to enact 15 years ago.

Michael Russell

Thank you for raising the issue with me prior to the meeting. I know that the committee has considered the issue during the passage of both coronavirus bills and I am grateful for the positive engagement although, regrettably, I cannot support amendment 39.

As the committee is aware, since 2009, legislation has provided that alcohol can be sold only between 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening, seven days a week; there is no discretion for alcohol to be sold outwith those times. That measure was, and is, a key part of the Scottish Government’s public health policy and is concerned with addressing Scotland’s challenging relationship with alcohol.

As a Government, we are concerned that a significant relaxation of the current regime, as proposed in amendment 39, suggests that the coronavirus outbreak is a time when more alcohol could, and should, be purchased. Monica Lennon has made it clear that the WHO certainly does not advise that, and the interim chief medical officer has advised that cutting back the amount that people drink may help to reduce the health risks and associated complications that are linked to coronavirus. Of course, key workers are doing an incredible job, but I do not think that the licensing regime presents an insuperable obstacle to allowing them to buy what they want.

There are other options, including ordering alcohol for delivery. We understand that there are fewer reports of large queues at supermarkets than there were in the early days—people have adjusted their shopping habits.

There are some policy concerns with the amendment. Allowing sales “from 8am” on any day of the week without qualification would be open to misinterpretation about the closing time. It might suggest that 24-hour sales would be acceptable. I know that the member does not intend that, but the amendment could be interpreted in that way.

Amendment 39 also refers to “retail alcohol sales”, but that phrase is not used in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and it is not entirely clear what the phrase means. Does it apply only to off sales or does it include on sales? The amendment is not restrictive and would allow anyone aged 18 or over to make use of the additional hours. The question of making such a change for those whose choices are restricted is one debate, but the question of making the change absolutely unrestricted so that it applies to everyone is another debate.

We therefore cannot support amendment 39 and suggest that it should be opposed.

The Convener

I will briefly respond to the points that have been made. On the points that the cabinet secretary and Monica Lennon made about alcohol sales going up more generally, I suppose that off-sales of alcohol will be up, but of course on sales will have disappeared altogether, so that is a balancing factor. Sales might be up among the general population, but I am sure that that is not the case for those who are unable to purchase alcohol because of restrictions.

Stewart Stevenson said that he did not see septuagenarians in his shop going to purchase alcohol before 10 o’clock in the morning. That is not a surprise, because they are not allowed to. They would be very disappointed even if they got to the aisle, because they would not be allowed to purchase anything.

Mr Stevenson took a paternalistic attitude to the issue when he said that he does not regard alcohol as a necessity. There are many things that we can still buy during lockdown that are not strictly necessities. We should be prepared to trust people a little more and allow them some personal responsibility and to make judgments for themselves.

I am disappointed that Monica Lennon is not prepared to give a bit more support for NHS workers by allowing them this little perk of purchasing alcohol before 10 o’clock in the morning.

For all those reasons, I will press amendment 39.

The question is, that amendment 39 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 39 disagreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Section 3 agreed to.

Schedule 2—Operation of the justice system

The Convener

We move to group 11, on fixed penalty notices under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. Amendment 3, in the name of Ross Greer, is the only amendment in the group.

13:45  



Ross Greer

Amendment 3 is, I hope, a relatively small change to bring the bill into line with existing Government policy and, more important, Police Scotland’s standard operating procedure, by raising the age at which a fixed penalty notice can be issued, from 16 to 18.

In Scotland, in a variety of legislation and Government policy, we recognise 18 as the age at which someone is regarded as an adult. That is the case in our national youth justice strategy, in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and in criminal justice legislation. It is also generally the case in Police Scotland’s standard operating procedure.

If members agree to amendment 3, that will bring our approach into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which underpins a lot of policy approaches to which the Scottish Government is committed and which the Government intends to incorporate into Scots law. It will also bring us into line with the approach that is taken in the rest of the UK.

Amendment 3 is supported by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Together Scotland, and Clan Childlaw. Police Scotland confirmed to the children’s commissioner this morning that it supports the amendment, on the basis that it addresses a misalignment between the 2020 regulations and Police Scotland’s standard operating procedure and a variety of legislation.

I am not sure whether it was the intention that the 2020 regulations should permit the issuing of fixed-penalty notices to people from the age of 16. I am aware that the regulations were drafted very quickly, given the circumstances, so that might not have been the intention at all. Regardless of whether it was the intention, there is a misalignment, which amendment 3 would simply correct, so I hope that members will agree to the amendment.

I move amendment 3.

Jenny Gilruth

I understand why Mr Greer lodged amendment 3.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 are in line with other relevant legislation. In Scotland, parental responsibilities and rights stop at age 16, with the exception of the responsibility to provide guidance, which lasts until 18. In addition, there is a cut-off at 16 for fixed-penalty notices under antisocial behaviour legislation.

However, I understand the points that Ross Greer, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and children’s charities made about the need to protect young people.

In the context of policing during the current pandemic, Police Scotland says:

“Police Scotland is founded upon public service and operates under the fundamental principle of policing by consent ... Our officers will continue to engage with the public in a positive and constructive tone as we support our colleagues in the health service at this extraordinary time. The powers being afforded to our officers will be used as a last resort and only where people are defying very clear and sensible advice which is designed to protect them from harm.”

The Scottish Government recognises that 16 and 17-year-olds might be particularly vulnerable. On that basis, we support amendment 3 and agree that fixed-penalty notices should no longer be capable of being issued to young people aged 16 and 17 under the 2020 regulations.

As the Children and Young People’s Commissioner said in his briefing to members, it is important that amendment 3

“does not detract from the important public health message to children about the purpose of the lockdown provisions.”

Ross Greer

I thank the Government for its support and I thank the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland for taking the lead on the issue. I thank members of Scottish Youth Parliament and the various organisations that campaigned in support of amendment 3, which I press.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

The Convener

We move to group 12, on proceeds of crime: time limit for payment of confiscation orders. Amendment 4, in the name of Liam Kerr, is the only amendment in the group.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Thank you, convener, and thank you to the committee for considering my amendment. It asks that paragraph 8 be left out of schedule 2, from page 13 on line 31.

Paragraph 8 is headed “Time limits for payments of confiscation orders”. It runs from line 31 on page 13 until the end of page 15. The policy memorandum gives a clear summary of the practical impact of the paragraph. It gives criminals more time to pay proceeds of crime orders.

At present, when a criminal has been judged to have to pay the proceeds of crime, under a confiscation order, they must do so by the end of 12 months from the date on which the order is made. If paragraph 8 is passed, it will allow the criminal to apply for an order to extend the period in which they may pay, if they are not able to pay

“for a reason relating to coronavirus”.

That provision has concerned me from my initial reading of the bill. I ask committee members to keep in mind that what is being dealt with are the proceeds of crime: the ill-gotten gains of a convicted criminal who has profited from their criminality. Many members of the public will find it difficult to accept that drug dealers and organised criminals who are subject to orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 could be extended an opportunity to pay later, when their victims and so many law-abiding members of the public are struggling financially due to the pandemic.

I question the fairness of allowing drug dealers more time to pay back the proceeds of crime because they are facing challenges, presumably in liquidating the assets that were bought with those proceeds, while those from whom they might have stolen, extorted or forced that money beg for help from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government in a context where there is a finite amount offered.

I was steeled in that conclusion during the stage 1 debate, when I heard James Kelly say that

“A recent freedom of information request highlighted that there was £6 million in unpaid and unrecovered confiscation payments.”—[Official Report, 13 May 2020; c 71.]

How can it be right, when both of Scotland’s Governments are working to support those who have never done wrong, that we are £6 million short of where we should be, and yet we are proposing to give even more time for people to settle their debt from the proceeds of crime?

I also read with interest the concern of Annabelle Ewing, in the committee meeting on 12 May, that the provisions could “facilitate evasion” and suggested that

“the matter should be looked at very carefully, because Scotland has had great success with proceeds of crime confiscations and, when we get to the new normal, whenever that might be, it would be a pity if there was any backtracking in that regard.”—[Official Report, COVID-19 Committee, 12 May; c 8.]

The fact that three voices from across the parties are raising concerns about the issue merits caution. As I said in the stage 1 debate, in emergency legislation, we must be cautious about what we do and avoid unintended consequences. My amendment exercises that caution, and I would be grateful for the committee’s support.

I move amendment 4.

Annabelle Ewing

I had not initially planned to speak, but I want to clarify what Liam Kerr attributed to me. I raised that issue in committee, and I think that it was a perfectly reasonable issue to raise. However, the evidence that we took from the Law Society, which can be seen in the Official Report of that meeting, provided sufficient reassurance, as did the clarification from the Law Society that in fact it was the Crown Office that had sought those provisions.

Michael Russell

The amendment seeks to assert that coronavirus never happened and did not change things. I just do not think that that is a tenable starting position, and therefore there is a strong logical argument against amendment 4, even before we start to consider its content.

It is a fact that, at present, a court cannot allow a payment period of more than 12 months from the date that a confiscation order is made. No matter what we think of the accused, he or she might have practical difficulties outwith their control relating to the coronavirus. For example, they might be unable to sell property in order to raise funds for the order.

All the bill does is give the court discretion to allow more than 12 months when the court is satisfied that that is necessary for a person and that the reason is related to the coronavirus. No convicted person is being excused from paying a confiscation order—those orders will remain in force. All that is being questioned is whether the ability to pay within 12 months is a factor that can require additional time, as a result of the pandemic.

In addition, before allowing the extension, the court must be satisfied that the accused was or is unable to pay in that time as a result of coronavirus. If the court is satisfied, it can decide on the appropriate extension. That also gives the prosecutor an opportunity to make representations.

The amendment is therefore proportionate and possible, and it is also very practical. It relates to the real world, in which we have a pandemic.

Liam Kerr

I am very grateful for the contributions that have been made.

The cabinet secretary talks about the real world. I am not persuaded that the public would view sending serious criminals to jail if they do not pay back what they have been ordered to under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 as unfair and outwith the real world. In the real world, people will be much more concerned with the victims of organised criminals in deprived communities, who might be struggling to pay bills during this economic crisis while the wrongdoers are apparently being given extra time to pay back for their offences.

The key argument that I heard from the cabinet secretary and Annabelle Ewing, who rightly brought up the Law Society’s evidence to the committee, was that the coronavirus situation is novel and unprecedented. Let us say that a criminal could not liquidate the proceeds of crime through selling the house that they had bought with those proceeds. There is no doubt that these are challenging times, but the property market is nevertheless moving. Solicitors are working and estate agents are marketing, and there are innovative means by which viewings are being conducted. I do not find myself losing sleep over the fact that a criminal might have to sell a property that they have bought with the proceeds of crime for less than it might otherwise have fetched.

Should we really be extending the time to await the possible recovery of the housing market? In that case, criminals might even make a profit. Is that really what we should be doing? I say no.

I am genuinely grateful for the committee’s time on the matter, but I request that it look favourably on my amendment 4, which I press.

The Convener

The question is that, amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 4 disagreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Section 4 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Section 5 agreed to.

Schedule 4—Other measures in response to coronavirus

14:00  



The Convener

We move to group 13, on “Keeper’s website: definition”. Amendment 5, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, is grouped with amendment 6.

Stewart Stevenson

Amendments 5 and 6 have no policy effect. In paragraph 9 of part 3 of schedule 2 to the bill, the domain name of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website is provided to aid interpretation. These amendments have an identical purpose for the keeper of the Registers of Scotland.

I move amendment 5.

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Mr Stevenson for lodging amendments 5 and 6. Although they are not essential, I agree that they provide more certainty for stakeholders on the specific website where practical details will be published. On that basis, I ask members to support amendments 5 and 6.

The Convener

I ask Mr Stevenson to press or withdraw amendment 5.

Stewart Stevenson

I press amendment 5.

Amendment 5 agreed to.

Amendment 6 moved—[Stewart Stevenson]—and agreed to.

The Convener

We move to group 14 on land and buildings transaction tax: repayment of additional amount. Amendment 40, in the name of Liam McArthur, is the only amendment in the group.

I invite Beatrice Wishart to speak to and move the amendment on behalf of Liam McArthur.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Amendment 40 would extend the proposed change to the additional dwelling supplement by extending the timeframe from 27 to 36 months, in line with the timeframe that already exists elsewhere in the UK.

In 2016, Liam McArthur raised concerns about the

“fear that the 18 month threshold will prove particularly problematic in places like Orkney, and could adversely affect the local market”.

The housing market in Orkney and other island communities operates differently to the market in other parts of mainland Scotland. Properties can remain on the market for prolonged periods often extending beyond 18 months.

A further extension of the timeframe would provide more breathing space for those who are trying to sell up in areas that move more slowly, and it would also “island-proof” the original legislation. Given that we do not know how the property market will react to the coronavirus crisis, that breathing space could make all the difference.

I move amendment 40, in Liam McArthur’s name.

The Convener

I will speak briefly in support of the amendment. The decision regarding the period by which to extend the concession for reclaiming additional dwelling supplement is, in essence, a matter of judgment. The Scottish Government chose the figure of 27 months; the UK Government, in relation to transactions in England, has gone for a slightly longer period of 36 months. It is entirely debatable which figure is correct or appropriate.

I observe that the property market south of the border has already started to kick back into life. We have seen property viewings happen there this past week, whereas the ones in Scotland are still in lockdown and are likely to remain so for some weeks yet. The argument for Scotland taking a different position from that of England on the matter is, if anything, that Scotland should be given a longer period for reclaiming ADS because the market might be slower to recover here.

It is matter of judgment, but Beatrice Wishart makes a reasonable case why properties in certain parts of Scotland might sit on the market for a long time even in normal circumstances. That is even more the case today with the lockdown and all its implications. Amendment 40 is a reasonable proposition, and I hope that members will support it.

Jenny Gilruth

As Beatrice Wishart is aware, amendment 40 is not essential, as the bill already contains the power necessary to extend the 27-month period within which a previous main residence must be sold in order for a taxpayer to claim a repayment of the ADS. In that regard, the initial nine-month extension provided for in legislation was intended to reflect a proportionate approach, taking into account an initial analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the market and the extra time that might be needed, in particular, to assist any taxpayers whose transactions might have fallen through just before the lockdown began.

However, I understand the concerns that the member raises about the potential impact on the markets in island economies and in rural communities and the desire to give affected taxpayers a stronger measure of reassurance that the pandemic will not prevent them from being able to reclaim the ADS. I am therefore content to accept the amendment in order to provide that additional assurance. Although, of course, the position remains uncertain, given that the amendment will double the time that is currently available to affected taxpayers, the Scottish Government would not, at this point, expect a further extension to the repayment window to be required in the future.

Beatrice Wishart

I am very pleased with what I have heard, and I will press the amendment.

Amendment 40 agreed to.

The Convener

We come to group 15, on relief to be provided to small business tenants. Amendment 41, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, is the only amendment in the group.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Amendment 41 comes from casework. I am sure that all members will have many examples from their constituencies of businesses that have fallen through the cracks in one way or another with regard to the business grant relief that the Scottish Government is offering through local authorities. There are a range of different problems, but this one represents low-hanging fruit and should be easy to rectify.

At present, many companies that are tenants in large office blocks—sometimes in managed service accommodation—do not pay business rates directly to the local authority but do so through a management charge or rental agreement with a managing company such as Regus. That is particularly apposite in my constituency of Edinburgh Western, where many of the businesses that operate on the Gyle industrial estate do so on those terms.

This is an issue of viability for those businesses. Without the grants to which they would otherwise be absolutely entitled by paying business rates directly, businesses may well go under. The funds may be the difference between their remaining viable and not. At present, by and large, local authorities are discriminating against those companies, which are as deserving as any other but just have different terms under which they pay their business rates—through an intermediary.

Amendment 41 sends a signal, as much as anything else. It sends a signal to struggling businesses that are tenants in managed service accommodation: “We have your back.” It also sends a message to local authorities, which must recognise the very different ecosystems in which companies operate. I also want to give local authorities the confidence to award grants with a flexibility that recognises the very different circumstances in which people pay business rates and, as such, are deserving of the support.

I move amendment 41.

Jenny Gilruth

I note that Alex Cole-Hamilton raised this issue during the stage 1 debate. Although the intention behind the member’s amendment is laudable, it could cause untold damage to public finances. As such, it is not an amendment that the Scottish Government can support.

The amendment would introduce a statutory scheme to complement the existing scheme that is being delivered administratively and flexibly in partnership with local authorities. The Scottish Government has frequently shown a willingness to respond to feedback from businesses and councils on the administration of the current scheme. The Government has adapted the scheme on numerous occasions through changes to guidance, without recourse to legislation, and it is actively considering how it might best deliver support for tenants or occupiers who are not ratepayers.

The Government’s primary concern is that amendment 41 would apply to the full financial year, without a specific qualifying date. That would break the link with the current Covid-19 pandemic and could allow unscrupulous businesses to relocate frequently and use temporary lease arrangements to evidence their eligibility for multiple grant payments.

The amendment also does not recognise the temporary nature of some lease arrangements. For example, a market trader could lease a spot at a different farmers’ market every day and qualify for a grant at each. For the avoidance of doubt, no one is questioning that market traders might be struggling through the current crisis and are worthy of support. However, such support must be delivered sensibly. It is not necessary to do so through primary legislation, and particularly not in the way that amendment 41 proposes.

I encourage the committee to reject amendment 41 and to allow the Government to continue to work in partnership with local authorities to get support to businesses that need it.

The Convener

I ask Alex Cole-Hamilton to wind up and indicate whether he wishes to press or withdraw amendment 41.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I intend to press my amendment, but before I do so I would like to address some of the minister’s points.

I welcome the fact that the Government has closed a number of loopholes that have seen businesses unwittingly fall through the cracks in the available support, but that does not include the one that I have mentioned, and I did not want to let an opportunity go by to deal with it in statute. Let us face it: a lot of things in statute are about signalling and giving permission to local authorities—which probably already had such permission—by laying out in no uncertain terms that they have the ability, for example, to make awards to businesses. I know that the Scottish Government has been grappling with the issue, but it is not moving fast enough for the businesses that are affected.

Finally, I accept what the minister has said on the point about the qualifying date. However, I do not think that that is an impediment to progressing the matter at stage 3. If we were to put my amendment into the bill at this stage, we could easily amend it at stage 3 with a qualifying date and, if need be, a sunset clause that would make it coterminous with the rest of the bill.

For all those reasons, I press amendment 41.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 41 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 5, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 41 disagreed to.

The Convener

We turn to group 16, which is on the execution of documents. Amendment 8, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is the only amendment in the group.

Michael Russell

Amendment 8 will allow notaries public, solicitors and advocates to execute documents on behalf of others without their having to be physically present, and to administer oaths, affirmations and declarations without being physically present with the person making the oath, affirmation or declaration.

We all know that, in most current circumstances, it is not possible for the people involved to be physically present, which is why these changes are necessary. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for raising the matter.

I move amendment 8.

The Convener

As you know, cabinet secretary, I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland. I had a discussion with it about the issue. It is very supportive of amendments that would mean that the notarising of documents is still possible in the current lockdown arrangements, when it is not possible for two individuals to be in the same room. I understand that the society is also producing new guidance on how notaries public should operate in the current climate. Amendment 8 is therefore helpful.

14:15  



Stewart Stevenson

I agree with what has been said about amendment 8, which is very helpful. I merely put on the record that I hope that its success during the current crisis period might lead us to revisit the change that it makes and make it a permanent change in how we do things in the future. I say that as someone who—in a rather different context—had to fly all the way to San Francisco just to sign a contract in person. It took precisely 20 minutes for me to do so, after which I got back on the plane and came home. In the modern world, it is absurd not to do things in the way that is proposed in amendment 8.

The Convener

I invite Mr Russell to wind up.

Michael Russell

I have nothing more to say. I press amendment 8.

Amendment 8 agreed to.

The Convener

We move on to group 17, which is on freedom of information. Amendment 7, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 48, 9 to 14 and 45. I invite Jenny Gilruth to move amendment 7 and speak to all the amendments in the group.

Jenny Gilruth

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of openness and transparency in ensuring good governance. Freedom of information legislation is at the heart of ensuring openness and transparency, and we are proud that Scotland has the most open and transparent freedom of information regime in the UK.

We have listened, and we respect the will of the Parliament. We will reflect carefully and make changes where necessary—that is never more important than it is with emergency legislation. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was amended at stage 2 to ensure that it fully took account of the views of the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is our independent regulator. We welcome the cross-party input that has shaped the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, which is reflected in the amendment that I will shortly invite the committee to support.

I stress the importance of fairness. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 made substantive changes to the timescales for handling freedom of information requests and reviews, and authorities have acted in reliance on those changes, as they were entirely entitled to do. It is clear that the mood of the Parliament is in favour of making further substantive changes to the way in which FOI law operates, and that is reflected in the Government’s amendment 7. However, we consider that it is essential to ensure that no authority is unfairly penalised as a result of the proposed changes to the law, so transitional arrangements for on-going cases are necessary.

Amendment 7 is a carefully weighted compromise that seeks to balance all those factors: openness and transparency, the will of the Parliament and the need for fairness. It does three things: it adjusts the timescales for responding to requests; it removes provisions that have proved to be unnecessary; and it makes transitional arrangements in the interests of fairness.

On timescales, the deadline—I stress that it is a maximum, not a target—for responding to FOI requests will reduce from 60 days to 40 days. That will apply to all Scottish public authorities other than the Scottish ministers, for whom we will revert to the original Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 deadline of 20 working days. Allowing other authorities a maximum of 40 working days will maintain flexibility during the present emergency for health boards, local authorities and the police, among others.

During the debate on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, comparisons were made with the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the position in New Zealand. Authorities that are subject to the UK act have always had the ability to extend the deadline for responding to 40 working days. In New Zealand, it is possible for authorities to extend for an open-ended period of time that is “reasonable”, having regard to the circumstances. The relevant part of amendment 7 takes us no further than those other jurisdictions, where the flexibility that is built into the FOI legislation is always available. It recognises the concerns that have been expressed by the Parliament, while giving authorities the flexibility that has been praised elsewhere. Accordingly, I hope that the committee supports those proportionate measures.

Amendment 7 also restores the original 20-working-day deadline for responding to FOI reviews for all authorities and repeals the Scottish ministers’ ability to make direction that further extends the deadlines for authorities other than themselves. On balance, we no longer think that those measures are necessary, so we are taking the opportunity to bring them to an end in accordance with our commitment to keep the emergency legislation under continuous review and to bring emergency provisions to an end at the earliest opportunity.

Finally, amendment 7 contains transitional provisions to ensure that no authority finds itself inadvertently breaking the law as a result of the changes to the timescales. If the amendment is accepted, the changes that it makes will come into force at the earliest opportunity, on the day after royal assent. It would be in no way fair if authorities found themselves retrospectively unable to comply with timescales because the law has changed. If a request was received 45 days before the legislation came into force and was still outstanding at that point, the authority would automatically have failed to comply with the new timescales and would be unable to do anything about it. Appropriate transitional provisions ensure that we avoid that risk, while the new timescales will apply immediately to all new requests and reviews once the provisions come into force.

I turn to the other amendments in the group. Amendments 11 to 14, in the names of Mr Greer and Professor Tomkins, go further than the Government’s amendment 7, as they seek to restore the original deadline for requests of 20 working days for all authorities, not just for the Scottish ministers. In our view, that does not give other authorities the flexibility that they need at this time—the flexibility that exists in other countries that are held up as examples to us. Further, those amendments contain no transitional protection for on-going cases, and as such they would expose hard-pressed authorities to the risk of breaking the law through no fault of their own. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendments.

Mr Cole-Hamilton’s amendments go further still. In addition, amendment 9 would take away the ability of the commissioner and authorities to issue formal notices electronically. The commissioner supports the ability to issue notices in that way because it makes it easier for him to carry out his duties while his offices are physically closed. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 contains a number of provisions that make it easier to use electronic documents and to give notice electronically, and amendment 9 runs counter to those aims. I urge Mr Cole-Hamilton not to press amendment 9, given its potential impact on such useful administrative flexibility.

Mr Cole-Hamilton’s amendment 10 goes further still, as it would remove the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ability to take into account the impact of coronavirus in deciding whether an authority has failed to comply with the timescales in FOISA. The provision of such discretion for the commissioner attracted support from Mr Greer at stage 2 of the bill that became the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, and from Professor Tomkins in his comments to The Ferret last week.

The Government considers that giving the commissioner such discretion is essential to enable our FOI law to operate flexibly—as FOI law operates in those other countries that have been highlighted to us as examples of good practice—during the emergency period. Indeed, the discretion will last only for the duration of the emergency, unlike in those countries where it is a permanent feature of the FOI landscape. For those reasons, we cannot support amendment 10.

Amendment 48, in the name of Mr Findlay, would substantially constrain the commissioner’s ability to exercise his discretion. As drafted, it would mean that the commissioner would have to be satisfied that an authority had failed to comply with timescales due to the effects of the coronavirus and also because it was operating under the extended deadline of 60 working days, in addition to the failure being reasonable in all other circumstances. We cannot see how those conditions could ever be satisfied, which means that the measure is, in effect, inoperable.

Amendment 48 would also require the commissioner to

“regard the public interest test as the primary consideration”

in assessing whether a failure was reasonable. If that is intended as a reference to the public interest test in FOISA, it should be noted that the FOISA test applies only where an authority has applied a qualified exemption to withhold information. The public interest test has no role to play where an absolute exemption is applied, or where an authority has disclosed all the requested information but has simply failed to adhere to the time limits. Again, such a requirement would in effect make the provision impossible to operate, and we therefore cannot support amendment 48.

Amendment 45 would require the Scottish ministers to report to Parliament every two months on their FOI performance while the FOI provisions in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 remain in force. The Scottish Government is happy to report on its FOI performance, but I want to make the committee aware of the range of reporting provisions that already exist. Like all Scottish public authorities, we report most of our information every three months to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who proactively publishes that information. In addition, as part of the commissioner’s on-going intervention in Scottish Government FOI practice, we report to him monthly on our performance. Once those performance figures have been supplied to the commissioner, we proactively publish them on our website.

Given the existing reporting arrangements, I suggest that much of what Mr Findlay seeks to achieve is already proactively put in the public domain. The introduction of a further reporting requirement that would sit between the existing monthly and three-month reporting cycles does not seem to be proportionate, and we will not support amendment 45.

The Scottish Government is committed to getting the balance right on freedom of information. We want to ensure that access to information is protected, and that hard-pressed authorities on the front line are not forced to choose between complying—[Temporary loss of sound.]—and providing essential services in the face of this emergency.

We have listened carefully to the views that have been expressed inside and outside Parliament. Amendment 7 strikes an appropriate balance, and I invite the committee to support it.

I move amendment 7.

The Convener

Monica Lennon will speak to amendment 48, in the name of Neil Findlay, and to other amendments in the group.

Monica Lennon

Neil Findlay has asked me to give his apologies; he wanted to speak to his amendments himself, but he has had to go to the chamber for other business. I fully support the minister when she says that Government should be open and transparent and that that is in essence about trying to get good governance. For that reason, I will speak to Neil Findlay’s amendments on his behalf.

Amendment 48 proposes that, if a Scottish public authority has failed to comply with a relevant period, the Scottish Information Commissioner must take into account the public interest test. I will explain briefly.

A designated body needs to be held accountable for operational and staffing decisions that have resulted in poor management of information during the period of the emergency, and have made it difficult for staff to respond promptly, within the normal 20-day response time. That could include, for example, deploying staff to other roles, or actively advising them that the duty could, in effect, be suspended.

In the making of such decisions, the public interest—in requiring public bodies to diligently deliver FOI rights—should have featured large in its decision-making process. The Scottish Information Commissioner, when hearing appeals about delays in the answering of requests, needs to consider the public interest test in relation to the designated body’s compliance with the time limits. That is what Neil Findlay would have said in support of his amendment.

Amendment 45 would put a duty on the Scottish ministers to lay reports in Parliament, during the emergency period, about how many requests they have not complied with, how many requests have been received, and what the backlog is, notwithstanding what the minister has said.

The rationale behind amendment 45 is that, as the public face of the Covid-19 emergency response, it is appropriate for the Scottish Government to be seen to deliver on its daily commitment to transparency and accountability.

In addition, being willing to report on progress and compliance with FOISA duties sets a very good example to the rest of the public sector about how the Scottish Government is performing.

The Scottish Government is still subject to formal intervention by the Scottish Information Commissioner, due to poor practice, so we are looking for MSPs to have additional reassurance about FOI performance. In addition, a robust reporting regime is important for MSPs because of outstanding business from 21 June 2017, resulting from Scottish Parliament motion S5M-06126, with which I am sure the Minister will be familiar:

“That the Parliament condemns the Scottish Government’s poor performance in responding to freedom of information requests; calls for an independent inquiry into the way that it deals with these, and agrees to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and welcomes commitments by the Scottish Government to adopt a policy of pro-actively publishing all material released under FOI to ensure that it is as widely available as possible.”—[Official Report, 21 June 2017; c 100.]

Since the minister has said that she wants to respect the will of Parliament, I hope that she will take that reminder in the spirit in which it is intended.

In recent days, the public have been quite alarmed, for example about the Nike outbreak at a hotel in Edinburgh, which they were not informed of—we have had to rely on journalists to provide that information. While the committee has been sitting today, I think that there have been further questions about that to the First Minister at her daily press briefing. In order to try to restore public confidence and trust, it is important that we have full transparency.

In the main, MSPs have tried to avoid unnecessarily burdening our public authorities during the pandemic. We have tried to use the channels available to us, including urgent written parliamentary questions and oral questions in the chamber. In response to written questions, particularly with regard to health data, we are being given a holding response or are routinely being told that the Scottish Government does not hold the information. That is why we do not support amendment 7. We want the 20-working-day deadline to be restored, because of the importance to the public interest and good governance that we have as much access to information as possible.

14:30  



Alex Cole-Hamilton

I thank the minister for raising the issue of my amendment 9 and, in particular, of the deletion of paragraph 7 of schedule 6, part 2 to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. I should alert the committee that that is a drafting error that occurred as a result of the instructions that I gave to clerks. If amendment 9 is agreed to, I plan to reinstate paragraph 7. As the minister articulated, the exchange of FOI via electronic communication will make the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office more fleet of foot. In addition, it is a far more environmental way to operate. With that assurance, I will move amendment 9.

Amendment 9 is far more surgical than amendment 10, which deletes all the provisions on freedom of information in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, so I will largely speak to amendment 9. It is clear that parliamentary opinion and the united forces of all Opposition parties against the provisions in the first bill should have been a bellwether on whether it was agreed to in the first place. However, I acknowledge the distance that the Government has travelled and I am grateful to it for that.

Had amendment 7 been part of the bill as drafted, we might not be here now. I and a number of colleagues had a lot of sympathy for extending timescales, particularly for certain organisations that we felt might not be able to cope with an FOI request when they were so crucially in the teeth of the pandemic crisis. I am speaking particularly about NHS boards and the councils. Nevertheless, they are the arms of delivery and they are where the information lies. We have now seen how the crisis is playing out, and it is fair to say that there are some very busy departments, such as critical care, intensive treatment units and convalescence. The information commissioner can use discretion on the application of FOI requests, but I do not believe that boards are so universally busy that they would not be able to respond within the 20-day deadline. The same applies to local authorities. Although parts of the organisation, particularly those that give out business grants, for example, will be exceptionally busy, the lockdown and the fact that people may not be using services as much as they were may mean that councils are perhaps not as busy as we feared that they would be.

It is vital that we rectify our FOI provisions in this country. Catherine Stihler from the Open Knowledge Foundation was quick to point out that Scotland was in the unenviable position of being the first country in the world to introduce new restrictions on freedom of information as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. I am very grateful for the assurance from the minister that we will rectify that to a certain degree today; it is just a matter of the degree to which we do so.

Ross Greer

Amendment 11 and my other amendments are essentially identical to Mr Tomkins’s amendments; they are just in a different format. They seek to remove the restrictions on freedom of information in the previous bill. I will not talk much about the general principles of that—it was well rehearsed during the passage of the previous bill, and other members have mentioned it today. However, I want to make it clear that my amendments and those of Mr Tomkins remove the restrictions that were placed on freedom of information, while maintaining the very helpful provisions that were included in the previous bill, namely the ability to give notice electronically—already mentioned—and the discretion for the information commissioner to consider the impact of the virus when he is assessing whether public bodies have met their obligations.

On that point, I do not believe that it was necessary to include that provision in the previous bill—I believe that the Information Commissioner essentially already had that discretion. However, to remove it now would create confusion about whether he still has it. It is unnecessary to create such confusion when I believe that we are all comfortable with him having that discretion.

I oppose the Government’s amendment 7, and I urge other members to oppose it too. If amendment 7 is agreed to, and if the amendments in my name and in Mr Tomkins’s name are also agreed to, we will end up with a mess that we will have to correct at stage 3.

The Government’s amendment retains some of the extensions for public bodies, which I simply do not believe are necessary. As Mr Cole-Hamilton highlighted, Scotland has taken a step here that no other comparable country has taken; indeed, only Brazil has taken anything like the step that we have taken. Therefore, I do not believe that we should agree to the Government’s amendment. However, I welcome the effort that it has made to reach out to Opposition parties to try to achieve a compromise on the issue.

I am aware that Monica Lennon is speaking to Neil Findlay’s amendment 48. I am still not entirely clear what the amendment seeks to achieve and how operable it would be. I would welcome some expansion from Monica Lennon on the amendment. I suggest that amendment 48 is not moved at this stage, but lodged for stage 3 tomorrow—or whenever we deal with stage 3—to give us a bit more time to consider it further. I am not quite clear what the benefit of introducing the public interest test in this way would be.

There is an element of throwing the baby out with the bath water in Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendments 9 and 10, although I recognise that he said that there is a drafting error in amendment 9. I suggest that he does not move amendment 9, because my amendments and Mr Tomkins’s amendments achieve exactly what I believe Mr Cole-Hamilton is trying to achieve, and our amendments would not require further amendment at stage 3. I therefore suggest that we agree at stage 2 to amendments that do not require further revision at stage 3, and I believe that my amendments and Mr Tomkins’s amendments command a majority of support.

In particular, I note that amendment 10, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, is opposed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland. On that ground, I think that we should oppose the amendment.

I absolutely support the principle of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendments, but I think that they go too far for the reasons that have already been mentioned—they would remove helpful provisions that we all in fact support, such as the ability to give notice electronically and making it clear that the Scottish Information Commissioner has that discretion.

I thank Mr Tomkins for the work that we have done together on the issue and I wish him well in rebuilding his reputation from that brief moment of association with me. I urge members to support both my amendments and his.

I support amendment 45, in the name of Neil Findlay, which is being moved by Monica Lennon, and I urge colleagues to support it also. Robust reporting is essential to achieve transparency, and transparency is in turn essential for public confidence. It is never more important to have public confidence in Government at all levels than at a time of crisis.

Adam Tomkins

I thank all the other members who have contributed to the debate, and I thank Ross Greer for his kind remarks. I do not think that my reputation needs rescuing at all from working with him on the issue. Not only are he and I agreed, but all four Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament are completely agreed that it was neither necessary nor appropriate for the Scottish Government to seek in its first emergency coronavirus legislation to immunise itself and public authorities the length and breadth of Scotland from the ordinary rules of scrutiny and access to Government information.

Like Mr Greer, I do not want to rehearse all the arguments of principle, but I will address directly two of the erroneous and unhelpful remarks of the minister’s officials, which the minister read out to us at the beginning of the debate on this group of amendments. The first relates to retrospection. When the Parliament wrongly legislated to extend the periods in which public authorities must comply with FOI requests, it was the Government that insisted that those extensions take retrospective effect. Therefore, if someone made an FOI request in March in the expectation that the request would be dealt with in the ordinary 20-day period, that 20-day period was retrospectively extended to 60 days, notwithstanding that the request was made before the commencement of the previous legislation, because that is what the Government insisted on.

If the Government is right that the extension of timelines has retrospective effect, it must surely follow—this is the consequence of the Government’s own logic—that any attempt by the Parliament to put those extensions back and revert to the normal position whereby public authorities have 20 days to respond to FOI requests will also have retrospective effect. By the Government’s own logic, there is no need for transitional arrangements.

The second response to what the minister, Jenny Gilruth, said is the point that Ross Greer made very sensibly a few minutes ago—that none of us, apart from Mr Cole-Hamilton, is seeking to remove from the legislation that we passed last month the commissioner’s overriding discretion to rule in any particular case that a failure to comply with the statutory deadline was not unreasonable for reasons relating to the coronavirus.

Those two points combined more than meet any objection that the minister’s civil servants have put together for her as to why the amendments in my name or in Mr Greer’s name should not be supported.

All four Opposition parties in the Parliament are united in their condemnation of what the Scottish National Party has sought to do here. I hope that we can proceed as follows. Amendment 7, in Mr Russell’s name, can be rejected because it does not go far enough to right the wrongs that were legislated for a month ago. I hope that Mr Cole-Hamilton will not move amendments 9 and 10, because—this is the one thing that the minister said that I agree with—they go too far, throwing various legislative babies out with the bath water. It would be unhelpful if Mr Cole-Hamilton were to insist on those amendments going ahead.

I very much hope that Mr Greer will move amendments 11 to 13 and that the committee will support them. Then I will not need to move—and will not move—amendment 14, which would have the same effect as Mr Greer’s amendments 11 to 13. Finally, I hope that Monica Lennon will move the two amendments in this group in Neil Findlay’s name, because I would like to be able to support both of those amendments.

There have been some questions about the meaning of Neil Findlay’s amendment 48, but it seems to me that the meaning is quite straightforward. The minister spoke a lot of legal gobbledegook earlier, deliberately trying to confuse matters, but the effect of amendment 48 is very straightforward. In any case, when the commissioner has to make a decision about whether a failure to comply with the statutory deadline to process an FOI request is reasonable, the effect of amendment 48 is to say that the overriding consideration that the commissioner must bear in the front of his mind as he considers that question is the public interest in the disclosure of information—which, after all, the Government holds in our name. That is the effect of amendment 48; it is not particularly complex or controversial. It is the right thing to do, and I hope that the committee supports it.

The Convener

No other committee members have indicated that they wish to speak on this group, thankfully, so we turn to the minister to wind up.

Jenny Gilruth

I waive my right to wind up, and I press amendment 7.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 5, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 7 disagreed to.

14:45  



The Convener

Amendment 48, in the name of Neil Findlay, has already been debated with amendment 7. I invite Monica Lennon to say whether she wishes to move or not move amendment 48.

Monica Lennon

I will move the amendment. I thank Ross Greer for his question. Adam Tomkins has already provided a helpful answer, so I will not repeat that. The issue is about ensuring transparency and ensuring that, if there is a so-called failure to respond to FOI requests, the public body had reasonable grounds, such as having to redeploy staff. Adam Tomkins explained that perfectly well.

I am sorry that Neil Findlay is not here to move the amendment himself.

I move amendment 48.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 48 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 48 agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 9, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, has already been debated with amendment 7. I invite Alex Cole-Hamilton to say whether he wishes to move or not move amendment 7.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I should have stated in my remarks earlier that it is my intention not to move amendment 10.

As regards amendment 9, I am persuaded that the combination of amendments in the names of Mr Greer and Mr Tomkins will accommodate what I sought to achieve without the need for further amendment at stage 3. On that basis, I will not move amendment 9.

Amendments 9 and 10 not moved.

Amendments 11 to 13 moved—[Ross Greer]—and agreed to.

Amendment 14 not moved.

Amendment 45 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 45 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 45 agreed to.

Amendment 42 moved—[Adam Tomkins].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 42 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 42 disagreed to.

The Convener

We are making good progress, but we have five groups left, which will take us a little time. I suggest that we take a five-minute break and reconvene at 3 o’clock.

14:55 Meeting suspended.  



15:00 On resuming—  



The Convener

Welcome back. Group 18 is on traffic regulation. Amendment 43, in the name of Mark Ruskell, is the only amendment in the group.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Over the past couple of months, we have got used to social distancing and the importance of creating the right space in our communities for walking, cycling and going out for a run without fear of infection from Covid-19 or risk of injury. Across Scotland, there have been calls for pop-up cycle lanes, safe crossings and expansions of pavements, and traffic speed reduction measures have been put in place. During the lockdown, walking and cycling have been and will remain popular. However, because restrictions on public transport will remain, we will also see a return to the use of the car. In order to get the balance right between creating that safe space for distancing in our streets and avoiding conflict between motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, emergency measures will need to be brought in.

I welcome the announcement on funding and guidance on space for distancing that the Scottish Government made several weeks ago. However, since then, I have been speaking to those who will be tasked with implementing those measures. I have had a meeting with Sustrans Scotland, which is managing the funds that will go to local authorities. I have had discussions with the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland; it represents all the 32 local authorities’ heads of transport, who, in the months to come, will roll up their sleeves and put those measures in place.

I asked them whether we could take any other measures through the Coronavirus bill that would smooth implementation, reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility in putting in place the measures on space for distancing. Their conclusion was that the simplest and most effective change that we could make would be to the traffic regulation order process, which would allow those measures to be put in place on a temporary basis for six or 18 months. Extending that period to 24 months would give them the discretion to put in place those emergency measures for up to two years. They would have the flexibility to monitor the use of the measures and review them; if communities wanted some measures to become permanent, the extension would give councils enough time to bring forward a permanent traffic regulation order.

With amendment 43, I am going for a simple tweak; it is about giving councils flexibility, cutting bureaucracy and allowing officers to focus on delivery now rather than filling in forms for bureaucratic regulation order processes. It is also about maximising the benefit from the money that we are putting in; if there is scope to make any of the temporary measures more permanent changes in our communities, let us take that opportunity.

I move amendment 43.

Jenny Gilruth

I note Mark Ruskell’s points on amendment 43, which seeks to make it easier for local authorities to assess the effectiveness of temporary measures to promote active travel. Mr Ruskell is trying to be helpful with his amendment, but the Scottish Government does not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for the bill.

Temporary traffic regulation orders and experimental redetermination orders can be in force for up to 18 months, as the member is aware. That is a sufficient period to enable traffic authorities to respond to the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Given that the bill covers only the period from its enactment until 30 September, and given that if measures are extended by the Parliament that will be only until 30 September next year, it would create confusion to temporarily extend the duration of TTROs and experimental redetermination orders that will fall away when the bill’s provisions expire.

In addition, amendment 43 would apply not just to Covid-19-related orders but to all TTROs, whatever their reason, such as TTROs for road works.

If a local authority is working to make temporary measures permanent, such as measures on active travel, and has not had adequate time to complete the procedures in that regard, the Scottish Government has the power to grant a six-month extension to the existing 18-month maximum duration of a TTRO, if that is requested. There is also provision in the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 for experimental redetermination orders to last beyond 18 months while authorities are taking steps to comply with the procedures that will make them permanent.

Given the exceptional times in which we are living, I have asked officials to look at the TTRO extension approval process, to ensure that any extensions that are required for Covid-19-related issues are dealt with efficiently.

For the reasons that I have set out, I cannot support Mr Ruskell’s amendment 43. I ask him not to press the amendment to a vote.

Mark Ruskell

I am disappointed by that response, to be honest. Substantial amounts of Government money are going to local authorities to enable them to bring in emergency measures—we are talking about £10 million. It would be a travesty if temporary pop-up cycle lanes were put in place and improvements to our streetscapes were made only for those measures to be ripped out unnecessarily at the end of the lockdown and the requirement for social distancing.

The minister said that the Scottish Government can grant extensions. That seems to be a hugely bureaucratic process. Is the minister really asking local authorities to consider what measures they want to extend and then apply to the Scottish Government to extend the duration of each and every pavement widening measure, cycle lane or crossing point that they think should continue in the months to come? That would place a huge bureaucratic burden on the Scottish Government and would mean that council officers’ time was locked up in writing requests to the Scottish Government.

Why not just give councils what they have asked for, that is, an extension of the emergency procedure to 24 months? That would give councils the clarity, simplicity and flexibility that they want. I am disappointed by the minister’s approach, and if she has the opportunity to speak again on the matter, I ask her to say whether she will consider tweaks to the approach at stage 3.

The Convener

Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to go back to the minister at this point. Are you pressing amendment 43?

Mark Ruskell

Yes.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 43 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 43 disagreed to.

The Convener

Group 19 is on low-emission zones. Amendment 44, in the name of Mark Ruskell, is the only amendment in the group.

Mark Ruskell

I am sure that everyone in the committee is aware that 2,000 people in Scotland die as a result of air pollution-related health problems every year. That is a shocking public health crisis. It is also a lung health crisis.

An increasing amount of medical evidence shows that the number of people who are susceptible to Covid-19 goes up in areas where there is very high air pollution. We face twin health crises. Covid-19 is affecting our lungs, and that is being exacerbated by poor air quality in our towns and cities. A related issue is that people who have had Covid-19 might have long-lasting health impacts, and poor air quality can impact on their health and quality of life.

We need a public health response not just to Covid-19 but to poor air quality in our towns and cities. Now is the time to join the dots and to accelerate roll-out of low-emission zones, rather than to put that on pause.

I understand the challenges that councils face. I have just explained one of the challenges, which I hope the Government will try to resolve, but it is disappointing that the first four LEZs that were scheduled to be introduced at the end of this year in our biggest cities have been postponed—not to mention the next tranche of LEZs for our other air quality management areas across Scotland.

I have lodged a measured amendment. It would have been tempting to put in the legislation a target date for the roll-out of LEZs, although I do not believe that that is possible under the provisions of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. However, it is important that the Scottish Government recognises that LEZs have an important public health intervention role, particularly in protecting our lung health, and that Parliament gets the opportunity to scrutinise progress—and any reasons for lack of progress—at the end of this year. We have to combine LEZs and our whole approach to clean air with our public health approach to Covid-19.

Ross Greer

As you would expect, I am very much in support of amendment 44, on low-emission zones. I will briefly highlight an example that shows why. It does not come from the four major cities, where the initial LEZs were to be rolled out, but comes from Bearsden, which is in my region.

Bearsden has the unfortunate distinction of having an air quality management area along Drymen Road, with a small primary school playground at its centre. Bearsden primary school’s playground probably has the worst air quality of any school playground in Scotland. The quality of the air has been getting worse; it has not been improving. I have been pushing the East Dunbartonshire Council to consider putting in place a low-emission zone. Indeed, when I asked at First Minister’s question time, the First Minister agreed to open up discussions between the Government and the council about whether an LEZ could be implemented for the area. That would be very much in the interests of public health and the health of children, as Mark Ruskell mentioned.

However, given the proposed delays to the initial LEZs, I have serious concerns that the knock-on delays to potential LEZs down the line will compound the public health problems that we have right now. We have seen a huge, dramatic and predictable reduction in air pollution on our streets because of the lockdown. We must ensure that the post-lockdown normal is a new normal in which we do not simply go back to having the children at Bearsden primary school literally struggling to breathe—sometimes, they could taste the air. That would not be an acceptable normal to go back to. I very much hope that we agree to amendment 44 and that we continue to play a firm parliamentary role in order to ensure that LEZs are rolled out as quickly as possible.

Jenny Gilruth

Amendment 44, in the name of Mark Ruskell, would create a requirement for Scottish ministers to report by December 2020 on the progress that has been made towards the establishment of low-emission zones under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. It is right that we review how low-emission zones can be designed in the light of the coronavirus and how our cities might witness a green recovery transformation in tandem with the Covid-19 recovery plan. I am happy to accept the requirement to keep the Parliament updated on that important work, and I urge members to support amendment 44.

15:15  



Mark Ruskell

I am happy to press the amendment. Mr Greer makes an important point. There are more than 30 air quality management areas across Scotland, where communities are facing poor air quality and are suffering from the health impacts of that. The convener will be aware that there is an air quality management area in Perth, including Bridgend and Atholl Street. It is important that we maintain progress on the issue and that the Government is held to account but also able to update Parliament on the progress that is being made.

Amendment 44 agreed to.

Amendments 46 and 47 not moved.

Amendment 49 moved—[Beatrice Wishart].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 49 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For: 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 49 agreed to.

Amendment 50 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 50 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 50 disagreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Section 6—Advancement of equality and non-discrimination

The Convener

Group 20 is on the advancement of equality and non-discrimination. Amendment 51, in the name of Mark Griffin, is grouped with amendment 52.

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Amendment 51 seeks to ensure that, in using its powers under the bill, the Government does so in a way that is inclusive and communicates appropriately with all people, particularly those who have a disability or communication needs. The amendment, which is sponsored by deafscotland would align the duties on Government under the bill with those in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and the recently passed Consumer Scotland Bill.

In the time that has passed since the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 received royal assent, BSL users have seen a huge leap in awareness of their language and in the support that they receive. For example, it is notable that there are British Sign Language interpreters at the First Minister’s daily briefing. However, given the huge changes in daily life over the past two months, there are areas where messages and guidance could have been better communicated and made more inclusive, and therefore better received, understood and accepted by the widest possible sections of society.

Inclusive communication is about sharing information in a way that everybody can understand across all modes of communication. It is also about making sure that Government recognises that people understand and express themselves in different ways. Crucially, that means that they are able to understand the guidance independently and can best protect themselves and their family.

Amendment 51 would not mandate making publications, paperwork, adverts or correspondence fully accessible, but it would place a duty on Government, when exercising its powers under the bill, to take into account the needs of those with a range of communication requirements. Although technology has been a godsend for people during the crisis, there are many who are not technologically adept or able, and who do not have the resources that many of us enjoy. For some, that will have been extremely isolating and will have exacerbated deprivation.

In its response to the Equality and Human Rights Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19, deafscotland reported how deaf and hard of hearing people have been badly hit by the pandemic. It pointed out how, for example, face masks inhibit lip-reading; how shielding has prevented older and unwell deaf people from accessing repairs; how Covid-19 information lines are not BSL enabled; how publications are not converted to BSL; and how confusion has arisen regarding the availability of audiology services.

Although the wider public has absorbed the science and statistical information over the past two months, I am sure that the committee will accept that there have been times when our constituents—and members—have found some of the information complicated or even confusing, and that it could have been better communicated.

Imagine that you have a consistent communication disadvantage or use another language. How would that impact on your ability to navigate the current time and exercise your rights in the period of lockdown while you are cut off from your vital support networks? It would be entirely unbearable. Ensuing that we have inclusive communication at the heart of the crisis is a simple matter of fairness.

I move amendment 51.

The Convener

I believe that Monica Lennon will speak to amendment 52 on behalf of Pauline McNeill.

Monica Lennon

I have had to pivot from standing in for Neil Findlay to standing in for Pauline McNeill.

Amendment 52 would require Scottish ministers to

“request information from the Police Service of Scotland”

and third parties

“on incidences of domestic violence”

during the emergency period

“for the purpose of measuring the extent of domestic violence”.

According to Police Scotland, the number of requests from people seeking information about whether their partner has been abusive in the past was 18 per cent higher in the first month of lockdown compared with the same period in 2019. The number of calls to Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline had risen by 49 per cent after three weeks of lockdown. Fourteen women and two children were killed by men in the UK in the first three weeks of the lockdown, which is more than three times higher than in normal times.

With her amendment, Pauline McNeill seeks to raise the issue at this stage in order to allow ministers to focus on what further action should be taken to protect women in the lockdown period and beyond. Amendment 52 will require ministers to request that information from Police Scotland and third parties so that they can monitor the extent of domestic violence.

Pauline McNeill and I understand that ministers are alive to the issues and are concerned about them, and we are confident that they are willing to take further action. I will be interested to hear the minister’s response, but I know that the issue enjoys general cross-party support.

I fully support Mark Griffin’s amendment 51, and I thank deafscotland for the briefing that it sent to the committee before today’s meeting.

The Convener

I ask the Minister for Europe and International Development, Jenny Gilruth, to comment on the amendments in the group.

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Mark Griffin and Pauline McNeill for lodging their amendments. I am also grateful to Monica Lennon, who spoke on behalf of Pauline McNeill, for her contribution.

The Government agrees that, with the public being asked to do extraordinary and difficult things, it has never been more vital to communicate in an inclusive way about what is being asked and what is changing. We heard about that from Mark Griffin. We are happy to accept amendment 51. We will, however, seek to make a clarificatory amendment at stage 3, both to amend the new duty in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and to include a definition of “inclusive communication”, as exists in section 4(2) of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.

As Monica Lennon outlined, amendment 52 raises the issue of the incidence of domestic abuse during the coronavirus outbreak. It is a Scottish Government priority that victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence get the support that they need during these challenging times and are kept safe from harm.

Earlier this month, we published guidance on domestic abuse to support the coronavirus regulations and ensure that anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse or any form of harm is in no doubt that they may leave home to seek help from support services, family or friends, or to report it to the police or take measures to stay safe. Today, COSLA and the Scottish Government have published guidance for local authorities on tackling all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse.

We are aware of how quickly the landscape is changing in the current crisis, and that is also true of what we are learning of domestic abuse during this time. We are sympathetic to the need to ensure that information about the incidence of domestic abuse is collated and monitored during the pandemic to ensure that our responses are effective and appropriate.

15:30  



We entirely support the aim of Ms McNeill’s amendment, although we consider that it should be linked to the more expansive and recently introduced definition of domestic abuse, rather than referring to domestic violence.

I therefore ask that amendment 52 not be moved. I commit to working with Ms McNeill to agree a form of her amendment that will, I hope, be supported by all parties at stage 3.

The Convener

Thank you, minister.

I ask Mark Griffin to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 51.

Mark Griffin

I welcome the Government’s commitment to support amendment 51 and to support the principle of Pauline McNeill’s amendment 52. I am sure that she would welcome the opportunity to work with the Government before stage 3. I also look forward to working on my amendment with the Government and with deaf scotland.

I ask members to support amendment 51, which I press.

Amendment 51 agreed to.

The Convener

I ask Monica Lennon to move or not move amendment 52.

Monica Lennon

It is clear from the minister’s remarks that there is a shared willingness to make sure that anyone who is a victim or survivor of any form of domestic abuse can get access to support. That is a priority.

I think that Pauline McNeill will welcome the commitment to work together at stage 3. On that basis, I will not press amendment 52.

Section 6 agreed to.

After section 6

The Convener

Group 21 is on conditions on support for business. Amendment 53, in the name of Patrick Harvie, is grouped with amendments 54 and 55.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I hope that members can hear me above the noise of the road works that have just started outside my flat and that that will not interfere.

I know that members have all been working on this session for a long time. There is light at the end of the marshalled list; we are approaching the end.

I will not say much about amendments 54 and 55, except that I support their principles. They would be useful additions to the bill and I look forward to hearing the member make the case for them

Amendment 53 in my name relates to an extremely important point of principle. It is one that a number of other European countries—Denmark, France and Poland—and at least one other UK nation, Wales, have already adopted as a Government position. It is that the taxpayer-funded bailout, and the public money that is going to the private sector, important though it is, must come with some expectation that a fair contribution will be made by the recipients. In particular, that money should not go to bail out firms that are based in tax havens.

We have been campaigning for that principle. In just two weeks, around 7,000 people in Scotland have added their names in support of an online petition that we established on the issue. It is a general principle that the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture have also said warm words about. I hope that they will be persuaded of the need to turn those words into action and to include in the bill the clear principle that firms that are based in tax havens should not get the kind of public bailout that many of them seem to expect is their right.

These are extraordinary times that we are living in, and words such as “unprecedented” have probably been overused in recent weeks, but the level of public support for businesses is certainly extraordinary. It has always been my view that private sector economic activity is dependent on society. It depends on the role of the state in public funding and on the provision of infrastructure, the rule of law and a healthy, educated population. All those things are preconditions for economic activity. However, the dependence of the private sector on the public—on collective provision—is all the more clear now, and the ideology of the free market has been exposed as a myth like never before.

That being the case, I believe that Governments have now regained the authority, which they should never have given away in the first place, to set a clear expectation of the kind of society and economy that they seek to build. The First Minister said much the same: that the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic must involve building a fairer, greener and more equal Scotland. If we are serious about making that happen, we must be clear that companies that have been organising their affairs in such a way as to minimise their contribution to those public provisions—our infrastructure, the rule of law, health, education and all those other public purposes on which they depend—should not expect to come cap in hand to the public purse.

Any of us who take a walk down any high street or through any shopping centre in Scotland can see companies—high street names—that have organised their affairs so as to hold intellectual property in companies that are registered in tax havens or which siphon off their own profits through tax havens. Many of those companies have a shocking track record, treating their employees badly with poverty wages and zero-hours contracts, and they have organised their affairs in a complex way in order to siphon their profits out of the reach of taxation and out of the country.

It is unacceptable, both for the interests of our economy and on a moral level, for those same companies to expect to gain the benefit of a public bailout paid for by the rest of us—by those of us who pay our taxes. I very much hope that the cross-party support that is being given to the principle of my amendment—restricting the bailout paid to those firms that are based in tax havens—will be given effect by an amendment to include that in the bill. Amendment 53 is an attempt to do that, using the European Union’s list of tax jurisdictions that are non-transparent, and it would allow the Scottish ministers to determine any others beyond those that are recognised by the EU.

I very much hope that my amendment will gain the support of all parties, in particular that of the Government—especially given the First Minister’s recent words in support of the general principle. If we believe in the principle, we should put it into the bill.

I move amendment 53.

Monica Lennon

Amendment 54, in the name of Neil Findlay, would essentially ensure that Scottish ministers cannot provide business support unless the business allows its employees to access union representation. Earlier today—much earlier—Neil Findlay talked about the vital role of trade unions in helping to keep people working, to keep services running and to keep citizens safe throughout this crisis.

Unions can carry out that role only if they can get into workplaces or if they can have access to employees in order to offer advice and support to their members and to work with employers. In their day-to-day role, trade unions work very closely and without rancour with employers, resolving workplace issues at source. In many areas of the economy and society, however, some employers do not allow trade unions access to workplaces so that they can speak to their members.

Like other members, I have been contacted by employees who have been worried about the safety of their workplaces during the current crisis, whether that was about PPE or safe physical distancing in the workplace. Many of them were frightened and asked for their names to be withheld when they got in touch. In too many of our workplaces, there is a climate of fear, which we need to address. Being represented and recognised by a trade union takes away some of that fear. Amendment 54 seeks to give unions the right to access the employees of companies who are contracted to do work that is paid for by the public purse. We believe that the amendment seeks to use public procurement policy to deliver the fair work agenda.

I remind members of my registered interests as a member of the GMB and Unite unions.

Amendment 55, which is also in the name of Neil Findlay, seeks to ensure that companies that are contracted to undertake work that is paid for by the public purse to deliver goods or services relating to the Covid-19 crisis pay at least the real living wage. That is a straightforward amendment that will lock in a key fair work principle. Neil Findlay tried to implement that change when the Parliament debated the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill, but the First Minister, who was leading the debate at the time, rejected the proposal. Neil Findlay asks the committee to support the proposal this time around.

For the record, I support Patrick Harvie’s amendment 53.

Stewart Stevenson

I am taken by the arguments that Patrick Harvie made in support of his amendment 53. However, I will speak mainly about Neil Findlay’s amendments, which I must say are the most poorly drafted amendments that have been before us today. As someone who was, in my 30 years as a software engineer, a member of a trade union, I should not be taken as having difficulties with trade unions that represent employees in the workplace.

The drafting of amendment 54 is so all-encompassing as to be absurd. It talks about “any function” and “any enactment” and goes on to state that

“The condition is that the business allows access to its employees for representatives of trade unions.”

The amendment would mean that a one-man taxi business in which the man who operates the taxi has a spouse or partner who answers the phone on his behalf, and is in a small way an employee, would be caught by the provision. That would not be proportionate or proper.

I know what Neil Findlay is trying to do, but amendment 54 is a million miles off, in drafting terms. I will not speak about the policy: I am sure that the cabinet secretary will do that.

In relation to the proposed living wage condition in amendment 55, the trouble is that I have no sense whatever what it means. Subsection (1) in the proposed new section talks about “a living wage”, and subsection (2) talks about “a living wage”, then later in the same sentence is mentioned “the living wage”. The interpretation subsection gives no link to any definition of “living wage” that is currently used, of which there are several. I am therefore left wondering what would be sufficient to ensure an acceptable standard of living in any particular context, because amendment 54 gives us absolutely no guidance on that. It could be argued that the amount should be thruppence an hour or something, which would, of course, be utterly unacceptable.

Amendments 54 and 55 are poorly drafted, so we simply cannot agree to them. I will let the cabinet secretary speak to the policy issues, rather than to the drafting.

Michael Russell

I also declare an interest as a member of a trade union. I remain a member of the University and College Union—[Temporary loss of sound.]—so, when it comes to my remarks about Neil Findlay’s amendments, I ask him to bear that in mind.

15:45  



I will start with Patrick Harvie’s amendment 53. We absolutely need to accept the principle of the amendment and are supportive of it. I want to make sure that it appears in the bill: that is where we are trying to get to.

It is wrong that businesses that engage in tax avoidance or evasion should be able to access any funding support packages at this time—or at any other time, in my view. It is essential that everyone pays their fair share of tax to fund the vital services and infrastructure that we are relying on now, more than ever. Those who do not do so should not be eligible for financial assistance from the taxpayer and the state.

Of course, we must get the provision right. The amendment that I hope we will eventually be able to include has to be right. It must not harm any innocent individual or business by refusing flexibility. We must also make sure that broadness in its scope does not put us in a difficult position in terms of eligibility.

I want to see such an amendment being made to the bill. I support the principle and, as Patrick Harvie said, the First Minister has been very clear that she does, too. I want an amendment to set up the core principle of fair tax, which will apply to all new grant applications to existing schemes. The amendment should make it clear that the company or entity recipient is carrying out business in Scotland. It should also refine the definition of “tax haven” to be more precise than the definition that Patrick Harvie has used.

If Patrick Harvie will accept our intention, I will be happy to help him to lodge, for stage 3, an amendment in his name that will do those things, and thereby allow the amendment the broadest possible support. Therefore, I will be grateful if he does not press amendment 53 today, so that tomorrow we can lodge an amendment that we can all be confident will do what he suggests, in the right way.

I will not comment on the drafting of amendments 54 and 55 from Neil Findlay, because Stewart Stevenson has done that. It is telling that Monica Lennon accepted that the second of the two had been moved before and was simply coming back; we have heard Mr Findlay argue for it before. On the first of the two amendments, I am not saying that I am against the trade union issue; we just know where Neil Findlay is coming from. Both amendments misrepresent what is currently happening. That is my strong objection to them.

Our fair work first approach already includes

“genuine workforce engagement such as trade union recognition”

as one of the five key criteria for accessing grants. That is what Mr Findlay wants with amendment 54, but it already exists. The criterion has been attached since April 2019 to business support grants that are awarded by Scottish Enterprise. From April 2020, it also applies to grants that are awarded to businesses by the other enterprise agencies. Grant applicants are expected to demonstrate their commitment to working towards that criterion.

The new pivotal enterprise resilience fund, and the creative or tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, which were introduced to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, specifically ask grant applicants to demonstrate a similar commitment.

Amendment 54 would add a level of complexity that would slow down the process, but for no benefit at all. In addition, the Scottish Government is clearly committed to promoting collective bargaining and is working with the Scottish Trades Union Congress to progress it in key sectors.

As Monica Lennon said, amendment 55 has been rejected before. Why was it rejected before? It was rejected because it had previously been established that public bodies cannot mandate payment of a living wage as part of the procurement process. We cannot will away that law: I wish that we could. There is a means through which to deal with that fact—Monica Lennon and Neil Findlay might want to address it—which is to have independence and so have all those powers in the Scottish Parliament.

It is not possible to reserve any element of the overall tender scores specifically to payment of the living wage. However, although the power to set the rate of the living wage is reserved to Westminster, we have used the levers that are at our disposal to address the living wage in procurement by issuing both statutory guidance and best-practice guidance for public bodies, on addressing fair work practices, including the living wage. That guidance applies to all regulated contracts, whether or not they are related to the coronavirus. Amendment 55, once again, attempts to assert something that is far from being fact.

In conclusion, I say that, if Patrick Harvie will not press amendment 53, I will work hard with him to develop an amendment that fulfils its principle and intention, which we entirely agree with. There are a myriad reasons why amendments 54 and 55 should not be supported by the committee.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. Patrick Harvie may wind up and press or seek to withdraw amendment 53.

Patrick Harvie

I admit that, when I asked the legislation team to come up with an amendment on the topic, my expectation was that the Government might say, “We’ll do this, but we don’t want to put it in legislation.” I am therefore pleased to hear that the cabinet secretary is willing to accept an amendment to establish the principle. That would be an important step forward in respect of how we treat tax avoidance in Scotland, and not just in relation to the current emergency. I hope that we will build on that principle for the future.

I am absolutely clear that I want the most workable amendment—I want something that is effective. If the Government is proposing to seek concrete ways to improve my amendment 53, I will be willing to seek the committee’s permission to withdraw it, and I will lodge another amendment. I hope that I can agree that amendment with the Government—but, come what may, I will lodge an amendment for stage 3. I hope that all the political parties will back it and put the principle in the bill. Many thousands of people in Scotland would expect nothing less of us than that we establish the principle and ensure that there is some meaning to the aspiration that the current crisis will allow the creation of a fairer and more equal Scotland.

Amendment 53, by agreement, withdrawn.

The Convener

Amendment 54, in the name of Neil Findlay, has been debated with amendment 53. I ask Monica Lennon to say whether she intends to move or not move amendment 54.

Monica Lennon

I wish to move amendment 54. Am I permitted to respond to what the cabinet secretary said?

The Convener

Yes—briefly, please.

Monica Lennon

I am disappointed by the approach that Stewart Stevenson and the cabinet secretary have taken. Neil Findlay has been consistent in his approach, and he can be proud of that approach. He is consistently on the side of workers in trying to promote the fair work agenda. He does not just talk up trade union rights; he actively tries to deliver them, and he would not make any apologies for that.

The drafting of amendments can always be improved. I would have preferred to have heard the cabinet secretary take that approach.

During the crisis, workers from the public sector, the third sector and the private sector have died. Others have become ill, and some have lost their incomes. We are raising the issues because they are really important, so I had hoped that we would receive a better response from the Government.

Today has not been a good day for trade unions or workers’ rights, in the light of some of the earlier amendments. If we had a fully operational FOI system, we might have heard who has been lobbying the Government and its party’s members on the amendments. Perhaps we will find that out in due course.

Amendment 54 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 54 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 54 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 55, in the name of Neil Findlay, has already been debated with amendment 53. I invite Monica Lennon to move or not move amendment 55.

Monica Lennon

I was not in Parliament for the debate that Neil Findlay made a note of and the cabinet secretary referred to. From memory, I think that the argument was that we could not do these things because we were part of the EU. We have all tried to avoid constitutional point scoring in these debates, but the cabinet secretary did invite me and Neil Findlay to support independence if we wanted to achieve this. I ask the cabinet secretary to go back and speak to his officials, to see what more can be done on this issue. It is not quite as he characterised it. We have raised the matter consistently because we strongly support the principle and I hope that we can do what is right for workers without point scoring.

Amendment 55 moved—[Monica Lennon].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 55 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)

Against

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 55 disagreed to.

Sections 7 to 12 agreed to.

After section 12

The Convener

Finally, we come to group 22, on reports by the Scottish ministers on coronavirus subordinate legislation. Amendment 56, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is the only amendment in the group.

Adam Tomkins

Amendment 56 is based on and seeks to give effect to a recommendation of the Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. Not all the secondary legislation that is in force in Scotland to deal with and respond to the coronavirus pandemic has been made under the emergency legislation that we have passed in the Scottish Parliament or that we have given consent to with respect to the UK Coronavirus Act 2020. That has the consequence that not all of the powers that ministers and other public authorities have to deal with the coronavirus are subject to the safeguards that we have carefully put in place in the UK’s and Scotland’s primary legislation.

There are two sets of safeguards that are particularly important and would always be important in any sort of emergency or expedited legislation that conferred extraordinary powers on ministers and other public authorities. Those powers need to be limited in time—which is to say subject to sunset provisions—and they need to be subject to strenuous, serious, regular and full reporting requirements.

All that my amendment seeks to do is extend the reporting requirements that already pertain to subordinate legislation that is made under legislation such as the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill to all secondary instruments that relate to the coronavirus pandemic.

16:00  



Yesterday, I corresponded with Mike Russell about my amendment. That correspondence records that the Scottish Government is happy to accept the spirit of amendment 56—it is happy to accept the amendment in principle—but that there are a number of drafting deficiencies in it that would need to be fixed to make it operable in the way that is intended by me and by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. Therefore, I do not intend to press amendment 56 at stage 2, on the assumption that the cabinet secretary is about to say that he will work with me overnight to ensure that a revised version of it can be lodged for stage 3 tomorrow.

I move amendment 56.

Michael Russell

I think that we can short-circuit matters quite effectively. I am grateful to Adam Tomkins for the discussion that we have had. I commend that approach, because it is a way to get progress on amendments. Those members who simply trog along with an amendment that might be fine from the point of view of the execution of the idea but not the execution of the policy should take a leaf out of the book of those members who work on amendments in an effort to get them right.

Amendment 56 is an important one, because the process is important. I have made a commitment to follow what the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee wants, but there is some detail that needs to be considered. For example, there are Scottish statutory instruments that are not the responsibility of the Scottish ministers, such as acts of sederunt and acts of adjournal. There are some SSIs that, even though dealing with the coronavirus is not their primary purpose, might contain elements that relate to the coronavirus, and we must be careful to ensure that we do not draw the provisions so wide that every piece of subordinate legislation that goes through will be dragged in.

I am happy to confirm what I said in my letter to Mr Tomkins. I think that we can get a version of his amendment that meets the requirements of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and of Mr Tomkins but that is also operable, so that we can have single, unified reporting process through which we can take matters forward. I have already written to the Presiding Officer, the Parliamentary Bureau and the convener about how we might advance the reporting process, and we can roll into that the detail that is in amendment 56.

I am happy to confirm that I will seek to work with Mr Tomkins to get an amendment that can be lodged for consideration at stage 3.

The Convener

I invite Adam Tomkins to wind up.

Adam Tomkins

I very much welcome what the cabinet secretary has just said and the spirit in which he has approached the matter throughout the legislative process. I thank him for that, and I look forward to working with him between now and stage 3, so that we can get this right.

I do not intend to press amendment 56.

Amendment 56, by agreement, withdrawn.

Sections 13 to 15 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

The Convener

That ends stage 2 consideration of the bill.

The bill will now be republished, as amended at stage 2—that will be done as soon as possible today—and emailed to members. Amendments may now be lodged with the clerks in the legislation team. We believe that the bureau will meet at 4.30, when it will determine a deadline for lodging stage 3 amendments. I am sure that an announcement will be made immediately thereafter.

I thank all members for their contributions in what has been a very long meeting. I also thank Jim Johnston and our team of clerks for all their assistance, and broadcasting for what was, on the whole, a flawless performance. Thank you, everybody, and have a good afternoon.

Meeting closed at 16:04.  



Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) 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 an Act.

Scottish Parliament briefing for Stage 3

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.

The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.

The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

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 group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

Debate on the proposed amendments

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

Documents with the amendments considered at the meeting held on 20 May 2020:

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

Debate on proposed amendments transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill.

In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2, the marshalled list of amendments and the groupings of amendments.

I draw members’ attention to the fact that there is an error in amendment 18. It should relate to page 9 of the bill and not page 8. That should be in members’ notes.

I remind members that the division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes for the first division of the afternoon. The period of voting for the first division will be 30 seconds. Thereafter, there will be a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate. Members who wish to speak in the debate on a group of amendments should press their request-to-speak button as soon as possible after I call the group.

As well as observing social distancing at all times, members should know that we are not able to pass around notes or messages. We do not have the usual facility to ask our staff to pass notes to and from the chair or the business team. Any member who has a query, question or message that they wish to pass forward should use their device and email the business team.

Section 6—Advancement of equality and non-discrimination

The Presiding Officer

Group 1 is on the advancement of equality and non-discrimination. Amendment 1, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is the only amendment in the group. Michael Russell will speak to and move amendment 1.

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

I will move the amendment, but I will not speak to it. I—

The Presiding Officer

That is not a very good note to start on. Oh—I am sorry, cabinet secretary; you were asking Jenny Gilruth to speak to the amendment.

Michael Russell

I hope to become clearer as the afternoon wears on. The point that I was making is that Jenny Gilruth will speak to the amendment.

The Presiding Officer

My apologies for misunderstanding you.

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

For clarification, I am not Mike Russell.

I thank Mark Griffin for raising an important issue in the stage 2 deliberations yesterday. The Government agrees that, with the public being asked to do extraordinary and difficult things, the importance of

“communicating in an inclusive way”

what is being asked of them and, of course, what is changing has never been more vital. In recent days, we have seen examples of that through the use of British Sign Language provision in the First Minister’s briefings. A clarificatory amendment to amend the new duty in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and to include a definition of “inclusive communication” has been lodged. I urge members to agree to the amendment.

I move amendment 1.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

After section 6

The Presiding Officer

Group 2 is on conditions on support to business. Amendment 2, in the name of Neil Findlay, is grouped with amendments 3, 93 and 94.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

Amendment 2 recognises that trade unions have played a vital role in helping to keep people working, services running and citizens safe throughout the crisis. They can carry out that role only if they can get access to workplaces to offer advice and support to members and work with employers.

In their day-to-day role, trade unions work very closely, and without rancour, with most employers, resolving workplace issues at source. In many areas of the economy and society, employers sadly do not allow trade unions to access workplaces so that they can speak to their members. Many of us will have been contacted by staff members across various sectors who are worried about the safety of their workplace. The first thing that all those people will say in their conversations with us is, “Please do not give my name,” because there is, too often, a climate of fear within the workplace. Being represented and recognised by a union takes away some of that fear and gives workers a voice in their places of work.

Amendment 2 seeks to give unions right of access so that they can speak to employees of companies who are contracted to do work that is paid for by the public purse—it is nothing more than the basic right to go into workplaces and speak to people. I have to tell you that this is not the revolution—that can wait for another day. It is simply the basic right for unions to go into workplaces and speak to people about their welfare, wellbeing and employment. Members should remember that the work is being paid for by the public purse, with taxpayers’ money.

The Scottish Labour Party seeks to use public procurement policy to deliver on the fair work agenda. Amendment 2 is supported by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the GMB, Unite the union, Unison and all the major trade unions. I hope that members will support that basic right.

Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that employees of companies that are contracted to do work that is paid for by the public purse to deliver goods or services during the Covid-19 crisis are paid at least the real living wage. The amendment is straightforward and it will lock in a key fair work principle. I previously tried to implement that change when the Parliament debated the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, but at the time, the lead minister, who is now the First Minister, rejected it, saying that that was because of European Union procurement law. We are now told that we can implement that change and that the Government claims to be doing that in the social care sector. If it can be done in social care, it can also be done in other areas of the economy. However, I have to question whether it is, indeed, being done in the social care sector, because if anyone looks at vacancies for cleaners, carers, drivers and caretakers on the websites of many companies that are delivering public contracts funded by the taxpayer, they will see that many of those jobs are advertised at rates of pay that are below the living wage.

The guidance that the minister referred to at stage 2 is being ignored—and regularly. That is why the unions support my amendment. Even though they are part of the fair work agreement with the Scottish Government, they are fully behind the measure. I hope that the Parliament will support amendment 3 at decision time.

I move amendment 2.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I draw members’ attention to the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a member of the Poverty Alliance and an associate member of the National Union of Journalists, which is relevant to group 2 and to later groups of amendments.

As I said during the discussions at stage 2, I support Neil Findlay’s amendments in the group, as they add important measures to the bill, and I hope that all members will support them.

At stage 2, I lodged an amendment that addressed the provision of business support in a range of forms to firms that are based in tax havens. The Scottish Green Party has been campaigning on that in the past fortnight. Since we established an online petition, over 7,000 people in Scotland have added their names, calling for that important restriction, which has already been adopted by Governments in Denmark, France and Wales, among other places. We know not only that there is a groundswell of support but that it can be achieved within devolved competence, given that Wales has already done it.

I lodged my amendment to introduce that measure through the bill and, I have to confess, I expected that the Scottish Government would say, “We will try to find a way to do that, but not in the bill.” I was pleased that Michael Russell agreed that the measure should be included through an amendment to the bill, although he persuaded me that some aspects of my amendment would have risked rendering it beyond the scope of devolved powers.

It is an important point of principle that we are able to add problematic tax jurisdictions beyond those that are on the European Union’s list. My amendment would have enabled us to do that, but that option—that flexibility—could have risked the whole amendment being incompetent, so I have accepted that we cannot do that now. We will have to build on that case, to ensure that all problematic tax jurisdictions—all tax havens—are restricted from receiving taxpayer-funded support.

The cabinet secretary also said during the stage 2 debate that he thought that that measure should apply to coronavirus-related support as well as to support that is given for other purposes, and I agree with him on that.

It is important that we worked together, because now we have an amendment that I believe the Government will support and because the opportunity to address this injustice has to be taken.

If any of us walks up and down the high street or into a shopping centre in Scotland, we will see high street names that have arranged their tax affairs to hide their wealth through tax havens. That wealth was generated by their workers, who were often on poverty wages and zero-hour contracts. They are hiding that wealth from taxation, and that legal tax avoidance is one of the principal sources of inequality and economic injustice.

Neil Findlay

Will the member give way?

Patrick Harvie

I will in a moment. We should be shutting down that legal tax avoidance. In the meantime, we should certainly be saying that there is no coronavirus bailout for firms that use tax havens.

Neil Findlay

I agree with everything that Patrick Harvie has said. I just find it depressing that we could have introduced the measure in 2014, when I lodged a similar amendment to the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill but the First Minister opposed it. I am glad that she has had a bit of an epiphany.

Patrick Harvie

I would like to think that what is happening in these extraordinary times is going to be the catalyst for a great deal of change. All economic activity that is still happening is now clearly dependent on state intervention and public money. I think it always was. Private sector economic activity always was dependent on the things that we pay for and provide for collectively in society: infrastructure, education, healthcare and the rule of law. Those things are provided collectively, and the private sector depends on them. It is unconscionable to say that businesses should receive a public sector bailout if they have been arranging their affairs so as to minimise their contribution to those public goods.

This is a time when Governments around the world need to be retaking what they should never have given away: the authority to direct the shape of the economy in a way that meets the public interest. This is one small step in that direction, and we will continue to build on it.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I was going to start my comments by saying that I agree with Patrick Harvie, but he rather spoiled it with the nonsense that he came out with at the end of his contribution.

It is not true at all to say that all economic activity is propped up by the state at the moment. Huge sectors of the economy are still operating—for example, the production and sale of food, DIY shops and the finance sector. Huge sectors of the economy continue to operate as they did before.

Mr Harvie and I should not fall out, though, because I agree with him on the principle. I agree that companies that are not paying tax have got an impertinence to expect the taxpayer to support them if they fall on hard times, as we are now seeing. I do not at all dispute the principle of what Mr Harvie is trying to achieve with amendment 93.

However, there are issues with the wording of the amendment. Perhaps Mr Harvie, as he winds up, or the cabinet secretary or the minister in their contributions, can assist with what the amendment is proposing. My colleagues in local government have raised concerns about the wording of what is being proposed in both amendment 93 and amendment 94.

Amendment 93 states that grants should not be paid to persons—or, presumably, companies—that are

“based in a tax haven”

or that are

“the subsidiary of a person based in a tax haven”

or that have

“a subsidiary based in a tax haven”

or are

“party to an arrangement under which any ... profits are subject to the tax regime of a tax haven”.

14:45  



The difficulty with that is that many of the grants that we are talking about are administered by local authorities. How do we expect the officers in a local authority who receive an application from a body with an address in the local area to be able to make that assessment of all those detailed matters? How will that information be made available to them in the short space of time that they might have in which to deal with an application?

The problem is even more acute when it comes to amendment 94, because those tests will have to be met as well as further tests about whether that person’s company has adopted country-by-country reporting of financial, economic and tax-related information for each jurisdiction in which it operates. How a local authority finance department is meant to have access to that information is beyond me. Perhaps the cabinet secretary can give us some comfort on these issues.

Patrick Harvie

Will the member take an intervention?

Murdo Fraser

I will.

Patrick Harvie

I am grateful to Murdo Fraser for giving way. I was so excited by making wider points that I knew would annoy him at the end of my speech that I forgot to mention amendment 94, which is quite separate. I have agreed amendment 93 with the Scottish Government. I hope that it will support amendment 94, but I have no idea whether it intends to.

It seems entirely reasonable and consistent with the principles set out by tax justice campaigners in Scotland, the UK and around the world that we should have transparent reporting by multinationals. The alternative is that we continue with the status quo. Does Murdo Fraser have anything to suggest about how multinationals that jump through these loopholes can be held to account so that the economic activity that they generate can benefit the public purse rather than just their own shareholders?

Murdo Fraser

Mr Harvie is trying his best to fall out with us. I would have thought that he would try to get our support for his amendments rather than thrust us away. He talks about multinationals, but the problem is that we might be talking about any small business on any high street in this country that the local authority would have to assess to see whether it met this incredibly complex test or whether it adopted country-by-country reporting of financial, economic and tax-related information.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Will the member take an intervention?

Murdo Fraser

I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention.

The minister or Mr Harvie can reply when they are winding up. I just do not see how that is achievable from a practical point of view, but I am open to persuasion.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Labour will support amendments 93 and 94, in the name of Patrick Harvie. It is entirely reasonable to take that approach. I suggest that the public will ask why on earth we would give handouts to anybody who refuses to pay their taxes in this country and hides their wealth offshore.

Neil Findlay talked about using the procurement system. Every member must be aware of how worrying and difficult it is for workers at this time. People are worried sick about going to back to their employment if it is not safe. There is a lot more in the bill to address that, but the very idea that the Government would hand over taxpayers’ money to companies by procuring services from those companies without insisting on the basic right of every individual in Scotland to be a member of a trade union and on the ability of trade unions to access employees in the workplace is ludicrous. I could understand the Tories not supporting trades unions having access, but most people would be surprised by Scottish National Party members lining up and voting with the Tories against giving trades unions access to workplaces. I hope that those members will think about that and support the amendments in the name of Neil Findlay.

Michael Russell

I will address all the amendments in the group, but I will start by repeating something that the First Minister said at First Minister’s question time, which was that to oppose an amendment does not mean opposing the desired outcome of that amendment or its principle. It means opposing amendments that are badly drafted or lodged for reasons that are entirely to do with playing to the gallery and have nothing to do with achieving a result.

I make that point because there is a clear way of taking emergency legislation through that gets the best out of the Parliament, which is to work with the Government to do so. There are notable examples across the chamber of how that has worked on this occasion. I am glad to say that, later, we will recommend support for Monica Lennon’s amendment, which we rejected yesterday. I understand that Monica Lennon reached out to the cabinet secretary and that they had a constructive conversation about how it might go forward. I hope that that will be an example to other members of her party. I am sure that this is not good for her political career, but I will be nice to her about it.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary is making me blush.

Michael Russell

I do not want to do that; if it makes anyone blush, I am about to make Mr Tomkins blush, too. That may be a harder and less desirable task.

I simply want to make the point that, in relation to a number of amendments, we have been able to constructively discuss how we should move forward. The amendment on marriage is one example, and there are others.

The way not to do it is to come along with something that, as in the case of one of Neil Findlay’s amendments, you have proposed several times before, in other circumstances, and say, “There it is, take it or leave it—and, if you do not support it, you are the epitome of what we are opposing. You are the devil incarnate.”

Neil Findlay

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Michael Russell

No, I will not take an intervention. [Interruption.] The other reason why I will not take an intervention is that everything that Mr Findlay has said this afternoon, he said at stage 2—every single thing. There is an issue about members coming back to the chamber with a slightly altered amendment and simply repeating themselves.

I have to say that Mr Findlay’s two amendments are not the way to take forward emergency legislation. I do not oppose trade union involvement and I do not oppose trade union membership—indeed, I am a member of a trade union myself. However, I oppose the assumption that, if you not do support Mr Findlay, you are opposed to trade unions. That is not true and I will not allow it to be said to be true.

Let us now deal with the substance of the amendments. Mr Findlay knows this, because I told him yesterday—it is either that or his attention span is very short, indeed—[Interruption.] Well, people who know Mr Findlay better than I do will have to make a judgment on that issue. He was told yesterday that genuine workforce engagement, such as trade union recognition, is one of the five key criteria for accessing grants. It has been attached to business support grants that are awarded by Scottish Enterprise since April 2019, and from April 2020 it also applies to grants that are awarded to businesses by the other enterprise agencies.

In addition to that, the new pivotal enterprise resilience fund and the creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, which have been introduced specifically to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19, ask grant applicants to demonstrate similar commitment. There is therefore no intention of excluding unions. It is quite the reverse—the conditions indicate that they should be there.

Mr Findlay knows that that is the case and he is back here again not because he assumes that the amendment will be agreed to but because he can virtuously wave and say, “Look at what the bad people have done to me.” That is in fact also true of his second amendment. The second one is perhaps almost worse, because with it he is lodging an amendment that is not just from yesterday but, by his own admission, six years old. Nonetheless, he is bringing it back yet again in circumstances in which he knows it would be impossible to put it in place. We will hear other impossibilist demands later this afternoon, which I shall address in those terms.

Mr Findlay knows that the legal position remains as it was at the time that this was considered for the purpose of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. The power to set the rate of a living wage is reserved to Westminster. I would much rather that Westminster was not involved, but it is. The Scottish Government will, however, use the levers at its disposal to address the living wage and procurement. We have issued both statutory guidance and best-practice guidance to public bodies on addressing fair work practices, including the living wage and procurement. That guidance applies to all regulated contracts, whether relating to coronavirus or not.

Both of Neil Findlay’s amendments are therefore a chimera and they should not be considered seriously. I want to make sure that there is as much consultation with trade unions as possible. I have been a member of a trade union for all my working life and I will not be lectured to by Neil Findlay on what he thinks I should be measuring up to. [Interruption.]

Let me now turn to something more constructive. I thank Mr Harvie for lodging something more constructive and for doing what I have been talking about. Mr Harvie came to this debate and to this bill with a proposal that he wished to see on the face of the bill. There has been a constructive discussion about that proposal and the Government will accept amendment 93. We will not accept amendment 94, as we think that to do so creates difficulty, but we have worked together on amendment 93 and it does what the people of Scotland want us to do.

I do not believe that the difficulties for local authorities would be insurmountable in any sense. Grant conditions are applied presently to all those who apply to local authorities. They are easily met and there is a process of discussion and debate for those who cannot meet them. All MSPs know that we get that from constituents all the time, and that is where we would be.

I think that amendment 93 is proportionate and simple and says something that the people of Scotland believe to be true. Moreover, it has been the result of the type of discussion and consultation that means that it is possible for the Government to work with an Opposition party to make progress on something important, and I thank Mr Harvie for that.

I am sorry that I cannot move further with regard to amendment 94, but I will encourage the chamber to support amendment 93. Having heard Mr Fraser say that he believes in the principle of it, I am sure that he will also remember the Westminster maxim that the vote follows the voice, and that he will support the amendment.

Neil Findlay

I see that the cabinet secretary has lost none of his charm, because when he—[Laughter.] Did Mr Russell say “buffoon”? If he wants to say something, he should get to his feet and I will take an intervention, unlike he did.

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

Neil Findlay

The cabinet secretary resorts to—

The Presiding Officer

One second, Mr Findlay. The contributions across the chamber are in danger of descending into personal remarks and insults. I was going to interrupt the cabinet secretary, who was also in danger of doing that. I warn Mr Findlay to continue with winding up his remarks rather than winding up the chamber.

Neil Findlay

The Presiding Officer might be a bit late with that intervention.

It is interesting that Mr Russell remarked that I made no effort to reach out. We had one day to get these amendments in place. There was not a single effort by the Government to contact me on any issue bar one. Jenny Gilruth phoned me about freedom of information and said that she would phone me back—I still await that call.

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

It was at half past 5.

Neil Findlay

The minister said that she would call me back the following day, and there was no phone call whatsoever—no effort. Mr Russell made no effort to engage on any of the issues and never came near us.

Let me tell the chamber why no effort was made: the Government had already cut a deal with Mr Tomkins, Murdo Fraser and the Tories behind the scenes that, in return for some concession on FOI, a yellow-blue alliance would defeat any progressive move in the bill. That is the reality of the new coalition, or maybe of an old coalition that is back together.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Mr Findlay is not addressing the amendment that we are to vote on at this time.

The Presiding Officer

I think that Mr Findlay is addressing it and is putting forward his argument.

Sandra White

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Mr Findlay is talking about FOI. This discussion is not about FOI but about “Regulated procurement: living wage condition” and Mr Findlay’s amendments 2 and 3. FOI will come later.

The Presiding Officer

I know the point and will be careful to ensure that members speak to the amendment that is in front of them. In the current situation, several arguments were put to Mr Findlay that he was taking a political stance and he is responding by suggesting that the other parties have taken such a stance. He is absolutely at liberty to make that argument in his winding up.

Neil Findlay

I was unaware that Sandra White was suddenly the Presiding Officer of the Parliament. God forbid that anyone in a Parliament should take a political stance on anything—that would be a novel idea.

The cabinet secretary has said that I believe that it is terrible if people do not support me—he personalised it—and that I will attack them. This has nothing to do with me; it is to do with the issue that is before us today, which is justice for workers in a difficult situation.

The cabinet secretary says that we cannot put something down, get it defeated and bring it back again. I wonder when he will apply that to his plan for independence. That is what he does, Presiding Officer.

I know who will judge today’s proceedings—the workers in care homes and key sectors of our society who, across the piece, have kept us going in this pandemic. They will watch today’s proceedings in Parliament with dismay. I will press amendment 2.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 2 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division. I will suspend Parliament for five minutes in order to call members to the chamber.

15:00 Meeting suspended.  



15:05 On resuming—  



The Presiding Officer

We move to the division on amendment 2.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 2 disagreed to.

Amendment 3 moved—[Neil Findlay].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 3 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 3 disagreed to.

After section 12

The Presiding Officer

Group 3 is on information about domestic abuse. Amendment 4, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is the only amendment in the group.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I sincerely thank the Scottish ministers for supporting my amendment. There is a joint concern about the reporting of domestic abuse during the lockdown, which has become rather alarming recently. It is not just a Scottish phenomenon: unfortunately, the statistics apply across the world.

Amendment 4 removes the term “domestic violence” and replaces it with “domestic abuse” to better reflect the modern term that has developed through the Government’s legislation. It places a duty on ministers in undertaking reviews under section 12(1)(a) and reporting each review under section 12(1)(b) to take into account available information from Police Scotland about

“the nature and the number of incidents of domestic abuse during each reporting period”.

The bill provides that those reviews should take place every two months, with the first review taking place on 31 July.

The focus of the review would be to determine whether the provisions of part 1 remain necessary. Amendment 4 requires ministers to factor in information relating to domestic abuse where it is relevant—for example, if there is a change to

“the nature and number of incidents of domestic abuse”

during the lockdown period, which may affect the assessment of, or the need to modify, the terms of a criminal justice undertaking.

Members will know that undertaking conditions are particularly useful in protecting complainers in such cases. The information to be taken into account is information that is received by Scottish ministers from Police Scotland or placed in the public domain by the police. It is important to note that there is no duty to provide specific information, but I believe that the available data will be more meaningful and will help inform our approach to domestic abuse rather than there being a requirement for data to be requested each time that ministers exercise their powers under the legislation.

Again, I thank the Government and I move amendment 4.

Sandra White

I support Pauline McNeill’s amendment. I acknowledge that the terminology is “domestic abuse”, although I have always thought that any form of abuse is a crime; however, I understand why the term is used in amendment 4.

I remind members—and others—that there are people suffering who are in lockdown with a violent partner. Abuse can be not just physical, but mental. I thank Pauline McNeill for amendment 4.

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Pauline McNeill for bringing her amendment back at stage 3, and Sandra White for her invaluable comments.

It is a Scottish Government priority that victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence get the support that they need during these challenging times, and are kept safe from harm.

Earlier this month, we published guidance on domestic abuse to support the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, so as to ensure that anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse, or any form of harm, is in no doubt that they may leave home to seek help or support from services, family or friends; to report it to the police; or to take measures to stay safe.

We entirely support the aim of Ms McNeill’s amendment, and I ask members to support it.

The Presiding Officer

I call Pauline McNeill to make concluding remarks, if she wishes.

Pauline McNeill

I have nothing further to add.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Group 4 deals with reports by Scottish ministers on coronavirus-related instruments. Amendment 5, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is the only amendment in the group.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Amendment 5, which is based on a recommendation by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, has been prepared with the help and support of the cabinet secretary and his officials, for which I thank them.

The purpose of the amendment is to improve, strengthen and extend the safeguards that the Parliament has very carefully put in place, which govern—and are needed to govern—the exercise by ministers and public authorities of emergency powers. Those powers have been legislated for only because they are necessary. They are subject to sunset provisions—in the bill, in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 that we passed last month, and in the United Kingdom Coronavirus Act 2020, to which the Parliament gave legislative consent in March.

There are serious requirements on ministers to report regularly and frequently to the Parliament on the use of the powers that have been conferred upon them. However, in its recent work, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee identified that not all secondary instruments that have been made in the name of the coronavirus, or relating to it, have been made under either the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 or the UK Coronavirus Act 2020—so, strictly speaking, the reporting requirements do not apply to that broad range of delegated legislation.

The DPLR Committee recommended that we should extend the reporting requirements on ministers, so that the Parliament is informed regularly of the exercise of powers not only through the statutory instruments that are made under the emergency legislation, but through those that are made, with regard to coronavirus, under more general legislation. I lodged an amendment for the COVID-19 Committee’s consideration yesterday at stage 2. The cabinet secretary agreed with the principle, and now agrees with the detail.

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his support, and I hope that I have done justice quickly to the matters that the amendment addresses.

Michael Russell

Presiding Officer, I have written to you, to business managers, and to the conveners of the COVID-19 Committee and the DPLR Committee, setting out the approach that the Government intends to take to fulfilling the reporting commitments that we entered into during the passage of the legislative consent motion and then the first bill. I am glad to have done so. We need to ensure full and proper parliamentary scrutiny of how we are using the powers, and to make sure that we do not use them for a moment longer than is needed. We have a commitment to transparency and scrutiny, and a mechanism for taking that forward.

At stage 2, Adam Tomkins lodged an amendment that would have gone a bit further by requiring a report on all Scottish statutory instruments that were made for a reason that related to coronavirus. As he said, he was echoing the views of the DPLR Committee. There were difficulties with Mr Tomkins’s amendment. It referred to all Scottish statutory instruments, but there are categories of SSI that are not the responsibility of the Scottish ministers, such as acts of sederunt and acts of adjournal. Therefore, the requirement to report on all SSIs that were made for any reason relating to coronavirus, even if that was not the primary purpose of the instrument, would have required ministers to determine whether it was appropriate for instruments to remain in force and would have spread a very wide net.

15:15  



It was widely agreed, therefore—and I am grateful to Mr Tomkins for his agreement—that we should focus on statutory instruments that have come forward as a result of the legislation that we made here and the legislative consent motion, and that we should include instruments that are made with the intention of dealing with the pandemic, as the DPLR Committee wanted us to do, rather than drag everything into the net, because there are instruments for which we are not responsible and which we do not make.

Amendment 5 fulfils those requirements. I am happy to support it and I recommend that the Parliament agrees to it. Then we can get on with the process of reporting, which will have to start very soon, because the legislation that we passed at the beginning of April requires us to make the first reports to the end of May and, subject to the Parliamentary Bureau, it is my intention to start the process in the second sitting week of June, with a statement to the Parliament on 9 June, a report at that stage, and the COVID-19 Committee moving ahead in the way that we have suggested—but the final decision on that will be for the bureau.

Amendment 5 agreed to.

Schedule 1—Protection of the individual

The Presiding Officer

Group 5 is on housing and tenancies. Amendment 6, in the name of Graham Simpson, is grouped with amendments 7 to 14 and 91.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Much of this group is very similar to what was presented to the committee yesterday—that seems to be a bit of a running theme today.

I have lodged amendments that deal with student housing, which I talked about yesterday, and I worked with Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, to tidy up the amendments that we considered yesterday, following Mr Russell’s advice.

Amendments 6 to 8 would merely tidy up the bill to make clearer which students can give seven days’ notice. The bill as drafted provides that someone who signs a lease for the next academic year during the pandemic, knowing the risk, can give seven days’ notice to get out of the lease. Amendments 6 to 8 would remove that provision and are backed by Universities Scotland and the Scottish Property Federation.

Amendment 91 relates to the council tax relief that is available to student housing providers. Again, I am grateful to Mr Stewart for working with me on the amendment. Dwellings that are occupied by students—and some other people—are normally exempt from council tax under paragraphs 10 and 12 of schedule 1 to the Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997, which are referred to in amendment 91. When such a dwelling becomes empty, it usually qualifies for empty property relief for six months if it is unfurnished and unoccupied; if it is furnished and unoccupied it usually qualifies for relief for up to four months, under paragraph 11 of that schedule.

Amendment 91 would add a further relief: if a dwelling that has been exempt under paragraph 10 or 12 becomes unoccupied for a reason related to coronavirus on or after 17 March this year, it will be exempt from council tax, whether or not it is furnished.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I seek clarity. In relation to paragraphs 10 and 12, do the purposes of amendment 91 include the purpose of exempting the providers of big blocks of private student accommodation from having to pay council tax after four months? Is that the intention?

Graham Simpson

The intention is for amendment 91 to relate to dedicated blocks of student housing; the member is absolutely right.

With the exemption of amendment 9, in the name of Mike Russell, the other amendments in the group look familiar, because yesterday the committee debated and rejected amendments that were almost exactly the same.

Amendment 9 appears to be eminently sensible. It injects a pre-eviction phase into proceedings, in which landlords should talk to tenants. In reality, that should happen anyway. We will support what could be called the “It’s good to talk” amendment.

The content of amendment 10, in the name of Pauline McNeill, was debated and rejected yesterday. Creating a rent support fund for tenants sounds good, but it is not required as enough support is already available.

Andy Wightman has slightly tweaked the amendments that we debated yesterday. His rent freeze proposal now exempts the social housing sector—no doubt much to its relief. Therefore, he is directing his fire solely at the private rented sector that he so admires.

Andy Wightman’s amendment 11 contains the interesting proposed new subsection (2)(b)(1A), which appears to bar any new rent taking effect—presumably, it will bar even a rent reduction, which, as I pointed out yesterday, has happened in a number of cases in which landlords and tenants have talked with one another.

Andy Wightman

I gently point out that Graham Simpson is not correct in that regard. The provision in that proposed new subsection that

“The landlord may not serve on the tenant a notice proposing a new rent”

would be an addition to section 24 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1998, which is a provision about securing an increase in rent.

Graham Simpson

I stand corrected on that, and I apologise to Andy Wightman. However, that does not change the fact that he wants a rent freeze. Furthermore, the proposed freeze on increasing rent for two years could lead to landlords leaving the sector, leading to fewer rental properties. That would not be good.

Andy Wightman’s other amendments are about grounds for eviction. We dealt with that in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, so the provisions are not needed. Extending the period in which landlords cannot take eviction procedures led to the landlord loan fund, which is designed to prevent rent hikes in the medium term. Amendment 14 mentions the fund. All loans, including that one to landlords, must be repaid. Rent has to be repaid. We cannot send out a signal that it is okay for people not to pay their rent, and that, in essence, is what Andy Wightman’s amendments would achieve.

We reject all the amendments in this group, apart from my amendment 8 and Michael Russell’s amendment 9.

I move amendment 6.

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

Graham Simpson has explained his amendments 6 to 8 and 91, so I will keep my comments brief. The amendments deal with issues that he raised during stage 2. If they are passed, properties normally occupied by students that are exempt from paying council tax, which are or have been unoccupied since 17 March for a reason related to the coronavirus, will continue to be exempt from council tax while unoccupied. The measure would be in place for the duration of the legislation.

As the Government indicated during stage 2, we support the principles behind what Graham Simpson is seeking to achieve, we have worked with him on the amendments and we are content to support them all.

I turn to amendment 9. During yesterday’s meeting, I said that I would introduce such an amendment, to recognise the need to ensure that we protect tenants who find themselves in rent arrears during the pandemic. The amendment gives ministers a new regulation-making power to create private landlord pre-action protocols. The regulations will be used to specify actions to be taken by landlords to support their tenant when seeking to end their tenancy on the basis of rent arrears.

The amendment also means that the housing and property chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland must take account of the

“extent to which the landlord has complied with pre-action requirements”

before making an application to the tribunal when determining whether to grant an eviction order.

Andy Wightman

Will the minister clarify whether the provisions in amendment 9 will last only as long as the emergency legislation lasts?

Kevin Stewart

We will look at that carefully as we move forward. We already have pre-action protocols in the social housing sector, and I think that we could have those permanently in the private sector.

To ensure that the regulations will be effective and workable, we will work with stakeholders—including Mr Wightman, and representatives of landlords and tenants—to develop them. They will also be subject to Scottish Parliament scrutiny and approval through the affirmative procedure.

I turn to the amendments in the group that were lodged by other members. We all know that the wider impacts of Covid-19 are increasing pressures on households and leading to great financial hardship, including some folk having difficulties in paying their rent. Many more people will now be on benefits for the first time and will be subject to the UK Government’s benefit cap. Others will have seen their household incomes decrease substantially, which might lead to their having difficulty in paying rent.

We have therefore been looking at ways in which to support people during the crisis. I am pleased to announce that we are increasing the amount that we are making available for the other discretionary housing payments—DHPs—that are available outside our full mitigation of the bedroom tax. We will increase that amount by a further £5 million, to more than £16 million, which will support tenants who are now under severe financial pressures in situations in which the UK Government’s welfare state is not providing the safety net that it should.

I am on the side of tenants. The Scottish Government had already increased DHPs to a record level and brought forward protections from eviction. It was also we who introduced a £350 million wellbeing fund to support people during these difficult times, which is £200 million more than the consequentials that we received from the UK Government. That support more than doubles the Scottish welfare fund that can be accessed by those on low incomes. The Scottish Government is working with landlords to ensure that they take steps to support tenants who face financial difficulties and is providing funding to the advice sector to help people who are currently in difficulty. The Scottish Government has consistently and constantly called for this Parliament to be granted powers over the welfare state, which remains inadequate to support people. The powers on income repayment benefits are still not in our hands, though—I wish that they were. If people want us to be able to take further action, they should back our having the full powers to do so.

I should say that lodging amendments without consultation or thought for their impact or how they might work in practice is not the way to support tenants across Scotland—or, indeed, social landlords, who have been very vocal in their criticism of them by saying how unhelpful they are. As the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has pointed out, if we had passed some of the amendments that were debated yesterday, they would have had not only a grave effect on social landlords but a major impact on tenants and communities. That is why it is unwise to lodge such amendments without consultation.

Alex Rowley

Given that we know that we will face a serious economic crisis as we move forward, is the minister willing to look at these amendments and at how we might protect people in the future? Otherwise, we could end up with lots of people being evicted because they are out of work.

Kevin Stewart

I am always more than willing to help folk who need the most help. The most vulnerable people in our society should be supported. It would be easier for us to do so if we had full control of the benefits system. I have already announced additional money for DHPs. We will continue to talk to the sector about what is going on out there and what support is actually required.

As Mr Rowley can probably well imagine, I have spent a huge amount of time in recent weeks talking to the sector about how we can approach difficulties in the future.

15:30  



Earlier, during First Minister’s question time, Patrick Harvie pointed out that we have made major inroads in terms of tackling homelessness during the pandemic period, and I certainly do not want to go back to a situation in which folks are back on the streets and there is increased homelessness. To avoid that, we all need to work together to provide solutions that work for people and for the sector, particularly the registered social landlords and the local authorities, who were also not particularly in favour of the amendments that we are discussing.

Beyond that, the chamber should recognise that, as well as bringing in the no-eviction proceedings for six months, the Parliament has the ability to extend that for a further six months and then a further six months after that. In order to protect people, that is something that we might have to move to do.

Patrick Harvie

I would not want the minister to be left with a misunderstanding of the point that I was making during First Minister’s question time. Some temporary steps have been made in relation to the private rented sector and there has also been improvement in terms of the immediate temporary accommodation for people who have been homeless, as well as the ending of unsuitable accommodation. However, there are profound long-term challenges around trying to ensure that a far-worse problem does not arise as a result of the pandemic. The director of Shelter Scotland said:

“It’s hard to see now what is going to prevent a tidal wave of evictions sweeping people into homelessness services”.

I note that that comment was made after the Government blocked some of the amendments that we moved yesterday.

Kevin Stewart

I can assure Mr Harvie that the Government is in constant communication with people across the sector. We are looking now at how we can move forward after the emergency period. We want to ensure that we safeguard people in their homes and make them as secure as possible. We will continue to have those discussions and continue to take action, if required, to ensure that people are safe and secure. However, what I cannot do—what this Government cannot do—is pass amendments that have huge unintended consequences, as has been pointed out, particularly by the registered social landlord sector. That does no one any good whatsoever, and that is why, in all of this, there needs to be discussion around what can be achieved to protect people.

Mr Wightman’s amendments are much the same as those that he lodged at stage 2, and my arguments remain much the same. I will address them in turn but, first, I will deal with Pauline McNeill’s amendment 10. I reiterate that we want to do our level best for tenants and ensure that people who are facing financial difficulties leading to rent arrears are supported to access all the help and advice that is available, and we have made clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus. We expect landlords to be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship and to signpost them to the sources of financial support that are available, and we believe that that approach provides the right support, balancing the needs of tenants and the ability of landlords to support them. I cannot support amendment 10, but I am more than willing to continue to discuss these matters with Pauline McNeill, who I know has a real interest in them, and ensure that we do our level best to make sure that the system is working in the right way for the most vulnerable people.

Amendment 11 would prevent landlords in the private rented sector from being able to increase rent for a two-year period from the day that the bill comes into force. As I made clear yesterday, the amendment takes into account neither landlords’ nor tenants’ individual circumstances, including their financial circumstances. Neither does it consider the different impacts that the coronavirus outbreak is having on various sections of the population or the country as a whole.

Legislation is already in place that provides stability to tenants in the private rented sector. Under that legislation, rents can be increased only once a year, and three months’ notice has to be given. If a tenant is waiting for financial support such as universal credit, action cannot be taken. In addition, tenants have the right to challenge any unfair rent increases. My concern remains that a two-year rent freeze might have significant unintended consequences for housing supply and might impact on the viability of the PRS. Landlords might sell up and sell the homes from under folk, which is the last thing that we need during the current period.

On amendment 12, there would be significant practical challenges to administering the provisions in determining who was eligible. It is likely that significant financial costs, which are unquantifiable in the time available, would be involved in assessing whether tenants met the requirements for their rent-arrears liability to be removed.

Amendment 13 remains unchanged from stage 2, as do the concerns about it that I outlined yesterday. It would not be right for us to tell an independent judicial body to disregard particular evidence as to why rent arrears occurred in particular cases. The First-tier Tribunal has discretion, under emergency procedures, to consider whether an eviction is reasonable and the tribunal must be able to take into account the full circumstances of a case.

On amendment 14, we have been clear that no landlord should evict a tenant who has suffered financial hardship due to Covid-19, and we have acted to prevent tenants from eviction action during the emergency period. Additionally, we have given the First-tier Tribunal discretion when considering whether it is reasonable to grant an eviction order. The tribunal can take the full circumstances of the case into account, including whether the landlord has been the recipient of a loan from the Government.

We are clear that landlords will not profit from those loans, which must be paid back. The purpose of the loans is to facilitate landlords working with tenants to manage arrears, but the amendment risks putting off landlords from applying for a loan and instead seeking eviction at the earliest opportunity. Under the provisions of amendment 14, to take a loan, landlords would need to be willing to accept a lack of transparency in the current period, which would impact on their ability to operate the rental property. That outcome would not be beneficial for tenants. I also have serious concerns that the amendment is not compatible with the European convention on human rights.

As the First Minister pointed out at First Minister’s question time today, we need to look carefully at all the issues as we move forward, and we need to do the right things at the right times. That means that we should not accept amendments that may well be detrimental to what we are trying to achieve. I am more than happy to continue discussions with parties across the chamber. At this point, I would normally say that my door is always open, but instead I should say that my phone number is there to be rung. Some folk do that on a regular basis; others do not take that opportunity, but the offer is there. Let us do what we can to help those who are most vulnerable.

Pauline McNeill

I will speak to amendment 10 in my name, which is on a tenant support fund. I should say that I have Kevin Stewart’s number, but only because I moaned to his officials because Graham Simpson has it. He has had it for much longer than I have. I might use it, one of these days.

I think that the minister will agree that I have never said that the Government has not taken reasonable measures. What the Government is not seeing ahead is the magnitude of social and economic devastation if we get this wrong. We might disagree on that—I think that we do. The measures that the Government has taken are reasonable, but it is up to the Opposition to say, “You should up your game.” I am doing my job and I am being quite honest: the Government is not being radical enough.

I have a proposed member’s bill—known as the Mary Barbour bill—that I hope will see the light of day. The Government has not said no on the issue, but it has not been radical about it, either. In the context of the debate, I ask the Government to think a wee bit about how much more radical it needs to be.

Students who have graduated wrote to me yesterday to ask whether they qualify for universal credit. The minister made a point on this. Many students will not qualify for universal credit; undergraduates do not qualify for universal credit and cannot pay their rent.

A month ago, research by Opinium for The Guardian showed that six out of 10 renters said that they had suffered financially as a result of the UK-wide lockdown. One in five has been forced to choose between food bills and paying rent. I have not seen Scottish figures, but if the Government has them, it would be useful to share them with members. I urge the Government to have a close look at them, in looking ahead. Six in 10 renters have suffered financially because of the lockdown across the UK; I do not think that the figure will be much different in Scotland.

I am sure that the minister will agree that loss of tenancies is not just about individuals who, through no fault of their own, have had to stay at home because they cannot go to work, or who have lost their job. Another member—I cannot remember who—said that some companies are using the furlough scheme and running redundancy programmes at exactly the same time. The extent of abuse is extremely alarming.

We have not even begun to see how bad the situation could be. I have said before that the magnitude of the bank crash—although we have being seeing the ripples for over a decade and are still experiencing them—is, in comparison, a cakewalk. I hope that I am wrong about that, but that is where I am coming from.

Kevin Stewart

I assure Ms McNeill and Parliament here and now that we will, as we begin to gather evidence and data on what is going on out there in real folks’ lives, be more than willing to share the data with Parliament. Obviously, the data on what is happening to people will guide our views on the path that we will need to follow in the future, and should inform all of us about the steps that we will need to take.

Pauline McNeill

I welcome that assurance; the matter is urgent. That picture will help us to see whether the Government has got it right or wrong. Many low-paid workers are struggling and that is not their fault, and many of them are in the rented housing sector. Not everyone will have the means to pay their full rent or be able to apply for universal credit.

On the discretionary housing payment, I welcome the £5 million fund, which is important, but we need a wider discussion on who the Government thinks the fund will help. I do not believe that it will cover everybody. Many people who are self-employed or who pay themselves a small dividend will not qualify for a discretionary housing payment, so there will be gaps. The Government’s provisions need to be radical enough to make a difference. That has to be the tone.

My amendment 10 is an amalgamation of stage 2 amendment 22, in my name, and amendment 16, in the name of Andy Wightman, on a tenant hardship fund. I am sure that members will agree that they amount to the same thing. We must have some basic principles for the future. We might agree about preventing eviction, but we must have the right measures to do so. We must prevent mass housing debt building up, because that will impact on individuals and the economy. Helping people who fall through the gaps will require more action.

My amendment 10 says that it will be for ministers to decide on the rules for such a fund. However, it is important to send a message about making sure that we do not miss anybody, and to say that people who rent their properties are important to the Government. That is why the Government should change its view.

We have yet to hear Andy Wightman speak to his amendments. Yesterday, Labour supported his amendment on a rent freeze; it would be helpful if he could address some of the issues around funding, in that regard.

15:45  



Incidentally, I note that today the rate of inflation is 0.8 per cent. There are predictions that it could fall to zero, and that we could get into negative inflation. We have to bear such things in mind before we get too concerned about unintended consequences.

Amendment 13 raises the question whether we should tell tribunals how to conduct their business in relation to evictions. Given that we are in an emergency situation, I do not see why public policy should not be that tribunals get some direction—even for a short period—on preventing evictions.

Amendment 12 provides for disregarding all rent arrears amassed during the emergency period, if it can be clearly shown that the person’s situation had become critical in that period.

In conclusion, I urge the Government to rethink its decision not to support a tenant hardship fund, for which amendment 10—which is an amalgamation of amendments that Andy Wightman and I lodged at stage 2—would provide, and to be more radical in its thinking.

I also ask the Government to come to the table more quickly, if it can, with analysis of who would potentially face eviction and who would potentially be unable to pay their rent. We might be talking about a short period of time rather than a long period; none of us really knows what is ahead. I urge the Government to up its game and to reconsider its position on amendment 10.

Andy Wightman

As members will be aware, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 provides some welcome protection for tenants by ensuring that notice periods will be extended beyond statutory limits. It ensures that all tenants who are evicted during the emergency period will have a longer period before they are required to actually leave their home. I lodged amendments to the bill that became that act that sought to ban any such proceedings from being brought at all during the emergency period. However, those amendments were defeated.

In this bill, I seek to provide further protection for tenants, including beyond the end of the emergency period, when it is anticipated that tenants will remain vulnerable to eviction as a result of the financial hardship that they experience during the emergency period. Yesterday, all my amendments were defeated by Conservative and Scottish National Party members of the COVID-19 Committee, but not one of them went on the record to explain why.

As my colleague Patrick Harvie pointed out earlier today, last night, in response to the defeat of those amendments, the director of Shelter Scotland said:

“It is hard to see now what is going to prevent a tidal wave of evictions sweeping people into homelessness services which were barely coping before the pandemic.”

Today, Amnesty International provided a briefing to members, which states:

“While the government’s move to stop evictions and expand protection to tenants by extending the term of the notice period for eviction to six months in most cases is welcome, the fact that this is a temporary measure and the lack of clarity on payment of rent arrears accrued over the period of pandemic is cause for concern. Without adequate material and other support, families who have lost jobs and income during the pandemic will struggle to cover rent arrears in the immediate post pandemic period and more so in the context of the looming economic crisis. Unless urgently addressed, this will likely result in large-scale evictions and a huge spike in homelessness.”

In the absence of any signals that ministers wish to do anything of substance, I have listened to the concerns that have been raised and have lodged amended amendments that I hope will attract support from members.

At this point, I want to address some comments that the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, Michael Russell, made earlier. He said that there was an appropriate way to bring forward issues and work with the Government on them.

Kevin Stewart said in his remarks that we should all work together and that he would be happy to continue discussions. I want to lay on the record that last week, on the day after the bill was published, I contacted Mr Stewart’s private secretary and told her that I was willing to share my policy intentions with the Government. She welcomed that approach, and I therefore sent my policy intentions to the minister. That was more than a week ago, and I have heard nothing since then.

You cannot continue discussions that never started. If the Government wants to have a dialogue with Opposition parties, it needs to speak to us. I made the effort and said, “This is what I want to do.” The Government ignored that approach, and it has continued to do so right up until today. The only conclusion that I can take from that is that it does not want to do anything. That counters Mr Russell’s allegation concerning the view that if you do not support an amendment, it means that you oppose the policy.

I have had no correspondence or discussions about how to improve my amendments. A key change from stage 2 is that none of my amendments now applies to social tenancies. They are all restricted to private sector tenants under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 and the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Does the fact that the member has changed his amendments and removed social landlords not rather suggest that they were flawed in the first place, which is exactly what housing associations have been telling him?

Andy Wightman

No, it does not. It reflects the fact that there was opposition in that regard yesterday. I do not accept the arguments that have been put by a small number of landlords in the social rented sector. I would be quite happy to work with them, as I would with anybody else, to see how the proposal could be refined. However, in order to have a chance of getting it through Parliament today, I have chosen to focus our concerns on those tenants who are in the weakest position.

Amendment 11 provides for a rent freeze for two years. Unlike under my stage 2 amendments, it would apply only to private tenants and the date from which the two years would begin would be backdated to 1 April—it would not be, as the minister said in his remarks, the date of the act coming into force—to ensure that landlords who have agreed reduced rents in response to the crisis would not be adversely affected by the measure. I made that change in response to legitimate concerns that, where landlords have reduced rents by, say, 30 per cent, that should not be the baseline of the rent freeze.

Amendment 12 recognises that many tenants will simply be unable to pay their full rent because of their personal financial circumstances. Again, I have changed the proposal. The amendment applies only to private tenants and the wording has been tightened further to ensure that it applies only in relation to tenants who are, as proposed new paragraph 3A(1)(b) of schedule 1 states,

“facing unusual or extreme hardship”.

Ministers would have the power to specify further details in regulations.

It is vital to have a provision, albeit that it would be applied only in extreme circumstances, to write off some rents. We do that, in effect, in the free statutory debt solutions that we have—bankruptcy, protected trust deeds and the debt arrangement scheme.

Mr Stewart said that the wording of amendment 13 has not been changed, but it has been. The proposal that I have brought back today is restricted to private tenants. It is an important amendment. The minister said yesterday that no one should be affected because of the coronavirus, and he said that again today. The reality is that, once amendment 9 dies, as it will, there will be nothing to stop landlords pursuing tenants for eviction due to arrears that were accrued during the emergency period that are beyond those tenants’ control.

All that I am trying to do with amendment 13 is to ensure that, once the emergency period is over, no landlord may seek to evict a tenant for rent arrears that were accrued during the emergency period. It is vital to point out, because this has been widely misrepresented, that we would not be writing off any rents whatsoever. They would continue to be owed to the landlord. All that I am seeking to ensure is that no one can lose their home because of those rent arrears.

I encourage members to reflect heavily on the evidence that Amnesty International has given us today. It points out, rightly, that this is a human rights issue. There was a very good chance—I am already in discussion with a Queen’s counsel about this—of a challenge to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 on human rights grounds before the crisis. If, after the crisis, we see people—families, single mums, older people or whoever—being evicted due to rent arrears that accrued during the crisis, I believe that that will be a violation of their human rights.

Amendment 14 has the same basic effect as amendment 13, but it is much narrower in scope. It is restricted to tenants of landlords who are in receipt of a loan under the landlord loan fund.

I welcome Pauline McNeill’s amendment 10, which we worked on together. Notwithstanding the welcome increase in the housing fund, which Mr Stewart mentioned, there is still a case for amendment 10 and we will support it.

The proposal in amendment 9 was described to me by the minister yesterday, at stage 2, as being some kind of response that will ensure that tenants get a bit more of a fair hearing, as it were, in a tribunal. However, the provisions in amendment 9 will last only as long as the emergency period, so the amendment will do nothing to help tenants after the emergency period is over. It is rather a betrayal of the Government’s claim that no one should be evicted during the emergency period if it lodges an amendment—amendment 9—that specifically envisages the First-tier Tribunal having pre-action protocols during the emergency period. If it were true that no one should be evicted, there should be no cases coming to the tribunal during the emergency period.

We will be voting against amendment 91, which is in the name of Graham Simpson. Last night I was researching the private providers of large blocks of private student accommodation, and I did not find a single one registered in the United Kingdom. I found Malta, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and the British Virgin Islands. I do not see why any of those companies, which have made 12 to 15 per cent returns on capital in tax havens, should be relieved of the obligation to pay a modest sum of money to the local authority to maintain the very fabric and infrastructure on which that organisation relies for its return on capital. That is a disgrace, and we will be voting against amendment 91.

Over the past 24 hours, there has been a veritable outpouring of frustration from tenants that modest amendments—and this would be laughed out of court in any other European country—

Kevin Stewart

Mr Wightman proclaims that the amendments that he is referring to are modest amendments, yet since they were lodged, housing associations and others have said how detrimental they would be for communities, tenants and landlords.

The Presiding Officer

Please face the front, Mr Stewart.

Kevin Stewart

The proposals were described by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations as “calamitous”. The forum talked of Mr Wightman extinguishing rent arrears across the board. That is the kind of scenario that Mr Wightman has not taken into account when formulating his amendments. If he had actually talked to us, we might have found a way forward in order to protect tenants and to move on, but that has not happened. Sending me an email with demands is not discussion, and Mr Wightman should take note of what others do with regard to their discussions. They manage to get their amendments—

The Presiding Officer

Address your remarks to the front of the chamber, Mr Stewart.

Kevin Stewart

Mr Wightman’s own group is a prime example. During consideration of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, he failed dismally to get any amendments through, unlike just about everybody else in his group. It is time that he discussed things properly, rather than getting on his high horse and dictating to people—not just to the Government but to housing associations and others.

Andy Wightman

That was a diatribe and I reject that characterisation. I will publish the email that I sent to Mr Stewart. It was not a demand; it specifically said, “These are the things I would like to achieve, and I would like to discuss them with you.” The reason I wanted to discuss them with him was that, if he agreed to some of them, we could perhaps have made some progress, whereas if he did not agree with any of them, it would have been worth knowing then, so that I did not have to waste my time drafting amendments that the Government would not support.

I will publish that email. It was not a demand. As for the point about the Glasgow and West of Scotland forum and all the rest of it, that organisation does not represent the interests of tenants; it represents the interests of landlords.

Members: Oh!

Andy Wightman

Yes, it does. It is a forum of housing associations, and housing associations are landlords. A small number of them are community-based housing associations or co-operatives, but the large majority of them are landlords. The tenants would benefit from a rent freeze. Moreover, the amendments that I have lodged for today do not apply to that sector, so the critique is irrelevant.

I will conclude where I left off. There has been a veritable outpouring of frustration from tenants that modest amendments—as I was saying, they are so minor that this would be laughed out of court in any European country—that are designed to provide the kind of protections that are taken for granted in most European countries look not to be getting support today. That is a matter of regret.

We will have to revisit the whole question of the private rented sector. Mr Stewart said that one of the disadvantages of placing any conditions on the landlord loan fund is that the landlord might sell the property. The only reason why that is a problem for tenants is that the Parliament decided that, if someone is selling a property, that allows them to evict the tenant. That is not the case across Europe. If a landlord sells a croft, the crofter is not evicted. If a landlord sells a tenant farm, the tenant farmer is not evicted. Why on earth should a person, a young family, a single mum, an older couple or people whom I have worked with be evicted just because the landlord wants to sell?

16:00  



I have dealt with dozens of families that were being evicted from short-term lets because people wanted to sell them. That is not compliant with human rights, and that is not an argument for not doing something more to strengthen tenants’ rights.

The UK has the second-highest eviction rate across the European Union. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will contribute much to that—I do not know what the balance is—but that is not a good place to be.

I encourage members to support my amendments. They are modest, and they provide vital protections to people who have no capacity to respond to the crisis financially but who face the real threat of losing their home.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I start by speaking to Pauline McNeill’s amendment 10. I thank her for lodging an amendment on the issue again. This is the first opportunity that I have had to comment on the issue in the chamber and to respond to those who have contacted me on the various amendments.

Last night was my first opportunity to look carefully at the Scottish Government’s position, which seems to be that housing costs could already be met through the discretionary housing payment system and that creating a new system would be seen as duplication. That is a reasonable argument, and I accept it.

I welcome the fact that discretionary housing payments had been set to increase this year to £71.2 million, which would have been an increase of £10 million. Some £12 million of that was specifically for unmet housing costs for struggling tenants. There is also, of course, the additional £5 million that has been mentioned this afternoon, which I also welcome.

However, it is fair to say that a struggling renter who is not entitled to benefits is unlikely to receive a discretionary housing payment. Perhaps the person is a furloughed worker or one of the people whom Pauline McNeill mentioned. They might be struggling not just with the rent but with a variety of costs in the household budget. Of course we have to look again at how we can help those individuals.

I am looking to find out from the Government whether we will continue to explore how the needs of those struggling renters can be met as we go forward. I do not think that the mechanism that Pauline McNeill has proposed will achieve that because of the duplication aspect, but we have to look at the issue again. If time permits, I will make some suggestions.

Kevin Stewart

I can give Mr Doris the same assurance that I gave Ms McNeill. We will continue to look at all that is happening out there. We have to look at the data and what is happening to people out there in order to get this right. Earlier, the First Minister made it very clear that, as a Government, we will continue to do all that we can to support folks in greatest need as we move forward.

Bob Doris

I welcome those reassurances from the minister.

There could be a pan-UK solution. Housing benefit is, of course, a reserved matter, but the Parliament has quite rightly set a precedent with discretionary housing payments and having top-up benefits to get folk who are struggling with housing costs out of poverty. Will there be criteria that relate to the £5 million that has been added to discretionary housing payments, extending such payments beyond people on benefits, for example?

There is also the Scottish welfare fund. Some £22 million has already been allocated to local authorities. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People wrote to me on Monday, telling me that £23 million remains unallocated. I have to admit that I have no idea whether that should go to struggling tenants in the private rented sector, because we cannot spend the same pound twice. However, we have to look at the best way to direct that £23 million. Perhaps the solution could be to help renters who are struggling.

I put those ideas out there, and members will have other ideas, but we must come together as a Parliament to find solutions rather than have a petulant argument in the chamber. We have to think constructively and positively about how we can take the issue forward.

I do not want to say much about amendments 11 to 14; I have not had time to look at them in detail, given that they were published at 12 o’clock today. I looked in detail at the equivalent amendments that were lodged at stage 2, about which I had significant concerns.

Given that we are looking at the private rented sector, I re-read Pauline McNeill’s proposed fair rents (Scotland) bill, and its provisions looked pretty positive and robust to me. I think that her bill would make a real contribution.

Unfortunately, I cannot support amendments 11 to 14, but once the dust settles on the bill, we have to come together as a Parliament to drive forward a real solution.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I will focus my comments on Andy Wightman’s amendments 11 to 14. I think that he speaks with sincere passion about housing and always makes a valuable contribution to our deliberations and debates. His presence is an asset to the Parliament. However, that does not mean that I agree with him.

I agree with amendments 13 and 14, but not amendments 11 and 12—being a good Liberal, I can say that I see Jackie Baillie laughing at that—-and I will explain why.

I will vote in favour of amendments 13 and 14 to prevent evictions as a result of rent arrears that are caused by the crisis that is before us. As Andy Wightman said, some people will be really suffering and need to be protected in law.

I heard what the minister said, but I am not happy that the Government is merely advising people—the advice that is being given is quite right, but advice is not mandatory. The Government’s advice is that landlords should not be evicting people. The job of the Parliament is to make the law. I agree that the job of the Government is slightly different, but the Parliament is here to make the law and we need to protect people. When we passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, I raised the point that there is a great difference between advice and the law.

Let me given an example. The First Minister is constantly telling people not to travel to work that is non-essential, but the legislation allows people to travel to work. If the Government wants to stop journeys to work that is non-essential, it should have put that into the legislation that we all supported unanimously—but it did not. It now advises people not to travel to work that is non-essential. However, people are still travelling to work that is non-essential, and they are not breaking the law.

I have the same worry that people will be evicted against the advice of the Scottish Government. The Parliament has an opportunity to make sure that it gets the law right. We should have done that when we passed the first coronavirus bill, and we failed to do so. We should not make the same mistake with the second coronavirus bill—that is the fight.

I disagree with Andy Wightman on amendments 11 and 12. So far in our debate about housing, tenants and landlords, no one has mentioned the consequences for those whom a lot of people call “unintentional landlords”.

I represent the north-east of Scotland and I am aware of the housing crisis in the area, which hit well before coronavirus. There are problems in the North Sea oil and gas industry and I know people who have had to move away from the north-east because of work and who cannot sell their property—they are stuck, and they rent their property out. They do not want to be landlords, but they are landlords. If Mr Wightman’s amendments are agreed to, their income would dry up.

Andy Wightman

I thank Mr Rumbles for giving way.

The income of those landlords would not necessarily dry up—that implies that rent is their sole source of income.

It is important to remember that a landlord who rents out a home presumably has a home of their own. The home that they rent out will be worth a substantial sum of money, and they will be quite wealthy. However, for the tenant who is in the landlord’s property, that is their only home. Presumably, they are not wealthy, given that, by and large, the poorest members of society are renters. There is not really a direct comparison.

Mike Rumbles

Andy Wightman makes a very good contribution to the debate, but, unfortunately, he is wrong when he says that those landlords are wealthy people, because they are not. I know people who have had to move out of their home in the north-east to Glasgow or Edinburgh, or somewhere else, where they rent.

It does not matter whether those people are small in number. We are creating the law of the land, and it affects people. I would have thought that Andy Wightman would have the good grace to realise that he has forgotten those people. It is very important that, when we make legislation, we do not forget people. We make legislation for everyone, across the board. I cannot support his amendments 11 and 12 for those reasons. We forget people at our peril.

I support Andy Wightman’s amendments 13 and 14 because, on the important issue of people who are affected by coronavirus being evicted, we cannot rely on good will and Scottish Government advice. We got it wrong in the first coronavirus bill, and we must not get it wrong in the second.

The Presiding Officer

I call Graham Simpson to wind up on the group and to press or withdraw amendment 6.

Graham Simpson

I will press amendment 6.

This has been a lengthy debate. It has been passionate at times, and people have had their say. I genuinely like Mr Wightman and I do not like to see him get agitated, but he did get rather agitated. However, he speaks passionately.

I do not want to go over all the old ground, but I will mention what were, for me, two of the best contributions that we have heard so far. One came from a possibly unexpected source—Bob Doris. Mr Doris is a very partisan man who always toes the party line, but on this occasion he analysed the issue very well when he talked about the tenant rent support fund and made some really helpful suggestions. He is to be applauded for that.

The second contribution that I want to mention came from Mike Rumbles, whom we have just heard. He spoke about unintentional landlords in the private rented sector. There are a good number of people who have found themselves having to rent out their home for various reasons. He mentioned people who have had to move away and rent out their property, but there are others who rely on income from their former homes—for example, to pay for care home fees—and who are not necessarily wealthy people.

I agree with the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning when he says that Andy Wightman’s amendments could have unintended consequences. We could end up with people leaving the sector. I do not think that Andy Wightman wants that, but it could result from his proposed measures.

None of us knows how this is going to pan out. Some people are now moving from what we might call the Airbnb sector into the private rented sector, which could have a downward effect on rents in parts of Scotland. We need to be very careful of unintended consequences.

I will leave it there, Presiding Officer.

Amendment 6 agreed to.

Amendments 7 and 8 moved—[Graham Simpson]—and agreed to.

Amendment 9 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

Amendment 10 moved—[Pauline McNeill].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 10 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 10 disagreed to.

Amendment 11 moved—[Andy Wightman].

16:15  



The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 11 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 19, Against 59, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 11 disagreed to.

Amendment 12 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 12 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 19, Against 60, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 12 disagreed to.

Amendment 13 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 13 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 57, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 13 disagreed to.

Amendment 14 moved—[Andy Wightman].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 14 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 14 disagreed to.

The Presiding Officer

We turn to group 6, which is on the social care sector. Amendment 15, in the name of Neil Findlay, is grouped with amendments 16, 25 to 72, 79 and 83 .

Neil Findlay

I will focus my comments on amendment 15, which seeks to bring in a system of national collective bargaining in the social care sector. The crisis in our care home sector is not new—it has been with us for many years—but the Covid-19 outbreak has brought it smack bang into the public’s consciousness. Over the years, we have read report after report on the problems in the sector. Common Weal published another one today—very good it is, too, and I commend it to all members.

Central to the problems in the social care sector is the private provision of services. Care is an industry. Its provision outside the public and third sectors is, in the main, driven by the profit motive. HC-One, the owner of the Skye care home, owns more than 50 care homes in Scotland. It is owned by a property and venture capital firm that is registered in the Cayman Islands.

According to the Financial Times, Britain’s biggest care home operator has declared a loss in every year except one since its creation in 2011, yet it has still managed to pay out more than £48.5 million in dividends. Despite warning that local authority funding cuts have brought the sector to the brink of financial crisis, it has paid no corporation tax in that time. Does anyone really believe that the care of the elderly is the priority for a company that operates on that basis?

In order to generate those dividends, companies such as HC-One make their profit by driving down the pay and conditions of the staff who provide the care. In the past few weeks, we will all have been contacted by staff who are worried about their safety, their health, PPE and the wellbeing of the residents they care for. A climate of fear exists in the social care sector, where the workers are doing their very best to help our elderly and vulnerable people by providing compassionate care despite the system, not because of it. Often, rather than being paid the living wage, they are paid the minimum wage or just above it.

In a statement on 12 April, the Scottish Government said:

“Social care support workers providing direct adult support will have their pay increased to at least the Real Living Wage rate”.

That statement is central to the problem, because what happens is that employers such as HC-One decide which staff provide direct adult support. Today, I checked HC-One’s website. Here is a list of job vacancies that are currently available and their hourly rates of pay: wellbeing co-ordinator, £8.72; care assistant, £8.84; senior care assistant, £9.22; kitchen assistant, £8.72; chef, £8.72; maintenance operative, £9. Is feeding people not direct adult support? Is caring for people not direct adult support? Is keeping their home safe and secure not direct adult support?

What about the home care sector? Well, here are the adverts on the Scottish Care website today—we should remember that Scottish Care represents the care home owners. The post of support worker, based in Huntly, which involves helping with personal care, including bathing, is advertised at £9 an hour; a care assistant post in Perth is advertised at £9.25 an hour; and support workers are required for Stonehaven, Renfrewshire, Glasgow and West Lothian at a rate of £9 an hour. So much for everyone who provides direct adult support receiving at least the living wage; it is simply not happening.

Many of the carers we are talking about are on zero-hours contracts; get statutory sick pay only if they are made ill through work; receive no travel time; and have to use their own phones and buy their own uniforms. Care is among the most precarious and exploitative sectors.

Amendment 15 seeks to begin a process to address all of that by establishing a system of national collective bargaining in the private care home sector. That would give workers a voice, protection and a structure to ensure that issues around safety, staffing, patient testing, residents’ care and wellbeing, conditions at work and pay can be discussed and negotiated without fear that individuals will be picked off and victimised by their employer. Most important of all, such a system would drive up morale and the quality of the care that is provided.

Not all care providers act like HC-One. Some small family businesses and others are responsible and care for their staff and patients, and for those who provide services. They have nothing at all to fear from my proposal. Today, we have the opportunity to continue with the broken system that is the status quo, or we can begin the process of much-needed change in this vital sector.

During yesterday’s meeting of the COVID-19 Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs said that any actions must be “practical, proportionate and possible”. I absolutely agree. If we are able to provide, at extremely short notice, schemes to support landlords, Airbnb owners and private schools, and to create numerous schemes to support businesses, including a national furlough scheme for millions of workers, why are we somehow uniquely unable to bring together representatives of workers and the owners who employ them to speak to one another about health and safety, pay, conditions and care home staffing? It is nonsense to suggest that that cannot happen, and it is nonsense to suggest that it would take for ever for that to happen.

At 8 o’clock tomorrow evening, we will all be on our doorsteps to clap for the very people who would benefit greatly from amendment 15. I appeal to members to please support it.

I move amendment 15.

Monica Lennon

I will focus my remarks on amendment 16. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests with respect to my trade union memberships.

People who work in social care, including in care homes, are the unsung heroes of this crisis. Beyond our weekly applause on a Thursday evening, those key workers need urgent practical support as well as our appreciation. Amendment 16 seeks to go some way towards that by putting a duty on the Scottish ministers to establish a social care staff support fund for the duration of the crisis. That will allow payments to be made to care workers who might experience financial detriment as a result of disruption to normal patterns of work, or limits on their ability to work at all, because they are self-isolating or are unable to work shifts in multiple care homes for coronavirus-related reasons.

I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, for the constructive dialogue that we have been able to have between the late hours of last night and the early hours of this morning, before the 9.30 deadline for lodging amendments. Colleagues who are on the COVID-19 Committee will know that a similar amendment in my name fell at stage 2 yesterday. I am pleased that we have now been able to reach agreement, because it is the right thing to do. I am glad that the Scottish Government has confirmed today that it will support amendment 16, and I hope that all members will back it.

I lodged my amendment partly because of the serious concerns that I have about the on-going issues around testing and the confusion that exists over the application of recent changes to testing guidance. It is right that all staff should receive regular testing, but worries about being unable to live on statutory sick pay if a staff member tests positive should not be a factor in receiving a test or deciding whether to work in a Covid-19-positive workplace.

I believe that there needs to be a mechanism in place to ensure that there is no financial detriment to social care staff who have to self-isolate or who are otherwise unable to work their usual hours because of restrictions that are caused by coronavirus. My amendment has been informed by discussions with GMB Scotland, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing, and the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland submitted supportive comments in relation to my very similar stage 2 amendment, amendment 24.

The COVID-19 Committee has taken evidence from experts such as Sir Harry Burns, who has warned that asymptomatic staff are unwittingly spreading Covid-19 in care homes and health settings. Asymptomatic or not, Covid-positive staff should not be at work, but neither should they suffer financial detriment as a result.

16:30  



Amendment 16 is also drafted in a way that takes into account workers who have already suffered detriment since the beginning of the emergency period; it should allow issues of pay loss—backdated to March—to be considered.

My proposal is a temporary emergency measure that will make sure that no one falls through the cracks, but the intention is not to let care providers off the hook when it comes to ensuring that staff are properly paid. Labour members look forward to working with the Government and employers in the coming weeks and months to further strengthen the rights of staff who work in social care.

In the immediate term, it is not wise to do nothing or to rely on the hope that employers will continue to pay full wages, rather than workers having to rely on statutory sick pay. These are unprecedented times, and we need to look after the carers who are looking after the most vulnerable.

I ask all members to support amendment 16, and I support the other amendments in the group.

The Presiding Officer

I call the cabinet secretary, Michael Russell, to speak to amendment 25 and the other amendments in the group.

Michael Russell

This is the largest group of amendments in our consideration this afternoon; I apologise for that, because 46 of the 52 amendments are in my name. I will explain why. There are a large number of technical amendments, but I will address each of the six substantive amendments in turn—amendment 15, in the name of Neil Findlay; amendment 16, in the name of Monica Lennon, which we have just heard about; amendment 79, in the name of Jackie Baillie; and three in my name. If one has any understanding of the history of socialism, one will see that the contrast between the amendments from Neil Findlay and Monica Lennon is that between impossibilism and possibilism. What we heard from Neil Findlay is not possible; we cannot put in place a system of collective bargaining by dictation overnight, nor can we do it in a week or a month. We can do what the Scottish Government has been doing, which is to move towards that, say that we support it, negotiate with those who are involved and agree with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to meet the additional costs that are associated with Covid-19. [Interruption.] No, thank you.

COSLA has issued guidance to local government and health and social care partnerships on how they should support social care providers. We are committed to working with the entire sector to move that work on. We have established with the unions and other partners a fair work in social care implementation group, which reports to the Scottish Government and COSLA, and there is a jointly chaired ministerial strategic group. We are working to take all that forward, but we cannot take it forward just like that. We cannot do it by a short amendment in an emergency bill; it is impossible to do that, and Neil Findlay knows that. He has a history in the trade union movement and he would be outraged if a private employer tried to behave like that—to impose a change immediately, on the basis of a brief paragraph, and ignore all the negotiation that needs to take place. That is the impossibilism of Neil Findlay. Members should reflect on that. We are spending time on something about which we had the same argument yesterday afternoon. It was clear then that it could not be done—not that it should not be done—yet we are back here doing the same thing.

Then there is the possibilism argument. Monica Lennon and I might have our differences, but I commend her for being persistent on that and talking to the right person, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. I was not the right person to talk to; that is surprising to Jackie Baillie.

Amendment 16 is a practical and possible way to go forward, because it puts money into the hands of those who need it most. One of the issues that have been discussed is how we get money directly into the hands of those who need it most and ensure that it does not get diverted within the system. Those crucial issues are being addressed, and money will be provided. That is the possible, and it is going to happen. I commend amendment 16 to the chamber and I hope that everybody will support it.

Patrick Harvie

On the issue of collective bargaining, could the cabinet secretary explain—as many of us support the principle of working constructively with the trade union movement—why he thinks that the Scottish Trades Union Congress has tweeted its support for the amendment if it is so out of keeping, in his view, with the way that trade unions would expect those issues to be negotiated?

Michael Russell

I know that I am sometimes accused of taking on too much, but I cannot speak for the STUC. I think that it is likely that the STUC would support any—[Interruption.] Clearly, if there are members who wish to speak for the STUC, they are entitled to do so, but I cannot speak for it. I am telling members what is practical and possible, I am telling them what we can and cannot do and I am telling them that the Government wants to work with the STUC and others to get this done, but it cannot be done in the way that has been suggested by Neil Findlay. There are no ifs or buts—it cannot be done in that way.

Bob Doris

Are there any parallels with how we brought in collective bargaining in the further education sector, which we did by planning in a structured way to get to the point where we got some success? That is the track record of the Scottish Government. Does it hold out some hope for the social care sector?

Michael Russell

I hope that the process goes more smoothly than it sometimes went in the further education sector, but that may be because I was the cabinet secretary who was responsible for it at the time—I do not know, but Mr Doris is right to say that it takes a considerable length of time and a great deal of effort to do. If I had said to the employers at that stage, “Just do it,” it would not have happened. Negotiation makes the difference. Mr Leonard says from a sedentary position, “Just do it,” but it would not happen. I have to say that the wish is not the same as the deed.

I have great sympathy for amendment 79, in the name of Jackie Baillie, but I hope that she would accept that what the Scottish Government proposes is the right way to move forward. There is a considerable issue in inviting us to—in fact, insisting that we—issue almost 1,100 emergency condition notices at this time. That is not a reasonable thing to do, given that we accept the need to do a great deal in the sector. We are doing everything that we possibly can. That is a practical objection that needs to be borne in mind—so does reconfiguring the Care Inspectorate system to make all the changes that need be explored on every occasion. I do not think that that is the right thing to do at this stage. I have no objection to debating that or looking at it, but it would be very difficult to do and I do not think that it meets the requirement of proportionality.

Let me now come to the many amendments in my name. They can be broken down into three issues: care homes emergency directions; emergency intervention orders; and the giving of notices by the Care Inspectorate. I will deal with amendment 83, which covers the last issue, first. It is essentially a technical amendment that allows the Care Inspectorate to send formal notices by electronic means as well as by post during the pandemic. We have applied that measure in a range of areas and there is nothing particularly exceptional about the amendment. Jackie Baillie is seeing an opportunity here to send 1,100 emails, but the trouble is that care homes would have to reply with details. That would require 1,100 replies to be sent back by individual care homes and dealt with. I am glad that I headed that one off at the pass before Jackie Baillie had the chance to raise it.

Let me talk about the other two issues. Amendment 25 is about emergency directions. Both of the amendments on emergency directions were presaged by what I said yesterday at the COVID-19 Committee when I moved the original amendments. Both amendments are designed to make effective what the committee agreed is required. The amendments enable health boards to direct the care home service in their area during the coronavirus pandemic and allow such steps as may be specified to be made where there is, in the phrase that I used yesterday,

“a material risk to the health of persons at the specified accommodation.”

That allows the health board to quickly intervene, give appropriate direction to ensure that improvements are swiftly implemented to protect residents and staff. If those directions are not complied with, the health board has powers to

“take entry ... and recover from the provider of the care home service the costs incurred”.

A sheriff can grant a warrant to authorise the health board to enter and take those steps. That is a necessary action, but I hope that it never has to be used.

The amendments on emergency intervention orders are immensely detailed. However, a sharp-eyed observer will have seen that many of them say the same thing.

What is required is to change some of the wording that we agreed yesterday, in order to make the interventions effective, and also to do something that is important: to enable the Scottish ministers to make an application for an emergency intervention order in either the Court of Session or the sheriff court. Given that the courts are not sitting as normal, having that flexibility would allow Scottish ministers to apply to either court and get an order as quickly as possible. The amendments make it clear, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Scottish ministers can seek an interim order from the court . That assures that the Scottish ministers can obtain an order very quickly. I made it clear yesterday that there has to be a level of proportionality. The amendments introduce that; there are very strict conditions under which it can be done.

The amendments essentially complete the process that we started at stage 2 yesterday, and I hope that members will support them and amendment 16, in the name of Monica Lennon.

It is with regret that I am not willing or able to support amendment 79, in the name of Jackie Baillie.

As I have said, Neil Findlay’s amendment is an example of impossibilism, and the Parliament should not indulge in that.

The Presiding Officer

I call Jackie Baillie to speak to amendment 79 and the other amendments in the group.

Jackie Baillie

Before I speak to amendment 79, I will deal with some of the points that have been made by the cabinet secretary. I am always grateful for his sympathy, but I would of course prefer his support. He pre-empted my comment about electronic notices. I was interested to hear about those. I suggest that a condition can be placed on a care home by the use of just one email; a response is not required.

Although the cabinet secretary’s comments were creative, I do not feel that they were in any way accurate. There is nothing, therefore, to stop members from supporting amendment 79.

I am grateful to members who passed an earlier amendment at stage 2 that will give statutory underpinning to the requirement for care homes, and the Care Inspectorate, to be totally transparent in their reporting arrangements about the numbers of deaths in care homes. Members will recall the scandalous lack of accountability in the Care Inspectorate’s refusal to provide information on the number of deaths in our care homes, so I am grateful for the support of all Opposition parties.

Amendment 79 considers the areas that require to be monitored if we are to tackle Covid-19 in our care homes effectively. Care homes have become the epicentre of the pandemic.

There have been issues with the lack of availability of PPE, and, in some cases, with its poor quality. Staff of the HC-One care home in my constituency told of PPE having been locked in cupboards while Covid-19 raged through the home.

I note that HC-One homes in Scotland, from Castle View in Dumbarton to Home Farm in Skye, have experienced more than 200 deaths from Covid-19. Our sympathies are with those who have lost loved ones, but I say to the cabinet secretary that they need more than our sympathy—they need us to act.

Then there is the question of testing. The lack of testing for staff and residents has been appalling. The hesitation—in some cases, the refusal—to get staff and residents tested is baffling. I know that the Scottish Government has been slow on testing, but some care homes appear to be reluctant to do it in case the staff go off sick. It is as if they would rather have care home staff carrying the virus into work than being off. I want the Care Inspectorate to monitor that.

Including such issues in the conditions of registration of care homes would show their importance, and would ensure that the Care Inspectorate knew what was expected of it. After all, the Care Inspectorate is about ensuring that standards are met, and what can be more important than ensuring that the standards and arrangements are met for the care of our older people during a pandemic? Yet, despite that, the Care Inspectorate has been posted missing during the pandemic.

It is beyond disappointing that, at a time when the Care Inspectorate should have been stepping up to the plate, it appears to have taken a light-touch approach and stepped back completely. At a time when people are dying in their hundreds in care homes across the country, that was an extraordinary decision, and I am surprised that ministers agreed to it.

The Care Inspectorate has now taken action at Home Farm on Skye, but what about Castle View in Dumbarton, where, unfortunately, more people have died, and for which inspection reports have not been great? The truth is, it recommended inspections only a couple of weeks ago. For 10 to 12 weeks, it has been missing. That is not good enough. It has a job to do.

Amendment 79 would put beyond any doubt expectations and demand for action on the areas that we know will make a difference. I hope that members will support it.

16:45  



Alex Rowley

The cabinet secretary says that it would be impossible to set up national negotiation of terms and conditions and pay for private sector workers. I remind him that John Swinney, when he was finance secretary, worked with COSLA to introduce a national rate for all care providers. Until that point, local authorities negotiated rates locally. That sometimes ended up in chaos, so a national rate for care home owners was introduced, to try to stabilise the sector. The cabinet secretary’s case does not stack up.

If one thing is evident from this crisis, it is that the way in which we organise, run and deliver health and social care in care homes and in the community is not fit for purpose. This is an opportunity to start to address that.

I have never forgotten the full care package that my dad had before he died. He was ill, and he had four visits a day from different carers. Some carers came from the council and some came from agencies in the private sector, but the care that they all gave was first class. However, the carers who were working for the council had far better terms and conditions and pay than the carers who were working for the private sector.

Michael Russell

I do not disagree with a word that Mr Rowley has said. However, I strongly do not believe that we can achieve the imposition of national terms and conditions by means of eight to 10 lines in an emergency bill.

We want this to happen, but it cannot happen as a result of what we have heard today. We are working towards it and doing what we can to bring it about, but it is simply unfair to people to imply that it can be done with a magic wand. There is no magic wand.

Alex Rowley

It is not as difficult as Mr Russell says that it is, given that the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the GMB, Unison and Unite all support the approach.

I spoke to Gary Smith from GMB Scotland yesterday. He made the point that an emergency that we have to address is that there are care workers up and down Scotland who are terrified of being tested, because they do not want to be told to self-isolate and rely on statutory sick pay. That is an emergency that must be addressed now.

Will the Government give an indication that it will address the whole issue of care? That is what is needed. Recently, a care home in Kirkcaldy said that 14 people had died and that the deaths were directly related to Covid-19. The number of deaths is running into the 20s and we do not yet know the final outcome.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, there will need to be an inquiry to find out what on earth went so badly wrong. The Care Inspectorate will have to answer questions. That is why I urge the minister to rethink his view on Jackie Baillie’s proposal. It is not just that so many people have died; it is that people in care homes are at risk and we need to step up the action that needs to be taken.

Out of respect to the workers, the Government needs to signal that it is going to do something—and do it very quickly—to address the unfair way in which workers have been treated.

Surely, every MSP recognises that that is the case. I would even have thought that the Conservative Party would support our having a united front and recognise the need to get in place a national system of bargaining and negotiating to give all care workers in Scotland, regardless of who employs them, the same terms and conditions and the same wages. Surely, the Government will accept that. Surely, it will at least give a commitment to address the issue as a priority and as an emergency.

Sandra White

Monica Lennon and Jackie Baillie have done a good job with their amendments; it is Neil Findlay’s amendment 15 that most concerns me. It troubles me. As a trade unionist who was a shop steward and who is the convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing—care homes come up all the time in its meetings—I agree completely with everything that he and others, including the cabinet secretary, have said. How those who work in care homes are treated is a disgrace. However, amending the bill as he proposes is not the way to go about fixing the issue.

I have raised the issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, in the Health and Sport Committee and in the chamber, and I have been given assurances that things in the care sector will not stay the same. They cannot stay the same. Yes, the biggest problem is the terms and conditions. The private sector runs more than 74 per cent of care homes; the rest are run by a mixture of other bodies, which include local authorities, charitable organisations and churches.

The need for national collective bargaining is not the only issue. Other issues include training and wages—it is a bigger picture. Amendment 15 does not fit into the bill. I have great sympathy—I think that everybody has—with the member’s views, but we cannot just place a sticking plaster over this small part of the issue and include that in the bill. The issue must be looked at in the round. We need to make sure that care workers are valued. They do a great job. Someone cannot just come in and do their job; people need training and they need to have higher national certificates, for example. Those are the issues that need to be covered.

I am sorry, but I cannot support amendment 15. It does not go far enough; it is far too narrow to be fitted into the bill. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Richard Leonard is laughing at that. Perhaps he should speak to the workers in Glasgow City Council. His GMB trade union did nothing to help or protect them, so he should not laugh at me. We are talking about vulnerable people, and people who work in the care sector should be treated properly. The amendment does not fit into the bill.

I agree with everything that Neil Findlay has said—I do not think that it is fair to laugh, because I do not find the issue at all funny—but this is just not the right place for what he is seeking.

The Presiding Officer

I call Neil Findlay to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 15.

Neil Findlay

Jeez! I am sorry, but where do I begin with that contribution, Presiding Officer?

We have heard from the cabinet secretary that what my amendment calls for simply cannot be done—that we cannot impose terms and conditions on a sector. No one is attempting to impose anything on a sector. We are trying to set up a framework—a structure—so that the two sides can get round the table and get on with it. That is normal; it is how things operate in any collective bargaining position. It is nothing to do with anyone from outside imposing anything.

The cabinet secretary says that it cannot be done, but it is not Brexit, the Good Friday agreement or the unification of Germany. It is not so complicated that it would take forever; it could be done fairly quickly. We know that there are circumstances in which there are disputes and it looks as though the two sides are so far apart that there will not be an agreement, but very often they can come together and quickly get one. If that was impossible, the very responsible people at the STUC would not be supporting the proposal, and neither would the GMB, Unite, Unison or any of the other trade unions. When I convened the Health and Sport Committee, Scottish Care called for it. The only people who do not seem to support it are the Government. I am not seeking to dictate terms and conditions for anyone; my amendment simply seeks to set up a structure. No matter how confidently and determinedly the cabinet secretary says that it cannot happen, that does not get over the simple fact that he is just wrong.

It is bizarre that we can set up a furlough scheme for millions of workers and other schemes for the self-employed, to help sole traders or to help people with mortgages, rent or food deliveries and everything else that has been going on, but somehow—uniquely—we cannot get two sides of a sector round a table to discuss the terms and conditions of people who deliver vital care. Mr Russell is deluded if he thinks that that is the case. I am looking towards members such as Christina McKelvie and Clare Haughey—although I am not sure whether Ms Haughey is in the chamber—who have had experience of being trade union organisers in the workplace. They know that what Mr Russell has said is nonsense.

Amendment 15 is simply about setting up a structure and nothing else. We expect the Tories to oppose such proposals root and branch—it is in their DNA and their ethos to oppose people being fairly rewarded at work—but I appeal to members, especially those on the SNP benches, not to vote down amendment 15 today and then tomorrow night go out and applaud the people who would benefit from the very move that it proposes.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 15 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 16 moved—[Monica Lennon]—and agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Group 7 is on bankruptcy. Amendment 17, in the name of Jackie Baillie, is grouped with amendments 18 to 24.

Jackie Baillie

I am pleased to speak to amendments 17 to 24 in my name.

We all know that the scale of the economic devastation caused by Covid-19 has yet to be fully appreciated. Thousands of people have already lost their jobs. If it had not been for the job retention scheme, thousands more would have joined them. Indeed, yesterday we heard OVO Energy announce the loss of more than 2,600 jobs, the majority of which are in its customer services division in Scotland, and today Rolls-Royce announced the loss of 9,000 jobs, many of which are in Scotland. Thousands of people are now out of work and facing financial uncertainty. Regrettably, there will be more to come. We talk about the coronavirus as having caused a health crisis, but it has undoubtedly caused an economic crisis, too.

17:00  



The way that we live our lives means that we all have debts of one description or another. Whether it involves mortgages, car loans, store cards or credit cards, debt is a factor of modern-day living. When someone is working and has an income to service that debt, it is not a worry. However, when they lose their job, that balance goes, the equilibrium is shattered and they suddenly find themselves in a position in which they are simply unable to cope financially and cannot service the debt. The anxiety, the sleepless nights and the spiral into poor mental health all follow that. People need our help desperately.

Amendment 17 builds on the Scottish Government’s proposal for a debt moratorium that it included in its first piece of emergency coronavirus legislation. The proposal was welcome, but, to be honest, it felt like a job half done, because we know that, unless we freeze interest rates, fees, charges and penalties, the debt continues to grow. Thankfully, many responsible lenders already do that—they get it—but many do not, most notably payday lenders, whose additional interest charges and fees can lead to eye-watering levels of debt. An initial debt can increase by literally thousands of pounds, sinking the individual into even more financial strain.

My proposal is time limited. It is not intended to be in place forever and a day. It goes hand in hand with the moratorium and allows people time to arrange to settle their debts or to be subject to full diligence and recovery action. It gives them much-needed breathing space. Breathing space is, of course, the name that was given to the exact same proposal that is being consulted on by the UK Government. The proposal was a Conservative manifesto pledge. Some would say that it is very radical, but it is just a matter of decency and common sense, and I cannot begin to tell members of my sorrow and disappointment that the Tories in Scotland are turning their backs on a proposal from the Conservative Party at a UK level. I am sure that somebody will have a word with Boris.

I turn to the SNP. At stage 2, the Scottish Government said that this was all too difficult to do and that it could not get its computers to work in time, which is an excuse that it used in relation to the Care Inspectorate amendment that I just moved. It said that the proposal would be practically impossible to deliver. I took that at face value and went back to the experts in the money advice sector, who came up with a solution. Accordingly, I have amended my original proposal to set out exactly how it could be delivered. Therefore, there is nothing to stop it being implemented. If anyone needs further convincing in relation to amendment 17, I say that it is supported by Citizens Advice Scotland; StepChange, the debt charity; Money Advice Scotland; the Govan Law Centre; and specialist money advisers such as Alan McIntosh. Those are the experts in the field, and we should listen to them.

We can talk all that we like about social justice, but now is our opportunity to do something about it. Tackling poverty must be more than something that we put in the nice-to-do box. We need to act, and there is no more important time to act than now. I hope that members across the chamber will support amendment 17.

Amendments 18 to 24 should be supported across the chamber, because they come after detailed negotiations with ministers. I thank Jamie Hepburn for his willingness to compromise. It is fair to say that the midnight oil was burned and that it was only this morning, with 15 minutes to go, that agreement was reached—I am truly exhausted.

I am grateful that the Scottish Government recognises that it should lower the up-front charges that it levies for access to bankruptcy solutions. That is absolutely the correct thing to do. It had been a little timid and, under its proposals, the poorest people would still have had to pay. It is the case that people considering bankruptcy are not cash rich and that the fees act as a huge barrier to access. I wanted to remove the fees completely, but have come to an agreement with the minister to have exemptions for all those who are in receipt of a range of benefits, from all forms of employment and support allowance and jobseekers allowance right through to universal credit. That would apply to minimal asset process bankruptcies and full administration bankruptcies, making a real difference to many people who are experiencing debt.

These amendments are welcomed and supported by the whole money advice sector in Scotland. They are about recognising the terrible times that we are in and providing a lifeline to people whose world has just come crashing down. I hope that members will tonight support all amendments from 17 to 24.

I move amendment 17.

Jenny Gilruth

On amendment 17, I give credit to Jackie Baillie for trying to find a way to overcome the many obstacles to delivering such a freeze that were considered at stage 2. As I said at that point, the Government is attracted to doing something along those lines, and we have already consulted publicly on doing that. However, we remain of the view that, at this time, it is simply not possible to produce major policy proposals that have coherence and which do not have any unintended consequences.

As evidence that I call people back, I say that I am grateful to Jackie Baillie for working with Jamie Hepburn and our officials on amendments 18 to 24. Those amendments replace her stage 2 amendment that would have abolished all up-front bankruptcy debtor application fees with a more targeted measure that focuses on those who most need our support—those who are in receipt of the benefits that are listed in the amendments. For the first time, those benefits include contribution-based benefits as well as purely income-related ones. The amendments also remove the requirement for the individual’s sole income to be from benefits.

That is quite a big change to our approach, and one that we will want to review to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that we take the right approach across all applicants. However, as Jackie Baillie mentioned, these are extraordinary times and, for the initial five months for which the bill’s powers are due to run, it is right to suspend some of our normal caution and move quickly with the legislative proposals, given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy generally. In due course, and as quickly as we can, we will consider the issue again to ensure that we have a considered approach across the system.

I congratulate Ms Baillie on having convinced us that we should do more, and I am delighted to say that we will support amendments 18 to 24.

Jackie Baillie

I am grateful to ministers for their work in coming to a compromise with me.

In relation to amendment 17, I am not trying to find a solution; I have found a solution that the Government can implement. I refer the minister to the consultation that the Accountant in Bankruptcy undertook. The results have not been published and no action has been taken on the back of it. Given the unprecedented times in which we live, it is time to take action. I commend the minister whole-heartedly for her words about suspending “normal caution” in relation to amendments 18 to 24. That applies to amendment 17, too, so I hope that all members will support all the amendments in my name.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 17 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 17 disagreed to.

The Presiding Officer

I remind members that, as a result of an error in the marshalled list, amendment 18 will be called after amendment 21.

Amendments 19 to 21, 18 and 22 to 24 moved—[Jackie Baillie]—and agreed to.

Amendments 25 to 72 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Amendment 73, in the name of Michael Russell, on marriage and civil partnerships, is grouped with amendments 74 to 78.

Michael Russell

At stage 2, the committee agreed to an amendment that was lodged by Adam Tomkins on marriage and civil partnerships. That will require ministers, along with the registrar general for Scotland, to take steps to ensure that solemnisation of marriage and registration of civil partnerships continue to be available during the emergency period. In addition, ministers will need to prepare reports to Parliament on what has been done, and on the number of marriages and civil partnerships that have taken place.

The Scottish Government was happy to support the amendment, which came after persistent advocacy on the issue by Adam Tomkins. I think that he was right. Other members have joined in, and I have received considerable correspondence on the issue.

We have lodged technical amendments to make minor changes—they will not change the substance of what was agreed. Amendments 73 and 76 will make minor changes to affect the language of legislation on marriages and civil partnerships that are registered rather than solemnised.

Amendment 74 reflects drafting conventions with references to articles of the European convention on human rights, and amendment 75 clarifies that the reports to Parliament by ministers will cover steps that have been taken by Scottish ministers, and those that have been taken by the registrar general.

Amendment 77 will correct a minor typographical error. It will change

“no late than 14 days”

to

“no later than 14 days”.

Amendment 78 will make the definition of “emergency period” consistent with the approach that is taken elsewhere in the bill.

I move amendment 73.

Adam Tomkins

I will record two things: first, my support for the amendments, which will tidy up the work that was done yesterday, in particular to include civil partnerships within the scope of the amendment from yesterday, and secondly, my thanks to the cabinet secretary and his officials for co-operating with us on this important change.

Amendment 73 agreed to.

Amendments 74 to 78 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

Amendment 79 moved—[Jackie Baillie].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 79 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 19, Against, 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 79 disagreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Amendment 81, in the name of Colin Smyth, on concessionary travel, is grouped with amendment 82.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Amendments 81 and 82 would require Scottish ministers to establish a scheme of free bus travel for NHS and social care workers during the emergency measures. The Government’s “Stay at home” message has been clear: people should travel or go to work only when it is essential, and they should, if possible, avoid public transport.

For our NHS and care workers, who really have stepped up to the mark, travel to their workplace, where they look after and care for our loved ones, does not get more essential.

17:15  



Of course, they have avoided public transport where they can, but for some key workers—often the lowest paid—public transport is their only possible means of travel to work. The very least that we can do at this time is recognise their commitment, dedication and compassion as best we can. One way—a very small way—to do that is to remove one of the financial burdens that they face.

Free bus travel for NHS and social care staff would not cost the taxpayer more. As is the case with free travel for NHS staff in Wales, bus operators would, in return for the substantial and welcome financial support with which the Scottish Government already provides them, be required to allow those staff to travel for free.

As members will know, the Scottish Government is continuing to pay the bus service operators grant and concessionary travel reimbursements at forecast levels, despite there having been a fall of about 80 per cent in concessionary travel passenger journeys. The Government is topping up the difference between actual usage under the concessionary travel scheme and forecast usage, and the total budget for grants and concessionary fares is worth more than £260 million for the year.

Local authorities and transport agencies are continuing to pay for school transport contracts and subsidised non-commercial routes, even though those buses are running either not at all or at vastly reduced frequency.

It is therefore not too much to ask of our bus companies that they should, in return for that support, not only continue their good work in focusing on routes for key workers, but allow the small number of NHS and social care staff to travel on those buses for free.

Ideally, I would like a scheme to cover rail travel as well, as is the case in Northern Ireland and Wales. I have for some time been pressing the Scottish Government to introduce such a scheme, but I appreciate that that would require discussions around rail franchising. So far, the Scottish Government has, sadly, chosen not to pursue that route.

For bus travel, however, a free travel scheme could be implemented almost immediately. There would be no need to provide new concessionary travel cards—in Northern Ireland, health and social care trust staff are entitled to free public transport simply by showing their photographic identification badge, and people who work in the private care sector, including in care homes, show photographic ID and a letter that has been signed by their employer. In Wales, NHS staff simply have to show their NHS pass in order to travel on public transport for free. I therefore ask: why not in Scotland?

Some members might argue that such a scheme would mean that more people would travel by bus, but it would be a bit of an insult to our NHS and social care staff to say that they would choose to travel by public transport, which they have been advised to avoid if they can, unless they really had to do so. This is about easing the burden on workers who already travel by bus.

There is no evidence whatsoever from Northern Ireland and Wales that a rise in passenger use has resulted from the free travel schemes that have been brought in for key workers there. We know that the proposed scheme can work, because it is working in Wales and Northern Ireland.

As the Scottish Government confirmed on 1 April—in the update to MSPs from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance—the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity asked operators to provide free bus travel for NHS workers when he announced the financial support for bus operators. He would not have asked them if he did not support free travel, or if he thought that it could not work or was not affordable within the existing financial support that the Scottish Government provides.

Some operators, including Borders Buses in my region, have responded positively, but most have not. Leaving the decision to bus operators has, unfortunately, not worked. If free bus travel is good enough for people in some parts of Scotland and for NHS and social care staff in Northern Ireland and Wales, surely it is good enough for all our constituents across Scotland who work in the NHS and social care sectors, to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

I move amendment 81.

Patrick Harvie

I record my support for amendments 81 and 82 from Colin Smyth. As he will know, the Scottish Green Party supports fair and free public transport as a long-term objective, and we have taken steps in that direction. Amendment 81 would, in the current circumstances—as Colin Smyth said—expand free bus travel to cover a relatively small number of extra people, but it would be an extremely welcome step.

Having said that, I hope that when we hear more next week from the transport secretary about the long-term trajectory for when lockdown begins to be eased, there will be a clear plan for how to help bus services remain viable. If some commercial operators believe that their services are not viable, we will need much more proactive engagement from the Scottish Government with regard to how we use the recently created powers to set up publicly owned local bus companies. That will be one of the most important ways to ensure that services on which NHS workers, care workers and everybody else depend will still be there in the era of social distancing.

Michael Russell

I am very supportive of what Colin Smyth has done, and I am glad that he has raised the issue.

Our health and social care staff are indispensable and are under incredible pressure, so we have to do everything that we can do to support them. That means finding a way to make what is proposed happen. I think that the only difference between me and Colin Smyth now is to do with how we will make it happen. He is right to say that some Scottish bus operators are already offering free travel to national health service workers, on presentation of an NHS identification card. We welcome those initiatives, and we need more of them.

The question is whether we should set up a formal administrative scheme with all that that would require in terms of machinery, issuing of cards and establishment of criteria for the concession, or do what is being done in Wales and Northern Ireland, which is to make it as simple as possible and ensure that people can use services on presentation of simple proof that they will have of their work. That would be the better thing to do, and is likely to happen more quickly and be more effective.

As Patrick Harvie said, the transport secretary will report to Parliament next week, and there will be an opportunity for him to consider how he will ensure that what is proposed will happen, based on the resources that the bus companies are getting.

There is, however, an issue with the wording of the amendments, which leaves some dubiety. One of them appears to capture all local authority workers. Sympathetic as I am to that, it would be untenable.

What we need to do—I would like to do this—is commit to ensuring that the schemes continue to grow, and to finding a way to make them grow. Colin Smyth is right about what should happen; that approach will be much faster. We need to ensure that the proposal happens in a much simpler fashion than might be the case with a formal scheme, and we need to ensure that Transport Scotland and the minister work with Mr Smyth and other concerned people to ensure that it happens.

Fortunately, we do not require legislation to make it happen. Section 40 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2005 can be used to create a scheme very simply, given where we are almost at.

I think that the best way forward is not to endorse amendments 81 and 82, but to say that the transport secretary, Transport Scotland and Mr Smyth will work together to get what he proposes up and running as quickly as possible, and to expand—as he rightly said—what already exists, in order that we can provide what we really want.

I commend that approach to Mr Smyth. I know that he has exchanged correspondence with the cabinet secretary for transport. I think that we now need some additional urgency to make sure that his suggestion happens quickly.

Colin Smyth

I thank the cabinet secretary for his comments. I have been asking for a scheme for several months, and the cabinet secretary now appears to be saying that the Government is going to introduce such a scheme. I am unsure why it kept saying no over the past two months, but is suddenly saying yes.

A couple of things that the cabinet secretary said are simply not true. First, he said that my amendments would require an entirely new scheme to be set up, with concessionary bus passes being produced. It would not. The wording replicates the schemes in Wales and Northern Ireland. NHS and social care staff would, in order to get on a bus, be required simply to show their NHS pass or, if they work in a private care home, their ID pass and a letter from their employer. That is what happens with Borders Buses and elsewhere. It is simply not true to say that my amendments would require an entirely new system to be set up.

The cabinet secretary said that the transport secretary will make a statement on Tuesday. I ask him—I will certainly take an intervention on this—whether he is saying to Parliament that, when the transport secretary makes his statement on Tuesday, he will commit to replicating in Scotland the concessionary travel scheme for NHS staff and social care workers that exists in Wales? He knows what that scheme is and how it works, and he has asked operators to do it, but they have not done so, so far. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment that that will happen on Tuesday?

Michael Russell

No. I am sorry. I wish that I could give Colin Smyth that commitment, but I am afraid that I cannot. I can say that there is a commitment to making sure that it happens, but I cannot tie the transport secretary to that timescale. That is why I want him, Mr Smyth and Transport Scotland to discuss how it can be done. I wish that I could go further, but I cannot.

Colin Smyth

The way to make it happen is to vote for amendments 81 and 82, which will do exactly what the cabinet secretary says he wants to be done, in a short time.

I will pick up the cabinet secretary on another technical issue. He said that amendment 82 would cover all local government staff, but that is simply not true. The criterion that is used in amendment 82 is the same as the one that was used by the Government in its safe staffing bill—now the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019—with the definition of “social care workers” being workers who provide care services. That is covered by the safe staffing legislation, and the definition in my amendment is the same. It is not true to say that the proposed provisions would cover every single local government worker: that is not what has been set out in my amendments 81 and 82.

I will press amendments 81 and 82. If the Government is genuinely committed to its scheme, it should note that the amendments will deliver the same scheme as those that exist for bus services in Northern Ireland and Wales. I would like to go further and include rail services, too, but that is not what the amendments concern.

The proposals would also not require additional funding from the taxpayer. Frankly, I say that if the Government wants to deliver such a scheme, members have to vote for my two amendments.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 81 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 81 disagreed to.

Amendment 82 moved—[Colin Smyth].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 82 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 22, Against 55, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 82 disagreed to.

Schedule 4—Other measures in response to coronavirus

Amendment 83 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

We come to group 10, on business costs and reliefs. Amendment 84, in the name of Murdo Fraser, is grouped with amendments 85 and 86.

Murdo Fraser

Amendment 84 seeks to extend the reach of the Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus Reliefs) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to include the production of newspapers. It would put newspapers in the same category as businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, which are given one year’s rates relief under the regulations.

Let me explain why I think this is an important matter. As we know, local newspapers are a vital source of information, particularly at the present time, when people are seeking information about what they can safely do, what is going on in the world and what messages Government and health authorities are telling them. They often derive that knowledge from local newspapers. People may not be able to access local newspapers in physical form, but many local papers have websites that people are accessing.

17:30  



Local newspapers are important, but they are suffering extremely hard times at the moment. Those that have continued to publish have seen a collapse in revenue. Circulation is down 25 per cent. Advertising revenue is down 75 per cent, which is not surprising, as many of the businesses that would normally advertise, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, are not operating. These are extremely difficult times in the world of local newspapers.

Some famous titles, such as the West Highland Free Press, have stopped publishing altogether—at least in physical format—and maintain only an online presence. Others are struggling on in print, but all are in real difficulty.

Local newspapers are important to us. As MSPs, we rely on them to publish details of our surgeries, to take our press releases and to print photographs of us at local galleries, agricultural shows, school visits and all the other things we do. We rely on them, and they now rely on us to give them the support that they need to continue.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced a package of advertising for newspapers. It is welcome, but it will not go far enough to support local papers when it is spread thinly across every title in Scotland. As long as the current conditions pertain, with an extended lockdown, there will be the potential for a very serious impact on local newspapers.

Some would ask why we should single out newspapers for support in this fashion. They are not having to close as shops and hospitality businesses are. However, they are in a relatively unique position. They are continuing to operate, but—unlike some other businesses, such as food retail, which are doing very well—newspapers are seeing a collapse in revenues. For that reason, they need to be supported. At a time when we are hungry for vital information, it is important that we convey health messages to the public.

The total cost of supporting business rates for the newspaper sector for the entire year is less than £4 million. We are not talking about a huge amount of money, but we are talking about a mechanism of providing support that would make a significant difference to the viability of those important local services. I believe that we should support our local papers, so I will be moving amendment 84 in my name.

While I am on my feet, I will comment briefly on amendments 85 and 86, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, which I am sure he will say more about in a moment. They are sensible amendments that deal with a practical issue that has been identified. People, particularly retailers and small business owners, who pay business rates not directly but as part of a package through their rent, are not able to claim relief. Mr Cole-Hamilton’s amendments seek to rectify that ill, and I think that they are worthy of support.

I move amendment 84.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Before I move the amendments in my name, I will say a word in support of amendment 84, in the name of Murdo Fraser. At a time when we are passing unprecedented levels of power to the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the police, it is absolutely vital that we maintain a thriving media industry to hold them all to account. That starts with our local papers.

I echo the remarks made by Mr Fraser a moment ago, because those papers are struggling. Although they are still operational, revenue is down and it is set to stay down. We as a Parliament should grasp with both hands any opportunity to offer them support.

My amendment 85 is a resurrection of an identical amendment that was very narrowly defeated in committee yesterday. Amendment 86 is a slight iteration of the same but it is more focused—I will come on to that.

The amendments come from casework. I am sure that all MSPs have had this kind of casework in the time following the howl of human pain that greeted the advent of the coronavirus and the restrictions that we rightly imposed on our society and our economy. Cracks have been emerging all over the place, and individuals and companies have fallen through them.

To my mind, one of the most glaringly obvious cracks is in the business rented sector. There was no means of directing support to business other than through the business rate process, or non-domestic rate system. However, that meant that businesses that have a rateable value that would qualify them for support through the grant scheme but which pay their business rates through an intermediary—that is, through a rental agreement or a management charge for the rented service office space that they occupy—do not qualify for the support. There are many such businesses in my constituency, particularly at the Gyle industrial estate, where there are a range of managed and serviced-accommodation premises. They can qualify for the support in every other way, but it is the bureaucratic detail of who actually pays the rate to the council that qualifies businesses for support.

I urge the chamber to support amendment 85.

I understand that there might be some concern about how we guard against fraud. To that end, my amendment 86 relates explicitly to organisations that are named on the valuation roll but which pay business rates through an intermediary rather than directly themselves. The amendment will help a range of organisations. It is not limited to those that occupy Regus office spaces and run very wealthy companies; it will apply to people who operate trading stalls, too.

I ask the chamber to support my amendments.

Andy Wightman

The Greens support amendment 84, in Murdo Fraser’s name, and welcome it having been lodged. On amendments 85 and 86, I welcome the fact that Alex Cole-Hamilton has brought the issue to public attention. The Greens voted against his stage 2 amendment yesterday because it was a hybrid amendment.

It is important to make clear to the chamber that, broadly speaking, there are three classes of non-domestic rate payers. There are those who occupy the premises, pay rates to the council, claim under the small business bonus scheme if they wish and are eligible for business grants. That group accounts for the large majority of ratepayers. There are then tenants who occupy offices that are owned by other people, but their offices are on the valuation roll and are valued. They are eligible for and claim under the small business bonus scheme, but the payment goes to the landlord, and they have been left out. The third group are tenants who are not on the valuation roll and do not pay rates directly; it is all wrapped up in the landlord rent. There is a real danger of fraud in relation to that category, because anybody can get a barrow, sign the lease with somebody and say that they are a small business. That is why we had some concerns.

We are very supportive of the intentions behind amendment 86, but I draw Alex Cole-Hamilton’s attention to the fact that, on 30 April 2020, I asked Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, whether people who occupy premises within a larger property but who are on the valuation roll could be brought into the business grant support system. They are on the valuation roll, so there is no risk of fraud—we know who they are, the value and so on. She said that that was a “very reasonable question” and that she

“would like to make that possible.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2020; c 4.]

Since 30 April, I have not been sighted on the Government’s intentions in that regard, but my understanding is that it is working on that. We will wait to see what the Government says about where it is going with its intentions in relation to the ratepayers that are covered by amendment 86. If the Government gives me the encouragement that it is still working on the matter and intends to make the change, there might not be such a need for primary legislation in that regard.

Graham Simpson

I want to say a few words about amendment 84, in the name of Murdo Fraser, which relates to newspapers. My concern is about the state of our local papers. National newspapers are also struggling, but local papers have been downsizing and centralising for years. I started my career in local papers and at that time most small towns had a local paper office, but now we would struggle to find them. That change has been to the detriment of the industry and of democracy, because we need newspapers to hold us and councillors to account. Increasingly, that is not happening.

Some local papers were on their knees before the crisis, and this has just made the situation worse. Pretty much all local and national journalists are working from home, and newspapers are being produced remotely. I see a real danger that companies will see this as an opportunity to cut costs even further in the long term, once the crisis is over, so any help that we can give to newspapers—local or national—is to be applauded.

Michael Russell

Let me deal with Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendments before I turn to Murdo Fraser’s amendment.

Andy Wightman asked for an indication of the Government’s thinking. I am always happy to be positive to Mr Wightman, and I can be positive about our thinking. The Government will do this—I am authorised to say that. The issues are what criteria we apply, and—as Mr Wightman has indicated—the need to be nuanced in eligibility criteria. There is not a blanket way of doing this, because there are differences between the businesses that would be involved.

17:45  



I say to Alex Cole-Hamilton that I agree with him, we are committed to doing this and we hope to make an announcement very soon. All of us will have had such cases in our constituency workloads; however, I ask him not to move his amendments.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am grateful for the cabinet secretary’s assurances, and I am contemplating not moving my amendments. However, does he recognise that Andy Wightman first raised this very significant issue, which is causing real pain and viability issues for businesses around the country, on 20 April? Time is ticking by, and we need reassurance as soon as possible. Will the cabinet secretary commit to expediting the process so that help is given to those suffering businesses as soon as humanly possible?

Michael Russell

I am more than aware of the pressures on businesses in my constituency, as each of us will be. I want to make sure that problems are resolved as quickly as possible, because I do not for a moment want to see anybody left in difficulty. However, it is sometimes difficult to get the right scheme, so the commitment that I can make—I know that Alex Cole-Hamilton knows this from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance—is that we are working flat out to get it right, and we will get it right as quickly as we possibly can. We want it to happen, and that is the assurance that I give to Alex Cole-Hamilton. I cannot put a number of days on it because I do not know, but Alex Cole-Hamilton has spoken to the cabinet secretary about the matter, and I know that she will speak to him again. I hope that he will not move his amendments 85 and 86, so that we can introduce a scheme that is properly nuanced and detailed.

On amendment 84, in the name of Murdo Fraser, I know precisely where he is coming from. The Scottish Newspaper Society has spoken to me, as it has spoken to many people in the Parliament. I have reservations about the proposed approach, and I will make them clear. As has been referred to, I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance has already agreed with the Scottish Newspaper Society not only the first tranche of £440,000 of advertising to be provided to local newspapers, but now another £3 million in increased advertising costs. That is a sizeable package of about £3.5 million. Murdo Fraser indicated that he thought that the cost of rates relief would be about £4 million. The estimates that I have seen are slightly higher than that, but let us not fall out over £1 million or so. There is broad equivalence in the sums.

Unfortunately, we do not have unlimited sums available to us. We have already spent more than we have had in consequentials, and it is very difficult to see how we can add to that sum. There is a package of money, and the question is how is it spent. We certainly want to listen to people about how it is spent, but it appeared that there was an agreement that it should be spent on advertising. If it is to be spent on rates relief, that will do a number of things. It will benefit larger organisations rather than smaller organisations. In England, for example, the rates relief package is a total of £1,500 per newspaper, and it applies only to local newspapers. Larger and more national organisations would do better out of the proposed scheme than local newspapers would. Some local newspapers will receive a payment because they are registered for the small business bonus, so there are issues there, too.

Murdo Fraser

I want to understand the cabinet secretary correctly. Is he suggesting that if my amendment 84 is agreed to, the Scottish Government will renege on its promise to newspapers to place the advertising package with them?

Michael Russell

There is a difficulty in continuing to add to the £3.5 million another £3.5 million, £4 million or £5 million. That is the simple, practical difficulty. If members vote for it, the proposed scheme will favour larger, national newspapers and it will diminish the support that is available to local newspapers. That is not what we want. I entirely share the view that we should be supporting newspapers and putting money into doing that. The question is how we put the money in and what we actually get for that money.

I would like to see both national and local newspapers receive support. I would very much like to see—I will be shameless and name them—The Oban Times, The Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard and The Ileach receive support. The Ileach is a very good community newspaper; these days, I appear in it almost as much as Donald Cameron appears in it. It is a community enterprise and a charity, and we need to ensure that such bodies survive, along with the national newspapers. However, it simply is not possible to do everything.

Members will make up their minds, but what has been agreed for advertising in the agreement that we had with the Scottish Newspaper Society seems to us to be a more effective way of targeting the resource. It favoured smaller enterprises and also provided advertising for larger enterprises.

I point out that papers in Scotland will receive financial support from the UK Government and the Scottish Government, so there is a double benefit coming to them. It is up to members, but there are limits to what can be spent, and what has been agreed is what is best in terms of favouring all the sectors. I hope that members accept that.

Murdo Fraser

I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton and Andy Wightman for indicating their support for amendment 84. I listened carefully to what the cabinet secretary said. Indeed, as I acknowledged earlier, the advertising package that the Scottish Government has already announced and committed to is welcome. As the cabinet secretary knows, Conservatives do not often come to the chamber to ask for more money to be spent on things, but given the vital importance of newspapers in conveying information at this time, particularly to those who are housebound and who have few other ways of accessing that information, this is an important exception to the normal rule.

I press amendment 84 and I encourage members to support all the amendments in the group, should Alex Cole-Hamilton decide to move his amendments.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 84 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 41, Against 38, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 84 agreed to.

Amendments 85 and 86 not moved.

The Presiding Officer

Group 11 is on freedom of information. Amendment 87, in the name of Michael Russell, is grouped with amendments 88 and 89. Jenny Gilruth will move amendment 87 and speak to all the amendments in the group.

Jenny Gilruth

As I said to the COVID-19 Committee yesterday, the Scottish Government respects and has listened to the will of Parliament, which has clearly indicated where it thinks the balance should be struck in relation to freedom of information during the emergency period. The Government’s amendments on FOI seek to ensure that the will of Parliament is delivered.

Amendment 87 makes minor changes to ensure that the amendments that were made at stage 2 operate correctly. It renumbers the inserted text in paragraph 6 of schedule 6 to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and resolves an issue with the way conjunctions work. Those minor changes ensure that, when the amendments are made, the Scottish Information Commissioner will be able to consider the reasons why an authority failed to comply with the timescales that are set out in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Yesterday, we heard that the public interest should be the overriding consideration when the commissioner considers the reasonableness of explanations for failure to comply. The Scottish Government thinks that the public interest would undoubtedly be at the forefront of the commissioner’s mind in making decisions, but the bill places a requirement on the commissioner, and amendment 88 seeks to ensure that that is clear.

Amendment 89 is entirely technical and removes duplicated references to the first coronavirus act being amended. Taken together, these amendments are technical in nature and are directed at making sure that the will of the Parliament is delivered effectively. I invite members to support them on that basis.

I move amendment 87.

Adam Tomkins

We will support all the amendments in the group.

Emergency legislation should confer powers on ministers only where it is strictly necessary to do so. By and large, the legislation that we passed on 1 April and the bill that we are considering meet that test. However, there were two important exceptions to that in the bill that was passed in April. The first, which was the unnecessary power to cancel trial by jury, was removed by the Government. However, the Government persisted with the second, which was its unnecessary and unwise powers with regard to freedom of information. It is very welcome that, given the difficulties in having to legislate in an emergency and in an expedited manner—and, indeed, in having to do so remotely—all four Opposition parties in the Parliament were able to come together and co-operate to deliver on what was, as Jenny Gilruth has just said, the clear view of the Scottish Parliament right from the beginning that those powers should never have been legislated for in the first place.

I record my thanks to Neil Findlay, Ross Greer and Alex Cole-Hamilton for working together with me to deliver a result. There are very few issues—indeed, I cannot think of any other issue—that would put Neil Findlay, Ross Greer, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Adam Tomkins in the same corner. However, this is that issue.

By and large, all our coronavirus legislation strikes a balance. In the bill, we have sought to strike a balance between landlords and tenants, and between social care providers and care home residents. We now finally have the balance right on freedom of information, as well. That holds the Parliament in high stead, and I welcome it.

Amendment 87 agreed to.

Amendments 88 and 89 moved—[Michael Russell]—and agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Group 12 is on control of obstruction in roads. Amendment 90, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is the only amendment in the group.

Michael Russell

I am grateful to Alex Cole-Hamilton for lodging the original amendment and for a discussion that we had to have over the past 24 hours in light of the fact that it has emerged that the legal position is more complicated than the single aspect that the amendment addressed. I am also grateful to him for being prepared to engage on the issue. We now realise that, as well as roads legislation, there is planning law and the interests of neighbours to be considered according to existing statute.

I am keen to recognise the clear wish of the committee and Alex Cole-Hamilton to offer hope to hospitality businesses in these very difficult times. In order to try to achieve that, I want to propose a way forward with the amendment, which will reconcile the legal issues that have arisen.

First, if my amendment is agreed to, it will remove the effect of Mr Cole-Hamilton’s amendments yesterday.

Secondly, we will set out the legal situation more fully in a letter that I will lodge with the Scottish Parliament information centre.

Thirdly, the Scottish Government will take the matter forward by ensuring that, as we plan and prepare to move on out of lockdown, we will be mindful of what the will of the Parliament was in finding ways to ensure that cafes, restaurants and similar places can observe social distancing by making use of outdoor spaces, including roads and pavements, provided that they do not obstruct their safe use by others.

Finally, we will, of course, involve local authorities, businesses, communities and others in considering how the approach can be implemented in the best way at the most appropriate time and the agreed time in their own areas. Many will already have started to think about that in light of the amendment, and more will do so when the First Minister gives details about her plan tomorrow.

I am glad that hope was the keynote of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendment yesterday. The Scottish Government and I share that hope, and we want to make it a reality when the science and the medical advice tell us that it is safe to do so.

I move amendment 90.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I echo the words of the cabinet secretary and thank him for the open-handed way in which he dealt with my stage 2 amendment and for walking me through the legal hinterland that was unknown to me prior to it. I also thank the members of the COVID-19 Committee for supporting the amendment by a majority. That sent a powerful and important message to our hospitality industry. Let us remember that the hospitality sector will struggle as a result of the lockdown for far longer than many other industries in our society, and for at least as long as social distancing is, by necessity, imposed on it.

My amendment sought to give the hospitality sector some hope in how it might box clever and think about new ways to open, trade and offer a service. It was never a charter for cafes or bars to invade pavements to the impediment and restriction of those with sight loss or other disabilities; rather, it was about using the cityscapes that we are already thinking about redesigning—by widening pavements and closing roads—in our councils, towns and cities in recognition of the new realities that lockdown restrictions bring. My amendment was also never intended to be a trigger for us to leave lockdown early—it was not about firing a starting gun for cafes and bars in town centres to start decking out tables and chairs in contravention of lockdown restrictions. Again, it was showing a line of sight as to what the world might look like when, in its own good time, the Government starts to ease those restrictions.

We also need to think about following international examples. When Australia started to relax lockdown restrictions for social venues, cafes and bars, very restricted numbers of people—a maximum of five people for an entire premises, or one person at a time—were let into those areas, and businesses realised that it was just not worth a candle, as they could not put themselves on a paying basis. Frankly, the punters just did not enjoy it; it is not a very social atmosphere to be part of. In comparison, Vilnius in Lithuania has almost declared its town centre an open-air cafe and it is already starting to introduce the measures that my amendment sought to bring about.

I hope that we can move forward in the spirit of consensus, as the cabinet secretary has said. I look forward to working with him and the Government in the coming weeks to realise the intent behind the amendment. The will of the Parliament was clearly expressed during stage 2 in support of making that happen, so I support the cabinet secretary’s amendment.

Amendment 90 agreed to.

Amendment 91 moved—[Graham Simpson].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 91 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Against

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 59, Against 19, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 91 agreed to.

The Presiding Officer

Group 13 is on traffic regulation. Amendment 92, in the name of Mark Ruskell, is the only amendment in the group.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I have been very much looking forward to debating the intricacies of traffic regulation orders all day; now I will get my 15 minutes of fame—I will be able to nail this one. [Laughter.] All right; I will make it one minute.

Clearly, walking and cycling have never been more popular. The purpose of amendment 92 is to make it easier for councils to introduce emergency measures such as pop-up cycle lanes and footpaths that can keep us physically distanced and safe. Having that space will help to prevent infection from Covid-19; it will also make sure that we are physically distanced from road traffic, which will prevent accidents and save lives. That is a critical issue, as road traffic levels will inevitably rise as we come out of lockdown in the weeks to come.

It is difficult to see how some form of physical distancing will not be needed in six months’ time. We will need temporary measures for some time, and it is important that councils have the time to monitor and review their effectiveness. In some cases, councils will consider whether to make measures permanent. However, the length of time for which temporary measures can stay in place under the order process is just six months. After that, councils will need to take time out to fill in applications to Transport Scotland for emergency order extensions.

18:00  



Amendment 92 would simply extend to 18 months the current six-month time limit that exists in relation to footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways, cycle tracks or byways that are open to all traffic, so that the approach is the same as it is in the order process for roads.

The Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, which represents all 32 council road departments supports that approach. SCOTS has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to indicate its support, as have Sustrans, Cycling UK and many others. We should listen to the people whose job it is to run our communities and keep us safe during this difficult time. That was my only agenda in lodging amendment 92.

I move amendment 92.

Jenny Gilruth

Amendment 92 would extend the maximum duration of temporary traffic regulation orders. As I said yesterday at stage 2, temporary reallocation of road space away from vehicles, through pop-up cycle tracks, for example, can be achieved through TTROs that alter the use of existing roads that are currently used by vehicles, as opposed to the route that the amendment seeks to achieve. Measures can be put in place for up to 18 months and can be extended for a further six months, if the procedures to make them permanent are commenced.

As with amendment 43 at stage 2, which we debated yesterday, amendment 92 would apply to all TTROs, rather than just those that are made in response to Covid-19. They would apply to TTROs for the purpose of road works or dealing with damage or danger that is not connected with Covid-19.

Mr Ruskell’s approach is well intentioned, but local authorities are already able to do—and are doing—what his amendment seeks. For those reasons we cannot support amendment 92 and ask him not to press it.

Mark Ruskell

We are perhaps in danger of ending stage 3 proceedings pretty much where we began, albeit with a less impossibilist tone.

There has been a lack of engagement from the Government on not just amendment 92 but other amendments that have been considered this afternoon. I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, well over a week ago to raise the concerns of officers—the people on the ground who implement traffic regulation orders and who are calling for changes. I have had no reply. There has been a complete lack of engagement.

During yesterday’s virtual meeting of the COVID-19 Committee, I offered to work with the minister on an amendment, but I received no response. I got in touch with the Government last night, I circulated a draft amendment and I asked for feedback and engagement. I asked the Government to take into account the views of officers on the ground who are working to deliver the Government’s objectives on space for distancing. Again, no response, no reply and no commitment at all.

At this point, I want to press amendment 92 to a vote, because it would provide what officers are calling for. The current system is cumbersome; it requires councils continually to go back to Transport Scotland to request extensions to temporary measures. It is at the discretion of the issuing authorities—the councils—to determine how long they want a traffic regulation order to remain in place. If an order is made in connection with road works, as the minister said, or something that does not need to last, councils can withdraw it. However, they should not be forced to continually re-apply for something that they want to last for the duration of this legislation and this crisis.

It is disappointing that we are having to get into a technical discussion about TTROs in the Parliament. The matter should have been sorted out by Scottish Government officials, working with the people who implement orders on the ground. I feel that I am trying to do the Government’s job here, at stage 3, but I will represent the people who I know are the experts in the area and who know what needs to be done. I will press amendment 92.

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 92 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 41, Against 38, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 92 agreed to.

Amendment 93 moved—[Patrick Harvie]—and agreed to.

Amendment 94 moved—[Patrick Harvie].

The Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 94 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Against

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 21, Against 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 94 disagreed to.

The Presiding Officer

That ends consideration of amendments. Before we move on to the debate, would members like to take a short break? Members are indicating that they would like to crack on. That is fair enough. I remind members who are leaving the chamber to observe social distancing rules.

At this stage in proceedings, I am required, under standing orders, to decide whether any provision in the bill relates to a protected subject matter; that is, whether it will amend the franchise or the electoral system for Scottish parliamentary elections. In the case of this bill, in my view, no such protected matter is affected, so the bill does not require a supermajority for it to be passed at stage 3.

Michael Russell

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In terms of the time and the detail, are we going into a full final stage 3 debate, or will it be a truncated one, as we had for the original emergency legislation?

The Presiding Officer

That is a good point. My understanding is that we will have a truncated debate and that therefore decision time will come forward. The debate will last roughly 30 minutes and will end at roughly 6.40.

We will have a short pause before we begin the debate to let some members leave the chamber.

Final debate on the Bill

Once they've debated the amendments, the MSPs discuss the final version of the Bill.

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Final debate transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is the stage 3 debate on motion S5M-21791, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. I invite Michael Russell to signify Crown consent to the bill before he opens the debate.

18:10  



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

For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

I will start in a traditional, heartfelt way by thanking the bill team. It would be extraordinary enough to have produced the bill in the available time, but I regard the fact that the bill team has produced two emergency bills in little more than six weeks, during a time of lockdown, while working at home or with social distancing when it has been possible to meet in Parliament—as it was yesterday, for stage 2—as utterly remarkable.

It is true that not all heroes wear capes and, to me, the bill team have been heroes. The tradition at the Scottish Parliament is that, at the end of a bill, the minister takes the bill team for a drink. This bill team is very large—I was totally unaware of how many people had been on it at some stage—but I would be happy to buy them a drink. I just wish that I could do so at this particular moment. I make a public statement on that because I intend to so—they know that.

I also thank my private office, who have been particularly extraordinary on the matter and have entered a little into the legend of this place. I can now reveal that the cause of yesterday’s fire alarm during stage 2 was a sweet potato that was placed by a member of my private office staff in the microwave in the kitchen next to my office. I am afraid to say that I was, therefore, directly responsible for the interruption—not just once, but twice. Mr Lindhurst twice tried to make a speech and twice failed because of the burning baked sweet potato. [Laughter.] One could use that means in the future if one did not want to make a speech.

I also thank my ministerial colleagues, particularly Kevin, who has taken a lot of the burden of the bill with regard to tenancy issues and whom I know believes passionately in protecting and providing rights to tenants and will go on doing so. In my own portfolio, I thank Jenny and Graeme—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Might I interrupt, cabinet secretary?

Michael Russell

You want me to use—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Yes. Could you please use members’ full names, for the benefit of those at home and the Official Report?

Michael Russell

I am clearly being far too familiar.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Yes, I think you are.

Michael Russell

I will be more formal. I thank Kevin Stewart, Graeme Dey and Jenny Gilruth—the latter became a minister on 17 February and has now completed her second bill. At this rate, there will be a new world record by the end of the year.

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

No more!

Michael Russell

I agree that there should be no more. We have said that the end of the emergency bills is in sight. We will need to continue looking at what we must do with regard to legislation—if we need to legislate on occasion, we will. However, I think that the bulk of that work has been done and I hope that it has all been done. I am grateful to my colleagues for taking the work forward and, more widely, to everyone across the chamber.

I will say a couple of things about what we have achieved and how. We are about to pass a bill that does significant things. I am glad of such an achievement as the carers supplement, for example. We have done other things as well. We have agreed on significant interventions in the social care sector, which we hope will make a real difference and save lives.

I thank Monica Lennon for lodging her amendment—I am embarrassing her yet again this afternoon. We have taken money, and I know that she has been, and will be, negotiating those resources with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport—that is above my pay grade—and we will be able to assist individuals who work in care homes who are suffering and have difficulty.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his remarks. However, what is more important than that there are discussions between me and the Government is that there are trade unions around the table. Can the cabinet secretary give me an assurance that the trade unions will be part of the discussions about the scheme and the regulations?

Michael Russell

I am happy to put on record my strong support for the involvement of trade unions in all such matters, including this one. I know that one member has questioned that constantly, but I assure the member that that is not at question. I look forward to ensuring that trade unions are fully represented and to ensuring that that money goes directly and effectively to those who need it. That is what we are trying to do.

The bill has done some other important things. For example, a part that was not amended at any stage concerns what will happen to the European championships 2020, which will become the European championships 2021. That is another area where we could agree that there were some things that needed to be done that could not be left undone, and which this bill is able to do.

I can go through more such examples. There have been significant movements on taxation and the issue of land and buildings transaction tax. I am grateful to Liam McArthur for lodging an amendment on that, which we were happy to accept. On housing and tenancy, we made progress in the first emergency bill and we continue to make progress in this bill.

However, we cannot do everything in emergency legislation—it is important to recognise and acknowledge that. Emergency legislation does what it says on the tin: it involves things that we require to do quickly and as effectively as possible. What I said yesterday with regard to ensuring that what we do is proportionate, possible and practical has been quoted several times today. Those are important considerations.

Some things cannot be done by emergency legislation. I have had to say that on a number of occasions. Equally, in this crisis, there are some things that should not be done by emergency legislation. Whether we should be passing primary legislation to affect the secondary legislation of lockdown is a key issue, because we should allow the review of the lockdown arrangements to be driven by medical and scientific evidence, not necessarily by political priorities that have not taken account of medical and scientific evidence. I am grateful to those people who have recognised that and have allowed that to happen.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I agree with the cabinet secretary broadly on those points, but there is a flaw in his argument in that the emergency regulations have never been subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and many of us, as he knows, have concerns about elements of that. I would like his reassurance that, when members write to him about these things, the Government will consider their concerns seriously and will consider the kind of amendments that might reflect some of those concerns during each review period, not simply look at whether the regulations should continue to be in force.

Michael Russell

That is a fair point. There are a lot of opinions on that matter. The provisions are capable of scrutiny by this chamber and, indeed, the reporting process that we put in place will ensure that that happens. I have referred on several occasions to the fact that I intend to consider issues in the light of discussion here or amendments that have been agreed to. I take the point and will take it forward.

My last point concerns how we can best manage this process—not just the process of emergency legislation but the legislative process in general, which should not always divide us. There are all sorts of possible combinations of parties and individuals who can work together on key issues. The way that we can do that is by ensuring that there is engagement. We have had some heated discussion about engagement in the chamber, and I do not want to open that up again now. I simply say that it is not enough to say, “Here is an email setting out what I intend to do.” It is important to say, “Here are some ideas. Can you include them or is there way for me to take them forward?” or to say, “I have this objective and you have that objective, so how do we bring those two objectives together to allow us to make progress?”

I think that I have acceded to every party in this chamber in that regard in relation to the bill. I would like to think that we are learning from the process and that, in the future, we can apply it to other bills that are not emergency bills, because that will make for better legislation. It will also make for better politics in Scotland—I will finish by agreeing with Patrick Harvie on that. This crisis is, in no sense, an opportunity, but we would be very foolish to say that we will simply go back to the way that we were doing things. If we can find a way to have a better Scotland and to embrace that, one of the things that we must do is ensure that we have a better politics in Scotland, which means that we must do things differently in here as well as outside.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill be passed.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I apologise, but I will be brief. In a speech earlier today, I made a reference to the Scottish Care website carrying adverts for jobs, but it was in fact another website—a commercial organisation’s website. I just wanted to correct the record on what I said. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sure that everyone will have taken note of that.

18:20  



Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

This is the end of a short process for the bill, although it has at times felt like a very long one—it certainly felt like that during yesterday’s stage 2 consideration of the bill by the COVID-19 Committee. I thank my fellow committee members for their co-operation in handling 56 amendments by remote technology so efficiently. I also record my thanks to the committee clerks and all the Parliament staff who helped us with what was in the end a relatively smooth and seamless process that was interrupted only by the unexpected and untimely fire alarm in the building—and we now know who to blame for that. I also thank the cabinet secretary for the open and co-operative way in which he has approached the bill, and I echo his thanks to the bill team. I also put on record my thanks to those in the Parliament’s legislation team for all their help with Opposition amendments, which was much appreciated.

The bill deals with a wide range of provisions in response to the extraordinary circumstances that we are now in. A range of new powers are being granted to the Scottish Government—albeit on a temporary basis, until 30 September—with the power for ministers to extend that by up to a year. As we heard in the stage 1 debate, the measures include new protection for students who are renting property; the introduction of a new carers allowance; provisions on bankruptcy; a number of changes to rules on criminal justice to take account of the circumstances that we are in; and an extension of the deadline for lodging the accounts for registered social landlords, which was an amendment that was specifically requested by my colleague Graham Simpson.

The bill also extends the period for claiming back the additional dwelling supplement when individuals are moving from one main residence to another. The bill originally extended that period from 18 months to 27 months, and I was pleased yesterday to support an amendment in the name of Liam McArthur, which was moved by Beatrice Wishart, to extend the period to 36 months, which seems a reasonable proposition that will bring Scotland into line with the situation south of the border. Of course, the property market in England has been reactivated this week, whereas it has not been reactivated in Scotland, so it does not seem unreasonable for us to have at least the same amount of time for properties to be sold as applies there.

A number of issues that came up during yesterday’s stage 2 proceedings are now addressed in the bill. Following Government amendments, there are new powers for the Scottish ministers to intervene in care homes that are in financial difficulty or which are not meeting the requisite standard of care for residents. Although we supported those amendments, that was not without some concern. We all know that there is a crisis in our care homes, with a tragic level of deaths of residents and serious questions being asked about access to testing and personal protective equipment. We need to be careful about sending any sort of message that responsibility for those failings lies at the door of the care home providers in all but a tiny minority of cases.

The great majority of care homes in Scotland, whether they are run in the private sector, by local authorities or by charities, are institutions that are run by people who take their responsibilities very seriously, with dedicated and hard-working staff, and that provide a safe and happy environment for residents. We should not scapegoat care homes because of failures in Government and elsewhere to provide them with adequate support.

Other new provisions in the bill will allow local authorities to acquire care homes. Although we would not object to that, I wonder how many local authorities want to get back into the business of running care homes, when so many have disposed of their care homes to the private and voluntary sectors in recent decades. Both we and care home providers will look carefully at how those new powers are implemented.

The other major area of contention at stage 2 was the changes to the laws on freedom of information. In the original Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government substantially extended the deadlines for freedom of information requests in the teeth of opposition from all four non-Government parties. It was only because of a lack of numbers in the final stage 3 debate that the Government was able to get its way at that point. The current bill has provided the opportunity to rectify that injustice, and I am pleased that it was taken yesterday when a combination of Conservative, Labour, Green and Lib Dem amendments were all agreed to by the COVID-19 Committee, thereby removing some of the worst aspects of what was achieved in the first bill.

That is important. Freedom of information is, if anything, more significant at a time when the public want to know the information that underlies the vital decisions that Scottish ministers are taking on a daily basis, which will have—literally—life-and-death consequences for many of our fellow citizens.

I appreciate that freedom of information requests put a burden on public servants, but that must be weighed against the need for the public to be informed. I am pleased that the situation has been reversed, and that the bill before us restores a proper balance.

This will be the last emergency coronavirus bill, and I am glad of that. It will put in place temporary measures that will run until the end of September. I sincerely hope—as, I am sure, we all do—that they will not have to be renewed at that point.

We are in unprecedented times, in a situation that none of us thought that we would be in. We all want it to be over as quickly as possible. However, the bill is necessary because of the situation that we are in, and it provides proportionate and time-limited measures. For those reasons, we will support the bill in the final vote.

18:26  



Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Labour will support the Government’s bill. I, too, thank the bill team and the Parliament’s legislation team, whose staff have equally been run off their feet over the past period; the COVID-19 Committee for its work; and the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs for the very genuine approach that he has taken to engaging with other people, even when we have disagreed.

Although it is right that the Government is focusing on the immediate impacts of Covid-19, it also has a huge opportunity to look at additional measures that can be put in place to address the huge inequalities that exist within Scotland. Coronavirus has starkly highlighted those inequalities, and people will look to the Government at this time of crisis and at the measures that it is taking to address the issues. It is clear from the rejection by the Government and the Tories of some of the key progressive amendments that we have considered today that much more needs to be done. We need to be much more willing to address the big issues, instead of simply saying what cannot be done. The world simply cannot go back to the way that it was before the virus. We need to create a fairer, more equal and more just society, and the political will to deliver that society must be there.

There has been considerable talk by the Government about learning from the mistakes and whether, in hindsight, different decisions should have been taken. I therefore turn, instead, to foresight. It is easy to see that there will be difficult times ahead for us after the coronavirus pandemic is over. Governments around the world are rightly looking at what measures to take to bring about economic recovery. I urge the Scottish Government to ensure that, as it looks at potential measures, it considers those in our society who are most at risk of hardship and poverty, and that it does not simply introduce means to protect business alone, but introduces means to support people.

A massive programme of reskilling will be needed, and opportunities will need to be created. That means having clear planning and an industrial strategy that will address the issues and ensure that people are able to take advantage of the available jobs.

There can be no return to austerity after this virus is over. More than a decade of austerity has left us as a country less able to deal with the impact of Covid-19, which will be wide reaching. It is vital that we protect the poorest in our society from bearing the brunt of the economic cost of coronavirus. We should all remember the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne saying, “We are all in this together,” as he brought in policy after policy to attack the weakest and the most vulnerable.

The Tories will want to do the same again; I hope that today’s coming together of the Scottish National Party and the Tories to vote down progressive measures will not continue and that we will stand united to fight austerity and to ensure that those who have suffered the most under a failed Tory austerity programme will not suffer as we move forward. Austerity did not work then and it will not work now.

However, I offer my genuine thanks to the cabinet secretary, and I hope that we can work together to find a way forward that protects the many instead of the few.

18:30  



Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Like others, I thank the COVID-19 Committee and the Parliament’s officials, in particular the legislation team. When normal legislation goes through the Parliament, the legislation team works hard to make sure that all MSPs have the ability to bring proposals that are as well drafted as possible to the chamber for debate. Doing that for an emergency bill means that those officials have been working at breakneck speed. They have done their job extremely well and I am grateful to them.

Michael Russell

Because I got bogged down in issues such as sweet potatoes, I did not thank the committee or the parliamentary bill team; I thank both of them.

Patrick Harvie

I hope that we all agree with that. I also thank the Government for working constructively to reach agreement, where it has chosen to do so—it has not done that on everything.

There have been a few tetchy moments today. Perhaps some of us have been cooped up in our flats and houses for so long that we have forgotten how to play nicely together. Perhaps a few of us were never good at it. However, I suspect that something deeper has led to the disagreements. At the outset of the crisis, there was an understandable and necessary desire for consensus—for us to work together and not politicise the crisis. Now that we are some way down the line, there are real political choices to make, and they will divide us. I suspect that some of that division has spilled out into today’s debates.

The First Minister said that she believes that the rebuilding of our economy after the crisis must be about building a fairer, greener and more equal Scotland. That will not happen by wishing for it or stating it. It will happen only by taking bolder and necessary actions. Not just this Government but Governments around the world have not been asserting the authority of Government to shape society. For too long, the notion of the unfettered free market has been dominant throughout most of the western world, but it is now clear that, in a pandemic, there are no free market capitalists. The market is dependent on the support and intervention of the state in society. If we make them with boldness, our decisions now will determine whether we can build that fairer, more equal and greener society.

The cabinet secretary was reluctant to use the word “opportunity” about the changes that society is going through. Of course, the virus is a profound and devastating threat to many people’s lives, but the work of rebuilding faces us with an opportunity to decide what kind of society and economy we want to build. My amendments 93 and 94, on tax havens, are one small step in the direction away from the dominant assumption that swathes of our economy can be registered in tax havens and refuse to make a vital contribution to the public purse. Government after Government, at the United Kingdom level and in many other countries, has not only accepted but actively facilitated that kind of behaviour. This needs to mark a moment when we say that that will end.

As never before, the crisis has also exposed the vulnerability of people with precarious incomes and housing. The Scottish Government is willing to talk about a radical measure such as universal basic income, but it is more concerned about offering support to landlords than it is about supporting tenants who face the vulnerability of precarious housing.

We must build an economy that works to address social need and the transition to sustainability. The work of rebuilding from a crisis gives us the opportunity to assert how Governments will do that and how our population will expect them to do so. I hope that the Parliament will grasp that opportunity with enthusiasm and boldness.

18:35  



Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

As others have done, I add my thanks to the legislation team, to the Government bill team and to the ministers, for the open-handed manner in which they have sought out consensus on the bill.

As we have heard, the bill that we have been debating is the second emergency bill on the coronavirus that the Parliament has dealt with. As others have said, I hope that it will also be the final one. However, it will not be the final bill that the Parliament will pass in the shadow of the virus. This is just the beginning, because we have no idea for how long social distancing or aspects of lockdown will dominate our lives or of the sheer economic impact and the human pain and suffering that the virus will cause. I think it very likely that, if a recession should lead to a depression and all the things that come with that, each of us—every member in the chamber—will be passing legislation in the shadow of the coronavirus for the rest of our political careers. As one journalist put it, the virus will be to the 21st century what the second world war was to the 20th century.

However, on this bill, the Parliament has done its job. When crisis demanded the handing of unprecedented levels of power to both the Government and the police, the Parliament did its job and scrutinised the bill’s proposals to great effect. However, like Willie Rennie, I look forward very much to the day when we can repeal every provision that has handed such power away from the Parliament.

In scrutinising the many provisions that we have seen in both emergency bills, the Parliament has answered the colossal roar of human pain that each of us heard in the days before lockdown, when it became clear that we would have to bring in restrictions and when people had no idea how they would put food on their tables or pay their bills.

I absolutely recognise—I have referenced such cases today—that we will not have got things right for everyone. People, businesses and communities will continue to slip through the cracks created by the provisions on the virus. However, I say to them that we are looking out for them, we are hearing them and we will not forget them. In considering all the legislation that the chamber will pass from this day onwards, it will be incumbent on us all to recognise the individuals who have still been left behind, or who will be left in the days to come, either by the virus or by the economic impact that befalls them.

As I have said several times, the Parliament has done its job. I am very proud that it has done so, particularly because our unicameral legislature exists as a check and a balance on the power and the agenda of the executive branch. On both emergency bills, we have shown ourselves to be capable of doing just that.

In the context of the first bill, we saw off the potential abolition of jury trials for the duration of the emergency. In Scotland, such trials have gone on uninterrupted for nearly 800 years, persevering through wars and pandemics. I am grateful that the Scottish Government has moved on that issue, and I look forward to continuing to work with it in answering the question of how we can allow such trials to take place in safety.

Adam Tomkins has already eloquently described the multiparty work that went into seeing off the original provisions on freedom of information. Just by dint of the numbers being askew on the day on which we voted on the first coronavirus bill, those would have seen an encroachment on freedom of information rules that no other country in the democratic world has adopted. I am glad that we reversed that threat, and I am also grateful for the Government’s movement in that regard.

There have been some small wins, too, in other exciting little areas of policy that I had never really thought about before but on which I have had to become an expert in short order. Those include business rates relief. I am grateful for the provisions, which the cabinet secretary has alluded to, on extending the time limit before the additional dwellings supplement kicks in. I am also grateful for the understanding that hospitality industries need to know that there is a route out of the current crisis and that the Parliament is thinking about how they can get their businesses back on to a paying basis. There has also been recognition of not only the importance but the vulnerability of our small newspapers and our need for them, at this time, to hold both the Government and the police to account.

The bill that is before us and its predecessor have been good for people such as carers, renters and students, but many more have been missed out and have fallen through the cracks. As I said earlier, it is incumbent on us all to look out for them and to hear them as we go forward and in passing legislation here.

18:39  



Michael Russell

I acknowledge Patrick Harvie’s reference to being able to “play nicely” again after so much time in which we have been locked away elsewhere. Despite all the difficulties today, this has been a reasonable and consensual debate, for most of the time.

We need to remember why we are doing this, so I will conclude by mentioning the issue with which we started the whole process, when we considered the first legislative consent motion at the end of March. We are doing this because we are facing an unprecedented crisis. We are doing this because nothing is normal, and the situation will not revert to what we understand to be normal. We are doing this because we believe that we have to save lives, and that to save lives we need to ensure that people stay at home, and we need to protect the national health service.

That means that we have to make changes in how we do things in every part of our lives. Part of our lives, certainly in the chamber, and more widely, is about legislating for the people of Scotland and serving them by ensuring that there is a good active and relevant statute book. It serves nobody’s interests if we allow it to decay, to become out of date or to become irrelevant to what we are trying to do. We have done active things, particularly on the social care front, and there are things that we could not have avoided doing if we are to have an accurate and effective statute book.

I am pleased with the work that we have done. It has not been without its difficulties and tensions, and it has not, at times, been without its frustrations, but we have produced legislation that is, although it is not perfect in the views of many members—even in mine—perhaps as good as we could do in the very severe circumstances.

I think that we have risen to the challenge, and I hope that we will continue to so, in Parliament. If we can recapture something, it should be the spirit of working together to ensure that we are greater than the virus, and that we are able to suppress it and allow our country to move on, even if we move on to very different circumstances.

Final vote on the Bill

After the final discussion of the Bill, MSPs vote on whether they think it should become an Act.

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Final vote transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The first question is, that motion S5M-21791, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, at stage 3, be agreed to. Because the vote is to pass a bill, members must cast their votes.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 76, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill be passed.

The Presiding Officer

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill is therefore passed. [Applause.]

The second and final question is, that motion S5M-21802, in the name of Graeme Dey, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Direct Payments (Crop Diversification Derogation) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/135) be approved.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes decision time. We will meet again tomorrow at 12.30. I urge members to be careful when leaving the chamber.

Meeting closed at 18:44.  



Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill as passed

The Bill was passed on 20 May 2020 and became an Act on 26 May 2020
Find the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 on legislation.gov.uk

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