Scottish Govt accused of 'power grab' as it seeks to make some Covid powers permanent

26 January 2022, 16:08

The Scottish Government is being accused of a "shameless power grab"
The Scottish Government is being accused of a "shameless power grab". Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Scottish ministers have been accused of an "unacceptable power grab" after publishing a Bill which would make some emergency coronavirus powers permanent.

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Opposition MSPs claim the legislation would give the government powers to shut down schools, release prisoners early from jail, and confine people to their homes "with no recourse to Parliament".

A consultation took place last year and MSPs will now scrutinise and debate the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill which was published today.

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The Bill includes powers to impose lockdown restrictions, allow court hearings to take place remotely and restrict access to schools.

It also makes changes to eviction proceedings in the private rented sector.

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Scottish Conservative Covid spokesman, Murdo Fraser, said it amounted to "an unwarranted and unacceptable power-grab by the SNP".

He added: "The powers it would hand the Scottish Government permanently were only ever meant to be temporary for the duration of the pandemic.

"The most worrying of the proposals is the power to close schools and to release prisoners early - and the proposed Bill lets them do this without prior parliamentary approval.

"This Bill is an alarming and unnecessary overreach by the SNP, so the Scottish Conservatives will oppose measures which put too much power in the hands of ministers."

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Scottish Labour's deputy leader Jackie Baillie also described the Bill as a "shameless power-grab" and said the proposals had faced "significant opposition" in the consultation process.

"These emergency powers were a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis - not a free pass for ministers to hoard new powers," she said.

"This Bill would give ministers permanent powers to shut down schools and confine people to their homes at the drop of a hat.

"There is simply no excuse for bypassing Parliament, when Holyrood has shown time and time again that it can respond with the urgency needed."

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Deputy First Minister and Covid recovery minister John Swinney said many temporary measures in place to respond to the pandemic had already been lifted, and those in the Bill were "pragmatic reforms" which had "delivered demonstrable benefit" to Scots.

He added: "Whilst it has been incredibly disruptive, the urgency of the pandemic has driven the pace of digital adoption, and in some cases more efficient ways of working, and better service to the public.

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"I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to our consultation, which has been considered very carefully in the drafting of this Bill, to embed these beneficial reforms in Scotland's public services, along with the temporary extension of some justice measures to assist the courts with clearing the backlog of cases arising from the pandemic.

"Our priorities are to continue to lead Scotland safely through and out of the Covid pandemic, to address inequalities made worse by Covid, make progress towards a wellbeing economy and accelerate inclusive, person-centred public services, and this Bill supports those aims."