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by Andrew Learmonth
26 January 2022
SNP ministers accused of 'shameless power grab' over Covid recovery law proposal

SNP ministers accused of 'shameless power grab' over Covid recovery law proposal

Scottish ministers are seeking to make emergency Covid powers permanent in a move that’s been branded a “shameless power grab” by the opposition. 

The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill proposes changes in 30 specific legislative areas modified by temporary provisions made under Scottish and UK coronavirus laws.

It includes the creation of new powers to “respond to public health emergencies” including making permanent the ability to impose lockdown restrictions. 

It also gives ministers the power to “restrict access to schools due to a public health emergency”.

Other parts of the legislation deal with using remote communications for services, including registering births and deaths, and allowing court hearings to take place remotely.

Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney said there were "pragmatic reforms"

The new proposal follows on from a 12 week consultation process held between July and November last year

Swinney said: “Scottish ministers have already removed many of the temporary measures that supported our response to the pandemic, which are no longer needed.

“However, we believe those pragmatic reforms that have delivered demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland should continue.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

Scottish Conservatives Covid recovery spokesperson Murdo Fraser said his party had concerns: “Whilst there may be measures in this bill that are sensible long-term reforms, too much of it amounts to an unwarranted and unacceptable power grab by the SNP.

“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.”

Scottish Labour health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie described it as a “shameless power grab from the SNP.”

She said: “These emergency powers were a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis – not a free pass for Ministers to hoard new powers.

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

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

“The SNP must listen to the public and stop this gross overreach.

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