Parliamentary safeguards to be strengthened through pandemic recovery bill
Legislation proposing the permanent adoption or temporary extension of some measures enacted during the pandemic to support Scotland’s recovery from Covid has passed its first stage.
MSPs voted to support the general principles of the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill, which proposes changes in around 30 specific legislative areas temporarily modified by Scottish and UK coronavirus legislation.
Speaking at the stage one debate on the bill, Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney confirmed the government will strengthen parliamentary oversight of key provisions with amendments at the bill’s next stage of scrutiny.
This would mean that any regulations engaging the so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, that allow ministers to modify primary legislation on public health grounds would require parliamentary approval before they could come into force.
Key aspects of the public health protection powers and educational continuity powers in the bill would also be subject to a vote as part of a ‘gateway’ mechanism, to ensure the powers could only be used with parliamentary authorisation in the event of a future public health threat.
Mr Swinney said: “This bill aims to update our statute book, based on lessons learned during the pandemic, to support Scotland’s recovery. I am pleased Parliament has voted to support its general principles.
“While it is vital that government has the legal powers required to protect the public in the event of any future public health threats, it is equally important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise the use of those powers.
“To ensure that necessary parliamentary oversight is in place, the government will bring forward amendments to introduce a ‘gateway vote’ mechanism which would mean that key aspects of the public health protection and educational continuity powers would only have effect if a parliamentary vote, on a formal government declaration, is held and approved.”