Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie tabled an amendment to the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill to remove powers from the legislation allowing the Scottish Government to extend the powers of two emergency coronavirus acts passed last year until September 2022.
The Bill would allow the extension of the powers, which allow for the early release of prisoners because of coronavirus, as well as the extension of protection for renters and continuing to allow courts and tribunals to work remotely.
Meanwhile, measures to ensure marriages and civil partnerships could take place during the pandemic and emergency measures to protect children’s rights will be ended.
The extension would see the powers, due to end on September 30 of this year, continue until at least the end of March 2022, with the possibility of a further six-month extension should ministers deem it necessary.
The two amendments were voted down by 55 votes to 65 and 54 votes to 66 respectively on Wednesday.
Speaking in support of her motion, Ms Baillie said: “As it stands, the Bill will be extended by six months to April 2022 – I don’t believe that it’s necessary to go beyond that and if there’s another emergency then there is time to bring forward legislation at speed to cope with it.”
In response to a question from SNP MSP John Mason, who asked if it would not be wiser to allow for another extension in case of an increase in cases caused by a shift in the landscape of the pandemic, Ms Baillie said: “At the moment, the extension would be for six months beyond [this] September, I think that is enough.
“But it also allows the Parliament time, should there be a need, to bring forward urgent legislation in the future and it allows this parliament scrutiny, without simply rolling over provisions, giving sweeping powers to the Scottish Government and to ministers.”
Covid recovery secretary John Swinney, who said the government would vote against the amendments, said: “We cannot predict the path of this pandemic, or how long we may need some of the important measures contained in these Acts.”
He added: “We’re not absolutely certain about the course the pandemic will take and we’re therefore not certain what the implications over the winter period will be and there may be a requirement for us to use some of these powers over a longer period of time.”
Mr Swinney went on to say that he would like to keep flexibility within the legislation to allow for an extension, meaning there would not be a need to pass yet another emergency Bill.
While Labour wanted to reduce the length of the extension, the Scottish Tories hoped to be able to scrap the Bill entirely until after the summer recess.
MSPs, such as chief whip Stephen Kerr and Covid recovery spokesman Murdo Fraser, pushed for the Bill to be shelved, allowing for the summer recess to be used to consult on the legislation and also allowing more to be known about the impact of the vaccination programme on the pandemic, before being re-introduced in early September if necessary.