The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) Bill will be debated in Holyrood’s chamber today for the first time, giving MSPs the opportunity to back the general principles of the legislation.
The Bill, if passed by MSPs, will give ministers the power to close schools, introduce lockdowns, and shut down hospitality and tourism businesses without having to seek parliamentary approval.
These so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, where the power to amend or repeal provisions of acts of Parliament with secondary legislation is given to ministers, have been the centre of controversy within the Bill, with the Covid-19 recovery committee in Holyrood calling on the Government to consider different options in the legislation.
Ministers claim these powers would be an “important safeguard” to allow them to bring in effective measures in the face of another pandemic or public health emergency.
John Swinney, the Covid recovery secretary, has committed to consider the options on what “other approaches” may allow for stronger parliamentary oversight.
However, ahead of the debate, Alex Cole-Hamilton called on MSPs to block the Bill in its entirety.
The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats said the powers made available to ministers during the pandemic were “never meant to be forever”.
He said: “If there is a future crisis, the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated that it is capable of working at speed to provide the necessary tools for tackling it.
“This should not be taken as an opportunity for a colossal SNP power grab, lining their pockets with powers that nobody would have countenanced handing over pre-pandemic.
"SNP ministers have a track record of taking decisions at the last minute with little regard for public accountability. Parliament should not be handing the keys to ministers to make decisions affecting everything from school closure to the mass release of prisoners behind closed doors.”
The ‘Henry VIII’ powers have also been subject to legal criticism, with Dr Andrew Tickell and Professor Alison Britton of Glasgow Caledonian University labelling them “rightly controversial”.
The Bill will likely pass without much opposition due to the ongoing co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.