With headlines dominated by COVID-19 developments, we have put together a brief summary of the significant legislative changes that took place in Holyrood last week as the Scottish Government continues to respond to the pandemic.

On Wednesday, 1 April, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. Its purpose was primarily to make changes within Holyrood’s devolved powers of housing and justice, and it was introduced, amended and passed within a single day. These are the key changes:

Housing

The minimum notice period that landlords must give to private and social tenants has been increased to six months for the vast majority of circumstances. This is intended to relieve pressure that tenants may be under during the lockdown period.

Justice

Measures have been introduced to ensure that the criminal justice system continues to operate during the pandemic. It has increased capacities for video links within court proceedings and extended normal time limits for criminal proceedings so that cases are not dropped. The Government was forced by opposition parties to drop proposals to have more trials take place without juries.

Businesses and public bodies

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill has introduced a six-month breathing space’ period for individuals and some small businesses unable to repay debts. It has also facilitated for licencing authorities to be able to extend deadlines for licence applications for alcohol and taxi sales so that current licence rights don’t expire during the lockdown.

Sunset clause’

The Scottish Government has made clear that these powers will expire automatically in six months. If they continue to be deemed necessary, MSPs will have to vote to extend them for another six months and again for a further six months after that. A total of 18 months of these measures is the limit outlined in the Bill. Ministers have also pledged to report to parliament on the use of these emergency powers every two months.

Programme for government suspended

The Scottish Government has also announced that the 2019 – 20 programme for government is being suspended due to the pandemic. This means that planned bills we have highlighted over the past year, such as the Circular Economy Bill and the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, have been postponed indefinitely. It remains to be seen when the bills will return to parliament.

COP26 postponed

The COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow has been postponed, with it likely to be rescheduled for spring 2021. The Scottish Events Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, where the conference was due to be held, is currently being converted into a temporary hospital – NHS Louisa Jordan – to increase bed capacity in response to the outbreak.

We continue to believe that COP26 will be an incredible opportunity for the church in Glasgow and across Scotland to reflect Jesus’ love for the nations as 30,000 delegates from around the world come to our city to find the best way forward in mitigating climate change. The Evangelical Alliance will continue to plan for how we can best resource and equip the church for when the conference does take place.


Remembering our public leaders

Public leaders play a vital role throughout the narrative of the Bible. Think of Joseph, Daniel, Esther and Ezra. It’s clear now more than ever why the administration of our country is good, necessary and instituted by God as stated in Romans 13. So let’s submit to the authority of our government, pray for them and for their civil servants and continue to be a non-anxious presence as Christians in these turbulent times, sharing the life-giving hope we have in Jesus that all others can have too.

Photo by Alana Harris