Members of the public could be quarantined by force in their own homes if they have contracted or been exposed to a serious infectious disease under new legislation being considered by the Scottish Executive.

Members of the public could be quarantined by force in their own homes if they have contracted or been exposed to a serious infectious disease under new legislation being considered by the Scottish Executive.

In addition, attempts to update Victorian public health laws could lead to people being compelled to undergo examinations or treatment against their will.

A consultation document published last week also outlines proposals for tougher statutory reporting and notification systems and clarification of the roles of NHS boards and local authorities.

Health Protection Scotland director Tim Brett said the proposals would give the authorities powers to exclude or isolate someone who has a serious infection or who has been in contact with them - including making them stay away from work or school.

'I'm sure the vast majority of people would accept any such requirement, but where there is dispute,the new legislation would give the power to quarantine individuals. This is not something we can do at present, but such an action may be necessary - for example, during a flu pandemic.'

The proposals recognise that there are significant issues around human rights and confidentiality and contain safeguards to make sure the new powers were not used inappropriately. For example, orders for compulsory quarantine would be made by a sheriff and for a limited time, probably 21 days.

Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Harry Burns, said the Public Health Act of 1897 was no longer suited to 21st century challenges. 'The threat of pandemic flu and bio-terrorism has also underlined the need for better and more modern legislation.'

He said the key issue was clarification of roles and responsibilities for health protection, mainly between NHS boards and local authorities: 'Our preparedness for outbreaks of disease or epidemics relies on clear and transparent roles and accountabilities.'