A Holyrood committee has called on the Scottish Government to include a “sunset clause” in legislation that will enable the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to continue to operate during a post-Brexit transition period and to bring forward proposals and a timetable for introducing a new long-term rural policy for Scotland.
In its stage 1 report on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, which will enable the continued operation of current CAP schemes from 1 January 2021 but also allow them to be progressively “simplified and improved”, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee recommends a time limit provision so that Ministers could not use the “potentially broad powers” contained in the legislation for an indefinite period.
MSPs warn that, despite assurances from the current Government that this is not their intention, a future government could use the powers to amend rural policy by secondary legislation “in perpetuity”, meaning “additional safeguards” are needed.
The Bill would also enable pilot projects to be run in order to test out longer-term rural policy with a view to introducing an “outcome-based” approach to the calculation and allocation of farm payments. The Committee calls on the Scottish Government to provide regular updates as to how it intends to consult on, develop and implement these pilots, which would be a “significant shift” from the current “area-based” payment approach.
Committee Convener, Edward Mountain MSP said:
“The Committee has acknowledged that there is a desire among stakeholders to see this Bill progress in order to facilitate a smooth transition for the agricultural sector as the UK leaves the European Union, and we support the general principles of this legislation.
“However, the Committee has also noted the views of those stakeholders who highlighted the need for the development of a new policy for the sector post-2024, and for the Scottish Government to drive this forward with the aim of bringing forward new primary legislation to implement this new policy as soon as is reasonably possible.
“We have therefore called on the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals at stage 2 for the inclusion of a sunset clause to this Bill, extended to a date that takes into account the planned end of the transition period in 2024.
“It is important to stress that any substantial delay in the introduction of new policy and associated primary legislation thereafter will make it challenging for the Scottish agricultural industry to meet the commitment to achieve a 75% reduction in carbon emissions and to contribute towards the target of doubling turnover in farming, fishing, food and drink to £30 billion by 2030.”
The Committee further recommends that the Scottish Government bring forward amendments to the Bill at stage 2 so that, going forward, there will be a choice of parliamentary procedures available for technical, “housekeeping” matters and changes with wider policy implications which merit greater oversight.
MSPs also welcomed the data provisions of the Bill, which provides powers to Scottish Ministers for the collection of agricultural information to improve understanding of the sector, while modernising and improving the legal basis for collecting and processing data in the context of the Data Protection Act 2018.
The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP, on 6 November 2019. This Bill has three broad purposes. The first purpose, as stated in the Policy Memorandum, is to enable the continued operation of current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes and policies from 1 January 2021, but also to allow them to be progressively improved and simplified. It will also enable pilot projects to be run in order to test out new policy approaches, so as to inform the development of longer-term future rural policy. The other purpose of the Bill is to update the legal mechanism by which agricultural data is collected and processed, in accordance with the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).