A Holyrood Committee has called for a “sunset clause” to be included in proposed legislation which would allow the Scottish Government to amend or replace parts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) during the post-Brexit transition period.
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 Delegated Powers and Law Reform (DPLR) Committee recommended a time limit provision to ensure Ministers could not use the “potentially broad power” to make “significant policy changes” for an indefinite period.
MSPs warned about the “potential risk” that a future Government could use the powers to make substantial changes – though this was not the current Government’s stated intention – and said the intended scope of this power could be clearer.
The Committee also recommended that consideration be given to having a choice of parliamentary procedures available for technical, “housekeeping” matters and changes with policy implications which merit greater oversight.
Graham Simpson MSP, DPLR Committee Convener, said: “The Scottish Government has repeatedly said that it doesn’t intend to use this power beyond the next five years, and that its plan is to have a new long-term agriculture policy in place from 2024. The Committee is therefore asking for that policy intention to be reflected in the Bill by inserting a sunset provision.
“The Committee understands that there are matters in this area that remain uncertain and which mean the Government may not be able to meet its 2024 intention, but we don’t believe that it is impossible to set any time limit for the use of this power.
“If after the time limit has expired the Government believes it still needs the power, it is appropriate that it seeks the renewed permission of the Parliament, rather than the Parliament giving away such a potentially broad legislative power indefinitely.”
In relation to provisions on product marketing, MSPs expressed concern that the power in the Bill could enable “radical changes” to be made to marketing standards in Scotland, though it acknowledged that this was not the present Government's intention.
It was also concerned about this power being able to create offences with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.
The Committee therefore considered that a higher level of parliamentary scrutiny was necessary.
The full stage 1 report can be read here.
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 two broad purposes. The first purpose, as stated in the Policy Memorandum, is to give the Scottish Ministers powers to make regulations which amend or replace parts of the Common Agricultural Policy, which will form part of retained EU law following the UK’s departure from the EU. The other purpose of the Bill is to provide for new powers to collect agricultural data, in accordance with the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The remit of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee is to consider whether proposed delegated powers in the Bill are appropriate and report on those provisions to the lead committee, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
To learn more about the work of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee go to the Scottish Parliament website.
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