We turn now to the stage 3 proceedings on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill.
In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2,the marshalled list and the groupings. I remind members that the division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for a short technical break for the first division of the afternoon. There will be a one-minute vote after we have had the technical break. Members who wish to speak in the debate on any group of amendments should press their request-to speak-buttons as soon as possible after I call the group. Members should now refer to the marshalled list of amendments.
Amendment 21 is in my name, but it has the support of other parties. The amendment seeks to introduce a purpose clause to the bill to guide the secondary legislation that will flow from it and provide a broad sense of policy direction during the transition period that the bill is likely to cover. As it stands, there is a lack of clarity about the Scottish Government’s plans for the future, both for the long term and for the possible changes during the next four years, which the bill is primarily focused on.
The bill is an enabling one that provides significant powers to ministers to make changes to existing policy primarily during that transition period, but it is silent on the principles that will shape the use of any regulation-making powers introduced by the bill. A purpose clause requiring all secondary legislation to contribute to what are broad, high-level principles would address that weakness without being unnecessarily restrictive or pre-empting the outcomes of existing work on the long-term policy.
At stage 2, Rachael Hamilton, John Finnie and I lodged amendments setting out such a purpose clause. At that point, the cabinet secretary opposed the specific amendments and the concept of a purpose clause on the basis that it would be impossible to agree on wording.
Amendment 21 is a technical amendment and would not introduce new detailed policy; it would simply guide what secondary legislation that is produced under the eventual act should do. That is well within the scope of the bill, but I appreciate why the cabinet secretary simply wants a blank cheque.
As I said, during stage 2 the cabinet secretary opposed a purpose clause and said that he did not believe that the wording could be agreed. We have come back with wording that is agreed by Labour, the Greens, the Conservatives and, crucially, stakeholders who genuinely engaged with MSPs in the process for stages 2 and 3, representing a wide range of interests. They have helped to shape an amendment that strikes a balance between providing much-needed direction and not restricting ministers’ options. Amendment 21 incorporates a range of key priorities and ambitions, which I am sure members across the chamber share, for our agriculture sector, from carbon reduction to improved productivity and stronger working conditions.
When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee took evidence on the bill, one of the strongest messages that came from stakeholders was that the bill lacked an overarching purpose or direction. The committee recommended that ministers address that issue; they failed to do so, but amendment 21 does. I am therefore pleased to move amendment 21 in my name and I am grateful to other members and the many stakeholders who properly engaged in the process to agree the joint wording.
I move amendment 21.
We are supportive of much of the content of the proposed purpose clause, but we do not believe that amendment 21 is the right vehicle for it. First, the bill is a technical one, as the cabinet secretary set out, to ensure that payments for farm support continue. Secondly, what amendment 21 proposes would cut across the work of the farming and food production future policy group. Members will remember that that group was established following the Parliament’s agreement in 2019 to set it up. It was done via a Mike Rumbles amendment and we should follow that through to its conclusion.
The work is continuing and I am sure that, as the cabinet secretary has set out previously, the Parliament will be able to debate the group’s work. Much of the content of the proposed purpose clause is included in the debate for that policy group, so we would cut right across the group’s work if we were to agree to prejudge the conclusions of that work. We therefore cannot support amendment 21.
Many farming sector organisations do not support the purpose clause either. In fact, they support much of the content of it but, like me, do not support amendment 21 being the vehicle for it. Therefore, let us follow through on the vote of the Scottish Parliament in 2019. Let the futures group do that work and debate it in the fullness of time. Let it then come back to the Parliament so we can reach a conclusion with the full knowledge of that group.
Further to Colin Smyth’s comments, I put on record the Scottish Conservatives’ support for amendment 21. I will come to the amendment in a moment, but I will briefly take the opportunity to personally thank my predecessor Rachael Hamilton for the hard work that she has done on this amendment alongside other parties and stakeholders. Like many of the other amendments that appear in my name, amendment 21 incorporates many of the points that Rachael Hamilton championed at stage 2 and reflects the Scottish Conservatives’ genuine desire to improve the bill.
We believe that, without a purpose clause, the bill lacks focus and gives ministers far too expansive a remit. The amendment in the name of Colin Smyth has attracted support from three of the five parties in the chamber and has been drafted with the input of a wide range of stakeholders.
I do not think that that is the exact history, but when the facts change, so does our position. At stage 1, we thought that we were going to hear from the futures group and that we would have a chance to look at stage 3 in that context. We thought that the bill would sit within the context of a future policy direction for agriculture. The cabinet secretary may shake his head, but it is shameful that, after all the time that has passed, farmers in Scotland do not have an idea of the future direction of travel for policy. That is not good enough.
The Scottish Government would do well to take notice. Perhaps if we had had a clear steer from the cabinet secretary or a report from the futures group, we would have been in a very different place. Our support for amendment 21 is based on a balance of risks. Is it possible that we are tying ministers’ hands too tightly? Possibly. However, there is a greater danger and a very present risk from the lack of focus in the bill and in giving too much discretion to the same ministers who refuse to take the big decisions. That is why we support amendment 21.
I am surprised about the disagreement that there seems to be about this. The cabinet secretary is entirely right when he says that this is an enabling piece of legislation. However, if we look specifically at what is being asked, it most certainly does not cut across anything, as Willie Rennie suggests. In fact, it is quite the reverse—it complements much of what has gone before. The amendment says that
“the objectives are to ensure that agricultural activity contributes to—” and then gives a lengthy list. The list is not exclusive, and it could be added to—
I do not think that that is accurate. There is so much flexibility in the amendment, for example where it talks about “facilitating ... supply chains” or “delivering flourishing rural communities”. The latter is the cabinet secretary’s entire raison d’etre, presumably, so there is no issue over delivering any of those things.
The important thing is that there are many things to be commended in the amendment—there is a lengthy list. For instance, I am delighted that Mr Mundell has lent his support to
“improving working conditions within the sector”, which we will return to later in the debate. It is a welcome departure from some of the Victorian comments his colleagues have made in the past about that issue.
Clearly there are limitations to what the Scottish Government can do at the moment with regard to that, but there is nothing in the amendment that I for one second think that the cabinet secretary could find offensive. I encourage people to support amendment 21.
Amendment 21 might be well intentioned, but it is totally harmful. The restriction that each purpose must not harm any of the others is so complex as to be unworkable. Indeed, it could mean that the legislation would be no significant improvement on the common agricultural policy.
Not for the first time, the Tories find themselves on the wrong side of the argument, against Scotland’s farmers and crofters. They are showing their true colours. They care more about the big landowners and not about those who produce food in this country. I hope that farmers and crofters are watching and seeing that they cannot trust Scotland’s Tories to put them first.
This matter was fully debated at stage 2, when I set out clearly why such an amendment was neither necessary nor appropriate to include in the bill. The amendment was defeated by 9 votes to 2 at that point, when the Conservatives voted against inclusion of a purpose clause.
I have listened carefully to the debate today, but I am afraid that those arguments still hold. The main reason why amendment 21 should not be passed today is that it is not what farmers and crofters want. As drafted, the amendment would make it virtually impossible to deliver on some of the important—indeed, vital—changes that farmers and crofters want to see.
The point is well made by NFU Scotland in its briefing, which states:
“if passed, amendment 21 could in fact make it extremely difficult for Scottish Ministers to deliver on some of the changes that NFUS believes could move Scottish agriculture to a new policy settlement that delivers for both agricultural production and all that agricultural activities deliver in the public interest”.
The amendment says that regulations can be brought forward “only” for matters that are expressly contained in the amendment, and the amendment does not include a number of matters that are essential. It follows that regulations on those vital matters would be subject to challenge if we sought to bring them forward. It is a matter of simple legal interpretation, I am afraid.
Let me revert to my arguments, Presiding Officer, because they are very important, as amendment 21 is probably the most important amendment before us this afternoon.
I have already consulted publicly on these proposals for simplification and improvement. They were supported overwhelmingly by the majority of respondents. Almost every farmer and crofter who I have ever spoken to during 21 years as an MSP believes that we must simplify the penalty regime, which I think most members will accept can be disproportionately punitive and excessive in its scope. They also believe that we should endeavour to simplify and streamline the overadministration of the inspection regime. The penalty and inspection regimes are two matters of vital importance to farmers and crofters, and they have been consulted on in public.
Amendment 21 would require a quite different approach to what has already been consulted on. It would require us to start again—to halt the work on the existing proposals, despite the fact that those matters must be regulated later this year. There is a time limit, and we have to comply with it. If we have to start again, we cannot do what farmers and crofters want; we would have to start over. That might mean that there would be no improvements in 2021 and doubt as to whether any changes could be made for 2022. That is not what farmers and crofters in Scotland want.
There are other problems with amendment 21. It fails to mention key areas of activity in farms, which have been godsends and mainstays of many businesses. There is no reference to tourism, yet agritourism—as I hope all members agree—is a vital and growing sector.
Hang on a second; I want to finish this section of my remarks.
If members look for the word “tourism”, they will see that it is not there. There is no reference to forestry, either, and agroforestry is a vital component on many farms—
I will finish this bit.
For example, agroforestry is a key way to provide shelter belts to some farmers, as those members who are farmers well know, and it is a source of diverse income and a sustainable asset.
I want to finish my remarks on the group of three things that, for some reason—I do not know why—have been omitted from amendment 21.
The third thing is renewables. We want farmers to go green and to espouse wind energy, anaerobic digestion and, in some instances, hydro power. We want farmers to go green, but there is no reference—
As we know, there are people who do not like, for various reasons—they are entitled to their views—tourism, forestry and renewables. It is simple: because tourism, forestry and renewables are not mentioned in amendment 21, those people could raise an action of judicial review in which they could say that there was no legal basis for providing financial support for any of those things, despite the fact that every member in this chamber agrees that they all play an essential part.
I will take an intervention from Mr Mundell.
Perhaps if the cabinet secretary worked less on angry rants and more on reading the wording of the amendments, he would see that many of the things that he has mentioned are expressly covered. I find it hard to see how forestry is not covered by, for example, subsection (2)(a) of the new section that amendment 21 seeks to insert in the bill, and I do not understand how tourism does not form part of farm diversification and resilience.
If Mr Finnie thinks that it is sensible to pass legislation that foreseeably opens the door to judicial challenge, I respectfully disagree with him. That would move the debate from Parliament into the courts. The ultimate outcome could be to prevent the improvement of the current CAP scheme or the testing of new schemes. Surely not one member here thinks that that is anything other than a very stupid thing to do.
Of course they are essential; that is precisely my argument. Why are they not mentioned in the amendment? [Interruption.] They are not in the amendment—that is a fact. I will move on.
A further technical issue would arise from the effect of amendment 21. The Scottish ministers could make regulations under part 1 of the bill only if they contributed to one or more of the prescriptive and complex objectives that are listed in subsection (2) of the new section that amendment 21 seeks to insert in the bill, while at the same time not undermining any of the other objectives. All of that means that amendment 21 would set up what is, at best, a difficult balance to strike and, at worst, a completely unworkable requirement.
I understand that farmers and crofters are eager to see the direction of travel for farming policy. However, they know that our document “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period” sets the scene and the course until 2024, which is further forward than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
As Mr Rennie quite rightly argued, that debate is not for this bill. We need to allow the work of the farming and food production future policy group—which was set up by this Parliament—to conclude, and must then consider its advice at the appropriate juncture. This is not it. Parliament mandated us to set up the group. It obviously needs the opportunity to complete its report, which we will then debate.
Ultimately, the proposed purpose clause is not what farmers and crofters want. I began by saying that, and I conclude by informing members that NFU Scotland opposes it; the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association opposes it; the Scottish Crofting Federation opposes it; the Scottish Beef Association opposes it; and the sheep associations have confirmed to me that they oppose it. Some of those organisations may have already written to members, too.
Therefore, anyone who votes for the purpose clause that is proposed in amendment 21 will be going against the express wishes of just about every reputable professional organisation that represents our farmers and crofters. Members should have nothing to do with it.
The cabinet secretary always has vague concerns about the implications of the wording of amendments but, throughout this process, he made no attempt whatsoever to engage with me or any other parties to raise concerns or consider a different approach.
It was made clear at stage 2 that I and others would return to the issue—indeed, the wording of the amendment was shared with the cabinet secretary and the Government in draft form before it was lodged. However, at no point was there any engagement from the cabinet secretary; at no time did he bother to seek to explain what he thought was wrong with the wording.
Despite the Government’s lack of engagement, a great deal of work has been done to find wording that strikes the right balance between clarity and flexibility. I say to the cabinet secretary that, if he had spent a bit more time engaging with members instead of being on the phone to stakeholders in the past 24 hours, begging them to rubbish the purpose clause, we might have got wording that built a level of consensus.
The reality is that the cabinet secretary did that because he was scared that there was strong support for the purpose clause and he wanted to come to the chamber to throw about a few names of organisations that are opposed to it. They are opposed to it only because he tried to press them into opposing it. [Interruption.] As a result, amendment 21 has strong support—[Interruption.] The cabinet secretary says that he has been speaking to organisations. He left it to the last two days to do so. I wonder why.
As a result, the amendment has support from multiple political parties and a range of stakeholders who are often very opposed in their views on certain issues.
Willie Rennie talked about listening to stakeholders. He seemed to claim that anyone who supports amendment 21 does not support the views of stakeholders, but the reality is that every environmental group that submitted views on the purpose clause supports it.
Does the member not take into consideration the views of Patrick Krause of the Scottish Crofting Federation, who has said that the proposed purpose clause, which was introduced at the last minute, could have very negative consequences and could lead to significant delays in enacting the legislation, whereas members have been asking for it to be introduced quickly? He has also said that it could have a negative consequence for crofting, should the Scottish Government be minded to redistribute support to areas of natural constraint, which, as other members have said, could be challenged by the big landowners, who might suffer a relatively small loss of income. Are we really seeing the Labour Party and the Greens supporting the big farmers on the Tory benches?
Maureen Watt needs to reflect on why she has not read the detail of the submission from the Scottish Crofting Federation, which had no concerns about the purpose clause and did not engage in the process at all. The cabinet secretary lobbied the Crofting Federation in the past 24 hours to produce a submission at the last minute. The reality is that the Government was scared by the level of support for the purpose clause. [Interruption.]
Willie Rennie says that we should listen to the submissions from different groups, and Maureen Watt said the same. I have made the point that every environmental group wanted to support the purpose clause; they made that absolutely clear. The fact that Fergus Ewing is less progressive on the environment than the Conservatives is no surprise to anybody, but the fact that Willie Rennie is less progressive on the environment than the Conservative Party must be a worry—it would appear that he is more Donald Trump than Greta Thunberg.
Willie Rennie and Fergus Ewing have suggested that amendment 21 pre-empts the work of the farming and food production future policy group in relation to future agricultural policy. Frankly, that is nonsense. The amendment applies to changes that are made over the next four years; it would not create an entirely new system, which is what the group has been tasked with considering and which would, ultimately, require new legislation.
Of course any principles should not contradict the long-term direction of the sector, which is why amendment 21 was carefully drafted with the group’s work in mind. Had the group’s long-awaited report been published on schedule, it would have been possible to align the amendment even more closely with the group’s recommendations. More than a year after the Parliament agreed to establish the group, its report has, unfortunately, been delayed yet again.
Amendment 21 has been drafted to a high level and is entirely consistent with the themes and priorities that are set out in the group’s remit. The group was tasked with developing detailed proposals based around the themes of sustainability, simplicity, profitability, innovation, inclusion and productivity, and it was to look at priorities such as addressing the global climate emergency, moving to net zero emissions faster, maintaining populations in rural areas, promoting inclusive growth, developing a low-carbon economy and tackling poverty and inequality. My amendment reflects those priorities entirely, but it in no way pre-empts the group’s more detailed work. It is intended to complement that work.
Crucially, the bill is about the changes that are made during the transition period. Amendment 21 is the only opportunity that the Scottish Parliament will have to provide any meaningful direction to policy changes that are made during the next few years. The sunset clause in the bill, which was agreed to at stage 2, means that no regulations can be made beyond May 2026, so further legislation will still be required on long-term agricultural policy.
The choice that we have today is whether we simply hand the Government a blank cheque to propose whatever changes it wants, which I know is what the cabinet secretary wants, or we provide some direction of travel based on a shared set of principles that has widespread support in the sector, which is what any meaningful Opposition party would want to provide.
I am happy to press amendment 21.
The Presiding Officer:
The question is, that amendment 21 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
As this will be the first division of the afternoon, we will suspend for a short technical break to ensure that all members are on board on the voting app.
15:33 Meeting suspended.
15:39 On resuming—
We now move to the division on Colin Smyth’s amendment 21. Members may cast their vote now.
There has been such passion so far this afternoon; let me see if I can change that. [Laughter.]
Amendments 2, 8 and 12 in my name change the scrutiny for regulations made under sections 2, 5 and 6 from negative procedure to an “either way” procedure, by which I mean that the Scottish ministers will be able to decide whether regulations that they propose to make are to be subject to affirmative or negative procedure. Is everybody following so far?
There has been much debate at stages 1 and 2 about the adequacy of the parliamentary scrutiny of the use of the powers in the bill, particularly when it comes to the power to simplify or improve common agricultural policy legislation in section 2.
In its stage 1 report, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee recommended
“that consideration is given to having a choice of procedure available in relation to this power so that the negative procedure can be used for ‘housekeeping’ matters and the affirmative procedure can be used when there are policy implications.”
In its stage 1 report, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee said:
“The Committee endorses the concerns expressed by the DPLR Committee and some stakeholders regarding the blanket use of the negative procedure for the exercise of powers conferred by section 2 of the Bill. It therefore believes that any measures introduced using these powers that have wider policy implications should be made subject to the affirmative procedure and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward amendments at Stage 2 to this effect.”
I am aware that the cabinet secretary changed the procedure for regulations made under section 8, and I note his amendments 17 and 18, which seek to do the same for section 10. I welcome that, and I intend to support those amendments.
Although it is important that, as parliamentarians, we assert our and the Parliament’s right to scrutinise Government policy and legislative changes, we need to be proportionate in that, not least so as to manage our own workload and so as not to use up valuable parliamentary time unnecessarily in scrutinising minor and technical regulations and changes to CAP schemes that the DPLR Committee described as “housekeeping” matters.
My amendments 2, 8 and 12 deliver exactly what Parliament sought through the recommendations of both the DPLR Committee and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee at stage 1, specifically in relation to section 2.
In my view, the same arguments apply to the power in section 5 to modify the law on public intervention and private storage aid and to the power in section 6 to modify the law on aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations. Those would therefore become “either way” powers as well.
I hope that members across the chamber will agree with me and support my amendments. They represent a sensible compromise that will ensure that, when Parliament needs to spend more time considering substantive changes to current CAP schemes, that can be provided for.
I hope that members will also agree that there is now no need for Oliver Mundell’s amendments 3, 9, and 13, which seek to change the procedure to affirmative for sections 2, 5 and 6 of the bill. I appreciate that Oliver Mundell will want to speak to those amendments but hope that he will now not press them.
I move amendment 2.
Mr Rennie does himself a disservice; that is one of the most passionate speeches I have heard him make in this Parliament. To double down on the insult, his has to be one of the most Lib Dem solutions to a problem that I have ever heard.
I would like to press ahead with my amendments. We support Willie Rennie’s amendments because they are an improvement on the current position in the bill, but the choice of whether things should be brought forward under the affirmative procedure or the negative procedure should not be a choice for the Government. In such matters, it is important that Parliament does that scrutiny work. Given the central role of farm support to Scottish agriculture and rural communities, there is nothing better that this Parliament could waste its time doing.
Throughout the process, we have heard the Scottish Government say that many of the changes would be minor and technical but, at this time, when farmers are desperately looking for clarity and to determine the future direction of travel, it is especially important to take our time and do that scrutiny because there is no doubt that farmers the length and breadth of the country are going to pore over every decision that is taken during the transition period to work out whether it is a short-term change or whether it will form part of a longer-term trend.
There is no downside to going with the affirmative procedure. When consensus has been built, the affirmative procedure does not take up a huge amount of time in Parliament. A Government that is confident in its proposals should be happy to go down that route and build consensus. A Government that is unwilling to subject important changes to such scrutiny is not a Government that can trot out lines about power grabs and lack of respect for Parliament. At the very worst, we will spend time talking about important changes and giving farmers the time they deserve.
Amendment 17 changes the procedure for regulations made under section 10 from negative to affirmative. Amendment 18 is a consequential amendment.
At stage 2, I listened carefully to the arguments that John Finnie made in support of his own similar amendment, and I thank him for not pressing that at the time because it gave me the necessary time to consider the full consequences of making such a change, which I am happy now so to do.
Changing the procedure from negative to affirmative creates helpful alignment with the change that I made for section 8 at stage 2. The regulation-making powers in sections 8 and 10 are needed to allow for the alignment of our marketing and classification schemes with those in the rest of the UK, or with EU regimes, when that is in Scottish interests. Any such change is not likely to be time sensitive—there are unlikely to be any changes made in the near future—and therefore allowing for fuller parliamentary scrutiny is feasible.
I hope that Parliament will support my amendments 17 and 18 unanimously, respecting the will of Parliament as expressed at stage 2.
I also hope that Parliament will support Willie Rennie’s—or should that be Willie “Passion Killer” Rennie’s—amendments 2, 8 and 12, as I will do.
During the debate at stages 1 and 2, I was clear that I acknowledge the need to allow Parliament the opportunity to fully scrutinise any real and substantive changes to current CAP schemes being made by regulations under this bill. However, there are two other considerations.
It does not seem appropriate to use valuable parliamentary time and energy on a lengthier parliamentary process for regulations that seek to give effect to technical or housekeeping measures. Willie Rennie has made that argument.
However, there is a convincing argument to allow for such scrutiny of more substantive changes. That applies to regulations that would be made under sections 5 and 6. As the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee recommended, in particular, the amendments allow for the so-called “each way” procedure to be adopted, and will enable ministers to choose the appropriate procedure, depending on the content of regulations to be made under sections 2, 5 and 6. That provides an appropriate level of flexibility. Accordingly, I encourage members to reject amendments 3, 9 and 13.
In relation to the procedures that should be applied to regulations that are made under sections 2, 5 and 6, the second consideration is of timescale. As I set out in the stage 2 debate, these are not normal times. The impact of coronavirus and the impact of Brexit are putting extra pressures on Parliament. Amendments 3, 9 and 13, if agreed, would unnecessarily add to that pressure, with no real gain. By making all changes made by regulations under those three sections subject to affirmative procedure, those amendments would require the use of more parliamentary time, no matter how minor the content. [Interruption.] I will just press on, if I may.
Some regulations will have to be laid and approved before 2021, including those that may be required in order to allow CAP payments to be made during that year. Plainly, one of the most important things that we have to do is to avoid any delay to farm payments. I believe therefore that this technical argument is important.
I have some sympathy with Oliver Mundell’s argument. Farming is, of course, important. However, I do not think that farmers would expect us to waste time on technical matters. They want us to get to the meat and the heart of the issues. Therefore, I cannot support Oliver Mundell’s amendments 3, 9 and 13.
I ask members to vote for amendments 17 and 18 in my name, and I encourage them to vote for Willie Rennie’s amendments 2, 8 and 12.
Unusually, Willie Rennie brings absolute sense to the debate. He and I were educated at the same institution, so he is bound to get things right from time to time—as I hope that members think I do, too.
I will address briefly the amendments in Oliver Mundell’s name, under the headings of scrutiny, effect and consistency.
I am an outlier in that, in the opportunities for scrutiny of secondary legislation, I do not see any difference between negative and affirmative procedure. On the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s agenda this week were an affirmative instrument, a negative instrument and an instrument that required no procedure. There was equal opportunity to consider them. Similarly, negative and affirmative instruments go to the three committees on which I serve. It will be no different elsewhere.
The only additional parliamentary time that is required for an affirmative instrument, over that of a negative instrument, is the 30 seconds at decision time, when we conclude whether we will support the instrument. However, that is neither here nor there.
Oliver Mundell would have us support amendments 3, 9 and 13. Amendment 3 relates to improving CAP legislation. To “improve the operation” might or might not involve a significant improvement; I do not know. However, it might be a matter of some urgency, and if we make it subject to affirmative procedure by law, and without the option of negative procedure, we could delay important improvements that might arise because of circumstances.
On amendment 9, issues of public intervention and private storage aid may involve a significant degree of urgency, and that is also the case with amendment 13, in relation to fruit and vegetable producers. By mandating that the procedure has to be affirmative, with the associated timetables, we would bind ourselves into an unfortunate corner.
On the matter of consistency, I note that, in section 9(4) of the UK Agriculture Bill, the Conservatives in Westminster are saying:
“Regulations under this section are subject to negative resolution procedure”.
So the Tories in Edinburgh are saying that we should bind the hands of the Government, and the Tories in London are saying that we should give unfettered power over agriculture to the Government there. Once again, the Tories are doing what they always do: giving a free ticket to Westminster and trying to bind the hands of the Scottish Administration.
I am happy to oppose the Tory amendments and to support the amendments in Willie Rennie’s name.
The bill introduces wide regulation-making powers, and those enabling powers are being introduced with very little clarity over what they will be used for or the principles that will guide their use. Although I recognise the need for many changes to be made through secondary rather than primary legislation, I do not believe that that should be achieved through the widespread use of the negative procedure.
I am happy to support Willie Rennie’s amendments 2, 8 and 12, which would at least remove the blunt requirement to use the negative procedure, but I do not think that they go far enough, as they fail to set out specifically when the affirmative procedure should be used. In short, they still give ministers the power to decide, which is a theme running through much of the Liberal Democrats’ approach today.
For that reason, my strong preference is for Oliver Mundell’s amendments, which would simply change the procedure for all regulations that are made under the relevant sections to the affirmative. That would ensure that all changes receive parliamentary scrutiny, at least to the level that secondary legislation receives scrutiny. All the sections of the bill allow changes that are significant enough to deserve the use of the affirmative procedure at all times.
If the changes are minor, that will be reflected in the amount of time that Parliament gives them. I think that Stewart Stevenson said that the extra time for a parliamentary vote would be around 30 seconds, which I do not think is a burden at all.
I am happy to support the amendments.
We will support the cabinet secretary’s amendments 17 and 18 and Mr Mundell’s amendments 3, 9 and 13. Mr Mundell gave the rationale as to why we will not support Willie Rennie’s amendments 2, 8 and 12: it should not be for ministers to decide the procedure by which scrutiny takes place.
I have heard Mr Stevenson eloquently lay out his views on secondary legislation before, and I will not take issue with them. Colin Smyth touched on the issue of its taking 30 seconds to vote on what we were told could be important changes. If they are important changes, they should be subject to the maximum scrutiny. Mr Stevenson said that Oliver Mundell’s amendments would
“bind the hands of the Government”, but Parliament has a role, particularly in a unicameral set-up, to ensure maximum scrutiny.
We will support Mr Mundell’s amendments.
I felt compelled to come back in, because Scottish National Party MSPs have got a brass neck to come to the chamber and lecture us on the potential for farm payment delays. The past fiascos that we have seen under the Government are precisely why it is important that Parliament oversees the technical mechanisms that are used to get payments out. I do not think that the affirmative procedure will cause the delays that have been talked about. It is important that the Parliament has the final say.
I just want to inform Mr Mundell that, far from Scottish farmers and crofters not getting their money on time, on 1 September, 11,885 farmers and crofters will receive £296 million, and they will receive the money three months before farmers in England get anything.
The Presiding Officer:
I am not sure that that was entirely an argument about the amendments. However, it has given members a chance to return to the chamber and open the voting app. I will just pause to find out whether anyone’s voting app says that no votes are currently open; I will check with members online, too.
There are no issues. The question is, that amendment 2 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division.
I rise to speak in support of the amendments. Members will be relieved to know that I do not plan to repeat the arguments that I made in relation to group 2.
The amendments in this group are straightforward and are designed to make it a requirement that the Government consult on any changes. I suspect that we will hear that it plans to do that anyway. However, if that is the case I do not see any issue with making it a requirement of the legislation. These are important issues, and if sensible proposals are made, around which consensus can be built, the cabinet secretary should have no fear of subjecting them to consultation.
I ask members to support the amendments in this group.
I move amendment 4.
I am happy to support the amendments in this group, which all seek to ensure that regulations that are made in the bill are subject to appropriate consultation. Many of the changes that are proposed in these sections of the bill could have a huge impact on those who are directly affected, and it is critical that the Government consult and seek agreement on them.
At stage 2, the cabinet secretary raised concerns about consultation delaying the implementation of these regulations. However, ideally, the bill should have been introduced with more than enough time to allow for comprehensive consultation.
However, even with those tight constraints, I do not think that these amendments are burdensome enough to cause problems. They do not specify what form the consultation should take or who, exactly, must be consulted; they simply state that it should take place. Frankly, that should happen regardless, and the Government’s refusal to put it in the bill should send warning signals to all MSPs. Therefore, it would be deeply disappointing if any Opposition party shared the Government’s opposition to these amendments.
I have already given commitments on consultation, on the record, at stages 1 and 2, and those commitments stand. I said that we will take steps to ensure that there is sufficient consultation of those who are closely involved with the impact of any proposed changes or measures in draft regulations. I also said:
“We will not make major changes without appropriate consultation and engagement. We always do that. We come to Parliament and we are constantly held to account by this committee.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 15 January 2020; c 26.]
And it is right that we are held to account.
In their stage 1 reports, both the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and the REC Committee indicated that they were satisfied with the assurances I gave—on the record—on consulting with stakeholders and Parliament. Indeed, similar amendments were considered and defeated at stage 2.
For reasons that are similar to those that I have already set out in relation to the amendments in group 2, I hope that members might accept my voluntary undertakings and resist all of these amendments.
As I explained at stage 2, my main reluctance to accept these amendments stems from the potential impact that consulting would have on the timescales for making the regulations a statutory requirement. The Government’s approach to consultation provides for a standard 12-week period for submissions to be made and for all appropriate submissions to be published and analysed before the Government sets out its response. There are occasions on which timescales can be reduced. However, we are usually looking at a minimum of six months for such a process. Applying the spirit of any statutory requirement to consult would mean using that consultation method, and I very much doubt that we would be able to lay any draft regulations in 2020.
That is not what farmers want; they want us to do things. Yes, they want us to debate things. However, they ultimately want us to be able to do things and not endlessly debate them. Let me give you one example: we need to introduce regulations in section 4 to provide for a “ceiling” for two 2021 direct payments. Those regulations need to be in force by the beginning of the claim year, which is 1 January 2021. That will be technical legislation rather than legislation containing policy proposals, and it will largely be dictated by the UK Treasury, which will provide the funding. In essence, there is unlikely to be much to consult on, as we will not be able to take into account stakeholders’ views, however much we might agree with them. The affirmative procedure will already apply, and that will give Parliament adequate opportunity to scrutinise what is provided for by the Treasury.
I appreciate the desire to ensure that there is a more substantive role for Parliament and stakeholders. However, we cannot do either—never mind both—and be confident of passing regulations by the end of this year that will allow changes to be made to the current CAP schemes timeously or, indeed, provide for the continuity that will be needed under section 3 of the bill. I do not believe that that is what farmers or crofters want.
I hope that the undertakings that I have given satisfy members and that Mr Mundell does not press his amendments. If he does, I invite members to vote against them.
I am going to press my amendments. I do not think that the cabinet secretary has accurately reflected what they say. They would give him and ministers wide discretion to choose whom it would be appropriate to consult. I also think that he misrepresents the views of farmers. My impression is that they very much want to have their say on these changes. They want to be consulted and are increasingly concerned that the Government is trying to take these decisions behind closed doors and is not being transparent about what the future of farm support in this country will look like.
I press amendment 4.
The Presiding Officer:
There is going to be a vote. This is the danger of my trying to anticipate votes—sometimes I seem to be encouraging them. Before we come to the vote, I ask members to ensure that they have the voting page open. They need not refresh it—just open the page and wait.
Before I call the vote itself, I want to ensure again that all members have the page open and that it says, “No vote currently open.” If any member does not have that message, I ask them to raise their hand.
We are just waiting for a few members who are online. I am told that their issues have now been resolved, so we will move to the question.
The question is, that amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division.
The Presiding Officer:
Group 4 is on a statement by the Scottish ministers under section 4. Amendment 1, in the name of Peter Chapman, is the only amendment in the group. [Interruption.] Mr Chapman, you will have to wait until your microphone comes on—it is not on yet. Is your card in properly, Mr Chapman? Please check it and push it further into the console. [Interruption.]
We will have a short suspension so that the seats can be cleaned before members change places and so that we can try to resolve the technical difficulty.
16:14 Meeting suspended.
16:16 On resuming—
We can now resume proceedings on group 4. Amendment 1, in the name of Peter Chapman, is the only amendment in the group.
I remind the chamber of my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Before I start, I should say that everyone around me has said that what I am about to say had better be good, given all the palaver. However, I will leave members to judge that.
Amendment 1 is simple, practical and uncontentious, and I hope that it will receive support from across the chamber. The amendment does exactly what it says on the tin. It would ensure that any money that is saved as a result of changes to support mechanisms is recycled and remains within the agriculture portfolio.
We know that the support mechanisms for Scottish agriculture are about to change, and we also know that the capping of single farm payments is a real possibility. However, I only wish that, instead of me speculating about what those changes might look like, Fergus Ewing would at last come forward with his plans for the future and give our farmers some security and the ability to look ahead positively.
However, it is vital that all funds are retained to continue to support agriculture and are not siphoned off into other areas. I remind the chamber that more than 70 per cent of farms make a loss, when support payments are taken out of the balance sheet. I cannot overstate how important those payments are.
I move amendment 1.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. [Interruption.] I am afraid that some works are taking place next door. I hope that that does not affect the sound too much.
I have attended 978 committee meetings since I was elected to the Parliament, and 211 of them have been to do with rural issues. Every month, we get financial reports on how money is being spent to support farmers. No other portfolio issues such reports. The information that is provided about the support that is given to our agriculture sector is already precise, consistent and comprehensive, and I very much welcome that.
I want to look at the wording of the amendment that Mr Chapman would have us support. It talks about “improvements to any payment”. I have no idea what an improvement to a payment is. It might be an improvement if we raise the payment that is given to a farmer but, from the Government’s point of view, it might be an improvement to reduce it, because the Government would then have more money to spend on another policy area, in agriculture or not. I simply have no idea what the amendment means when it talks about
“improvements to any payment or expenditure”.
More fundamentally, the difficulty is that we are introducing a process that would slow down, once again, the way in which things operate. Mr Chapman has suggested no reason why there is a requirement to do things in a way that is different from what has gone before in an area that is already reported on to a greater extent than any other part of Government.
I am extremely reluctant to contemplate supporting the amendment. We do not need it and it would remove flexibility from the way that we can deploy money; it simply would not work. The scrutiny and reporting is there, so there is no problem with that. It is unnecessary and would be potentially restrictive in an area where restriction would be most unwelcome to all stakeholders.
I am disappointed that Stewart Stevenson is not coming live from his local Honda garage, as he usually does.
I am happy to support amendment 1 from Peter Chapman, which calls for the Government to produce an accompanying statement when setting a cap on payments. It would help to provide some useful clarity for all interested parties. I am sure that those directly affected by any potential cap would be keen to know what the money was intended for, and stakeholders across the board have made it clear that they are keen to know what to expect from new projects and pilot schemes during this period. The pilot schemes trialled during the transition will be key to developing a strong and effective new support system, but we will still have almost no information on possible content, scale or even basic aims.
I support proposals to bring in a sensible cap on payments to help fund those new pilot schemes; I am sure that everyone agrees that the money must be well spent and amendment 1 would provide some accountability in that regard. If it is the Government’s intention to do that anyway, there is no harm in clarifying it in the bill to provide some reassurance, rather than literally giving the Government a blank cheque.
I start by pointing out to Willie Rennie that amendment 1 has the strong support of NFU Scotland and, having previously pulled me up for not supporting its position, I hope that he will be consistent and back Peter Chapman this time round.
We have heard Fergus Ewing say that another amendment is the most important of the day but, arguably, amendment 1 is the most important, because it asks the SNP Government and the Scottish Parliament to make a firm commitment to the principle of ring fencing the agricultural budget. Everyone is open to the potential of making the farm support system better and doing things differently, but that cannot and must not be an excuse for diverting money saved away from agriculture.
I was therefore disappointed to hear through other parliamentarians that at the 11th hour the cabinet secretary and his helpers had technical concerns about the amendment. If that was the case, given that amendment 1 was lodged in good time, would it not have been wise and courteous to have approached the member, or indeed with the resource of the Government to hand to have proposed a workable amendment, rather than simply turning up to vote it down. Those kinds of games are disingenuous and they do farmers a disservice; they will do nothing to address the fears of farmers the length and breadth of the country that the central belt-dominated SNP will siphon off money at the first chance it gets when the power is returned from Brussels.
I urge members to support Peter Chapman’s amendment and send a strong message that the Parliament will not tolerate an SNP rural budget grab. [Interruption.]
I did not approach the member to tell him that I was not going to support the amendment and would be encouraging my colleagues not to support it, because that has been our position for some time. The language from the proposer, such as “siphoning off”, is a concern. Mr Mundell talked about being open to the potential of doing things differently as we need flexibility, but I do not know whether Mr Chapman would be a strong supporter of money being directed to forestry, for instance. I am happy to take an intervention if he wants to make one.
I am very happy for money to be spent on forestry. I have always been an enthusiast of increasing our forests in Scotland, and I continue to be absolutely in that vein—I support forestry.
It is welcome that we have that comment from Peter Chapman about payments on the record. We need flexibility, but we also need to recognise that there are opportunities to scrutinise policies and legislation as they come through. The amendment would just create more paperwork and there is no need for it. If we do our jobs, we will be following the money anyway, so we will not support the amendment.
I listened carefully to Mr Chapman, as I did when he lodged the very same amendment at stage 2. That amendment was defeated and we are debating the issue again.
Mr Mundell’s comments about my not engaging are completely irrelevant, given that I made my views clear at stage 2. He will not be surprised to learn that they have not changed, because the amendment is simply not needed. It is not necessary for the reasons that we heard from Stewart Stevenson and because we already have a parliamentary process to provide such information.
Any regulations that are brought forward under the section of the bill in question will almost certainly require a business and regulatory impact assessment, or BRIA, to be conducted. We have supporting documents for the bill, and any money resolution would require a BRIA. The point of a BRIA is to look at the implications of the regulations.
In addition, the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure, which means that the Parliament already has the opportunity to scrutinise in detail any proposed modification of the financial provision. I think that Mr Finnie pointed that out. I associate myself with his remarks.
Any BRIA would accompany the draft regulations when they were laid before the Parliament and I suggest that that already serves the purpose. Moreover, like Mr Stevenson, I cannot think of any other portfolio that provides more information regularly and periodically to the relevant committee—in this case, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—in order to inform members.
I think that the question is perhaps not the one that Oliver Mundell meant to ask. Of course we will take money out of the rural budget to pay to farmers and others who want it. I can try to answer the question that Oliver Mundell should have asked, but politics is not supposed to work like that, as many members know pretty well.
The member had a chance and he blew it. So there we are.
I will make one further, serious point. Mr Chapman is seriously making the argument, and I accept that it is a serious argument. However, if we agreed the amendment, we would have to use the money for the purposes that we had set out. We would tell the Parliament, “We will use the money to do this.” What would have happened if we had done that in February, before Covid came along, and then we decided that we urgently needed to use that money for Covid-related emergencies? We would not have been able to do that, because we would have had to come back to the Parliament, as Mr Finnie said, and have a whole fresh debate and process. Meanwhile, the people waiting for compensation to survive in business would not have got the money. That is not very smart.
For all those reasons, although I understand Mr Chapman’s good intentions, I do not think that it would work out as he planned. I hope that he will vote against his amendment.
Frankly, I am amazed and deeply worried that the cabinet secretary will not commit to supporting the amendment. If, as he has said, there is already ample scrutiny in the Parliament, he has nothing to fear. However, he has cited technical reasons. I do not understand what they are, and I certainly do not understand Stewart Stevenson’s nonsense. Nothing in my amendment speaks about improvement to support mechanisms; it speaks about changes.
As I said, the cabinet secretary cited technical reasons. I say to every Scottish farmer that the vote on the amendment is absolutely among the most important that we will have today. If Fergus Ewing and his SNP MSPs vote against the amendment, they will be setting the scene to be able to steal the money of Scottish farmers, cap their single farm payments, or take money from other schemes. They can then siphon that off—I use those words again—to pay for some other policy that is not within agriculture.
Our farmers are watching the cabinet secretary. I will press my amendment.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you, colleagues. Before we vote on amendment 1, can I confirm that all members have the voting app open and that they can see that no vote is currently open? If that is not the case, please raise your hand or notify us online.
The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division. Members may cast their votes now.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am working from the timed “Groupings of Amendments for Stage 3”, which lists the amendments in debating order. The version of amendment 1 that we have just voted on and that is before me refers to
“modifications or improvements to any payment or expenditure”.
However, I have just heard Peter Chapman claim that the word “improvements” was not in his amendment. I wonder whether I have been misled and there is a later version of the amendment. Perhaps I should have been working on a reprint of the amendment, about which I made the assertion that it included the word “improvements”. Can you advise me whether there has been a reprint that excludes the word “improvements”, as claimed by Mr Chapman? Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The Presiding Officer:
That is not a point of order for me to rule on. It is a point of accuracy, which the member has pointed out. His comments are on the record and I am sure that members will have taken that on board. It is a debating point.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 57, Against 65, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 13 disagreed to.
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
As members may have noted, we have passed the agreed time limit for the debate on group 4 to finish. I exercise my power under rule 9.8.4A(c) to allow debate on the group to continue beyond the agreed time limit to avoid unreasonably curtailing the debate.
We turn to group 5 on marketing standards: compatibility with UK standards and internal market. Amendment 16, in the name of Oliver Mundell, is the only amendment in the group.
The arguments around amendment 16 have been well rehearsed in the Parliament in recent weeks. Nonetheless, it is important to make again the point that the UK internal market is crucial to Scottish agriculture, which is why we must do everything in our power to enhance the opportunities that flow from that market, not junk it or seek to disrupt it for narrow political purposes. The truth is that the SNP does not want the UK or Brexit to work and is happy for farmers to pay the price.
Amendment 16 offers a protective guarantee that none of the changes that would be brought about by the bill would be used to weaken the links between Scotland and its most important market, which is the rest of the UK. Members can choose either to trust the SNP, which has already made clear its plans to adopt EU regulation without question, or to make it clear to farmers that the financial interests of our rural communities will always come first and that the many jobs that they support are just too important for political games.
I move amendment 16.
Amendment 16 raises an important issue. The UK is by far Scotland’s most important market, particularly for agriculture. Maintaining the integrity of the single market is absolutely critical. The bill introduces regulation-making powers in a range of areas where significant divergence from the rest of the UK market could cause real problems. I understand the desire to clarify the need to prevent that in legislation, particularly with regard to marketing standards. However, I am not convinced that amendment 16 is the best way of delivering that as it would introduce a requirement for legislation in Scotland that does not exist elsewhere in the UK. That risks creating an uneven playing field that may unintentionally undermine genuine collaboration.
I believe that the development of a UK-wide common framework is still the most appropriate way to achieve the important intent behind the amendment. The apparent lack of progress on that front is incredibly worrying.
I hope that the cabinet secretary will provide an update on the progress of common framework negotiations and give a clear guarantee that it is not the Government’s intention to use the regulation-making powers to create any unnecessary and harmful divergence from the rest of the UK market.
Amendment 16 seeks to restrict the power to make regulations under section 8, which is on marketing standards. It is remarkably similar to an amendment that the REC Committee voted against at stage 2, which had been lodged by one of the Conservative members. I am not sure why the Conservatives want to push the issue again. In fact, I am not sure why the Scottish Tories do not want to protect marketing standards and the high-quality standards in food production and processing in Scotland, and in turn protect Scottish farmers and food producers.
Standards matter, and high standards matter. I have raised that issue many times: in the debating chamber, in committee work and, last week, at an online event where experts Joe Stanley and Colin Ferguson put forward their case for why standards matter.
I am concerned, given that the current UK Trade Bill looks to open up the UK food supply chain and the UK market to products that are produced and processed using increased levels of antibiotics, leading to antimicrobial resistance; given the use of hormones, not just in beef cattle but in pigs and dairy kye as well; and given the recent deregulation of the USA’s chicken processing.
The member makes completely fictitious points that seek to doom-monger and cause unnecessary fear, and which are irresponsible. They expose the fact that this Government has nothing good to say about its own plans for farmers.
Does Emma Harper agree that being able to sell our produce—our high-standard Scottish produce, of which we are proud—to the rest of the UK is vital for Scottish farmers? Will she oppose the wholesale adoption of EU regulations that might prevent Scottish farmers from being able to sell their produce?
I want to protect and promote the provenance of our produce in Scotland. That is crucial for us.
The US Food and Drug Administration also has a handbook on the acceptable level of defects in food. The Conservatives laughed at me when I spoke about rat poo previously, and I will not dwell on that today. However, the NFU has said that marketing standards are better dealt with by common frameworks than by primary legislation.
Amendment 16 seeks to restrict the Scottish Government’s powers to protect its own marketing standards. Why would we want to relinquish powers to the UK Government? I will vote against the amendment, and I encourage members to do the same.
It is disappointing that, despite being roundly defeated on a similar amendment at stage 2 by members of every other party, the Tories have brought this issue back again. I again make it clear that this Government is committed to doing its very best for Scotland’s rural economy, and I will avoid any changes to marketing standards that would cause problems for Scottish businesses trading with the rest of the UK and beyond, or which would impact on the protection that the standards provide for consumers.
Mr Mundell did not mention any of the following, because in speaking to the amendment he did not cover any of the points in it whatsoever. Nonetheless, if one reads the amendment, one can see that it seeks compatibility with corresponding provisions in equivalent UK legislation, yet its central premise goes completely against that principle.
The UK Agriculture Bill sets up three separate regimes for marketing standards in the rest of the UK, and this Scottish bill completes the picture by establishing a similar regime in Scotland. The UK bill does not impose on any of the other Administrations restrictions that are similar to those in amendment 16. Although he did not make them in substance, if Mr Mundell’s arguments were correct, the UK Government would have imposed those restrictions on the other devolved Administrations to prevent them from doing what Mr Mundell is afraid of.
The amendment is completely unnecessary, because his argument is, in every way, flawed. Amendment 16 would result in the unwelcome situation in which the Scottish Government’s powers would be different from those elsewhere in the UK. Arguably, it would make it harder for our farmers and food producers to trade across the UK than at present. Every other Administration will have freedom to act; under the Tories’ amendment 16, only Scotland would be restricted, despite the matter being devolved.
With regard to trade at the moment, farmers and crofters are worried about a free pass for importation from other countries of, for example, beef that is not produced to the same exacting and—correctly—high standards that we have here. Michael Gove said that that issue would be dealt with in legislation, in the form of a trade bill. That promise, which Mr Gove made to me at a ministerial meeting, has not been fulfilled. The real issue is the importation of cheap food produce undermining Scottish and British producers. What a shame that the Tories refuse to address the real issues.
I will not take lectures from the cabinet secretary on addressing the real issues, when, every time he comes to the chamber, rather than setting out his plans for Scottish farmers, he seeks simply to air his tired old grievances about the UK Government. Let us be clear: if we are going to talk about low-standard produce, the only thing that Scottish farmers have to fear is the suboptimal chicken that is sitting in the cabinet secretary’s chair, refusing to take the big decisions that will allow our farmers to take advantage of the opportunities—[Interruption.]
Presiding Officer, I enjoy the fact that the SNP members always shout from their seats when they are unhappy, yet when it comes to standing up and saying something positive about farming, they are found wanting.
Amendment 16 is important, because it makes the case for continuing frictionless trade between Scotland and our most important market. Farmers will see past the politicised nonsense and recognise that the most important thing is being able to sell their own produce at market.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. [Interruption.] I recognise that the argument is heated; let us not get overly personal. Mr Mundell’s comment was borderline, but it was part of the debate. [Interruption.]
If Mr Swinney had been present throughout the rest of the debate—
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I do not regularly raise points of order, but the comment that Mr Mundell made was inappropriate in a parliamentary context. I look to you to establish what is acceptable and unacceptable; as a long-serving member of this institution, I fear that that type of comment is below what is acceptable and leads to a lowering of standards in the national Parliament of Scotland.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. I am acutely aware of comments that fly back and forth across the chamber; I listen out for them all the time. When arguments are heated—today’s has been a passionate but, for the most part, good-natured and good-humoured debate—there is some leeway. I suggest that Mr Mundell’s remark was nothing like as personal as some of the remarks that are exchanged, for example, at First Minister’s question time. I try to let debate go on as much as possible. I recognise that members are passionate about what they believe in. Occasionally, they overstate their case, but I allow that, because I allow them to be passionate; that is a good thing. In this case, I accept that the comment was borderline, but I thought that, in the nature of the debate, it was acceptable.
I hope that that discussion has allowed members the chance to open their voting app, and that their screen shows the text “Votes not open”. I ask that anyone who does not see that to raise their hand. Very good. We now move to the vote.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I appreciate that Ms Ewing’s vote did not affect the overall balance of the vote. However, members have not been able to cast their vote and follow our democratic process at yesterday’s stage 3 and at today’s stage 3 because of technical issues. Surely in any stage 3, irrespective of whether the result is clear, every vote should be logged, registered and counted.
I seek your reassurance that, if a member cannot vote, the vote will be aborted and rerun. Surely that is the right thing to do for stage 3. The vote on amendment 16 was not narrow, but we will get to votes at stage 3 in which one or two votes will decide on legislation. Surely it is unacceptable not to have all members’ votes cast and counted.
The Presiding Officer:
I recognise that point. We have discussed the issue at length in the Parliamentary Bureau and in the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. The member is right that all votes count, and it is important that members have the right to vote and the confidence that they can rely on the voting system.
I assure the member that the voting system is working, that it is robust and that every member’s vote has been accounted for. There have been occasions—one yesterday, one this morning and perhaps a second earlier—where there have been issues. In that situation, it is always the member’s right to draw attention to the fact. It is then the chair’s decision whether to rerun the vote. In this case, it was very important for Ms Ewing to get her vote on the record, as I believe Mr Doris or another member did yesterday.
The Presiding Officer:
It is a very new voting system, and there is no doubt that we are all coming to terms with it. There is an issue, which is our lack of familiarity with the system. That is why we are pausing before votes and letting the voting time run for longer. I assure members that we are monitoring every member who is logged on to the system and whether every member has voted.
It might be that some members have not voted. If I was to think for one second that that would alter the outcome of a vote, I assure members that the vote would not stand and it would be rerun. So far today, all the votes have been accounted for, so it is not the case that members’ votes have not counted. In fact, we have been voting in far larger numbers than normal. More than 120 members are voting all the time.
Although there is some anxiety, I ask members to be patient and to trust that we are very much accounting for all members. We are ensuring that members in the chamber and on the system are using their votes. Every time a member’s vote is not recognised, we query that, chase it up and take note of it. I hope that members will accept that assurance.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I firmly believe that members have been extremely patient and that staff have been trying their level best to ensure that we adopt all the guidelines that have been issued.
This has been going on for five months. You have just described the process as robust. I could not disagree more—it is not robust. We are having constant problems when voting. The issue has been discussed at meetings of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and several times at meetings of the Parliamentary Bureau. At the moment, I am afraid that members do not have confidence in the system.
The Presiding Officer:
I am not sure that that is the case. The system has been in place for only two weeks, not five months. Before the summer recess, we used reduced voting numbers following a political agreement. We then developed a system that clearly was not going to work, so we spent the summer developing another system.
That system is two weeks into operation. This is only the second day that we have used it to run a series of votes. Despite some of the technical difficulties that we experienced yesterday, I assure members that, so far, the system appears to be very reliable, robust and secure. There will be an opportunity not just for members to feed their views back but for the bureau and the corporate body to look at the system in detail. Given that we are working in a hybrid situation, because some members are not able to come to the Parliament—if we did not have a voting system, those members would be disadvantaged and disenfranchised—the system has huge advantages, and it has been approved by the Parliamentary Bureau and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
It is clear that the system is working at the moment. All the evidence from this end shows that it is working. I appreciate that there is some frustration and a lack of familiarity with it, but I assure members that, so far, none of the votes should be questioned in any way. The names align with all the votes.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I thank all the parliamentary staff. The only thing that I cannot do is shout “Yes”, “No” or whatever, virtually, from my house. We should thank every member of staff, because I think that the system is brilliant. They have done an excellent job. That is my personal view.
Before I do so, Presiding Officer, to be clear, the business managers are looking to curtail the debate on the bill, to bring back some of the time for the benefit of members.
That, under Rule 9.8.5A, the time available for amendments be extended by 30 minutes.—[Graeme Dey]
Motion agreed to.
I thank Colin Smyth for raising the important issue of food security at stage 2. Given the ever-increasing challenges that our society is facing, the need for an accessible and affordable food supply is becoming more acute. Colin Smyth’s stage 2 amendment was too imprecise, so I welcome the fact that he allowed us all more time to think about what might be useful in that regard.
Amendment 22 seeks to achieve precision and to create greater alignment with the provisions in clause 17 of the UK Agriculture Bill, which requires the UK Secretary of State to provide a report on food security in the UK every five years and states what that report might cover. We will now be able to feed into that process any Scotland-specific data on a similar topic, should we wish to do so.
I note, too, that the cabinet secretary has helpfully set out in writing that there are existing powers to collect data on food safety and consumer confidence. I welcome the fact that he will now discuss with ministerial colleagues how we go about using all the data collection powers that are available to get a full picture of all the issues relating to food security.
Amendment 22 will extend the list of permissible purposes for which information may be required or processed under part 2 of the bill to include
“monitoring or analysing supply sources for food” and/or
“household expenditure on food”.
Given that the proposed provision is more specific than the term “food security”, I think that it provides the clarity that we need about exactly what data can be collected, while still ensuring that the powers cover key areas of concern.
It is important to make it clear that amendment 22 would not require consumers to tell the Government anything, as the provision is restricted by clause 13(3) of the UK bill. However, the information that we need could be collected from other persons in or closely connected with the agrifood supply chain.
On amendments 23 and 24, I am happy to listen to Colin Smyth and other members, and will give my views when summing up.
I move amendment 22.
Amendment 23, in my name, allows for the collection of data for the purposes of preparing the national food plan, and amendment 24 provides a brief definition that broadly clarifies what such a plan should cover.
A national food plan could serve a range of roles by bringing together various elements of food policy into a single cohesive strategy and introducing targets and monitoring mechanisms.
From extreme weather, to the challenges of Brexit and coronavirus, if recent years have taught us anything, it is that we need a more comprehensive strategic approach to food policy. A national food plan would have a key role to play in improving resilience and food security in Scotland, thereby ensuring that we are equipped to withstand a crisis. The Government recently dropped the good food nation bill, which means that such resilience and security have become more important than ever before. The good food nation bill would have made an invaluable contribution at this time, and I very much hope that it will be on the legislative programme early in the next parliamentary session.
During stage 1 of the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, I made a plea that we look at what legislation was passing through the Parliament to determine whether the bill could be expanded to incorporate key elements of the good food nation bill. However, I accept that it became clear that the Government did not have an appetite for such an approach, so I have not sought to take that approach during stages 2 and 3. My amendments today are strictly within the scope of the bill, and do not attempt to replace the good food nation legislation. However, my amendments lay some groundwork and support existing Government commitments on those issues.
Amendments 23 and 24 serve two purposes. The first is to put down a marker for the need for an ambitious national food plan in the future. I appreciate that the Scottish Government has now committed to publishing a non-statutory food policy, and I absolutely welcome that commitment, particularly given the delays to the good food nation bill. I look forward to seeing what is produced. However, I do not agree with the argument that that means that there is no need for a robust statutory national food plan further down the line. Indeed, the Government has itself made it clear that it believes that such a plan should be statutory. My amendments help to deliver that.
The second purpose of my amendments is a practical one. Amendment 23 simply allows data to be collected for the purpose of preparing a future national food plan. A huge amount of data that would be needed for a national food plan is not currently collected, such as data on food and feed imports and food price differentials between areas. If we want to have a national food plan, or indeed if we just want to keep that option open, we need to be able to collect the necessary data from across Government to inform that. That is what amendment 23 allows.
I will support amendment 22 from Maureen Watt, which is coincidentally very similar to an amendment that I lodged at stage 2 but did not move, at the request of the cabinet secretary, when I made it clear that I was happy to work with the Government on a way forward. Unfortunately, the cabinet secretary did not take me up on the offer.
However, amid the sudden barrage of documents from the Government on the issue in recent days, after I had lodged my amendments for this stage, the cabinet secretary said that he would lodge amendments on the issue—coincidentally, after the Government had been sent a draft of my amendment. The fact that amendment 22 was lodged by one of the cabinet secretary’s back benchers suggests that the Government missed a deadline for its own amendments, so it may have been a bit of an afterthought.
The issue of food poverty and food insecurity shames Scotland. Taking every action possible to tackle it should be a priority for the Parliament. Proper monitoring of both food supply and expenditure can provide us with a better understanding of the nature and extent of the issue, which will be invaluable in developing a policy to address it. That is exactly what my amendments seek to do.
We will be supporting the amendments in this group. We believe that, in the absence of Scottish Government legislation, they will provide and allow for important data to be gathered and used to benefit both the industry and public health. As other members have said, we have seen in recent months just how important food security is. My colleagues, most notably Brian Whittle, never tire of pushing the importance of local procurement of food in the public sector.
The Parliament still has much work to do on those issues, and the amendments in this group can only help to inform and encourage this debate.
The recent Covid crisis demonstrates the critical role that farmers, crofters and everyone in the food industry plays, and we should all thank them for their work during lockdown to keep Scotland fed. Food security and insecurity are key issues for society, and Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic highlight the importance of an adequate, affordable and accessible food supply for all.
I thank Mr Smyth for agreeing not to move his stage 2 amendment to allow further consideration of this issue. I welcome Maureen Watt’s amendment 22, which augments and improves the data collection powers in part 2, as she has set out.
I want to highlight why we have not replicated clause 17(2)(e) of the UK Agriculture Bill, which covers
“food safety and consumer confidence in food.”
It is because similar powers already exist in Scots law, under the Food (Scotland) Act 2015. Members will have seen an exchange of correspondence on the matter between me, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing and the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government. We are agreed that it would not be sensible to try and cut across the existing powers.
I hope that members will also note that we intend to work together across Government to consider how we might use all our available powers and resources to gather data on all aspects of food security so as to help inform future policy development.
Yes, I am happy to give the assurance that there will of course be parliamentary involvement at the appropriate time, as there always is. I am happy that Mr Lyle has enabled that to be clarified.
I am grateful to Mr Smyth for initiating this activity with his stage 2 amendment. However, I cannot support amendments 23 and 24, for three key reasons.
First, we cannot pass measures in this bill to make up for the fact that, because of Brexit, we did not have parliamentary time to deliver the good food nation bill. Secondly, we have not debated or considered any evidence on a national food plan, either at stage 1 or stage 2 of this bill. Mr Rumbles has repeatedly made the point that we should not be debating at stage 3 or indeed stage 2 new and important matters of principle when we have not had proper input and consultation from stakeholders. It is a point of principle about the procedures in this place and, maybe because Mr Rumbles and I are both long in the tooth, if he does not mind me saying that in his absence, we both think that those principles should be adhered to. Bringing in important new issues at stage 3 is not sensible and it carries with it the risk of legislating in haste and repenting later at leisure.
However, I have acted to deliver one of the measures that were contemplated for the good food nation bill, which is to develop and publish a statement of policy on food. The Government is absolutely committed to achieving our vision of Scotland as a good food nation, where everyone has ready access to the healthy and nutritious food that they need. The decision to pause the good food nation bill was not one that I took lightly but, because of Brexit, there was simply not enough parliamentary time. That is the reality.
At stage 2, I offered to consider what more we might do to give effect to the core premise of the good food nation bill, to develop a statement of policy on food. Last week, I announced that the ministerial task force on food will now reconvene, with the involvement of a number of cabinet secretaries and ministers from across Government, to develop and publish such a statement. I am happy to give a further undertaking today that, as part of that work, we will include consideration of the matters set out in paragraphs (a) to (e) of the proposed new subsection that amendment 24 would insert in section 16.
In light of all that, I invite Colin Smyth not to move amendments 23 and 24. Should he do so, I encourage members to vote against them.
I welcome members’ support for amendment 22, and I am pleased that we have been able to influence the bill positively. Amendments 23 and 24, however, would take us beyond the principal aims of part 2 of the bill.
I was also disappointed when the good food nation bill had to be shelved earlier this year. However, with responding to the Covid-19 crisis and making preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period to contend with, I accept that many things had to be dropped from Parliament’s legislative timetable.
As other members have said, we cannot insert such elements into this bill. Amendments 23 and 24 simply do not work. There is no national food plan. There is not even a plan for such a plan. There was no intention to provide for such a thing in the draft good food nation bill, nor have we heard any evidence about it. We cannot shoehorn in such commitments to the final stages of a bill that is effectively about a discrete set of issues that are specific to agriculture. Moreover, the cabinet secretary indicated at stage 2 that he would take away the matter to see what might be done to act on the legislative intentions in the bill. I therefore welcome that. Rather than waiting for the opportunity to legislate for a statement on food policy, the Scottish ministers are simply getting on with the task of developing one, as was set out in the answer to last week’s Government-inspired question. That is a better way forward and I will not support Colin Smyth’s amendments 23 and 24. I urge members to support amendment 22 in my name.
The Presiding Officer:
Before I move to the question on amendment 22, in this case I ask all members, including those who are attending online, to refresh the voting app. They should not just open the page; they should refresh the app. You can either pull the screen down or press the refresh button, which is a little arrow in the top right hand corner on the web browser. Members who are attending online should also refresh their app and not just open it. There should be a little circular arrow in the top right hand corner; you should press that. In some screens, you can pull the screen down and let it go back up again.
Before we come to the vote, I check again: if you do not have open the page which says “vote not open”, put up your hand to attract attention.
Thank you. I ask you again to verify that you have the page that says “voting not open”. We move to the vote on Maureen Watt’s amendment.
The question is, that amendment 22—[Interruption.] We will wait for Ms Grahame.
Thank you, colleagues.
The question is, that amendment 22, in the name of Maureen Watt, be agreed to. Are we agreed?
Are we agreed?
We are agreed. [Laughter.]
Amendment 22 agreed to.
Amendment 23 moved—[Colin Smyth.]
The question is, that amendment 23 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division.
As NFU Scotland states in its briefing, amendment 19
“is an important inclusion which, whilst not requiring the implementation of any new policy, would ensure appropriate reporting mechanisms on the projected implementation of that new policy at such a time that it is deemed appropriate and deliverable.”
I have set the last date for doing so as 31 December 2024, and I sincerely hope, for the sake of Scottish agriculture that it is possible for the Government to set out clearly the future policy direction by then.
Amendment 19 provides an important safeguard, holds ministers’ feet to the fire and puts this Parliament at the heart of the process. I hope that members will support it, because if providing stability and simplicity is to be a meaningful aspiration, the Government and the cabinet secretary must be able to provide a clear sense of direction and a definitive timeline for any changes that are coming.
Farming is a long-term industry, and in this moment of significant change and opportunity we can ill afford to make the big decisions behind closed doors and put off sharing that information with farmers.
I move amendment 19.
I have found myself today in the unusual position of sharing the same voting intentions as Mr Mundell. I commended him in the debate on the very first amendment this afternoon—amendment 21, on the objectives of secondary legislation—when he was very happy to see workers’ rights respected. Sadly, that is not replicated in his interests when it comes to amendment 19.
In the debate on Mr Chapman’s amendment 1, I said that I am not a fan of reports. On-going scrutiny is what is important. I note that Mr Mundell wants to know about productivity and profitability, but, as I said, improving the conditions of workers in the sector has been dropped, so for that reason we will not support amendment 19.
I declare an interest in that I am in a family farming partnership. I have been farming for more than 40 years, and I have been giving advice to farmers for a similar period.
I have followed the bill during its progress through the Parliament, not just as a member but as the convener of the REC Committee. I watched it go through stages 1 and 2—[Interruption.] Presiding Officer, it is difficult to talk when members are talking and not listening. If they do not want to listen to me, may I ask for silence, please?
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Farmers need some process, which is what the bill is about—I have accepted what the cabinet secretary said about the bill being about process. Farmers also need policy if they are to be able to deliver on all the requirements that the Government has of them.
At stage 2, some good amendments were lodged not only by members of my party—members would expect me to say that—but by Colin Smyth for the Labour Party and by John Finnie for the Green Party. They were all defeated by an SNP and Lib Dem alliance. That unholy alliance was negotiated by Mr Rumbles so that he could get his proposed sunset clause through. That was all that he wanted. It was a little bizarre, if I might say so, because if he had bothered to speak to the other members of the committee he would have been able to get a sunset clause agreed to that met the requirements of all the other parties and that might have got the support of the cabinet secretary.
We have seen that alliance continue during stage 3, which means that amendment 19 will probably be defeated. That would be a huge mistake, because farmers need to know where they are going. They need to see a cabinet secretary, whoever it is, come before the Parliament and lay down a policy that they can see and follow in the future. Amendment 19 would get the Government to agree a timescale in that regard.
Farmers need amendment 19, the Parliament needs it and Scotland needs it. To vote against it would be an act of vandalism. Therefore, I urge members of all parties to support the farmers who have supported them so well and so diligently over the past six months and for many years before that.
Labour will support amendment 19. The development of not just an agricultural but a rural support system over the next few years is an urgent priority for the Government, and farmers, crofters and growers in rural communities across Scotland are desperate for clarity on what lies ahead. A requirement to report on progress will provide for accountability and ensure that the Government sticks to the proposed timescales and develops such a policy.
Like John Finnie, I would have liked the report that is proposed in amendment 19 to have had more content. However, it would be better than no report at all. Amendment 19 proposes an extremely generous timeframe and makes no unreasonable demands; it would simply guarantee in law a process of scrutiny and accountability that we would expect anyway and that should be underpinned in law. I am happy to support amendment 19.
During stage 1, I set out how I update the Parliament regularly on the steps that are being taken to develop future policy on farming and food production. Most committees accepted my explanation. Indeed, the REC Committee said in its stage 1 report:
“the Committee is satisfied that there is no need for a statutory requirement on periodic reporting to the Parliament to be included in the Bill.”
At stage 2, I made a similar commitment to keep the Parliament updated, in response to amendments in Rachael Hamilton’s name.
However, I am aware that some members and stakeholders would welcome more certainty around the process for establishing new policy proposals for rural support beyond 2024. Until then, the paper “Stability and simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period” provides exactly what its title says—stability and simplicity for farmers and crofters—and, broadly speaking, is welcomed across those communities.
Although I have some concerns about the binding and specific nature of the requirements in relation to the contents of the report for which amendment 19 makes provision, and although I have some sympathy with Mr Finnie’s points about what the report is not asked to cover, on balance I can support amendment 19 in the spirit of co-operation for which I hope that I am renowned. I encourage members to support amendment 19.
Amendment 20 is a technical amendment that inserts a new section into the bill on Crown application.
The provisions in the bill, including any offences created under sections 8 or 10, will by default bind the Crown. However, it is a matter of general policy that the Crown should not be liable to prosecution for committing any such criminal offence. Instead, any non-compliance by the Crown is to be enforced through the civil courts.
Accordingly, amendment 20 inserts a standard provision that exempts the Crown—excluding persons in the service of the Crown—from being held criminally liable for any non-compliance with a regulatory provision made using the powers in this bill. As an alternative means of enforcement, it provides for the Lord Advocate to apply to the Court of Session for a declaration that the Crown has acted, or failed to act, in a way that is unlawful.
I urge members to vote for this technical amendment.
I move amendment 20.
“Nothing in or under this Act makes the Crown criminally liable.”
The reality is that any individual or body that acts in a criminal way should face the consequences. If this amendment were to pass, the Crown will join 18 other groups or organisations that have been given immunity since 2009, including European Union military staff, the European Police College and the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation. I ask the cabinet secretary—noting his comments about stage 3—whether the Scottish Government was approached by the Crown seeking criminal immunity, or whether he consulted the Crown on this.
The Presiding Officer:
No other member has indicated that they wish to contribute, and the cabinet secretary is indicating that he does not wish to make any concluding remarks, so we will move straight to the vote.
The question is, that amendment 20 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division.
I will just double-check that members have the voting app open again and that the page says, “No vote is currently open”. We will wait for a few seconds for that to happen If it does not happen in the next 15 seconds—[Interruption.] I am being advised to remind members that voting is not open yet. Members should not have to refresh their screens—just open the app and then wait about 10 seconds. Do not refresh—just open the app, which should show a page that says, “No vote is currently open”. If any member does not have that page, they should raise their hand. We are just waiting for one member who is online.
I thank members. We are all ready to go now. Voting on amendment 20 will open now. This will be a one-minute division. [Interruption.]
I apologise to members. I am afraid that that attempt stopped mid-vote, so we will have to rerun the vote. That was not the fault of members—it was us. There will be a short pause while we reset the vote.
I again ask members to ensure that their voting app is kept on. We are about to run the vote again. Does everyone have a page that says, “No vote is currently open”?
Good. In that case, we will run the vote again. The vote is on amendment 20, which is in the name of the cabinet secretary. Members may vote now. This will be a one-minute division.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 115, Against 6, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 20 agreed to.
That ends consideration of amendments—thank you for your time and understanding.
As members will be aware, at this stage in the proceedings, I am required under standing orders to decide whether, in my view, any provision in the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it modifies the electoral system or the franchise for Scottish Parliament elections. As the bill does no such thing, it does not require a supermajority to be passed at stage 3.
I have checked with business managers, and all the main speakers want to press on with the stage 3 debate. There will be a short pause before we do so. Decision time will be 45 minutes after we start the debate.