I am pleased to see that our committee’s report on the bill is a unanimous one that recommends that Parliament agree to its general principles today. I, too, commend Emma Harper for introducing the bill.
The job of the committee was to examine the bill in detail, to ensure that it was fit for purpose and to see whether and how it could be improved. In the short time that is available to me, I will highlight just two of our recommendations, which previous speeches also addressed.
First, committee members feel that the proposed statutory power for the police to enter and search non-domestic property without a warrant is neither appropriate nor practical. As the convener has said, the committee questioned whether that power would even be legally competent. Personally, I feel that the power runs completely contrary to long-held principles of Scots law. For the police to carry out searches without a warrant would be unacceptable. To use a mixed metaphor, I note that the idea of the police going on a fishing expedition is just not on.
In Emma Harper’s written response to the committee’s report, she noted that her view is that the Scottish Government, as opposed to the committee, is “best placed to decide” whether that is a necessary power, and that if it is the Government’s view that it is not necessary, she would “consider removing the provisions”.
I am glad to have heard Emma Harper confirm that she will lodge an amendment to ensure that a warrant will always be necessary. I heartily welcome that. I also thank the minister, Ben Macpherson, for clearly acknowledging the committee’s concerns—I knew that he would. I say gently to Emma Harper that saying that she would take the Scottish Government’s view as opposed to that of the committee was not particularly helpful ahead of stage 2, but there we are.
Secondly, the committee identified many unresolved issues with the proposal to appoint inspectors to aid the police in their duties. It said:
“The Committee has ... fundamental concerns about the principle of inspection bodies taking the lead in any circumstances in which a criminal offence of livestock worrying has taken place”,
“responsibility for dealing with such criminal offences should lie with the police alone.”
I could not have put it better than John Finnie has just put it. The committee therefore recommended
“that the Member in charge should remove the inspecting bodies provisions from the Bill”.
I was, again, glad this afternoon to hear that Emma Harper will lodge the necessary amendments to do that.
I know that time is short, so, with those two caveats, I am very pleased to recommend to colleagues that we vote to approve the general principles of the bill at decision time. That will allow the bill to proceed to stage 2, when it can usefully be amended to everybody’s satisfaction.