Bill to give Scottish Ministers powers over agricultural policy passes stage one

Legislation which allows the Common Agricultural Policy to be simplified and improved post-Brexit has passed Stage 1, following a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill creates powers to enable Scottish Ministers to ensure CAP schemes can continue beyond this year and also modify retained EU Law in relation to the Common Agricultural Policy, which will give stability for Scottish farmers and crofters in the face of the dual uncertainties of Covid-19 and Brexit.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said with the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit and now the impact of COVID-19, the Bill emphasises how important it is to give farmers and crofters financial stability in the next few years, but Scotland also needs to have powers to simplify or improve the current Common Agricultural Policy schemes to tailor them to the country’s unique needs.

Mr Ewing said: “This legislation sets out to do just that by creating new powers to enable us to modify elements of retained EU law. It will also update the legal basis for collecting information about the agri-food supply chain and activities related to agriculture.

“As outlined in our 2018 Stability and Simplicity proposals, we are introducing a transition period until 2024, where we will seek measures to streamline, simplify and free up resources to pilot and test activities likely to feature in a future farming and rural support policy beyond 2024.

“This bill puts in place the legal framework to allow that work to be taken forward. It is largely about process, rather than policy and it is vital that the Scottish Parliament comes together to agree it so that we have these powers in place for 2021. I am pleased that parliament has given its support at Stage 1.”

NFU Scotland has welcomed the stage one approval and hopes to use the Bill to lobby for improvements to and simplification of existing CAP scheme rules in line with its major policy document ‘Stability – The Platform for Change’ launched in March.

Speaking following the debate, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick [pictured]said: “This Bill’s smooth passage through the parliamentary process is vital to provide certainty and stability for Scottish producers as well as laying the groundwork to drive our industry forward to deliver the high quality food that the market desires while playing a pivotal role in achieving environmental and climate goals.

“This is the first major parliamentary hurdle for this important Bill and NFUS looks forward to engaging very closely in Stages 2 and 3 when it returns to the parliament.

“The uncertainty facing agricultural businesses through the Brexit process has been massively compounded by a public health crisis with far reaching social and economic consequences. In that context, this Bill provides the necessary stability for agriculture to be a keystone around which recovery can be built.

“That said, this Bill does not set a clear policy direction for Scottish agriculture and NFUS is absolutely clear that a new policy-focussed Bill must also be introduced as soon as is reasonably possible.”

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