A "sunset clause" should be included in legislation enabling the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to continue to operate during a post-Brexit transition period, and ministers should bring forward proposals and a timetable for introducing a new long-term rural policy for Scotland, a Holyrood committee has reported.
In its stage 1 report on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, which will enable the continued operation of current CAP schemes from 1 January 2021 but also allow them to be progressively "simplified and improved", the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee recommends a time limit provision so that ministers cannot use the "potentially broad powers" in the bill for an indefinite period.
The MSPs warn that, despite Government assurances that this is not the intention, a future Government could use the powers to amend rural policy by secondary legislation "in perpetuity", and additional safeguards are needed.
The bill would also enable pilot projects to be run in order to test out longer-term rural policy, with a view to introducing an "outcome-based" approach to the calculation and allocation of farm payments. The committee calls on the Government to provide regular updates as to how it intends to consult on, develop and implement these pilots, which would be a "significant shift" from the current area-based payment approach.
It welcomes the data provisions of the bill, which provide powers to ministers for the collection of agricultural information to improve understanding of the sector, while modernising and improving the legal basis for collecting and processing data in the context of the Data Protection Act 2018.
Committee convener Edward Mountain MSP commented: "The committee has acknowledged that there is a desire among stakeholders to see this bill progress in order to facilitate a smooth transition for the agricultural sector as the UK leaves the European Union, and we support the general principles of this legislation.
"However, the committee has also noted the views of those stakeholders who highlighted the need for the development of a new policy for the sector post-2024, and for the Scottish Government to drive this forward with the aim of bringing forward new primary legislation to implement this new policy as soon as is reasonably possible.
"We have therefore called on the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals at stage 2 for the inclusion of a sunset clause to this bill, extended to a date that takes into account the planned end of the transition period in 2024."
He added: "It is important to stress that any substantial delay in the introduction of new policy and associated primary legislation thereafter will make it challenging for the Scottish agricultural industry to meet the commitment to achieve a 75% reduction in carbon emissions and to contribute towards the target of doubling turnover in farming, fishing, food and drink to £30bn by 2030."