"Serious concerns" over the Scottish Government's Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill have been raised by a Holyrood committee in a stage 1 report on the bill.
The bill would give Scottish ministers powers to keep Scots law in line with EU law following the end of the Brexit transition period, and create a new authority, Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS), to oversee implementation of, and compliance with, environmental law.
However the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) concludes that its members are "clear that the bill's progress through Parliament depends on a satisfactory response to the issues raised" – which include the role of the environmental principles to be legally recognised under the bill, and the functions, powers and independence of ESS.
The Finance & Constitution Committee has still to report as lead committee on the bill, but the ECCLR Committee has considered the effect on environmental policy, which features largely in the bill.
Its members are "seriously concerned" about the consequences of the UK Government's internal market proposals on the operation of the devolution settlement, and support the Finance & Constitution Committee’s consideration of the wide constitutional implications of the proposals.
However they are also concerned at stakeholders' comments that the Scottish Government has not engaged with them on the common frameworks proposed in relation to the UK internal market: for these to work effectively, "they must be developed with the full involvement of stakeholders".
On the environmental provisions, with which most of the report is concerned, the committee agrees with the support for continuity of the EU environmental principles, but recommends further information from Government, before the stage 1 debate, about how they would sit in the broader constitutional and legal context. There is "a strong likelihood" that the UK internal market could influence Scottish ministers’ ability to act on the environmental principles, where that also would lead to significant policy divergence".
It questions whether the ESS would be sufficiently independent from Government, and is concerned that the process of interim appointments is already underway, "with no engagement of the Parliament to date".