A Holyrood committee has called for a “sunset clause” to be added to the bill to allow the Scottish Government to amend or replace parts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) during the post-Brexit transition period.

In its stage 1 report on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, the Delegated Powers & Law Reform Committee recommends a time limit provision to ensure ministers could not use the “potentially broad power” to make “significant policy changes” for an indefinite period.

The bill will enable the continued operation of current CAP schemes from 1 January 2021, but also allow them to be progressively “simplified and improved”.

The report warns that although this is not the current Government’s stated intention, there is a “potential risk” that a future Government could use the powers to make substantial changes, and the intended scope of this power could be clearer. Similar concerns apply to provisions on product marketing and marketing standards.

It also recommends that consideration be given to having a choice of parliamentary procedures available for technical, “housekeeping” matters and changes with policy implications which merit greater oversight. The marketing provisions include a power to create offences with a penalty of up to five years' imprisonment.       

Committee convener Graham Simpson MSP commented: “The Scottish Government has repeatedly said that it doesn’t intend to use this power beyond the next five years, and that its plan is to have a new long-term agriculture policy in place from 2024. The committee is therefore asking for that policy intention to be reflected in the bill by inserting a sunset provision.

“The committee understands that there are matters in this area that remain uncertain and which mean the Government may not be able to meet its 2024 intention, but we don’t believe that it is impossible to set any time limit for the use of this power.

“If after the time limit has expired the Government believes it still needs the power, it is appropriate that it seeks the renewed permission of the Parliament, rather than the Parliament giving away such a potentially broad legislative power indefinitely.”

Click here to view the committee's report. The bill is also currently being considered by the lead committee, the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee.