With further scrutiny of Scotland’s landmark Land Reform Bill to begin in the Scottish Parliament later today, fears have been expressed that the tight timetable could jeopardise proper democratic scrutiny of its contents.
The Scottish Government’s intentions to have the bill approved before the Scottish elections in May always meant that things were going to be tight – but with Land Reform Minister Aileen McLeod set to produce 49 amendments to the first few sections of the bill being discussed today, doubts are being voiced over the ability of parliamentary procedures to cope with the timescale set out.
Expressing concern, NFU Scotland said the bill contained significant legislative proposals which would have far reaching consequences for all farmers.
Chief executive Scott Walker said: “It is important for Scottish farming that this bill, once made law, is fit for purpose. All too often we have seen legislation rushed through and not delivering what was hoped for. We welcome the recognition from MSPs of the pressing need to get the legislation right from the outset.”
“Whilst there are some positive elements to the bill, farmers feel particularly vulnerable given the lack of detail provided and view it as essential that Scotland’s ability to produce food is not unintentionally undermined.”
Walker said that the union still believed that the agricultural holdings legislation should have been the subject of its own bill. He said that while the union had recently lodged further written evidence with the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment committee on the reform proposals, new Scottish Government amendments had already necessitated a further round of consultations on proposals for the assignation of agricultural tenancies.
He also revealed that cross-party support had been gained for a number of amendments being put forward by the union itself.
The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment committee, which is charged with scrutinising the bill, itself wrote to cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead on the timing issue. It said that numerous items of subordinate legislation were due to be laid just when amendments proposed at stage two were being considered.
The committee expressed concern that the volume of this subordinate legislation would not allow sufficient time for the “appropriate levels of scrutiny” – nor would it allow stakeholders and the public sufficient opportunity to engage in the democratic process.