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Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change - Taking Forward our National Conversation

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3 Commission on Scottish Devolution

Chapter Summary

  • The recommendations arising from the Commission on Scottish Devolution in relation to rural affairs and the environment are examined in more detail in this chapter.
  • While the Scottish Government supports a small number of recommendations and recognises that some recommendations represent small steps in the right direction, there is also fundamental disagreement elsewhere.

3.1. The Commission on Scottish Devolution 6 ("The Calman Commission") made a number of recommendations relating to EU matters, fiscal matters and relationships with the UK Government in its report, "Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the UK in the 21st Century" published in June 2009. The Commission's final report also covered the Crown Estate, animal health, food labelling and the marine environment.

Scotland and the EU

3.2. The Commission recognised that the UK Government has a responsibility to ensure that the interests of the Devolved Administrations are fully represented on EU matters, and proposed that both the UK and Scottish Governments should be more proactive in engagement with each other where EU legislation or policy impinges on devolved responsibilities.

3.3. The Commission also recommended that there should be a presumption that, where a request is received, Scottish Ministers are accepted as part of the UK delegation where EU matters which cover devolved areas are for discussion. This is particularly relevant for the vast range of business relating to devolved responsibilities which is conducted at Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Councils.

3.4. These recommendations represent small steps in the right direction which the Scottish Government welcomes. Such arrangements, however, would continue to rely entirely on the political goodwill of the UK Government without any external check or remedy. There are occasions when the UK votes against the clear Scottish interest. For instance, when EU votes are taken on whether to authorise particular GM crops and products, the UK Government consistently resists Scotland's view.

Food

3.5. The Commission recommends that the Scottish Parliament should not have the ability to legislate on food content and labelling in so far as that legislation would cause a breach of the single market in the UK by placing a burden on the manufacturing, distribution and supply of foodstuffs to consumers.

3.6. The Scottish Government fundamentally disagrees with this position. Food labelling is principally driven by EU legislation and reflects that there is a need for consistency across the single European market. Health, nutrition and food policies are all matters for the Scottish Government, and it would be a retrograde step to separate and reserve responsibility for food labelling.

Environmental Taxation

3.7. The Commission recommended that the Landfill Tax and the Aggregates Levy be devolved. The Scottish Government welcomes these proposals and would wish to see these implemented swiftly. As discussed in Chapter 2 of this paper, Landfill Tax is a tax on the disposal of waste and is paid on top of normal landfill fees. The Aggregates Levy is a separate tax for the commercial extraction of rock, sand and gravel.

3.8. However, the key elements of environmental taxation such as Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty would remain reserved under the Commission's proposals.

Marine and Nature Conservation

3.9. The Commission recommended that the effectiveness of the agreement reached by the UK and Scottish Governments (on the UK Marine Bill) should be kept under review by inter-Governmental machinery, and nature conservation should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament at the earliest appropriate opportunity, taking into account the experience and evidence to be gained from the operation of the regime set out in the respective Marine Bills.

3.10. The UK and Scottish Governments agreed on an arrangement for working together to co-ordinate marine management joining up the UK and Scottish Marine Bills. This provided for the Scottish Government working with the other Administrations on a UK Marine Policy Statement and being given executive responsibility for marine planning and nature conservation in the Scottish off-shore zone.

3.11. The Commission has recognised the progress that has been made between Governments, and highlights this as an area where the UK and Scottish Governments have sought to work constructively together within the existing framework.

3.12. The Commission's proposals that Scotland should have full responsibility for nature conservation in the off-shore zone is welcome and the point about the benefit of managing fisheries and marine conservation on an equal basis is well made. However, that would mean other relevant responsibilities such as marine planning, deposits at sea and marine renewables still being subject to a piecemeal approach.

Crown Estate

3.13. The Commission recommends that the Secretary of State for Scotland should, in consultation with Scottish Ministers, more actively exercise his powers of direction under the Crown Estate Act 1961 and, having consulted Scottish Ministers, should give consideration to whether such direction is required immediately.

3.14. The Commission also proposes that the appointment of a Scottish Crown Estate Commissioner should be made following formal consultation with Scottish Ministers. Both of these recommendations are welcome, offering modest improvements for Scotland.

3.15. The Crown's ownership of the sea bed means that revenues are collected from Scottish coastal businesses such as those in the aquaculture, marine renewables and leisure industries, with very little visible benefit arising to Scotland in return.

Endemic Disease

3.16. The Commission recommends that funding for policy relating to endemic diseases in animals should be devolved whilst responsibility for funding exotic disease outbreaks should be retained at a UK level.

3.17. At present policy on animal health, including response to exotic disease outbreaks, is devolved, but the budgets are held by the UK Government.

3.18. Detailed discussions on the devolution of the budgets for animal health are already ongoing with UK Government. Exotic disease outbreaks come with the risk of a very high unexpected cost for disease control and compensation for culled animals. This is an unbudgeted pressure which requires access to a large contingency reserve.

3.19. Separating funding for endemic and exotic disease control poses significant problems as the policy and delivery structures for both are the same. The Scudamore Report 7, following the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2007, found that responsibility for all aspects of exotic disease response should be devolved; therefore the rationale for reserving exotic disease control is unclear.