This report presents the independent analysis of responses to the consultation on a new Agriculture Bill. The consultation ran from 29 August 2022 to 5 December 2022. The consultation sought views on proposals which aim to deliver the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture, which was published in March 2022.
In total, there were 392 valid responses to this consultation comprising of responses from 225 individuals and 167 organisations.
Future Payment Framework
The majority of respondents to the consultation agreed with the proposals set out in relation to the proposed four-tier approach.
While respondents were broadly supportive of the proposals, concerns were raised in relation to aspects of the conditionality attached and the potential complexity of the system. There were also calls for more detail on the specifics of the Future Payment Framework.
Views were more mixed on proposals in relation to a ‘Whole Farm Plan’ being used as eligibility criteria for the Base Level Direct Payment. There were concerns raised regarding the Whole Farm Plan and its potential to further complicate an already complex system. Others felt that a Whole Farm Plan was a positive proposal due to the potential for achieving planning for nature restoration, while being productive.
There was also broad support for proposals in relation to the inclusion of a mechanism to help ensure a Just Transition, though some wanted more detail around what this would entail.
A common theme throughout this section was a call for more detail on the specifics of the Future Payment Framework.
Delivery of Key Outcomes
Climate change adaptation and mitigation
The majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of proposals around allowing future payments to support climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives.
Many were in favour, in principle, to incentivise the adoption of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. There were also more calls for clarity on how these payments would be made and on what basis with concerns they may complicate existing payment structures.
On proposals related to conditional payments based on outcomes that support integrated land management, there was broad agreement in favour of these proposals. A key argument in favour was that this conditionality could drive outcomes, though others highlighted that the right balance had to be struck between focused conditional payments and up-front payments which would allow landowners to make the required changes to achieve outcomes in this space.
Another common view was that the consultation focused too much on these aspects and not enough of food production, given that farm profitability would be the key to being able to deliver outcomes in this area.
Again, there was a sense that there was not enough information in the consultation document to comment beyond agreement or disagreement in principle. This detail will be considered during the secondary legislation process.
Nature protection and restoration
There was broad agreement with the proposals in relation to nature protection and restoration. Specific points raised were in relation to a recognition of work already done in this space which should be supported further, and that such mechanisms would be vital in the face of a perceived nature and climate emergency.
There was also positivity towards support for conditionality based on outcomes, but again a sense that a balance had to be struck between these and providing enough support for people to attempt to meet outcomes in this space.
High quality food production
There was general agreement among respondents to the proposals set out in relation to high quality food production.
There was a sense that giving Scottish Ministers powers in this space was imperative in a landscape of considerable policy change and global uncertainty. Others who were less supportive stated a lack of confidence in Ministers and Governments to appropriately intervene in a way to make appropriate, sustainable changes to rules on food.
There was wide support for the proposals to declare when there are exceptional or unforeseen conditions affecting food production or distribution, though there was a desire to see what could be seen deemed exceptional or unforeseen as clearly defined with a framework in the Bill.
Wider Rural Development
There was broad support for the proposals on wider rural development set out in the consultation document. However, there were more mixed views on the inclusion of non-agricultural sectors to be considered for support.
Despite the general agreement with the proposals, many questioned the place of this in the Agriculture Bill and raised concerns about whether funding would be diverted away from agriculture.
Those in favour would often point to the symbiotic relationship between rural communities and agriculture and a focus on sustainability.
Animal Health and Welfare
There was broad support for the proposals as set out in the consultation document, with broad recognition of the importance of high standards for animal health and welfare and promoting best practice in Scotland. There was a sense though that the proposals could duplicate efforts given that current welfare standards in Scotland were seen to be high and covered by Assurance schemes.
Plant Genetic Resources and Plant Health
There was widespread agreement with the proposals among respondents. There was a sense that the conservation of existing genetic material was important to maintain crop diversity and ensure food security.
Skills, Knowledge Transfer and Innovation
There was widespread endorsement among respondents that support should continue in the area of skills, knowledge transfer and innovation.
Continued support was viewed as vital to ensure there could be a thriving agricultural sector in future, to encourage new entrants and to encourage new delivery methods and innovative solutions going forward.
It was, however, argued that current support is insufficient and there were gaps in delivery and improvements to certain areas that were identified.
Views were more mixed around the establishment of a national reserve with some believing it was required for the reasons set out in the consultation while others queried this given the costs to administer and called for more detail.
Administration, Control, and Transparency of Payment Framework Data
Respondents generally agreed with the proposals set out in this section of the consultation.
Those in support tended to focus on the usefulness in monitoring and reporting progress, and issues around practicality and considerations that would need to be made were raised in relation to this section.
Respondents broadly agreed with the proposals on powers to create a system that provides a mechanism that aligns with the principles of the Scottish Public Finance Manual. There was a sense that this was a cost-effective way of achieving the principles set out in the Scottish Public Finance Manual and a sense that public funds should be properly handled, reported on, and audited.
There was general support for the proposals for Scottish Ministers to have the power to create a system whereby on-the-spot checks would be undertaken to further verify claims/applications made by beneficiaries for rural support. Views raised were around how important they were to ensure appropriate use of public money, though some did voice conditional support for checks. Others saw on-the-spot checks as an administrative hurdle for businesses.
Generally speaking, respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to collect information for the purposes of carrying out management, control, audit and monitoring and evaluation obligations and for statistical purposes to help better inform future policy, have the power to enable the publication of details pertaining to recipients who receive payments including under the future payment model and set a level above which payment details will be published.
There was a sense that these proposals could add value, though some believed such systems were already in existence and that existing systems should be utilised where possible. Others suggested that these systems introduced complexity and that to avoid this that any outcomes had to be specific, measurable and evidence based.
There were also queries over the expertise of Government and independent evaluators. Key reasons to support the publication of recipients were transparency and accountability.
Respondents were broadly supportive of the proposals set out in the consultation document in relation to CAP legacy schemes and retained EU law. This support did not tend to be expanded on much further than the reasoning set out in the consultation paper.
Those who opposed discussed their opposition to CAP with some arguing that as Scotland was no longer in the EU it would be more beneficial to align with UK policy in the future than EU policy.
Modernisation of Agricultural Tenancies
Agreement to diversification
Around half of those who responded to this section of the consultation agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to determine an acceptable diversification.
Those who agreed tended to note that Scottish Ministers should be able to determine what diversification is in order to encourage biodiversity and combat climate change.
Others noted that some businesses needed to diversify to survive and these steps towards resilience should be permissible without a link to biodiversity or climate change.
There was also an emphasis on local circumstances which could require rapid and local solutions that Ministers may not be able to adequately provide.
There was majority agreement in relation to the Tenant Farming Commissioner being able to issue guidance in the event that power was given.
Waygo and Schedule 5 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991
There were mixed views on the proposals set out in this section relating to Scottish Ministers being able to add new activities and items onto Schedule 5 and amend Schedule 5 by secondary legislation.
Those in support saw these powers as imperative to ensure fairness, creating financially sustainable tenancies and encouraging tenants to make improvements to meet modern-day challenges.
Others felt that the proposals lacked enough detail or thought, and opposed the use of secondary legislation as it did not allow for the opportunity for proper industry, public and parliamentary scrutiny.
There was broad agreement with the proposal that, when an agricultural tenancy comes to an end, tenant farmers should have certainty about timescales and when they will receive any money due to them, and their landlord should have similar certainty. Though, some were hesitant to see any government intervention in this area without a clear understanding of the timeframes proposed.
Amendments to rules of good husbandry and good estate management
The majority agreed that the Scottish Ministers should be able to amend the rules of good husbandry and good estate management defined in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1948 to enable tenant farmers and their landlords to be able to meet future global challenges.
Many responses were supportive of amendments to the rules of good husbandry and estate management. In general, responses referenced a need to modernise the rules so that they were reflective of current best practice.
Most respondents agreed that adaptability and negotiation in rent calculations are required to meet the global challenges of the future.
While responses were generally supportive of rent reviews, there was little consensus about what best practice would look like in this regard. Some responses discussed following open market value, value based on earning potential, and more.
Around a quarter of respondents consider that Scottish Ministers should amend the resumption provisions on compensation for disturbance to include a new valuation formula, while around a fifth do not, and the remainder said that they don’t know.
Scottish Agricultural Wages (Fair Work)
The majority of respondents to this question agreed that Fair Work conditions, including the real Living Wage be applied to all Scottish agriculture workers.
Responses in favour of the real living wage made the argument that to pay these wages would be fair, that many agricultural workers were already paid at this level and that it may attract and keep high-skilled workers.
The payment structure for agricultural workers was also discussed and the fact that often accommodation and provisions are part of payment in this sector, therefore, any system making Living Wage a requirement would have to take this into account.
Others argued that a requirement to pay the real Living Wage would have a financial impact on businesses and that many businesses in the agricultural sector would like to pay workers more but it was not financially viable to do so. Such a requirement may lead to businesses having to cut jobs or increase food prices.
The role of the Scottish Agriculture Wages Board (SAWB) which sets wage rates via the Scottish Agriculture Wages Order (SAWO) was questioned in the context of the real Living Wage being implemented.
It was also questioned why the agriculture sector would be enforced to pay the real Living Wage given its status as voluntary initiative for the rest of the economy to be paid by employers that can afford to do so.
There was a desire to see wider consultation on this if such a mechanism or policy were enforced of the wider impacts, implications, and administration of the change.
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