Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 2015.
Relevant document: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, I will set out the situation in relation to the common agricultural policy— for convenience, I shall refer to it as “the CAP”—which this order seeks to address. Under the European legislation that governs the CAP, a “farmer” is defined by reference to a “holding” across the United Kingdom. However, farming businesses often do not fall neatly within Administration boundaries and, therefore, there are a number of businesses with land in more than one Administration within the United Kingdom. This means that the European regulatory reference to a “farmer” is not sufficient to identify those Scottish farmers over whom the Scottish Ministers should have administrative competence. This order will define a “Scottish farmer” as having land wholly or partly in Scotland. Collectively, those businesses with land in more than one Administration are known as “cross-border farmers”.
The system of agricultural support under the CAP was last reformed in 2003-04 to provide income support for farmers. Those arrangements were set out in Council Regulations (EC) 637/2008 and 73/2009. As part of those arrangements, the administrative responsibility for cross-border farmers needed to be resolved. Accordingly, two Scotland Act orders, the Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 2004, a Section 30 order, and the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2004, a Section 106 order—I shall refer to them as the 2004 orders—facilitated the transfer of powers to Scottish Ministers so that they could administer subsidy claims for Scottish farmers. These orders also tied in with the UK statutory instrument, the Common Agricultural Policy Single Payment and Support Schemes (Integrated Administration and Control System) Regulations 2009—I shall refer to them as the IACS regulations—since the EU rules require claims for subsidy to be administered by a single competent authority.
However, the current CAP arrangements come to an end on 31 December this year. The latest reforms for direct payments to farmers under support schemes within the framework of the CAP are set out in Council Regulation (EC) 1307/2013, which includes repealing Council Regulations (EC) 637/2008 and 73/2009 with effect from 1 January 2015. Therefore, two new orders, in similar terms to the current 2004 orders, are required so that the Scottish Ministers can continue to administer claims as the competent authority under the IACS regulations in respect of cross-border farmers.
This order, to be made under Section 30(3) of the Scotland Act 1998, was laid before the House on the same day as its companion instrument, the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2014, to be made under Section 106 of the Scotland Act 1998. The Section 106 order is subject to annulment and so is not being considered with this Section 30(3) order. However, to fully understand what Section 30(3) achieves, it is important that Parliament is aware of the Section 106 order and how the orders work together.
This Section 30(3) order will ensure that certain functions should be treated as functions that are exercisable in or as regards Scotland, making it clear that the Scottish Parliament has competence to deal with cross-border farmers. Then the Section 106 order will provide that those functions relating to cross-border farmers may be exercised separately by Scottish Ministers. Ultimately, the two orders will combine, in a similar way to the 2004 orders, to allow the CAP scheme management arrangements to continue when the new arrangements take effect from 1 January 2015. Thus, the Scottish Ministers will be able to continue to administer claims as the competent authority under the IACS regulations in respect of cross-border farmers.
As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, pointed out when he responded to the previous order, this demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work and is a necessary solution to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the competence to deal with cross-border farmers. It is interesting that the previous order was under Section 104 of the Scotland Act and the one that we are dealing with now is under Section 30(3) and Section 106 of the Scotland Act. The next order relates to Section 111 of the Scotland Act. There is a whole series of instruments that are designed to ensure that the devolution settlement works properly. It is a tribute to officials not only in my department and the Scotland Office but probably in this case in Defra and the Scottish Administration, because I am aware of the close co-operation that there has been to bring these orders forward. The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee considered this order on 26 November and the other place will consider it on 17 December. I commend the order to the Committee and beg to move.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for a clear exposition of how this order will impact on the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and use the good mechanisms of our constitutional arrangements to further strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Noble Lords will appreciate that, when I was a Member of that Parliament for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, I represented a number of cross-border farmers as a Borders MSP. There were always ongoing issues with regards to cross-border status.
My query is specific to the context of the radical proposal for land reform that has been outlined in general terms by the Scottish Government, but not in specifics yet. Is the order limited specifically to CAP processing or will it in any circumstances relate to the law of succession of title of cross-border properties? Is this all now within the scope of Scottish Ministers? One has not been able to read in any great detail about the land reform proposals with regard to laws of succession on title for farming properties and land. I wonder whether this will now be wholly for the Scottish Parliament to legislate on, or will that continue to be an area where there are legal aspects for those farming families or the land, both north and south of the border, that remain within the competences of the two Parliaments?
My Lords, once again, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his clear exposition of what is in front of us. If farmers were facing confusion, doubt or difficulties in any transactions, it is only right that that should be addressed. There are some questions as to why this took so long if those questions had always been raised; nevertheless, this is a good move because it is only right that any extra anxiety, worries or time-consuming matters are removed from farmers and small businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, made an interesting point. I thought that he would keep his fire for the third item of business. I thought of raising the matter myself, but it goes beyond the scope of this order. Seeing that someone has raised that issue, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will give an answer.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed for the point that he raises, but he will note that the order indicates that the specified functions under EU law relate to European Union implementation of the common agricultural policy. Therefore, the purpose of this order is to allow payments under the common agricultural policy and the IACS system to be made by one Administration within the United Kingdom rather than having a plethora of different applications. The order bears no relevance to issues related to succession and land on either side of the border—or for that matter in such situations in Wales or Northern Ireland. When it comes to matters of succession, the law would apply in the particular jurisdiction in which the land lies. I am not saying that there would not be a lot of political issues around that, but the purpose of this order relates to the making of IACS payments. I commend the order to the Committee.