The Scottish Parliament might be in recess but we're already thinking about the issues that will be at the top of the agenda when members return in September. Below, we look at the likely workloads of four committees.
Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform
The Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) has set out a packed schedule for the return to session, with meetings planned right up until the end of November. First on the agenda is scrutiny of the Draft Budget 2019-20, focused on the future budget allocated to the environment, climate change and land reform. Written evidence will be collected during the summer and oral evidence taken in September. The report is due on Tuesday 8th October, with evidence from the Government in December. ECCLR is also undertaking an inquiry into draft regulations for the creation of a public register on persons holding a controlled interest in land. Oral evidence is scheduled for September, with the final sign-off on a report due by Tuesday 6th November. The most high-profile work of the Committee is likely to be its scrutiny of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. Six oral evidence sessions have been scheduled for October and November before the Stage 1 report is published in January. Other issues the Committee highlighted in its recent work programme included: land reform, EU scrutiny, biodiversity, the marine environment and deposit return schemes. Consideration of petitions on goose management, gamebird hunting and drinking water will also continue.
Finance & Constitution
The Finance & Constitution Committee launched a call for written submissions on UK common frameworks, closing Friday 31st August. The Committee is expected to consider all written evidence received after summer recess. It will also continue its scrutiny of the financial implications of various Bills, including the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, the Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) (Scotland) Bill and the Transport (Scotland) Bill, among others. The Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, which consists of convenors of committees scrutinising Brexit-related issues in the devolved assemblies, is due to meet in September. The Committee will also continue its scrutiny of the UK Government’s Trade Bill and the associated Legislative Consent Memorandum. Finally, a Fiscal Framework Outturn Report containing Scottish tax revenue data will be published in the autumn.
Before recess, the Justice Committee gathered written evidence to inform its post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, the legislation that created Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Members asked for information about how the amalgamation had affected the police and fire services, and whether the Scottish Government’s policy intentions had been achieved. More than 40 submissions were received from councils, unions, victims’ organisations and justice bodies. The reform process, particularly the creation and scrutiny of Police Scotland, has been criticised regularly for several years so the inquiry will probably be controversial. The Committee is leading on the recently introduced Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill which will increase the use of pre-recorded evidence in court for the benefit of children and other vulnerable witnesses. The Bill includes special measures for live TV links as well as powers to extend these provisions to other vulnerable witnesses, including the victims of sexual offences, stalking, domestic abuse and human trafficking. The call for written evidence doesn’t close until Wednesday 29th August, the week before Parliament returns. After the responses have been considered, evidence sessions will be arranged.
Several evidence sessions on the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill took place in the weeks before the break. The legislation must complete Stage 1 by mid-September, meaning the Committee will have to publish a report before that point. The Bill will then return to the Committee for consideration of Stage 2 amendments. A roundtable evidence session on professional legal education took place at the final meeting before recess. Ben Macpherson played a key role in bringing the issue to the attention of the Committee, having been closely involved in the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession. Along with Mairi Gougeon, he will be replaced as a member following his appointment as Minister for Europe, Migration & International Development so the Committee’s attention might turn to other subjects. Finally, the Committee expects to take evidence on civil actions for rape and other serious sexual offences, reflecting concerns about conviction rates in criminal cases.
Rural Economy & Connectivity
The Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee (REC) will consider its draft report on salmon farming during the first meeting back in September, with the report due in the autumn. Like the other subject committees, REC is undertaking an inquiry into the Draft Budget 2019-20, focusing on investment to support Clyde and Hebrides ferry services. The Committee has also launched an inquiry into the Transport (Scotland) Bill and it is anticipated that evidence will be taken between September and November. Also on legislation, it is likely that REC will be designated as lead committee for a Good Food Nation bill, an inshore fisheries bill and a crofting bill, which the Scottish Government has committed to bringing forward in Session 5. Scrutiny of EU issues will continue, and the Committee expects to deal with LCMs stemming from proposed UK Government fisheries and agriculture bills. REC has also agreed to consider issues around the implications of Brexit for the transport, digital, and food and drink sectors. The Committee has identified several areas where work will continue, including its inquiry into post-legislative scrutiny, CAP payments, progress on superfast broadband, planting targets and major infrastructure projects.
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