The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 7 October 2021. This blog summarises the discussions around the Bill to date, ahead of Stage 3 consideration by the Parliament on Tuesday 14 June 2022.
What is the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill?
The Scottish Government has a vision that by 2025 Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day.”
The Bill follows over a decade of policy development which has set out to address food in a more systemic way, taking into account cross-cutting areas which relate to the food system such as the environment, public health, the economy, animal welfare and equality and social wellbeing. In 2009, the Scottish Government published its first food policy: Recipe for Success. This was followed by further discussion documents, the development of a non-statutory Food Commission to make recommendations around food policy in Scotland, and a consultation on the Bill in 2018-19.
The Bill follows on from this work to address food holistically and proposes to require Scottish Ministers to prepare a national ‘good food nation plan’ and in doing so have regard to a number of cross-cutting topics whose outcomes are affected by food, including the environment, social and economic wellbeing, economic development, and public health. Furthermore, the Bill also proposes to require specified public authorities to produce their own good food nation plans.
“to provide the framework to make the vision of Scotland as a Good Food Nation a reality…In addition to ensuring greater policy coordination, the good food nation plans brought about by this Bill will set out the outcomes we want to achieve, clear actions for Scottish Government and public bodies to take, and indicators through which progress will ultimately be measured.”
What has happened so far?
The Bill was considered by the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) Committee at Stage 1 in January and February 2022, and again at Stage 2 on 11 May 2022.
In its Stage 1 report, the RAINE Committee agreed to the general principles of the Bill but made several comments. Among a number of other things, the Committee:
- Acknowledged “the concerns raised by the majority of stakeholders that the bill does not provide for more detail relating to either the purpose and direction of travel for Scotland’s food system or a coherent cross-government framework of food-related policies”. As a result, the Committee expressed an expectation, following reassurances from the Cabinet Secretary, that the consultation on the forthcoming good food nation plan will “clearly articulate these wider ambitions and that these should also be reflected in the plan when it is laid before the Parliament”
- Urged the Scottish Government to “give further thought to how high-level objectives could be included in the bill at Stage 2”, and whether the areas which Scottish Ministers must have regard to in preparing the plan set out in section 1(5) should be widened.
- Highlighted that effective oversight and accountability is “essential to achieving the good food nation ambitions”, but that the provisions for oversight and accountability in the Bill as introduced are insufficient.
- Noted the limited statutory role that the Bill provides for Parliament in scrutinising good food nation plans.
- Agreed with the Scottish Government that a ‘right to food’ should be incorporated via forthcoming human rights legislation, but suggested that the Bill should “align closely to the proposed right to food, especially until a statutory right to food is in place”.
- Highlighted that consultations on the good food nation plans should be wide, inclusive, participatory, and tailored for specific audiences.
- That the Scottish Government should consult prior to laying secondary legislation which requires any new public authorities to produce good food nation plans under the powers in section 7.
The Cabinet Secretary responded to the RAINE Committee’s report on 22 April 2022.
At Stage 2, some amendments were passed, and several topics were agreed to be discussed further ahead of Stage 3. Agreed amendments created an expanded list of food-related topics which Scottish Ministers must ‘have regard to’ when exercising their functions, and a role for the Parliament in scrutinising good food nation plans. In addition, the Bill was amended, among other things:
- To require Scottish Ministers to consult with appropriate people ahead of making regulations which would specify when Scottish Ministers and public authorities must take their good food nation plans into account, and which public authorities must produce a good food nation plan.
- To make certain regulation-making powers subject to the affirmative procedure in the first instance.
- To define ‘food business sector’.
Stage 2 saw the addition of a new set of principles, which Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities must have regard to in preparing national food plans. The principles acknowledge the systemic nature of the food system and supply chain, the role of sustainable food production in mitigating climate change, reversing biodiversity loss and improving animal welfare, the importance of adequate and appropriate food for physical and mental wellbeing, that adequate food is a human right, and the importance of the food business sector in Scotland.
These government amendments were amongst several proposed amendments to establish the ‘purpose of the act’ in the legislation. Those proposed amendments that were not agreed to variously aimed to, for example, define what it means to be a ‘good food nation’ and establish that the purpose of the act is “to give effect to the human right to food through good food nation plans”.
Some members advocating for those alternative amendments felt that the principles do not go far enough. Colin Smyth MSP noted that:
“The bill is an opportunity to set out the Government’s ambition for the future of food policy, and that goes beyond just a good food nation plan. Amendment 9 [enshrining the principles] does not achieve that. Unlike the purpose clauses that have been proposed, it simply asks for “regard” to be had to a number of areas, and even the wording of those areas does not offer any meaningful direction of what we want the bill to achieve. A statutory expression of purpose would provide a clearer, more specific statement of the aims of the bill to ultimately assess progress.”
The Cabinet Secretary, on the other hand, stated that the inclusion of the principles was:
“…a response to the committee’s recommendations in its stage 1 report on giving further thought to the inclusion of more high-level objectives to reflect the broad vision and ambitions of the good food nation policy. […]
And noted that:
“We have taken into account the recommendations of the committee and the contributions from stakeholders as to how that ambition should be included in the bill. We have carefully considered how to reflect that input while ensuring that any amendment has the necessary legal effect and provides clear direction to ministers.”
Commitments were made to further improve the list of principles through amendments at Stage 3.
Amendments were also agreed requiring Scottish Ministers to lay a proposed plan before the Parliament and have regard to any representations, resolutions or reports on the draft plan during a 28-day consultation period.
The proposed length of the 28-day period was questioned by some Members during Stage 2 scrutiny. The Cabinet Secretary noted that “given that we have 12 months to publish the plan, the concern is that such a period could end up in delays; that is why we proposed 28 days” but expressed optimism that there may be “middle ground to be agreed on” and committed to work together up to Stage 3.
Further areas agreed for discussion ahead of Stage 3 were:
- Ensuring inclusive communication and consultation.
- Enabling Scottish Ministers to add to the list of subjects which they and relevant authorities must have regard to in the production of good food nation plans.
- The question of a food commission or similar oversight body – explored further below.
Among other amendments which were not passed were proposals to further define the required content of good food nation plans, targets, and indicators, proposals to strengthen the Bill with regard to the right to food, and proposals to add to the list of ‘specified public authorities’ who must produce good food nation plans.
What is expected at Stage 3?
In addition to the areas which Members committed to working together on in the run-up to Stage 3, an unresolved issue after Stages 1 and 2 has been the outcome of discussions regarding a mechanism to ensure oversight and accountability around food policy.
The SNP-Greens Draft Shared Policy Programme, published in September 2021 set out that:
“consideration should be given to the need for a statutory body, such as a Food Commission.”
“The variety of amendments that have been lodged on this issue demonstrate that members of the committee and a number of stakeholders feel that it is important for the success of the bill that a food commission or food commissioner be established. I recognise that the intent of the amendments is to ensure that we make the most of the food plans that will stem from the bill.
“…Although I am not in a position to support the amendments today, as I set out during the stage 1 debate, it is my intention that oversight will be addressed conclusively by the Government by the end of the bill process. I therefore extend an invitation to the members who have lodged these amendments to discuss a way forward on oversight with me, and I hope that we can work together to find a balanced approach that takes accounts of the costs and ensures the appropriate oversight and scrutiny of the good food nation plans.”
On 6 June 2022, the Cabinet Secretary wrote to the RAINE Committee announcing that, following consideration of whether or not to establish an oversight body as part of the Bill, the Scottish Government has decided that –
“the most appropriate way forward is to support amendments to the Bill at Stage 3 which would establish a new Food Commission to provide that oversight and to help us to continue on the path to being a Good Food Nation.”
Anna Brand, Senior Researcher