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Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Bill completes the transfer of powers over public forestry in Scotland. This is from the Forestry Commission to the Scottish Government.

The Bill aims to create a modern framework for managing forestry.

Scottish Ministers will be responsible for regulating cutting down and replanting forests.

The Bill includes:

  • a duty to prepare a forestry strategy
  • managing forestry land, including using the land in a sustainable way
  • allowing community bodies to manage forest land
  • modernising rules about letting trees be cut down

Other powers for the Scottish Government about forestry include:

  • carrying out research and inquiries
  • providing education and training
  • collecting and publishing data and statistics
  • giving financial help
  • setting up corporate bodies

You can find out more in the Explanatory Notes document that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

Forestry management is to be devolved from UK Government to Scottish Government. There are certain things that the Scottish Parliament has the power to make decisions on. These are known as ‘devolved matters’. 

This will abolish the role of the Forestry Commission in Scotland. Scottish Ministers will have a duty to promote sustainable forestry management. They'll have to prepare, publish and follow a forestry strategy. This will make the management of forestry simpler and clearer. 

You can find out more in the Policy Memorandum document that explains the Bill.

Where do laws come from?

The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • justice and policing
  • local government
  • some aspects of tax and social security

These are 'devolved matters'.

Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:

Becomes an Act

The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill passed by a vote of 120 for, 0 against and 0 abstentions. The Bill became an Act on 1 May 2018.

Introduced

The Scottish Government sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill as introduced

Scottish Parliament research on the Bill 

Stage 1 - General principles

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.

It looks at everything to do with the Bill.

Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

First meeting transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the 19th meeting in 2017 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I ask everyone please to ensure that all mobile phones are on silent. We have received apologies from Fulton MacGregor and Gail Ross.

The first item on the agenda is the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 10 May. We will begin our scrutiny of the bill by taking evidence from the Scottish Government’s bill team, the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise Scotland. We have a large panel of witnesses this morning. I welcome from the Scottish Government Carole Barker-Munro, who is the bill manager; Ginny Gardner, who is the head of forestry devolution; Catherine Murdoch, who is the deputy bill manager; and Gemma MacAllister, who is a solicitor. I also welcome Jo O’Hara, who is the head of the Forestry Commission Scotland; and Simon Hodge, who is the chief executive of Forest Enterprise Scotland.

The committee has a lot of questions and we have a large panel, so I ask witnesses to try to catch my eye if they want to speak. I urge committee members and witnesses to keep questions and answers as short as possible. We will go straight to exploring themes around the bill. Rhoda Grant will ask the first question.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Was anything that had been in the consultation subsequently dropped from the bill?

Ginny Gardner (Scottish Government)

The consultation had three themes. The one that is particularly relevant to the bill is the legislation and regulation theme. We did not drop from the bill anything that was in the consultation. There was a commitment on sustainable forest management, a long-term commitment to forestry and a commitment that the details of regulation would be taken out of primary legislation and put in secondary legislation. Those were the main points under the legislation and regulation theme, and they are still in the bill.

I will say a little bit more about the other two elements. Our proposals on organisational structures are not in the bill, because we propose to bring the structures into the Scottish Government. That will give them the same legal identity as the Scottish ministers; therefore, there will not need to be a public identity for the public bodies in the bill.

The other element is cross-border arrangements, which are subject to negotiation with our colleagues in the United Kingdom and Welsh Governments. We will require a Scotland Act 1998 order to set them up, but we do not need anything in the bill.

Rhoda Grant

What is in the bill that was not consulted on, and how did you subsequently consult and get feedback on that?

Ginny Gardner

The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing alludes to the fact that we did not specifically mention a forestry strategy in the consultation; what we mentioned was a long-term commitment to forestry. In the course of our discussions with stakeholders, we heard concern that short-term political timeframes would affect the long-term commitment to forestry, so we sought to allay those concerns by including a statutory duty to prepare a forestry strategy. That is in line with feedback that we received in the responses.

Rhoda Grant

What was the most controversial issue in the consultation? What received the most feedback? I suppose that some issues might have received a lot of supportive feedback, but what appeared to be most controversial?

Ginny Gardner

We had a yes or no question on the proposals for organisational structures; although a majority of organisation respondents supported the proposals, a majority of individual respondents did not.

The main issue that people fed back was concern about loss of expertise and skills, but the Scottish ministers believe that our proposals for organisational structures deal with that issue. We have made a commitment that all members of staff from Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland will transfer to the Scottish Government, and the Scottish ministers have made a commitment that the local office network will be retained. Therefore, the local engagement and knowledge that exist will be retained.

Another issue that people spoke about was making Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland a single body. The Scottish ministers already see them as separate bodies with separate functions. Keeping them separate is also a response to feedback from stakeholders about separating the regulator, which is the Forestry Commission Scotland, and the regulated, which is Forest Enterprise Scotland.

Rhoda Grant

I understand what you said about expertise and that, on day 1, the expertise will be exactly the same. However, as part of the Government, how will that expertise be continued in the future, and how will you continue to ensure that foresters are in a position of influence in the Scottish Government, given that civil servants move around?

Ginny Gardner

There are two elements to that. The first is that there are already a lot of specialists in the Scottish Government; it is quite normal to have groups of specialists with continuing professional development. There are procurement specialists, lawyers—such as Gemma MacAllister—accountants and so on. It is not unusual to have groups of specialists in the Scottish Government; that would not change for forestry.

Secondly, we recognise the importance of forestry skills and we have a commitment to retain them in the Scottish Government.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I want to look at part 2 of the bill and the question of forestry functions and strategy. Functions are moving from the forestry commissioners to the Scottish ministers. Will those functions be the same or different?

Carole Barker-Munro (Scottish Government)

The functions will be different in that they are being modernised. At the moment, forestry commissioners have functions that have been layered up over time since the Forestry Act 1967. In bringing the functions to the Scottish ministers, the opportunity has been taken to put a main general duty on the Scottish ministers for sustainable forest management that recognises the inherent balance in forestry. It also links to the sustainable development of economic, social and environmental objectives. That is a different type of duty, but it is still a principal duty on the Scottish ministers to promote forestry and to take account of the various outcomes that forestry can contribute to.

The second duty—the duty to prepare a forestry strategy—is new. There is a forestry strategy at the moment, which Forestry Commission Scotland prepared, but there is no statutory requirement to do that. That will be a new duty on the Scottish ministers.

Those are the two main duties that are placed on the Scottish ministers in part 2 of the bill.

John Mason

Let us leave the strategy for now; I will come back to it. Will we see much difference in practice? You talked about modernising. Is it more a question of using modern and up-to-date language?

Carole Barker-Munro

I see it as being more about using modern and up-to-date language. Sustainable forestry management is a very well recognised and internationally known concept that is supported by the industry and the environmental sector, and it happens at the moment. It is underpinned by “The UK Forestry Standard”, using which people demonstrate that they are doing that. There is new language.

John Mason

So you do not foresee big practical differences, and we will not expect to see them.

Carole Barker-Munro

The policy is not to make big practical differences; the difference is that the bill acknowledges the multiple roles of forestry, rather than there being a series of little bespoke duties that have been layered up over time and are sometimes quite difficult to negotiate and navigate. There is a broader duty that recognises the multiple benefits at the outset.

John Mason

Okay. Thanks.

You mentioned the forestry strategy. I understand that there is a strategy at present, but it is not required by statute and that, with the bill, a strategy will be required by statute.

Carole Barker-Munro

That is correct.

John Mason

If we already have a strategy, why do we need to put it in statute?

Carole Barker-Munro

The policy of having a forestry strategy in statute will require ministers to have a strategy and to recognise the importance of forestry. That connects back to the question from your colleague Rhoda Grant about how to retain skills and staff in the Scottish Government. If there is a statutory requirement for a strategy, there must be policies and there must be outcomes that we are looking to gain from forestry, so staff in the Government will be needed to deliver those. It is about putting forestry front and centre among ministers’ objectives and recognising the importance to the sector of a strategy.

The Convener

When I was looking at the bill, I noticed that the strategy will have to balance economic development and environmental enhancement. How do you see that balance being achieved? Sometimes there will have to be compromises.

Carole Barker-Munro

There is already a balancing objective that Forestry Commission Scotland has to meet in balancing three pillars. That already happens in the strategy.

May I bring in Jo O’Hara?

The Convener

The bill does not say that there will be three pillars; it just says that economic development and environmental enhancement have to be balanced. Perhaps Jo O’Hara can explain that.

Jo O’Hara (Forestry Commission Scotland)

Sure. The principle of sustainable forestry management is about bringing together social, environmental and economic objectives. That is well understood among the forestry profession here and globally. As Carole Barker-Munro said, we have worked on that using “The UK Forestry Standard” and the existing forestry strategy. That is why it is in the bill.

I endorse what Carole Barker-Munro said about the current duty. The Forestry Act 1967 was about productive forestry. Over the years, other balancing duties have been brought in. Basically, the bill catches up with modern forestry practices. It balances all the different objectives that forestry can deliver at site, regional and national levels, and is part of the modernisation agenda. The language in legislation is catching up with modern forestry.

Simon Hodge (Forest Enterprise Scotland)

I want to pick up on the point about how things work in practice. Consultation—on the Scottish forestry strategy, the strategic directions for the national forest estate, and individual parts of the estate or individual afforestation or forestry proposals—is a large part of the approach. Through that consultation process, the nitty-gritty of what the appropriate balance looks like in each case is worked through.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I hear what is being said about the bill being about modernisation of forestry management.

Does anyone on the panel have fundamental concerns about the fact that many functions are moving from the Forestry Commission Scotland, which is, in effect, a fairly independent public body with a civil service role, to being under the responsibility of the Scottish ministers, who are, by default, political appointees? Is there any concern that the move is not just about modernisation, and that it may have a detrimental effect on the independence that the Forestry Commission Scotland currently has?

10:15  



The Convener

It looks as if Ginny Gardner is in the firing line for that one. [Laughter.]

Ginny Gardner

Well spotted, convener.

I am not sure that the Scottish ministers would recognise the situation that you describe regarding the current independence of the Forestry Commission. Commission staff are civil servants, as you say, and they work very closely with the Scottish Government. Jo O’Hara and Simon Hodge are, on a daily basis, part of the senior management team of the directorate in which we all work. In practical terms, the Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland already operate as if they are part of the Scottish Government.

John Mason

The bill requires that there will be a strategy. We have an existing strategy, so can we just slot it in, or would changes have to be made? Would it fit or not?

Carole Barker-Munro

There would be no legal impediment to adopting the existing strategy. However, it is now quite old, and the current land use strategy contains a commitment to review the forestry strategy.

John Mason

Thank you for that.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I will be fairly brief. The policy memorandum states:

“responsibility for all plant health in Scotland will now reside in one place.”

However, it is not clear whether the bill encompasses the duties in the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964 that relate to sale of plants and seeds in particular. Can you clarify that?

Catherine Murdoch (Scottish Government)

I will cover that. The 1964 seeds act—to give it its shortest name—is currently not used for dealing with forest or silvicultural reproductive materials to any great extent. We are transferring those functions to ministers, but we do not expect a change on the ground, if that is the point of your question.

All the functions in the Plant Health Act 1967 and in the 1964 seeds act that are currently carved out for the commissioners will transfer back to ministers. We do not see any immediate change happening in how they are used.

Stewart Stevenson

I suppose that I am making the rather simple point that those functions touch on the health of our plants. Forestry is one thing, but plants and seeds can provide vectors for diseases, fungi and all sorts of adverse health events. I want some assurance that everything is going to work together in a way that serves the needs of all the different parts of the system.

Catherine Murdoch

I see. Currently, most of the action to protect plants across the UK is undertaken through the Plant Health Act 1967, which governs, for example, importation of seeds. The 1964 seeds act is more about bringing things to market. Protection from the threat of plant diseases is dealt with under the Plant Health Act 1967. Those functions will all be with the Scottish ministers. Everything will be in one place.

Stewart Stevenson

Everything will be in one big pot.

Catherine Murdoch

Yes.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I have questions on management to further sustainable development. The bill states:

“The Scottish Ministers must manage forestry land in a way that promotes sustainable forest management”,

and it sets out the meaning of “forestry land”. I would like further clarity on two points. First, section 10(b) refers to

“other land that the Scottish Ministers manage for the purpose of exercising their functions under section 9.”

Can someone clarify that, please?

Carole Barker-Munro

I am happy to do that. The

“other land that the Scottish Ministers manage for the purpose of exercising their functions”

could be any land that is not in the national forest estate. The Scottish ministers own the national forest estate, and it is managed by Simon Hodge and his team. The Scottish ministers also own other land that could be used for a variety of purposes, and the provision enables that land, for the purposes of its management, to be brought within the remit of the bill so that sustainable forest management might apply should they wish to plant trees on that land.

The other category of land that the provision would refer to is land that belongs to someone else and that the Scottish ministers manage under an arrangement under section 14 of the bill. In that case, they manage the land on a contractual basis on behalf of another person.

John Finnie

Right. My second question was going to be about section 14. How does that differ from the present arrangement? Is it consistent with the present arrangement?

Carole Barker-Munro

In terms of forestry land, it is consistent with the present arrangement. Forest Enterprise Scotland already manages land on behalf of other people, and I am sure that Simon Hodge will be happy to tell you more about that. Section 14 provides the legislative underpinning for that to happen. The provision enables a land management service, but also a land advice service, and those are two functions that Forest Enterprise Scotland already undertakes.

Simon Hodge

I will add to that briefly. The current forestry legislation basically pins the entire management of the national forest estate to forestry and forestry purposes. As the years have gone on, there has been a desire for us to be involved in delivery across a wider set of objectives, particularly as one third of the estate—some 200,000 hectares—is not forestry land but other land.

As we have been using our skill sets to develop agendas and link with, for example, communities, wider habitat management, and agriculture and new entrants, we have had to peg all of those in some way to forestry. The bill provides an opportunity to recognise the value that that other land can deliver for purposes other than forestry.

John Finnie

Thank you.

The Convener

John, I do not want to cut across your bows. I would not mind asking a question on that subject, but if you have more to ask on it, please lead on.

John Finnie

No, I was going to move on to another subject.

The Convener

Okay. I cannot quite see how all of this will pan out. It seems that land that the Government owns that is not part of the national forest estate will now become part of that estate. Will you clarify that for me? If the Government owns a chunk of land up in the Cairngorms, will the management of that land fall under the act? Will Creag Meagaidh fall under it? Will it stay with Scottish Natural Heritage or will it become part of the forest estate?

Carole Barker-Munro

Under the bill, the only way to add to the national forest estate is to purchase land for the purposes of forestry, in which case it will automatically be added to the national forest estate. The bill does not automatically add any other land that the Scottish ministers own to the national forest estate, so it will retain that status.

The Convener

So land that is owned at the moment does not fall naturally into the national forest estate. Only land that is purchased or acquired for forestry falls within the management of that.

Carole Barker-Munro

Yes—after the bill is enacted. The way to add to the national forest estate will be to purchase land for that, and it will then become part of the national forest estate. The bill does not automatically bring the rest of the Scottish ministers’ landholdings or indeed any other public sector landholdings within what is defined as the national forest estate.

The Convener

Thank you. Sorry—I was a wee bit confused.

Sorry to cut across your bows, John.

John Finnie

Not at all.

The Convener

I think that Peter Chapman has a supplementary question.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I would like to clarify Simon Hodge’s statement that a third of the land—200,000 hectares—is not under forestry at present. That seems an awful lot of land that you have control over that is not planted. Is a lot of it awaiting replanting, having been felled? Does that come into the 200,000 hectares?

Simon Hodge

No. Land that is felled and awaiting replanting is still considered to be forestry land. The land that is not forestry land is principally mountainous hill land, extensive peat bogs or the approximately 30,000 hectares of land in active agricultural use, as well as other types of land such as riparian land and some coastal land.

Peter Chapman

Okay. Thank you.

The Convener

Sorry, John—back to you.

John Finnie

Thanks. We have touched on section 9 and the management of forestry land. There seem to be some similarities between sections 9 and 13. What is the difference between the land that applies in those sections, and its terms of management? Also, when would the power be called upon?

Carole Barker-Munro

Section 9 is principally about forestry land or land that is principally designated for forestry, including the national forest estate. The purpose of section 13 is to fulfil the policy that, through the new executive agency forestry and land Scotland, the Scottish ministers should be able to have a broader land management role, moving away from a silo approach of purely managing forestry.

Under section 9, forestry land should be managed for the purposes of sustainable forest management or instead it can be used for sustainable development,

“having regard to the forestry strategy.”

That will enable an opening up of the purposes that such land can be used for.

Land under section 13 is not forestry land; it is other land. The purpose for which it should be managed is sustainable development. Sustainable forest management and sustainable development are twin beasts—SFM is about forestry land and sustainable development applies to other land.

John Finnie

Thank you. I am conscious that section 13(2)(a) refers to the compulsory purchase of land outlined in section 16, but I think that colleagues are going to ask questions about that so I will leave it there.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

This is the one part of the bill that I am struggling with. It would seem that section 16 gives power to the Scottish ministers for the first time to compulsorily purchase land to achieve sustainable development, but there is no definition of sustainable development in the bill. Section 16(1) states:

“The Scottish Ministers may compulsorily acquire land that they require for the purpose of exercising their functions under”

sections 9 and 13. Section 9(1) states:

“The Scottish Ministers must manage forestry land in a way that promotes sustainable forest management.”

It seems to me that that gives incredible power to the Scottish ministers to compulsorily purchase land and add it to the forest estate. Is that correct?

Carole Barker-Munro

There are a number of points to address, so I apologise if I take a little bit of time over this, but it is important.

The first point is that powers of compulsory purchase are not new for forestry; they are in the 1967 act. Those powers have been taken over and broadly replicated in the bill.

The Convener

Before you move on from that point, it would be helpful if you defined what the compulsory purchase powers are under the 1967 act. They are purely for forestry, are they not? They do not include sustainable development.

Carole Barker-Munro

The powers are purely for forestry and purposes connected to forestry.

The Convener

Which does not include sustainable development.

Carole Barker-Munro

Which does not include sustainable development.

The Convener

Thank you—I just wanted to clarify that.

Carole Barker-Munro

Those powers have been lifted from the 1967 act and included in the bill. As we have mentioned, one of the purposes of the bill is for the Scottish ministers to have a broader land management role. There is a symmetry in the bill in that all the powers that are available for forestry are available for the broader land management purpose. That is why the power to acquire land and the power to acquire it through a compulsory purchase order have been included.

Mike Rumbles is correct that this would be the first statute under which the Scottish ministers, purely for the purpose of sustainable development, would have CPO powers. The Scottish ministers and a number of public bodies have powers in the rural area that could relate to sustainable development, but that particular term would be new to the legislation.

Checks and balances are provided in the bill. The underpinning legislation by which land would be acquired through compulsion is the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947, which sets out the standard procedure for the exercise of those powers, and that provides the checks and balances. There is also a Scottish Government policy document that sets out the purposes of compulsory purchase. It is for those reasons that that power is in the bill.

Mike Rumbles

Therefore, the bill does not just transfer current compulsory purchase powers under the law as it stands; it increases ministers’ compulsory purchase powers.

Carole Barker-Munro

Yes, that is correct.

Mike Rumbles

I am just a little bit exercised about the fact that the Scottish ministers may compulsorily acquire land that they require—it will be up to the ministers to decide what they want to do with this.

Carole Barker-Munro

It would be up to ministers, following the procedures set out for all compulsory purchase powers.

Mike Rumbles

It seems to me that we would be giving an incredibly wide power to the Scottish ministers. Is that not right?

Carole Barker-Munro

I agree that it is a widening of the current compulsory purchase power.

10:30  



The Convener

It might help if Carole Barker-Munro gave an example of what she thinks this might encompass.

Carole Barker-Munro

I can give an example with regard to forestry—

The Convener

I think that we understand how it will apply to forestry; the issue here is sustainable development.

Carole Barker-Munro

The powers would be exercised in accordance with the Government’s policy of the day for the outcomes that it wanted the new agency to achieve. The current policy is that the new agency’s focus is to be on forestry, so I am afraid that I am unable to give the committee a specific example of when a Government of the future would use the power in relation to sustainable development. As I have said, it is there because of the desire for symmetry across the piece.

Mike Rumbles

I am a little confused as to why you cannot give us any examples. After all, this is an important piece of legislation. We are talking about taking land away from people who own it—and doing so for a particular purpose—but you do not seem to be able to give an example of when the power would be used. We are being asked as a committee of the Parliament to give ministers this new power, but I can see no specific examples of the different situations in which it might be used instead of the power that ministers have now. I have no problem with the powers that ministers have at the moment, but I am utterly confused about the need for the new power.

The Convener

We have pushed Carole Barker-Munro quite hard on this point, and I am happy to bring in Simon Hodge for a comment, but perhaps it is an issue that we should take up with the minister.

Simon Hodge

I have been searching my mind for an example to give you. As Carole Barker-Munro has suggested, looking back the way, we have not seen these kinds of situations to any degree. However, I remember a case a couple of years ago involving a designated peat bog that had a historical permission for peat extraction. Given its designation as a special area of conservation, we worked closely with the Scottish ministers on finding a solution to avoid the bog’s destruction as a result of peat extraction. In the end, we went through a process of buying the site out and bringing it under management to restore it to favourable condition. Compulsory purchase was not discussed in that case, and the situation did not pertain directly to the 1967 act, but to my mind it is an example of the sort of situation where one could imagine the power being considered as an option.

The Convener

Carole Barker-Munro was right to say that this is an important point, because members are now queuing up to ask questions. John Finnie is next.

John Finnie

“Sustainable” is a much used and, I would suggest, much abused word—although I would say that, wouldn’t I? Was it a conscious decision not to define the term in the bill?

Carole Barker-Munro

It was a conscious decision. “Sustainable development” is a well-used term, and it is used in legislation without being defined. Gemma MacAllister might be able to give some examples of recent bills in which it has not been defined.

Gemma MacAllister (Scottish Government)

I am happy to do so. The term “sustainable development” is not defined in the bill, but there is established case law that says that its meaning is clear to the legislature, judges and ministers. The Scottish Government’s view, then, was that it did not have to be defined.

John Finnie

But the terms “forestry land” and “national forest estate” are defined.

Gemma MacAllister

The default interpretative rule, if you like, is that where a word is not defined in a piece of legislation—and not all words are defined in legislation—it takes its ordinary meaning. In other words, a judge would look simply at the plain, ordinary meaning of the words.

John Finnie

Would it be possible, then, to share with the committee in writing the definition of “sustainable development”?

Carole Barker-Munro

We are happy to come back to the committee with the judgment that Gemma MacAllister referred to, but I point out that the purpose of defining “forestry land” in the bill is to give transparency for the public and MSPs with regard to the land that should be subject to sustainable forest management. There is a transparency element, because members of the public should be able to identify what constitutes forestry land and therefore the places where ministers should be practising sustainable forest management.

The Convener

I am looking again at you, John, because I am as intrigued as you are by this line of questioning.

John Finnie

The national forest estate might be a well defined area, and I understand what you say in relation to rulings. However, although you might feel that it might not apply with regard to the bill, if you were able to give a definition of “sustainable economic growth”, that would be extremely helpful. If there was a precedent for that, it would be good to know.

Carole Barker-Munro

It would probably be quite helpful if we wrote to you to set out a number of definitions.

John Finnie

That would be appreciated.

The Convener

That would be helpful. Looking around the table, I can see a few raised eyebrows with regard to what things mean.

Peter Chapman

I need to declare an interest in that I am a farmer and own farmland in Aberdeenshire. My concern is that the bill is incredibly broad. What is to stop the minister on a whim deciding that he would like a chunk of my land in the north-east so that he can plant on it? If he came forward and said, “I quite fancy a bit of that; it would make a nice forest,” how would I argue against that if I did not want to sell? The bill is incredibly wide and, I think, incredibly dangerous.

The Convener

I also own a bit of land, so I am nervous about ministers, too. I should declare that I have an interest in a farming partnership. I suspect that Stewart Stevenson is going to say that he has a wee interest, too.

Stewart Stevenson

Indeed, I have 3 acres adjacent to forest land, which is, therefore, land that someone might naturally think to extend a forest into.

The Convener

Now that we have got that out of the way, I invite Carole Barker-Munro to come back in.

Carole Barker-Munro

My colleagues who deal with policy on compulsory purchase would take issue with the idea that it would be done on a whim, as there are procedures for these things. Checks and balances are set out in Scottish Government policy. We are happy to provide further information if we can. Compulsory purchase is not an area that we lead on, but the bill reflects Scottish Government policy, which is to have the powers available for situations in which agreement cannot be reached.

Gemma MacAllister

The power would always be exercised in accordance with the published guidance. I hope that you have seen the circular that talks about exercising the power when it is in the public interest to do so. Nothing would cut across that.

Peter Chapman

I must say that I remain to be convinced. I look forward to your written submission on the point. I think that the bill is far too wide, far too broad and far too dangerous. We need to give the matter considerable thought.

Jamie Greene

Due process has been mentioned a few times. If the minister decides, from a policy point of view, to purchase a piece of land, what is the process that the minister has to go through? Who does the minister have to satisfy in order to allow that to happen?

Gemma MacAllister

Compulsory purchase is an issue that is being dealt with by my legal colleague, who is not here today. However, the procedure was established in the 1947 act that Carole Barker-Munro referred to. It sets out a procedure that has been followed on many occasions and which includes checks and balances such as publication requirements and opportunities for being heard via a hearing or a public local inquiry, and it hooks into legislation that gives provision for compensation. Further, as I said, the power would only ever be exercised in the public interest—that is what is in ministers’ published guidance.

Jamie Greene

The land need not be purchased for the purposes of forestry; it could be purchased for sustainable development, although that is an undefined term. Is that correct?

Gemma MacAllister

“Sustainable development” is not defined, but it is not unusual not to define terms in legislation. The term will take its ordinary meaning. There are many terms in many pieces of legislation that are not defined. In those cases, when it comes to those terms being interpreted, the ordinary meaning of the words or the term are considered. As I said, there is established case law, with a judge saying that “sustainable development” is a clearly understood term. I believe that various accompanying documents such as the policy memorandum and the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing have referred to internationally accepted definitions of the term.

Jamie Greene

What judicial recourse or statutory options are available to members of the public if they disagree with the intentions of the minister with regard to compulsory purchase?

Gemma MacAllister

That is where the objection procedure comes in. It is all about someone having an opportunity to be heard and have their concerns put forward.

Because of the nature of the powers, the legislation is interpreted strictly by the courts. That is part of the checks and balances that Carole Barker-Munro spoke about.

The Convener

Just to clarify, and to use an example that I have seen, if someone owns a small patch of land and the Forestry Commission wants access to its woods on the far side, in the past, it would do that by negotiation, but in future it could compulsorily purchase a track through the farm and argue that that is in the public interest. I think that the bill will allow the Forestry Commission to do that, or am I wrong?

Carole Barker-Munro

The Forestry Act 1967 allows the Forestry Commission to do that at the moment, if the purpose is forestry.

The Convener

If there is another route, the Forestry Commission cannot do it, but under the bill, it could, under the sustainable development provision. Perhaps you could ponder that.

Carole Barker-Munro

I would like to ponder that one.

Mike Rumbles

We have heard a number of comments about there being checks and balances, although I am still not clear what they are. From what has been said, it seems that the minister will decide what is in the public interest. Is that correct?

We have heard that the power will be used only after negotiation, but if Parliament gives the minister the power of enhanced compulsory purchase, that will strengthen his or her hand in any negotiation with landowners about what he or she wants to purchase. I am not clear what the checks and balances are under the enhanced power that we are giving the minister.

Carole Barker-Munro

The best way for us to answer that is for us—with your permission, convener—to write to the committee with a detailed explanation of the way in which compulsory purchase works overall, because that is the procedure that we are tapping into. It would be helpful to set out how the process works for a number of powers and bodies.

The Convener

A letter on that would be helpful.

Rhoda Grant

I have a quick question on that issue. My reading of the bill suggests that the power can be used for forestry purposes, but the example given was the preservation of peatland. I am not clear whether the bill refers to non-forestry land.

Carole Barker-Munro

The power of compulsory purchase refers to forestry and non-forestry land. The forestry land provision is not new; the provision on non-forestry land for the purposes of sustainable development is new.

Rhoda Grant

Can you direct me to where that is in the bill, because that is not my reading?

Carole Barker-Munro

Section 16(1) says:

“The Scottish Ministers may compulsorily acquire land that they require for the purpose of exercising their functions under ... section 9”,

which relates to forestry, and “section 13”, which is for the purpose of sustainable development.

The Convener

Before we move on to John Finnie, I have a question on disposal of land. Currently, the Government policy, with the agreement of the Parliament, is that it can dispose of land to rationalise, but the proceeds must be reinvested in the forest estate. There is a concern that section 17 of the bill gives the Government the ability to dispose of land but does not require it to reinvest the proceeds in the forest estate.

Carole Barker-Munro

Section 17 gives the Scottish ministers the powers to dispose of land. Those are not much different from the current legislative powers that ministers have to dispose of land. However, at the moment, a policy is in place around the proceeds being reinvested.

Simon Hodge wants to come in on that.

Simon Hodge

Just to clarify, we have two streams for disposal on the estate. One is called rationalisation, which is the disposal of small pockets of land and buildings that are no longer required. We use that income to fund the majority of our capital activity, such as the purchase of vehicles and fleet and capital works on management buildings and the like. The other, which hitherto was called rationalisation but is now the new woodland investment programme, involves a larger-scale sale of land for reinvestment, principally into woodland creation, although in the past few years it has also been used to invest in, for example, integrated land management with active farming for new entrants.

Therefore we have the larger-scale sale for reinvestment in woodland creation and the smaller-scale rationalisation to fund Forest Enterprise Scotland’s capital requirements.

10:45  



The Convener

I can see that Carole Barker-Munro wants to come back in, but I am worried about the amount of time that we have to deal with the number of themes that we have left. She can come in briefly.

Carole Barker-Munro

I just want to draw the committee’s attention to the fact that any disposals of the national forest estate have to be undertaken in accordance with the forestry strategy.

The Convener

Okay.

John Finnie

I have some questions about community bodies. Section 18 of the bill allows the delegation of management of forestry and other land to community bodies, and sections 19 and 20 deal with other aspects of that. Will you outline how the powers in sections 18, 19 and 20 differ from similar powers in the Forestry Act 1967?

Carole Barker-Munro

The power in section 18 is a straight lift from the 1967 act, with the exception that it is for not just forestry land but any land. Again, that is a broadening and a contribution to the community empowerment agenda. The definition in section 19 is the definition in the 1967 act that was amended by Parliament two years ago via the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, so it is a straight lift but with a slight broadening to take account of the wider role.

John Finnie

Okay. I will ask some other questions quickly, if I may, convener. Ms Barker-Munro, how did you arrive at the meaning of a “community body” as set out in the bill? How does it compare to the meaning in the 2015 act?

Carole Barker-Munro

We arrived at that meaning because it is currently law. It is in the 1967 act, as amended via the 2015 act, so it was the Parliament that arrived at that definition for forestry purposes, and we have purely replicated it. There are a number of different definitions of a community body in statute, depending on the purpose. The 2015 act has different definitions of a “community body”, depending on the purpose for which the provisions are used.

John Finnie

The policy memorandum states that the bill is

“contributing to the community empowerment policy agenda.”

How will that be achieved, please?

Carole Barker-Munro

The bill will enable communities to get involved in managing parts of the national forest estate. As I said, that is based on existing law and we have merely lifted it and put it into the bill, because we saw no reason not to.

John Finnie

It was a question and not an accusation. [Laughter.] I am sorry if it was presented as the latter.

Carole Barker-Munro

I will pass it over to Simon.

Simon Hodge

On our current practice, we have just launched a new community asset transfer scheme that, in effect, broadens an existing mechanism to allow communities to bid to acquire parts of the national forest estate. Crucially, that increases the breadth from communities of geography—local residential communities—to communities of interest, which is consistent with the 2015 act. I see those provisions in the bill as enabling us to continue to operate on that basis rather than as significantly broadening the powers. We have already brought our practices in line with the 2015 act, and the provisions will ensure that the bill is aligned with those existing powers.

John Finnie

Thank you, that is very positive. I am afraid that I am going to have to use the term “compulsory purchase” again. Perhaps you can respond to this question in writing if you cannot answer it just now. It relates to land that is bought through compulsory purchase to further the achievement of sustainable development. Will the bill allow ministers to delegate the management of that land to a community body?

Carole Barker-Munro

I will respond to that in writing, but I believe that the legislation will allow that. However, I will need to check whether certain rules are in place about what can be done with land after it is purchased through a CPO.

John Finnie

Okay. Many thanks indeed.

The Convener

It would also be helpful to know with regard to land no longer required for sustainable development whether the Government will have an obligation to sell it back to the person from whom it was compulsorily purchased, which I believe is the law at the moment. It would help if you could clarify that.

Members have a lot of questions on felling. Richard Lyle will lead on it.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Basically, I am going to put it all together, if I can. The policy memorandum states:

“While the Forestry Act 1967 focused on timber production, the new regime allows for a broader view to be taken.”

However, the consultation document included few details on a new felling regime allowing a broader view. Why does the Scottish Government feel that a broader view of felling is needed? In what way are the provisions in the bill broader than the scope of the current felling regime? How much detail on the changes to the felling regime was included in the consultation document? What were respondents’ views on the proposals about felling?

Catherine Murdoch

I will try to keep my answer short, as per the convener’s instructions. We have broadened the regime in the sense that we are tying all decisions on felling permission back to sustainable forest management. The old regime focuses strongly on allowing felling for timber production. We are tying decisions back to sustainable forest management. In taking decisions, a view will have to be taken on the balance of the three aspects that we discussed earlier.

In the consultation, we said that some of the detail in the Forestry Act 1967 would drop down into secondary legislation, and that is what we are doing. The detail of how the regime will be broadened, in terms of the process and what applicants can expect, will fall to secondary legislation. That will allow us to work with the sector to ensure that when we talk about referring back to SFM, it understands what that means, and that the processes that we put in place will function correctly.

Richard Lyle

I turn to regulations on felling. The part of the bill on felling lacks detail, as much of the detail will be provided in regulations. The bill provides for regulations on a number of matters, including applications for felling permission, decisions on applications to fell a tree, compensation for refusal of felling permission, felling directions, restocking directions and appeals against decisions by ministers.

Why is so much of the detail on the felling regime to be included in regulations rather than in the bill? What will the timetable and the process be for developing and consulting on those regulations?

Catherine Murdoch

The thinking behind having all of that detail in secondary legislation is that the provisions in this area are very detailed. For example, the Forestry Act 1967 provides for exceptions to the situations in which it is necessary to apply for a felling licence; it goes into detail on, for example, the diameter of trees, which is amended by secondary legislation when it needs to be. We have taken the view that it would be fairer to the sector, in the first instance, to work with it to create all the regulations. It would have been difficult for us to do that prior to the bill being published, because the framework is quite different. We will now work with the sector to put all of the detail together and we intend to have it ready for commencement. Our current working date is spring 2019.

Richard Lyle

My last question is about refusal of felling permission. Section 29 relates to compensation for refusal of felling permission. Under what circumstances might the Scottish ministers refuse an application for felling permission? What is the current process for compensation in such circumstances?

Catherine Murdoch

The detail of the situations in which felling permission might be refused is among the detail that we have yet to work out. At one end of the spectrum are situations in which it would be detrimental to the environment to fell or it might be desirable not to fell from a timber supply point of view. However, I am led to believe that it is quite rare for felling permission to be refused—I am looking at Jo O’Hara, because she is the current regulator. It is much more likely that felling permission will continue to be given but that conditions will be attached that require restocking.

It is less a case of stopping felling happening and more one of maintaining woodland cover after felling takes place. The way in which felling is regulated and will continue to be regulated is that conditions can be attached to permission to fell, and the regulator can require restocking when felling has taken place illegally. Those are the basic principles now and that will continue.

Richard Lyle

That is fine—thank you.

The Convener

Would you like to come in on that, Jo?

Jo O’Hara

If it would be helpful.

The Convener

I was a bit confused by the fact that it seems that someone can be refused permission to fell but can then be ordered to fell in the interest of sustainable development. Someone might be refused permission to fell for a nature conservation reason, but the majority of the trees might blow over and they might be ordered to fell them and then to restock the land. I do not quite understand how all that will work.

Catherine Murdoch

The confusion is perhaps because it looks linear in the bill—that is just how it is set out—but it is not linear in practice. The reason for having the ability to direct felling is more about avoiding harm caused by trees, although it is rare for such a situation to arise. That ability exists, but I am not sure how often it is used. A stand of trees that is grown for timber that someone wants to fell is a separate situation and a regulation is in place that allows us to require restocking. Situations in which we, as the regulator, would direct felling are quite different—those would be where trees are causing harm.

The Convener

I noticed that Jo O’Hara is nodding in agreement that that situation does not happen often.

Mike, do you want to come in before I move on?

Mike Rumbles

Yes, please. The bill is obviously directed at commercial tree felling and that sort of thing, but it has just struck me that section 23 says:

“A person commits an offence if the person fells a tree”.

It then sets out a list of exemptions. I want to ask what is, in a way, a silly question. In rural Aberdeenshire, a lot of people have large 1-acre gardens with trees in them. Are we bringing such people into the bill? I am pleased to see Catherine Murdoch shake her head. However, as a layperson reading the bill, I see that it says that

“A person commits an offence if the person fells a tree”.

Catherine Murdoch

Yes, it does look like that. In reality, the current offence is felling a growing tree. We continue with that offence; it is simply a question of construction. An offence needs to be clear, so that people understand when they are committing an offence. On top of that, we will have exemptions. Currently, those exemptions could set a minimum area, for example. Therefore, we would take the single tree out of the equation by creating an exemption for it.

Mike Rumbles

Right. There are exemptions in the bill and the current law.

Catherine Murdoch

They will be set out in secondary legislation.

Mike Rumbles

The offence will not apply to residences.

Catherine Murdoch

This is a forestry bill. We are not looking at single trees, but we will put all the exemptions in secondary legislation. That is how it will be constructed.

Mike Rumbles

I just wanted that point to be clarified. Thank you.

The Convener

Jo O’Hara is going to come in and tell us that it is still all right to cut down the odd tree for firewood, no doubt.

Jo O’Hara

If you look at the current legislation—I would not blame you if you did not want to do that, because there are all sorts of complexity in there—you will see that it lays out all the exemptions, including whether it is a fruit tree, a tree in a garden or a tree in a park. To be honest, the exemptions need to be brought up to date, and that will be done in the secondary legislation that we are talking about.

The Convener

Peter Chapman has the next question.

Peter Chapman

My question is about notices to comply and compliance. Chapter 6 of the bill is about registering notices to comply with continuing conditions, felling directions and restocking directions. How do the bill’s provisions on registration of notices to comply differ from the current system?

Catherine Murdoch

Broadly speaking, the current system allows the regulator to enforce a failure to comply with a felling licence or a felling direction on subsequent owners. We are putting in place a link to the existing system that will allow new owners to know exactly what they are purchasing, including any burdens that sit with that land. At the moment, it is less transparent than that. If you were to purchase land, you would be dependent on the seller telling you that they had a felling licence and that conditions would still run with that land. We are putting in place the opportunity for the regulator to take a view about whether those conditions should be put on the register, so that they would all appear in the usual searches that solicitors run when a person is purchasing a piece of land.

Peter Chapman

This is about purchasing an existing forest that is already growing trees—

Catherine Murdoch

You could be purchasing the land at the point when everything has been felled and restocking conditions still apply. It is about having transparency at that point. If you were to buy a mature forest, you would understand what you were buying much more easily than you would if you were buying a piece of forestry land that has been felled but has not yet been restocked.

Peter Chapman

I am happy with that.

Jamie Greene

A consequence of the bill will be the repeal of the Forestry Act 1967 in Scotland. The main thing that struck me from that is the fact that the current act states that all activities on national forest estate land must be tree related. The bill removes that restriction. Is anyone on the panel aware of any other substantial consequences or implications of the repeal of the 1967 act that the committee should be aware of?

11:00  



Carole Barker-Munro

The view has been taken that some of the functions that were placed on the forestry commissioners by the 1967 act are obsolete or unnecessary. I would be happy to write to the committee with a list of those functions, but there are examples that relate to activities such as going on to a neighbour’s land, shooting their rabbits and selling them back to him for the privilege. We felt that that was perhaps not a modern policy directive.

A slightly more sensible function is the powers that forestry commissioners have to make byelaws for access. Because of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the fact that access is now a local issue, and because the Scottish ministers do not have powers to make byelaws for access, those powers should not be kept for the Scottish ministers. There are some examples of the opportunity being taken to modernise, refresh and remove some of the obsolete functions. I am happy to provide a list of those if it would be helpful.

Jamie Greene

It would be helpful to get a list of things that are being dropped or lost as a result of the repeal of the 1967 act, and additional or new things in the bill so that there is a clear comparison.

Carole Barker-Munro

We would be happy to provide that.

Jamie Greene

Further to that, why do some aspects of the bill that widen the scope of the Scottish ministers’ powers fall into this bill when they should perhaps have been included in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016? Why are they being included in the bill if they do not relate specifically to forestry?

Carole Barker-Munro

The main element of the bill that is not related to forestry is the one that we have already touched on, which is the broader land management role. That is there to fulfil a manifesto commitment and policy to give the Scottish ministers a wider land management role and to establish forestry and land Scotland as a land agency for Scotland. The bill facilitates delivery of that manifesto commitment.

Jamie Greene

So the new forestry division will sit within the new executive agency.

Carole Barker-Munro

No. The new forestry division will sit within the Scottish Government. It will be a division of the environment and forestry directorate. Forestry and land Scotland will be the new executive agency and it will report to the Scottish ministers.

Jamie Greene

I think perhaps we need to see an organogram structure of how the agencies, divisions, directorates and ministers all fit together. That would also be quite helpful.

Carole Barker-Munro

I am happy to provide that.

John Mason

One of the most interesting aspects of any bill is its financial side. We have heard about the forestry governance project board, which was set up to look at the finances of the devolution of forestry. Can you tell us about that? Does it produce a report? Where are we going with that?

Ginny Gardner

The forestry governance project board was set up after the announcement by ministers in 2015 that they had agreed with the UK Government to complete the devolution of forestry. The board is chaired jointly by directors in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government. It also has members from the Forestry Commission. Jo O’Hara and Simon Hodge are on it, along with forestry representatives from England and Wales.

The board’s remit is specifically about the cross-border arrangements. Because we need to agree across the three Governments, the board is not about finance in Scotland. It looks at the cross-border functions that are delivered by forestry commissioners across Britain and at the processes that will be put in place across the three countries for those arrangements in the future. The particular finance issue that arises is that, at the moment, the cross-border functions are funded by DEFRA on behalf of all Administrations and we are looking at how that funding will be shared going forward. It is a specific cross-border issue.

John Mason

Forest Research Scotland contributes £2.48 million to that. Will we be contributing more after devolution or less?

Ginny Gardner

The £2.48 million is specifically for research that only Scotland is asking Forest Research to do. Jo O’Hara might want to say a bit more about that. Forest Research gets its core budget from DEFRA—I think that it is about £8 million—and that covers research that is relevant to all Britain, not just to Scotland. We obviously want that research to continue.

John Mason

Would the risk be that, because we have got more than our 8.3 per cent population share of forestry, we might end up having to foot more of the bill that DEFRA used to fund?

Ginny Gardner

We are still negotiating the share but we anticipate that our share of the budget that is currently in DEFRA will come to the Scottish Government.

John Mason

Is there agreement about how it will be shared out?

Ginny Gardner

That is still up for agreement.

John Mason

I think that we would like to be kept updated on that.

Ginny Gardner

Yes.

John Mason

It is suggested that there will not be a huge cost and nothing for local authorities or other bodies. However, one of the big chunks will be information technology costs. Whenever IT is mentioned at this committee, people get quite wound up and worried. The figures vary from £2.05 million to £8.05 million, which seems to be quite a wide range. What is your comment on that?

Ginny Gardner

As set out in the financial memorandum, IT specialists in the Forestry Commission are working with our Scottish Government IT specialists on the exact nature of the integration of the current systems. They still have to fully work out aspects of that, which is why there is a greater range on some of the aspects under that item.

John Mason

I think that it would be fair to ask for updates on that as we go on.

Ginny Gardner

Of course.

The Convener

It might also be useful to know that that is the broadest range and that the cost will not go above it.

Ginny Gardner

That is the broadest range that the IT specialists have given.

The Convener

Those are all the questions that we have time for. The clerks will marshal the questions that I have not been able to bring in; we will submit those and remind you of the things that you have undertaken to respond to the committee on.

I thank you all for coming. In the coming weeks, we will be taking further evidence from various stakeholders, and I suspect that we might well be seeing some of you again when the cabinet secretary comes to update the committee. Thank you.

11:08 Meeting suspended.  



11:12 On resuming—  



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Second meeting transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the 21st meeting in 2017 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I ask everyone to ensure that they have their mobile phones on silent.

No apologies have been received. I welcome Claudia Beamish from the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, who is joining us today and during our evidence-taking sessions on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

Agenda item 1 is the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. This is our second evidence-taking session on the bill and we will have two panels of witnesses. I welcome the first panel, which consists of: Stuart Goodall, the chief executive of Confor; Brendan Burns, a harvesting contractor, who represents the Forestry Contracting Association; Malcolm Nicol, managing partner at Ballogie estate enterprises; Hamish Macleod, director of public affairs at BSW Timber; and Ian Thomas, a chartered forester.

We will develop various themes during the discussion, which will be introduced by different members. The witnesses do not have to speak on every theme if they do not want to but, if they want to speak, they should try to catch my eye and I will bring them in. I remind them to look at me occasionally because, if they start to expand on points beyond the time that we have available, I will try to signal to them to come to an end rather than just cutting them off, which is always embarrassing. I also remind them that they do not need to press the buttons to work the microphones in front of them; the microphones will be activated as they are called to speak.

John Finnie will develop the first theme.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I say good morning to the witnesses and thank them for their submissions. The first thing that we will consider is the development of the bill. Key to that is the role that the consultation, which took place last August, played in the process. I would appreciate the witnesses’ views on the management of land by the Scottish ministers and felling, as well as the extent to which the consultation covered those issues.

The Convener

If nobody is going to volunteer to go first on that, Stuart Goodall can start.

Stuart Goodall (Confor)

I suppose that we are hesitant to start to speak because we have been approaching the matter on the basis that the legislation on felling will not change fundamentally. We cannot see that there is a reason to change it fundamentally and we are not aware of any pressures to do so. Therefore, rightly or wrongly, we have operated on the basis that the bill and the secondary legislation will, in essence, maintain the status quo. We hope that that is a correct assumption, but time will tell.

John Finnie

You comment specifically on felling in your response, Mr Goodall. You also referred to ringing.

Stuart Goodall

Oh, sorry. We did not comment on that in the consultation response but we did comment on it in relation to the bill.

The definition of felling proposed in the bill is not necessarily correct because it talks about “intentionally killing a tree”. It sounds like a bit of a nerdy point but, if you fell a broad-leaf tree, that does not kill it. If you cut it at the stump, it can resprout. In fact, there is a whole industry—coppicing—based around that. Therefore, that definition will need to be revisited.

The Convener

Do you want to ask anyone in particular about land management issues, John?

John Finnie

I was just after the panellists’ views. Maybe their views are that they are content with the level of consultation on land management and its outcome. If so, there is no issue.

Ian Thomas (Institute of Chartered Foresters)

The consultation is a key element of the whole process. A lot of what is in the bill is not new—there is no change. I have never appeared before a committee, so I watched your previous evidence session on the bill. One of the themes was that there is no change from the current legislation. There are certain areas where people had serious concerns about the envisaged drastic changes in forestry management, but there were other areas where people were saying, as Stuart Goodall has said, that it was pretty much business as usual, so there were no concerns.

John Finnie

Okey-dokey. As there are no issues with the management of the land, or felling in particular, I will move on.

The wider programme of devolution includes cross-border arrangements and new organisational arrangements—aspects not included in the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. Do you have any comments on those aspects?

Stuart Goodall

Cross-border arrangements are important for us. We understand why those are not necessarily covered in the bill. However, in our submission, we have said that we are looking at what is included in the bill in the context of how we co-ordinate with other parts of the United Kingdom on, for example, plant health because, as we know, disease and pests do not respect boundaries. The issue of forest research, for example, is extremely important to the sector, as is the collection and dissemination of statistical information.

At the moment, for example, investment in the sector is predicated on understanding the future availability of wood across wide geographical areas and across boundaries. For example, the south of Scotland and the north of England are essentially one geographical unit in terms of the supply and processing of timber, so having that co-ordination—the ability to collect information on, for example, plant health, and to work together across countries—is important to us. Consequently, as part of the bill process, we want to be informed about what is happening on the cross-border situation. That way, we will be able to see the bill as part of a package.

Hamish Macleod (BSW Timber)

I concur with Stuart Goodall’s comments. In addition, we have to assume a post-Brexit world and what that means for the global position of forestry in Scotland and, indeed, the United Kingdom. Forest Research offers a sense of scale. At the moment, it is a small research agency in the Forestry Commission. If its efforts were divided three ways, it would become so small and insignificant that the danger is that it would get lost somewhere. Therefore, it is important that the UK has a strong position on forest research for all the reasons that Stuart Goodall has outlined.

The Convener

Do you want to come back in, John?

John Finnie

I will just leave it there, thank you.

The Convener

Stewart Stevenson has a brief follow-up question.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I think that it is appropriate to raise this issue here, because it is about the construction of the bill. I am looking at the submission that Confor has provided for us today. It suggests that there should be a chief forester for Scotland. That is not in the bill. The submission goes on to say that ministers should commit to designating key professional posts. I must say that I am slightly cautious about ministers doing that, but that is a different issue that I will not bother about. Why should the bill address whether there needs to be a chief forester? Will Stuart Goodall comment on that? Maybe others will want to comment, too.

Stuart Goodall

We have a broad membership, which covers the supply chain across Scotland, but we are also aware from speaking to people from different interests outside of industry, such as environmental organisations, that there is a lot of support for the idea that, if we are to regulate and support the sector, forestry must be seen as a technical issue. Everyone who operates an industry considers it important and what they do an important, difficult and challenging task. In forestry, through Government, the Forestry Commission and the others that regulate the sector have a great deal of influence over how we establish, manage and harvest forests. The guidance—the UK forestry standard and all the supporting guidance—is some eight inches thick.

With that level of engagement and influence and the level of detail that they have to work with, we see it as important that the people who are doing that are suitably qualified; they should be professional foresters who understand the issues. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for them to be able to speak to, influence and have the respect of people in the private sector, who are professional foresters and understand all that and have been through three or four years of training and further education.

Stewart Stevenson

Can I just cut across you, because I do not want to make a big meal of the matter? Are you suggesting a position similar to that of the chief scientist, who has no executive role in the Government but is clearly a senior and respected adviser to the Government and the part of it responsible for that? Is that the model you are looking at, or are you thinking of somebody in an executive role? I suspect that it is the former rather than the latter, but it would be helpful to know.

Stuart Goodall

Certainly, in terms of definition, the former is what we are looking at. It feeds on from the point about having that sort of professional forestry expertise in place. You are right that we have used the term “ministers” loosely; essentially, it is about having somebody in a position to make things happen. It will be important for the operation of regulation and support, and for the respect of and working relationship with the private sector, to have such people in post and somebody who is seen to be championing and taking a lead for forestry within the Scottish Government as a whole.

Hamish Macleod

I am speaking with slight experience; I served for six years as chairman of the Forestry Commission of Scotland’s national committee. I have seen forestry at that level as well—I have seen it from both sides. Having such a person is something we debated often in the national committee and I am sure that, two or three years on, it still is. We recognise a vital need for somebody to be an advocate for forestry in Scotland. I do not mean a figurehead, but an advocate—somebody who is going to push forestry and to drive some ambition and aspiration within the forestry act as well. We have some very ambitious planting targets, for example, and a number of deficiencies in relation to restocking issues and so on. We need somebody to focus on that and say what it is we are trying to achieve for Scotland.

The Convener

Before Brendan Burns comes in, perhaps he would like to think about whether the long-term nature of forestry makes that proposed position more important as well, rather than having a shorter-term political appointment.

Brendan Burns (Forestry Contracting Association)

I should clarify that contractors are the people who are working in the forests. We have a slightly different scenario from Confor, in that what we see is the practical end of the operation. What we find at the moment is that the practical aspects of forestry are getting lost.

When we talk to senior people in the Forestry Commission we are talking to people who do not understand what we do. Yes, everybody recognises a machine, but I had a discussion with a senior member of the Forestry Commission the other day and I had to point out that the wage of a machine operator is more than £40,000 a year. They did not realise that, or that the cost of one basic machine is now £350,000. We would certainly support there being much more technical knowledge at the top, because at this moment we are talking to a brick wall. When we write to ministers and other senior people in Parliament, we get an answer from the Forestry Commission that basically says, “Thank you very much for your letter—now will you go away?”

We have a serious problem in forestry, irrespective of what the bill says. We will hit a cliff edge in eight years: we have no operators. Everybody knows about that—I have been talking about it for 20 years—but the Forestry Commission has done nothing about it. For the life of me, I do not understand it, but they did not seem to understand what was happening. Our operators are getting older and leaving, and if there is nobody to cut and extract the timber there will be no forestry industry; there will be no £1 billion and we will be in a mess.

The Convener

So you support having an advocate for forestry. Malcolm, do you want to come in on that? We will then move on to the second theme.

10:15  



Malcolm Nicol (Ballogie Estate Enterprises)

I come at the matter from the same angle as Brendan Burns. We have always had very good relationships with the local conservancy—alone of the Government agencies. I always know who the field officer is and who I relate to: there is the field officer, the operations officer and the conservator. It is clear cut, simple and straightforward. Beyond that, I have never really had any understanding of how forestry in Scotland is administered. At one level, I do not need that. I have never had to scrutinise any legislation, thankfully, but when we start to look at it, it does bring up questions.

I think that there is an opportunity to clarify the lines of organisation and administration. Brendan Burns touched on the fact that there are some significant challenges to the forest industry. There are great opportunities, but we also have to face up to the challenges. There needs to be a clear operational structure that actually runs the course, because forestry has been kicked around with different schemes and different focuses. I hope there is cross-party support for having a clear structure whereby we know who we are relating to and that has—shall we say?—the right qualified people in the right places.

The Convener

Thank you. We will look out for that theme as we move through the consultation. Peter, do you want to move on to the next theme?

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

Good morning, gentlemen. My questions are about part 2 of the bill, which covers modernisation of the forestry functions and brings the Forestry Act 1967 up to date. What is your view of the modernisation of the forestry functions in the bill? Does it go far enough?

The Convener

Who would like to start on that? I am always nervous about letting Stuart Goodall go first, because he then gets to say more. I will do that this time, but I will look to bring in everyone else.

Stuart Goodall

Thank you, convener. I have a deserved reputation for being a bit mouthy, both in the private sector as well as in this forum, so—

The Convener

I have never said that.

Stuart Goodall

No. [Laughter.]

Modernisation clearly makes sense, given that we have legislation that was established 50 years ago for a very different time, and based on legislation from 1919, when we were in very different circumstances. There are things in the bill that we like. For example, we now have a well-understood concept of sustainable forest management. When we operate in forestry, it is not just about trying to get as many trees as possible of a single species into the ground to cover every square inch. As a sector and an industry, we moved on from that nearly 30 years ago. It is good to have recognition that forestry is an activity that balances production with care for the environment and working with people. That is useful.

It is also good that the bill strips out a lot of the text in the 1967 act, which was quite difficult to read. I have to confess that I tried to read it once or twice but gave up. The bill make things simpler from that point of view.

However, in terms of modernising forestry and bringing it into the 21st century, the bill does not capture everything that we would like to see. For example, in the past, there was clear recognition that we wished to increase our forestry resource. In the 20th century, that was because we needed a strategic resource in times of war. In the 21st century, we face different challenges, but they are still challenges, to which forestry is a significant solution. We recognise that planting trees is vital if we are to meet our ambitious climate change targets, and we are talking about moving to 15,000 hectares a year by 2024-25.

We also know very well that forestry is becoming an effective local industry that provides well-paid, skilled jobs. As we look post-Brexit, there is more of an opportunity for forestry and farming to work together to support green, vibrant rural areas. It therefore makes sense that there is recognition of the benefits of expanding the forestry resource: both to secure the benefits for the rural community and to support the rural industry, because we know there is going to be a dip in supply, and for climate change.

 

We feel that that sort of ambition is missing from the bill. It deals with good management, regulation and effective and developing strategies, but it does not have any ambition. That is a significant missing element.

The Convener

Does Peter Chapman want to ask the questions that he has lined up? That might bring in other members of the panel.

Peter Chapman

I was going to do exactly that, convener.

Stuart Goodall mentioned sustainable forest management. Will the bill change any thinking on that in the industry? It was said that SFM is well understood and that it has been done for the past 30 years.

Stuart Goodall

We do not see anything at the moment that might change that, but the lack of a definition of sustainable forest management in the bill is a missed opportunity for two reasons. First, enshrining a definition would mean that there is clarity. Secondly, without that clarity, groups might ask what the bill is about and what “sustainable forest management” means. We would not wish that to happen.

I appreciate from evidence that was given to the committee previously that there is reluctance to put in definitions where it is thought that things are relatively well known and understood, but the bill is all about sustainable forest management—it is right there in the first sentence—and there is an accepted definition in the accompanying guidance. We think that putting that definition in the bill would be useful in providing clarity.

Ian Thomas

Obviously, there is the issue of sustainable forestry versus sustainable development. Perhaps the differentiation between those needs to be drawn out. Because ministers are involved with other land uses and other, wider issues, that needs to be defined. There is a sustainable development aspect to this.

Peter Chapman

Stuart Goodall lamented the fact that there is no ambition in the bill, but it requires ministers to prepare and publish a forestry strategy. Perhaps the ambition statement could be in the forestry strategy. Should the bill state that particular issues must be included in the forestry strategy?

Ian Thomas

The forestry strategy has been a fine document. It is a great thing for the Scottish timber industry and forestry generally, and carrying on with business as usual with that statement and having it written into the bill as an obligation is a positive step. As Stuart Goodall said, it is widely understood, it has impacts on the ground, and it makes a real difference to have managed forests. It is therefore a good thing.

Brendan Burns

When we had our discussions in the Forestry Contractors Association, people kept saying about that, “Well, what does it say?” That makes it very difficult for us to respond. The contractors are practical people, but we felt that we had no comment to make on that particular issue. We have a lot to say about it, but we were unsure how to address it, and the result was that we did not do so.

In our meeting, the simple example of variations was raised. Forestry is looked on as one industry for the whole of Scotland, but forestry in the Highlands is not the same as forestry in the Borders, and forestry in Aboyne and the north-east is entirely different altogether. Such a document was therefore difficult to respond to, but that does not mean that we do not have opinions on it. A strategy might help.

The Convener

Does Malcolm Nicol want to come in on that? I noticed him nodding when it was said that the strategies are different in different parts of Scotland.

Malcolm Nicol

That is an obvious statement. Scotland is an incredibly diverse country in all sorts of ways. If we travel only a fairly short distance, there will be very different forest issues. We just have to go from the north side of the cairn to the south side and we will be in very different conditions. That is one of the problems with constructing a forestry strategy and policy for Scotland as a whole that treats everyone fairly and equally. We have to be aware of the regional differences.

I back up what Brendan Burns said. As someone who has not previously scrutinised any legislation, I find it difficult that, on one hand, the bill contains statements such as

“The Scottish Ministers must promote sustainable forest management”,

which covers masses of things, whereas, on the other, there are pages of detail on felling licences. There seems to be a mismatch. I share Brendan Burns’s view that, in trying to respond rationally and comprehensively to what the bill proposes, it is difficult to know what points to drill into and what points not to drill into. After all, “sustainable forest management” means different things to different people.

I think that there is an important omission. Somewhere in the bill, there should be a duty on the Scottish ministers on the education, training and promotion side. A lot of good work is being done on the use of wood at places such as Edinburgh Napier University, but I do not think that it is getting through to the public as a whole. If we are looking forward to a sustainable Scotland, timber has a big part to play in that. The Scottish ministers should have a role in promoting that, although that might lie outwith the scope of the bill.

The Convener

That is an interesting and important point.

Stewart Stevenson

This is a relatively small point. Malcolm Nicol properly points out that the bill deals with some things at a high level, whereas others—notably, felling—are addressed in great detail. The fact that something is in the bill means that it would take a long time to change it. If it was in secondary legislation, it could be changed fairly quickly.

Are you saying that the felling part of the bill, which is highly detailed, should be taken out of the primary legislation and put in secondary legislation—without changing the legal effect—so that it can be adapted over time? Is that what you are saying, in effect, or are you just making the general observation that you wish that it was easier to read legislation, which is an observation that you might get quite a lot of support for?

Malcolm Nicol

It was a general comment about trying to get one’s head round where the bill sits with other legislation. It is difficult for an amateur to say what should go in primary legislation and what should go in secondary legislation. However, I agree with your point—I question whether it is appropriate for a bill of this sort to deal with the detail of felling licences. I think that that would be better handled in secondary legislation.

Stewart Stevenson

That is fine.

The Convener

We will move on to the next theme.

Stewart Stevenson

I have a brief question about tree health and silvicultural material, which Stuart Goodall has mentioned. Essentially, responsibility for those matters—which are covered in the Plant Health Act 1967 and the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964—will now lie in one place. Does the panel support that, or do you think that such matters should be dealt with in an alternative way?

The Convener

All the witnesses are looking away apart from Stuart Goodall, so you have the floor again, Stuart.

Stuart Goodall

You deserve a response. We support what the bill proposes; we do not see any problems with it.

Stewart Stevenson

In that case, I am finished, convener.

The Convener

The deputy convener, Gail Ross, will cover the next theme.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Good morning, panel. You will be delighted to know that I want to return to the issue of sustainable forest management.

Section 9(1) states:

“The Scottish Ministers must manage forestry land in a way that promotes sustainable forest management.”

That might mean different things to different individuals. Do you think that section 9 will make any difference on the ground? Would you like it to be changed, or is it okay as it is?

The Convener

I am looking at Ian Thomas, as a practitioner.

Ian Thomas

I think that section 9 covers the issue. As I said, it is well understood. Section 9 is adequate and it should not really change anything on the ground.

However, I think that there is a concern that, with the wider remit and with this area coming under the ministers, sustainable development might trump sustainable forestry management. That is a concern, because it could mean that deforestation takes place when there is a big financial incentive for that to happen. The Forestry Commission is almost 100 years old, and there is a concern that what it has achieved over the years—its focus on forestry and its role in pushing for forestry and being an advocate and facilitator for it—will be lost because other considerations come into play.

10:30  



The Convener

Stuart Goodall, do you want to add to that?

Stuart Goodall

If I can. Gail Ross asked about sustainable forest management and section 9(1). For me, sustainable forest management is a balanced process—it is how you produce an outcome and, because you have engaged with economic, social and environmental interests, the outcome is intended to be what is appropriate for local circumstances. It is a flexible mechanism. There is a lot of guidance to help you to achieve that outcome and outline what it means for forestry. Where sustainable forest management is referred to, we are quite relaxed.

To pick up on Ian Thomas’s point, section 9(3) refers to land as managed by the Scottish ministers. That section is in part 3, and if part 3 was designed to tie up Confor staff for hours trying to understand what it means, Scottish Government officials have been incredibly successful. We think that we have got our heads round it, but that is mainly because we have read the submissions and asked questions—we think that we are 95 per cent of the way there.

We have concerns about section 9(3). At the moment, we would look at public forestry land, which is the national forest estate plus land that is brought in, as being primarily there for forestry and managed for sustainable forestry purposes. Simon Hodge, who runs the national forest estate, would like to be able to use that land for wider purposes than just forestry. That is understood. We recognise that 200,000 hectares of the national forest estate is not covered in trees—there is 30,000 hectares of actively managed agricultural land—so it makes sense to say that that land can be managed for a purpose other than sustainable forest management.

However, the way in which section 9(3) is drafted implies that the forest land need not be managed for sustainable forest management. When Carole Barker-Munro gave evidence on 7 June, she said that the land could be managed for sustainable forest management or for sustainable development, which does not differentiate between land that has trees on it—which we would call forestry—or land adjacent to that forest, and land that is nothing to do with forest. Therefore, somebody could manage that forest for sustainable development purposes rather than sustainable forest management purposes.

In the past, huge areas of forest on the public estate were cleared for wind farms. Section 9(3) appears to give the Scottish ministers, or whoever manages the national forest estate, the potential to say, “I can earn more money by doing all these things other than having trees, so, over time, I’m going to clear all the trees away.” It is that lack of clarity or a safety net that concerns us.

Gail Ross

So there is ambiguity in what the sections of land are set aside for and how they will be managed. Section 10(b) mentions “other land”. What you are saying is that it is not clear which sections of land are “other land”, “forestry land” or land for trees.

Stuart Goodall

You have set out the issue that had us scratching our heads over the past week.

Gail Ross

Would you like to see more clarity in what the land is set aside for?

Stuart Goodall

We said in our submission that we thought that it would make a lot of sense and be very helpful if, rather than describing all land as “forestry land”—even if it is an active farm—just because it is owned or managed by the Scottish ministers through the proposed organisation forestry and land Scotland, “forestry land” is defined as land with forest on it or land that is associated with a forest unit. If it is land that is not associated with forestry, it is “other land”, and sustainable development practices can be applied to it. Our second-guessing of Government—it is always a danger to second-guess Government—is that there are provisions elsewhere in part 3 for land that has no relationship to forestry to be purchased for the purposes of sustainable development.

It appears to me as though there are two parallel strands. Those strands do not simplify matters or make clear that, where the bill deals with sustainable development activity, it does not relate to forestry, and where it deals with forestry, it relates to sustainable forest management. If those aspects were clear, we would understand what on earth is happening, or could happen.

The Convener

I am quite keen to bring in Claudia Beamish, but I will take one more of the panellists before doing so. Ian was the first to indicate that he wanted to speak.

Ian Thomas

There is a linking point about forestry basically being, as we all understand, a long-term business. What the Forestry Commission has achieved over the past 100 years has been a result of arm’s-length working—the buffer between the Forestry Commission and the politicians. That has facilitated the commission’s long-term role and been fantastic for forestry. Linked to the ambiguity on whether the land is to be managed for forestry or other things is the issue of direct ministerial control and whether a structure that buffers that and does not allow political expediency to have a huge impact on forestry would perhaps be worth considering.

The Convener

Would you like to come in at this stage, Claudia?

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

That is kind of you, convener. My questions are about part 3. Some of them are about section 13; some go beyond that section. The questions lead into one another. I do not know whether you would prefer it if the deputy convener continued her line of questioning first. I do not know what that line of questioning is, but she may well want to ask her questions before I start.

The Convener

Section 13 is the next section on our list to cover. If Gail is happy—

Gail Ross

I know that another of our themes is compulsory purchase powers, so I will let someone else deal with sustainable development.

Claudia Beamish

It might be appropriate if I waited to see whether other committee members ask the questions. If they do not, I will come in.

The Convener

I will bring in Jamie Greene, because our discussions so far naturally flow into the areas that he wants to ask questions about.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Yes, our conversation leads nicely on to the area that I want to pick up—section 13 on “Management of land to further sustainable development”. It will be helpful, because it will provide context to section 13, if I read out what the Scottish Government said at our previous evidence session on the bill:

“The purpose of section 13 is to fulfil the policy that, through the new executive agency forestry and land Scotland, the Scottish ministers should be able to have a broader land management role, moving away from a silo approach of purely managing forestry ... Land under section 13 is not forestry land; it is other land. The purpose for which it should be managed is sustainable development.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 7 June 2017; c 9.]

First, before I ask about sustainable development, is the panel clear what “other land” is? In addition, if you have any views on section 13, now would be a good time to share them.

The Convener

Stuart Goodall has had a fairly good bash at answering that. Would you like to come in, Hamish?

Hamish Macleod

Yes. The question also connects back to Gail Ross’s question, which Ian Thomas answered.

I do not know what that “other land” could be, if it relates to sustainable development. I will go back to the question of what is sustainable forestry land. Having witnessed over the past few years the loss of so much land from forestry into other developments, including wind farm developments, our sector and our business would be horrified at the thought of losing any more land from forestry. Somewhere in the bill we should set out a minimum level of forest land. We should start off with the forest land that we have. We should not be looking to diminish it; in fact, we should be looking to build on it, as per Government policy. We need to have a bottom line before we even start looking at “other land”.

Brendan Burns

To repeat a question that has been asked previously, does that mean that forestry organisations would become the forestry tourism board? That issue was raised because, when we talk about “other land”, tourism starts sprouting up. Tourism is an extremely attractive industry—it gives high returns for not an awful lot of work. There is a genuine fear that the forestry industry could lose its vision if that side of it becomes too strong. We are all members of Confor and we pay Stuart Goodall to get staff to go through the bill. If they have difficulty in understanding it, will anybody else understand it when it gets further down the line? It is difficult to put all the different aspects into the bill.

Jamie Greene

I am also struggling with it, but my interpretation is that land that is currently forestry land could be purchased by the Government, through either commercial acquisition or compulsory purchase, and it could be converted for other uses, such as sustainable development. The Scottish Government stated that it did not want to define “sustainable development” as that was dealt with by case law, but some consultation responses stated that it should be defined so that it is not left too open ended. Does the panel agree with that?

The Convener

Before witnesses answer the question, I ask that they do not major on the compulsory purchase element. That issue will come up later and I do not want to cut across answers on that.

Stuart Goodall

I will leave aside the rights and wrongs of compulsory purchase.

After going through the bill for a length of time, we see the provision in section 13 as referring to a stand-alone activity that is separate from forestry. It is about the ability to acquire or purchase land that is not necessarily—and probably is not—forestry but not to do anything that is related to forestry with the land. It is a non-forestry land provision. As a forestry organisation, we see the provision as almost piggybacking on the rest of a bill that is all about forestry, so we can put that provision to one side.

The inclusion of the term “sustainable development” in section 9(3) gives us concern, because it brings the impact of that term into forestry land. We get tied up in knots once we start looking at the national forest estate as being land that is all suddenly classed as “forestry land” and the purchase of land that is not forestry land but might be used as forestry land. We do not think that there is a separation between a simple process of acquiring land for sustainable development and that land having nothing to do with forestry. The evidence seemed to imply that, although it was not specifically stated.

The Convener

I will stop you there as you have made the point very clearly.

Claudia Beamish

Good morning, panel. My question builds on the previous questions. Do you see a need for the Scottish Government to have new powers to further sustainable development, and do you have any examples of situations in which it would be appropriate for the powers in section 13 to be used?

With the convener’s forbearance, I have a quick additional question. Where does agroforestry fit in with the bill?

The Convener

That might be a quick question, but there might be long answers.

Claudia Beamish

I am hoping for a short answer.

Ian Thomas

On the first question, the powers are basically all there. It is the old story of, “If it’s not broken, don’t bother fixing it.” Forestry in Scotland is a tremendous success story and the way in which it is delivered is totally functional.

Agroforestry is being promoted by the Forestry Commission at the moment and, having done agriculture and forestry, I would be greatly in favour of it having a higher profile. It is in the present grant system—I am veering off the bill a bit—and increasing grant rates would be a simple way of promoting it more widely in the grant system.

10:45  



Stuart Goodall

As a forestry organisation, we do not have anything specific to do with sustainable development purchasing for sustainable development purposes that have nothing to do with forestry.

However, the bill also includes powers relating to compulsory purchase and acquisition for forestry. Our response on that point is that such powers have not been used to any degree. When we asked what the powers in the bill would be used for, no real explanation was given. Our normal approach would be to ask why, if there is no clear justification for it, it is included in the bill. The inclusion of the power contains in itself some potential threats to people who may wish to plant forests, if they feel that by doing so they will bring themselves into a situation in which their land can be purchased by Government. It could be argued that the provision in the bill is a disincentive to tree planting. On balance, we would say that it is better not to have the power than to have it in relation to forestry.

The Convener

Mike Rumbles is looking at me, because he wants to ask about compulsory purchase. Would you like to ask a follow-up question?

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Thank you very much, convener. I am particularly exercised by section 16, which states:

“The Scottish Ministers may compulsorily acquire land that they require for the purpose of exercising their functions under—”

sustainable forest management and sustainable development, which are dealt with under sections 9 and 13. In asking the bill team leader, Carole Barker-Munro about that, I said:

“the bill does not just transfer current compulsory purchase powers under the law as it stands; it increases ministers’ compulsory purchase powers.”

She replied:

“Yes, that is correct.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 7 June 2017; c 11.]

When I pressed her further for examples, they were not forthcoming. I am suspicious of Parliament giving more powers to ministers when we do not know what they will be used for.

What do members of the panel think about section 16 on the compulsory purchase of land, which moves from the current position under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947 to giving ministers what seem to be quite wide powers of compulsory purchase?

The Convener

Stuart Goodall has sort of answered that question already, so I will steer away from him. Ian Thomas and Malcolm Nicol might like to give a view.

Ian Thomas

The thing about forestry in Scotland is that it is a cultural entity that depends on the people within it and on them getting on. There is a good reason why the Forestry Commission has effectively never used the compulsory purchase powers that it has had over many years, because annoying farmers and every other landholder is not a good way to go about promoting forestry. There may be exceptional circumstances in which compulsory purchase powers are useful—if someone has been very obstreperous or whatever, or there is a very good reason—but in general I do not see any reason for the powers to be extended. I think that use of the powers would be counterproductive in many cases.

Malcolm Nicol

I fully agree with Ian Thomas’s comments. If the bill aims to promote forestry, I do not think that the section on compulsory purchase furthers that aim.

The Convener

Does anyone on the panel want to give a contrary view? If not, I am minded to leave it at that.

Mike Rumbles

Can I ensure that I have got this right? Do panel members believe that the compulsory purchase powers that were in the 1947 act are sufficient? Are you saying that we do not need the increased powers over sustainable development?

Ian Thomas

There is an issue about whether the Forestry Commission or the Scottish ministers exercise the powers. The Forestry Commission basically does not do compulsory purchase for the very good reasons that I have just outlined—there is a forestry culture and we all depend on each other—whereas ministers might have slightly different objectives. The powers are perfectly adequate as they are. The ideal thing is not to use the powers unless there are extreme circumstances. I think that changing the powers to give the Scottish ministers more of a say in the decision, and including other development, is not really about forestry. It extends the remit of the bill way beyond that.

The Convener

Do you have any examples of the Forestry Commission using compulsory purchase powers to further its aims for timber?

Ian Thomas

None whatsoever.

The Convener

The panel members are all shaking their heads. If we may, we will move on. I ask John Mason to develop the next theme.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Sections 18, 19 and 20 talk about delegation to community bodies. I want to get your views on that. Is the definition of a community body in section 19 appropriate? If there is compulsory purchase, which we have just discussed, is it appropriate that ministers should be able to delegate the management to community bodies?

The Convener

That is quite a contentious question. Does Stuart Goodall want to lead on that?

Stuart Goodall

Confor believes that all types of organisations, parts of the country and communities can benefit from being active in forestry. We are keen for communities to plant land and become active in woodland. We have seen that happening. For example, in north-west Mull, a community took on a piece of forest that was previously managed by the Forestry Commission and turned it into a real success story. There are good examples out there, so we know that that approach can work.

On the question of the definition of a community body, it seems strange to us that the definition is set out in paragraphs (a) to (h) of section 19(2), and then section 19(3) says that the Scottish ministers may ignore paragraphs (b) to (h). There is a lot of detail in section 19(2), but the next subsection basically gives the Scottish ministers the ability to ignore it and disapply all those elements. We question whether that makes sense.

John Mason

How would you deal with that issue? Would you take some of the detail out of the definition and leave it looser to start with, or would you restrict ministers’ ability to change it?

Stuart Goodall

You are now asking questions that are above my pay grade, intelligence and interest.

John Mason

I will ask someone else at another time.

Stuart Goodall

We think that, if you have a provision that specifically provides for the purchase of forest—an asset that we think is valuable and important to the sector as a whole—it is important that there is something in legislation that defines what you are trying to achieve and sets out why it should happen. With that principle in mind, saying that paragraphs (b) to (h) of section 19(2) can be set aside seems to provide a lot of flexibility to Scottish ministers. We believe that the answer is somewhere in the middle, but cannot say exactly where.

In relation to the passing on of land that is obtained through compulsory purchase, we are not commenting on the issue of sustainable development of non-forestry land that is purchased and used for non-forestry purposes. However, I do not see why there would be compulsory purchase of forest land in order to pass it on to a community, and that is not explained in the bill. There is nothing in the bill, the evidence or the supporting documentation to say that that was something that was intended or that there was a reason for doing that. If that was allowed for under the bill, we would be concerned about that in principle, because it has not been stated as a possibility. It would be almost like saying that we can take land from somebody to give it to somebody else.

Mike Rumbles

May I come in at this point?

The Convener

Very briefly, because the next theme that we will deal with is quite big.

Mike Rumbles

Section 16 specifically gives ministers that power, does it not?

Stuart Goodall

That comes back to the time when we were scratching our heads. We provided our submission to the committee late yesterday afternoon because we were still struggling to understand some of the bill and the powers that it gives to Scottish ministers. The point that you raise is one thing that we did not get our heads around totally. However, if there were an ability to buy forestry land to transfer it to a community as opposed to a mechanism that involves the sustainable development of non-forestry land, we would have concerns about that.

The Convener

Rhoda Grant has a question on this point, as do others. I will try to bring in everyone, but doing so will curtail the time for the next theme that we will deal with.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Often, forestry land is landlocked, which means that people cannot get the wood out and the land falls into disrepair. A community will often see an opportunity to use that land for a local business or a local community heat scheme. If the landowner just hangs on to the land and does not pass it on to the community, arguably the forest will fall into disrepair and will not be managed. That would therefore be a scenario where land could be compulsorily purchased and then handed to the community to preserve it as working forestry.

The Convener

I urge Stuart Goodall to give a very brief answer, please.

Stuart Goodall

I can understand where Rhoda Grant is coming from, but we in forestry are concerned about the issue. Someone who runs a business is in there every day, or at least five days a week, and someone who manages farmland does so pretty much every day. With forestry, however, a person can realistically plant a forest, do some maintenance work for a few years and then not do any activity for 20 to 30 years, although it actually makes sense to go in and thin it and do something more often. How do we come up with a clear definition that says that such land is just un-utilised and is waiting to be utilised? That is a very grey area for us and it raises concerns.

Claudia Beamish

Just for the record, I point out that it is the conditions in section 19(2)(b) to 19(2)(f) that can be disapplied. It is important that paragraphs (g) and (h) cannot be, because those are financial conditions.

Does any of the panel have concerns about the definition of the word “community” in section 19, as it differs from that in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and in land reform and other legislation?

The Convener

Just to clarify, are you asking whether the panel is happy with the definition, including paragraphs (b) to (f)?

Claudia Beamish

No, I was just highlighting a point for the record that ministers can disapply only paragraphs (b) to (f), and not (b) to (h), which is important.

The Convener

Okay.

Claudia Beamish

My question was about whether the witnesses are content, to put it more positively, with the definition of “community”. I ask for brief answers, please.

Malcolm Nicol

I hope that the committee will look at that, because it is difficult if there are different definitions in different bits of legislation. The trouble is with effectively defining a community—in some cases, there might be very few individuals because forestry is sometimes in remote areas. That goes back to the point about the big diversity. I do not know how we define that diversity effectively, but commonality as far as possible would be valuable.

The Convener

We will leave that issue and move on to the next one.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Does the panel agree with the Scottish Government that a broader view of felling is needed? Are you content that what is proposed is consistent with sustainable forest management? Has there been adequate consultation on the part of the bill that relates to felling?

Malcolm Nicol

Although there is a lot in the bill on felling, I think that something is missing: the current exemptions, which are extremely important. For instance, people do not need a felling licence for felling in a garden or orchard or for doing certain kinds of arboricultural work. However, the exemption that is crucial to land management is that a small but defined amount of timber can be cut on a per quarter or annual basis. For example, we are replacing an old fence line at the moment and, over time, quite a lot of birch has grown up. It is a practical issue for farmers, land managers and so on that cutting a small amount of timber should be allowed.

I do not see any reference in the bill to the current exemptions. I also suggest that the current exemptions might be revised and modernised. That is my concern about the bill.

The Convener

The issue was raised at our meeting of 7 June. At present, a certain number of cubic metres can be felled for firewood each year without consent, but that is not in the bill. I think that the Government has accepted that.

Does anyone want to add to that?

Hamish Macleod

I am happy with what Malcolm Nicol has said.

11:00  



Brendan Burns

I will give a practical example. If someone is clearing away wood on a forest site and, for whatever reason, the timber is not moving away, they may need to increase the size of a lay-by but they cannot do that and, all of a sudden, their whole operation grinds to a halt. That has happened many times. Flexibility, especially operationally, is vital.

The Convener

I will bring Jamie Greene in.

Fulton MacGregor

Convener, perhaps it was my fault for combining two questions, but I missed the panel’s response to the second part of my question. Does the panel feel that there was adequate consultation on the felling part of the bill?

The Convener

Stuart, would you like to comment on that?

Stuart Goodall

My comment is, in essence, the feedback that I gave to John Finnie earlier. There was an awareness that felling would be included in the bill, and we understood that the basis on which we would be operating was similar to the basis on which we are operating currently. It is a detailed area to feed back on, and we are looking for reassurance that there will be a similar outcome. If we are assured of a similar outcome, including on exemptions, we will be content.

Jamie Greene

That leads nicely on to how the bill approaches felling. The Scottish Government’s view is that it would prefer to have the detail in regulation rather than in the bill. According to the evidence that it gave us, it wants to “work with the sector” to create regulation post-legislation. Is that the best approach? Do you feel that you are part of that consultation process?

Brendan Burns

The simple answer is no: we are not part of it. Contractors are excluded. For the life of me, I cannot understand that, because we have the practical experience. That is the case not just with the Parliament but all the way through, from the top to the bottom, especially with the Forestry Commission. There has been no consultation.

The Convener

That is pretty forthright. Would Stuart Goodall or Malcolm Nicol like to come in? You both look as though you might have an answer.

Stuart Goodall

We are operating on a basis of trust in that we cannot see any reason to change the outcome. We understand that there are benefits in having the detail in secondary legislation, because, as has been highlighted, that allows changes to be made more easily, and we are not aware of any reason why we should question the approach that is being taken. As long as that remains the case, we are prepared to work with what we are advised is the legislative basis that will allow felling to operate most efficiently.

The Convener

I might bring in Fulton MacGregor to round that discussion off. I think that he has a couple more questions on that area.

Fulton MacGregor

Is the panel aware of any circumstances in which Scottish ministers might refuse an application for felling permission? Overall, do you anticipate any changes on the ground as a result of the provisions?

Ian Thomas

I cannot see their having much impact. Felling must be regulated—we all agree on that. At the moment, to engage in felling activity in a forest of any size, we need a forest plan or a management plan. Those plans must be agreed with the Forestry Commission, but the commission is composed of pragmatic people who do not raise objections to felling for economic reasons and all the rest routinely, so I do not think that there is much to be concerned about. It is pretty much business as usual, which works as far as I can tell from where I am standing.

The Convener

Does anyone have concerns about refusals? There might be refusals for wildlife reasons. Is that a concern?

Brendan Burns

The wildlife side is a major problem that constructors recognise. We have to work ahead of time but the planning process seems to take a long time. If you look at all the reasons why we can and cannot harvest, you will see that there are only about two weeks in the year when we can harvest. It is shocking. We know that wildlife issues are important—we believe that, too—but the way in which things work at the moment is just not practical.

Stuart Goodall

We are not aware of any issue with an absolute refusal to allow felling so that trees can never be harvested. If there is important natural woodland, for example, it is clearly appropriate to apply provisions. However, if we are talking about a managed productive forest, I support Brendan Burns’s comments.

The issue is not necessarily an absolute refusal but the guidance on when people can harvest so that they do not disturb birds, for example. In particular, we are told that birds of prey are disturbed and that people have to keep certain hundreds of metres away from them. Birds of prey then come down and eat sandwiches off the harvester cab. Guidance has been set, but we feel that it is perhaps incorrectly set and there is a danger that felling legislation could be used to create a blockage that would allow the guidance to kick in. We do not want to take anything away from the need for felling control, but we must ensure that the guidance is correct.

The Convener

I am afraid that we will not get to one or two other questions that have stacked up, so we might submit them in writing afterwards. I ask Peter Chapman to move on to the next theme, please.

Peter Chapman

I want to explore notices to comply and compliance. Notices to comply are mentioned throughout the bill—for instance, chapter 6 is about registering notices to comply with continuing conditions on felling directions and restocking directions. Sections 42 to 47 provide the Scottish ministers with powers to ensure that directions that relate to felling are complied with, and sections 48 to 58 provide powers to ensure that the action that is required is undertaken. Are the compliance and notice-to-comply provisions an improvement on the current system? Could they be better?

The Convener

I know that I will not get short answers, but a yes or no answer would be fine.

Malcolm Nicol

Yes. Broadly, I do not see a massive change there. The issue does not come up a lot. Obviously, if something has not been carried out that it had been agreed would be carried out, the Scottish ministers need to have powers to come in and force the issue. However, that is generally done at the field level with field officers, and the issue is not contentious.

Stuart Goodall

I agree that it is about appropriate implementation, and we have seen implementation that we broadly agree with. It is a complex bill that pretty much takes through what was there before. As long as the intent of the bill is similar and the way in which the policy is applied is the same, we will be content with it.

The Convener

Let us move on. I invite Rhoda Grant to ask the next questions.

Rhoda Grant

This question is a bit of a catch-all question. Other than what has already been discussed, is there anything in the Forestry Act 1967 that is missing from the bill but that should be in it? Is anything missing from both the 1967 act and the bill that you would have liked to see in the bill? Will there be any unintended consequences from the changes?

The Convener

Does anyone think that anything has been missed?

Stuart Goodall

This may not be specifically missing, but the previous legislation contained the purpose, intention and ambition to expand the resource, and that ambition applied to both the private sector and publicly owned forest.

That goes back to a point that I made earlier about our concern that there is the potential for the publicly owned and managed forest to be cleared because it is seen to have less economic value. We see the national forest estate as hugely important for the future of the sector. Around a third of the wood supply that supports 25,000 to 26,000 rural jobs and a £1 billion industry comes from the forests that are owned and managed by the Scottish ministers, but nothing in the bill recognises that or seeks to protect it. I am sure that Hamish Macleod can go into a lot more detail than I can on the need for long-term confidence to underpin long-term investment. Nothing in the bill seeks to protect the status of that forest, and that is of concern to us.

The Convener

You have made that point several times, Stuart, so I am sure that we have picked it up.

Malcolm Nicol

My point is not about something that has been missed but about the way in which it has been handled. It goes back to what we discussed before. Now that the Scottish ministers have taken the place of the commissioners, they are ultimately responsible for restocking on the national forest estate. However, they are also the people who enforce things by seeing that the restocking takes place, and I wonder whether there is an issue with that. It goes back to what was said earlier about the need for a chief forester. The person who is responsible for the action also seems to be responsible for policing it. I do not have an answer, but it seems to be a potential issue. There is concern about restocking, and I make that point across the board.

The Convener

We may leave that issue hanging and move on. John Mason will ask questions on our final theme.

John Mason

I have a quick question about the financial memorandum. It says that the bill’s provisions will have

“no financial implications for local authorities or other bodies, individuals or businesses”.

Are all our witnesses comfortable with that?

The Convener

Stuart, why not answer that? If you get it wrong, the cost will come out of Confor funds. [Laughter.]

Stuart Goodall

Yes, quite. I have never been asked to underwrite Government expenditure before.

We understand that the costs that are associated with that, and generally with rebranding and so on, relate to internal changes and will therefore fall on the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Government rather than on local authorities or other bodies.

John Mason

That is great. Thank you.

The Convener

I have a final question. We have heard from Stuart Goodall and Malcolm Nicol that there is concern that everything is being placed in the hands of politicians and that there might be a role for a forestry supremo whose job would be to promote forestry. I am not convinced that we have heard whether Ian Thomas, Hamish Macleod and Brendan Burns would support that principle. Perhaps they could address that point briefly or say whether they are happy with everything going to the Scottish Government.

Hamish Macleod

I repeat that, when both sides of forestry have been in the same house, if we can call it that—such as when we have had the overarching national committee, the regional forums and so on—we have had a structure of checks and balances and an audit and risk committee. One of my concerns is that, when what we used to call the forestry authority bit of it disappears into a department or division of the Government, there will not be public oversight of its activity or the checks and balances. At this stage, it is not clear how that transfer will be managed.

Ian Thomas

I support that view. Having a champion for forestry sounds nice. Without knowing the detail, I think it sounds as though it would be good. However, the issue is more important than one individual.

As I have said, forestry is a culture. For 100 years, the Forestry Commission has been the linchpin of that culture in Scotland, so that we have been able to achieve what we have done so far. The Forest Enterprise section is less concerned about dissipating the Forestry Commission but is concerned at least about the conservancy aspect, for practical foresters, of putting that culture into a much bigger one. In Scotland, we appreciate that we have to keep the critical mass in order to maintain the culture. The point is that, if we put that culture into a much bigger culture and it is not protected—or even if it is supposedly protected—it will inevitably dissipate and be dispersed.

That culture is more important than an individual champion in forestry. The whole of forestry in Scotland is a fantastic organisation that has achieved a lot. We may get reassurances that things will be protected and that everything will be fine but, if we look at the way in which changes have been made elsewhere—for instance, in Wales and perhaps with Historic Scotland in Scotland—we see that a dissipation of talent and enthusiasm has meant that the culture has gone. My fear is that we will destroy the whole forestry culture by incorporating it into the Scottish Government.

The Convener

Brendan Burns, would you like to give a short answer?

Brendan Burns

I will give a short one. The issue is about trust and confidence. I should explain that I work on the European Economic and Social Committee. In Europe, I have a wider remit that includes agriculture, and I see a huge problem with the rural community of agriculture and forestry businesses and the way in which it presently operates. We need people with practical experience who can understand what happens in rural areas, but we are not getting that. We have only to look at issues such as the one involving big supermarkets and farmers over milk to see the same problem going on at the moment.

The money is not staying in rural communities. We keep hearing about forestry, and we talk about sawmills and so on. Those are urban businesses that employ urban people. Rural communities are not the only beneficiaries when the money goes to the landowner, who we can only hope lives in Scotland and not in Canada, New Zealand or Australia. The issue is about money going into the rural community, and that has never been addressed. We need, at the top, technical people who will discuss the wider issues of forestry. At present, that debate is not taking place.

The Convener

Maybe that is the best place to leave that discussion.

I thank Stuart Goodall, Brendan Burns, Malcolm Nicol, Hamish Macleod and Ian Thomas for the evidence that they have given. The committee may want to ask further questions in writing. If there are issues that our witnesses think we have not looked at closely enough and on which they want to give further evidence to the committee, they should please write to the clerk.

I suspend the meeting briefly to allow our witnesses to change over.

11:16 Meeting suspended.  



11:19 On resuming—  



The Convener

We continue our evidence taking on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I welcome our second panel: David Henderson-Howat is the chair of the central Scotland forestry forum; Claire Glaister is the chair of the Grampian regional forestry forum; Patrick Hunter Blair is the chair of the south Scotland forestry forum; and Richard Stirling-Aird is the chair of the Perth and Argyll forestry forum. We have received written evidence from the Highlands and Islands forestry forum, whose representative—sadly—was unable to attend.

I remind panel members that there is no need to push the microphone button to speak—the microphones will be activated for you. Please look at me if you want to give an answer and I will try to bring you in. Please also keep an eye on me once you start giving an answer, just in case you go off at a tangent and I need to bring you back. That saves me having to cut off your microphone, which would be incredibly rude. I have not had to do that yet.

John Finnie is going to ask about our first theme.

John Finnie

Good morning, panel. Thank you for your submissions. I suspect that some if not all of you were present when I kicked off the questioning of the first panel.

My question is about the role the consultation played in the development of the bill and what was, and what was not, consulted on. Are you content with how thorough the consultation was, specifically on the management of land by the Scottish ministers and felling?

David Henderson-Howat (Central Scotland Forestry Forum)

The word on the street is that the Government did a consultation exercise but did not really listen to the responses. The policy memorandum focuses on the responses from organisations rather that the responses from individuals. We are told that more than half the organisations responded “Yes” to question 1 in the consultation, but if you look at the detail, you will see that even that is not quite true. Forty-nine out of 107 said “Yes” and quite a number said “Don’t know”.

Question 1 was a double question. It asked:

“Do you agree with the proposed approach for a dedicated Forestry Division in the Scottish Government (SG) and an Executive Agency to manage the NFE?”

It seems that what is in the bill reflects what was proposed in the consultation document and that not much attention was paid to the responses of consultees.

Claire Glaister (Grampian Regional Forestry Forum)

I reiterate what David Henderson-Howat said about question 1. We in the Grampian regional forestry forum felt unable to answer “Yes” or “No” to that question, because we felt that we needed to comment on each aspect individually. Both had pros and cons, which we were not able to comment on, because of the way in which the question was formed.

Patrick Hunter Blair (South Scotland Forestry Forum)

We were in exactly the same position. The south Scotland forestry forum was unhappy with the idea of the formation of a forestry division within the Government, and I responded to the consultation accordingly. When I looked at the analysis of the responses to the consultation, I saw that what the Government said did not tie in with the fact that the majority of people and organisations were not in favour of the setting up of a forestry division within the Government.

The Convener

Do you want to develop that line of questioning, John?

John Finnie

Yes. My question was more about what was consulted on rather than the analysis of responses, which are often open to interpretation. A different relative value might be attached to a response from a representative body compared with a response from an individual, depending on the extent of their knowledge.

The management of land is an issue that the previous panel touched on. Was there a need to consider that issue as part of the bill?

Patrick Hunter Blair

This is where my lack of experience in dealing with such matters will show. I struggle to see what is appropriate to be contained in the bill, what might be in secondary legislation and what might be in the forestry strategy. I see the bill as enabling and empowering the Government, but I think that the detail should follow afterwards and should not necessarily be restricted by that.

Richard Stirling-Aird (Perth and Argyll Forestry Forum)

I agree with that. In response to John Finnie’s first question, I note that the Perth and Argyll forestry forum consists of 12 members who are drawn from public and private sector organisations in farming and forestry and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and they are all of a mind that it is a bad idea to subsume the Forestry Commission Scotland into the Scottish Government. To keep it as an executive agency with its own brand—it is a very valuable brand—was the whole forum’s choice. Like the previous speakers, we were not very happy with the analysis when it came through, and it is clear that a majority—the great majority—of respondents were of the same view as us.

I agree with Patrick Hunter Blair that the bill is fairly bland and does not go into detail on management. We believe that the forestry strategy should go down to a much more local level.

The Convener

Okay. We are going to ask about the strategy in a moment. John, do you want to develop your question or should I bring in Stewart Stevenson on what should be in the bill but is not?

John Finnie

I have another small question, if that is okay, convener.

The Convener

Yes.

John Finnie

The wider programme for the devolution of forestry includes two things that are not in the bill—the cross-border arrangements and the new organisational arrangements. Are you happy with the direction that those parts of the programme are moving in?

The Convener

David, would you like to start? I will then bring in anyone who has an opposing view.

David Henderson-Howat

We are happy with the direction. We just have serious worries about what is actually going to come out. There are still an awful lot of unknowns with regard to the outcome of the discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government and whether the money for research, for example, will be forthcoming.

The Convener

Does anyone have a contrary view or further concerns?

Claire Glaister

I do not have a contrary view, but I will make a point that follows on from what Stuart Goodall said earlier. As well as the three main priorities in the bill for cross-border co-operation, the forecasting inventory should be considered. That is the basis of investment decisions, as Stuart said, and if the methodologies and timing are slightly different in Scotland compared with other countries, that could be an issue.

I know that skills and education are devolved, but the skills required to operate a harvesting machine in Scotland are the same as those required in England. I would like reassurance that those links will be maintained.

John Finnie

Okay. Many thanks.

Stewart Stevenson

Confor states in its written submission for today’s meeting:

“To ensure retention of professional staff in the long term, the bill should create a post of Chief Forester for Scotland.”

The Highlands and Islands forestry forum said in its response to the consultation:

“Governance and accountability are critical. How appointments will be made is key to the whole thing.”

I want to explore your views on Confor’s specific proposal. I am interested to know whether you think that the proposed chief forester should be a champion who is external to the management of the activity or whether you believe it is important that the chief forester, or whatever the person is called, is the person who manages it. The model that I put to the previous panel was that of the chief scientist, who does not manage anything in Government but is simply the independent conscience of science that prods Government and champions science in the whole of Government.

The two alternatives that I have described are not necessarily the only alternatives, of course. What do you think about the chief forester idea that Confor has put forward?

Patrick Hunter Blair

The south Scotland forestry forum has not considered the concept. Having sat through the evidence from the first panel, I am not sure that I am any clearer in my mind—or, therefore, whether the forum is any clearer—about whether, if there is to be a chief forestry officer, they should have an executive role or be a non-executive. However, if the post is created, it will be important that the person have a professional forestry background, or an academic forestry background.

Stewart Stevenson

If you accept that there is a distinction between those two backgrounds, which would you give higher priority to?

11:30  



Patrick Hunter Blair

I would like the person to have a professional background. If the committee has time to look at the experience in other countries—particularly in Ireland, north and south, and in Wales—you will see that chief forest officers in those places have various roles. Some have come from an administrative civil service background, some are professional foresters and some are academics. There are lessons to be learned from other countries.

The Convener

We will leave that theme there. Peter Chapman will introduce the second theme.

Peter Chapman

My questions concern part 2 of the bill, which concerns modernisation of forestry functions and bringing the provisions of the Forestry Act 1967 up to date. Do you believe that part 2 goes far enough in that regard? The bill also talks about sustainable forest management. We think that that approach is well understood and well used in the industry. Do you think that the bill will change how the industry will work in respect of sustainable forest management?

The Convener

Who would like to start? You are all being very polite.

David Henderson-Howat

Sustainable forest management is a well-understood term that has developed over the past 15 or 20 years. It is part and parcel of what Scottish forestry is all about, and it is right that it should be part of the bill.

Patrick Hunter Blair

Absolutely. One of the reasons why it is important is that it puts Scottish forestry in the context of international forestry. A lot of the timber that is used in this country is imported and, if we require certain standards of forest management in other countries, we should have our own house in order, which entails sustainable forest management.

Richard Stirling-Aird

I support that view. Our forum thinks that sustainable forest management should be linked to the United Kingdom forest standards, a point that has been discussed before. We also think that the bill should place greater emphasis on biodiversity.

Peter Chapman

The bill requires ministers to prepare and publish a forestry strategy. Would you like the bill to state that particular issues must be included in that strategy? How should the strategy look? What should it include and what does it need to do?

Patrick Hunter Blair

I do not think that that is a matter for the bill; it is a matter for the development of the forestry strategy. The bill should empower the Government to produce a forestry strategy, but the scope of that strategy has to be fairly wide. In some areas it could be strategic and in others there could be a bit more detail. However, that is a matter for the development of the strategy.

Claire Glaister

I am glad that there will be reference to a forestry strategy in the act. It would be nice to see the provision go further and say that ministers have a duty to enable the delivery of the strategy rather than just to prepare and publish it. That would give it some sort of direction.

Following on from the discussions this morning, I wonder whether a link should be made somewhere—perhaps not in the bill—to local authority forest and woodland strategies that pick up local distinctiveness and flavour.

David Henderson-Howat

All that I would add is that it would makes sense for the act to say that the strategy needs to be revised once every 10 years or so.

The Convener

You would like a review clause to be included.

Peter Chapman

Do you think that, as Stuart Goodall suggested, the strategy should suggest a bit of ambition, with targets to be met and so on? We know that we are trying to achieve 10,000 hectares of new woodland a year, and maybe even 15,000. Should that be included as a target in the strategy?

The Convener

Everyone but Richard Stirling-Aird nodded. I do not know whether that was a careful ploy, but I will ask him to answer the question.

Richard Stirling-Aird

There should be a time limit on the production of a national strategy—two years, say. Further, as I said before, it is all very well having an overarching national strategy, but Scotland is diverse, and the strategy needs to be devolved down to a regional level.

The Convener

Claire, do you want to come back in on that or are you happy?

Claire Glaister

I just want to reiterate that I agree that an ambition should be set in the strategy.

The Convener

We will move on to the next theme.

Stewart Stevenson

This one will probably be fairly brief. The responsibility for silviculture and tree health will come together. Basically, we are bringing together in one place the provisions of the Plant Health Act 1967 and the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964. Is that good news or bad news? You can just nod and say that it is good news if you wish.

David Henderson-Howat

It is good news. I would add only that it is one thing to have the powers on tree health, but scientific expertise is also needed to deal with that. To go back to the point about the cross-border function, it is important that we rebuild our expertise in tree health on a UK basis. We need the expertise as well as the powers.

The Convener

I see that no one has anything to add to that, so we will move on to the next theme.

Gail Ross

Good morning, panel. I will ask the question that I asked the first panel, which was about sustainable forest management. Section 9 states that the land must be managed

“in a way that promotes sustainable forest management”.

Will that make any difference on the ground? Would you like to see any changes?

I want to pick up on something that Claire Glaister said—it relates to a point that I wrote down when we heard from the previous panel. How will the bill integrate with the planning system and with local development plans and local woodland strategies?

I will add in the other question that I asked earlier. Are you clear about what is designated as “forestry land” and “other land”?

The Convener

I hope that the witnesses can remember those three questions.

Patrick Hunter Blair

I will answer them in the opposite order from the one that Gail Ross asked them in.

I am not clear about those designations. In my mind, I am clear about what sustainable forest management is, and I think I know what sustainable development is. The bill is a forestry and land management bill, not a forestry bill, so, right from the start, other land is involved. Under any definition of sustainable forest management, there is a requirement for open space in a forest. In other words, not all forest land carries trees. Stuart Goodall gave statistics on how much open space there is in the national forest estate. There is land that is managed in conjunction with forests, which is forest land, even though it does not carry trees. There is also farmland that the Forestry Commission manages in some form or another.

We can see that there is a huge continuum of different types of land. One of my concerns, which was voiced by the earlier panel, is that, if the powers come through for the new agency, forest and land Scotland, to manage other land on behalf of Government ministers, sustainable development may well trump sustainable forest management. If ministers see a potential for another land use that is preferential to forestry, sustainable development will kick in and sustainable forest management will be left behind.

Richard Stirling-Aird

Gail Ross mentioned integration with local plans. I suggest that that will come through in regional forestry strategies; it is not something for the bill.

The Convener

Does Claire Glaister or David Henderson-Howat have a view on the terms “other land” and “forestry land” and the definition of sustainability?

Claire Glaister

I am very confused by the issue, too, and that is after several readings of sections 9 and 13. I am concerned that, as Patrick Hunter Blair intimated, sustainable development could trump sustainable forest management.

When I first read the bill, I thought that an answer to that problem would be to have in section 13 a phrase similar to that in section 9(3), which says that

“the Scottish Ministers may manage forestry land ... having regard to the forestry strategy”.

However, following the earlier discussion, I am not sure whether section 13 refers to other land or to forestry land plus other land. I am confused by the definitions in those sections.

Gail Ross

Is it too ambiguous?

Claire Glaister

Yes.

Jamie Greene

I believe that some of you heard our earlier discussion when we went into minute detail on section 13.

I would like to take a step back and get a broader view from you. Someone said that it is not just a forestry bill, but a forestry and land management bill. Given the complexities and ambiguities in some sections about what constitutes forestry and non-forestry land and whether land should be used for forestry or sustainable development, is the bill the right place to tackle general issues about land management? Do you have views about whether those issues should be tackled separately from a forestry bill? Some of the evidence that we have received leads me to think that the bill is trying to do too much.

David Henderson-Howat

The policy intention is unclear. Is it simply to allow the Forestry Commission to run starter farms on the national forest estate, which would be great, or is it to allow the new body to take on the management of national nature reserves from Scottish Natural Heritage? We just do not know.

Claire Glaister

I sympathise with the question about the bill trying to do too much. If we look back at the 1967 act, the bill certainly expands and extends from that.

Forestry Commission staff manage non-forestry land, but we define that. I would not want the bill to restrict them from doing in the future the very good job that they do just now.

Patrick Hunter Blair

Integrated land use is one of the things that is starting to look like a success in forestry and land management in Scotland, and, as well as sustainable forest management and sustainable development, it deserves a definition of its own. When I was at university in the 1970s, integrated land use was a golden goal in Scotland, and we are now starting to talk about it positively and to achieve it in some ways.

I would speak against the idea that the bill is too far reaching. If it were restricted purely to forestry, we would be shutting forestry back into a silo that it does not deserve to be in. Trying to keep it open and, at the same time, trying to keep things clear will be a nice balancing act.

Richard Stirling-Aird

I certainly support that. I have spent half a century trying to integrate land management, forestry, farming, development and so on, and it would be wrong to limit the bill to forestry. The whole point is to try to bring in integrated land management, as others have said. Our forum has not specifically discussed that, but I feel sure that forum members would agree with me that that would be the correct approach.

Jamie Greene

I have a quick follow-up question. We had quite a substantial written response from the Highlands and Islands forestry forum, whose ideas were very clear.

The first question that we posed was a simple yes or no question. It asked:

“Do you agree with the proposed approach for a dedicated Forestry Division in the Scottish Government and an Executive Agency to manage the NFE?”

The forum’s answer was:

“No—we recommend these should be managed by an arm’s length nongovernmental public body (NGPB).”

What are witnesses’ views on that?

Patrick Hunter Blair

I think that you have in front of you a copy of that forum’s response to the public consultation back in October or November last year. I simply worked on the presumption that the responses to that consultation from the other forestry forums have been made available to the committee.

Jamie Greene

I do not have them in front of me.

Patrick Hunter Blair

You may not have them in front of you, but you should have access to them. I speak for the south Scotland forestry forum, but I think that all the forums would probably say yes to the question whether they agree with the paper that you have in front of you.

11:45  



Jamie Greene

Just to clarify, do you agree with the Highland and Islands forestry forum’s response or with the proposed approach?

Patrick Hunter Blair

We agree with that forum’s response that a dedicated forestry division in the Government is not the right way forward.

David Henderson-Howat

All the regional forums had their own discussions in different parts of Scotland last autumn. It was only when we came together a few weeks ago that we realised that we all had one voice in opposing the proposal.

The Convener

I guess that that is almost helpful if you are all together on that.

Mike Rumbles

I preface my question by saying that the bill will give ministers tremendous and increased compulsory purchase powers. We must put questions in that context, and I am glad that the panel members are listening to this. As MSPs, we can lodge amendments, which the Parliament will vote on, only to the bill; we cannot amend regulations that come forward—whatever the minister decides, that is it: we can either reject that or approve it. It is therefore really important to find out what you think should be in the bill.

I am focusing on compulsory purchase, and I am particularly concerned about section 16, which will change ministers’ power to compulsorily purchase land. The 1947 act says that ministers can compulsorily purchase land for sustainable forest management, but the bill will give ministers enormous power basically to compulsorily purchase land for sustainable development without specifically defining what sustainable development is. Do you have concerns about that?

David Henderson-Howat

I do not understand why the compulsory purchase provision is in the bill. To my knowledge, the last time that the Forestry Commission tried to compulsorily purchase land was in Norfolk in the 1950s. A parliamentary inquiry told it that it should not do that, and it has never tried to use the power since then, as far as I know.

Claire Glaister

My concerns are similar to those that David Henderson-Howat has expressed. If the power is not being used now, I do not see why it should be included in the bill, especially with a broader reach. That is a great concern.

Richard Stirling-Aird

Our forum discussed that. It was very concerned and felt that the Scottish Government needed to clarify exactly what the provision means and what the objective is in section 16. As we all know, compulsory purchase is a minefield; if it is not carefully focused, it will get mired down in the courts. We are not at all happy with section 16. It could encompass a whole raft of unintended consequences, so the provision should be much more focused—if it should be in the bill at all. As David Henderson-Howat said, in purely forestry terms, the power has hardly been used, but we are, of course, dealing with things other than just forestry, and how the provision is framed could lead on to all sorts of things.

The Convener

Does Mike Rumbles want to follow that up?

Mike Rumbles

No. Those responses are very helpful. To summarise, there is not a great deal of happiness about expanding the power in the 1947 act. That is what I have taken from those comments.

The Convener

The previous panel was not asked about the disposal of forest estate land. In the past, the Parliament agreed that there could be a certain amount of rationalisation, but that the money from the sale of forestry assets would be put back into forestry assets. Is that how things should proceed, or are you happy for the forest estate to be sold off and for the money from that not to go back into the assets but to go into the running of the forest estate, for example? I want to push you on that, but your answers should be quick.

David Henderson-Howat

The central Scotland forestry forum understands the rationale for the current relatively low level of disposals. We look at those disposals pretty carefully and would be extremely concerned about disposals at the level that the Scottish Government proposed seven or eight years ago, when it thought about getting rid of 25 per cent of the forest estate.

The Convener

Does Claire Glaister have an opinion on that?

Claire Glaister

This perhaps does not directly answer your question, but we would be worried about the purpose for which that land would be disposed of and what controls would be in place to ensure that there was no net loss of woodland cover.

Patrick Hunter Blair

I have nothing different to add to that.

Richard Stirling-Aird

It is not so important who owns the forest; what is important is how it is managed, and whether it is extended.

The Convener

We move on to the next theme.

John Mason

Sections 18 to 20 would delegate functions to community bodies. Do the witnesses have any thoughts about that? Are you comfortable with the definition of a community body? Should the definition be in the bill or should it be elsewhere? Ministers have some powers to vary those functions. One of the requirements is that a community body should have 20 members. Does that need to be in the bill or should we give the ministers the power to vary that? If there is a compulsory purchase, as we have just discussed, is it appropriate that the function of managing that be delegated to a community body?

David Henderson-Howat

I understand that the reason for having those provisions in the bill is because it is already possible for communities to buy land from the Forestry Commission, although it is not always possible for communities to afford to do so. The provisions allow arrangements for communities take on long-term leases of Forestry Commission land, which is great. I think that the aim of section 19 is simply to find language to ensure that an activity is a bona fide community activity rather than something that is masquerading as a community activity. In that sense, I am comfortable with it.

The Convener

I think that one of John Mason’s questions was whether land would be bought and then handed on to a community.

John Mason

That was a fairly clear answer—I am happy with that. Do any of the other witnesses want to comment?

Patrick Hunter Blair

It is just a point of detail. There are definitions that I am not familiar with, but as we have been talking a lot about definitions this morning, it would seem that there should be the same definition of community in the bill, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.

John Mason

Are you aware of any reasons why that is not the case?

Patrick Hunter Blair

No.

Claudia Beamish

It is still morning, so good morning.

Have your forums had interest from community groups in the management and purchase of forest land, and indeed beyond that, given the integrated land use strategy, which I think Patrick Hunter Blair and Richard Stirling Aird highlighted that they are keen on?

The Convener

Patrick Hunter Blair was named, so he will have to say something.

Patrick Hunter Blair

I will go first. I suppose that I ought to declare an interest, because I sit on the community asset transfer evaluation panel. However, I will set that aside and talk about the issue from a forestry forum perspective. There has been very little interest from community groups.

David Henderson-Howat

In central Scotland, it tends to be much more about community engagement in woods in and around towns. It is a different story from community leasing or community ownership—it is about engagement. What I would also say is that—

Claudia Beamish

Can I stop you there? Do you see that as in any way being part of the bill?

David Henderson-Howat

No. It just relates to the way in which the Forestry Commission Scotland has engaged with communities. If our colleague from the Highlands and Islands were here, he would be the one answering this question, because such activity tends to happen much more—although not exclusively—in the Highlands and Islands.

Claire Glaister

I certainly echo what Patrick Hunter Blair finds in the south of Scotland. We do not have much interest from communities in the Grampian forestry forum area. There are community woodlands that are managed by communities, but there is very little interest on the forum itself.

Claudia Beamish

Is that because of the make-up of the forum?

Claire Glaister

Possibly, yes.

Richard Stirling-Aird

The Perth and Argyll forestry forum has visited community groups, particularly on Mull. There is real interest, which perhaps mirrors the Highlands and Islands point. Clearly, in those parts of the country there is a real interest in communities acquiring Forestry Commission land in certain circumstances and running it themselves.

The Convener

Let us move on to Fulton MacGregor’s theme of questioning.

Fulton MacGregor

I thank the panellists for their attendance.

Do you agree with the Scottish Government that a broader view of felling is needed? Are you content that what is proposed is consistent with sustainable forest management?

David Henderson-Howat

I heard the discussion with your previous panel and I broadly agree with what was said. There need to be felling regulations. There is a bit of surprise as to how much detail comes into the primary legislation as opposed to it going into secondary legislation. The definition of felling seems slightly bizarre, to say the least. It needs looking at, but there needs to be some sort of control over felling.

Patrick Hunter Blair

I concur with what David said.

The Convener

So there is too much information in the bill and the definition is not good enough. Is that the panel’s general feeling?

Patrick Hunter Blair

On the amount of detail on felling, it seems that more emphasis is given to it than is perhaps necessary when you compare it with other matters in the bill.

Claire Glaister

I will pick up on a different area, which I think was discussed earlier. We are quite pleased to see the dislinking—that is not a verb, but you know what I mean—of illegal felling and the need to have a conviction before you can put on the power to restock. It is useful that they have been separated.

The Convener

Jamie, do you want to develop that?

Jamie Greene

I am a bit confused by some of the views on this. Some of the notes that we had on the felling sections of the bill said that it was lacking in detail, in that the bill would not deal with the specifics of felling regulations, licences and exemptions, and that they would be dealt with in secondary legislation. However, a few times this morning I have heard people say that there is a bit too much detail on felling. Which is it?

David Henderson-Howat

We need a lot of detail. We need to exempt, for example, gardens and churchyards. The question is whether we need all that detail in the primary legislation or whether it can be dealt with by regulation.

The Convener

Does anyone want to add anything to that? Jamie, are you happy with that?

Jamie Greene

I have no further questions.

The Convener

I think that Fulton has another question on felling.

Fulton MacGregor

I do not know whether all of you were here earlier, but the previous panel seemed to unanimously agree that the provisions on felling would not make much difference or make many changes on the ground. What is your view on that?

Claire Glaister

I agree with the previous panel. I do not see that there is any reason for there to be much or any significant change.

The Convener

David, do you have concerns or are you happy?

David Henderson-Howat

I am happy.

Mike Rumbles

Jamie Greene made the point that people have said that there is either too much or not enough detail on felling in the bill. Section 24 says:

“Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, provide that section 23 does not apply to—

(a) particular categories of person,

(b) particular places or activities,

(c) particular circumstances,

(d) trees of particular descriptions”.

It does not go into any of the detail. Appeals against decisions by Scottish ministers, applications for felling permission, decisions on applications to fell a tree, compensation and felling directions will all be in regulations.

I return to a point that I made earlier. The point of putting a bill through Parliament is that it gets proper scrutiny and that MSPs are able to amend what the Government is bringing forward in the bill. If all those things are delegated to regulations, we have no chance to get them right and make amendments to them. This is an opportunity to say that those things should be in the bill, or to say that we are content that they are not. Are you content that the regulations are left to Scottish ministers to decide, rather than Parliament?

David Henderson-Howat

We get into very technical issues, such as the de minimis exemption of 5m3 per calendar quarter. There is a lot of detail in the Forestry Act 1967 that, arguably, could go into secondary legislation so that it can be updated in a relatively streamlined way.

The Convener

I think that Mike Rumbles’s concern is that, if something is in regulations, it can be arbitrarily changed and Parliament cannot look at it. Is that the point that you are making, Mr Rumbles?

Mike Rumbles

My point is that Parliament cannot amend regulations. In practice, the Government tends to bring forward regulations and, because there are a lot of good things in them, even if there are other issues, they tend to proceed without being thrown out, which members are reluctant to do. However, we can amend the bill without the loss of the bill, if you see what I mean. Are the witnesses content that a lot of the detail will be given to ministers to introduce in a way that we cannot amend?

The Convener

Sorry. I should have made my point clear. It was that regulations have to come to Parliament for scrutiny, too. They will go through the procedures.

Mike Rumbles

Absolutely, but we cannot amend them. That is my point.

The Convener

Does anyone want to add anything in light of what Mike Rumbles has just said?

Richard Stirling-Aird

One point that has come to our forum, which Claire Glaister has mentioned, is that the Forestry Commission seems unable to serve a restocking notice—restocking is very important—without getting a court order. That perhaps should go in the primary legislation, although I do not know. That is the single most important issue that has come to our notice.

The Convener

We will move on to the next question.

Fulton MacGregor

Mike Rumbles has probably covered the issue, but my question is whether the panel is aware of any circumstances in which the Scottish ministers might refuse an application for felling.

David Henderson-Howat

To clarify, normally, the powers are in the background and there is negotiation about felling. In large forests, a forest design plan will be agreed between Forestry Commission staff and the owner. It is rare for there to be questions of denying felling permission. For example, a few years ago, the owner of an oak wood in East Lothian wanted to clear-fell the oaks, and there was a huge row about that. Potentially, permission for felling those oaks could have been denied but, in fact, there was a long process of negotiation and a satisfactory solution was found. It is good to have those powers in the background, however.

The Convener

Unless anyone has anything to add, we will move on to the next theme.

Peter Chapman

My question follows on from what we have been discussing. It is about the compliance and notice-to-comply provisions in the bill, which we have been speaking about. Are those provisions an improvement on what we have now? Could they be improved further?

Claire Glaister

I must admit to being somewhat confused and uncertain about the need to register felling approvals. I am not certain whether all felling approvals, whether they are felling licences or long-term forest plans, will have to be registered with the land register and then deregistered. I am interested to hear what the interpretation is.

The Convener

Patrick, do you want to add anything?

Patrick Hunter Blair

No, thanks.

The Convener

Peter, do you want to develop that point?

Peter Chapman

It is about notices to comply with continuing conditions, felling directions and restocking directions. There are powers to ensure that directions related to felling are complied with. If something is not being complied with, the bill gives powers to ensure that the action is taken. The compliance stuff comes through in various sections. Are you content with it? Are there other things that should be in the bill or could improvements be made to what the bill states on compliance?

David Henderson-Howat

With respect, the danger of looking at the fine detail is losing the big picture. The big picture is that, through the bill, we will lose the Forestry Commission, which has had about 100 years of history. It has done the job, meaning that, by and large, the notices of compliance and so on have not been needed, because there has been a long process of negotiation and working with forest owners and managers on the ground to get things done. Therefore, notices of compliance sit in the background in the legislation and are not called forward, because of how forestry arrangements have been made. The big potential change in the bill would be to throw out that structure.

Richard Stirling-Aird

I suppose that we are used to seeing such regulations in the background. They seem to work in the system that David Henderson-Howat has just mentioned. I do not have any comments on them; I do not see them as being particularly threatening.

The Convener

We will move on to the next theme.

Rhoda Grant

Are there any provisions in the Forestry Act 1967 that should be included in the bill but are missing from it? Obviously, I do not want to hear about anything that has been discussed by the committee; I only want to hear about different matters. Will there be any unintended consequences from what is in the bill?

David Henderson-Howat

The big thing that is missing is the existence of the Forestry Commission or Forestry Commission Scotland.

The Convener

Does anyone want to add to that? That is the biggest miss. Rhoda, do you want to push the issue at all?

Rhoda Grant

We are aware of concerns about the Forestry Commission. That issue has been covered; people have expressed concerns about it. I was thinking more about the detail of the bill. Are there other things that might have unintended consequences? Are things missing from the bill?

Claire Glaister

Earlier this week, one of our members was not confused—that would be the wrong word—but curious about the powers of ministers to enable hare and rabbit control or to make it happen. She thought that that was an interesting deletion from this bill.

The Convener

We will move on to the final theme of questioning.

John Mason

The financial memorandum categorically states that there will be

“no financial implications for local authorities or other bodies, individuals or businesses as a ... result of the”

bill. Therefore, by implication, any financial impact will be borne by the Government. Do you have any comments on that? Are you all comfortable with that?

David Henderson-Howat

I was interested that the financial memorandum mentions one-off costs of between £6 million and £12 million, largely for information technology. At your last evidence session on the bill, you showed scepticism about the IT costs. I looked through the financial memorandum to try to see what savings the Government thought would come from the proposal to move Forestry Commission Scotland to a forestry division in the Government. There did not seem to be much in the way of proposed savings from the changes. I wondered why.

John Mason

Why did you think that there might be savings from the changes?

David Henderson-Howat

As I have said repeatedly during this session, the Scottish Government wants to make a fundamental change to how forestry is organised in Scotland, so I thought that it might have had justification on the grounds of savings, but—

John Mason

I thought that the Scottish Government was arguing that the changes would lead to a more democratic situation, rather than being about making it cheaper.

David Henderson-Howat

Interestingly, that moves on to the Government’s point about why it is making the proposals. At the moment, stakeholders have a much greater say through the non-executive directors who are appointed to become forestry commissioners—or whatever their replacements might be in the proposed agency—whereas under the proposed arrangements, it will be much more opaque in the sense that there will be a division in a directorate within the Scottish Government, which is hidden in the Scottish Government website, for example, as opposed to an organisation that people can know and approach.

John Mason

I am probably not going to go into that area at the moment. On finances, does no one else consider that—

The Convener

Richard Stirling-Aird has indicated that he wants to speak.

Richard Stirling-Aird

I may be going off at a completely different tack here, but if the bill is successful in gradually increasing the amount of forestry by 10,000 or 15,000 hectares a year, that will clearly have an impact on local authorities, infrastructure and roads and so on. That is an implication.

John Mason

Is that because of the bill or is it more because of the general aim to increase the amount of forestry?

Richard Stirling-Aird

That is one of the general aims of the bill, is it not? That is bound to have implications. An increase in the amount of forestry is nothing new as the process has been on-going for many years, but the amount of forestry will increase a bit.

The Convener

That brings us to the end of the evidence session. I thank David Henderson-Howat, Claire Glaister, Patrick Hunter Blair and Richard Stirling-Aird for coming to give evidence. It is always useful to hear the views of other people and doing so allows us to make an informed decision.

I will briefly suspend the meeting but ask committee members to remain seated so that we can move directly on, and ask the witnesses to leave as quickly possible.

12:10 Meeting suspended.  



12:11 On resuming—  



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Third meeting transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 23rd meeting in 2017 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I remind everyone to make sure that their mobile phones are on silent.

No apologies have been received. I welcome Claudia Beamish, who is acting as a rapporteur from the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

Agenda item 1 is our third evidence session on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. We will hear from two panels, and I welcome our first panel: Andrew Bauer, deputy director of policy at NFU Scotland; Peter Peacock, policy director at Community Land Scotland; Jon Hollingdale, chief executive of the Community Woodlands Association; and Anne Gray, senior policy officer in land use and environment at Scottish Land & Estates.

We have split our questions into themes and John Finnie will lead the questions on the first theme. If the witnesses want to speak, please catch my eye and I will bring you in. It might not be possible to bring in everyone on every theme, but I will do my best—it really depends on how long the answers are.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Will the witnesses comment on the bill’s structure and ease of comprehension? Could improvements be made? I am particularly interested in broadening the ownership of forests.

Jon Hollingdale (Community Woodlands Association)

In general terms, we are happy with the bill’s structure and comprehensibility. In sections 9 to 15, the language causes quite a lot of confusion—I believe that we will come on to those sections later, because I gather that they are a topic of debate.

For many respondents, the interesting thing is perhaps what the bill does not say, in that it does not have any detail on the future arrangements for the management of forestry in Scotland—all that is away in the policy memorandum. That was a particular focus of a lot of responses to the original consultation. We understand the technical reasons for not including such detail in the bill. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of concern about the extent to which the future structure is set.

We and Community Land Scotland have suggested that the bill should require ministers to make a statement about future management arrangements, to ensure that they are clear, and that any change to those arrangements ought to be a matter for parliamentary scrutiny rather than something that can be done internally without reference to external stakeholders or the Parliament.

Anne Gray (Scottish Land & Estates)

We have a number of concerns about the lack of definitions in the bill. It seems to be fairly loosely drafted and it needs to be tied down a lot more in some areas.

We have a longstanding issue with the trend towards enabling or framework legislation that leaves an awful lot to secondary legislation and regulation. We might pick up on some concerns about that during the evidence session.

I echo Jon Hollingdale’s point: a lot of our members are concerned about the forestry authority moving to become a division of the Scottish Government and the executive agency also being directly controlled by Scottish ministers—

The Convener

We will definitely come on to that issue later.

Anne Gray

Okay.

Peter Peacock (Community Land Scotland)

One can look at this bill as a technical bill that transfers past arrangements to the new devolved arrangements. At that level, I do not think that it is overly complicated or difficult to follow, apart from in the sections that Jon Hollingdale referred to in respect of the difference between forest land and other land—“non-forest land”, as the Community Woodlands Association have called it.

I found it quite confusing to work out that the bill still calls land that is potentially not forest land “forest land”, and over time it will be difficult for the lay person to reconcile what is forest land and what is not. That could be tidied up, but it is more a drafting matter than something fundamental to the structure of the bill.

The Convener

I do not want to stop everyone every time, but a lot of these factors will come up later. That one definitely will, and I know that the deputy convener will get the chance to quiz the panel on it.

Peter Peacock

That is fine. In that case, I will shut up at this point.

John Finnie

Another concern that has been expressed to us is about the potential loss of expertise. Would the panel like to comment on that?

Anne Gray

That is certainly one of our concerns about the change in how forestry will be managed. Our members are concerned that if the authority, in particular, becomes a division of Government, there will be not only ministerial churn, which is completely acceptable and understandable, but churn at the upper levels of the civil service. Forestry is a long-term industry—the crop cycle for commercial forestry is at least 35 to 40 years—and it benefits from long-term expertise, not only at the lower, more practical levels but also at the upper levels.

Jon Hollingdale

Forestry, like a lot of land-based industries, has a demographic problem—an ageing workforce, in which I probably ought to include myself—and a problem with recruitment. It is difficult to get people to come into land-based industries—it is the same in agriculture, I am sure—and the impending exit from the European Union will not help.

One bright area is that forestry has been quite successful at recruiting mid-career changers—people with a great many often very useful skills who come in from previous careers to the Forestry Commission and then move on to Forest Enterprise or the private sector. Potentially, that successful career development path will be lost, because people will not come into the division in the same way, unless the forestry division’s identity is very clear. One suggestion is that the division should have a chief forestry officer and a clear forest identity to make sure that it is seen as being fixed to the industry and not just the part of the Scottish Government that administers forestry grants.

The Convener

Jamie Greene wants to develop that theme, and John Finnie will push it a bit more.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I want to pick up on some of the points that have been made about expertise and staff churn. The civil service works in a different way from how the Forestry Commission works currently, in that people move around the business internally. What evidence is there to suggest that expertise might be lost if the functions are brought into the Scottish Government? Do you suspect changes to recruitment processes or because people will move around departments from one part of Government to another? I hear the concerns but I do not hear any evidence to suggest that there are reasons for them.

Anne Gray

In the civil service, the culture is that people at the upper levels are generalists. They can move from justice to housing to forestry to agriculture and so on as long as they have core skills in running departments, policy analysis and strategy.

I do not want to say that that is not valuable—it is—but there is a particular concern in relation to forestry because it is such a long-term industry, and so it benefits from those who have very long-term memories of it or who have been in it for a particular length of time. I cannot offer you much more than that, but I think that that is a fairly solid reason to think carefully about how things will be.

The Convener

I am going to let Peter Peacock come in now. I will then come back to John Finnie, after which Gail Ross will ask a question.

Peter Peacock

I do not think that I have any evidence to offer Mr Greene in response to his question, but I have evidence of the fear of what could happen and that people are anxious, as Jon Hollingdale has said, about the proposal to put the Forestry Commission into the mainstream civil service. After all, the Forestry Commission is a very distinct organisation that has a very good reputation and is highly regarded for its expertise and its success in addressing policy, advising ministers and so on over a long time. The worry is that in coming into the mainstream civil service, that will be diluted. Moreover, as Anne Gray has suggested, opportunities for transfers within the civil service might become easier, which might lead to expertise being lost or to people being brought in who would have to learn the job in not quite the same way as they would otherwise, because the Forestry Commission tends to be more self-contained. That is where the worries come from.

Keeping the Forestry Commission would provide reassurance. However, in putting our evidence together, we took the position that people had already made representations on that issue during the consultation phase of the bill and, despite all that, the Government was still proposing what it has proposed. Of course, that is subject to Parliament’s approval, but I take it as meaning that, from the Government’s point of view, there is a bit of a done deal. Therefore, in our evidence we ask: if that is the case, what can we do about it?

As a result, we have made two suggestions. First, ministers should have a duty to ensure that they have the expertise to carry out the bill’s functions. That might mean nothing at one level but, at another, it sends a pretty clear signal that Parliament and others are concerned about the issue and, over time, it will allow Parliament to scrutinise whether ministers are fulfilling their duty to ensure that that expertise is in place.

The second device that we have suggested comes back to what Jon Hollingdale mentioned earlier. We suggest that ministers should be required to set out a statement either in the forestry strategy or elsewhere on how they intend to administer the arrangements for a division in the department that the Government has proposed. Moreover, if they propose any significant change thereafter—which might well raise further concerns about expertise—they should be required to report that to Parliament and consult on any such change before they make it.

We are not seeking to stop the proposal; we are simply trying to ensure that some discipline is in place with regard to its operation to guard against the concerns that people have expressed. That is where we are coming from on this.

The Convener

Before I come to Andrew Bauer, I want to bring in a few committee members. I would particularly like to come back to John Finnie, because I know that he has another question to ask on this issue. First of all, though, I will bring in Gail Ross and Claudia Beamish. The witnesses can consider their questions, after which I will come back to John Finnie.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Good morning. I thank Peter Peacock for his clarification. I am not saying that any of the worries and concerns about the loss of expertise are not valid, but I note the Government’s assurance that the process will not result in a loss of expertise. Moreover, what we are talking about is a dedicated forestry division; there has been no talk of moving to other departments.

When we visited Mull, Simon Hodge of Forest Enterprise Scotland told us that the people in that organisation already feel as if they are a Government department and that he did not see much changing. Do you have any comment on that?

The Convener

I will bring in Claudia Beamish, and then ask the panel to answer both members’ questions at the same time.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you, convener, and good morning, panel. I simply seek a quick response to a question from the perspective of my committee—the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee—which has oversight of the issue of biodiversity. Do you think that the forestry functions set out in the bill should refer to biodiversity? If so, what should such a function be?

The Convener

I am going to bring in Andrew Bauer to tackle Gail Ross’s question and then somebody else to tackle Claudia Beamish’s question.

Andrew Bauer (NFU Scotland)

Perhaps I can draw a comparison with a part of Government that we are more familiar with: the rural payments and inspections department—as it formerly was and is probably still known by most farmers—or directorate, as it is now, although I think that it has a more official name.

We see that department as having a distinct identity and skill set and a slightly different mentality from other parts of Government. There is no doubt that it has been brought closer into the main stream of Government and that the relationship with farmers has suffered because of that. I do not have any particular comments about forestry; it is possible to have the structure that has been proposed, but there are things that you need to guard against.

09:45  



The Convener

Does any panellist want to comment on Claudia Beamish’s question?

Peter Peacock

I will come back on the points made by both Claudia Beamish and Gail Ross.

I was going to pick up on Claudia Beamish’s point later when we come to questions about functions. We suggest that biodiversity is part of a function that should go in the bill. Shall I come back to that later, convener?

The Convener

Yes, please come back to that later.

Peter Peacock

I take the point that Gail Ross made. The matter is one of reassurance rather than the change per se. That is why we have suggested devices to provide some measure of reassurance that Parliament has a handle on the issue over time and that making changes will not simply be left to the administrative discretion of the particular minister or head of department at the time. We suggest some mechanism that will allow Parliament to scrutinise change, given people’s clear concerns. Those concerns might not be fulfilled and the provisions might not have to be used, but it would provide reassurance if they were there.

The Convener

I will bring John Finnie back in, because the final part of that answer was interesting.

John Finnie

I have another question about the organisational arrangements. At the moment, research is across Great Britain and should be international as well. Do you have any concerns about the research function under the new arrangements? If so, how could those be addressed?

Jon Hollingdale

Research is not really in the bill. I understand that discussions and negotiations are going on behind the scenes that I am not privy to, so I do not know the desired landing point. We would like to see forest research continue in as large a body as possible; a United Kingdom-wide remit is particularly important, given that plant health issues are dealt with that do not respect borders.

We do not have a fixed view on whether the best future version is a “Forest Research Ltd”, which might be a joint venture between the three Governments or departments, or having Scotland lead on certain sections and England, and potentially Wales, lead on others. What would not be sensible would be a complete divorce that ends up with a “Forest Research Scotland”, because there is not enough of a critical mass to sustain two or three forest research bodies.

The Convener

The panellists are all nodding in agreement, so I assume that those comments wrap that section up. I move on to the second theme, which Richard Lyle will lead on.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Good morning, panel. We have touched slightly on forestry functions. Section 2 states that

“The Scottish Ministers must promote sustainable forest management”

and the bill says that ministers

“must prepare a forestry strategy.”

Several of the panellists provided written evidence on that theme. Should the bill specify matters that the Scottish ministers should have regard to when preparing the forestry strategy, and if so, what would you propose to include? Should the bill require a draft forestry strategy to be scrutinised by Parliament before the final version is published?

The Convener

Those are two distinct and important questions.

Peter Peacock

The answer to the second question, which was about greater scrutiny, is yes—a draft should be consulted on. Our preference is that the statement should go to Parliament for approval, rather than just being tabled. That might be seen as overkill, particularly by the Government, but that is our view. It would provide an opportunity for scrutiny.

In developing the sustainable forest management strategy, ministers should be required to have regard to a range of things that are not currently specified. Our suggestions would align the bill more with existing statute that is to do with land, such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2016, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which contain issues of particular relevance. In carrying out their functions under the bill, ministers will be required to have regard to the land rights and responsibilities statement and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, but it would be helpful to include other things in the bill.

I will touch on a few things to give the committee a feel for what is included in other legislation. Other land legislation focuses on economic and social development and the role that land—whether that is forestry or other land—can play in that, as well as questions about human rights and the observance of human rights in relation to jobs, housing and so on. Other legislation refers to regeneration, social wellbeing, public health, inequalities and ownership diversity—John Finnie touched on that—as well as to ministers having regard to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and to internationally accepted principles and standards of land management and biodiversity, which brings me to Claudia Beamish’s point.

For Community Land Scotland, including in the bill a bit of discipline for ministers to have regard to such matters—I am not making a list, but I want to cover the kinds of things that could be strengthened in the bill—when considering the strategy would mean that the bill was not just technical. Rather than just transposing a piece of historical legislation to the modern-day context for the purposes of devolution, the bill could be something broader that addresses what we want forestry to be in the future and the function in society of part-forest land and other land that CLS engages with. We want the approach to be about more than just growing trees and instead to have a much broader range. That would be captured by creating a discipline on ministers to have regard to such things when drafting the strategy.

The Convener

That was a very full answer.

Anne Gray

I will give a briefer answer. Sustainable forest management is an entirely appropriate aim in relation to forestry land, but we would like the bill to include a definition of sustainable forest management. The definition in the policy memorandum seems entirely sensible and appropriate; it should be included in the bill rather than sitting behind it.

It is entirely appropriate that we have a strategy and I agree that it should be consulted on widely. We would also like there to be a fairly regular review, although possibly not more frequently than about once every 10 years. We should keep the strategy under review and we would like that to be included in the bill.

The Convener

I will press you on the review process. You have forest plans that are long term, and shorter reviews to take into account things that happen—they are perhaps at five-year intervals, with a major review at 10 years. Are you suggesting that the review should be just every 10 years or that there should be a lesser review every five years and a major review every 10 years?

Anne Gray

Given that we are talking about an overarching Government strategy, once in 10 years is probably frequent enough. Forest plans and regional approaches are slightly different territory.

Jon Hollingdale

I will start with the strategy. We strongly believe that there should be an open consultation—the bill is quite light on the details—and that the strategy should be subject to parliamentary approval, rather than simply laid before Parliament. If there is to be a consultation, a technical provision is probably needed to say that there is one year to make it happen after the bill is implemented, or else it will be a rush job to get it in on the day that the bill is passed. There should also be a fixed review period—we have gone for five years, but perhaps 10 years with a refresh at five years would be fine.

We note that 2019 will be the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919, which could be good timing. We could use the strategy to celebrate the past 100 years and set up Scottish forestry for the next 100 years. That is quite a long timescale, even for forestry. There is a good opportunity to have a big exercise in promoting sustainable forest management.

We think that SFM is the right kind of hook. We agree that we should adhere to the definition that is in the policy memorandum, but it would help if it was in the bill. The term “sustainable forest management” will not be relevant to any other bill that goes through Parliament. It is not like the term “sustainable development”, which is used widely; it is a technical term and it would be useful for the bill to set out what we understand it to mean today.

Sometimes, sustainable forest management is taken to be the same as simply complying with the UK forestry standard. Although we agree that that is the appropriate minimum standard for all forest management, we hope that the bill and the associated policy will make it clear that, in managing the national forest estate and in incentivising private landowners, the Scottish ministers are looking to go above and beyond the minimum UK forestry standard. FE already does that through the work on the national forest estate on recreation and biodiversity, and the Forestry Commission authority side does that by incentivising landowners through grants. We want that to carry on and we do not want to revert to the UK forestry standard as the basic standard everywhere.

The Convener

Richard Lyle wants to come back with another question.

Richard Lyle

Anne Gray and Jon Hollingdale have nearly answered my next question—that is good anticipation. However, I will put the question to the other panel members. Should sustainable forest management be defined in the bill or in an associated order? Should the bill mention afforestation and new planting?

Anne Gray

As I said, I would like the definition to be in the bill. However, I do not think that afforestation is for the bill; it is for the strategy. It is a current and laudable desire, but we want the bill, when it becomes an act, to stand the test of time and, in 20 or 30 years, we might be where we want to be in Scotland on afforestation, so it might not be appropriate to continue to want more and more planting. For the longevity of the act, it makes sense for that desire to sit in the strategy and policy rather than in legislation.

Peter Peacock

The bill should contain a requirement to have a definition, although I am not convinced that the definition needs to be in the bill, because I have no doubt that, over time, the definition will adapt and change. We should therefore leave scope for it to be amended more easily than can be done with something in the bill. A requirement on ministers to publish a statement about what their definition is would be sufficient to give reassurance. As Jon Hollingdale said, the term applies particularly to forestry; it does not have a broader purpose. It is therefore appropriate to put such a requirement on ministers.

I agree with Anne Gray that afforestation targets and new planting should be dealt with in the strategy and not in the bill.

The Convener

We will move on to the next theme, which will be led by the deputy convener, Gail Ross.

Gail Ross

Peter Peacock started to touch on the issue that I will raise, before we had to stop him—I am sorry about that. Are you clear about the difference between forestry land and other land and, if not, what can be done to make those definitions clearer?

The Convener

As Peter Peacock was cut off in mid-flow, I will let him start. I am sure that everyone else will want to come in, too.

Peter Peacock

I am clear about what I think the difference is, but I do not think that the bill is at all clear on that—I find it confusing. In principle, section 10 talks about forestry land as both forestry land and other land, but the term “forestry land” is used throughout the bill. That is confusing for people. If, as I hope, forestry and land Scotland is to have two distinct purposes—to do with forestry land and other land for sustainable development—it has to be defined in that way.

Jon Hollingdale’s written evidence talks about using the terms “forestry land” and “non-forestry land”, which might be sufficient. It is important to make a clear distinction in the terminology throughout the bill; otherwise, people will be pretty confused about the issue.

The Convener

I have read Jon Hollingdale’s submission. Would he like to clarify that?

10:00  



Jon Hollingdale

There is a sensible and laudable intention to recognise that the forestry and land Scotland agency will manage areas of forest and areas of non-forest land. What has caused the confusion is that the national forest estate already includes a range of types of land. Some areas are not covered in trees but are managed in conjunction with forest land—forestry bits, pieces of woodland or whatever you want to call them—and other bits are managed for wind farms, agriculture and so on.

The intention is sensible. The way to achieve it is probably to pull apart the holdings and to classify as forest land any that is managed for sustainable forest management, while areas in the forest estate that are used for agriculture, for instance, are classified as non-forest land. Any new land that the Scottish ministers acquired or transferred—I assume that it will be possible for them to transfer land from other Scottish Government bodies—would slot into one of those two classifications.

The Convener

Some forests are bought with open land above the tree line, which is integral to giving the forest the right environment for a mixture of species. So that I understand what you said, will you say whether you would classify such pieces of land separately or keep them the same? There has been an issue with the Forestry Commission planting some such areas of open land to make up shortfalls. Is there a danger there?

Jon Hollingdale

Planting in areas that should not be planted is a policy or technical issue. My feeling is that if open ground—whether it is above the tree line or whether it is unplantable bog in the middle of a forest or whatever—is managed coherently as a forest unit, it should be kept as a forest unit. It is the management practice that defines it. If areas are being planted that should not be planted, that is a slightly different issue. As the climate changes, natural regeneration may push the tree line higher; the boundaries of our forest are not absolutely fixed.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I have a short supplementary question. We have heard concerns that, because the bill covers both forestry land and other land, land that is currently in forestry may become other land. What measures in the bill will protect forestry land, especially if we are trying to increase the national forest?

The Convener

I ask Anne Gray to start with that question and then bring in other points.

Anne Gray

Rhoda Grant has reflected a concern of ours—that the bill is not clear about what takes precedence. Will forestry land always be managed under the sustainable forest management purpose and will other land always be managed under the sustainable development purpose? There is confusion about that in the bill that needs to be sorted out.

The Convener

Jon Hollingdale looks as though he wants to come back in.

Jon Hollingdale

We have to draw a distinction between a classification issue and a practical management issue. Some areas that are classified as forestry because they are on the national forest estate—things such as a starter farm or land that is being leased to a croft common grazings—might have nothing to do with forestry. They are currently forestry land, but that does not reflect what is happening and they might be reclassified as non-forestry.

The issue that Rhoda Grant is talking about—whether land gets managed differently—is a policy issue. The Scottish ministers have a presumption against the removal of trees without compensatory planting unless there are overriding environmental reasons for doing so. The committee will be aware that areas of forest are being cleared in Caithness and Sutherland to be restored for bog. That is a practical management issue that addresses another Scottish Government policy, but it is the classification issue that we are talking about.

The Convener

I will bring Peter Peacock back in, because he started the conversation by saying that he was confused. I hope that he is now completely clear on the definitions of the two kinds of land. Will he tell us about that?

Peter Peacock

I am becoming less and less clear as the conversation goes on.

On Rhoda Grant’s point, I have not thought about that particular angle, and I am not sure that the bill could safeguard against that happening. As Jon Hollingdale said, it is a question of how the managers and owners of that land—whether that is under the Forestry Commission or Forest Enterprise currently or under the new arrangements in the future—classify things. As an operating principle, once they have allocated land to the forestry category as opposed to the other land category, I cannot think why they would want to reallocate it to other land if doing that would diminish the amount of forest that there is. That would run completely contrary to all their targets.

There could be a requirement to report a change if land managers wanted to reclassify in that direction and if it threatened the forest targets in any way. A reporting requirement would bring that to light. However, I do not think that that is a matter for the bill.

The Convener

The issue would be whether to take land out of forestry to use it for a wind farm and so on. The question becomes complicated.

I am not sure that I am any clearer as a result of that conversation, so John Mason can move on to the next theme.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I will continue with definitions. Section 13 is headed “Management of land in order to further sustainable development”. Subsection (1) talks about

“furthering the achievement of sustainable development.”

This issue has already been mentioned; at least two witnesses’ submissions—including those by Mr Bauer and Ms Gray—bring it up specifically. Is the term “sustainable development” familiar and workable, or does it need some kind of definition?

Anne Gray

I will start. From the perspective of Scottish Land & Estates, it is reasonable to have a purpose for land that is not forestry land, if the new land agency is to manage other land—and it will. Sustainable development seems to be entirely appropriate as that purpose. However, it is a very broad concept and one that is very difficult to pin down to absolute definitions.

Our main concern with it is about its use in conjunction with compulsory purchase powers. The bill extends compulsory purchase powers to include sustainable development, but no criteria are given for how judgments around those purchases will be made.

The Convener

I do not want to cut you short, but compulsory purchase falls neatly into the next theme, so you will get a chance to expand on it. Could you leave that side of the issue and speak to the sustainable development question?

Anne Gray

Our thought is that it is incredibly difficult to define sustainable development, but it seems to be a reasonable purpose for which the Government would manage other land in its ownership.

John Mason

To turn it the other way around, if we leave aside compulsory purchase, are there any other reasons why we would want a definition of sustainable development?

Anne Gray

I think that it would be incredibly difficult to create a definition in law.

John Mason

You make that point in your submission, I think.

Andrew Bauer

NFU Scotland would echo those comments. The difficulty in defining sustainable development speaks to the malleability of the concept: it can be turned to all sorts of different purposes. We are concerned, for example, about it being used to buy lands for renewable energy developments and about seeing that becoming a continuing trend. We are concerned that it could be used to purchase farms—that, again, is a drift into the compulsory purchase area.

We suggest in our written submission the provision of examples to give the concept a bit more form without nailing it down to a particular definition. It needs work. We are not against the concept of sustainable development, but if there are no limits to it there is a risk that it could become contested and divisive in the longer term.

John Mason

You do not want the concept to be malleable, but perhaps it should be possible to change the definition over time. If, therefore, we were to provide a definition, should it be somewhere other than in the bill?

Andrew Bauer

I do not have a strong opinion on the mechanics of how that should be done. We understand that it is not possible to be absolutely precise about a concept such as sustainable development. Our suggestion is about giving it a bit more structure.

John Mason

Is the bill the right vehicle through which to introduce provisions on management of non-forest land for sustainable development, as section 13 does?

The Convener

I will bring in Peter Peacock on that question. He wanted to comment on the previous question; I am pretty sure that he will also have a view on that one.

Peter Peacock

I will respond to the previous question too, because it is important. Sustainable development is an important principle and concept. It is well established—it has been around for many years—and although there is a lot of debate about it, it has caused no practical problem that I can detect. It has added to thinking on a range of issues about the environment, climate and land management, and it has led to other action.

You will not be surprised to know, convener, that this is not the first committee of the Parliament to wrestle with the question. I am sure that Mr Stevenson, wearing previous hats, wrestled directly with it. I encountered it in my past life, as well. It has been the subject of a lot of debate in Parliament and at no time has Parliament ever sought to define sustainable development in a bill. There is good reason for that.

We also need to make it clear that the matter has been the subject of court challenge. The Scottish ministers were challenged on a definition of sustainable development in the case of Pairc Crofters v the Scottish Ministers, which took place a number of years ago. I will read to you what Lord Gill said when judging on it. He said:

“In my view, the expression sustainable development is in common parlance in matters relating to the use and development of land. It is an expression that would be readily understood by the legislators, the Ministers and the Land Court.”

I am prepared to accept Lord Gill’s judgment on the matter, I have to say.

On the second question, the bill is the right place for provisions about other land. Parliament has the opportunity to do so and, as I recall, the measure picks up a manifesto commitment from the Government—which was elected on that manifesto—to have a land agency. That, in turn, picked up arguments that were made in the passage of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and the creation of the Scottish Land Commission. There was an outstanding issue to be resolved about there being a place for the Government to have other land. Given the extensive expertise that the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise Scotland have in land management, albeit that it is in the forestry context, it seems to be appropriate to put the wider holding of land by Government for a range of sustainable development purposes with those bodies and to try to apply some of that expertise.

I do not think that we would have a stand-alone bill to deal with the matter. It is not uncommon for bills to pick up matters on the way, and the provision is a reasonable fit. I welcome the fact that non-forestry land is in the bill. There is an opportunity for the Government, Parliament or the people of Scotland over time to manage other land in appropriate ways in the public interest, and it is appropriate to have it in the bill.

Anne Gray

Scottish Land & Estates has some concern about the acquisition of other land. We recognise that the current national forest estate is broader than just forestry land and that that needs to be acknowledged. It is not that we are entirely against the land agency acquiring other land and managing it for sustainable development purposes; rather, we are concerned about how far that might extend. Is the agency likely to manage nature reserves and elements of the Crown estate? If so, is that the best way to do it? Is the structure right?

Our concern is that we could get to a situation in which the agency has multiple objectives: how could it sort out those multiple objectives? If a specialism sits within competing agencies—I should not use the word “competing”, perhaps it is better to call them alternative agencies—they can discuss how to find an appropriate balance between objectives, but if it all sits with one agency, one interest could override other interests, or the agency could get stuck and be unable to make a decision or move forward.

10:15  



John Mason

Is that something that we need to worry about now, or is that a bridge that we could cross when we came to it if that became a problem?

Anne Gray

The creation of the provision in the bill could allow that worrying expansion to happen, but I am not quite sure how the bill could appropriately restrict that expansion, so it may be something for us to note and to worry about when it happens.

The Convener

I will let John Mason have one more question to sum up this theme, but then we will have to move on to the next one, which is inextricably linked to it.

John Mason

I will be brief, and I hope that the answers will be brief too. Is it clear to you when sustainable forest management applies and when sustainable development applies?

The Convener

Could Jon Hollingdale answer that question?

Jon Hollingdale

I am not absolutely clear about that, but if you were to give me a list of things we could sort them accordingly The distinction between the two things and putting both in the bill reflects the reality of where Forest Enterprise and the Forestry Commission are now. Over the past 25 or 30 years, the range of activities that they carry out and the range of Government agendas that they seek to deliver have broadened out vastly, from a very timber-focused agenda to what we have now, with forest education and starter farms, all of which are delivering the Scottish Government agenda. Having sustainable forest management and sustainable development as two bases to work on allows for a much more sensible way forward than simply trying to fit everything under sustainable forest management and making that mean anything that we want it to mean. It is more sensible to have both. If you had a list of possible initiatives we could probably fit them all in to one or the other. There would not be a lot of difference between them.

Andrew Bauer

I will make one observation about the importance of remembering individual personal small-scale circumstances, compared with the national agenda and national objectives. In some parts of the country, I do not think that anyone would describe it as being sustainably done; forestry has developed in particular areas to deliver national objectives, and has expanded to the point at which it has compromised the critical mass of agricultural activity and systems in those areas. We are probably meeting our objectives in forestry in those areas and doing sustainable forest management, but has that been sustainable for the individuals who are involved in the agriculture industry in that area? We are not against the idea of sustainable development, but we should remember that it can operate at different scales, from an individual farm to a forest region or forest district, or nationally.

The Convener

I will leave that there. The next theme will be led by Mike Rumbles.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

We now turn to the sections on acquisition, compulsory purchase and disposal of land. Those are perhaps the most controversial parts of the bill; we see disagreement in the evidence that has been presented to us. As Peter Peacock may know from experience, I am always loth to give ministers powers that they neither need nor, as in this case, ever use. Transposition into the bill of compulsory purchase powers that have never been used and giving those powers to ministers is an interesting concept, so I would like to hear the panel’s views on giving ministers compulsory purchase powers.

The Convener

The witnesses have all expressed strong views on this in their written evidence. Let us start with Andrew Bauer.

Andrew Bauer

I accept that the power has not been used in comparable circumstances. We have seen examples from across the country of how the compulsory purchase system does not work for individuals—it is broken. A number of organisations that are far more expert in this area than NFU Scotland is have said that the system needs a major overhaul. Given that the system needs seriously to be looked at, it seems to be odd to extend its use in the bill in order to further sustainable development. Given that the power has never been needed, and the system is not working in other realms, that is an inappropriate route to go down, at this time.

The power would perhaps not be used regularly—in fact, it might never be used—but if it is in the bill it will always affect discussions. People are often told, “Here’s the offer. Take it. If you don’t, we’ll use our compulsory purchase powers, so we’ll get it anyway.” That is how discussions have gone in a number of cases in the past.

Given that we are growing our forestry asset without the power having been used, we are not quite sure why it is necessary to have it.

The Convener

Thank you. I will bring in Peter Peacock, then Stewart Stevenson, who has a follow-up question. I suspect that Peter Peacock has a different view to that of NFU Scotland.

Peter Peacock

I have a very different view. I am not only entirely relaxed about the power being in the bill, I would welcome its being there. In fact, it would be a huge omission if it was not in the bill. Controversy would arise from our not giving ministers that power, rather than from our giving them it.

The power has not been used in the past partly because of the sheer complexity that is involved in doing so, to which Andrew Bauer alluded. When I was a council leader, I tried many times to persuade lawyers that we could use our powers to help to resolve situations—for example, when ransom strips were being held, which caused communities and various economic developments in the territory real difficulty—but I was always told that it was impossible to do so. It was not the case that there was no need or desire to use the powers; it was just very difficult to do so.

In a compulsory purchase you take from somebody something that is currently theirs, over which they have property rights, so it is right and proper that there are hurdles to doing that. I tend to agree with Andrew Bauer that the current arrangements are not working, but if that is the case, they should be reviewed. Their not working is not a reason for not putting powers in the bill. Indeed, the powers would be reviewed in any subsequent review of compulsory purchase.

It would be very odd if ministers did not have the right or ability to carry out compulsory purchase when they thought it essential in particular circumstances. You cannot anticipate the circumstances of the future. It is absolutely right that the power is in the bill and that ministers have the opportunity to use it. They could not go around buying up land willy-nilly; there are umpteen hurdles to get over and they would have to demonstrate clearly that compulsory purchase was in the public interest before they could take action. A range of challenges to compulsory purchase could be made as the process was gone through. Ministers would have to prove that it was the only way that they could get the land and that the need could not be met in alternative ways. It is not straightforward for ministers to use the power; nonetheless, it is an important power for them to have.

Mike Rumbles

Even although—

The Convener

I am sorry. Hold on, Mike. I will bring in Stewart Stevenson, if I may. Each panel member will want to have their say on this emotive subject, but I am hamstrung by time, so please keep your answers short.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

My question, which is tiny, is for Andrew Bauer, who used the word “extend” to describe what is in the bill in relation to compulsory purchase. My understanding is that it is merely a restatement of the status quo ante. Will you justify your use of the word “extend, or reconsider it?

Andrew Bauer

Our understanding is that there are compulsory purchase powers already for forest management, but that for delivery of sustainable development they would be something new.

The Convener

Mike—do you want to come in?

Mike Rumbles

I want to follow that up. When do you think the compulsory purchase powers would be used appropriately? Nobody has been able to give us specific examples of when they would be used. The fact that they have never been used is another issue. Peter Peacock mentioned ransom strips. Are there situations where the powers could be used?

The Convener

Jon Hollingdale, do you want to try to answer that? If we have time, we may come back to ask Peter Peacock for a specific example of where those powers might be used.

Jon Hollingdale

Briefly, on compulsory purchase powers, I tend to agree with Peter Peacock but also with Andrew Bauer; the process needs review, but that is not a reason not to have the powers in the bill. A potential specific example that strikes me is when Forest Enterprise has a forest that is landlocked and inaccessible, where it cannot remove the timber and the owner of the surrounding land refuses to sell a section of land that would be sufficient to put in a road to extract the timber.

I do not know whether there are any live cases—I am aware that there have been such situations in the past and a solution has eventually been found. In one or two cases, the community has bought the forest and managed to find a solution where FE could not, so such a situation might not even pass the compulsory purchase test. It would certainly have been helpful had there been plenty of examples to illustrate how the powers would be used.

Can I say one thing about disposal? Are we covering that at this point or will we come back to it?

The Convener

I would like to stay on compulsory purchase if I may. If land has access restrictions, that is probably reflected in the purchase price, so that may be part of the process as well. If compulsory purchase is used to open up land, perhaps compensation is due because the powers are being used. Anne Gray, would you like to comment on that?

Anne Gray

Yes. We do not feel that the case has been made at all for having the compulsory purchase powers in the bill. The only explanation that I have had for why they are there is, “There is a compulsory purchase power for forestry in previous legislation that we want to carry over and do not want to lose.” However, that power has never been used. I think that there was a public inquiry in England years ago that suggested that it was not a very good idea to use that power and it has not been used since. The only explanation for extending that power to cover sustainable development purposes is one of equity—“We want equity in the bill so we want it to apply to both purposes.” It is a very broad power. We do not think that it should be in the bill. I want to be absolutely clear about that. If it is going to be in the bill, we definitely need clearer criteria on how it will be used for sustainable development purposes.

There is no definition of the land that the power might apply to or whether there are any exemptions or exclusions from land that it might be applied to, and there are no criteria under which an assessment or a judgment would be made about whether it would be appropriate to compromise the private use of land and take it into the public sector.

The Convener

I think that we have had a balanced view on that and I would like to move to the next theme. I will just remind everyone to keep their answers short—we have quite a few more themes to get through and I would like to hear the views of the panel on all of them—as would the committee, I am sure.

Rhoda Grant

Section 19 refers to a definition of a community body. There is other legislation that defines what a community body is. Does this definition work along with the other definitions? Should it be amended to fit in better with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, for example?

Jon Hollingdale

The 2015 act has four separate definitions of community bodies and one problem is that it would not be possible to come up with a definition that matches all of those.

Our view of sections 18, 19 and 20 is that it is not necessary for them to be in the bill at all and they should be removed.

The Forestry Commission currently has powers to delegate its functions for forest management to community groups. The Scottish ministers do not need to have those powers transferred to them because they already have them. The Forestry Commission has needed them as a special exemption to allow leasing. Prior to 2010, that was not possible at all. It was possible for the Forestry Commission to lease land for agriculture, for instance, but leasing woodland for woodland management was not allowed under the 1967 act, which had to be amended to add those powers.

10:30  



The powers are in the bill because of a general process whereby if something is in the 1967 act, it will be transferred. However, we do not believe that the powers are necessary, because the Scottish ministers already have the powers to lease, sell and buy. Section 17 of the bill will give the Scottish ministers the powers to dispose of land. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 sets out the mechanisms by which community bodies, as defined in the 2015 act, can apply to acquire land from the Scottish ministers and public bodies. Sections 18, 19 and 20 of the bill do not really add anything to that. We can talk about whether the definition should be changed, but it is not necessary to have it at all. It is a very positive intention from the Scottish Government, which we welcome, to demonstrate its commitment to the community empowerment agenda, but we do not think that it is necessary to have that power in the bill.

The Convener

Peter, I will give you the opportunity to give not a yes-or-no answer but certainly a short one.

Peter Peacock

Jon Hollingdale has made a good, reasoned point. I suggest that it should be tested with the bill team and the minister. We might be missing something about why the additional powers are needed, but I cannot see why they are in the bill. Jon’s point would seem to commend itself in that regard.

Rhoda Grant

Do you believe that there are powers to delegate the functions? I know that the Scottish Government can lease, sell or whatever, but section 18(1) talks about delegating its functions under sections 9 and 13 to a community body. I am sorry if that is a wee bit technical.

Jon Hollingdale

Our understanding is that that arose because of the original restriction on the forestry commissioners, who were not allowed to delegate forest management functions. The language came from that situation and it was used for the amendment to the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. However, if you look at paragraph 38 of the explanatory notes to the bill, you will see that it makes it very clear that the power applies only to land that is being let to communities. If you were looking at matching the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the definition that you would need is the one that applies to communities that are letting, which is in part 3 of the 2015 act.

Once the land is leased, the lease contract can set out the requirements for managing the land in certain ways, such as the UK forestry standard. However, section 17 of the bill would give ministers the power to dispose of land by sale, lease or gift to anybody, without any caveat. It therefore seems rather strange to set up something special for community bodies. If the land can be leased to any private individual or any organisation, why is there a need to define special rules about the functions for community bodies?

Just stepping back, I add that our view of disposal is that, when ministers dispose of land, there should be a commitment for whoever takes it on, whether buying or leasing it, to continue to manage it to the UK forestry standard. We think that it is important that land does not go out of forestry.

The Convener

Can I just push you a wee bit on that? Obviously, most forestry land that would be sold would be subject to planting agreements and standards would therefore be implied anyway. Currently, the Parliament has agreed that the Scottish ministers may dispose of land from the forest estate provided that they replace that land and grow trees. The bill would take that requirement away so that, in effect, the forest estate could be reduced. Are you comfortable with that? A yes or no answer would be fine.

Jon Hollingdale

We would like to see the policy continue of recirculating the moneys from disposal. Repositioning the estate is not necessarily a bad idea, but we would not want to see wholesale sell-off without the proceeds being reinvested.

The Convener

We will move to the next theme, unless Rhoda Grant wants to ask a follow-up question.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Are the provisions on felling an improvement on the Forestry Act 1967? Is anything missing from the bill? Should anything be removed?

Anne Gray

As I said, we have concerns that too much is being left to secondary legislation. We would like the exemptions in the 1967 act to be in the bill, for clarity. Also, there is a slightly odd definition of “felling”, which needs to be reviewed, because it is not wholly accurate. Our main concern is that the felling regulations in the 1967 act, which have served us well up to now, have not been taken wholesale into the bill, and it is proposed that a lot of the detail will be dealt with under secondary legislation.

It comes back to the long-term nature of forestry. Forestry is not a very certain business to get into, given that people have to wait 40 years for a crop. Investors in commercial forestry would like as much certainty around regulation as possible. Our preference is for more detail in the bill.

Fulton MacGregor

What you want is more detail in the bill, rather than the removal of anything.

Anne Gray

Yes.

Jon Hollingdale

We are not sure that everything needs to be in the bill. We are also slightly unsure that the registration of felling notices with the keeper of the land register of Scotland is a necessary step. The approach might add quite a lot of bureaucracy in practice.

The Convener

Neither Peter Peacock nor Andrew Bauer has caught my eye, so we will move to the next theme.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

We have touched on the regulations on felling, and we know that the bill lacks detail in that regard. Are the witnesses content that much of the detail on felling will be in regulation, such as the exemptions to the requirement for a licence to fell trees, which are in the 1967 act? Are you concerned about other regulations that relate to the bill?

The Convener

Does Anne Gray want to come in on that? You covered the issue in your previous answer.

Anne Gray

I reiterate what I said. We would prefer more to be in the bill and less to be left to secondary legislation.

I echo the concern about the requirement to register felling notices with Registers of Scotland—we do not object in principle; the issue is whether the approach is proportionate and whether it will create an awful lot of extra work and costs that are largely unnecessary.

The Convener

Stewart Stevenson wants to pick up on that point.

Stewart Stevenson

This question is for Anne Gray, because the subject is mentioned in the SLE submission. Your position is that registration with Registers of Scotland should not be required. How do you envisage that a purchaser of forest land will know that there are obligations of the type that will be registered under the bill? How will the lawyers who are advising someone who is purchasing land be aware of such obligations—which will be a cost to the purchaser—if the information is not with Registers of Scotland?

Anne Gray

That is a fair point; the Forestry Commission register is not part of solicitors’ searches. However, I do not think that there has been a problem up to now. People who are seeking to buy commercial forestry are well aware of what they are getting into and the obligations around it. It is a big investment and not something that they will do without getting advice.

Stewart Stevenson

Do forgive me—I understand that; indeed, I think that we all do. However, I go back to my fundamental question: how would they know about these obligations?

Anne Gray

Through their advisers.

Stewart Stevenson

And how would their advisers know?

Anne Gray

Because they are part of the industry and they understand the obligations and the way in which the system works.

Stewart Stevenson

Are you therefore trying to tell the committee—and it might be perfectly proper for you to do so—that every adviser knows about every such order throughout the purview of the forest estate in Scotland?

Anne Gray

I understand your point. In theory, if you want to be sure, things need to come back through a solicitor’s search, but my point is really about proportionality. Is there actually a problem here that this measure is trying to address? If not, does the extra cost and burden merit the effort?

Stewart Stevenson

What is your understanding of the cost?

Anne Gray

As I understand it, the Forestry Commission or the Forestry Authority—the regulator—would be required to decide how much information it passed to Registers of Scotland, which would then be required to add something new to the register. That would be a cost to the public purse.

Stewart Stevenson

Mr Hollingdale, you referred to the same topic. Are you aligned with Scottish Land & Estates on this?

Jon Hollingdale

It would be a curious alignment, but in fact there is a lot of similarity between our views. I think that the financial memorandum mentions 1,000 potential notices at £60 a year; I have no information on whether that is accurate—I am just reading from the memorandum—but 1,000 seems like a lot and will take up a lot of staff time.

As for your question about how people would know about these obligations, the Forestry Commission website has a very good web-based utility that is open to the public and allows people to find out about any piece of land that they are interested in, whether there have been forestry grant or Scottish forestry grant scheme projects on it and so on. I am not absolutely sure whether the utility covers felling licences, but I do not think that it would be difficult to add that sort of thing. Having the Forestry Commission—or the Scottish Government forestry division, as it will be known in the future—run that kind of open web-based system would be much a more straightforward, open and transparent approach, and I would have thought that it would be sufficient for someone who was doing due diligence on a purchase.

Stewart Stevenson

So you would—as the bill does—place a duty on the Forestry Commission and its successors to provide the land register number that describes the land or, alternatively, identifies the deed in the register of sasines. After all, the selling of land, in particular, can break up a previous registration in the register of sasines, because such a sale might split a property. In the end, then, you have the same administrative burden, but are you saying merely that the Forestry Commission should carry it at no cost to the person who owns the forest? Is that what you are suggesting?

Jon Hollingdale

No. I do not know and I am not going to debate the technicalities. I was suggesting that, if the information was made publicly available on a web-based database with, say, a felling licence reference number, anyone who was interested would be able to find whether there was a felling licence—or, indeed, some other notice to comply—affecting the land that they were interested in, and they would be able to go to the Forestry Commission or its successors and ask for more details in those cases where such details were needed.

Stewart Stevenson

So you are saying that there should be a register but that it should be published by the Forestry Commission not Registers of Scotland.

Jon Hollingdale

It seems simpler to use the commission’s existing web-based system than Registers of Scotland, which is going to be very busy with the huge amount of land registration work that it will have to do.

Stewart Stevenson

But there should be such a system.

Jon Hollingdale

Yes. I think that the information can be made available in a much simpler way.

10:45  



The Convener

Claudia Beamish wanted to come in briefly and then I will move on to the last theme.

Claudia Beamish

My question is about land more broadly so perhaps I should ask it at the end.

The Convener

In that case, we will move to the next theme. I ask our witnesses to answer the question as succinctly as possible.

Jamie Greene

Are the witnesses content with the financial memorandum in its current form and does anyone have a view on the costs of the restructuring, rebranding and reorganisation? Should that money come from current Forestry Commission funds, or should it be provided by additional funding from the Scottish Government?

The Convener

I will give that question to Jon Hollingdale, as I suspect that he may already have a view, which might allow others to formulate theirs if they have not done so already.

Jon Hollingdale

I will focus on two particular things. First, the financial memorandum has a very high variance in respect of the cost of information technology, which is a matter for concern. In some ways the whole idea of the integration of computer systems is something that fills the forestry sector with alarm, because its experience of that has been the Scottish rural development programme process. The committee is well aware of issues not only with the cost of such systems but with making them work in the first place, so I do not think that I need to say any more on that.

The other section in the financial memorandum is branding, which has a cost estimate of £4 million. I do not have the means to argue with that figure, but I would be concerned about the rate of implementation and whether that includes the costs of staff physically changing the infrastructure. It is not just about changing the letterheads, the sign outside the building and the website—there is a huge amount of physical infrastructure in Scotland’s forests that will have to be changed and someone will have to do that job. If that is done in one or two years, does that mean that Forest Enterprise does that and nothing else, or will contractors be brought in to do that work, and will that bring additional expense?

We are concerned that the policy seems to be that the money will be found from within other Forestry Commission budgets. Our fear is that the money for the rebranding exercise will be taken away from social and environmental projects—all the positive things that Forest Enterprise does at the moment. If extra money is required, it should come as a one-off allocation.

The Convener

That was quite a full answer. Can I ask everyone only to add to that or disagree with it, depending on your views? Andrew Bauer, do you have anything to add to that?

Andrew Bauer

No.

Peter Peacock

I have never found a financial memorandum to be an entirely reliable guide to reality. It is in the ranges that one would normally expect, so I have no particular comment.

On the one hand, it would be nice to get additional resources so that there is no cost to the programmes that Jon Hollingdale mentioned, but, on the other hand, it is a once-in-many-decades expenditure and will probably spread over several years, so I do not think that it is a big issue.

The Convener

Are there any comments on what would be a very cheap computer system by current standards?

Anne Gray

I picked up on the rebranding and I go back to the original point about whether it is necessary at all. If we just have Forestry Commission Scotland and do not go down the route of taking it under a division or agency of the Scottish Government, we would not need to incur those costs. There is a much more straightforward and potentially sensible route that would save us all quite a lot of money.

The Convener

I can let you ask a very brief question, Claudia.

Claudia Beamish

Thank you, convener. My question is very brief and I would appreciate a brief answer. Does the bill facilitate opportunities for wider community ownership of forestry and woodland in tandem with other relevant bills? If not, what would you like to see? Please answer in three sentences at the most.

The Convener

So a yes-or-no answer, with perhaps a two-sentence addition. Who would like to lead on that?

Anne Gray

The bill offers opportunities for communities to become more involved in forestry ownership and management. Like Jon Hollingdale, we would like to see a better alignment of the definitions of community bodies with those in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

Jon Hollingdale

I do not think that the bill does facilitate community ownership—I have commented already on sections 18, 19 and 20—but that is not the bill’s job. The strategy will have an important role to play in stressing the future management arrangements, ensuring that forestry and land Scotland carries on the good work that it has done historically through the national forest land scheme and now the community asset transfer scheme. It has been a policy matter for the Forestry Commission to advance land reform, and I hope that the strategy makes sure that it carries on doing so.

The Convener

Well done—you stretched that out a bit.

Peter Peacock

I agree with the last point; it sums it up rather well. In our evidence, we have suggested that we would like to see communities given the right to ask the new arrangements—forestry and land Scotland—to own land on their behalf as an interim step to buying land, or the right to manage the land in conjunction with forestry and land Scotland. Something could be added to the bill, in the spirit of other pieces of legislation, to give communities rights to interact with the new body in that way.

The Convener

That was a very long three sentences.

Peter Peacock

Absolutely.

Andrew Bauer

Whether it does or does not change the facts, the bill sends a clear message that community ownership is the direction of travel. Communities are being encouraged into this.

The Convener

Thank you all for coming and giving evidence to the committee. I will suspend the meeting to allow the next panel to come in.

10:51 Meeting suspended.  



10:57 On resuming—  



The Convener

We will continue with item 1, which is evidence on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I welcome our second panel. We have Willie McGhee, the co-ordinator of the Forest Policy Group; Charles Dundas, the public affairs manager for Scotland for the Woodland Trust; Malcolm Crosby, chair of the Forestry Commission trade unions; Dr Maggie Keegan, head of policy and planning with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and representing Scottish Environment LINK; and Professor David Miller, knowledge exchange co-ordinator with the James Hutton Institute. Thank you very much for being here.

We have divided the questions into themes. I will try to give everyone the chance to answer questions. I ask you to look at me if you want to be brought in. If you look away from me, you will not get in. When you are speaking, please also look at me, because there might be times when I encourage you to be briefer with your answers, although I hope that that situation will not arise.

The first theme will be introduced by John Finnie.

John Finnie

Good morning, panel. I am sure that you will recognise much of what I am going to say, because I will ask the question that I opened the previous evidence session with. Do you have any comments on the structure of the bill and how easy it is to understand? Could improvements be made?

I read with interest Mr McGhee’s written evidence, which says:

“We approve of the Bill as far as it goes.”

However, you go on to say that you

“want to be sure that the long title ... embraces this potential.”

Will you expand on that?

Willie McGhee (Forest Policy Group)

The Forest Policy Group believes that forestry serves a wide range of functions, especially in respect of rural development and for communities. That is one of the main reasons why we think that the long title should encompass what we are looking for from the bill.

John Finnie asked about the structure, clarity and understandability of the bill. We are relatively relaxed about the structure and how the bill is set out, but we believe that it could be much more innovative and could encompass much of what we think forestry can achieve for other Scottish Government policy objectives on issues including land reform, rural development and small business development. As the bill progresses, we would like there to be much more focus on those issues. In the earlier evidence, there was much debate about sustainability. We think that the answer in many cases is the focus on enterprise and small-scale community enterprise.

11:00  



John Finnie

Is breadth of ownership an issue?

Willie McGhee

It is difficult to make definitive statements about forestry ownership in Scotland. We recognise that the bill is an opportunity to diversify ownership, and we would like the bill to have some means of measuring the scope and extent of different types of ownership of forestry in Scotland.

Malcolm Crosby (Forestry Commission Trade Unions)

I have been involved through the national forest land scheme and the replacement for that, CATS—the community asset transfer scheme—in working with communities on a number of things. Generally, the will exists in the Forestry Commission to do such things, but the difficulty is often in practical application. For example, communities are desperate to do renewables projects, but the finances just do not stack up. However, the facilities and the willingness exist.

Dr Maggie Keegan (Scottish Environment LINK)

I want to set out Scottish Environment LINK’s and the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s response to the bill. We look at the bill through the lens of the natural environment and native woodlands and the opportunities that arise from that. It is about optimising the forest asset. We have probably come a long way since the Forestry Act 1967. The approach is not just about timber production and the economy; forests deliver so much more in terms of ecosystem services. The question is whether the bill will help to realise the assets in Scotland.

Professor David Miller (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes)

I will just observe that the title of the bill raises some interesting expectations with its reference to land management. I dare say that we will come on to the issue of what we expect of Scotland’s land and the role that it plays for Scotland’s communities and more widely. The bill gives an opportunity to see where land can be part of the pathway towards meeting the sustainable development goals. There are some big-picture stories, given that woodland, trees and forests occupy such a high proportion of Scotland’s land, and given the type of land that it is, with carbon-rich soils and key water catchments.

The Convener

Charles Dundas has not said anything yet—but I feel sure that you have a view.

Charles Dundas (Woodland Trust)

On the structure, the bill is workmanlike and sets out to do what it needs to do to transpose the Forestry Act 1967 into Scottish legislation. However, we should not kid ourselves that the bill does much more than that. There are a few sweeties thrown in—for example, a statutory forestry strategy and a commitment to sustainable forest management—but the bill does not radically shake up the way in which forestry is managed. I hope that that will be done by the policy that is implemented in the Scottish forestry strategy, which is not covered in the bill.

John Finnie

I have a question specifically for Mr Crosby. Will you outline your concerns about the separation of the FCS and FES?

Malcolm Crosby

I have worked for the commission for 37 years, and the whole process has been about integration and working with what we call the Forestry Commission as opposed to the enterprise side. I work with colleagues on that, and that feeds into the work that I currently do on renewables, including preventing wind farms from felling too much.

Earlier, the debate was about forest land and non-forest land. The whole point of forestry is to bring all those things together. The staff bring those things together, and the work that goes on between the policy people, the delivery people and the regulatory people is what makes it work. That integration of the staff, those partnerships and the understanding of where people are coming from and what they do is what makes the Forestry Commission successful. If you split those elements into two separate things, there will not be an overnight change, but people will gradually drift off. The Scottish Government has an agenda, Forest Enterprise has a slightly different agenda and so on. That will lead to a gradual moving apart that will mean that it will be impossible to deliver the aims of the bill.

John Finnie

Do other members of the panel share that concern?

Willie McGhee

Yes. It is not a good excuse, but the reason why we did not major in the structure in our submission is partly that we had the feeling that it is a done deal. When we met civil servants more than 18 months ago, their parting shot to us was that there was no need to worry about the Forestry Commission being wrapped in the arms of Victoria Quay. However, if you want an example of things going badly wrong as a result of a change in relation to forestry, you can look at Wales.

From the point of view of the small-scale community environmental groups that we represent, the Forestry Commission is the only Government department that listens—the rural payments and inspections division certainly does not, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency listens only rarely and Scottish Natural Heritage is fairly toothless. The Forestry Commission changed how it worked because of its status. It took advice from advisory groups including the woodland expansion advisory group and the forestry for people advisory panel. The Forest Policy Group was set up as an adjunct to those advisory groups. We do not see the Scottish Government being as flexible and open to listening as the Forestry Commission has been over the past 20 or 30 years. There is no other department that would have achieved the same outputs and outcomes for communities and land management.

The Convener

Charles, do you share that view?

Charles Dundas

The Woodland Trust made no bones about the consultation and the change to the structure—we made a fuss. Like Willie McGhee, we felt that, with regard to the forestry authority side of its work—which concerns regulatory and policy aspects—the Forestry Commission is one of the best-functioning public bodies in Scotland. I would trust it to deliver on biodiversity targets or the implementation of the land use strategy far more than I would trust other bodies in other parts of Scottish public life to deliver similar aims. Our concern was that the change would not only rob Scotland of a stand-alone policy and regulatory body and the kudos that comes with the ability to bring that work in-house, along with everything else that the Scottish Government does, but would also open up the possibility of there being a dilution of the expertise within the organisation, which I am sure we will touch on later.

The Convener

Those are three quite clear opinions. Dr Keegan, do you have a view on that?

Dr Keegan

Our view is quite similar. We had the same concerns about the regulatory and policy functions and about maintaining expertise, which you might address later in the meeting. The situation might be okay for the first few years, but we do not know whether the situation will be the same in 10 or 20 years and whether we will still have foresters as civil servants in the Scottish Government.

The bill talks about sustainable forest management. As is the case with sustainable development, that is about getting the balance right between economic interests, social interests and environmental interests. We see a risk that those decisions might become more political if the process is dealt with by a Government directorate rather than in a more arm’s-length way.

Professor David Miller

I will comment on our experience when constructing the research agendas with the Scottish Government, various policy groups and the co-ordinated agenda for marine, environmental and rural affairs science—CAMERAS—partners, of which the Forestry Commission is one.

In general, we found access and the horizontal connections to be good—although there are, no doubt, some specific issues. The proposal could be part of bringing into other parts of Government the Forestry Commission’s good reputation for openness and approachability in relation to communities and industry, on which colleagues just gave evidence. It could be part of the evolution of regulation and people.

The Convener

That seems to be a positive spin on the concerns of the others.

John Finnie

Given the concerns that have been voiced, would official recognition of the role of foresters by the civil service and having a chief forester allay any of your concerns?

Charles Dundas

Yes, and our submission makes reference to both those measures. Maintaining the expertise within the organisation is very important. Recognition of the role of the trained forester, and ring fencing for trained foresters of roles including chief forester, the heads of divisions and the conservators within each area of the organisation would do a lot for that.

In response to Mr Greene’s question to the earlier panel about an example of losing expertise, I point to what happened when the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland was merged with Historic Scotland. A unit was set up within the Scottish Government to work on policy. I will consider that to be analogous to a division within the Scottish Government. One year after that merger, the staff within that unit had been scattered to the four winds across the culture division to fill in gaps here and there. I appreciate that it would be more difficult to do that with forestry, given its dominance within the Government, but that is still a concrete example of how, once somebody is in Victoria Quay, they can start getting distracted, unless there is some security and ring fencing of the organisation.

Malcolm Crosby

The difficulty is that splitting up FCS and FES will not work. Therefore, we recommend that they be retained as one piece. If you split them up, you will need some function to head them. The idea of having a head of forestry is difficult. Yesterday, I was talking to one of my colleagues who is a health adviser who came from the national health service. We have brought into forestry a range of other skills; we have an education adviser who was a teacher and we had somebody who came from the social sector and looked after drug rehabilitation of offenders in Glasgow. We call their roles “forestry” but they are not. The ministers and officials have said that they will recognise forestry as a profession in the Government, but we are much more than that—our staff do a range of stuff. We bring in all those experts and they pick up the culture that we have in the organisation. It is a can-do organisation that delivers things on behalf of the policy makers. That is how we succeed. If you split up FCS and FES, that will gradually disintegrate. People are proud to work for the Forestry Commission.

John Finnie

Could anything be included in or alongside the bill to reassure the witnesses that the new organisational structure is fit for purpose?

Dr Keegan

I was quite taken with what Peter Peacock said. If we are going to have the structure as proposed—it appears that that is the way we are going—we need checks and balances in place. What will happen to some of the structures that come with the Forestry Commission currently—for example, the national committee for Scotland, which has an advisory role, and the regional forestry forums, from which the committee took evidence? There are also annual reporting, planting and restocking targets and the financial accounts, which go to Parliament and can be scrutinised. Will that level of scrutiny still happen when the commission becomes a division of the Scottish Government?

Willie McGhee

I reinforce that point: part of the strength of the commission’s current structure is that answerability to a national committee. As I said in my first comment about stakeholders, the Forestry Commission has consistently listened through regional fora, and we want that to be maintained. We do not want to be told that a matter will appear in some piece of policy later down the line. It would be a great step forward if the bill or statute were to say that whatever comes next must have an advisory committee, such as a national committee, and must maintain the listening groups—the regional fora.

11:15  



Professor David Miller

I have one quick observation about the fora that have been referred to. New fora are emerging, and they could include the land use strategy’s expectation of the regional land use partnerships. Where do those fit into the governance structure of holding to account and exploring visions? That is just another complication, but it needs to be worked through.

The Convener

Richard Lyle will ask about the next theme.

Richard Lyle

I go back to a theme discussed with the first panel. I note that the Woodland Trust and Scottish Environment LINK have written about forestry functions in their evidence. The Woodland Trust suggested that the duty to promote sustainable forest management should be placed not just on ministers but on public bodies and private landowners. I am sure that Charles Dundas will agree with that.

Charles Dundas

Let me come in on that.

Richard Lyle

I am sure that Maggie Keegan will also agree.

Charles Dundas

I agree with my point—I do not always do so, but I will in this case.

That is an example of the reference in my first answer to a workmanlike bill that does the job of transposing something. It does not have the great vision for the future of forestry that I know the Scottish Government has. If I can sook up for a minute, I commend the Scottish Government for the role that forestry plays in its new programme for government. It is a jewel in the crown of what Scotland does and I am glad to see it recognised as such.

Such things as the duty to promote sustainable forest management are great, but the bill covers only a small percentage of Scotland’s forests. If we wanted to be radical, why did we not say that anyone who owns a forest has to manage it sustainably? That would be visionary.

Dr Keegan

We agree with that point. When private owners get a grant, the UK forestry standard kicks in, but that is four or usually five years later when the grant is delivered. What is missing is making sure that they manage their forests in a sustainable way during the time between the planting of the forest and the realisation of the commercial aspect of timber production. In that intervening time, such things as deer management are part of sustainable forest management—including in the bill a duty on private owners could help to address that.

Native forests in Scotland are a rare resource and even the UK forestry standard requires only that 5 per cent of a commercial forestry plantation is planted with native species. As we know from the Scottish biodiversity strategy, we are not even hitting the targets of planting 3,000 to 5,000 hectares a year of native forest. The bill could do more to help address other Government objectives.

Professor Miller

In most, or at least many, of the functions of our forests the distinctions are between public and private, except in terms of public goods, which might include their roles as carbon sinks, in biodiversity and as landscapes. Forests have those functions irrespective of who has title for the area, and we interpreted the bill as indicating that part of the direction of travel is towards the role of forestry in the bigger picture of land in Scotland. Therefore, the functions need to be thought about with regard to what we are looking for, rather than necessarily with regard to the distinctions of public and private ownership. The onus would then be on all aspects of land—and all aspects of woodland—to share the vision of what we want from them.

The Convener

Before I bring in Malcolm Crosby, I ask Richard Lyle to widen things out slightly.

Richard Lyle

The Woodland Trust has talked about planting and afforestation; indeed, Mr Dundas mentioned the term “sweeties” earlier on, which I found quite funny. I know that you are doing a bit of sooking up today, but I am interested to know what those sweeties are.

I will now ask the question that the convener wants me to ask. Should the bill contain an additional provision relating to the forestry strategy or a commitment to further planting? I am sure that Charles Dundas is bursting to grow that one.

The Convener

But I am going to let Malcolm Crosby come in first.

Malcolm Crosby

I wanted to make a point about the difference between the public and the private sectors. A lot of the frustration of being in the regulatory sector is that you are able only to persuade people to do this work; you have to rely on grants, incentives and encouragement. The national forest estate is about delivering sustainable forest management, and we use support from ministers to do it. Much as we might like the private sector to do that work, you will need money. If you want people to do it, you are going to have to pay them.

Willie McGhee

Coming back to Professor Miller’s comment, I think that those of us who swim in the sea of forestry make a very clear distinction between the public benefits arising from the public estate and those arising from the private sector. Malcolm Crosby has just alluded to the mechanism by which public goods are derived from the latter. In respect of your view of that or your view of ownership, I suggest that, in the main, where you have public estate or, say, common ownership or the common good, there is already an underlying commitment to achieving sustainable forest management with all its public benefits. That is not necessarily the case with the private sector.

Charles Dundas

On the issue of afforestation, the Forestry Act 1967—the Westminster act that this bill seeks to bring over into Scottish legislation—makes it quite clear that one of the Forestry Commission’s duties is to plant more trees. I was interested to hear earlier this morning some reticence among the previous witnesses with regard to putting that duty in the bill. They said, “Perhaps at some point we will have enough trees in Scotland.” I have to say that I raised a quizzical eyebrow at that, because I am not sure that we will ever reach a point at which there will be no need to plant more trees in Scotland.

Richard Lyle

I am sure that Confor will want to comment on that.

Charles Dundas

Absolutely.

I will briefly mention some of the other things that are missing from the bill. First, there is the management of deer and woodland creatures. The existing Forest Enterprise Scotland is the biggest and most efficient deer manager in Scotland. If we are talking about a duty to manage forestry sustainably, deer will play a huge part in that in the coming years, and the bill provides a legislative vehicle that would give an opportunity for people to talk more about the issue. I am aware that the committee will want to leave that entirely to the ECCLR Committee and Graeme Dey, but we will all have to pull together if we are to tackle what is arguably the biggest threat to woodland in Scotland—indeed, a threat even bigger than climate change.

The Convener

Did you want to come in on that issue, Claudia?

Claudia Beamish

It is the perfect opening, convener. I am not correcting you, Mr Dundas, but it is not just Graeme Dey but the whole committee that has profound concerns about deer management.

That brings me to my question, and it would be helpful if people could give brief answers. Multiple benefits have been highlighted by this and the previous panel, but to what extent does the panel think that section 4, which relates to the preparation of the forestry strategy, should cover issues beyond climate change? Are there particular “land rights and responsibilities” that should be highlighted in the bill? Indeed, should it be set out at the start of the bill that all of the multiple benefits that have been mentioned have to be taken into account in all the issues that the bill addresses?

Dr Keegan

The forestry strategy will be one of the most important documents. It will direct ministers in promoting sustainable forest management. We believe, as others have said, that there should be wide consultation on the strategy: it should go to committees and the Parliament, and that is not required by the bill at the moment.

I also agree that the bill mentions only the land use strategy and the land rights and responsibilities statement but, of course, the forestry strategy will impact on so many other things. The policy memorandum says that those other issues are already recognised, but who is going to look at the policy memorandum five years down the line? Nobody. We need to see those other things in the bill to show that they are important and how they are all integrated. Then we might start to get land use and public goods integrated, because the bill could deliver so much more. It should be delivering along the lines of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

The Convener

Does Willie McGhee agree that there should be wide consultation on the forestry strategy?

Willie McGhee

Absolutely, yes, and I endorse what Maggie Keegan said—the purpose of the strategy should be to deliver across Scottish Government objectives. Since we are talking about the strategy, I heard in the previous evidence session the figure of five years in relation to reporting. One of the positives to come out of deer legislation is that because there is a requirement to report it has remained quite high on the Government’s agenda. We would wish to see either three or five-yearly reporting on the Scottish forestry strategy.

The Convener

Does Charles Dundas want to comment on that?

Charles Dundas

I certainly agree that policy integration is needed between the forestry strategy and all the other strategies that the Scottish Government has, not least the Scottish planning policy and the Scottish economic strategy. It would do no harm to have them expressly mentioned in the bill. I have experience from previous bills of trying to get policy integration into the legislation. Whenever that is raised, the civil servants answer that it is happening anyway because the Scottish Government works in a very joined-up way. If so, there is nothing to fear from putting it in the bill, so I agree with my colleagues about that.

The Convener

Do you agree that the strategy should be consulted on?

Charles Dundas

Absolutely. We have benefited massively from having a Scottish forestry strategy over the past 15 or so years, but we have suffered from not having it updated over the past decade. Anyone who looks at the document from 2006—Willie McGhee and other foresters—will recognise good forestry practice, but it does not reflect good integration with the rest of Scottish Government policy. The document even says “Scottish Executive” at the top; that is how old it is. Not only should the strategy be consulted on, but I would recommend that that is done on a five-yearly basis rather than every 10 years.

Malcolm Crosby

We consult on practically everything else so I do not see why we should not consult on the forestry strategy. Our land management plans and strategic plans go out to widespread consultation. We have nothing to fear; that is what we do. We listen to people and develop agendas accordingly.

Professor Miller

Yes. The function should be up front for contextual reasons. There is no reason to argue against the strategy being consulted on in the most effective ways. I add to the discussion a question about what the boundaries of such a strategy might look like, geographically. Does it consider the strategy for the immediate non-forest land and the prospects for the evolution of the land that is under prospective management? Does that strategy for land include consideration of land that is not currently forested, what could be added, and exploration of the aspirations set out for multiple benefits?

The Convener

David, you are going to get me kicked shortly by the deputy convener who is going to come on to that subject.

Professor Miller

Sorry.

The Convener

If Claudia Beamish agrees that the answers to her question were sufficient I would like to move on to that issue with the deputy convener.

Claudia Beamish

Yes, thank you, in the context of the time available.

11:30  



Gail Ross

Are you clear about the differences between forestry land and other land? Are any changes needed?

The Convener

David, as I just cut you off in full flow, would you like to say whether you are clear about the differences?

Professor Miller

There are opportunities. There is already non-forested land in the estates; the question seems to be what opportunities may be set out of obtaining land—of purchase and of replacement—and whether those opportunities will be built into forward thinking.

I was heading earlier towards the question of the boundary between forest land and our urban environment. What is the link between trees and green infrastructure? That fits in with planning policy, which was mentioned earlier. Where will forestry be part of the local awareness of our cities and urban populations? I think that the strategy should consider where, geographically, there are plans or aspirations for non-forest land and then think through what the implications of that might be, which could be considerable.

Dr Keegan

I am clearer now that I have heard the previous evidence sessions. I have been sitting and listening to them on my laptop at work, so I am a lot clearer than I was. Having said that, what is not clear is whether land that is other land is soon to be planted up with trees if it is suitable. For example, if it is deep peat or blanket bog, will that land be managed for sustainable development? I am sure that we will come on to that. More clarity on that in the bill will help people now and in the future, when we will not be having these debates.

Malcolm Crosby

I think that it is an entirely artificial dichotomy that is completely unnecessary. We have strategies that we consult on. I spend my time ensuring that our wind farms are keyholed and do not require the felling of large areas, so that they become genuinely part of the forests. We also manage peat bogs and carry out deforestation if forestry is not appropriate.

We have talked about urban areas, and one of our biggest initiatives over the past 10 years has involved woodlands in and around towns—precisely in order to move them into urban areas. It is about bringing the benefits of woodland to those who live in urban areas and ensuring that we work in those areas where the vast majority of people live. The work that we have done in Glasgow, in Drumchapel and Easterhouse, has been fantastic, and those communities have been transformed as a result of what we have done.

The definition of non-forestry land comes out of the “Forestry and Land” bit of the bill’s title, and the concern is that “and Land” might bring in land that is not for forestry. We manage lots of bits of land that do not have trees on them. We now consult and do not plant up peat bogs. Yes, we did that in the past but we have learned from our mistakes. We now go out and consult, and we do not do that.

To me, the issue of non-forestry land is entirely artificial. It should be part of our strategies that we work with the relevant experts to look after the land in the best way.

Charles Dundas

It cannot be disputed that the drafting is inelegant. As previous evidence sessions have shown, it causes confusion. A possible solution to that confusion may be found where the bill refers to forestry land. Essentially, that means the national forest estate. If it were to use that terminology, things might be clearer.

The concern, certainly among environmentalists, is that the bill will place a duty on those who have land that is not forested but that is within the national forest estate to manage it according to the principles of sustainable forest management. Some environmentalists read that as requiring the land to be planted up with trees, which will not necessarily be appropriate. However, the final line of the Helsinki definition of sustainable forest management, which is quoted in the policy memorandum, says that a key element of sustainable forest management is that it is not done to the detriment of other ecosystems. That check and balance will prevent my colleagues being worried that there is a march towards the afforestation of every square inch of Scotland—which, I am sure, none of us wants to see.

The Convener

Rhoda Grant would like to come in and then perhaps Willie McGhee can answer that question.

Rhoda Grant

I have a wee question on forestry land being the national forest estate. Given that time will pass from the bill’s implementation, do you think that that definition will continue? I would have thought that there is a clear difference in the land held by the Forestry Commission—the bill is trying to point out that the Forestry Commission will also hold non-forestry land.

Charles Dundas

It may have been Confor, during a previous evidence session, that suggested that an elegant solution would be to define forestry land as land that has trees on it and other land as everything else. That would solve the problem from my point of view.

The Convener

I see Malcolm Crosby shaking his head, but I will let will Willie McGhee respond first.

Willie McGhee

I do not have very strong views on it. The other land has been brought in just because the Forestry Commission holds other land for the national forest estate. I do not think that there is any intention to afforest it.

Malcolm Crosby

Before I moved into renewables, my previous role was in forest planning, the whole point of which is to bring everything together so that the plan includes everything—all the land that is not planted is equally important as anything that has trees on it. If you try to distinguish between them, it just becomes impossible.

Dr Keegan

Forestry land is the activity of forestry, not the forest itself; there is also the potential for it to become forestry, although it may not. We now have the Forestry Commission as the advisers on getting the balance right, but in 10 years’ time, if the body is subsumed into the Scottish Government directorate, there may be different priorities. Given that there are targets that are quite difficult to reach, there is a risk that other land will become forestry land. There is no doubt about that.

John Mason

I will continue with the management of land and section 13 of the bill on further sustainable development. I liked the statement in Mr McGhee’s submission that

“‘Sustainable development’ has been described as ‘the slipperiest piece of soap you’ll find in the bathtub’.”

I do not know whether that quote is yours or whether it came from somebody else.

What thoughts do people have around section 13 and the management of land for sustainable development?

The Convener

I will let Willie McGhee grasp that knotty problem.

Willie McGhee

That expression was not mine, but I am fully behind it. As in the forest strategy, you can use as many expressions as you want, but it is a bit trickier to see tangible results coming out the other end in the spirit of what you mean by sustainable forest management or sustainable forest development. As I said, if we had a commitment to manage forestry for rural development combined with good environmental practice, further recreation and all those other aspects that are included in other Government strategies, you would be getting closer to grasping that slippery piece of soap.

Charles Dundas

My understanding of section 13 is that, if you are going to have a big—dare I say—monolithic agency that will manage all of Scotland’s publicly owned land, you will need some sort of principle by which it will manage the land that is not forestry. The Government has chosen sustainable development, which makes sense.

On defining sustainable development, we went through the battles of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 last year. The Brundtland definition of sustainable development is well recognised and commonly used in the Scottish Government. I am relaxed that that does what it intends to do.

Malcolm Crosby

At the risk of repeating myself, it is all about integrating. I worked the woodland removal policy through with the Forestry Commission so that it was integrated. Sustainable development is what we do. We now have 1,000MW of installed capacity for wind and hydro on the national forest estate. That is sustainable development, which we integrate into the forest.

If someone wants us to manage something else, we will do that. In the earlier session, someone mentioned the risk that we might end up managing national nature reserves. We already manage a large number of sites of special scientific interest, a lot of which are not forestry SSSIs. That is what we do. We bring in the necessary experts, if we are not the relevant authorities because we have been trained as silviculturists. We bring people in and they become part of our culture.

John Mason

Is it going too far to have two separate phrases: sustainable forest management and sustainable development? Should we try to come up with one?

Malcolm Crosby

I would not pretend to be an expert on legal definitions. A lot of people here know far more than I do about other bills and how they affect these matters. As an organisation, we work with ministers to deliver what they ask us to do. That is our purpose.

The Convener

Maggie, are you relaxed about the use of the term “sustainable development”?

Dr Keegan

I think that I know what it is. LINK has given up on asking for the definition of sustainable development to be on the face of bills, because the same arguments are trotted out. As long as everyone is clear about what it means, we should leave it at that.

It depends whether sustainable development top trumps sustainable forest management. Both are about balancing the economic, social and environmental interests. If we look at other land that is to be managed for sustainable development, is eco-housing sustainable development, and could that happen in native woodlands? It might happen in the future. Who would decide? Would ministers decide that the development should go ahead, or would a planning authority decide because it is about houses? It is not clear how such decisions will be determined.

Professor Miller

By coincidence, next month is the 30th anniversary of the Brundtland report. The definition of sustainable development from that report is still contemporary and is still the underpinning of most of the rest. I am not certain of my ground, but I would have thought that Brundtland and the following Rio summit was part of the underpinning of what evolved into the national forest standard and best practice from the Forestry Commission.

Sustainable development is the picture within which the sustainable management of forests is one element. People are a core part of that. In thinking about what we want for the land, we should at least give consideration to the pathways to change. We must not cut off our options by a poor, ill-considered or short-term decision when, as trees demonstrate, the game plan stretches 50, 100 or several hundred years down the line. Sustainable development has to be taken in the long term.

We need to join up the thinking about what we want with the strategy, with the land that is currently trees and the land that is not and how that will change. Not all land will remain in trees, as we found with the flow country, and other land will become wooded.

I would go with the terms “sustainable development” and “sustainable forestries” in parallel.

John Mason

Are you saying that there would be a danger in a tight definition of sustainable development because, in a few years’ time, we would need to change it?

Professor Miller

I would keep the Brundtland definition of sustainable development. The question is how we refine it and tag it for the realities in our landscape. We should have the evidence of where we have changed our mind and therefore changed policy because other or bigger pictures have become apparent. What I am trying to say is that there are certain more sectoral aspects—whatever the sector—that may on occasion be shorter term, and that those could head off or corral some of our activities and mean that our options are not as flexible in the future.

The Convener

We will leave it there. I invite Mike Rumbles to lead off on the next theme.

11:45  



Mike Rumbles

Thank you, convener. I will focus on compulsory purchase. We have been told that the bill not just transfers ministerial powers from the 1967 act but increases and develops them. We have also been told that those powers have never been used in the half century since the 1967 act was passed. I have read your submissions, but I would like to hear your views on the compulsory purchase powers in the bill. Are they required at all?

The Convener

Charles, your written evidence was clear, but I would still like to hear your views.

Charles Dundas

I agree with my written evidence. A lot of fuss has been made about this. A huge amount of these powers are duplications of powers that the Scottish ministers already have. Therefore, it is almost irrelevant whether they are transferred over from the 1967 act.

In principle, the fact that the powers have not been exercised in several generations suggests that there is no cause to have them. If I were the cabinet secretary, I would consider this a great public relations opportunity to say, “Look at me. I’m turning down powers that I could have.” However, I am not the cabinet secretary.

Mike Rumbles

How unusual that would be.

Charles Dundas

Indeed. It would be refreshing and useful.

I do not see any reason why the powers need to be transferred, not least because they are replicated in other legislation already. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 provided compulsory purchase powers to manage land in a sustainable way.

The Convener

First you praise the cabinet secretary and then you say that you want his job. Willie, would you like to add anything?

Willie McGhee

One point on which I agree with Charles Dundas is that this is a facet of rolling over powers from the 1967 act. I am not sure that the provision was ever intended to work in the way that our previous panel feared—there seemed to be a great deal of unrest about it. I am a little more sanguine than Charles Dundas. If I were the cabinet secretary, even if I did not use that particular tool I would still quite like to have it in the toolbox just in case. Quite a lot of fuss has been made about a relatively innocuous line in the bill.

The Convener

Malcolm, do you want to add anything?

Malcolm Crosby

Our style is to try to work in consensus. It does not make much difference to us whether the power is in the bill; we do not want to use it because we would much rather work with people.

The Convener

Does David Miller or Maggie Keegan want to come in?

Dr Keegan

Scottish Environment LINK’s view is the same as the Woodland Trust’s view. If the power is retained, protocols and guidance need to be put in place to make sure that it is not abused.

The Convener

I have a question on disposal of land. The current policy as far as the forest estate is concerned is that land can be disposed of—I think it is called rationalisation and reorganisation of the forest estate—provided that land is purchased to replace it. That is the parliamentary position, although I am not sure that that is how it has been interpreted.

Are you happy for forest estates to be sold off or should that caveat remain? I will ask Willie McGhee to start and then let Malcolm Crosby in.

I can see that you are all thinking about your answers, so we will start on my left instead, with David Miller.

Professor Miller

On rotating—not in a forestry sense but in the sense of how our land is used—given the time horizons for trees, climate change will mean that some areas will be better suited than others to certain types of land use. There might be new opportunities for certain crops to be grown—I am talking about tree crops, too—in certain areas, and therefore, we might want to relinquish other areas. The situation might not be quite as extreme as in the flow country, but there might be other areas where the presence of trees is not contributing significantly, but that might be well down the line—it could be decades down the line. However, if the bill is setting up the framework, such rotation of land in and out of a particular use would seem to be sensible and astute planning.

The Convener

I am sorry; perhaps I should have made myself clearer. I understand the rotational use of land; I was trying to ascertain whether you would be comfortable with the forest estate reducing in size by the disposal of land. Does Maggie Keegan have a view on that?

Dr Keegan

We believe that the process should be transparent, but the money should be reinvested for the people of Scotland into our standing examples of forests, either by acquisition or creation. The money should not just be subsumed into Government coffers. We do not want to see the forest estate diminish in size if there are places where it could be expanded. We want to see careful disposal and reacquisition.

Malcolm Crosby

There are several types of disposals—there are repositioning ones and there is rationalisation. Unfortunately, a lot of those disposals have an impact on our members. If more of the estate is sold off, we will have less work. Things are put out to contract, for example, and that is not in the interests of our members.

I think that you are talking about repositioning and the money being recycled into buying new land. That diminishes the size of the estate because, in general, we sell off things that are cheaper because they are less attractive and we buy more expensive land. We then have to pay to plant that land.

There is a difficulty with any organisation that reviews its management and office structures and delivery mechanisms. If we keep on shrinking the number of offices, more of the forest will get further away from the offices and will be more difficult to manage. There have no doubt been a lot of disposals that have led to a loss of jobs, which is certainly not in our interests as union representatives, and that has diminished the size of the estate. That has also diminished what we can do, because we have moved out of large areas in which Willie McGhee in particular and Charles Dundas would want us to work with communities. We no longer have those connections because of disposals. The repositioning has meant that our estate is shrinking.

Charles Dundas

We have just been through a round of repositioning, which has been rechristened “new woodland investment”. Basically, that involves selling off land to create money. The most recent round was inspired by the Scottish National Party manifesto pledge to plant up X acres of former opencast mine and turn that into forestry. However, to get the money to do that, Forestry Commission Scotland is having to dispose of some sites.

We have worked with Forest Enterprise Scotland to try to ensure that the formula that it uses to work out which sites it will select protects the most important woodland that needs to be maintained in public ownership to ensure that it is protected in the best way. There are certainly some sites in the current round that we do not think should be sold. We think that they should be retained and protected by the state.

The solution to that is conservation burdens, which are a legislative device. Those burdens would be registered on the property’s deeds, and the transfer over would ensure that the new owner would have to maintain a certain level of ecological value on the site. Conservation burdens have not been used yet; frankly, if our state is not using them to protect land, I do not know who else will use them. The Woodland Trust will continue to try to ensure that Forest Enterprise Scotland or its successor bodies will start to put burdens on land as it disposes of it to ensure that it remains protected.

The Convener

Does Willie McGhee have a short addition to that?

Willie McGhee

Quelle horreur!

In principle, the Forest Policy Group sees nothing wrong with repositioning or new woodland investment. We are very conscious of the capacity reduction in Forest Enterprise Scotland.

A lot of it is in the detail. Selling remote, rural conifer blocks to fund land reclamation, where private companies have gone bust or have walked away from their responsibilities, is not a tremendously good idea, especially given the very high costs of reclamation and the money needed. We see Forest Enterprise broadly as a mechanism for diversifying woodland ownership, whether it works in partnership with communities or is leasing to communities. You talked about disposal, but the new object heaving over the horizon is lease, and it is quite feasible that at some point in the near future we will get big private companies wanting to come in and take on large elements of the state forest. We would be a lot more uncomfortable about that.

The Convener

More uncomfortable?

Willie McGhee

It is not that the private company per se would not manage the forest to a high standard and still provide public benefits, but we would want to have a degree of openness, transparency and consultation before anything like that happened.

The Convener

I can see that Maggie Keegan wants to comment, but I am afraid that time is forcing me to ask Rhoda Grant to lead on the next theme.

Rhoda Grant

Are the witnesses content with the definition of “community” in the bill and how it sits with other legislation, or are they of the same mind as our previous panel, who thought that sections 18 to 20, which deal with communities, are not required because the Scottish Government already has those powers?

Willie McGhee

The answer given by Jon Hollingdale from the first panel broadly mirrors our views. There are many things in the bill, such as acquisition and compulsory purchase provisions, which Charles Dundas mentioned. We would agree that the definition of “community” is well phrased in other legislation, so we are not hung up on seeing it defined again in the bill.

The Convener

Everyone nodded at that, so unless there is a completely diverging view, let us move on to Rhoda Grant’s follow-up question.

Rhoda Grant

I understand that the witnesses are happy with the definition of “community” in the bill, but does it need to be there at all? Do you share the views of the previous panel?

The Convener

I have seen a few people shake their heads. Anyone who thinks that it needs to be there can answer. Charles Dundas obviously does.

Charles Dundas

No—I am attempting to clarify that it is the fact that it does not need to be there that we agree with, as the definition is caught up in the three definitions in previous legislation.

Dr Keegan

The important point is that the definitions are consistent across legislation so that everybody knows what a community is.

Malcolm Crosby

We have used the NFLS definition and have moved to the CATS definition, which is perfectly satisfactory.

Fulton MacGregor

I asked the previous panel about felling and I would like to ask this panel for views on whether the provisions in the bill are an improvement on the Forestry Act 1967, whether there is anything missing from the bill, or whether there is something in the bill that should not be there.

Malcolm Crosby

I do not claim to be an expert on the felling provisions. On the conservancy side of things, we deliver what we are required to deliver. Whether those provisions need to be in the legislation, and whether there should be charging, is not for us to have a view on.

Charles Dundas

I have a slightly hot take on the issue that is different from that of the other witnesses. The committee has heard a lot of people say that they would like to see more detail in the bill and that they are not happy with the principle of moving things over into secondary legislation. I would generally agree with that, but I would caveat it quite strongly with the fact that we in the Woodland Trust have experience of certain felling practice that could be described as taking advantage of a loophole in the 1967 act. As there was no prospect of closing that loophole, because it would require primary legislation at Westminster, the moving of a lot of the detail on felling into secondary legislation gives an element of flexibility, which certainly in that example would have delivered better results for forestry. That is just one example.

12:00  



The Convener

Are you talking about one example and one experience?

Charles Dundas

No—there are a number of examples of the same practice.

The Convener

What is it?

Charles Dundas

I do not want to advertise the loophole and get everyone using it. Under felling regulations a person is allowed to take out 5 cubic metres per quarter for their own use. If someone who owns a forest and wants to clear fell an element for development subdivides their property between four different owners, they have access to 20 cubic metres, and they can fell in the corners of the four units to make one unit; if the next day is counted as falling in the next quarter suddenly they can remove 40 cubic metres and, in essence, they have perfectly legally clear felled a site for development.

By working with colleagues in the Forestry Commission we have been able to clamp down on such activity, but the loophole exists in the current legislation. We are working with civil servants on the framing of secondary legislation to try to close the loophole.

The Convener

It sounds a bit devious to me.

Peter Chapman

Scottish Environment LINK has expressed concern about the felling provisions in section 23 and is considerably worried about off-site compensatory planting. I ask Maggie Keegan to explain her concerns about those issues and the other panel members whether they share them.

Dr Keegan

We are looking at scenarios in which it would be inappropriate to plant trees. In some areas, there are other eco-systems that should remain in place. When someone is required to restock on “other land”, as the bill says, how do we know that that land is suitable for tree planting? That is the point that we wanted to make. There might be a low risk of unsuitable land being used, but when we consider bills we must always consider the unintended consequences and how one thing might lead to another.

Malcolm Crosby

When someone wants to plant land they need to have permission, and the application must go through the conservancy office and be approved. If the land is unsuitable because of another environmental priority, it is highly unlikely that the planting will get approval.

Peter Chapman

Do the other witnesses agree with that?

Willie McGhee

I absolutely agree.

Dr Keegan

I have nothing to worry about, then.

Peter Chapman

Your concern might not be so acute now.

Dr Keegan

We always look for unintended consequences.

Stewart Stevenson

Charles Dundas said that registration of environmental burdens with Registers of Scotland would be a good thing to do, although it is not happening. The bill provides for registration of various matters that relate to felling. Do you think that Registers of Scotland is the best place in which to keep records of obligations that are associated with land? I think that the balance of the evidence from the previous panel was that such records could adequately and properly be provided through the website of the Forestry Commission Scotland or its successors.

Charles Dundas

I will hold my hands up and say that when we read the provision in the bill we thought that Registers of Scotland seemed to be the right place, but I admit that I did not think through the consequences. Having listened to the evidence that you heard this morning, I am now in two minds. Perhaps the information could easily be registered with the Forestry Commission. That could certainly be done more cheaply.

I would not want to present myself as saying that we are absolutely tied to what is in the bill. If there were an alternative, such as doing it through the Forestry Commission’s existing IT system, I would be quite happy to look at that.

Stewart Stevenson

As a matter of principle, it should be not necessarily “registered” with a capital R, but publicly available to be seen.

Charles Dundas

Absolutely. As a principle—

Stewart Stevenson

However that is delivered.

Charles Dundas

I agree.

The Convener

Maybe Malcolm Crosby has experience of how the process works at the moment and can explain it; I think that the committee would find that very useful. It seems quite a simple system.

Malcolm Crosby

In the past, we had to send a licence to somebody if they wanted data. As part of the open government approach, we have moved to publishing as much as possible online. Forest Enterprise, for example, publishes its entire sub-compartment database online. It can be accessed through the website. If a developer wants to look at it, they can do so.

The Forestry Commission does exactly the same with all the constraints, the woodland grant scheme and so on—everything is there on its publicly available website, which is maintained and updated by, I assume, my colleagues in the Forestry Commission Scotland. All data, such as SNH data, is gathered into one repository, where it is publicly available.

Registers of Scotland is quite busy at the moment, as it has to register everything by, supposedly, 2019. That is an absolutely mammoth task, and it will be very interesting to see whether it achieves it.

The Convener

Is it easy to access that database?

Malcolm Crosby

Yes.

Stewart Stevenson

You used the phrase “as much as possible”. I slightly worry about that. Are you implying that, if the bill were to take a different approach from that taken by Registers of Scotland, it should at least specify what information would have to be published? In that way there would be no ambiguity in respect of the responsibilities of all the parties.

Malcolm Crosby

Any obligations need to be published. Obviously, there might be some constraints that we are not aware of, and we cannot be expected to publish those, but our approach has moved to open government.

It costs us far less to put data on a website than to have somebody ring up and ask us to supply them with such and such information, and then have somebody else do the same thing the following day. That is why we published all the renewables data.

Dr Keegan

I have a brief point, with my Scottish Wildlife Trust hat on. We have plenty of volunteers who regularly use that excellent website. If the information that we are discussing were there as well, everything would be in one place.

The Convener

I have to say that I have always found it quite easy to use.

Charles Dundas

I agree that it is a very easy website to use. I recommend that you all have a look.

The Convener

We move on to the last theme, which Jamie Greene will introduce.

Jamie Greene

Thank you, convener. I would like to close the meeting by discussing the financial implications of the bill. I have two short questions, which I will ask separately.

First, one assumes that the budget lines for FCS and FES, which at the moment are separate and come with their respective accounting, reporting and audit functions, will be subsumed within the forestry directorate. Do the witnesses have any concerns around that? More important, if they have concerns, what should the bill include to address them?

Malcolm Crosby

I strongly object to the proposals. I have made it very clear that we feel that our staff will be greatly at risk if the proposed structure comes about.

In sessions with us, when we met the minister and officials, and with the committee, officials have used the fact that we have two separate sets of accounts as evidence that we are two separate organisations. I hope that I have been able to show this morning that that is not the case and that we work very closely together and just have accounting arrangements that demonstrate that we spend this bit on FCS and this bit on FES. We have appropriate audit systems.

As others have commented, if things are separated out, there will be no accountability for what the Scottish Government spends on the regulation/policy side. Our case is entirely consistent: there needs to be a separate organisation that is fully accountable and fully transparent, and we would prefer it to be a single organisation with both parts in it.

Dr Keegan

I think that Malcolm Crosby is referring to a point that we raised in our submission. I suppose that the question is whether we can think of an amendment to the bill and whether we get a commitment and assurances when the cabinet secretary is sitting before the committee next week in relation to how the spending will be scrutinised and how Parliament can scrutinise it. I am not quite sure yet whether that is something that can go in the bill, but we will think about it. In the meantime, you could ask the cabinet secretary about it because it is a valid point, and get on the record what the thinking is behind the proposal. As was raised in the previous evidence session, we would not want to see restructuring of the organisation take away from optimising Scotland’s assets in terms of woodland creation, woodland restoration and native woodland creation. Even if it is short term, it is probably going to be quite costly.

Charles Dundas

It is a great irony that, due to what is, I am sure, an unintended consequence, a bill that sets out to try to increase accountability and transparency will remove a great deal of transparency on the funding that goes into those two Scottish Government operations. It should not be too difficult to fix that. It is about reporting and accounting, so there needs to be a requirement on the division to provide full accounts to Parliament or something along those lines. I have not given any thought to that; that is the job of you guys.

Willie McGhee

I endorse the points made by Charles Dundas and Malcolm Crosby about the structure.

Are you going to ask about IT and rebranding as a follow-up?

The Convener

If Jamie Greene raises that point now, you will get a chance to answer.

Jamie Greene

Sure. I have a similar question to the one that I asked the previous panel. There was a bit of a mixed response from the previous panel as to how important the issue is. Estimates of the costs range from £6 million to £12 million. It is a substantial amount of money, which I get the impression would come from existing forestry budgets as opposed to there being new money from the Scottish Government. Does the panel think that the Scottish Government should fund the costs of the restructuring, which, at the end of the day, is a political decision?

Willie McGhee

The short answer is yes. Somebody mentioned the RPID and a few of us sitting around the table used those systems to get access to grants. I do not think that we should go anywhere near new IT. Rebranding over a number of years with the same livery but perhaps with a different play on the words would mean that you would not have to spend a lot of money getting white vehicles or going around Scotland’s forests changing all the signs and so on.

The Convener

So you accept rebranding. We have heard this morning about the high esteem that the Forestry Commission Scotland is held in and the fact that it is fairly well integrated. Before you just accept rebranding, can I check whether you are saying that the structure needs to be rebranded?

Willie McGhee

No, I would not restructure or rebrand. However, as someone who is sometimes a fatalist, if the decision was to do such a thing, we should try to maintain the colours and words in such a way that we do not spend £4 million—or however many million pounds—that could be better spent elsewhere.

The Convener

A good way to wrap this up is to give you all a chance to answer the question. Does the Forestry Commission need to be rebranded and, if it does, where should the money come from?

Charles Dundas

Although I would never call myself a fatalist, I agree completely with Willie McGhee. Our original position that this does not need to happen does away with all those issues. One of our initial responses to the consultation was that the Forestry Commission is such a strong brand and has such a great reputation that it would be a real loss to Scotland to lose it.

My understanding is that the Forestry Commission brand will be maintained in England. It will continue to be the Forestry Commission. Perhaps we should adopt an approach that is similar to that taken by yes Scotland in relation to the pound—it is our Forestry Commission too, and we have just as much right to use that branding and to continue along those lines. However, I have not heard any appetite for that approach.

12:15  



If we take the fatalist approach and rebranding is thrust upon us and we have to do it, I would not want to see any money transferred from operations on the ground to IT or new signs. If rebranding detracts from putting one tree in the ground, it will have done a disservice to Scotland.

Malcolm Crosby

As I understand it, the brand is owned by the Forestry Commission and, as such, belongs to Westminster. Consequently, if you split off, you do not have licence to use the brand. We have not yet discussed Forest Research, the management of which looks likely to end up remaining part of an agency of the Forestry Commission England. Therefore, it will be able to use the brand in Scotland—there is a branch of our research establishment at the northern research station just outside Edinburgh. The proposal is that the Forestry Commission in Scotland moves out of that arrangement. If negotiations can take place about the cross-border nature of Forest Research, I do not see it as being terribly difficult to come to some agreement about the use of the brand. I really cannot imagine that Westminster would die in a ditch over that. We would have no need to change the brand, although we could make minimal changes. For example, we have suggested “Forestry Scotland” rather than “Forestry Commission Scotland”, which would be a very minor change. The important thing is to keep the two parts together.

On the money, an element of IT investment is very definitely required in the organisation. There has been a lot of uncertainty and we have perhaps not spent as much as we should have spent, so some investment is required in IT. A move into the Scottish Government with the facilities that it already has could be of great benefit to us, but it will require some investment. However, spending a lot on rebranding will be a complete waste of money and will not go down very well with your constituents. In addition, as others have said, there is a severe threat to our staff. The requirement is that whoever divorces pays the bill. When Wales left, it had to pay the bill; and when Scotland left, it had to pay the bill. However, all that has happened is a transfer to the Forestry Commission, and we have been told, “You pay for it.” That is a severe threat to our staff.

Dr Keegan

My main point is that, as I said, money should not be diverted to a new brand from the activity of forestry and delivering sustainable forest management. If we could keep the same name, we would save money.

Professor Miller

If you do not mind, I will start with IT, then go on to the brand. I understand why lots of reputations can be damaged by lots of things not necessarily working. However, looking forward, whatever information technology is required will need continual reinvestment to be contemporary and leading edge for managing the best part of a fifth of Scotland’s land. We should not leave things by reflecting on a lack of investment in what is going to be the underpinning infrastructure for the efficient management of the system. Where the investment comes from is not for me to pick up.

On the branding, I think that it is really important to try to keep the good will and the name. My colleagues here have expressed that cogently. The question for me is that, given that we are touching on 100 years of the commission, what should the brand be in 2117 for the generations coming up? Will the next generation to use and benefit from the forests associate with the Forestry Commission or the Forestry Commission Scotland in the same way? The dialogue, debate and consultation could be about what that should be for the current generation and for the next 100 years. Again, I will pass on the question of payment for that, if you do not mind.

The Convener

I thank you all very much for the evidence that you have given this morning, which has been very interesting. We have certainly learned a lot about forestry, and the passion that you have spoken with has come through.

That concludes this part of the committee’s business. Our next meeting will take place next week. We will look at the Islands (Scotland) Bill, take evidence from the cabinet secretary on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill and the small holdings legislation, and consider our approach to the budget.

I now close the meeting, but I ask committee members to remain seated briefly.

Meeting closed at 12:20.  



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Fourth meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 3 is the final evidence session on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Claudia Beamish, the reporter on the bill for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. From the Scottish Government, I welcome Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity; Ginny Gardner, who is the head of forestry devolution; Carole Barker-Munro, who is the bill manager; Catherine Murdoch, who is the deputy bill manager; Barry McCaffrey, who is a solicitor; Jo O’Hara, who is the head of the Forestry Commission Scotland; and Simon Hodge, who is the chief executive of Forest Enterprise.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

This is a welcome opportunity to give evidence on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. The forestry sector is hugely important to Scotland—to rural Scotland, in particular. It is the bedrock of many rural communities and supports a huge range of businesses: it is worth £1 billion a year and supports 25,000 jobs. The forestry sector is a very important part of our rural Scottish life.

The bill is the first primary legislation on forestry since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999. As the bill progresses through Parliament, we are committed to continuing the consensual approach that we demonstrated in the forestry debate that we had in January. I met bilaterally with all the political parties prior to the bill’s introduction, and I offer to do so again between stages 1 and 2, if that would be of interest to members.

The bill is about completing the devolution of forestry, which is a manifesto and programme for government commitment. I hope that the policy commands a degree of cross-party support. Following devolution, forestry will be fully accountable to the people of Scotland, through Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament. Funding for forestry will continue to be provided via the Scottish budget, which is scrutinised and approved by the Scottish Parliament. New organisational structures are being created for forestry to deliver the functions that are conferred on ministers, and new collaborative—I emphasise that word—cross-border arrangements are being established for functions that are best dealt with through co-operation with other Governments.

I have been listening to stakeholder views about the new structures—in particular, views about bringing the policy and regulatory arm of the Forestry Commission Scotland into the Scottish Government. I understand that some people are concerned that that may lead to a loss of skills and interchange, such that forestry may somehow be lost within the main stream of the civil service. Without in any way denigrating or diminishing those concerns, to which I have listened carefully, I do not agree that that will happen. Forestry will be at front and centre of the rural economy and we will continue to need skilled and experienced staff to deliver our ambitions.

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of visiting all five conservancy offices, from Dumfries to Dingwall, with Jo O’Hara. I did so specifically to meet the staff in order to learn about and discuss their concerns, and to reassure them and, perhaps, dispel some of those concerns. The new structures are the best way to deliver our ambitions for forestry: I am committed to continued engagement with staff and the sector in order to address concerns, as the structures are set up.

In short, the new arrangements will continue the ethos and spirit of Forestry Commission Scotland. I am entirely committed to that.

I will turn to the bill to comment on its main provisions if I may, convener. I am trying to stick to the time limit, so I ask you to cut me off if I go on too long—because that happens sometimes, apparently.

Mike Rumbles

Surely not, cabinet secretary.

Fergus Ewing

Thank you for that.

Part 2 of the bill is about forestry functions on tree health and silvicultural material testing functions. The bill will place two important new duties on Scottish ministers: to “promote sustainable forest management” and to prepare, publish and “have regard to” a Scottish forestry strategy. The strategy will be the place to set out high-level objectives, priorities and policies for the economic, environmental and social aspects of forestry. It will be where we will define “sustainable forest management” and state how we intend to promote it. We anticipate that the strategy will cover such areas as woodland creation, timber production and development, increasing community engagement, environmental impacts, urban forestry, and the threats from pests, diseases and climate change.

Part 3 deals with land management and provides powers for the minister to manage the national forest estate in a way that contributes to multiple outcomes. That part also introduces new powers for ministers to manage land for the purposes of sustainable development.

Part 4 is the new regulatory regime for felling trees and restocking. The regime details are to be set out in secondary legislation in order to enable a more flexible, agile and risk-based regulatory regime.

Part 5 contains general powers to enable ministers to carry out their duties, and part 6 has general and final provisions.

In conclusion, I look forward to working constructively and collaboratively over the remaining passage of the bill in this session in order to complete the devolution of forestry to the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to working with the committee to that end.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. There are a lot of questions to get through. I will kick off straight away with Jamie Greene’s questions.

Jamie Greene

Good morning to the panel and the cabinet secretary. The structural and organisational changes that are proposed in the bill are already something of a fait accompli, so I hope that the cabinet secretary will forgive me for taking a step back to ask him, given the many positive things that we have heard about the Forestry Commission Scotland and FES, what is wrong with the status quo?

Fergus Ewing

The status quo is what we are changing: we seek to complete the devolution of forestry to make it accountable to the people of Scotland, through the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

At the moment, we have two separate arms, although they are regarded as one and, indeed, work as one. They work extremely collaboratively; Jo O’Hara and Simon Hodge and their teams work as one, but they are two—Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland. The Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Forestry Commission UK, which is part of, and is accountable to, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Instead of that arrangement, Forest Enterprise Scotland will cease to be an agency of the Forestry Commission and will become an agency of the Scottish Government, and the Forestry Commission Scotland will become a division of the Scottish Government. However, from the point of view of the staff and their work, they will carry on as is. The new arrangements will improve accountability; Parliament will have the scrutiny role that will bring forestry to centre stage in a way that I suggest has not necessarily been the case since Parliament was reconvened. I think that that will be a very good thing.

Jamie Greene

The cabinet secretary mentioned increased accountability and scrutiny resulting from the changes. In last week’s evidence session, the concern was raised that, at the moment, the two organisations report separately and are, therefore, more accountable than they would be if they were integrated into the Scottish Government. What is your view on that?

Fergus Ewing

I do not share that concern. My experience over the past year and a bit has been of working extremely closely with Simon Hodge and Jo O’Hara, and I think that the new arrangements will clarify accountability and responsibility. At the moment, responsibility is diffuse, because the Scottish Government is substantially the funder, although the Forestry Commission is a UK body.

That is my experience. Simon Hodge and Jo O’Hara have been in place for some time, so it might be useful for the committee—with your permission, convener—to get their insights from the front, as it were. I appreciate the importance of the question that Mr Greene has asked.

Jo O’Hara (Scottish Government)

I am in the odd position of being a forestry commissioner as well as a civil servant who is answerable to Mr Ewing, so I live and breathe the issue every day. The situation is uncomfortable, it is awkward and it is unclear. The role of commissioner has a statutory basis in the Forestry Act 1967, but the reality is that policy is devolved—I answer on policy—and the budget comes from the Scottish Parliament.

The new arrangements will enable the legislation to catch up with the reality of what is happening and make it much more clear and transparent to anyone on the outside. People understand the positions of a minister and an official, but I constantly have to say that I am also a commissioner and explain how that fits into things. The new arrangements represent modernisation of the legislation so that it can catch up with the reality in practice.

Simon Hodge (Scottish Government)

I echo what Jo O’Hara said, entirely. In addition, Forest Enterprise Scotland manages the national forest estate, which is owned by the Scottish ministers, but we are accountable in some measure to a cross-border body for how we do so. Again, that is sometimes difficult to handle. There is an opportunity here to bring things into better alignment, in terms of accountability to Scotland.

Jamie Greene

Thank you for that clarification.

The cabinet secretary mentioned some of the concerns that have been raised with us in previous meetings about expertise being lost as people become part of the civil service, as opposed to being part of a separate organisation that is focused on forestry. I appreciate the cabinet secretary’s commitment to ensuring that that does not happen. Can we strengthen the bill to ensure that there is no way that current expertise can be lost as a result of the restructuring?

Fergus Ewing

I do not think that expertise will be lost, and we value the expertise of the staff very highly. The woodland officers—of whom I met a great many in the second-last week of August, as I said—have the expertise in silviculture. They will continue to deal with applications and they—not ministers—will ensure that good practice and forestry standards are adhered to. They will ensure that we do not replicate the mistakes of the past—for example, planting on peatlands—and they will ensure that the forestry strategy is fulfilled.

This will be the first time that there has been a statutory duty to have a forestry strategy. I am interested in hearing the wider views of the committee on that, because it seems to me that that duty presents the opportunity to set out clearly the functions, which will then continue to be delivered by staff.

Local staff will remain vital sources of regional knowledge—I have become aware that there are vastly different circumstances in relation to silviculture in different parts of the country, given the different terrains and habitats. Forestry decisions will continue to be taken by forestry experts; they will not be micromanaged, nor will there be centralisation of functions.

Let me finish with this point, on which it might be useful to get views from Simon Hodge and Jo O’Hara, who are the experts. The forestry strategy will give us an opportunity to set out the target of planting 10,000 hectares per annum—and rising—which I think we have agreed across the political spectrum. There will then be a statutory duty in that regard, which I will have to fulfil. Simon Hodge or Jo O’Hara might add to that, because the question is extremely important.

The Convener

Please be relatively brief, because there are quite a lot of questions and I would like to ask two questions before we move off this theme.

10:15  



Simon Hodge

Forest Enterprise Scotland manages 1.5 million acres of Scotland, and a range of technical expertise is essential to do that. It is my job to ensure that that expertise continues and that it provides Government with a practical outlook on land management. My plea is that it involve not just forestry and foresters—although I am one, and they are very important—but civil engineers, landscape architects, land agents, geographic information systems technicians and procurement experts. A huge range of professional expertise is critically important, and I am very positive about the way in which the Scottish Government is supporting that.

Jo O’Hara

From my point of view, the focus on forestry, rather than on what is in the legislation, is the important thing. We have found—Jim Mackinnon pointed this out in his report, with which I know members are familiar—that the increased focus on forestry brings with it an increased focus on forestry skills for us, as the regulator and Government’s adviser.

Regardless of the legislation, the important thing is that the need to have professional foresters advising Government on forestry had been identified. We already have work streams in process looking at how we develop and train woodland officers. That is absolutely important and crucial, particularly in the context of the Scottish forestry strategy.

The Convener

When we were hearing evidence last week, Malcolm Crosby said that people who work in both organisations have extreme concerns about the restructuring. Cabinet secretary, in your opening statement you said clearly that those concerns were not reflected in what you heard on the ground when you visited the offices. Malcolm Crosby said that people were not expressing their views up the chain. Can you assure the committee that Malcolm Crosby is wrong and that there are no concerns? He was quite clear about that.

Fergus Ewing

I did not say that I heard no concerns when I went round the five conservancy offices. Obviously some people had concerns. That is absolutely clear, and I should make it clear, if I did not do so previously.

In the discussions that I had with Jo O’Hara and the local conservators, we were able to provide a number of basic assurances. I have discussed those with Malcolm Crosby, whom I think I have met along with the trade union representatives across the board on two or three occasions. It is very important that I continue to engage with those people: I will do that.

First, there will be no compulsory redundancies. Secondly, the local office network will remain. It is the vital source—the hub—of the Forestry Commission Scotland’s activity. In a sense, what is happening is not actually a reorganisation. There are two bodies at the moment—Forest Enterprise and the Forestry Commission—and there will continue to be two bodies, so the suggestion that there is one body at the moment is not correct in law. In practice the bodies operate as one, although Forest Enterprise operates as the trading arm and the Forestry Commission operates as the regulatory arm. It makes sense to separate the regulation and implementation functions, rather than have them being done by the same body.

I appreciate that Malcolm Crosby has sincerely held concerns. Some staff expressed those to me; others did not. However, that was not the most important thing in the discussion. The most important thing was that I gained a sense—Jo O’Hara was at all the meetings and can give her perspective—that staff were reassured that they would be valued as the people who deliver the forestry policy for Scotland. They are proud of that; it is a calling and a vocation. It became evident to me that that is the case and that we must preserve the ethos and spirit of the Forestry Commission. Why on earth would we not want to do that? It is a precious thing in itself.

Although there are concerns, I felt that the visits were useful in helping to dispel some of them. However, I certainly would not say that Malcolm Crosby was wrong—far from it. He is doing his job and representing his members, and I respect that.

The Convener

I am going to leave that there, cabinet secretary, because there are a lot of questions. The next one is from Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson

Thank you, convener. I want to move to part 3 of the bill, “Management of Land by Scottish Ministers”. I have a number of issues, but I will start with the one that has come up in our deliberations thus far. Part 3 starts with:

“The Scottish Ministers must manage forestry land in a way that promotes sustainable forest management.”

The definition of “forestry land” is provided at section 10, the national forest estate is defined at section 11 and section 12 states that

“Ministers must publish a description of forestry land”.

However, the bill does not address the issue of what sustainable forest management is. What does the cabinet secretary think it is, and how should lawmakers such as ourselves, and the courts in future, consider what sustainable forest management is?

Fergus Ewing

As I think I said at the outset, what sustainable forest management is will be set out in the forestry strategy. That will be the right place to go into the details of that, and that is our plan. I defer in this matter to Jo O’Hara, who perhaps can amplify that basic answer.

Jo O’Hara

There is a question here of what happens in practice and what is in legislation. There are working definitions of sustainable forest management at a very high level; at the most basic level, it means that you replace trees when you harvest them—that is the basic understanding. There are various understandings of the definition between those levels.

The one that we use across the UK, and which all four Governments in the UK have signed up to, is the UK forestry standard. It is well understood and regularly developed. That is the sort of thing that we will get into in the Scottish forestry strategy, where we will say, “This is the current interpretation of ‘sustainable forest management’.” Because it is a developing science, that is probably a more appropriate place to discuss it, and that is where it will be laid out.

Stewart Stevenson

That is fine, and I am comfortable to hear you say it, but under “Forestry Strategy”, section 3(2) of the bill says that the strategy must do various things and includes reference to

“policies with respect to the promotion of sustainable forest management”

and setting out

“other matters with respect to the promotion of sustainable forest management.”

Section 3(3) talks about

“the conservation and enhancement of the environment by means of sustainable forest management”.

There are plenty of references to how to implement it, but there is no duty in what is before us to help us understand what it is that is being implemented via the strategy. Would it therefore be helpful for what I have just heard Jo O’Hara say to be more clearly expressed in the bill—for example, at section 3(3)(a), which mentions

“the economic development of forestry”?

I know that the forest industries—which do not get a great deal of reference—have concerns about ensuring that a continuous flow of forest raw materials will be delivered to them. I am not sure that I see that matter expressed in the bill. There might be some gaps—perhaps they are gaps in my understanding rather than gaps in the bill.

Fergus Ewing

I think that placing a definition in law in the bill would mean that the definition could not be updated to reflect changes.

I think that I am right in saying that sustainable forest management is not a static but a dynamic concept. As a relative newcomer to this area, I have read the forestry standards, of which there was recently a light review. I read some of them, and I did not understand every part of them, because I am not a silviculturist, nor am I qualified in forestry.

The point is that the forestry standards have recently been reviewed—they are dynamic, not static. From a technical drafting point of view, the risk is that, if you place the definition in the bill, it might become outmoded or restrictive in, say, a decade’s time. Therefore, the place for the definition is in the forestry strategy. That is certainly not an attempt to achieve anything other than the flexibility that we seek.

In response to Mr Stevenson, let me say that it is essential that we recognise the needs of the economy and the need to provide a continuing ready supply of productive timber for our sawmills for oriented strand boards. I am thinking of companies such as Norbord and EGGER, BSW Timber, James Jones & Sons and Glennon Brothers and the whole panoply of companies beneath them that are such a crucial part of our economy. We need a balance, of course, but Mr Stevenson is right that we must not neglect the economic aspects.

The Convener

I think that I hear somebody saying that there are other timber companies outwith the cabinet secretary’s constituency that may also be relevant. On that note, does Stewart Stevenson want to follow up?

Stewart Stevenson

We are, of course, talking about land that is forestry land and, therefore, Government land. We could legislate to cover private land, but the bill does not try to do that. One thing that has arisen is the matter of how the forestry strategy will be dealt with in parliamentary terms. Should it be submitted to Parliament in draft so that, before it is finalised, there is an opportunity for Parliament to consider its contents and suggest to ministers any changes that might be useful or appropriate? Is the cabinet secretary minded to think in those terms for the parliamentary process? The bill would not, I think, prohibit that from happening, but it does not mandate that it has to.

Fergus Ewing

The bill will by definition bring far greater scrutiny to the Parliament, which is accountable directly to the people of Scotland. The provision in the bill calling for there to be a forestry strategy further increases that accountability. As for the process that Mr Stevenson referred to, the process for developing a forestry strategy is well established and the bill includes a requirement to consult. I believe that laying the strategy before Parliament is the appropriate process in this case. Of course, I am very keen to hear the committee’s views after it has carefully considered all the evidence that it receives.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. Fulton MacGregor has the next question.

Fulton MacGregor

You mentioned cross-border working in your opening statement, and other speakers have touched on it too. Can you expand on the conversations that you referred to about how that might be implemented?

Fergus Ewing

There are certain aspects for which it is prudent and right in principle to continue to work on a cross-border basis. One example is disease, which is an extremely serious issue for forest management. Some of the diseases have had disastrous consequences environmentally and economically. Diseases do not respect borders and it is right that we co-operate across these islands and continue to work together on tree health in order to tackle the challenges of those diseases directly.

Secondly, for forestry science and research, much of which looks into tree health and disease, it is similarly important to continue to co-operate. We have an excellent facility in Scotland in the Forestry Commission that deals with research, but there are also similar groups of scientists and experts in England. Continued work in that area would be sensible and prudent. We also believe that it will ensure continuity for the sector, particularly for the scientists and the research.

As far as direct engagement is concerned, I have met the UK minister, Thérèse Coffey, and my Welsh counterpart, Lesley Griffiths. I am encouraged by the discussions between the Governments that have taken place so far. They all agree that collaboration on those matters should continue.

Fulton MacGregor

Can you clarify your opinion on whether Forest Research should be a single joint UK body? Is that your preferred option?

10:30  



Fergus Ewing

We will co-operate across the UK. We are committed to ensuring that there are on-going effective cross-border arrangements where that makes sense and meets Scottish needs.

John Mason

I want to look at part 3 of the bill, sections 9 to 12; another member will pick up section 13 onwards—although they overlap a bit.

We have heard evidence that there is confusion over some of the definitions and titles and how they interact with each other. I am thinking in particular of section 10 on the national forest estate and the meaning of “forestry land” and “other land”. Similarly, there is the issue that forestry land should be managed to promote “sustainable forest development”, while “other land” is for “sustainable development”.

Could people be confused by those terms, or is that just the best that we can do?

Fergus Ewing

Having spent most of my life as a lawyer I would say that where there is legislation there tends to be an element of confusion. [Laughter.] That remark was not meant to be entirely flippant.

We must recognise that the national forest estate comprises forestry and non-forestry land. Members will be aware that Simon Hodge and his teams deal with a wide range of functions other than the principal one of forestry. I give the examples of tourism at Glentress and the renewable energy scheme, which brings in an income of £10 million a year and has been developed very effectively by Forest Enterprise. Another example might be working with communities, such as in Abriachan, which is outwith my constituency although not far from my patch. Housing for local community groups is another function.

I mention those briefly because it is important to bear it in mind that Forest Enterprise is not solely devoted to forestry. Over the last century, since the Forestry Commission was established, it has accresced functions. More trees were needed after the first world war and that was the sole purpose of the Forestry Commission at that time. However, we must bear it in mind that, since then, tourism, the environment, housing, community interests and renewable energy have all been added to its scope.

We need to approach the issue of definition carefully and consider the questions that have been raised by the various stakeholders very seriously. That work has already started and we want to continue it with the committee. I am sure that Carole Barker-Munro can answer any more detailed and difficult questions if members wish to ask them.

John Mason

Does that mean that the Government will lodge amendments or make proposals of its own?

Fergus Ewing

Where there is a bill there tend to be amendments. If the member does not want to use the committee’s time by exploring those—to some extent—legal questions today, I can assure him that we are taking very seriously and looking very carefully at the definitions issues that have been raised. There will certainly be some amendments. We recognise that there is a need for clarity. I suspect that Barry McCaffrey or Carole Barker-Munro can provide better answers than I can.

John Mason

I cannot speak for my colleagues, but if you say that you are considering that evidence—

Fergus Ewing

If it is not out of order, perhaps I can suggest that, if the committee wishes, it should raise any specific questions on definitions with us as soon as possible and we will come back to you on that. We are happy to do that as quickly as possible.

The Convener

I have just checked with the clerks and our report is due in the next few weeks. There have been significant questions, so any clarity that you or your colleagues and assistants can give us would be much appreciated. As you will know, the time that we have in which to consider that before our report needs to be complete is very short.

John Mason

I will leave that point, if others are happy. My other point is that Confor said:

“Management of forestry land should include a duty on ministers to maintain the productive capacity of the National Forest Estate.”

Do you have any sympathy for that?

Fergus Ewing

We have to ensure that. It is a very valid point. How it is encapsulated and dealt with in legislation is a mixed question of policy and drafting. However, I accept that Confor is absolutely right that we need to maintain the national forest estate’s productive capacity.

Richard Lyle

I will concentrate on the management of land to further sustainable development.

Among the many things that you have to do, you have to manage land. The Community Woodland Association stated:

“We welcome the proposed duty on Scottish Ministers to promote sustainable forest management … but believe it would be useful to clarify the definition and use of this phrase”.

Scottish Environment LINK noted:

“There is very little reference of the UK Forest Standard (UKFS) in the policy memorandum (and no reference in the Bill)”.

What criteria will be used to determine whether land is being managed, or will be managed, for the purpose of furthering sustainable development?

Fergus Ewing

It is probably best if Simon Hodge answers that.

Simon Hodge

To be simplistic, it is about Government forestry land and other land. Our overall aim is sustainable management of the estate. In my mind, that principally falls out into land with forest on it, which we manage according to a set of standards that is appropriate to forestry, and land that does not have forest on it, which we manage to a set of standards that is appropriate to wider activities. The cabinet secretary mentioned some of those earlier; I add our agricultural activity to that.

Our current approach is to look to the principles of sustainable land use in the land use strategy, which lays out a good set of principles against which we plan in our strategic planning for the national forest estate. That is a good umbrella set of principles that is appropriate for the management of state land.

Richard Lyle

How do you propose that the forestry strategy, and the duty to promote sustainable forest management in the bill, will link to the UK forestry standard? Do the Scottish ministers intend to go above and beyond—as I know the cabinet secretary always wants to—the UKFS by working to sustainable forest management?

The Convener

Simon, I think that you are in the frame to answer that question as well.

Simon Hodge

Yes. In one sense, we find it to be a well-codified process because the international sustainable forestry certification bodies have adopted the UK forestry standard. That means that we have an annual certification audit across all the forestry on the national forest estate that assesses us against, in effect, the UK forestry standard but codified as an internationally recognised standard for sustainable forest management. That assessment always looks for us to do more and improve and we are always positive and keen to do that, particularly recognising that our role is not only to manage land sustainably but to act as an exemplar for others to follow.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Good morning, cabinet secretary. As you heard earlier, I am here on behalf of the ECCLR Committee, to which I will report back. That committee will also do a report. I much appreciate the opportunity to participate.

In that context, I want to ask why the bill is not better integrated with other Scottish Government policies, such as biodiversity, deer management and climate change. At last week’s committee meeting, Willie McGhee of the Forest Policy Group said that the bill could be more innovative, Peter Peacock from Community Land Scotland said that the bill should be aligned with other legislation on economic and social development, and Maggie Keegan of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said that the bill could deliver more. Deer management was mentioned as the biggest threat to woodland in Scotland. Although I understand and respect the point that was made earlier about the forest strategy—that things need to be dynamic, not static—it is still valid to point out that there are overarching issues that we should consider including in the bill before stage 2.

Fergus Ewing

We are aware of the desire of a number of the witnesses and stakeholders to ensure that there is alignment across the various dictates and requirements of an integrated rural development and land use policy, including protection of the environment. Those matters are among those set out in the bill that must be considered and to which regard must be had in the preparation of the forestry strategy.

It is partly a question of legal draftsmanship. When one has a bill on forestry, the purpose is to set out the law on forestry. One does not, as a matter of form and draftsmanship, restate existing duties that are there and to which regard must be had because they are existing statutory duties and provisions. As a matter of technical form, we would not restate things that are stated elsewhere. Law does not really do that, and nor should it, because where would you stop? Law has to be clear, carefully defined, capable of being understood and sufficiently clear in its format to be able to be interpreted by the courts. I say that as a lawyer, not as a minister—once a lawyer, you cannot really stop being a lawyer, I am afraid. That is why we do not have a whole plethora of other issues in the bill. It does not mean that they are not taken seriously; of course they are, but I wanted to stress that.

Jo O’Hara can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that adherence to the forestry standards means that we have possibly the highest regulatory standards in the world. The duties to have regard to biodiversity, to habitats and to the environment—in particular, by not planting on deep peatlands—are a necessary concomitant of our commitment to adhere to the FS. Those things are well understood in the whole vocation and practice of the forestry profession in Scotland.

The Convener

Would Claudia Beamish like to hear from Jo O’Hara?

Claudia Beamish

That would be helpful, and she may well answer the point that I wanted to follow with.

Jo O’Hara

I would back up exactly what Mr Ewing said. Throughout my time in the profession, we have been on a journey to develop our understanding of what sustainable forest management is. As I mentioned earlier, developing the UK FS has been a process that will continue as our understanding of the social, environmental and economic aspects of forestry develops. It is the floor on which other things happen. However, using forestry to deliver biodiversity, climate change and social objectives goes beyond sustainable forest management; that is the role of the forest strategy. It is important to retain those two different concepts in your head. The third aspect is bringing that into law, which brings me back to the organisational arrangements. Bringing us within the Scottish Government means that we have to deliver the Government’s agenda on all those aspects—we do anyway, but it makes it much clearer—without the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or a cross-border body getting in the way. All those things come together to achieve the outcome that you are talking about.

Claudia Beamish

I have a brief supplementary. Section 4 of the bill, on the preparation of a forest strategy, refers to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, under which there are statutory duties, and to

“the land rights and responsibilities statement”.

In view of the importance of biodiversity, our statutory obligations in that regard and the complexities of deer management, for instance, would it not be appropriate to refer to those in an overarching sense there?

10:45  



Fergus Ewing

I think that Carole Barker-Munro can give the copperplate answer.

The Convener

And a brief one, I hope.

Carole Barker-Munro (Scottish Government)

No pressure there. As the cabinet secretary said, where there is an existing statutory duty, such duties are not duplicated in the bill, so the climate change targets are not in the bill; nor is the biodiversity duty.

Section 4 of the bill relates to strategies that are required by law but do not impose duties on Scottish ministers with regard to how to act—those are swept up in section 4. Claudia Beamish mentioned a long list of other policies and there will no doubt be an increasing list in future. The intention is to deal with those under section 3(3), which covers the economic, environmental and social aspects of forestry.

The Convener

I have a brief question on this theme. There has been some concern that the wording of section 14 of the bill is vague. Will you clarify the intention of that section and whether you believe that the wording should be tightened up?

Fergus Ewing

I think that Carole can probably give a more succinct answer.

Carole Barker-Munro

The purpose of section 14 is to provide a power for ministers to enter into arrangements with other parties to manage land on their behalf. The arrangements are by consent so there is no compulsion. The power is not new. Forest Enterprise Scotland already manages land on behalf of a number of other people. The current power is in section 3 of the Forestry Act 1967. The language in the bill has been modernised and updated but it reflects a current policy outcome and our policy is that it should continue in the future.

The Convener

Just to clarify—we are talking about voluntary arrangements between two parties with no compulsion?

Carole Barker-Munro

The arrangements are by mutual consent.

The Convener

The next theme will be started off by the deputy convener, Gail Ross.

Gail Ross

I would like to touch on sections 15, 16 and 17, which deal with the acquisition of land by agreement, the compulsory purchase of land and the power to dispose of land. The bill gives Scottish ministers for the first time compulsory purchase powers to further the achievement of sustainable development. Compulsory purchase powers are in the 1967 act but they have not been used since the act was introduced. Why do we need those powers?

Fergus Ewing

As I understand it, such powers are commonly provided for public bodies that are required to carry out functions in relation to the transaction of land and property. Of course, one of the main functions of Forest Enterprise Scotland is to do precisely that.

My understanding is, as Gail Ross has said, that those compulsory purchase powers have not been used for 50 years, but they are there as a backstop. It would be helpful if Simon Hodge could give some examples of circumstances in which it might conceivably be appropriate to exercise the compulsory purchase order powers, even though there has not been a requirement to use them for half a century.

Simon Hodge

As the cabinet secretary indicated, we have not utilised such powers but, in relation to sustainable forest management and timber transport, for example, one could imagine a situation in which timber is landlocked through a ransom strip. There are no examples in relation to wider sustainable development, because CPO powers have not been used, but if Scottish ministers wished their land management body to get engaged in activities in relation to conservation or protection of vulnerable habitats, for example, one could conceive of situations in which we could be asked to step in and use a CPO power. However, as I say, I have no examples because I have no experience of a CPO being utilised.

Gail Ross

I take your point that because the powers have not been used, you have no examples. However, the very fact that the powers are in the bill has been contentious both among people we have taken evidence from—organisations are completely split on the issue—and committee members, who have various views on compulsory purchase. Because it is unclear how the powers might be used, the committee does not have the confidence to say whether they are needed. I take the point that there are no examples from the past, but if such a contentious issue is to be in the bill, we really need concrete examples, so that the committee can move on.

Fergus Ewing

Let me answer that in two ways: one general and one specific. First, CPO powers exist as a backstop power, which is to be used not in the first instance but as a last resort. An obvious example is the construction of new roads or other transport infrastructure for which purpose it is sometimes necessary compulsorily to purchase land. That is always a last resort, but such a power is routinely possessed by public authorities, from local authorities to central Government. It is not new; it is commonly encountered.

The fact that CPO powers have not been used for 50 years in the context of forestry is testament to successful negotiation, but of course negotiation has been conducted on the basis that there is a backstop power that could be used, in extremis. The existence of such powers informs and helps to encourage the reaching of a negotiated conclusion.

In the absence of such powers, there would be no means to lever negotiations to a successful conclusion in the case of the ransom strip that Simon Hodge described. That is a specific example—and it is not a theoretical but a very practical example. If we have thousands of hectares of landlocked, trapped timber, which is inaccessible by road or other means, and a ransom strip is preventing vehicular access for the equipment that is necessary to extract felled trees, it might be necessary to compulsorily purchase land. It has not been necessary to do that over the past 50 years, but in future it could be necessary to use CPO powers to purchase a ransom strip that is holding up sustainable development and essential access to timber as a resource for communities and businesses.

CPO powers are fairly routine, but I appreciate that there are concerns. I am aware that Scottish Land & Estates, with which we have good relations, has raised the issue, as others have done. We will see what the committee says in its report, and I certainly undertake to study the issue carefully, to see whether, at stage 2, the use of the power should be more tightly defined and constrained, perhaps by reference to the implementation of the forestry strategy and the other duties on ministers. If there are other technical means of ensuring that the power is used only for purposes that most reasonable people would perceive as not just necessary but essential, I will be happy to consider them.

However, I am clear that such provision is common and routinely encountered across the public sector and is no stranger to anyone who is involved in the scrutiny of legislation.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, members are queueing up to speak on this subject.

Gail Ross

Cabinet secretary, thank you for your explanation. A worry that has been expressed to us is that there will be not just a continuation but an extension of compulsory purchase powers in relation to sustainable development. Will you commit to look at that, too, with a view to explaining more about how the proposed approach will work?

Fergus Ewing

We will look carefully at any recommendation that the committee comes up with, because we want to work consensually. That is the right thing to do.

The phrase “sustainable development” is very familiar to legislators and lawyers. There have been discussions in the context of previous bills—some of which I have been involved with—about whether to apply a definition of the phrase. However, as far as I am aware, that is not the approach that parliamentary draftsmen have adopted, not least because the term is very well accepted by and familiar to the judiciary. The legal fraternity will correct me if I am wrong when I say that Lord Gill himself said that the term is well understood and familiar to the judiciary and those who interpret the law. There can be no higher endorsement than that, if I may say so.

The Convener

I invite Peter Chapman and Mike Rumbles to ask just one specific question each, because I am mindful of the time.

Peter Chapman

I want to reflect the anxiety that exists among various groups from whom we have taken evidence. The problem is that the power is being widened to cover sustainable development and, possibly, the compulsory purchase of land that is then given to community groups to manage. There are real concerns out there, which I share. The Government wants to take a consensual approach and achieve cross-party support for the bill, but this bit of the bill is the most difficult bit for me and the other Conservative members of the committee—we have real problems with it. At the moment, the power is too broad, so I welcome the promise to look at it. We have to make it a lot more focused and rein it in because there are real concerns about it.

The Convener

Was there a question in there, Mr Chapman?

Peter Chapman

The question is: how can we make this bit of the bill acceptable to the land managers out there who have said that it is a real problem for them?

Fergus Ewing

We will listen carefully. I undertake to study those issues carefully.

The Convener

Mike, do you have a question?

Mike Rumbles

Yes. On compulsory purchase powers, Charles Dundas from the Woodland Trust said:

“In principle, the fact that the powers have not been exercised in several generations suggests that there is no cause to have them. If I were the cabinet secretary, I would consider this a great public relations opportunity to say, ‘Look at me. I’m turning down powers that I could have.’ However, I am not the cabinet secretary.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 6 September 2017; c 44.]

Cabinet secretary, will you do something that I have never known any minister of any Government since 1999 to do and willingly give up these unnecessary powers?

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, you can say “Yes” or “No” or “I’m going to think about it.”

Fergus Ewing

No.

Mike Rumbles

I had to try.

Fergus Ewing

My objective is not to secure the best public relations but to get the right legislation. The fact that the powers have not been used does not mean that one can conclude that they have had no influence. As someone who was involved in negotiations in conveyancing and property transactions for 20 years, I can say that if those powers did not exist as a backstop, it is quite possible that the successful outcome of the negotiations secured by Simon Hodge and his team would not have occurred. I respect Mr Dundas’s views and those of the Woodland Trust, with which we work closely, but I respectfully disagree with his proposition.

The Convener

We will move on to the next section, on which Rhoda Grant will lead.

Rhoda Grant

A number of people have flagged up concerns about the definition of community body in the bill and its definition in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Is there a reason for the difference between the two definitions?

Fergus Ewing

Definitions are one of Carole Barker-Munro’s many areas of expertise.

Carole Barker-Munro

Again—no pressure.

There are four different definitions of community body in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The definition of community body in the Forestry Act 1967 is the definition that is carried forward into the bill. The definitions are different because they serve different purposes. However, we acknowledge that a number of people raised concerns around the provisions and we are listening to those concerns.

Rhoda Grant

I will move on to some of those concerns around sections 18 to 20. We heard evidence that they might not be required because the bill is different and section 17 gives ministers powers to dispose of land for sale, gift or lease, which, it was assumed, would cover community bodies. Is there a reason for having three sections that are entirely on community bodies? Does that give them a different status, given the powers that are mentioned in section 17?

11:00  



Carole Barker-Munro

The bill almost provides another avenue for communities to access publicly owned land. Our starting point was the Forestry Act 1967, which had provisions to allow the Forestry Commission to overcome a specific legal hurdle.

We are listening to concerns about the fact that part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 is now in force for asset transfers and there could be an element of overlap. We are exploring that.

John Finnie

On part 5, the Community Woodlands Association made the suggestion that the present wording could give rise to the prospect that a group that would be eligible to buy could not lease, and vice versa. Do you undertake to pick that up in the review?

Carole Barker-Munro

I am sorry; I did not quite follow your question. Are you talking about part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015?

John Finnie

Yes.

Carole Barker-Munro

I am afraid that that is outwith my knowledge. If you have a specific question about the 2015 act, I can follow it up, but the operation of the 2015 act and asset transfer is outside the scope of the bill.

John Finnie

I will write to you on that specific issue.

I have a question for the cabinet secretary. Do you think that the bill affords the opportunity to create a wider pattern of ownership and operation of forestry in Scotland?

Fergus Ewing

There are opportunities irrespective of the bill. For some time, there has been a move towards supporting community ownership and there are established policies that John Finnie will be aware of as they have been invoked frequently in the Highlands, which we both represent. The direction of travel, which we support, is to seek to ascertain how communities can be involved and the part that community ownership can play. The bill does not preclude or seek to constrain those opportunities in any way.

If there are opportunities for more community ownership, that would be a very good thing, although the questions of structure, finance, rights and responsibilities are inherently complex. In relation to community energy policy and renewable energy, we have seen many community ownership projects, which have been well supported by this Parliament, and I see no reason why there could not be similar opportunities in forestry.

The Convener

We move on to the issue of felling and control of felling. Most people accept that the legislation has worked extremely well in the past and that felling is done in accordance with the law. The bill does not quite reflect previous felling legislation. Is there a reason for that? Stakeholders have asked that question.

Fergus Ewing

I have been involved in discussions about that. It is partly a question of definition. It has been drawn to my attention that the definition of felling is “intentionally killing a tree”, which seems to me to be the first parliamentary definition with a macabre element to the draftsmanship. However, the definition is not correct, because certain types of tree are not killed if they are felled. An amendment is plainly required to put that definition out of its misery, as it were.

I am aware that there is a question of definition—we are well seized of that. I do not know which of my array of officials would like to answer the wider question—perhaps Catherine Murdoch would.

Catherine Murdoch (Scottish Government)

When people look at the bill versus the previous legislation, they see a lack of detail on some fronts, which is perhaps what the convener’s question is getting at.

The Convener

Requirements relating to felling are subsidiary to the bill whereas they were actually in the primary legislation previously.

Catherine Murdoch

The exemptions that set the parameters of the current regime are partly in the Forestry Act 1967 and partly in regulations—they can be amended by regulation, too.

In the bill, we propose a mechanism by which we will review all the exemptions with stakeholders. Now that the bill has been introduced and they can understand the framework, we are speaking to them about whether the exemptions need to be reviewed. It is worth highlighting that not all of the current exemptions are in the 1967 act; some have been amended by amendments to the act and some have been added by regulations. At the moment, the picture is muddled for practitioners; I hope that having everything in regulations will make things clearer.

The Convener

We have been given a specific example. Power companies that want to ensure supply and keep the ground next to their power lines clear of trees have an exemption. They may well fell more than 5 cubic metres of timber in the process, and they have specifically raised with the committee the question whether they will need a felling licence to do that. If they do, it will clog up the system.

Catherine Murdoch

The intention is that we will recreate exemptions that work, such as that one, or that we will tweak exemptions to make them work better in the future. There is no suggestion that we will drop such exemptions.

The Convener

Some people have said that felling timber for firewood is a good idea; one person has said that it is not. Would that be an exemption that you would carry forward? The purpose of my question is to give people who manage forestry some confidence that the regulations will not take a huge amount of time to implement and that there will not be an interregnum when the bill is passed, which would stop people getting on with proper management and silviculture operations.

Catherine Murdoch

I hope that our work is allaying some of those fears. We are in contact with people who have given evidence to the committee and with others who we know have an interest to ensure that they are involved in the review of what is in place at the moment, which is the starting point for those conversations.

Quite a lot of the exemptions will not have a great impact on the forestry sector, such as the one that allows people to fell in orchards. We are alert to the fact that it is not just the sector that we should speak to; we need to speak to everyone who is affected by what might be considered peripheral exemptions.

Carole Barker-Munro

I would like to follow that up with a point about the general commencement of the legislation. Towards the end of the bill, there is a power to commence various sections at different times. The intention is for there to be no gap between the operation of the existing regime under the 1967 act and the operation of the new one.

The Convener

The bill says that timber can be directed to be felled for good economic and sustainable forest management reasons—I regret that I cannot point you directly to the relevant section in the bill. Does that mean that the cabinet secretary could demand that a forest owner fells timber at a particular time for economic reasons, or would that be done only for health reasons?

Catherine Murdoch

There is a carry-forward from the 1967 act. Felling directions are currently available for the purposes of timber management, and we have slightly extended that approach in the bill to allow the direction to cover any aspect of sustainable forest management

The Convener

I want to be clear about that. With regard to timber management, the committee has heard evidence that there will be a period—in 2035—when timber will be in short supply. Will the cabinet secretary be able to use that power for economic reasons and to instruct people to fell their forests to smooth out the shortfall in supply? Is that the policy intention?

Fergus Ewing

I do not think that that is the intention of that provision. It is merely a carry-forward that has been extended to update the approach. I entirely agree with those who have pointed out that a dip in the anticipated annual tonnage of production is expected circa 2035. That is an important economic factor because I am told that it influences potential investment decisions and the willingness of funders to invest.

I think that we all agree that forestry is a long-term business. We have targets because we recognise that we need a balance and a mix of different species of trees, with each tree in the right place. However, beyond those environmental and silvicultural dictates, we also require to meet the needs of the economy, and that means having productive species. Those who make that argument make it well, but the particular provision in the bill that we are discussing is, as far as I am aware, not intended to achieve the conferral of powers on me for that purpose.

Barry McCaffrey is straining at the leash to get in.

Barry McCaffrey (Scottish Government)

I simply want to clarify matters for the convener. Section 31 sets out clearly that

“Subsection (2) applies if ... felling of trees is required ... to prevent deterioration or further deterioration in the quality of timber ... to improve the growth of other trees, or ... to prevent or reduce harm caused by the presence of the trees.”

The parameters are therefore clearly set out in that section.

The Convener

So we are confident that the bill will not force people to fell trees for economic reasons.

We will now move on to the next area.

Stewart Stevenson

Chapter 6 is about notices to comply and so on. I propose to deal with the matter in two parts. One question is: if there is a register, who should do the registering? I think that that issue has been raised in evidence. First, however, is there a need for a register? It appears that the drafting of the bill was directed at ensuring that continuing conditions, which primarily relate to replanting after felling, are seen and acted on in the public domain. Is that the policy intention behind having that in the bill? Is the current system working or not working?

Fergus Ewing

The bill will enable but will not require the registration of notices. Registration in the land register will ensure that conditions and directions are legally enforceable if ownership changes, so they are binding on singular successors. The risk is that, if they are not so registered, they will not be binding on singular successors, so the conditions that we wish to have observed and implemented may not be observed and implemented by a singular successor. That is the rationale, as I understand it. Jo O’Hara can speak to the practical aspects of that better than I can.

Jo O’Hara

This is about ensuring that, if somebody felled and did not restock and we issued restocking notices, we would be able to enforce those notices. The bill will enable; there is no requirement, as the cabinet secretary said. It is important that we have that power in place to ensure that the site gets restocked if there is a change of ownership. That is basically what sustainable forest management is about.

Stewart Stevenson

I presume that you are referring to section 35(2), which says:

“The Scottish Ministers may apply to register a notice”.

The context in which that would happen that we are being pointed to is a change of ownership of the land—hence the transfer of the obligation. How would it be known that that sale of land had taken place?

Fergus Ewing

I think that Catherine Murdoch will answer that.

The Convener

Everyone is looking at one another. I am not sure whether they have sloping shoulders. The question seems to have landed with Catherine Murdoch.

Catherine Murdoch

I am working with Jo O’Hara’s teams to look at how that would work in practice. The intention is that there would be a risk-based approach so that, in areas in which change of ownership is highly unlikely, we might not register from the outset—we might wait to see whether ownership changes—and in areas in which it is thought that ownership will change, we could register straight away. We are looking at how all of that would work in practice to ensure that there is a proportionate use of the enabling power.

Stewart Stevenson

On that basis, when might you be able to come up with an idea of how many registrations there might be in a typical year? From what you have said, I suspect that you cannot give the committee an idea of that right now.

Catherine Murdoch

I cannot do so right now, but I am working with Jo O’Hara’s teams. On when we might have an answer, we need to wait until we see what shape the bill is in after stage 2.

11:15  



Stewart Stevenson

Right. I take it that, whether or not ministers have applied to register a notice, that will have no effect on the legal obligations that derive from the notice, which will pass to the new owner.

Catherine Murdoch

The new owner is not bound unless something is registered.

Stewart Stevenson

Ah! So if there is no registration of the notice, nothing passes to the new owner.

Catherine Murdoch

Yes—nothing passes.

Stewart Stevenson

That is an important point that I had not understood.

I will move on, because we could spend a lot of time on that and I do not think that we need to—yet. An issue came up in evidence about who should maintain the register. Sections 39 and 40 say that it will be Registers of Scotland. However, it was suggested in evidence that the Forestry Commission has an effective online list of such notices. Leaving aside the issue of the notices themselves, is the minister minded to consider where the register might be published and how it might be administered? There was an argument, which was not much rebutted when we heard it, that we have something that works, so why bother to change it.

Fergus Ewing

It works in practice. We will come back to the committee on that issue, because those who purchase a forest generally do so because they want to own a forest and therefore they are required to abide by silvicultural good practice and the FC standards, and they accept that and do it. That is just the way it is. Why would somebody buy a forest unless they wanted to carry out that work? For that reason, the problem is theoretical rather than practical. However, it is important that we come back to you on that issue, because that might inform the committee’s approach.

In response to the question, we agree that notices to comply with continuing conditions could be included on an FCS web-based register rather than registered with Registers of Scotland. That is an alternative, and it would provide transparency, but it would not allow for enforcement of the conditions after a change of ownership. If the new owner was not bound in contract to obtemper those conditions, in the absence of title conditions, the new owner would not be under any direct contractual nexus, if you see what I mean. In practice, those conditions would almost certainly be dealt with in the conveyancing between solicitors that is involved in the purchase and sale of forestry, which is not for the non-specialist. However, we are considering the issue. I guess that the risk is that a new owner could claim ignorance of the conditions if they did not appear in the normal solicitors’ searches or in the land obligations section of the land certificate or the burdens section in the sasine register.

The Convener

If somebody buys a forest and it is not registered and the conditions are not transferred, do the conditions then stay with the person who has sold the forest? That would be my understanding. If that is the case, I suggest that any solicitor who was involved might be not only running for the hills but running for the trees as well.

Fergus Ewing

Exactly. That is why I said that I believe this to be a recognisable and clearly understandable scenario that could arise but, in practice, certainly with commercial forestry, is most unlikely to arise, because the seller’s solicitors would ensure that their client was protected by the transmission to the purchaser of any obligations incumbent on the seller.

I think that Catherine Murdoch has a comment.

The Convener

I want to bring Stewart Stevenson back in first.

Stewart Stevenson

Catherine Murdoch might be able to cover this point as well, which is just a small one that has emerged from what I have heard. Is the power that the bill provides for the minister to apply to register a notice an enduring power? In other words, could that be done at any point after the sale for the next 50 years or whatever, or is it time limited? I do not see how it is time limited.

Catherine Murdoch

The conditions will be time limited—

Stewart Stevenson

Sorry, but, to be clear, I am not talking about the conditions being time limited; I am talking about the point at which the minister may register a notice.

Catherine Murdoch

That is not time limited, but the conditions that are given when Jo O’Hara’s staff give permission to fell will not last for ever. Those conditions are generally about restocking and they are time limited. The minister would not register a notice after the time when the conditions have lapsed.

Stewart Stevenson

They would not, but the minister or his officials can apply to register a notice at any point during which the notice remains current, notwithstanding how many changes of ownership there may have been in the period since the notice was issued.

Fergus Ewing

This is becoming more of a legal examination than anything else. We will have to come back to you on those points, unless Barry McCaffrey has anything to add.

Barry McCaffrey

I think that the policy intention is that, when someone sees conditions running on into the future and there would be an intervening change of ownership, an effective way of ensuring that the future owner is bound by the conditions is making sure that the notice is registered at a point before the ownership is transferred.

The Convener

We will move on. It is fair to note that the evidence that we have taken on the current Forestry Commission map-based system—which the cabinet secretary will have picked up on—indicates that it is generally perceived as quite a good system.

On that note, I ask John Mason to ask questions on the final theme.

John Mason

Perhaps not surprisingly, I want to look at finance. I have three broad questions.

Section 64 says:

“The Scottish Ministers may, for the purposes of or in connection with the carrying out of their functions ... impose charges of such amounts as they consider appropriate.”

We have had some evidence that witnesses are nervous that that gives ministers a blank sheet. Will you clarify how you would use that power and say that there will be not be excessive costs for owners?

Fergus Ewing

I will. There is no intention to change current Government funding arrangements for forestry. The power is designed to underpin the current arrangements, whereby Forest Enterprise Scotland is able to trade goods on the open market, which it did to the tune of £85.4 million in 2016-17. As I understand it, the power is intended to enable flexibility for Forest Enterprise Scotland. Mr Hodge could expand on that, if that is necessary.

Simon Hodge

As a public corporation, we secure 80 per cent of our revenue stream from trading. I would defer to legal opinion on terminology, but that is critical to our sustainable financial management of the estate. I do not see it as charging as such; it enables us to participate in trading goods and services, as the cabinet secretary said.

John Mason

My second question is on the financial memorandum, which has costs for three or four years for the changeover period. Some of that relates to IT and some relates to branding and website development, to the tune of £4.25 million over three years. Witnesses had some concerns that that £4.25 million would come out of the normal forestry budget and would therefore mean fewer trees or less of something on the ground, because money would presumably be going into painting vehicles, giving people new uniforms and that kind of thing. Some witnesses requested that that money should be extra funding from the Government, so that the practical work would not be restricted. How would you respond to them?

Fergus Ewing

We have looked carefully at those issues, which are important and on which further detailed work is being done. Let me take you through the components. The first is the estimated IT spend. Members know that IT is a topic that I take a close interest in. Existing Forestry Commission IT is no longer fit for purpose; it needs upgrading anyway. That may not come as a huge surprise to committee members, who I know share my interest in matters IT.

The IT system is no longer fit for purpose and needs upgrading because of the age of the infrastructure and the lack of investment in recent years. The Forestry Commission is already taking action to ensure business continuity and protection against system failure and is moving connectivity from the Forestry Commission network to the Scottish wide area network—SWAN. The Great Britain layer of the Forestry Commission that has provided central services such as IT is in the process of being dismantled as part of the internal changes to the Forestry Commission.

What I am saying is that, even if the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill did not exist, there would need to be considerable spend on IT. How much additional spend is necessary is a legitimate question and we would be happy to provide further information as we go forward.

There will be some costs in relation to branding. Let me be clear and say that I wish for those costs to be kept to a minimum. That is a sensible approach and I have asked for that commonsense approach to be taken. That is clearly understood and that view is widely shared by everyone involved. Those costs will not impact on the delivery of other programmes because the funding comes mainly from reserves that Forest Enterprise Scotland is able to maintain because of its prudent management and as a result of having public corporation status for accounting purposes.

As you will note from the financial memorandum, the range of costs is quite wide. Therefore, there is further work to be done. Those figures are indicative and are not hard estimates—as an accountant, Mr Mason will know that there is a difference. I want to reassure members that it is something in which I take a personal and close interest, as officials are well aware. I will continue to do so to ensure that the costs are minimised. We will be retaining the green livery and badge for the staff, who I think would prefer to maintain that approach.

John Mason

When Strathclyde Passenger Transport stopped having the trains painted in its own colours, it was agreed that, rather than simply repainting all the trains immediately, the new livery would be brought in only when the trains were due for repainting. Could that be a model, so that you would not have to repaint all the vehicles but could bring them out in the new colours when they needed to be replaced?

Fergus Ewing

In principle, that is the kind of approach that we will take.

Simon Hodge

That is exactly the sort of approach that we will look to take, particularly if the direction of travel is to evolve the brand, rather than to effect a dramatic change.

As the national forest estate is spread across many places over Scotland, we have around 7,000 items that carry the Forestry Commission name and brand. Vehicles are part of that and anyone who has visited one of our forests for recreation purposes will have seen the various signs and so on. That is why the potential scale of the activity is great. However, there are good opportunities to take an approach that uses the normal replacement cycles for various items. We also need to be mindful of the need to maintain clarity for stakeholders and visitors and ensure that there is no question but that visitors feel welcome and able to engage with us as an organisation.

John Mason

We are pressed for time, so my final point is that witnesses have raised concerns that there might be less information in the budget about forestry because of the reorganisation. I seek some reassurance—perhaps we can get it in writing if there is no immediate answer—that there will not be any less information available to the committee or the public as a result of the change of process.

Fergus Ewing

I give that assurance. The bill has no impact on funding for forestry in Scotland. Funding will continue to be provided via the Scottish budget and approved and scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. If I have learned anything, it is that that will mean that more information will be provided, rather than less.

John Mason

Thank you very much.

The Convener

That concludes our questions in our final evidence session on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. Some interesting issues have been raised and given that your response will help us to determine how we deal with our report and our approach when the bill comes to the committee at stage 2, we would appreciate getting that information soon.

Thank you for all the evidence that you have given us this morning.

11:29 Meeting suspended.  



11:36 On resuming—  



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7 June 2017

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21 June 2017

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6 September 2017

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13 September 2017

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Committee's Stage 1 report 

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:

  • bring a section or sections of a law that’s already been passed, into force
  • give details of how a law will be applied
  • make changes to the law without a new Act having to be passed

An Act is a Bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved).

Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee

This committee looks at the powers of this Bill to allow the Scottish Government or others to create 'secondary legislation' or regulations.

It met to discuss the Bill in public on:

30 May 2017:

21 November 2017:

Read the Stage 1 report by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee published on 27 June 2017.

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

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Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08677, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on stage 1 of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

I am delighted to open the stage 1 debate on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. The framework that the bill will create is key to the Government’s wider ambition for forestry to play its role in creating a sustainable, productive and thriving rural economy. The sector as a whole is already worth nearly £1,000 million a year and supports 25,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. The bill’s measures will also support delivery of planting targets as part of our climate change ambitions and will help us to achieve wider social and environmental outcomes.

Forestry is already broadly devolved. Ministers set Scottish forestry strategy and policy and provide funding via the Scottish budget. The bill will complete the devolution of forestry. It will transfer the functions of the forestry commissioners—in so far as they relate to Scotland—to Scottish ministers and will establish a modern legislative framework for the regulation, support and development of forestry in Scotland.

The current legislation, the Forestry Act 1967, has served the sector well, but it was drafted for post-war circumstances and in turn is based on 1919 legislation. It is time for forestry legislation in Scotland to catch up with modern forestry practice. As well as seeking to deliver improved accountability, transparency and policy alignment, the bill places duties on ministers to promote sustainable forest management—accepted good practice on managing forestry—and to set out a long-term strategic vision for the sector via a new Scottish forestry strategy.

The bill also enables more effective use of Scotland’s publicly owned land. Ministers will be responsible for managing the national forest estate to contribute to multiple outcomes. Ministers will be able to reach voluntary agreements with others to manage land on their behalf.

I welcome the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report, which recommends that the Parliament supports the general principles of the bill, and I want to thank members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, and other parliamentary committees, for their careful and thorough scrutiny at stage 1. That was, of course, made possible by thoughtful contributions from the many stakeholders who have engaged with the bill process, some of whom I met immediately before coming down to the chamber, which may have made me somewhat late, Presiding Officer, for which I humbly apologise.

All of that has been evident in the broad consensus that has been achieved to date, and I hope that that continues through the bill process. That said, the committee made a number of helpful recommendations and observations in its report. I issued a response to that report on 3 November and I look forward to hearing and listening carefully to all the contributions in this debate ahead of stage 2.

The requirement for ministers to prepare and publish a forestry strategy has been widely welcomed. The committee made recommendations about how that strategy should align with wider duties and policies, consultation arrangements and review periods. I will consider all those recommendations carefully.

I acknowledge the views that the committee expressed on the compulsory purchase of land. I give my assurance that I am listening and will consider the issues fully.

On completing the devolution of forestry, I acknowledge that there remains concern about the new organisational structures for the sector. I assure members that we are taking a considered approach and will continue to engage with staff and stakeholders as the work progresses to establish the new forestry agency—forestry and land Scotland—and the dedicated forestry division. As recommended in the committee’s report, I will provide a comprehensive statement setting out how we will manage and administer forestry in the future.

Of course, some aspects of forestry by their nature require co-ordination and co-operation across boundaries and borders. They include the commissioning and delivery of forestry research and science; the protection of trees from pests and diseases; and agreement on codes and standards for the sustainable management of our forests. I am pleased to announce that I have agreed with my United Kingdom and Welsh counterparts new arrangements for sharing responsibility for those matters. One Government will co-ordinate delivery of each function on behalf of all three and, in future, the Scottish Government will take the lead on the UK forestry standard, the woodland carbon code and forestry economics.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement and the role that the Scottish Government will play in leading on those key issues. Will the cabinet secretary advise members on the arrangements that are being made for the future of the forest research agency, which plays a key role throughout the UK in forestry science and expertise?

Fergus Ewing

Yes. That is a good question. I am aware that research on forestry is carried out in various parts of the United Kingdom, and that is a good thing. The forest research agency will remain intact as an agency of the forestry commissioners, which will ensure that expertise in forestry science, statistics and inventory is maintained. To enable that to happen, new governance, commissioning and funding arrangements will be agreed between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I am grateful to my counterparts in the UK, who have agreed in principle that those arrangements should be established. They are sensible and to be welcomed.

The bill and its measures will help to underpin our shared national endeavour to expand Scotland’s woodland area to secure future timber supply. Growing more timber helps to contribute to our wider economic ambitions by growing jobs and securing and creating business opportunities in the sawmill and timber processing sectors. The timber development programme is also helping to support the development of innovative wood products and promote greater use of Scottish wood in everything from offices to housing.

To help to increase the pace and scale of planting, we have increased grant funding for woodland creation by £4 million and provided more attractive grant rates for native woodlands in Highland. Mindful of the impact of timber extraction on communities and the wider environment, we have committed £7.85 million under the strategic timber transport fund to improve timber transport infrastructure.

Our fundamental commitment to maintaining the national forest estate sits at the heart of our approach. We are committed to restoring 500 hectares of ancient woodland and establishing 650 hectares of new woodland. That will include work with partners to identify areas of vacant and derelict land for restoration.

We want to sustain the productive capacity of the estate, which is 3 million cubic meters of timber each year, but the estate delivers far more than timber. It plays a key role in tourism and leisure all across the country. Each year the estate welcomes 9 million visits. Our tourism partnership, Forest Holidays, goes from strength to strength. An £11.3 million cabin investment at Glentress is about to be submitted for planning consent. Local communities are also key to our ambitions. Currently more than 40 local partnerships are involved, offering tourism activity at Laggan, community allotments at Lesmahagow and Fort William, and ecotourism on Mull and Skye.

Over the past 10 years, 13,000 acres of the national forest estate have been transferred to community ownership. That includes land at Abriachan, Arkaig and Tighnabruaich. Through the community asset transfer scheme, we are aiming to transfer a further 700 acres this year; the first successful transfer was announced just last week on Skye.

In closing, I have set out the purpose behind the bill and highlighted its key objectives. I have also sought to place the bill and its measures in the wider context of policy and the approach to forestry and woodland. I believe that we can move forward with the bill’s general principles, and I am keen that we continue to maintain our consensual approach to modernising the legislative framework for forestry. I will therefore continue to work across the chamber to that end, to ensure that the bill becomes law, enabling Scotland’s forests and woodland to make their full and vibrant contribution to our economy, our environment and the people of Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I call Edward Mountain to speak on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. Convener, you have a generous seven minutes or thereabouts.

14:52  



Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As you say, I am speaking this afternoon as convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. Sadly, as time is a bit limited, I cannot cover all of our report. However, I note the cabinet secretary’s detailed response, which was received last Friday, two working days before the debate.

The clear message that came through the evidence sessions was that the professional way that the staff of the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise undertook their work is recognised. The committee feels that it is very important that their skills are maintained and not lost. I note that the cabinet secretary, in his response, agrees.

We have heard that the Scottish Government proposes to split the functions of the Forestry Commission between a Government division and a new land management agency. Although that proposal is outwith the scope of the bill, we heard wide-ranging concerns about it from stakeholders. The Scottish Government should provide further reassurance to those stakeholders and the committee.

The Government needs to articulate how it will manage its forestry responsibilities; it also needs to provide much more detail on the creation of the proposed land management agency and how the new agency will work with the forestry division. The Scottish Government should also set out how forestry-related skills and expertise will be retained and developed under the new structure.

The committee felt that a clear, positive message should be sent to the industry and forestry staff about the importance of the industry as a whole. We believed that a simple way of doing that would be to designate the head of the proposed new forestry division as chief forester. I note that the Government will consider that idea further, and we welcome that.

We acknowledge the importance of the forestry strategy and recognise that timber production is vital to the rural economy. Forestry is a long-term industry that requires a secure future. It needs a strategy that enables producers, millers and merchants to invest in the expansion of their industries. The committee therefore felt that the bill must contain a statement of an overarching and high-level objective for the strategy that includes how forestry issues such as land use, planning, community empowerment, climate change and biodiversity will interact, as they clearly need to. It must also include a commitment to review the strategy every five years and to refresh it every 10 years. Therefore, amendments to the bill will be needed, and we welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of that in its response to the committee.

The committee has listened to stakeholders and believes that we need some clarity about definitions. In our report, we asked for terms such as “sustainable forest management” and “sustainable development” to be defined in the bill. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to include definitions of those terms in the strategy document.

I turn to forestry health and research. As the cabinet secretary said, tree-related diseases do not respect national boundaries, and nor should forestry research. The committee recommended that the Government should lodge an amendment to the bill to strengthen its provisions relating to tree health and other forestry research from a power to a duty. We also recommended that a framework agreement for a united UK approach to forestry research and tree health should be agreed and in place before the relevant sections of the bill come into force. I am therefore delighted that the cabinet secretary has announced today that that will be taken into account.

I turn to an area that caused the committee some difficulties. When it came to the acquisition and compulsory purchase of land for forestry reasons, we heard that such a power was in the 1967 act but that it had never actually been used. After considerable deliberation, the committee accepted the need for the retention of compulsory purchase powers to unlock the potential in forestry land. However, the majority of the committee felt that the Government had not provided sufficient justification for its proposed extension of compulsory purchase powers to cover sustainable development. We therefore recommended that the bill be amended and called on the Government to remove that provision. We note that the Government has said that it will consider that further and we urge it to do so. The cabinet secretary has said today that he is listening to appeals on that subject.

On land disposal and forest rationalisation, we recommend that, due to the long-term strategic nature of forestry, a commitment to reinvest capital from land sales in capital assets should be set out in the forestry strategy to ensure security and continuity over time. Although the Government acknowledged our views, it has not offered any undertaking in its response.

The committee questioned the definition of community body that is used in the bill and asked whether there needs to be a specific section on community bodies, given that section 17 allows Scottish ministers to sell, lease or gift land to anyone. The committee called on the Scottish Government to explore that issue further to determine whether the provisions on community bodies are required.

The committee agreed that a more appropriate definition of felling was required. We noted the Scottish Government’s reassurance that the felling directions contained in the bill will not be used to force private forestry owners to fell against their wishes. The committee was also of the view that the registration system for forestry operations should be proportionate and cost and resource effective.

On finance, the committee seeks reassurance from the Government that there will be no reduction in the financial transparency of the new forestry organisation.

On costs, we recognised the strength of the Forestry Commission brand and recommended that if a rebranding exercise must occur, costs be kept to a minimum. That might be achieved by a rolling approach, for example only changing branding when vehicles or equipment are replaced.

The committee acknowledged that the current Forestry Commission information technology system is not fit for purpose and will require an upgrade. Naturally, there were some concerns about Government-procured IT systems, and we look forward to seeing further detail from the Scottish Government on the exact costings.

Our report raises many issues, and the committee looks forward to seeing positive action on all our recommendations. Subject to responses to the points that we have raised in the report, the committee recommends that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the bill.

14:59  



Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am glad to speak in the debate, because forestry is a vital part of our rural economy. Scotland’s forestry sector currently contributes some £954 million per year to the economy, and supports 26,000 jobs. I believe, however, that we can do better. Planting more trees will secure the long-term supply of productive timber, create new jobs in rural areas, help Scotland to meet vital climate change targets and reduce timber imports.

Given that the UK is the second-largest importer of timber in the world, I cannot stress enough that we must do better. That is why I welcome the newly increased planting target, which will increase to 15,000 hectares by 2025. I believe that the target is achievable, but we have seen failings on the Scottish Government’s part before; it has missed its 10,000 hectare target every year since 2001. The 2025 aim will not be met unless the process of applying to plant trees is made easier and less expensive, and unless the forestry bill is fit for purpose. It is important that the timber that we grow is largely the productive timber that our sawmills and the economy need. Too much of what has been planted recently has been amenity woodland.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Does Peter Chapman accept that perhaps there has been too hard a line drawn between farming land and forestry land? In the future, it needs to be easier to change land from one to the other.

Peter Chapman

I agree that there is a debate to be had. In the past, one was either a farmer or a forester, and the two did not go together. We need to try to break down those barriers. I accept much of what has been said on that.

Given that I have spoken about agriculture, I need to declare an interest. I did not think that I was going to stray into that area, but here we are: I have already done it. I thought that we were on trees.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

A belt-and-braces approach is never a bad idea in the chamber, Mr Chapman.

Peter Chapman

Where was I? I have lost my place.

It makes sense that we work together within the UK to ensure the health of our trees and to co-operate to stamp out disease; for example, on the spread of larch disease, which I have spoken about previously. The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee recommends that the Scottish Government develop an amendment to the bill to strengthen from a power to a duty the cross-border provisions relating to tree health and research.

There must be no reduction in Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the Scottish Government's performance in meeting targets following the reorganisation. Regular reviewing of progress is important, so we expect the Scottish Government to report back to Parliament on the progress that has been made towards meeting the expansion timetable.

The committee also recommends that the forestry strategy be reviewed every five years and refreshed every 10 years. The committee accepts that the current powers of compulsory purchase in the Forestry Act 1967 should remain in place for use in only the most exceptional of cases. However, the case has not been made for an expansion of those powers. A majority of the committee believe that it would be wrong for ministers to seek new powers to purchase land compulsorily for “sustainable development”. That poorly defined term would hand huge powers to ministers, which we do not believe is justifiable. At the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s evidence session on 7 June, the Scottish Government’s forestry and land management bill team failed to provide clarity on what constitutes “sustainable development” in the event of a compulsory purchase order being issued. We have seen vague definitions being used for crucial aspects of legislation before: they create ambiguity and unintentionally raise concerns among stakeholders. We need in the forestry strategy clear definitions of what “sustainable forest management” and “sustainable development” mean, so I welcome the Government’s willingness to consider providing more clarity.

The committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to provide a more appropriate definition of “felling”. The committee notes the Scottish Government’s reassurance that the felling directions in the bill would not be used to force private forestry owners to fell against their wishes. The system for registering notices to comply must also always be simple and cost effective.

I hope that the reorganisation will be achieved without the taxpayer funding unnecessary and expensive rebranding. I fully support the committee’s recommendation that rebranding be rolled out only as vehicles and equipment need to be replaced

It is also vital that estimates of the cost of the new IT system be provided to Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The Government has already presided over the common agricultural policy information technology fiasco, the effects of which are still impacting on rural communities. What safeguards will be in place to ensure that there is not another such debacle?

We welcome the bill, but some work is still required for it to become fully fit for purpose. We all want more afforestation and more skilled jobs to be created in our remote and rural communities, so we must work together to ensure that that becomes a reality and that we finally see the renaissance of Scotland’s woods and forests for the benefit of generations to come.

15:05  



Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The bill is required to take account of devolution of the Forestry Commission. However, the status of the new organisation was not a foregone conclusion. The Scottish Government decided not to continue with the Forestry Commission Scotland, but instead to take its functions in-house. Although the bill does not deal with that, there are significant concerns surrounding the decision and whether it is the best way forward, so I am glad that the cabinet secretary said in his opening remarks that he is giving that further consideration.

There are concerns regarding the loss of expertise and the potential that the new organisation will be staffed by career civil servants rather than by foresters. If the cabinet secretary continues with his proposals, it would be useful if he would consider how foresters could be placed in positions of influence in the new body. A number of suggestions that might provide some comfort were made to the committee—including, for instance, the creation of a post of chief forester, along the lines of the chief medical officer. The role would be that of an adviser to Government, but with the freedom to fight the corner of forestry within Government.

There are also calls for the setting up of an advisory group representing the industry and forestry communities in order to ensure that the new organisation stays close to the forestry sector and to the communities in which it operates. That could be a national committee with regional fora that could take advice from people in those communities. The new organisation must also have an eye to the social and economic impacts of forestry. It needs to be responsive to communities and to the needs of the environment, as well as to ensure that forestry flourishes. Those suggestions would all work towards keeping the organisation as close as possible to the people whom it serves in the industry and in communities.

The part of the bill that is most contentious among committee members is on the power of compulsory purchase for sustainable development. The evidence is clear that it is extremely difficult to exercise compulsory purchase and that the whole process requires review. However, it is also acknowledged that possession of the power would be an incentive for landowners to act in the interests of sustainable development; because of that, the power should remain in the bill.

At the moment, there are forests that are landlocked and it is impossible to harvest the trees. Some of those forests have been taken over by local communities that are able to utilise the timber locally, but that does not meet the national need for timber. If we are to substantially increase forestry, we must find ways in which land that is suitable for planting can be made more accessible. That land tends to be in remote areas where roads are few or, where there are roads, they are unable to take the strain of the heavy traffic that would be used to harvest the trees. It might be that landowners should work together to set a network of forest tracks through adjacent forestry or other land, which would enable harvesting. If a landowner was obstructive in that, the compulsory purchase power might bring them to the negotiating table.

There are other concerns about definitions. The definition of “sustainable development” is well used and recognised in other legislation, but there are concerns regarding the definition of “sustainable forest management”, which is new in the bill. The Scottish Government has made it clear that the definition might change over time, so it should not be included in the bill because that would be restrictive.

Options that have been suggested that could provide clarity include there being a working definition in the forestry strategy. My main concern about that is that it could impact on the definition of “sustainable development”, which would be detrimental. It would be preferable if the Scottish Government could, in the strategy, highlight the direction of travel towards attaining sustainable forest management. That would deal with any possible confusion.

There are specific provisions in the bill to delegate powers to communities. The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee received evidence that those powers may not be necessary. Given that the Scottish Government has also included the power to delegate functions to “any person” or organisation, it is not clear why the additional section on communities is required. Does the Scottish Government envisage circumstances in which communities would require additional powers and, if so, what are they?

There was also confusion about what the bill says about different types of land. It uses the terms “forestry land” and “other land”, but it is not clear why land that is held under the bill is defined in that way. Is all land that is held under the bill to be used for the purpose of sustainable management of forestry and, if not, for what purpose is it to be held? There is obviously unplanted land that is owned to promote forestry—that is, land that is used for fire breaks, for aesthetic purposes, for environmental purposes and so on. Is that defined as “forest land” because it is held for the specific reason of supporting forestry, or will it be termed “other land”? We need clarity on those categories of land, so that there will be no confusion.

There was a unanimous call for the strategy to be widely consulted on and for there to be greater parliamentary scrutiny of it. Given that a great deal of detail will be in the strategy rather than in the bill, we need to get it right. Is it possible that a committee of Parliament could be charged with taking evidence to scrutinise the strategy and reporting back to the Scottish Government?

We welcome the bill and the cabinet secretary’s agreement to consider again the organisational concerns that have been raised. I hope that he will also take on board the positive suggestions that we have made to improve the bill. We support the general principles of the bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to open debate. I ask for speeches of six minutes, but there is time for interventions to be taken, which I encourage.

15:11  



Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary took us back to the origins of the Forestry Commission in the 1919 bill, but I want to take us 400 years further back because, of course, the product of forestry is a strategic material. When James IV built the Great Michael, with its 10-foot-thick Scottish oak hull, that required that all the trees of Fife be cleared. Also, then, as now, we had to import wood from France and the Baltic states, and to use wood from forests across Scotland. Wood has been a strategic material for a long time. Indeed, when Henry VIII saw what James IV had done, he decided that he would build a boat that was even bigger than the Great Michael, and which, at 1,000 tons, was the biggest boat in the world. Flodden cut short the ambitions for use of the Great Michael, of course.

In 1919, we were responding to the strategic imperative to have wood for the trenches of the first world war, but it was clear that there was insufficient wood. Wood was recognised as an important strategic part of military operations.

However, as Peter Chapman reminded us, forestry is also of economic value. It might constitute but 1 per cent of our gross domestic product, but where that 1 per cent lies, it is very important to the communities that plant and sustain our forests, and to the sawmills that depend on predictable long-term access to wood. As it was in the 1500s, so it is in the 2000s.

Indeed, forestry is a very personal thing for many people. One of my late councillor colleagues—my good friend, Councillor Mitchell Burnett—who knew he was dying from a carcinoma, held on long enough to ensure that he got permission from Aberdeenshire Council for his grave to be on the edge of the forest that he was bequeathing to his daughter.

Forestry is the kind of long-term business whose interests we have to protect. The issue of sustainable forest management has come up several times already in the debate: it is important that what we do with land is sustainable. The debate around the meaning of “sustainable” is such that it will mean slightly different things in slightly different contexts. That is why it is proper that the meaning is not defined in the bill but is expressed clearly and unambiguously elsewhere so that we can discuss and challenge it.

The committee divided on the matter of compulsory purchase. Indeed, it is worth reminding members that the committees of this Parliament are rather freer from the strictures of the whip system than other parts of our operation perhaps are. When committees are working well, they seek to look objectively at the evidence that is before them so that individual committee members can come to their conclusions. The committee’s Scottish National Party group, because it is not a group, divided such that two were on one side of the argument and two were on the other side.

Edward Mountain

Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson

I will, in a minute.

Fulton MacGregor and I joined Rhoda Grant and John Finnie in suggesting that extension of the compulsory purchase orders, which might never be used, would take people to decisions a bit faster. Mr Mountain might have come to a different view.

Edward Mountain

No—this is not a political point, but just a point. I think that there might be a member of the committee within the SNP group that Mr Stevenson has ignored. I think that there are five people in his group, not four. However, as Mr Stevenson was at the meeting concerned, I am sure that he will be able to comment on that, on reflection.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It is unlike Stewart Stevenson to make a factual error.

Stewart Stevenson

No, Presiding Officer—I am constantly told by colleagues and even by friends that I am a larger-than-life character, so I count as one and a half and thus, when I add Fulton MacGregor to me, that is two and a half out of five. I jest. Edward Mountain, our ever-diligent convener, is of course correct. As a mere mathematician, I am arithmetically challenged by his intervention, which I accept because it is entirely correct.

I welcome the attention to the definition of “felling” in the bill, because it is important that we get that right. It is worth reminding ourselves that nature fells woods, as well. Where my wife and I have stayed for the past 14 years, we are surrounded on three sides by about 40 hectares of forest that appears to have been all but abandoned, and nature is busily felling what appears to me to be a mature forest. It is important that some aspects of that are addressed as we progress the bill.

I was delighted to hear the cabinet secretary referring to Abriachan, of which I have fond memories. I visited there when I was about three or four years old, as we went up in an old American ex-army jeep to Claude McLennan’s croft at the top of Abriachan, which at that time was a very primitive place indeed. The community there having the opportunity to take some control of its own destiny will be a way in which Abriachan will have fundamentally changed since I visited it in—I think—the late 1940s.

The important thing in the bill that I welcome, but which others have mixed views on, is what is essentially the separation between policy and operation. That will lead us to a clearer way in which to take matters forward.

It was my delight previously to be the minister who was responsible for the Forestry Commission Scotland and, in particular, to see the highly automated sawmill at Nairn, in the cabinet secretary’s constituency, which illustrates how the forestry industry is a high-tech industry of economic and environmental importance to Scotland. I support what is proposed in the bill.

15:19  



John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I declare an interest as a farmer and an owner of land on which there is some woodland.

I welcome the stage 1 debate on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, which will transfer the powers and duties of the Forestry Commission in Scotland to Scottish ministers. Under devolution under the Scotland Act 1998, the bill has been on the cards for some time. It will wind up the Forestry Commission as a UK cross-border authority and, as well as transferring powers and duties to Scottish ministers, will transfer responsibilities and liabilities for staff and property.

The bill will repeal the 1967 act in Scotland and underpin new cross-border arrangements, as well as creating new organisational structures for forestry land management in Scotland. There is a lot to do and it is important to get the bill right, given what a strategic resource our timber has become and is in Scotland, supporting around 26,000 jobs and close on £1 billion of gross value added annually.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome much of the bill but, in the time available, I will focus on what needs to be improved and where we believe change is necessary. First, we are concerned about the lack of clarity around key definitions, particularly the definitions of forestry land, sustainable forest management, sustainable development, community body and felling. I note and welcome the fact that Fergus Ewing has stated in his letter that he will make amendments at stage 2 to clarify at least some of those definitions.

We have concerns about the expansion of compulsory purchase powers for sustainable development. The Government has not made the case for expansion of those powers, and as the powers in the 1967 act have lain unused for 50 years, it is less than obvious to me why they have to be enhanced beyond the provision in the 1967 act.

John Mason

Will the member take an intervention?

John Scott

No, thank you.

We are also concerned about community bodies and community empowerment, what constitutes a community body and why there are so many definitions in different legislation of what constitutes a community body.

Unlike the 1967 act, the bill is not well structured or easily understood. Too much definition of key terms and policy intent is left to subsequent ministerial intervention. This style of creating vague and ambivalent legislation has, I regret to say, become one of the defining features of the Scottish National Party Government in recent years. I cite as evidence the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016, to name but three. It is simply not good enough for poorly thought-out, poorly drafted and defined and poorly constructed legislation to be laid before Parliament regularly. It runs the risk of bringing Parliament into disrepute.

Furthermore, we are concerned about the development of yet another new information technology system, especially given the as yet unanswered governance questions about the failed CAP payment delivery system as well as the NHS 24 IT system and the failed i6 system for Police Scotland.

We also have concerns about the reinvestment of funds generated from selling off the forestry estate. It is important that such income be reinvested into the purchasing of land for further afforestation.

Although we support the modest expansion of planting targets, it is vital that provision is also made for the future harvesting of crop on new land through the roads infrastructure, which is already under enormous pressure in Ayrshire, south-west Scotland and, indeed, elsewhere.

Industry stakeholders and I would also like more information on how cross-border arrangements will be managed once the bill passes into law. We would welcome that information at the earliest possible opportunity, although the cabinet secretary did make an announcement in that regard today, which I was certainly pleased to hear.

Another concern, and one that was highlighted by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, is that the legislation has been introduced in the absence of a full consultation on the development of a Scottish Government policy on exemption from the offence of illegal felling. Indeed, the DPLR Committee has recommended that the Scottish Government should lodge amendments to the bill at stage 2 that will make provision for exemption from the offence of unauthorised felling. I welcome the fact that a consultation is now under way, but it should have been done before.

Further, the DPLR Committee has concerns about the need for clarity in the forestry strategy on how the relevant provisions of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, taken in conjunction with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, will apply to forestry and sustainable development.

I congratulate Forestry Commission Scotland on its enormous success in the post-war delivery of the timber resource that we have in the United Kingdom and note the long-term approach that it has taken. I hope that the Scottish Government will put in place similar structures that will develop a similar long-term developmental view and build on the asset that we currently enjoy.

The Forestry Commission Scotland brand is one of the most successful and trusted brands in the United Kingdom. I hope that we in Scotland will be able to continue that good work as we go our own way, following the passing of the bill.

15:25  



John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I think that it would be true to say that all the committee members and the vast majority of the people of Scotland consider forestry to be a very good thing and that it should be encouraged.

We may not have met our planting targets in recent years but, as the report says, the details of targets and how we get there need to be in the strategy rather than in the bill.

The committee visited a number of forests and forestry-related sites, such as the new forestry pier on Mull. It was extremely good to see investment in such an asset.

We have heard evidence on a wider range of issues than those in the bill. That was very useful in emphasising, for example, the need to take a long-term view of forestry, the need for tree planting to be more mixed than in the past and the processing industry’s need for stability and long-term planning. We have also heard that, in the past, there might have been too hard and fast a line between what land was for forestry and what land was for farming and that there could perhaps be more room for interaction and overlap, making it easier for land users to change the use and even to have mixed use in some places, which would benefit the tree-planting targets, as well as animals, by giving them shelter in bad weather for example.

The aim of the bill is to complete the devolution of forestry, which we heard has been broadly welcomed. With so much land in Scotland—actually, or potentially—consisting of forests, it certainly makes sense that we should be responsible for the sector here in Scotland.

We spent a fair bit of time on definitions, such as what “sustainable forest management” means and whether it should be in the bill. In paragraph 60 of our report, we recommend that the definition should be

“included in the ... Strategy. The same applies to the term ‘sustainable development’ which is used in relation to ‘other land’.”

I like a bill or an act to have as much of the main content in it as possible. However, I also agree that we do not want to have too much detail in primary legislation, where that detail can be become outdated and would take a fair bit of time to change. Therefore, having the definitions in the forestry strategy seems to be a pretty reasonable position on which we can agree.

It quickly became clear to the committee that the definition of “felling” as “intentionally killing a tree” needed improvement; I am glad to see that the Government agrees.

On compulsory purchase, it is perhaps not surprising that there were a variety of views on the REC Committee. Some of our more right-wing landowning members perhaps saw no place for compulsory purchase and considered that the rich and the powerful should be allowed to do whatever they wanted. At the other end of the spectrum, some might like to see more public intervention on how our land is used. However, the majority of the committee considered that there was a place for compulsory purchase broadly in line with the previous arrangements.

John Scott, who did not take my intervention, made the point that compulsory purchase legislation has not been used in the past. That is certainly the case on the surface, but in reality we do not know how effective the legislation has been, because it has always been there in the background when negotiations have been taking place

John Scott

The member says that that is

“the case on the surface”.

However, that is not the case; it is a matter of fact that the legislation has not been used.

John Mason

It has not been used in the sense of someone going to court to go through the process of compulsory purchase. However, if I am sitting down with someone to negotiate land issues, my having, in the background, the power of compulsory purchase could have an impact on our negotiations. That came up clearly at committee. No one can prove that the existence of the power has an effect, but I think that we all accepted that it probably does.

I want to touch on a few issues to do with the financial memorandum. First, Scottish Environment LINK pointed out that Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland currently have separate budgets, so the two figures that we see in the Scottish budget each year might be reduced to one figure in future. However, I think that the Government has now reassured us that it intends to provide more information, rather than less, after the reorganisation. It will be for our committee and the Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account on its commitment.

Secondly, there will be IT costs, and everyone gets nervous when IT is mentioned. However, all national Governments, local government and the private sector have traditionally had problems with forecasting IT costs exactly. That is a challenge, but it is not just a challenge for this place. The committee was informed that even without the bill there will be IT costs, because the existing Forestry Commission computer system is not considered to be fit for purpose. In its response to the committee, the Government said that

“more information will be provided prior to stage 3”.

That is welcome.

Thirdly, the committee discussed the whole question of rebranding of signs, uniforms, vehicles and so on. This is perhaps unusual for a UK institution: the Forestry Commission has a pretty positive image among the public, so it is understandable that witnesses, including trade unions, said that they did not want to lose that. Witnesses also did not want a lot of money to be spent on repainting vehicles if the money could be used to plant trees. However, if we are to have a new organisation, with a new name, some money will have to be spent. It was reassuring to hear that reserves will be in place, so that current spending budgets can be protected. The compromise position, which members mentioned, and which I think that the committee accepted, is that changes can be made over time rather than in one big bang. Perhaps the Forestry Commission signs and vehicles can be repainted gradually over time, in an approach similar to the one that ScotRail took when it rebranded its trains.

We have had a number of briefings, and I thank the organisations that provided them, in particular the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland and the Confederation of Forest Industries UK, or Confor. SWT and the RSPB made the point that the bill should make specific provision for biodiversity and native woodland creation. Many members agree with the principle; the questions for me are, first, whether we would be duplicating what is stated elsewhere, and secondly, whether such provision would be better placed in the strategy than in the bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please conclude.

John Mason

I will be interested to hear the Government’s thinking on that. SWT suggests hypothecation of funds, which I would be—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is not concluding; concluding means saying, “Thank you very much,” and sitting down.

15:33  



Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

As we have heard from many members, our forests and woodlands are precious natural resources. The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill is important for the future of Scotland, for a wide range of reasons.

Scrutiny of some of those reasons is the responsibility of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, of which I am a member. I was delighted to be asked by that committee to be its reporter for the bill. I thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and its convener for the welcome that I received at the relevant meetings, and I thank my committee’s clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre for their support throughout the process, which led to my committee’s letter to the REC Committee, for its consideration.

I will highlight the main points of the letter and, if I have time, make one or two points of my own. I emphasise the importance that my committee attaches to the bill’s overarching policy objectives, specifically in relation to forest functions. From our perspective, effective forest management offers the opportunity for multiple environmental and land management benefits. We said in our letter:

“The Committee is unclear as to what degree wider policy objectives, including those relating to biodiversity, deer management and climate change, are reflected in the Bill and in particular, are to be taken account of in the preparation of the Forestry Strategy.”

I note that the Scottish Government response states that better alignment will be considered at stage 2.

My committee also

“considers there is merit in including the need to have regard to biodiversity in deer management requirements on the face of the Bill.”

I note that the Scottish Government response states:

“there are a large number of policies, statutory duties and frameworks which are relevant to the economic, environmental and social outcomes of forestry, hence we will consider these matters carefully in order to avoid limiting the scope of the linkages catered for by any amendment.”

At this stage, our committee is still considering an amendment, but we are happy to be involved in dialogue on that.

I draw focus to the term “sustainable development”, the definition of which regularly emerges as an on-going challenge for legislators. In the previous session of this Parliament, the RACCE Committee, of which I was a member, grappled with that term in relation to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and reached a similar conclusion to that of our committee. In our letter, we state:

“We consider that the definition of sustainable development is widely understood and it is unnecessary to include this in the Bill.”

In this context, our letter does stress our view that

“the duties to promote sustainable forest management and sustainable development in Sections 9 and 13 should also be on every public body and office-holder and not just Scottish Ministers.”

I note the Scottish Government response that

“the duty is placed on the Scottish Ministers in the context of their new functions for forestry regulation, development and support. These functions rightly sit with one body.”

I will take that back to our committee and discuss it with members in detail.

My committee was

“unclear as to what the issue or problem the Part 3 provisions in relation to sustainable development are intended to address ... the circumstances in which the provisions are intended to be used; how they will result in the establishment of a ‘land agency’; and how this relates to the Scottish Land Commission.”

The Scottish Government response states:

“The purpose of the wider land management powers (those linked to furthering sustainable development), is to create more flexibility in the use of the Scottish Ministers’ land (the National Forest Estate) and enable a wider land management role for the new agency ... to help manage other land, including publicly-owned land, in the national interest”.

That will aid our committee discussions prior to stage 2.

We regard the acquisition, compulsory purchase and disposal of land clause as a backstop arrangement and recognise its importance as such. However, the bill

“gives Scottish Ministers compulsory purchase powers in order to further the achievement of sustainable development for the first time. When questioned, the Scottish Government did not provide a rationale for the extension of those powers”.

Edward Mountain

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sorry; I am a bit unclear about whether the member is talking about her views or is representing the views of her committee. The views that she is representing as coming from that committee have not been transmitted to the committee of which I am the convener. I would be grateful if that could be clarified.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will let Ms Beamish clarify that for herself.

Claudia Beamish

With respect, the points that I am making are quotes from our letter to the REC Committee. I will be happy to discuss the matter afterwards with the convener. I have already expressed my recognition of the welcome that I received there.

On the broad land management purpose of the bill, my committee asked for clarification before stage 2 of section 13, as we were

“concerned that the consultation that informed the Bill did not seek views on this”.

It appears that Scottish Government officials were unable to set out why the powers in section 13 on management of land for further development were needed or in what circumstances those would be used. From the Scottish Government response, I understand that they relate to flexibility.

In our letter, we make reference to other land and argue that we can see

“no justification for a difference in approach”

in the bill between national forest land and other land. Again, we ask the Scottish Government to reflect on that before stage 2.

The definition of a community body in section 19 is, in my committee’s view, already clearly defined in previous legislation. In this bill, it

“differs from the definition in previous legislation dealing with similar issues.”

That could cause confusion on a complex issue. We address that in more detail in our letter and ask the Scottish Government to reflect on it prior to stage 2.

In relation to the delegation of functions to community bodies, my committee is unclear how the bill adds to the community empowerment agenda or to what is already provided for in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

The final issue from my committee’s perspective is that of tree health, which is part of our remit and which I know is treated with the utmost seriousness across the Parliament. We emphasise the necessity of cross-border co-operation on that, and I was pleased by the cabinet secretary’s explanation of the division of labour in that area.

I hope that the issues that the ECCLR Committee raised in its letter to the REC Committee are found to be of value, and we would be pleased to have dialogue on them with the Scottish Government and the convener of the REC Committee—I do not think that I have time to address what he said in his intervention now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, you do not. Thank you very much, Ms Beamish.

15:40  



Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I express my pleasure at being able to contribute to today’s stage 1 debate on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill as the fifth SNP member of the Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. Although I represent Uddingston and Bellshill, which is an area in the central belt of Scotland that, beyond our exceptional Strathclyde country park, does not necessarily come to mind when the forestry sector is discussed, the sector is one that I have been a champion of throughout my time in this place, including my time on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. It forms an important part of Scotland’s economy and contributes to our vibrancy as a nation. Given the sector’s importance in Scotland, it is only right that it should be fully accountable to our Scottish Parliament and to the Scottish ministers, and that is what the bill provides for.

The bill will improve the accountability and transparency of legislation, modernise the current legislative framework and enable more effective use to be made of Scotland’s publicly owned land, on which many members across the chamber can agree. I am glad that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee supports the general principles of the bill. In particular, I note that the committee heard that the majority of stakeholders very much welcome the opportunity for forestry matters to be fully devolved to Scotland and recognise the need to update our forestry legislation, which, as I have mentioned, is one of the key pillars of the bill.

The devolution of forestry was a manifesto commitment of the SNP in our 2011, 2015 and 2016 manifestos, and we remained committed to bringing it about in our 2016-17 programme for government. That leads me to another of the bill’s key pillars—the improvement of accountability, transparency and policy alignment. That is an important area, because there is some confusion about the extent to which forestry is currently devolved. At present, the Scottish ministers determine the strategy and policy for forestry in Scotland but, since devolution, the management of forestry, including the management of the national forest estate, has remained with the Forestry Commission—a UK non-ministerial department and a cross-border public authority.

Rightly, the bill will bring about the transfer of the powers and duties of the forestry commissioners in Scotland—including in relation to plant health—to the Scottish ministers. That will mean that the responsibility for all plant health in Scotland will reside in one place. Ultimately, it will fall to the Scottish ministers to promote sustainable forest management and to publish a forestry strategy.

Crucially, the bill not only creates a legal duty to promote sustainable forest management but establishes a modernised legislative framework that fully supports, regulates and promotes the development and growth of forestry in Scotland. I believe that the bill will bring about a new future for the industry.

The final pillar of the bill that I wish to reflect on is the fact that it will enable effective use to be made of Scotland’s publicly owned land by making the Scottish ministers responsible for managing the national forest estate to deliver economic, social and environmental outcomes. That includes the ability to enter into arrangements to manage other people’s land, including that of public bodies. That fulfils a further manifesto commitment to establish a land management agency and will enable ministers to delegate land management functions to community bodies.

In my remaining time—I will try to stay within my seven minutes, as I do not want to get cut off—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It is six minutes, Mr Lyle.

Richard Lyle

Okay. I will keep going.

I wish to reflect on the additional steps beyond the bill that are required to complete the devolution journey and to give further recognition of the importance of the sector in Scotland beyond that which I have stated.

It is important to state that the bill is not the end point in completing the journey of the devolution of forestry, as there will be two further pieces of work once the bill has completed its passage. Indeed, the bill is the first of three principal activities that are required to complete the devolution of forestry.

The first piece of work is the passage of secondary orders under the Scotland Act 1998 in the UK Parliament to wind up the forestry commissioners as a cross-border public authority and to make other consequential provisions in the light of the bill. That will help to establish new collaborative cross-border arrangements with the UK Government and the Welsh Government, which have been managed hitherto by the Forestry Commission, and to make arrangements for transferring some of the forestry commissioners’ property and liabilities to the Scottish ministers. Financial, business and regulatory impacts will be considered as part of the development of those orders, in line with standard requirements.

The second piece of work is the establishment of new organisational arrangements by transferring to the Scottish Government the activities that are presently delivered by the forestry commissioners in Scotland through Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland.

I am sure that members agree that Scotland’s forests and woodlands are among our greatest and most valuable rural assets. The forestry sector is worth £1 billion per annum and supports 26,000 jobs. On every occasion on which I speak in the chamber on the forestry sector, I like to reiterate that, although the sector is incredibly important to our economy, it plays a hugely important role in tackling climate change, in protecting and growing biodiversity and in natural flood management. It also contributes to the improvement of general health and wellbeing across Scotland.

I am delighted that the bill will help to continue the journey towards the devolution of the forestry sector. That will enable us to work together collectively to deliver for that important sector and for Scotland.

15:47  



John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I, too, welcome the bill and support its principles. Like other members, I thank the organisations for their briefings.

Much has been made of the number of jobs that forestry supports. I have the figure of 25,000 jobs, but I have also heard that the industry supports 26,000 jobs—if that is 1,000 extra jobs since my briefing, that is great—and that it is worth £1 billion.

It is significant that Confor has said that

“the bill must provide the right assistance”.

The right assistance, of course, is not mutually exclusive work in the industrial and environmental aspects. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has said:

“Scotland’s woodlands are currently not realising their full potential for helping Scotland adapt to climate change. More connected riparian woodlands for example, could prevent flooding; reduce erosion; improve water quality; and allow wildlife to move through the landscape.”

That is of growing importance. As quite a number of members have said, woodlands are an important carbon sink to help to mitigate climate change.

The issue that we always encounter with bills is what is and is not stated in them. Our stage 1 report talks about

“planting targets and a commitment to appropriate levels of reforestation in the Forestry Strategy.”

Confor seeks an amendment to include planting targets and future wood supply.

We have heard that the forestry industry is a long-term one, and the strategy’s review period has been the subject of much discussion. It is important that the review period includes consultation with all the forestry stakeholders. It has been said that the sector depends on a long-term vision, and something jumped out at me in the cabinet secretary’s response to that. He said:

“For example, there is a known unintended consequence of the current seven year cycle for the CAP in that it leads to a suppression of woodland creation”.

We certainly do not want that, and we do not want the uncertainty that Brexit will bring. Long-term assurances are important to the industry, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government will reflect on the strategy. It is important that the strategy is a living document.

There is also a call for a strengthened commitment to reforestation, which can be seen as going hand in glove with that. The Scottish Wildlife Trust certainly sees the strategy as an opportunity to increase the quality of Scotland’s native woodlands.

Forestry is everywhere. We have heard from members with urban constituencies that there is an impact in those places. I commend the work that is being done in the hearts of our cities and across the country by organisations such as the Woodland Trust and community groups.

It is also good that the Scottish Government acknowledges the interest that stakeholders have in the organisational arrangements and that it is going to provide a statement.

There is clearly a lot of affection for the Forestry Commission. I am a former employee of it, and my father and my father-in-law were employed by it. It is important that the concerns are recognised—indeed, we heard that reiterated in the cabinet secretary’s speech. In the social and environmental sector of forestry, small businesspeople and enterprises are grateful for the technical support, advice and financial stimulus that they receive from the Forestry Commission. In a communication to me, they expressed concern that it will be “submerged into Victoria Quay”.

Fergus Ewing

I am happy to give the reassurance that that should not happen. Moreover, we recently extended grant finance to small cabinetmakers and joiners who are using Scottish woods, and they are delighted.

John Finnie

I am grateful for that assurance from the cabinet secretary. The communication that I mentioned went on to say that the Forestry Commission is a rural success story, and that is certainly how I see it.

The concerns that exist around that could, in part, be offset by something that the committee proposes—the establishment of a chief forester post. That would be entirely consistent with having a chief planner, a chief medical officer and a chief scientist, and it would send a clear signal about the commitment to the forestry profession. I note that the Scottish Government has said that it will consider the proposal. I hope that it will be given real, detailed thought.

On the definition of sustainable forest management, I have looked at what the Scottish Woodland Trust and Confor say about the definition that they would go with, and their views seem identical. The definition goes on about the

“stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains, and where appropriate enhances, their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity and vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels, and does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”

That brings me to what we heard from the cabinet secretary about the cross-border and tree health issues. I found that very reassuring, and I understand that there is a letter to the committee about that.

I will move quickly on to the strategic timber transport fund, which has been alluded to. It is actually cheaper and more environmentally friendly to transport timber to Norbord from Argyll via boats, so I would commend that approach.

On the management of land by Scottish ministers, I do not share the concerns that many members have expressed. As my colleague John Mason highlighted, it is right to have a range of options available to people in land negotiations, and compulsory purchase powers is one of those options. From my previous employment as a councillor, I am aware of a ransom strip. People will understand that the public good cannot be held back in that way.

Similarly, I look forward to the definition of “sustainable development” in the bill, although I have no issues with that. As I said, I was happily one of the minority.

What is set out in the bill is important. I would like to see native woodland creation targets in legislation, as they tie up with sustainable deer management, which is also important. I do not think that many members have commented on the fact that funds that are raised from disposals from the national forest estate should be reinvested. I hope that we will get a long-term commitment from the Scottish Government to do that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Gail Ross, who may or may not be followed by Mike Rumbles, who has left the chamber.

15:53  



Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Despite John Mason’s apparent surprise, I do not think that it came as a surprise to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that the Forestry Commission Scotland is held in extremely high regard by its stakeholders, people in the sector, its staff and the public as a whole. Its branding is instantly recognisable and there has rightly been a high level of interest in the current proposals and what they will mean for the industry and the environment.

Anyone who has read the committee’s report or watched any of its meetings will know about the high level of scrutiny that we have, rightly, given the bill. It is a hugely important piece of work that will help the Scottish Government not only to achieve its planting targets but to diversify the forest estate and contribute to conservation, biodiversity and meeting our climate change targets.

As John Mason mentioned, the committee visited Mull, where we heard about forestry on the island. We were a little bit nervous about midges that day, but Stewart Stevenson told us that they fly only when the wind speed is less than 5mph and we were lucky that there was a breeze that day. I also went out with the Forestry Commission for a day in Sutherland, and we heard hours of evidence on the bill here in the Scottish Parliament.

I thank all those who took the time to come to the Parliament or to submit written evidence. It is great to see that so many individuals and organisations are passionate about forestry and woodland in Scotland. I also thank the committee clerks, SPICe, my fellow committee members and the members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee—particularly Claudia Beamish.

Our main objectives for the report were to understand the current functions of the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise Scotland, to find out how the proposals would work under the Scottish ministers, as is proposed, and to put forward our recommendations to the Scottish Government. As the cabinet secretary laid out in his opening remarks, the bill has three main aims: to improve accountability and the transparency of the legislation, to modernise the current legislative framework and to enable more effective use of Scotland’s publicly owned land.

I will explain where we are and what is proposed. Forestry Commission Scotland currently provides policy, advice, regulation and grants, and Forest Enterprise Scotland is an executive agency of the Forestry Commission that manages the national forest estate. The new structure proposes that the Forestry Commission’s functions be carried out by a dedicated forestry division of the Scottish Government, which will be responsible for grants, regulation, support and development, and that Forest Enterprise Scotland will become forestry and land Scotland, which will still manage the national forest estate.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed with several of the recommendations in the stage 1 report and that several more are under consideration. Agreement has been reached on the inclusion of an acceptable definition of “sustainable forest management” and a working definition of “sustainable development” in the Scottish forestry strategy. There is also agreement on the integration of the goals of the forestry strategy with the UK forestry standard and on the provision of guidance on felling to private forestry owners as well as on the need to look at the definition of felling. In addition, agreement has been reached on the proposal that registration for notices to comply should be proportionate and cost and resource effective, and that the rebranding costs should be kept as low as possible. As has been stated, the committee recommended that vehicles should be rebranded only when that is necessary.

The committee heard from many people about the opportunities that the bill presents, but we also heard a number of concerns that must be addressed. The Scottish Government must allay any concerns that have been raised by stakeholders about the new set-up giving control to Scottish ministers, and we have heard from the cabinet secretary that that will happen.

The Scottish Government should also give consideration to the post of chief forester and should give cast-iron guarantees that there will be no loss of expertise or specialisms, citing examples of how those will be retained and developed further. Consideration must be given to a regular review of the forestry strategy at least every five years, with a full refresh every 10 years, and Parliament must have the opportunity to scrutinise the strategy before it is agreed. Consultation with stakeholders must be thorough and wide.

We would like to see an overarching, high-level statement of ambition that makes it clear that modern forestry strategy and practices will reflect an integrated approach to land use, community interests, planning, biodiversity and the environment. We all agreed that cross-border working on tree health, disease and forestry science is essential and must continue and be strengthened, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement on that today.

For the existing staff and for the people who may wish to make a career in forestry in the future, as well as for the health and expansion of our forest estate and for the wellbeing of our citizens in both rural and urban areas, given the current climate, it has never been more important that we get forestry right. The committee supports the general principles of the bill, and we ask that the Parliament do likewise.

15:59  



Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Liberal Democrats support the bill. It is right that we update the legislation on forestry to ensure that we have a thriving and profitable industry. I am encouraged by the improved targets for tree planting that the cabinet secretary outlined and I wish him well in achieving them. Let us hope that we achieve them over the next few years.

In its report to the Parliament on the bill, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee makes a number of recommendations to improve the bill, which we fully support. I am, of course, a member of the committee, which took a great deal of evidence from stakeholders in its stage 1 inquiry.

One of the most important areas of concern in the bill has been the separation of the Forestry Commission’s functions. The committee has called on the Scottish Government to provide further reassurance about the practical implications of its proposals. I am pleased that the minister acknowledges that in the Government’s response to the committee’s stage 1 report.

The other contentious issue in the bill is extending the powers of the Scottish ministers for the compulsory purchase of land. Real concern was expressed to the committee about why, given that the compulsory purchase powers in the 1967 act have never been used—I repeat, never been used—ministers wish not only to transfer them to the new legislation but to extend them. I do not like the idea of Parliament giving up its powers to ministers at the best of times, but to extend further the powers of compulsory purchase that were given to ministers back in 1967 and have—I will say it for the third time—never been used seems to me to be bizarre in the extreme.

John Finnie

I take it that, when the member talks about the powers being used, he means people going to court. Does he accept that they have an application short of going to court, which is about dispute resolution?

Mike Rumbles

Whichever way we look at it, the powers have never been used—I say it for the fourth time in case people do not understand that.

I have to say to John Mason that I, for one, am not rich. I do not consider myself powerful and I am certainly not a landowner. I do not support those unnecessary measures, so I do not know whom he was targeting. Perhaps he was targeting someone else—that is not for me to say—but he is not quite right.

The evidence to the committee on the matter was clear, and I was pleased when the committee did its job in a vote—a vote that, I am also pleased to say, did not simply divide along party lines. That is really important. The committee recommended that the Government should change its mind on the matter and that the compulsory purchase powers in the 1967 act should be transferred to the bill—I was not particularly keen on that but I agreed the report—but not extended.

I hope that the Government listens to the committee. I notice that, in his written response, the minister notes the recommendation. I hope that he does more than that and lodges amendments at stage 2 to reflect it. That is the parliamentary committee doing its job. We are here to take evidence, listen to it and, without partisanship, try to get the best results on the matter. We are all in favour of the bill and we want to make it work.

I hope that the Government recognises that, because the bill can be further improved in other ways. I would like to see an amendment at stage 2 to make it clear that the strategic objectives of any land acquisition and disposal should be set out in the Scottish forestry strategy. Otherwise, there is no guarantee or requirement for there to be any strategic plan for acquisition or disposal and the whims of ministers would rule.

I return to the fact that I have always believed that it is wrong to give too much power away to ministers. I made that point to Ross Finnie when, as rural affairs minister, he introduced legislation in the first two parliamentary sessions and I voted against him. I make the point again. It is not a party-political point. Parliamentarians should be wary of handing over unrestricted powers to ministers of any political hue. I am not attacking the current minister; I am talking about ministers of any political party.

In conclusion, Presiding Officer, this is a good bill and the Liberal Democrats are happy to support it. However, as I have pointed out, there is room for improvement and we would indeed like to see it improved. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

I have a little bit of time in hand, if anybody wants to take advantage of that with interventions—although not just random ones for the sake of it.

I call Fulton MacGregor, to be followed by Finlay Carson.

16:05  



Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I support the general principles of the bill.

It has been an interesting learning curve for me, with my background primarily in social work and social science. I learned a lot through the bill, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have done that.

A strong forestry sector is important to a vibrant Scotland and it is important that forestry in Scotland is fully accountable to the Parliament. The bill makes forestry fully accountable to the Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament, and, as I said, it is an important economic sector in Scotland, worth £1 billion annually.

The committee heard from a range of stakeholders, as others have mentioned, who welcome the opportunity to fully devolve forestry matters to Scotland and recognise that there is a real need to update forestry legislation.

Completing the devolution of forestry has been a long-standing commitment of this Government, and I am pleased that we are now taking steps to complete the process. By doing so, we will ensure that the economic, social and environmental benefits that are already delivered by forestry in Scotland are protected and nurtured. It is safe to say that this Government is committed to ensuring that forestry can deliver more in the future, and we hope to provide stability and a long-term plan for the industry.

Sustainable forestry is at the heart of the bill, and by putting safeguards in place that ensure that our forestry land is being used in a way that promotes sustainable forest management, we are suitably protecting the industry. That is important for ensuring that our forests provide biodiversity, productivity and regenerational capacity, and it ultimately ensures that no damage is done to other ecosystems. That approach is in line with Forest Europe’s definition of forest strategy.

I also want to comment on the idea of enhancing a sustainable domestic timber sector. We must do so while recognising the important contribution that forestry makes to rural communities across Scotland. I believe that the creation of the new forestry bill allows us to redefine forestry and ensure that our industry is ready for the future. I believe that we will now be able to ensure that any long-term economic impacts, as well as the environmental sustainability of a vital industry in Scotland, are safeguarded.

Presiding Officer, native woodlands are beneficial to us all. They provide a habitat for a wide range of species, and they provide environmental benefits, as others have said. They can even act as a social space for us all to enjoy. Woodland habitats can give people the opportunity to interact with wildlife in a natural setting, both in an informal way and in the promotion of more formal activities such as environmental education.

As I have said in the chamber before, I like Munro climbing—in fair weather, I must add. There is nothing better than being up there when there is also forest and the smell of pine. I know that anybody else who walks through the forest will agree with that. Just at the weekend I took the family to Cuningar loop, which is not in my constituency—if my geography is right, it is in Clare Haughey’s; if not, I apologise to the member.

John Mason

You are right.

Fulton MacGregor

Am I? Thank you, John. It is a fantastic facility.

Back in my constituency, I recently met with Charles Dundas from the Woodland Trust and had a walk around Drumpellier country park. I had not been aware prior to that that there is ancient woodland there but I am quite proud of that fact now. One per cent of Scotland is covered in ancient woodland, and now I have found out that some of it is in my constituency, which is really good. During that walk we also spoke about deer management, an issue that has been raised by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as others.

It is probably worth saying that that was not the only time that I have had contact with the trust on constituency matters. Recently I was involved in a community dispute in which a local company cut down a number of trees that had been in place for more than 20 years without notice to or consultation with residents, who considered the trees to be part of their home. Although it would not be appropriate to get into more detail here in the chamber, the case highlights the need for some of the aspects of community involvement that the committee took evidence on.

Woodlands are natural deer habitats, and the creation of a new woodland would ensure that deer have a suitable habitat and allow them to colonise appropriate areas. Like John Finnie, I would be inclined to consider the Woodland Trust’s suggestion that all owners and managers of private forest and woodland have a responsibility to ensure that arrangements are in place to manage deer.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government acknowledges the concerns expressed by stakeholders. As set out by the cabinet secretary,

“the Scottish Government acknowledge the importance of retaining the local office networks and sustaining opportunities for interchange between agency and division.”

That is in response to concerns about a potential loss of expertise and skills. The Scottish Government goes on to say:

“The issue of skills retention is a focus of the ‘New Agency’ and ‘New Division’ projects under the recently established Forestry Devolution Programme.”

It continues:

“These projects will be identifying ways to continue to recognise and value engagement with the professional bodies and identify jobs requiring specific professional qualifications, such as in forestry.”

I will touch briefly on compulsory purchase orders. I will get involved in a maths dispute here, but I believe that I was 33 per cent of the SNP team that was in a minority on the committee, with Stewart Stevenson accounting for the other 66 per cent. My view on that—

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Is it SNP policy that Stewart Stevenson counted as one and a half members, as he testified earlier?

Fulton MacGregor

I could not possibly comment on that, although he certainly managed to dig himself out of a hole earlier with his one and a half members point.

On a serious note, I return to compulsory purchase orders. I mentioned my previous experience in social work because CPO reminds me of a child protection order, which is what we used to mean when we said CPO. John Finnie made an important point about legal status. Child protection orders are rarely used and accessed and it is probably not too extreme to imagine a day when we would not need CPOs.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is no time left, Mr MacGregor.

Fulton MacGregor

I will develop the point anyway, which is that we would not want CPOs not to be there. When child protection or other processes go through, they work on the basis that such orders are in place and could possibly be used. I am coming to the end—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No—I think that you are at the end.

Fulton MacGregor

I will leave it at that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr MacGregor.

16:12  



Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcements, but we on these benches are not alone in holding serious concerns about the bill. Scottish Land & Estates stated that it has

“a major concern with the government’s current proposals”

and that the bill is

“poorly structured in contrast to the Forestry Act 1967”.

Bidwells has highlighted its

“disquiet over the proposals to strengthen and broaden Scottish Ministers powers of Compulsory Purchase”.

The Institute of Chartered Foresters

“considers that significant amendments are required”.

NFU Scotland highlights the bill’s potential for

“undermining relations between farming and forestry.”

Furthermore, the Community Woodlands Association seeks greater clarity about a number of definitions in the bill. I am glad that I find myself in the company of many reputable and knowledgeable stakeholders in highlighting my concerns about the bill in its current form.

There are two areas of significant concern: the lack of clarity on key definitions, and the expansion of compulsory purchase powers. The “Oxford English Dictionary” defines clarity as

“the quality of being clear and intelligible”.

The bill fails to provide a clear and intelligible definition of “forestry land”, “sustainable forest management”, “sustainable development” and “community body”. Once again, legislation that lacks clarity has been introduced to the Parliament. We witnessed that during stage 1 of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill, in which vague definitions were applied to “wild animals” and “travelling circus”.

During an evidence session in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s meeting on 7 June, the Scottish Government’s forestry and land management bill team could not provide reassurance about how compulsory purchase could further the achievement of sustainable development.

Key definitions within the bill have worryingly been left to the discretion of ministerial interpretation. In order to provide the transparency and confidence that the forestry sector requires, ministers must ensure that these definitions are given further clarity if the bill is to move forward to the next stage. I am glad that the cabinet secretary, in his letter to the committee convener, Edward Mountain, has indicated that he will review certain measures in the bill regarding vague and unclear definitions.

I believe that an expansion of the existing compulsory purchase powers is not required. The current powers found in the Forestry Act 1967 have not scarcely been used—they have never been used by the Scottish ministers. A further enhancement of those powers would only reaffirm the mantra of this SNP Government and see further unnecessary centralisation of power.

The use of compulsory purchase powers has also been raised recently in the discussion paper published by the Scottish Law Commission, which noted the

“peculiarly disturbing circumstances of losing ... property under a statutory process”

and went further to state that

“It is of the highest importance that, as it affects ordinary people, the legislation should be as clear as possible.”

Stakeholders are also concerned about the use of compulsory purchase. NFU Scotland is

“sceptical that two of the fundamental principles of valuations for compulsory purchase ... are being consistently and rigorously applied”.

Those principles are that

“the seller and purchaser are both ‘willing’ and that the seller is ‘no better or worse off’”.

We have seen this happen already, through what some people see as the mishandling of the compulsory purchase orders along the Aberdeen western peripheral route.

I therefore believe that the compulsory purchase powers under this bill are at best unnecessary and at worst a power grab by the Government.

I welcome some aspects of the bill, namely a routine review of the forestry strategy and the strengthening of provisions related to tree health, which I believe will be beneficial to my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries where, as everybody knows, we are campaigning to establish Scotland’s next national park, which would take in the whole of Galloway forest park. However, in order for the bill to provide for the action it seeks, fundamental changes must be made to its current form.

16:17  



Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate legislation that will have a major impact on an important sector within my South Scotland region.

As we have already heard, forestry plays an invaluable role in many aspects of Scottish life, contributing to climate change mitigation, biodiversity, flood management, health and wellbeing and of course tourism. It is estimated that the sector supports around 25,000 full-time-equivalent jobs across Scotland, and £954 million of gross value added. It is particularly important to rural economies.

My own home region of Dumfries and Galloway has one of the highest concentrations of forestry in the country, with woods and forests covering some 31 per cent of the land. The 211,000 hectares range from the great spruce forests of Galloway and Eskdalemuir, through the traditional estate forests such as those of Buccleuch Estates, to the small native and farm woodlands that are so important to the beautiful landscape of Dumfries and Galloway. Not surprisingly, the region is a major timber-producing area, harvesting some 30 per cent of Scotland’s home-grown timber each year, and is home to Scotland’s largest biomass power station.

The timber industry is responsible for more than 3,000 jobs in Dumfries and Galloway, many of which are in remote rural areas. It is therefore an economic and environmental imperative that the bill adequately supports the forestry sector and the associated industries.

I am happy to support the general principles of the bill and I welcome its broad aims. In addition to the need to fully devolve forestry powers, I support the need to promote accountability, transparency and policy alignment in this area. Likewise, any endeavours to modernise the sector and improve the effectiveness of how we use Scotland’s publicly owned land are very welcome.

However, there is more to be done to ensure that the bill fully supports those aims, and I commend the work done by both the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in scrutinising the bill.

It is important to acknowledge that many aspects of forestry interrelate closely with other policy areas and I hope that the Government will accept the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s call for the development of an

“overarching, high-level statement of ambition, on the face of the bill, that makes clear that modern forestry strategy and practices will reflect an integrated approach to land use, community interests and the environment”.

I appreciate the need for the full devolution of forestry matters, but it is important that the existing engagement between stakeholders from communities and local authorities is not compromised in the process. Bringing the management of the forestry estate into the Scottish Government’s remit risks the potential for overcentralisation, which has been a habit of Government in recent years, and we must be careful to guard against that. Local forest districts and their outreach functions play a crucial role, and it is vital that the new structure reflects that. In Dumfries and Galloway, the estate is governed by two forest districts—Galloway district and Dumfries and Borders district—that, between them, cover 171,000 hectares.

In addition to the production role, the current arrangements have played a crucial part in developing the wider health and recreational benefits of forests in the area, from the development of the seven stanes cycling project to the Scottish dark sky observatory in Galloway forest park, which, I hope, will become the Galloway national park in time. It is vital that we maintain the role that is carried out by forest districts in any new structures.

The bill will also bring into force the proposed restructuring of the Forestry Commission but, as they stand, the plans have failed to win support. In its report, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee noted

“wide-ranging concerns expressed by stakeholders at the separation of the functions of the Forestry Commission”.

In particular, I highlight concerns that the scope, focus and resources of the forestry division might be diluted over time, and that the separation of the division and the commission might result in a loss of professional forestry expertise. The bill and the discussions around it provide an opportunity to examine the issues and to work to address concerns on the matter.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that it will produce a statement setting out how it will manage and administer its forestry responsibilities and the relationship between the forestry division and the agency. It is essential that the statement provides assurances on those issues and clarifies what will be done to ensure that the separation of the commission’s functions will not weaken the total capacity of the two organisations. I am glad that the Scottish Government is considering the committee’s recommendation that significant changes to the arrangements that are set out in the statement must be notified to the Parliament and be subject to further consideration.

The introduction of a statutory requirement for a Scottish Government forestry strategy that is based on sustainable forest management is a welcome change, and I am glad that the Scottish Government has agreed to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s recommendation that a working definition of the term “sustainable forest management” is given to provide clarity on what exactly is expected. I also welcome calls to include a statutory process to ensure that regular revision and review of the forestry strategy is undertaken. I appreciate that there is a balance to be struck between providing flexibility and certainty, but the committee’s recommendation for the strategy to be reviewed every five years and refreshed every 10 years is a reasonable one.

Another key concern that was raised in submissions to the committee was on the topic of devolution and its impact on research capabilities and scientific expertise. The south of Scotland regional forestry forum highlighted that issue, stating:

“It is essential that Britain’s current forest research capability is not lost, and that discussions on a cross-border approach to Forest Research reach a successful conclusion.”

Likewise, the National Trust for Scotland asked for clarification on how cross-border co-operation will develop, and the committee’s report noted the widespread view that

“the research functions of the current UK wide Forestry Commission are crucial to the continuing health of Scotland's forests.”

That is a crucial point to take into consideration during the devolution process.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide regular updates on the progress of its discussions with the rest of the UK on the issue, and I am glad that it has recognised the importance of ensuring that an appropriate framework for cross-border research is in place before the bill comes into force. However, there is still a lack of clarity on the purpose of the compulsory purchase powers that are conferred by the bill, and on the provision that relates to sustainable development. The current widespread lack of confidence in that aspect of the bill must be addressed if the Scottish Government is to take forward that particular provision, no matter the support that exists.

The full devolution of forestry powers is a valuable opportunity to improve our approach to the sector, which is of great importance to thousands of my constituents. There is significant scope for progress and, for that reason, I am happy to support the general principles of the bill. However, as it stands, it requires work to be done before it is fit for purpose and I am glad that the Scottish Government has already agreed to a number of the committee’s recommendations. I urge the Scottish Government to give further consideration to the other points that have been raised in the chamber and by stakeholders around Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind all parties in the chamber that no front bench should ever be left empty during a debate. I ask all parties to take note of that for future reference.

16:24  



Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

Following on from the successful transfer of the Crown estate to Crown Estate Scotland, with Scottish ministers now responsible for all Crown estate assets in Scotland and all revenue profit going to the Scottish Government, this bill now makes forestry fully accountable to Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament. It has always struck me that not having forestry matters fully devolved to Scotland was messy, to say the least, so I am glad to see the situation being tidied up, albeit with continuing cross-border working on tree health and other matters. There is no doubt that a strong forestry sector, worth £1 billion annually, as we have heard, is important to a vibrant Scotland, and it is also vital that forestry in Scotland is fully accountable to this Parliament.

I hope to cover three main strands in my speech today: woodland deer management; sustainable forest management; and biodiversity.

We know from the work that was done on deer management by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee and the work that has been done by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee since its formation last year that there are too many deer in Scotland. According to the Scottish Wildlife Trust—I thank it for the briefing that it provided in advance of today’s debate—there are an estimated 85,000 to 100,000 roe, sika and fallow deer in privately owned Scottish forests, and 40,000 to 45,000 on the national forest estate; and between 45,000 and 60,000 red deer in private forests, and 40,000 and 45,000 on the national forest estate.

We also know that 30 per cent of all deer culling in Scotland has been carried out by the Forestry Commission or Forest Enterprise Scotland in the national forest estate, which, unbelievably, costs the taxpayer more than £3 million a year—that does not include the cost of deer fences, which is another story. That is clearly disproportionate, given that the national forest estate covers only 6 per cent of the land area. The creation of new woodland, which the bill will enable, will also create new deer habitats. It should therefore go without saying that it is surely the responsibility of all owners and managers of private forests and woodland to manage the deer that live on their patch—as Fulton MacGregor and John Finnie said, that includes culling.

Edward Mountain

Part of the application process for new woodland grant schemes concerns deer management, which has to be considered. Surely what the member asks for is already happening and the issue is simply one of implementation. Does he agree?

Angus MacDonald

Implementation is key, absolutely.

As I have suggested, such action would clearly help the timber crop, improve woodland biodiversity, significantly reduce the impact of deer grazing on nearby agricultural crops and, of course, reduce the risk of road traffic collisions with deer, which some of us have experienced.

Given the unexpected knowledge that I have gained on the issue of deer management through serving on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee in the previous session of Parliament for four years and through my membership of the current Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I have a lot of sympathy for, and fully understand, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s call for there to be a legal requirement for forest owners to take adequate and appropriate steps to manage and control deer. I suggest that there is a strong argument for the SWT’s assertion that the bill should be amended to incorporate a duty of sustainable deer management for all forest owners. Having a plan in place to manage deer would clearly reduce the damaging impacts that deer can have and would create economic opportunities through the letting of deer stalking and the resultant venison sales. That would tie in well with the recommendations in the 2016 report on deer management by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

Turning to biodiversity and sustainable forest management, I am pleased to note that, although the bill does not define sustainable forest management, the policy memorandum uses the widely accepted definition from the 1993 pan-European ministerial conference on the protection of forests in Europe. However, I understand that the Government has accepted the committee’s recommendation that, for as long as sustainable forest management is the goal, the accepted definition should be included in the forestry strategy, which is welcomed. The definition fits well with the requirement for Scottish ministers to set out their objectives, priorities and policies with respect to the promotion of sustainable forest management.

On the issue of compulsory purchase order powers being extended to include sustainable development, I am pleased that the cabinet secretary indicated in his opening remarks that he is in listening mode. However, my family was subjected to CPOs in the past and I can testify to the fact that, whether we like CPOs or not, the threat of them helps to concentrate minds—I have experience of that.

Biodiversity must remain on the radar of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. I note in the RSPB’s briefing the request that biodiversity be given more distinct recognition in the bill, in addition to other environmental considerations such as flood water management and carbon sequestration. The RSPB also suggests that the bill be amended to include a duty to develop a statutory method of assessing sustainable forest management, which seems to me to be a reasonable request. I look forward to possible consideration of that at stage 2 and stage 3.

The creation of this bill redefines forestry in Scotland for the 21st century, ensuring the Iong-term economic and environmental sustainability of a vital industry. I welcome the devolution of forestry to Scottish ministers and the fact that forestry will be fully accountable to this Parliament. In my view, that is long overdue, but it is another step in the right direction.

16:31  



Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

Scotland’s land and forests are vitally important resources for many in our country. For example, I have observed Assich forest near Nairn, where the developer has done one cycle, if not a second. There are those who find it not sustainable, but I understand from foresters that it is the only sustainable forest in Scotland. It is incumbent on us to be responsible in how we legislate for our land and forests, focusing on putting in place best practice to benefit Scotland as a whole.

The forestry sector alone is worth almost £1 billion per year to the economy, supporting more than 26,000 jobs and, of course, the families who rely on them. However, it is also important to consider environmental concerns. Continued afforestation is of undoubted relevance when trying to limit levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the bill bears a number of similarities with many that have come before the Parliament—not least the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill—in that, although well intentioned for the most part, it is poorly written and vague to the extent that its fundamental aims lack substantive clarity.

I have read the cabinet secretary’s letter to Edward Mountain. Given that the cabinet secretary had the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s recommendations for almost a month, it is regrettable that his response snuck out on the Friday afternoon before this debate—I missed it because I was occupied over the weekend.

The cabinet secretary has said that he might consider some amendments to the bill, but I believe that the Government should have been much clearer, much sooner. An example of that can be seen in the definition of “sustainable forest management”, which should be simple. However, the Scottish Government did not even think to define the term in its key forestry bill, which meant that concessions were forced from the cabinet secretary before the bill even made it to stage 1. It is important that we have strict definitions when ministers wish to grant themselves sweeping new powers to adjudicate on the matters concerned, otherwise we risk a situation in which the Government can hide poor performance and implementation behind vague terms of reference, which would simply not be good enough. I urge ministers to consider amendments in that area.

With that in mind, I have real concerns over the expansion of compulsory purchase powers that the bill would give ministers, which has been mentioned often in the debate. For example, it was not long ago that the SNP was cheering on such orders to facilitate Donald Trump’s Balmedie vanity project. That did not exactly go well. In addition, the Scottish Government is totally inexperienced in making compulsory purchases for the purpose of sustainable development. There are currently no examples of Scottish ministers using the powers of compulsory purchase in the context of forestry. Of course, they will probably need to figure out what it all means first.

Stewart Stevenson

For clarity, the Scottish Government and local authorities are very experienced in making compulsory purchase orders in general and I cannot imagine that the purpose being for sustainable development will make the process different in any material way.

Tom Mason

All situations have their own competence. If ministers do not have experience in the forestry context, they will not be competent to make those orders. I recommend that ministers think again about whether those provisions are really necessary.

I am worried about the requirement for a totally new IT system. Rural Scotland is still paying for the Scottish Government’s incompetence in that area, although I suspect that the cabinet secretary hoped that we had all forgotten about that.

I share the concerns that my Conservative colleagues have raised on the defining of a community body, and the proposals in section 17 on the sale, lease or gift of land to anyone whom ministers see fit. The cabinet secretary has agreed to explore the need for potential amendments, and it would be a serious error of judgment were that to fall by the wayside. We would prefer to see any funds that were raised from the sale of forestry land being reinvested in continuous afforestation rather than grants, and I hope the Scottish Government will take that on board.

The bill will have profound effects on our rural economy, but its drafting is simply not up to the required level. The bill also fails to strike the correct balance in many areas. It goes too far with compulsory purchase powers and IT systems, but not far enough when it comes to reinvesting in afforestation for the future.

There is much still to do with the bill, and I hope that ministers will take on board my legitimate concerns and not remain blinkered in their approach to rural Scotland. Although I support the bill in general terms, we ask that our proposed amendments be allowed to go through.

16:37  



David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

In 1918, in the dying days of the first world war, the country was ravaged by conflict, our young people had been sacrificed on the battlefield, and our economy was in freefall. That was the context in which the Forestry Commission was born, with the aim of replanting, rebuilding and renewing a crucial asset that appeared impossible to replace. The idea seemed to be oxymoronic. How could we replace native Caledonian pine forests that were hundreds of years old? However, in the 1920s and 1930s, those foresters of old did what it said on the tin: they replanted our forests with fast-growing and mainly, though not exclusively, non-native species.

As we all know, the picture today is very different. Our living forests play a number of roles in climate change mitigation, industry and construction, job creation, biomass, housing, leisure and biodiversity. That is why today’s debate is so important.

The bill includes devolving forestry to Scottish ministers, and it is my hope that that will offer the opportunity to better integrate forestry with other rural land uses in Scotland. We must recognise the important economic benefits from forestry. Rural areas are often the most vulnerable, and as a Highlands and Islands MSP, that is very close to my heart.

However, forestry offers us so much more. It provides leisure spaces, carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, erosion reduction, water quality improvement, timber production and a biodiverse habitat for many of our native species. Many of our native woodlands provide a home for at-risk species in Scotland, whose population has been in decline, so it is not just the area of forestry that we need to improve, but the quality. Increased tree planting for the sake of it is not enough. It must be done in the right area, and with the right tree species, or it could do more harm than good. In its excellent briefing, the RSPB makes the point that biodiversity and environmental benefits are not always fully interlinked, and that they must be kept separate in order to support both. That is true for rural and urban areas. The word “forestry” brings to mind acres and acres of trees, but it also covers tree planting in urban areas, which is very important for increasing green spaces, which can help with the mental and physical health of local communities.

The powers are moving to Scottish ministers, but it is vital that the skills and the knowledge of Forestry Commission Scotland staff are maintained. The very nature of forestry involves long-term planning—many of our man-made ancient forests exist only because of the forward thinking of our forebears. As the Greek proverb goes:

“A society grows great when old men”—

and women—

“plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

This has been an excellent debate, started by the cabinet secretary, who stressed the importance of sustainable management in forests, with new commissioning and funding across the UK to expand timber supply. I, too, welcome the strategic timber fund. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will say a bit more about that in his winding-up speech. If I picked him up correctly, I understand that the plan is to transfer a further 700 acres to community ownership this year.

Edward Mountain made an excellent speech as the convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. He talked, quite rightly, about keeping—and increasing—the skills of foresters; he also talked about having a long-term strategy with objectives that are reviewed. I also agree with his points about the need for more clarity on the definitions.

A common theme among members was the need to get the IT systems right. How many times in this Parliament have we touched on a new IT system that has failed? Let us get it right in this instance.

Peter Chapman made a number of points with which I agree. For example, an amendment to the bill about the cross-border work on tree health is vital, and a review of progress on planting expansion timescales must be reported to Parliament at an appropriate stage.

Rhoda Grant set the context of the devolution of the Forestry Commission. A common theme in the debate has been the creation of the important role of the chief forester, who will effectively fight the corner of foresters within the Scottish Government. As Rhoda Grant said, it is crucial to look at the socioeconomic role of forestry and the needs of local communities.

As always, Stewart Stevenson was entertaining. He talked about his time fighting the first world war—or maybe I misunderstood that. He certainly talked about the important role that timber played in the first world war. He made the interesting point that he counts as one and a half members within the SNP group—nobody in the Parliament has ever doubted his important role.

John Scott—quite rightly—raised the need for clarity on the definitions, particularly the definition of community bodies.

Overall, this has been a first-class debate. We know the big picture—the forestry industry needs stability to allow it to invest and to grow to ensure that it thrives for future generations. It also needs knowledge. I restate my earlier point: although civil servants are specialists in what they do, it is important that the knowledge held by foresters within the commission is not lost. On behalf of the five trade unions that represent Forestry Commission Scotland, I would appreciate it if the cabinet secretary could assure me that the skills of the staff will be maintained and that the unions representing them will be fully engaged during the negotiations about all aspects of the staff transfer.

Labour’s position is clear: we support the general principles of the bill. I urge all members to support it.

16:43  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the opportunity to close the debate for my party. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, and as an MSP who represents a region that contains valuable public forestry, especially on the Isle of Arran, I have a vested interest in getting a successful outcome for the bill. From listening to today’s speeches, it is clear that there is still work to be done as the bill progresses through Parliament.

The committee recommendations include a number of pertinent points, including the need for the Scottish Government to provide clarity on how it will administer its forestry functions. Conservative members support the proposal to create the position of chief forester.

The committee also recommended that the bill should have an overarching aim, objective or mission statement. What should the bill seek to achieve? What long-term outcome should result from the reorganisation?

The committee recommended that the costs of rebranding be minimised where possible. It also suggested that the financial reporting and auditing functions that are available to Parliament in respect of the current bodies be carried forward to the new structure. Transparency must prevail, scrutiny must be forthcoming and accountability must not be diluted as a result of the integration.

My colleague Peter Chapman noted the importance of working with other parts of the UK to ensure the health of our trees. He also said that the wealth of expertise in the Forestry Commission should not be lost as the bill is implemented. David Stewart reiterated that point. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment that cross-border co-operation will continue in a formal setting. Conservative members welcome the constructive approach that all Governments are taking to the issue.

Peter Chapman also made a pertinent point about our ability to meet planting targets, which have been missed every year since 2001. If we are to meet the targets, we must have an honest and frank debate about the planning process and the costs of planting.

In his speech, my colleague Finlay Carson highlighted two areas of concern about which many other members spoke: the lack of clarity in key definitions, and the expansion of compulsory purchase powers. I hope that the Government will take into account the constructive comments of the committee and individual members about the definitions, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to listen to the concerns about additional compulsory purchase powers. Rhoda Grant made an interesting point about scenarios in which compulsory purchase powers might be required, but our understanding is that the Government already has sufficient compulsory purchase powers, which we are happy to have rolled forward from the Forestry Act 1967. The ambiguities in, and concerns about, the provisions on purchase for sustainable development must be taken into account. By a majority, the committee agreed that no case has been made for additional powers, as Mike Rumbles said.

My colleague John Scott warned against Parliament producing poorly drafted legislation. I value his experience in scrutinising bills, and I agree with the sentiment of his speech. He thanked the Forestry Commission Scotland for its hard work to date: I am sure that all members would do the same.

To our huge surprise, Stewart Stevenson delivered a fascinating insight into the history of forestry in Scotland. We were also reminded of his previous ministerial importance in the matter—indeed, in any matter. We learned today that he is worth 1.5 normal MSPs. We are forever grateful for his enlightening—and inflated—presence in Parliament. [Laughter.] Mr Stevenson also made an interesting point about the structure of Holyrood committees. My experience of the committees in the Scottish Parliament has been overwhelmingly positive.

John Finnie made an interesting point about the needs of small businesses in the forestry sector, especially those that derive social benefit from Scotland’s forests. He was seeking confirmation that grants to such bodies will be protected, so it was good to hear the cabinet secretary provide that confirmation.

My committee colleague Gail Ross talked about the huge amount of scrutiny that has been done of the bill at stage 1. I thank the many stakeholders who provided fascinating evidence, which is testament to the scrutiny that the Scottish Parliament is giving to a bill that will lead to the disappearance of a well-respected body from Scotland’s rural landscape.

It is unfortunate that the debate has not been entirely consensual. Another Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee colleague, John Mason, painted a quite unwarranted picture of the committee’s make-up. His comments were uncharacteristic of him. To my knowledge, no member of the committee has a declared interest in forestry, and every member of the committee has approached the bill with nothing but good will and good intent. To suggest otherwise is quite churlish, so I hope that John Mason will reflect on his comments.

Colin Smyth made a valuable point about the creation of a new national park in the south of Scotland. The debate about that will no doubt continue outside the debate about the bill.

Angus MacDonald touched on the importance of deer management—a matter about which we have talked in great detail in Parliament. He made the point that as we create new woodland—it is right to do so—we might increase the deer population. That, too, is perhaps a debate for another day.

I ask the cabinet secretary to reflect on the following points. Let us address the definitions issue and produce a bill that is watertight and lacks ambiguity. Let us heed the majority recommendation to exclude compulsory purchase powers from the bill, and let us take on board the committee’s suggestion about the position of chief forester.

Let us also remember that the Forestry Commission’s success in Scotland to date has had much to do with its neutrality and its expertise, which we would hate to be lost as the changes are implemented. The Forestry Commission Scotland brand is a strong one, so I implore the cabinet secretary to ascertain whether the UK body will allow the brand to continue under licence in Scotland.

With billions of pounds of gross value at stake, and given the environmental and social benefits that Scotland’s forests bring, it is vital that the concerns that have been expressed today be taken on board as we progress to stage 2.

16:50  



Fergus Ewing

I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate, which has included excellent contributions by members from across the chamber, and has been largely consensual, as Jamie Greene just said.

Reference has been made to Stewart Stevenson’s contribution. Roald Dahl wrote the series “Tales of the Unexpected”: I often think that Mr Stevenson’s speeches are the parliamentary equivalent of those excellent fictional works. Today’s episode—which was somewhat extended, I thought—concerned the Great Michael. I had thought that he might be taking the Michael, but it was just about the making of the Michael. There was a point in there, as always—the huge importance of forestry to Scotland throughout a number of centuries, and not just of late.

Before I go on to answer as many key points as possible, I want to say that I cannot answer them all, but I am committed to, and would like to take part in, bilateral meetings with representatives of each of the other parties, if they wish, in order to see whether we can make progress prior to stage 2. I find that to be a good way to work with colleagues, so my door is open to them to take up that offer quickly, if they wish to do so. I hope that stage 2 can be a collaborative exercise and that we will work together to improve the bill. I accept that there is scope for improvement, although the bill is substantially sound.

I will start with organisational structures, which Rhoda Grant and many other members raised. The new structures will preserve the current distinction between the Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland. As Gail Ross pointed out, FCS will become a dedicated forestry division that will be responsible for grants, regulation, and support and development. Forest Enterprise Scotland, which is already an agency, will become forestry and land Scotland, which will be an executive agency of Scottish ministers, and will be responsible primarily for management of Scotland’s national forest estate.

David Stewart and Rhoda Grant mentioned the importance of the staff, as did members in the Conservative ranks. They are absolutely right. One of my pleasures over the summer was to visit all the conservancies in Scotland with senior representatives of the Forestry Commission, including Scotland’s forestry commissioner Jo O’Hara, who is here listening to the debate. That allowed me to see at first hand just how dedicated the staff are, and how they regard it as not just a job but a calling. I hope that I was able to provide assurance on and clarification of what we all want from the bill, which is greater accountability and transparency and greater focus on forestry than has been possible while accountability has been so diffuse.

In response to Mr Stewart and Ms Grant, in particular, I am happy to confirm that the staff’s expertise will not be lost. The staff transfer to the Scottish Government will maintain the strong public sector role in forestry policy and delivery. We will minimise disruption to staff and we will help to ensure business continuity. I have had numerous lengthy meetings with trade union representatives, which have been extremely productive. The “Cabinet Office Statement of Practice: Staff transfers in the Public Sector”, which is known as COSOP, applies when staff are transferred between civil service departments. I mention it because it is important to stress how much we value the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise staff and the work that they do.

We need to increase the pace and scale of tree planting in order to meet our ambitious annual planting targets, towards which we are making good progress. In response to Mr Chapman—I am sorry, it might have been Mr Mountain—I say about the speed and protracted process to obtain permissions that we have addressed that by asking the former chief planner for Scotland, Jim Mackinnon, to look at the whole process because he is an expert in that area. He came up with 21 recommendations, which we have accepted and which will nearly all have been implemented by the end of this year. There has been substantial buy-in to the process that he set out. That progress has been welcomed. Stuart Goodall said:

“I am heartened to see pragmatic, workable proposals to ensure we finally achieve the tree planting rates necessary to deliver the sector’s full potential”.

In the past year, Scotland has been responsible for 70 per cent of new tree planting in the UK, so although it is fair to point out—as members have done—that we have not yet reached our target, I am confident that we will do so fairly soon. I know that because of the level of activity in nurseries, which have massively increased their stock with a view to achieving greater sales. Forestry is a long-term business in which people plan well ahead, and I know from my visits to Christie-Elite Nurseries Ltd and Alba Trees plc nurseries that they are planning for that future. We value their contribution thereanent.

Forest Enterprise Scotland is a very successful commercial organisation; in 2016, its income amounted to £85 million. As well as selling timber, it sells venison and receives a substantial income from renewable energy developments. The substantial income that it derives from the portfolio that it has built up enables it to supplement its commercial activities. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, cabinet secretary. Could we have a bit of quiet in the Conservatives’ part of the chamber, please? I ask everyone who is coming in to be aware that the debate is still going on.

Fergus Ewing

Thank you for resuming order, Presiding Officer—not that I had done anything to provoke disorder, but there we are.

We will certainly consider the compulsory purchase powers at stage 2. I am considering carefully the comments that we have received from stakeholders and what members have said today. The point has been made by various members, including Angus MacDonald, that it is not necessary to use the power to prove that it is necessary—in other words, it is wrong to infer that, because the power has not been used since 1967, which is 50 years ago, it is not necessary. It is a backstop, so I caution that having a power of last resort can be valuable in bringing negotiations to a conclusion, even if the power is never used.

Mike Rumbles

Will the minister take an intervention?

Fergus Ewing

I am very sorry, but I do not think that I have time to do so. I would be happy to meet Mr Rumbles to have a lengthy discussion with him on the matter, if he so wishes.

Mike Rumbles

I look forward to that.

Peter Chapman

Good luck with that.

Fergus Ewing

I take on any task, no matter how challenging.

Edward Mountain

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention from me?

Fergus Ewing

I think that I should be fair and act on the basis of equal opportunities: in other words, I will not take any interventions. I am very sorry—it is not personal. However, I would be happy to meet Mr Mountain. I am taking on many challenging tasks, Presiding Officer.

The IT system was mentioned. I stress that it needs to be replaced anyway. We have confirmed that the cost of doing that will not exceed the upper estimate in the financial memorandum. I will, of course, update members as soon as further information is available. In addition, rebranding costs will be kept to a minimum. That is the approach that I am taking, and I am delighted to hear that it is one that members support.

Definitions have occupied quite a lot of time in the debate. I do not doubt that they are important, but I point out to members that the phrase “sustainable development” is generally well understood and widely used in legislation. In fact, it was no less a figure than the then Lord President, Lord Gill, who said in his judgment in the case of Pairc Crofters v the Scottish Ministers:

“In my view, the expression sustainable development is in common parlance in matters relating to the use and development of land. It is an expression that would be readily understood by the legislators, the Ministers and the Land Court.”

Therefore, the difficulties are perhaps not as acute as some members have suggested, but I am happy to undertake to give the matter further consideration.

Many references have been made to timber transport on rural roads—David Stewart referred to it—and by sea. As John Finnie mentioned, timber is taken by sea from a large number of places around the country, and that is a good thing. Rail freight, where there are opportunities for it, is an equally important matter to which we are paying close attention.

In conclusion, I say that David Stewart’s speech was excellent. In it, he set out the historic context of what we are doing. The Forestry Commission is 98 years old. Lord Lovat, who was from the Highlands, was its first chair. He was an extremely distinguished man in many ways, and is regarded as the father of the Forestry Commission. I know that because over the summer I read the history of the Forestry Commission in Scotland. That has just reminded me that I had better give that book back to Jo O’Hara. She should remind me to give her her book back, because I have finished it.

Financial resolution

A financial resolution is needed for Bills that may have a large impact on the 'public purse'.

MSPs must agree to this for the bill to proceed.

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Financial resolution transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of motion S5M-07872, in the name of Derek Mackay, on the financial resolution on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament, for the purposes of any Act of the Scottish Parliament resulting from the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, agrees to—

(a) any expenditure of a kind referred to in Rule 9.12.3(b) of the Parliament’s Standing Orders arising in consequence of the Act, and

(b) any charge or payment in relation to which Rule 9.12.4 of the Standing Orders applies arising in consequence of the Act.—[Derek Mackay]

The Presiding Officer

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.

Vote at Stage 1

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Vote at Stage 1 transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We come to decision time. The first question is, that motion S5M-08677, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on stage 1 of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motion S5M-07872, in the name of Derek Mackay, on the financial resolution on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament, for the purposes of any Act of the Scottish Parliament resulting from the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, agrees to—

(a) any expenditure of a kind referred to in Rule 9.12.3(b) of the Parliament’s Standing Orders arising in consequence of the Act, and

(b) any charge or payment in relation to which Rule 9.12.4 of the Standing Orders applies arising in consequence of the Act.

The Presiding Officer

The final question is, that motion S5M-08738, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on committee membership, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the following changes to committee membership apply from close of business on Tuesday 7 November 2017—

Emma Harper be appointed to replace Maree Todd as a member of the Finance and Constitution Committee;

Kate Forbes be appointed to replace Emma Harper as a member of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.

The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.

The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?

When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.

The group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

First meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting held on 6 December 2017:

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First meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Welcome to the committee’s 35th meeting in 2017. I ask everyone to make sure that mobile phones are on silent.

Agenda item 1 is stage 2 consideration of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, and his officials from the Scottish Government.

Everyone should have a copy of the bill as introduced, the marshalled list of amendments that was published on Thursday and the groupings of amendments, which set out the amendments in the order in which they will be debated. The clerks have advised me that amendment 136 appears in the wrong place on the marshalled list and should, in fact, be after amendment 114. We will take it at that place in the proceedings. That change does not affect the groupings.

It may be helpful to explain the procedure. There will be one debate on each group of amendments. I will call the member who lodged the first amendment in that group to speak to and move that amendment and to speak to all the other amendments in the group. I will then call any other members who have lodged amendments in that group. Members who have not lodged amendments in the group but who wish to speak should indicate that by catching my attention in the usual way. If he has not already spoken on the group, I will invite the cabinet secretary to contribute to the debate just before I move to the winding-up speech. The debate on the group will be concluded by me inviting the member who moved the first amendment in the group to wind up.

Following the debate on each group, I will check whether the member who moved the first amendment in the group wishes to press it to a vote or to withdraw it. If they wish to press ahead, I will put the question on that amendment. If the member wishes to withdraw their amendment after it has been moved, they must seek the agreement of other members to do so. If any member present objects, the committee will immediately move to the vote on the amendment. If any member does not want to move their amendment when called, they should say, “Not moved.” Please note that any other member present may move such an amendment. If no one moves the amendment, I will immediately call the next amendment on the marshalled list.

Only committee members are allowed to vote. Voting in any division is by show of hands. It is important that members keep their hands clearly raised until the clerk has recorded the vote. The committee is required to indicate formally that it has considered and agreed each section and schedule of the bill, so I will put a question on each section at the appropriate point. We aim to complete stage 2 today, but we will see how we get on.

Section 1 agreed to.

After section 1

The Convener

Group 1 is on the purpose of the bill. Amendment 14, in the name of Rhoda Grant, is the only amendment in the group.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Amendment 14 would introduce a purpose section to the bill. The intention is to add clarity about the purpose of the bill. We all know that the bill came about because of the devolution of the Forestry Commission, which is welcome, but we must have more ambition for forestry than just that. The amendment shows that ambition and what our focus should be: to promote sustainable management of forestry and promote the social, economic and environmental impacts of forestry. The new section would state clearly at the beginning of the bill the purpose of the bill and the benefits that forestry can bring.

I move amendment 14.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The only comment that Conservatives have to make is that, in principle, we agree with Rhoda Grant’s suggestion that there should be an overarching purpose to the bill. The problem is that we are unable to support the specific wording of amendment 14, which we feel is not sufficiently encompassing and is too prescriptive in its definition of the bill’s purpose. We would like to see a purpose set out, but I will be voting against the specific wording in the amendment. We would like to see the cabinet secretary take on board whether the bill’s purpose could be introduced with wider wording.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

My view is very much on the same lines as Jamie Greene’s. A purpose section for a bill is an extremely good thing. The Parliament was set up with the statement:

“There shall be a Scottish Parliament.”

Such a section clarifies things and helps the courts to look at the spirit, rather than just the letter, of the law. However, like Jamie Greene, I have reservations about the wording of this particular purpose section.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Alas and alack, if we put the section in, it will be the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. Its effect is to restrict the scope of the bill, rather than to extend it, because, by putting a purpose in, the whole bill is defined by that purpose and nothing that is not defined in it. Therefore, I am afraid that, notwithstanding my sympathies with the underlying approach that Rhoda Grant is taking, I cannot support amendment 14.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I support amendment 14. Everything is open to interpretation. There is clarity about what has been said there, and the section is a worthwhile addition to the legislation that is in front of us.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, before I ask Rhoda Grant to wind up, are there any comments that you would like to make on the amendment?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

Good morning, convener and members of the committee.

At the outset, I would like to thank members of all parties for the constructive meetings that I had prior to stage 2. My officials found them useful; I hope that members did as well. I want to make it clear that, between stages 2 and 3, I will follow the same process and offer a further series of meetings with members, with the aim of working together to ensure that the legislation is in the best possible state. Today, at various points, I will offer to take away important issues that have been raised by members, with an undertaking to work with them to improve matters and to come back at stage 3. I want to emphasise at the beginning of the meeting that that is my approach.

To turn to Rhoda Grant’s amendment, I share its ambitions for the forestry sector in Scotland. The Government has an unequivocal commitment to forestry, which I hope and believe is not in doubt. We have introduced the first primary legislation on forestry since the Parliament was reconvened in 1999. The bill has a purpose: it is the main legislative vehicle to complete devolution of forestry and to establish modern arrangements for this key land use in Scottish legislation. It fulfils a long-standing Scottish Government manifesto and programme for government commitment. Therefore the purpose goes beyond sustainable forestry management; it is also about devolution, which is not stated in amendment 14. The bill provides a modern legislative framework for regulation, support, development and management of forestry in Scotland. It also embeds sustainable forestry management across that framework, introducing, in section 2, a duty on the Scottish ministers to promote sustainable forestry management and to publish a forestry strategy with sustainable forestry management at its core.

The internationally agreed definition of sustainable forestry management is:

“the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and does not cause damage to other ecosystems”.

Given the importance of that phrase, I thought it useful to put that definition on the record early in stage 2. It is about good management of forestry for the long term and for multiple benefits at all levels, which is why it is already at the heart of the forestry functions in the bill.

I question the use of the word “impacts” in amendment 14. I do not support amendment 14, but were I to do so, I would think that “positive impact” or “benefit” would be better alternatives to “impacts”, which has potentially negative connotations.

I share and indeed applaud the sentiments of Rhoda Grant and John Finnie, but I respectfully suggest that amendment 14 is technically flawed, would not achieve the aims that it sets out to achieve and risks causing difficulties, as Mr Stevenson said. For those reasons, I encourage members not to agree to amendment 14.

Rhoda Grant

It is important to have a purpose section in the bill. An awful lot of the amendments that we will consider later were lodged because there is no such section; they are trying to frame the bill in a way that people can understand and use. I firmly believe that the bill requires a purpose section.

I heard what members said about the wording, so I will not press amendment 14 at this stage. However, I will take the issue away and speak to other parties and members, in an attempt to find wording that would help. I understand that the cabinet secretary is not keen on having a purpose section—full stop—so I do not expect to work with him on that, but I would appreciate input if he has concerns, and I will share any proposed new amendment with him, in the hope of getting things right at stage 3.

Amendment 14, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 2—Duty to promote sustainable forest management

The Convener

Group 2 is on a sustainable forest management code of practice. Amendment 118, in the name of Gail Ross, is grouped with amendment 119.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

The purpose of amendments 118 and 119 is to include in the bill a duty to develop a statutory method of assessing and monitoring sustainable forest management, by adopting the best practice forestry guidelines that are set out in the UK forestry standard as legislative requirements.

The UK forestry standard is far reaching and a good representation of best practice, but it is not currently embedded in legislation. The adoption of a code of practice would ensure that future afforestation is transparent and that its environmental benefits are clear and in the public interest. It would also protect against the risk of changing policy environments, which might not place sustainability in such high regard.

I am open to discussion about the approach, including a discussion about whether the bill or the forestry strategy is the correct place for the code of practice.

I move amendment 118.

Jamie Greene

There are admirable intentions behind amendments 118 and 119. There is certainly a shared opinion that section 2 is quite light on detail about the duties on the Scottish ministers to promote sustainable forest management. My only problem is that amendment 119 is very prescriptive, in that it would require the Scottish ministers to consult Scottish Natural Heritage and other parties. There is room for expanding on what ministers must do, but the proposed provisions are probably too detailed for primary legislation.

Rhoda Grant

On a point of clarification, Gail Ross said that the purpose of amendments 118 and 119 is to enshrine the UK forestry standard in the bill, but from my reading of the amendments, they appear to replace the UK forestry standard.

Gail Ross

The purpose is to adopt the code of practice that currently exists under the UK forestry standard.

Rhoda Grant

Okay.

The Convener

Gail, if you are asked a question, you may deal with it when you wind up the debate.

Gail Ross

Sorry.

09:30  



Fergus Ewing

I appreciate the efforts that Gail Ross is making with this amendment to address concerns that were raised during stage 1 about the definition and technical aspects of sustainable forest management. During the committee discussions, there was broad acceptance from stakeholders that the current UK forestry standard is a good guide to sustainable forestry practice, providing practical guidance on sustainable forest management in Scotland.

However, the detailed interpretation of what constitutes sustainable forest management is continually developing, and I do not believe that it is appropriate to commit to any specific standard on the face of the bill. I have therefore accepted the committee’s recommendation that the Scottish Government should lay out its approach in the Scottish forest strategy, as well as set out how it will integrate that with the UK forestry standard. Given that I have accepted the need to lay out both the definition of sustainable forest management and the means by which we will integrate the UK forestry standard in the strategy, I do not believe that these amendments are required. Therefore I respectfully ask Gail Ross not to press the amendment, but I offer to meet her so that I can better understand the intent behind it and explore options to address her concerns.

The Convener

I ask Gail Ross to wind up and press or withdraw amendment 118.

Gail Ross

I thank Jamie Greene, Rhoda Grant and the cabinet secretary for their input. Amendment 118 is a probing amendment. Given the cabinet secretary’s comments, I accept his recommendation and withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 118, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 2 agreed to.

After section 2

Amendment 119 not moved.

Section 3—Duty to prepare forestry strategy

The Convener

The third group of amendments is on forestry strategy: content. Amendment 120, in the name of Rhoda Grant, is grouped with amendments 1, 7, 8, 116 and 117.

Rhoda Grant

Section 3 refers to the forestry strategy and the need for it to include Scottish Government “objectives, priorities and policies” with respect to certain things. Amendment 120 seeks to add to those the economic development of forestry, in particular in communities that are dependent on forestry.

It is clear that many of our communities are dependent on the economic development that is generated by forestry, and their needs must be taken into account in the economic development of forestry. For too long, communities have had little engagement with forestry. Historically, much of the forest planting that has been done has been done as a tax break rather than for economic and environmental good. Ideal forest land is close to our most fragile communities, and while promoting forestry, we have an excellent opportunity to grow and strengthen those communities.

I turn to the other amendments in the group. Although I will listen with interest to the debate on them, I have some concerns. Amendment 1 might constrain the Scottish ministers when they acquire or dispose of land. If what it proposes were not in the strategy, could an acquisition or disposal be challenged? However, I envision a challenge being made only were the land to be subject to compulsory purchase, so it could put a further barrier in the way of compulsory purchase.

I agree with the other amendments in the group, especially amendment 8. I would really like to see more native woodland, and not just for aesthetic reasons. I would like to see us manage and use native timber and native trees.

I move amendment 120.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

My view is that this is a good bill that will be helpful to forestry in Scotland. Because it is such a good bill, I was surprised to find that we would be dealing with 140 or so amendments. I have lodged three of them, and I will speak to just one—amendment 1—because amendments 2 and 3, which we will consider later, are consequential amendments. I have tried to put the issue forward in a constructive way, to add importance to the bill and make it more comprehensive, and I hope that the minister and committee members will accept amendment 1.

Section 3(3) provides that

“The forestry strategy must include the Scottish Ministers’ objectives, priorities and policies with respect to—

(a) the economic development of forestry,

(b) the conservation and enhancement of the environment by means of sustainable forest management,

(c) the realisation of the social benefits of forestry.”

Paragraphs (a) to (c) are all good.

Amendment 1 would add one further paragraph, which would require the Scottish ministers to include in the forestry strategy their objectives, priorities and policies in relation to the acquisition and disposal of land under sections 15 to 17. The strategy is entirely in the hands of ministers in that regard. Such an approach would not be restrictive and would enhance the bill and make it absolutely clear what we are trying to achieve. I hope that members will agree to amendment 1.

On amendment 8, I understand John Finnie’s wishes, but from speaking to the industry, I know that it thinks that providing for a percentage in relation to the planting of native woodland would be overly restrictive. That is the view that has been put to me, and I accept it, so I am not inclined to support amendment 8.

I particularly like amendments 116 and 117, in Richard Lyle’s name.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I will move amendment 7. There is an omission in the bill, in that it contains no targets on how much planting we want as we go forward. I am keen to see more planting in Scotland, as the cabinet secretary is well aware, and we need targets in the bill that we can scrutinise. Amendment 7 would provide for planting targets, which would give us the opportunity to see how we were progressing in that regard.

I struggle to understand what Rhoda Grant is trying to do with amendment 120. It refers to communities that depend on forestry, but there is no indication of how dependency would be measured. There is a lack of meaning there.

I support Mike Rumbles’s amendment 1.

I oppose John Finnie’s amendment 8, because a percentage is the wrong way forward. We need to plant more of the productive trees that will support the forestry industry and the sawmills. More native woodland will probably be planted as the planting area increases, but it would be wrong to require a certain percentage to be planted, because that would mean planting less of the productive timber that we need.

I support Richard Lyle’s amendments 116 and 117.

The Convener

I remind members that they do not need to move their amendments at this stage.

John Finnie

Amendment 8 is about increasing the percentage of native woodland. The predominant species in Scotland is the Sitka spruce, which is a non-native species that covers a third of our total forest area—I am advised that reliance on a non-native species is unusual in Europe. In Scotland, native woodland accounts for under a quarter of the total woodland and less than a fifth of the national forest estate.

Native woodland has a role to play in forestry production. People will be aware of the big Norbord factory near Inverness, which imports hardwoods from the Baltic states. Native woodland can deliver much more for the ecosystem, recreation, wellbeing, flood prevention and education, and it delivers better soil and air quality and greater biodiversity. Indeed, that is recognised in the Scottish biodiversity strategy.

What we are talking about here is having a target for improving the condition and extent of native woodland. That target is not being met at the moment—indeed, there is an independent assessment of native woodland that says that things are moving in the wrong direction. By accepting my amendment to increase

“the percentage of forest land that is native woodland”,

the Scottish Government could send a very clear signal. Just to be clear, I should point out that it would apply to all forest land, whether publicly owned or privately owned but in receipt of public grants.

The cabinet secretary is entirely right to say that very constructive discussions took place in advance of this meeting. As for Scottish Environment LINK’s proposal that half the woodland should be native, I did not go ahead on that basis; nevertheless, my amendment still talks about increasing the percentage of native woodland. I am very happy to engage in discussions with the cabinet secretary on the issue, but it would be helpful to find out what the Scottish Government’s general direction of travel is.

I should also say that I am supportive of Rhoda Grant’s amendment 120. As has been outlined, the issue is of great significance to some communities. I am relaxed about the amendments in the name of Mike Rumbles and Peter Chapman, and I will be supporting Richard Lyle’s amendments 116 and 117.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

The bill will, among other things, repeal the Forestry Act 1967, which gives ministers

“the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber and other forest products”.

A number of organisations that were consulted thought that those duties should be carried forward into the bill, but after consideration, the committee came to the view that the proposed forestry strategy should take account of the need to expand forest woodland cover in Scotland and ensure sufficient production of timber for Scotland’s future needs. Amendments 116 and 117 will ensure that the bill reflects the recommendation in paragraph 52 of the committee’s stage 1 report; perhaps more important, it will ensure that Scotland retains a clear and unambiguous commitment to afforestation.

Forest cover in Scotland is 18 per cent, whereas the European Union average is 38 per cent. Forest cover in France, Spain, Germany and Italy is over 30 per cent, while in Scandinavian countries such as Finland and Sweden, it is way above that at 65 per cent and over. At a lunch that I hosted last month for Pakistani MPs, I was told that they had planted more than 1 billion trees in their region alone. We need to do better here.

The committee recognises that the Scottish Government has an ambitious forestry policy that has wide support across the industry and from non-governmental organisations. However, times change, and that might not always be the case. If Scotland’s forest cover were in line with European norms, one might be justified in dropping the existing legal requirement for afforestation, but at a time when we as a nation are seeking to expand our forests and woodlands in order to lock up carbon and support our vital low-carbon industry, dropping the requirements for afforestation and ensuring the supply of timber and forest products would send out the wrong signal.

I therefore urge committee members to support amendments 116 and 117.

Stewart Stevenson

Unusually, I want to encourage Mike Rumbles to at least speak to amendment 2, as the lead amendment in group 6, because if he does not do so, we will not be able to start the debate on the group. His amendment 1 is sensible and adds clarity.

I have no great problems with the underlying intention of the other amendments in the group, but I have some difficulties with their construction. Like Peter Chapman, I have difficulty with the reference to “communities dependant on forestry” in Rhoda Grant’s amendment 120. I would argue that all communities in Scotland are dependent on forestry, in the sense that we have timber-framed houses and furniture made of wood. We need only look around the Parliament; we are sitting at a wooden table. It is therefore not clear that that phrase adds anything.

With regard to Richard Lyle’s amendments 116 and 117, I feel my usual hesitation and reluctance about extending lists. In particular, I think that the reference to

“the production and supply of timber and other forest products”

in amendment 117 is already covered by the reference in the bill to

“the economic development of forestry”.

However, that is debatable.

I share others’ reservations about John Finnie’s amendment 8, although I wish the practical effect of the bill to be an increase in the amount of native woodland in appropriate locations, where it will flourish.

09:45  



Fergus Ewing

I thank members for an interesting discussion. I am grateful to Mike Rumbles, Peter Chapman, John Finnie, Richard Lyle and Rhoda Grant for lodging the amendments in this group. I am content to support the majority of them in principle, although further work is required in some cases. I signalled to the committee during stage 1 that I recognise the need to be more explicit and to provide clarity on the potential content of the Scottish forestry strategy, and I believe that the intent behind most of the amendments in the group is to achieve the same aim.

I make it clear that I am committed to increasing the benefits that forestry provides to Scotland, whether in improving our environment, our economy or the lives of our people. To achieve that, we must have balance in what we do, employing the best silvicultural practices and engaging with stakeholders to ensure that we have the right tree, whether it be a broad-leaf or a conifer, in the right place for the right reasons. It is fair to reflect that, in some cases, that did not happen in the past.

As the committee has heard me say before, forestry has unique potential for delivering a multitude of environmental, social and economic benefits from one piece of land, and it is important that our strategy recognises and helps to realise that potential. Part of my commitment to increasing the contribution that forestry makes to our rural economy is to secure vibrant rural communities, to which Rhoda Grant refers in amendment 120. However, I feel that the purpose behind that amendment is already clearly articulated in the principles of the land use strategy and the provisions of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which provide people with opportunities to engage and to influence decisions that affect their lives and future. I therefore respectfully ask Rhoda Grant not to press amendment 120.

On amendment 1, I have committed to securing the national forest estate as a public asset and I intend that the overarching principles for disposals should appear in the forestry strategy. I am therefore happy to support Mike Rumbles’s amendment and I appreciate his general comments on the bill. However, if the committee supports Mr Rumbles’s amendment, I reserve the right to look further at the drafting before stage 3 in case there are any technical difficulties with it that have not yet come to light.

I also accept the principles behind amendments 7, 8 and 116, but I believe that there are some difficulties and gaps in their approach. I therefore offer to work with members to lodge a Government amendment at stage 3 to capture the intentions of those amendments, and in particular the important objective of increasing the area of native woodland. As members may be aware, I have already made available increased grant support for native woodland creation in the Highland Council area, in recognition of the substantial benefits that such woods can bring. An additional £400 per hectare has been made available for planting of native woodland in that area. We are also developing work on woodland crofts, and we work closely with bodies such as the Woodland Trust. In conclusion, I ask the members concerned not to move amendments 7, 8 and 116 and to accept my offer to bring forward an appropriate amendment at stage 3 that addresses all three.

Finally, on amendment 117, I recognise the concerns of the forestry sector regarding the continued commitment of the Scottish Government to woodland expansion in order to underpin the sustainable timber products industry, which also ties in with our climate change ambitions to increase the amount of timber that is used in house building. For that reason, I support amendment 117.

The Convener

I ask Rhoda Grant to wind up and to say whether she wants to press or withdraw amendment 120.

Rhoda Grant

I will reflect on some of the comments that have been made and will perhaps come back at stage 3 with an amended amendment. I will not press amendment 120.

Amendment 120, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 1 moved—[Mike Rumbles]—and agreed to.

Amendment 7 moved—[Peter Chapman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Abstentions

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 7, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 7 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 8, in the name of John Finnie, has already been debated with amendment 120.

John Finnie

I have a brief comment to make in light of what the cabinet secretary said. I am very keen to have some certainty on the issue and to know whether the figure will apply to all forests or to the national forest estate. Rather than moving the amendment, I will engage in further discussions on the matter.

Amendment 8 not moved.

The Convener

Amendment 116, in the name of Richard Lyle, has already been debated with amendment 120.

Richard Lyle

I respect the cabinet secretary’s comments in respect of the amendment. He is a very honourable man and I look forward to working with him on the issue, because I am set on increasing the amount of afforestation in Scotland.

Amendment 116 not moved.

Amendment 117 moved—[Richard Lyle]—and agreed to.

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on forest strategy preparation, revision and reporting. Amendment 9, in the name of Peter Chapman, is grouped with amendments 15, 121, 122, 4, 123 to 128, 16, 17, 10, and 130. If amendment 9 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 15.

Peter Chapman

We have just heard that the cabinet secretary requires clarity with the bill and I consider that amendment 9 provides a degree of clarity. We need a review of the strategy every five years and a refresh of the strategy every 10 years. That is only right and proper. We need the ability to scrutinise the progress of the strategy. Amendment 9 provides an important addition to the bill and I hope that it will receive support from members.

As the convener pointed out, amendment 15, in the name of Rhoda Grant, would fall if amendment 9 in my name is agreed to.

I do not agree with amendment 121, in the name of Fulton MacGregor. There is too much analysis and the amendment would make the bill overly prescriptive and far too detailed.

I would vote against amendment 122, in the name of Claudia Beamish, because it is far too specific and burdensome on ministers. I can support Claudia Beamish’s amendment 4, because what it proposes is reasonable and logical. However, I do not support her amendment 123. The bill is a forestry one, so why do we need to get bogged down in deer management issues? There are deer management strategies in place elsewhere, so the matter does not need to appear in the bill.

Rhoda Grant’s amendment 124 is about having regard to the Kyoto protocol. Again, we are already signed up to that and it is an international treaty that I believe has no place in a forestry bill in Scotland; ditto for amendments 125 and 126, which refer to international agreements that are well understood and have no place in the bill, and for amendment 127, which is also about a matter that has no place in the bill. I am against amendment 128, on communities, persons and policies, because it would override elements of agricultural tenancies. I can support amendment 16 as it would add another layer of scrutiny that would be fair and proper. I can also support Rhoda Grant’s amendment 17, because it would give a fit and proper level of transparency. The cabinet secretary’s amendment 18 would tighten up wording, which is fine.

On my amendment 10, it is important that there is an annual report. It is important that there is financial transparency and that we can monitor targets in the forestry strategy, so an annual report is essential. I believe that my amendment 10 is superior to John Finnie’s amendment 130, because we need an annual report rather than one every three years.

I move amendment 9.

Rhoda Grant

I will speak to my amendments 15, 124 to 128, 16 and 17, and to others in the group.

It is important that the strategy is reviewed regularly to ensure that it meets the needs of forestry, and I suggest that that is most important for the first strategy. My amendment 15 is along similar lines to Peter Chapman’s amendment 9 in that it would set timescales for review. However, I believe that my amendment would allow greater flexibility, in that the strategy could continue without revision if that is not required, but such a decision would face scrutiny as Scottish ministers would have to publish an explanation as to why they decided not to revise the strategy.

Jamie Greene

Will Rhoda Grant take an intervention?

The Convener

I will let you come in later, Jamie, if I may.

John Mason

Convener, are interventions not allowed?

The Convener

Because the groupings are quite big, I am just trying to let members go through them. However, it is up to Rhoda Grant whether she is happy to take the intervention; otherwise, I am happy to bring Jamie Greene in at the end with the other members who want to speak on particular amendments.

Rhoda Grant

Because I did not move the lead amendment in the group, I do not think that I have a wind-up speech. It therefore might be useful to hear just now what Jamie Greene is asking about so that I can give him clarity.

The Convener

Okay.

Jamie Greene

Thank you, convener, and I appreciate Rhoda Grant taking my intervention. It feels intuitively easier to intervene on a specific point while she is speaking about it, particularly as this is such a large group of amendments.

Does Rhoda Grant not feel that the second part of her amendment, regarding the Scottish ministers publishing an explanation of why they have not revised the strategy, would give the ministers a bit of a get-out clause? An amendment that would make it mandatory for the strategy to be reviewed and refreshed would be more powerful. There are similarities between Peter Chapman’s amendment 9 and Rhoda Grant’s amendment 15, but we would prefer to lock down that Scottish ministers must review the strategy, as opposed to giving them a get-out-of-jail card. I am keen to probe that aspect further.

10:00  



Rhoda Grant

It is not a get-out-of-jail card; it is the opposite. A forestry strategy needs to be long term because of the nature of the industry. Therefore, it would not be helpful to change direction every five years. However, there may be issues in the first strategy in particular that have unintended consequences, so it would need to be reviewed to ensure that it is right.

Allowing for a review but not prescribing one is the right way forward, as it would enable the strategy to look further into the future. If there was a problem, ministers could review it. At the same time, ministers would not be able to decide not to review the strategy without giving an explanation that the Parliament would scrutinise. If there was a need for a review, one would happen because it would have to come to the Parliament and the committee could recommend that a full review should take place if that was necessary. Amendment 15 would just mean that people would not have to jump through all the hoops every five years.

Amendments 124 to 126 add some international conventions and the Kyoto protocol to the list of things to which the Scottish ministers must have regard when preparing the strategy. In the past, we have heavily depended on European legislation for working alongside other countries and ensuring that we follow best practice and protect our environment. Before too long, we will no longer have that protection. Therefore, it is good to ground our practice internationally to ensure that we remain world leaders. Not so long ago, blocks of Sitka spruce were planted randomly around the countryside and forests were planted on the flow country, releasing carbon rather than capturing it. It will take us a long time to undo those wrongs, but we must ensure that we never repeat past mistakes. I hope that amendments 124 to 126 will go some way towards ensuring that protection.

Amendments 127 and 128 return to the theme of protecting communities. Although forestry is a good thing in itself, it is important to use every lever that is at our disposal to grow and empower fragile communities. Amendments 127 and 128 add repopulation and agricultural businesses to the list of issues to which the Scottish Government must have regard when preparing the strategy. One hopes that that would happen instinctively but, given the importance of those issues to fragile communities, it is right that they be given that protection and importance in the bill.

Amendments 16 and 17 concern the consultation on, and parliamentary scrutiny of, the strategy. Given the fact that much of the detail surrounding forestry will be in the strategy, it is right that the strategy should be widely consulted on and that the outcome of the consultation should be scrutinised by Parliament. The timeframe given would allow a committee of the Parliament to take evidence and make recommendations to the Scottish ministers on the strategy. Given the time that the strategy will cover, it is right that it should be fully tested to ensure that it meets the needs of future generations.

I will speak to some of the other amendments in the group. I support Claudia Beamish’s amendments 122, 4 and 123. There has to be a reporting mechanism, so I will also listen to the debate on John Finnie’s amendment 130 and Peter Chapman’s amendments 9 and 10 and decide which of those to support.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Amendment 121 is concerned with the consultation requirements when the strategy is being prepared or advised. It amends the duty to consult in section 4 to specify that the general public must be consulted. It would also mean that ministers would also have to consult

“such bodies as they consider appropriate”.

That conforms to Scottish Government good practice on consultation across a range of areas. I hope that the Government will recognise that appropriate consultation is fundamental to developing, reviewing and revising the strategy.

I await with interest the debate on the other amendments in the group. I welcome Claudia Beamish’s input, but I have some concerns about her amendments 122, 4 and 123. Amendment 122 is a long, non-comprehensive list and is already covered by principles in the land use strategy. Amendments 4 and 123 to 128 appear to duplicate existing legislation, as ministers already have a biodiversity duty under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

The Convener

I call Claudia Beamish to speak to amendment 122 and the other amendments in the group.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Good morning, cabinet secretary. Amendment 122 intends to ensure that Scotland’s wealth of forestry expertise is preserved in the new devolved arrangements, specifically in the preparation or the revision of the forestry strategy.

The bill requires ministers to

“consult such persons as they consider appropriate”,

whereas my amendment 122 lists specific requirements of those persons who are to be consulted. I appreciate the earlier comments about lists having their dangers, but it is important to highlight these areas.

A sustainable forestry industry can deliver multiple environmental and socioeconomic benefits for the public good. Indeed, that is sustainable development. To truly unlock the benefits, our forests need to be managed through an integrated and sustainable approach. Stakeholders from the forestry industries and community and environmental groups have shared their concerns that rearranging Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland could lead to a loss of forestry focus and expertise. The existing arrangements allow for resource and knowledge sharing and close working relationships with those on the forest floor. It would be a great loss if the joined-up approach and vital expertise were reduced by the devolution of forestry and land management, particularly in those sectors that are important to climate change, biodiversity, the economy and communities.

Amendment 122 requires ministers, in the preparation or the revision of the forestry strategy, to consult those with knowledge of “social and economic development” as well as knowledge of the other areas that I have listed. I also make the point that, as I understand it, the land use strategy is not a statutory requirement.

I lodged amendments 4 and 123 separately, so that one or the other could be supported, depending on members’ views.

Section 4, “Preparation of forestry strategy”, states:

“Scottish Ministers must—

(a) consult such persons as they consider appropriate,

(b) have regard to—

(i) the land use strategy ... and

(ii) the land rights and responsibilities statement”.

The two policies mentioned should be included in this exercise, but the list is not complete, and other important policies that are relevant to the forestry strategy should be included. Therefore, amendments 4 and 123 are needed to ensure that biodiversity and deer management—two essential components of achieving sustainable forest management—are recognised in the bill.

I will not go into the details of where those components are referred to in other acts, but I reiterate that the amendments address one of the points made about the bill at stage 1 by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in its letter to this committee. We stated:

“The Committee is unclear as to what degree wider policy objectives, including those relating to biodiversity, deer management and climate change, are reflected in the Bill and in particular, are to be taken account of in the preparation of the Forestry Strategy ... The Committee also considers there is merit in including the need to have regard to biodiversity and deer management requirements on the face of the Bill.”

Your committee’s stage 1 report states:

“The Committee believes that strong links between forestry and policy areas”—

I will not quote all the areas; they are listed in the report. However, I must point out that, although biodiversity is listed, deer management is not. The report continues:

“It notes the Scottish Government’s awareness of its existing statutory commitments. However, it is clear that stakeholders are seeking reassurance that the need for this policy integration will be clear and unambiguous and that there will be a requirement for it to be delivered.”

I thank the committee and the cabinet secretary for listening to my points. I support Rhoda Grant’s amendments. As a member of the ECCLR Committee, I support the climate change amendment, but I support the others, too. Rhoda Grant’s point is well made: as we head towards Brexit, it is important that we recognise other international agreements and tie ourselves to those in our important forestry sector.

The Convener

I call John Finnie to speak to amendment 130 and the other amendments in the group.

John Finnie

In amendment 130, which relates to the preparation of the forestry strategy in section 4 and the bill’s relationship to overarching policy objectives, I suggest that the reporting period be three years.

Section 4 states:

“In preparing ... the forestry strategy, the Scottish Ministers must—

(a) consult such persons as they consider appropriate,

(b) have regard to—

(i) the land use strategy ... and

(ii) the land rights and responsibilities statement.”

Those two policies should certainly be included in that exercise, but the list is, in my view, not complete. Other very important policies are relevant to the forestry strategy and should be included, too.

Having listened to what my colleague and dear friend Claudia Beamish had to say, I think that we have very similar views on what is important here. I am not going to repeat many of the things that she said, but I will say that her amendments are needed to ensure biodiversity and deer management—two components that are, as the bill recognises, essential for achieving sustainable forest management. They will also ensure that the forestry strategy contributes to the delivery of public policy objectives in those two areas. The subsection in question should include references to that strategy or those strategies as long as Scottish ministers are required to designate the Scottish biodiversity strategy under section 2 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the code of practice on deer management that Scottish Natural Heritage is required to prepare and keep under review in accordance with section 5A of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996.

Indeed, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 requires all public bodies to have regard to the Scottish biodiversity strategy, which recognises the importance of native woodland to Scottish biodiversity and whose route map sets ambitious native woodland planting targets. I would also point out that the voluntary code of practice on deer management places a responsibility on all land managers to manage wild deer—the issue is highly pertinent to our discussions; after all, deer live in the woods and eat trees—and aims to integrate deer management with other land use objectives such as woodland creation and the regeneration targets. The concept of responsible deer management in the code focuses on three things: managing deer as a resource sustainably; minimising negative deer impacts on public interests; and safeguarding deer welfare.

I was going to quote from the report of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, of which Claudia Beamish is a member; I will not do so, but the reference itself is highly pertinent. I simply point out that our own stage 1 report commented on the strong links between forestry and policy areas such as land use planning, community empowerment and climate change.

I am prepared to wait and hear what Peter Chapman and Rhoda Grant have to say about the other amendments in the group. I favour Rhoda Grant’s position, and I will be supporting her amendment. Likewise, I will support Fulton MacGregor’s amendment and Claudia Beamish’s amendments—which I heard someone call restrictive, although they are quite the reverse. A list that begins with the phrase “in particular” is not an exclusive one, and I am sure that Claudia will expect the fullest consultation to be carried out on those issues.

The Convener

I will call a number of other members to speak, but the fact that a member spoke at the beginning of or halfway through the debate does not mean that they cannot come back in later. The process should not be restrictive in that respect, although that does not give anyone an excuse to repeat their arguments.

Stewart Stevenson

The idea that scrutiny can be undertaken only if amendment 9, in the name of Peter Chapman, is agreed to is entirely false. Indeed, the amendment gets ministers off the hook, because it gives them the responsibility for scrutiny when it should be Parliament that decides timetables, scrutiny and so on. If the Parliament or a committee thinks that it is right to have scrutiny after 18 months, it should be in control of that and have that scrutiny. Whether the period should be five or 10 years is, I think, an issue more of nuance than of principle, but scrutiny should be under the Parliament’s control instead of the issue being put in the way that Peter Chapman has put it.

The amendments in the group give us a choice of approaches, and I think that amendment 130, in the name of John Finnie, offers the best of the bunch. Nevertheless, I have a wee bit of difficulty with subsection 3(a) in that amendment, as it requires the reporting period to start from the day that the bill receives royal assent. I suspect that, if the bill is agreed to, we might have to look at that again at stage 3, because I think that the right time for the three-year reporting clock to begin is more likely to be at commencement or when the strategy is adopted. However, that detail can be dealt with later.

10:15  



Claudia Beamish’s amendment 122 perfectly illustrates the danger of having lists in primary legislation, although I am not against having them in secondary legislation, where we can change them rapidly as needs require. For example, the list in the amendment does not include the use of forests for public good. I accept that it says “consult, in particular” but, the moment that we produce a list and say “in particular”, we demote all other ways in which we might consult to a lesser level than those that we choose to put in the list. In broad principle, I do not like having lists in primary legislation, although I have no objection to them in secondary legislation, where they can be amended quickly as required.

By the same token, amendments 4, 123, 124, 125 and 126—I will leave aside amendment 127 for the moment—all refer to matters that already bind us, as the UK’s signatories to the protocols or that, alternatively, are part of our legislative framework in the case of amendments 4 and 123. Again, once we start to stick words in in the manner of a list, we demote, by implication, the things that we choose not to put in.

I have less of an objection to amendment 127, as there is some merit in it.

Finally, the construction of amendment 17, at paragraph (b), has a serious flaw. It says that the Government must publish

“any representations received as a result of the consultation”.

That appears to remove the right of people who wish to submit a representation without their details being published. Therefore, there is a technical flaw in the construction of amendment 17 that means that I cannot readily support it.

Mike Rumbles

We have been given alternative approaches to revision reporting here. I much prefer Peter Chapman’s amendments 9 and 10 to the others. I do not agree with my colleague Stewart Stevenson that amendment 9 lets the Government off the hook; it does precisely the opposite. As I read it, the amendment that Peter Chapman has moved gives Parliament the authority and does exactly the opposite of what Stewart Stevenson suggests.

Stewart Stevenson

Will the member take an intervention?

Mike Rumbles

No. I heard what the member said and I am contradicting him because I do not believe that he is correct. As a committee of the Parliament, we instruct the Government or—if “instruct” is perhaps too strong a word—require it to come back and do that. I am sure that the Government thinks that that should be appropriate. I cannot see what the problem with it might be. Amendments 9 and 10 give the Government more time to do that, but it is putting into legislation the requirement to do it. It is about Parliament being in charge and not the Government, so I entirely disagree with the position taken by Stewart Stevenson.

I agree with Fulton MacGregor’s amendment 121, which shows good practice on consultation, and I am happy to support it.

I am afraid that I cannot support the other amendments in group 4, on the ground that we are scrutinising the bill, we have called for evidence and we have taken evidence on the bill. When have we taken evidence on the voluntary code of practice on deer management? At stage 1, we spent a great deal of time going through all that, and then suddenly we have an amendment thrown at us that talks about a code of practice—

John Finnie

Does the member accept that this piece of legislation will not stand in splendid isolation from others and from codes?

Mike Rumbles

That is exactly my point. It is not necessary to have it here. I am glad that John Finnie supports my point of view. I think that I have been comprehensive enough, so I will close my remarks at that point.

Jamie Greene

I will speak briefly to amendments 9 and 10.

My understanding is that there are quite acceptable precedents of five and 10-year reviews and refreshes. I believe that the language in amendment 9 is similar to the language in another bill that this committee is considering—the Islands (Scotland) Bill—for which the Government seems to find five and 10-year timeframes quite adequate for Parliament to scrutinise strategy.

On amendment 10, I have spoken to industry stakeholders who had initial concerns about the overarching rationale behind the bill and the integration of the Forestry Commission into Scottish Government departments. They feel that an annual report is a vital part of the on-going governance of the strategy and, indeed, that it would be prudent for the Government to report on an annual basis, including on finances, as the Forestry Commission is currently used to doing. Amendment 10 would ensure that that reporting was on-going and would not slip in any way from the status quo.

Claudia Beamish

In response to Stewart Stevenson’s point about the phrase

“in particular, persons with experience and knowledge of”,

it might be appropriate for me to consider not moving amendment 122 at this stage and using the word “including” rather than “in particular”. I have listened to the point that the member raised.

In relation to Rhoda Grant’s amendments and my own, I would like to know why it is unacceptable to have any list added. Section 4(b) includes the wording

“have regard to— ... land use strategy ... and ... the land rights and responsibilities statement”,

so there is already a precedent in the bill for putting important strategies and declarations in a list.

In relation to Mike Rumbles’s comment, deer management was highlighted by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in our letter at stage 1, and I had attended a number of this committee’s meetings. I also raised and highlighted the matter in the stage 1 debate. I am just making the point that it has been highlighted before.

Fergus Ewing

It has been another interesting discussion, which has even contained moments of entertainment—something that is not always present in stage 2 debates in my experience. I am grateful to all members, and to Claudia Beamish, Peter Chapman, Rhoda Grant, Fulton MacGregor and John Finnie for lodging these amendments. I support the intentions of a number of them.

I am also pleased with the cross-party support for the development of the forestry strategy. It is heartening that there is strong agreement on all sides that it needs to reflect the broad-based, multifunctional nature of Scotland’s forests and woodlands. Again, convener, I would emphasise that I am committed to working with all parties to develop and improve this part of the bill.

Before I address specific amendments, I wanted to reflect on the fact that, by its very nature, the completion of the devolution of forestry will result in enhanced levels of scrutiny of forestry by this Scottish Parliament. That is something of which we should not lose sight. It is also something to be welcomed and borne in mind when framing the legislation on the strategy.

I also observe that the processes for publishing, reviewing and scrutinising the forestry strategy must be proportionate and enabling. I believe that we must avoid putting into law requirements that, ultimately, might impede the publication of the strategy or place barriers in the way of revision. I know that the sector has expressed reservations about that happening.

Amendments 9 and 15 are, perhaps, alternatives. They deal with the review and refresh of the forestry strategy. I ask members, in considering them, to note two important points, and to refer to the wording of section 3 of the bill, which members will have before them. Section 3(4) already requires Scottish ministers to

“keep the forestry strategy under review”

and states that they

“may, if they consider it appropriate ... revise the strategy.”

Therefore, that requirement is contained in the bill as it stands.

As I said to the committee at stage 1, I am mindful that the forestry sector depends on a long-term and stable policy environment. That is important to ensure on-going investment, which I believe we all recognise is required. Therefore, it is vital that the review cycle for the strategy is of appropriate length. I believe that fixing a five-yearly review cycle for the strategy would not be sufficiently long—it would be shorter than the current common agricultural policy cycle of seven years; and I say, in passing, that discontinuity has proven to be a problem for sustaining consistent forestry activity.

I have committed to ensuring that the strategy remains up to date and relevant. Therefore, I ask Peter Chapman not to press amendment 9 and Rhoda Grant not to move amendment 15, on the basis that I commit to come back at stage 3 with an amendment that sets out an appropriate review and revision cycle of no more than 10 years.

As I suspect members know very well, forestry is a very long-term process. The period from planting to maturation is 40 years, even for the most quick-growing species, and can be up to 80 years or longer for other species. We are talking about 40 to 80 years, so it is a long, long-term business. If there was to be a strategy review every five years, even taking the fastest-growing species, which I believe—although I am no expert—to be the Sitka spruce, there would be eight strategy reviews between planting and maturation. Is that consistent with the approach that, I believe, we wish to take?

Jamie Greene

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Fergus Ewing

I certainly will, but let me finish the point. We are talking about five years versus a longer period of up to 10 years. Is a five-year period of sufficient length? With great respect, I suggest that because, unusually, we are talking about a very long-term process, such a requirement for review should not be embedded in the legislation.

I make the further point that the Parliament is sovereign over the Scottish Government so, at any time after the bill is passed and becomes law, it can require the Government to review the strategy. In circumstances in which a review was necessary, I would fully expect members to scrutinise the Government and demand a strategy review. I wanted to point that out, although Mr Rumbles made the point earlier.

I am happy to take an intervention from Mr Greene, if he still wants to intervene.

Jamie Greene

Does the cabinet secretary not accept that a review of the strategy does not necessarily mean a complete overhaul? Would it not be prudent to have a five-yearly refresh? Is it not appropriate that the Government should afford Parliament and the public the opportunity of at least one refresh or review within each parliamentary cycle, which is five years, whatever form that review takes?

Fergus Ewing

Not really. As I said, the Parliament in this session and in future ones can always require Government to do things. Indeed, the Parliament has required the Government to do things in the field of rural affairs, and I hope that we have acted on that—the National Council of Rural Advisers is just one example. Not every member is always absolutely happy with the outcomes, but we act on Parliament’s wish, and Parliament can require a review.

I am saying that we should not set in law having to do a review within five years—I believe that it is too short a period given the long-term nature of forestry. However, I emphasise that if the authors of amendments 9 and 15 do not press or do not move those amendments and accept my commitment to work with them and to come back at stage 3 with an amendment that sets out an appropriate review and revision cycle of no more than 10 years, I will be happy to work with them.

10:30  



On amendments 121 and 122, from Mr MacGregor and Ms Beamish, I recognise that appropriate consultation is fundamental to developing, reviewing and revising the strategy, and that is the approach that the Government takes to all of its policy formulation. However, to be appropriate, consultation needs to reflect the needs of the time and not include partial lists that risk becoming rapidly out of date. Mr Stevenson gave an example of a potential consultee that was not included in the list, although Ms Beamish might say that the reference in her amendment to consulting “in particular” would not exclude consulting others, to be fair to her. However, the Government is not in favour of long, exclusive lists in primary legislation, because they can date quickly and fail to draw in relevant matters.

An even more pressing objection is to the requirement to consult, in particular,

“persons with experience or knowledge of”

various matters, which then imposes on the Government a duty to carry out some form of process to ascertain who does or does not possess experience or knowledge. That would, I suspect, be a highly contentious process; it would involve making subjective judgments and, inevitably, would be controversial. I see no easy way of deciding who has or does not have knowledge; indeed, the process of judging someone to have no—or insufficient—experience or knowledge would be a somewhat odious one that no Government could easily or readily perform without a great deal of difficulty or controversy. With respect to Claudia Beamish, I am sure that that is not something that she would wish to occur at all. I hope that members can see my objection as a commonsense one, pointing to a technical infelicity in draftsmanship.

I respectfully ask Claudia Beamish not to press amendment 122 and, instead, ask members to support amendment 121 in the name of Mr MacGregor, which, as Mr Rumbles pointed out, is in the customary form and imports a duty to consult widely. I am not aware of any cases of the Scottish Government being accused of failing to consult the right people in consultations, although if I am wrong, I will no doubt hear about that.

On amendment 128, it is not helpful to list specific groups of stakeholders and the amendment covers the same ground as the duty under section 4 to have regard to the land use strategy, which contains a specific principle of giving people opportunities to contribute to land use decisions that affect their lives and futures. Therefore, I ask members not to move amendments 4 and 123 to 128 and to accept a commitment that the Government will return at stage 3 with an amendment that delivers the improved policy alignment that they wish to see without creating a long and exclusive list on the face of the bill.

Turning, penultimately, to amendments 16 and 17, on the important question of parliamentary scrutiny, I fully support the principle of appropriate scrutiny and oversight of the Scottish forestry strategy, but the process and timescales outlined are disproportionate given the scale and scope of the strategy. The process appears to be the same as that required under climate change legislation, which is larger, more complex and multisectoral. There might be alternative, more proportionate approaches that would meet Parliament’s desire for scrutiny while ensuring sufficient time for the crucial processes to complete the strategy before 1 April 2019.

I agree with the processes laid out in amendment 17—laying an explanatory document represents good practice. However, I ask Rhoda Grant not to press her amendments and offer to lodge a Government amendment at stage 3 that lays out an appropriate process for parliamentary oversight of the forestry strategy.

Finally, amendments 10 and 130 deal with reporting. A three-yearly reporting cycle is an appropriate term for updating Parliament on progress on implementing the strategy, as it reflects the slowly changing nature of forestry. I support amendment 130, in the name of John Finnie, but I want to lodge an amendment at stage 3 to ensure that the reporting cycle starts when a strategy has been published. I will also want to consider how the requirement for a three-yearly reporting cycle will inform amendments that I lodge at stage 3 on reviewing the strategy and parliamentary scrutiny of it. As I said earlier, I offer to work with all parties on the relevant sections of the bill.

In consequence of my support for amendment 130, I respectfully ask Peter Chapman not to move amendment 10, which proposes annual reports, given that key forestry statistics—for example, on the area of new woodland created—will continue to be published annually as national statistics. Forest and land Scotland—the new agency that will replace Forest Enterprise Scotland—will produce annual reports, as Forest Enterprise has done.

Peter Chapman

I will press amendment 9. It is important that the strategy be reviewed every five years. I appreciate what the cabinet secretary said about the lifetime of a tree, which is considerably more than five years, but we are speaking about not the lifetime of a tree but a parliamentary session, and things can change radically in five years. I am grateful for what Mike Rumbles and Jamie Greene said in support of the approach that amendment 9 is trying to achieve. It is important that there is clarity, that any new Parliament gets the opportunity to review the strategy and that the strategy is revised every 10 years.

I heard what the cabinet secretary said about amendment 10, but it is normal procedure for any organisation to produce an annual report—most organisations do it and it is important to have transparency in that regard. Therefore, I intend to move amendment 10.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 9 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Abstentions

Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 6, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 9 disagreed to.

Amendment 15 not moved.

Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

Section 4—Preparation of forestry strategy

Amendment 121 moved—[Fulton MacGregor].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 121 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 8, Against 3, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 121 agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 122 is in the name of Claudia Beamish.

Claudia Beamish

In view of the points that the cabinet secretary and Stewart Stevenson made, I will not move amendment 122. However, perhaps in dialogue with the cabinet secretary, I will consider returning to the issue at stage 3, because I think that there is considerable stakeholder concern about the matter, whether it is provided for in the bill or elsewhere. Similarly, I do not intend to move amendment 4, but I would be happy to have further discussions on the issue.

Amendments 122 and 4 not moved.

The Convener

Amendment 123 is in the name of Claudia Beamish.

Claudia Beamish

I am not going to move amendment 123, but in recognition of the serious concerns about deer management, I would like some assurance that it might be possible to discuss that further.

Amendments 123 to 128 not moved.

Section 4, as amended, agreed to.

After section 4

Amendment 16 not moved.

Section 5—Publication of forestry strategy

Amendment 17 not moved.

Section 5 agreed to.

Section 6—Duty to have regard to forestry strategy

The Convener

Amendment 18, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 19 to 22, 24 to 35, 38, 111, 112 and 115. I point out that if amendment 38 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 39 in the group on disposals of land and compulsory purchase of land.

Fergus Ewing

This set of Scottish Government amendments has been lodged in response to stakeholder and parliamentary feedback at stage 1. A number of stakeholders and the committee sought greater clarity on the bill’s duties relating to land management, specifically on the land that is to be managed under section 9 for the purposes of sustainable forest management and the land that is to be managed under section 13 to further the achievement of sustainable development.

I have listened to the concerns raised and received many helpful suggestions on how the sections might usefully be reframed. I am pleased to lodge amendments that address the issues raised and which have been welcomed by the forestry sector as providing helpful clarification.

In response to questions about how land to be managed under each duty would be identified, my amendments introduce a simple determining characteristic upon which the decision will be made: namely, land that is forested must be managed under the section 9 duty for sustainable forest management; land that is not forested will be managed under the section 13 duty to further sustainable development.

Amendments 24 to 31 acknowledge that change and reframe the section 9 duty to apply to “forested” land, rather than “forestry” land. As amended, section 10 will define forested land to include both land in the national forest estate that is forested and land that is otherwise owned or managed by Scottish ministers and is forested. Taken together, the effect is that all forested land owned or managed by Scottish ministers will be managed under the section 9 duty in accordance with sustainable forest management. For the purposes of the bill, “forested” includes land undergoing afforestation.

10:45  



The bill, as introduced, identified the power for ministers to manage forestry land for the purposes of sustainable development. That provided the ability to move land between the forestry land management duty and the sustainable development land management duty. Due to the introduction of “forested” as the characteristic of the land that will determine the duty, that power is no longer needed and will be removed from the bill by amendment 26.

I have explained that section 10, as amended, will define forested land to include the forested parts of the national forest estate. Amendment 38 specifies that the non-forested parts of the NFE are to be managed under the section 13 duty to further sustainable development with other non-forested land. Some stakeholders had concerns that the bill, as introduced, implied that all of the national forest estate was forested and that labelling it as “forestry land” was misleading. I hope that this approach, which recognises the nature of the estate as one third open land, allays that concern. The division of the NFE between the two land management duties will be achieved by the allocation of management blocks to each duty, based on the detailed inventory that is held by Forest Enterprise Scotland. The inventory covers the entire estate and includes information on what land is forested and non-forested. New acquisitions of land, and land that is managed on behalf of other people under section 14, will be allocated on the same basis, according to whether they are forested or non-forested.

The definition in the bill of the national forest estate is amended in consequence of the changes to sections 10 and 13(2). New acquisitions of land, if forested, will automatically come under the section 9 duty and do not need to be labelled as NFE to do so. For that reason, the definition of the NFE in the bill has been amended to mean the land in Scotland that is currently under management by the forestry commissioners and which will transfer to Scottish ministers on devolution. The definition in section 11 is further amended so that only land that remains in the ownership of ministers is included. That is to ensure that the land management duties cease if ownership changes.

Amendments 18 to 22 make consequential amendments to section 6, which places duties on ministers to have regard to the forestry strategy when performing certain functions. The effect of the amendments is to require ministers to have regard to the strategy when managing forested land, acquiring land under the bill and disposing of forested land.

I hope that members will consider that the amendments provide the clarity that was sought around the operation of the land management powers in the bill, and I encourage members to support them.

I move amendment 18.

The Convener

No members wish to speak on the amendment.

Amendment 18 agreed to.

Amendments 19 to 21 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

The Convener

Does any member object to a single question being put on amendments 19 to 21?

Peter Chapman

Yes, I object.

The Convener

I will put a question on each amendment individually. The question is, that amendment 19 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 8, Against 3, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 19 agreed to.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 20 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 8, Against 3, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 20 agreed to.

Amendment 21 agreed to.

The Convener

The next group concerns disposals of land and compulsory purchase. Amendment 2, in the name of Mike Rumbles, is grouped with amendments 39, 6, 40, 3, 41, 42, 12 and 12A. I remind members that, if amendment 38, which was debated in the previous group, on land managed by Scottish ministers, is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 39 in this group. I must further point out that, if amendment 41 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 42.

Mike Rumbles

I thank the minister for accepting my first amendment, amendment 1, in the spirit in which it was lodged. Amendments 2 and 3 are simply consequential amendments, so I will not spend a great deal of time on them. I hope that the minister and members of the committee will accept that, because we have agreed to amendment 1, it is logical to agree to amendments 2 and 3.

I will spend my time focusing on the other amendments, which address what is, in my view, the one controversial issue in the whole of the bill. At stage 1, we took a great deal of evidence on the proposal to transfer the compulsory purchase of land from the Forestry Act 1967 to the new bill. We focused on that in our report, and although we thought that it was fine to transfer those powers we did not think that it was fine to enhance the powers. In a division, the majority of the committee voted to make that clear in the stage 1 report.

I was rather hopeful that the minister might have taken that on board, and that he might have lodged amendments to do that, but he obviously has not done so. Amendments 39, 6 and 42, which are the key amendments, have been lodged by Peter Chapman. That reflects the view that the committee took in a majority vote at stage 1, and here we are at stage 2. One would hope that the committee members who voted that way at stage 1 would vote the same way now at stage 2. I cannot think what has changed, unless guidance has been given to members from various sources to suggest that they change their minds. I hope that members of the committee are stronger than that.

John Mason

Will the member take an intervention?

Mike Rumbles

I think that John Mason will have a moment to speak if he wants to, so I do not see the need for an intervention. I am just trying to make a point.

I well remember my first experience of stage 2 proceedings, during the first session of Parliament, when I had an envelope passed to me with guidance from the Government—or the Executive, as we called it at the time. I did not even read it. I just wrote the minister’s name on the envelope and handed it back. We have a job in this committee and in the Parliament to look at the evidence, examine it and make up our own minds. I am confident that members of this committee have the strength of character to do the right thing.

I move amendment 2.

Peter Chapman

I will speak to amendments 39 and 6, in my name. This is an important part of the bill, and to my mind it is a red-line area. It is about compulsory purchase powers and the proposal to increase compulsory purchase powers to allow purchase for sustainable development. I am strongly against adding extra powers under the compulsory powers rules. We are content to roll over the powers that exist under the 1967 act, because we agree that, in certain circumstances, compulsory purchase powers may be necessary, but extending those compulsory purchase powers to include sustainable development opens it far too wide and gives ministers far too much power. I think that it is completely unnecessary.

We need to reflect on the fact that, although there are compulsory purchase powers in the 1967 act, in the 50 years that they have been there they have never actually been used. I cannot understand why it is thought to be necessary to widen those powers. It is important that we amend the bill in that regard, so I hope that amendments 39 and 6 will receive the committee’s support.

Fergus Ewing

I will deal with the amendments that relate to the disposal of land before I turn to the ones on compulsory purchase.

Amendment 41, in my name, flows from the Government amendments on management of land by the Scottish ministers, the effect of which is to change the definitions of “forestry land” in section 10 and “national forest estate” in section 11. The purpose of amendment 41 is to reframe section 17, which deals with disposals of land, to ensure that the Scottish ministers may dispose of not only land in the national forest estate but other forested land that they own and that is not part of the estate, such as forested land that is acquired under the bill. Amendment 41 will also amend section 17 so that ministers may dispose of non-forested land that they have acquired under the bill.

I understand that amendments 2 and 3, in the name of Mr Rumbles, are consequential to his amendment 1, which I supported, so it follows that I will support them. However, before stage 3, I would like to look at the potential interaction between those provisions and the Government’s amendments that relate to land management, in case there are unintended consequences that need to be addressed. Mr Rumbles will appreciate that that is a necessary process.

Amendments 12, in Mr Finnie’s name, and 12A, in Mr Greene’s name, are about the hypothecation of funds that relate to the disposal of land in the national forest estate. Mr Finnie’s amendment provides that such funds would be used solely for the purposes and functions that are set out in the bill; Mr Greene’s amendment goes even further and would restrict the use of the funds to buying land for forestry—the funds could not be used for any other function.

I understand the intentions behind amendments 12 and 12A, but I do not think it necessary to set out the position in primary legislation. There are more appropriate mechanisms for examining Government policy on disposals. As the committee recognises, it is current practice for Forest Enterprise Scotland to reinvest income in the national forest estate, enabling reconfiguration of the estate to meet strategic priorities, including new woodland creation. I point out that there is also investment in other, non-forestry purposes, such as recreation, tourism and services for people with mental health issues, therefore to restrict the use of funds to forestry would be unduly restrictive and is perhaps not what Mr Greene intended.

Forest Enterprise Scotland’s existing framework document sets out policy on disposals and acquisitions and the criteria for selection of land that is put up for sale. Following the committee’s recommendation at stage 1 and Mr Rumbles’s amendment 1, I intend that the overarching principles on disposals shall be set out in the Scottish forestry strategy, with further information in forestry and land Scotland’s framework document and corporate plan—which will be similar to Forest Enterprise Scotland’s corporate documentation. The forestry strategy and the new agency’s corporate plan will be subject to public consultation. That should provide sufficient reassurance that there will be appropriate scrutiny of the Government’s intentions in relation to disposals.

In addition, I am concerned that amendments 12 and 12A would unreasonably or artificially constrain the Government’s ability and scope to make judgments about the overall management of the nation’s public finances. Such judgments are, rightly, subject to parliamentary scrutiny on a regular basis. It is a widely recognised and appropriate approach to the management of Government budgets to retain the flexibility to deploy surpluses for other priorities—indeed, it might be necessary to allocate budget from elsewhere if the agency were subject to unpredicted financial pressures; it works both ways, and flexibility is key. Therefore, I ask Mr Finnie and Mr Greene not to move amendments 12 and 12A respectively.

11:00  



We turn now to compulsory purchase powers. I state again that there is absolutely nothing unusual in having such powers. Compulsory purchase orders are part of the statutory landscape in Scotland and indeed Britain. Powers are held by a number of public bodies, and for a variety of purposes.

Due to the diligence of my officials, I know of 20 acts of Parliament that include such powers in Scotland. Of those, I note that around half were passed by Conservative Administrations. I have here a little list, which includes compulsory purchase powers that were set out by such Administrations under Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major, who were not noted land reform campaigners, as far as I recall. There are compulsory purchase powers in the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993, the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, the Electricity Act 1989, the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Act 1990, the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, the Housing Associations Act 1985 and the Environment Act 1995. I might have missed out a few acts. If so, I apologise for that infelicity. However, the point that I make is a serious one: the creation of compulsory purchase powers is a routine, ordinary aspect of the establishment of legislation. It is no more than that.

Committee members will recall the evidence that was given, I believe by Simon Hodge, at stage 1, that such powers, in respect of forestry, were set out in the 1967 act. Over the ensuing 50 years, they have been used on zero occasions. The controversy is in relation to not the forestry but the land management issue, but I suggest that the argument that I have set out—that such an approach is routinely deployed by Governments of all hues—should be seen as that, rather than as any desire on my part to start to act in a dictatorial fashion. I assure the committee that I have no intention of doing so, and I cannot imagine that it would be part of any ministerial actions.

It might be helpful if I set out the scope of the proposed power. Section 16(1)(b), as read with section 13, provides that the Scottish ministers

“may compulsorily acquire land that they require”

in order to exercise their duty to manage land

“for the purpose of furthering the achievement of sustainable development.”

Government amendment 38 has clarified that the “land” referred to includes

“land in the national forest estate that is not forested”,

as well as other non-forested land that the Scottish ministers have acquired or otherwise agreed to manage under the powers of the bill.

Section 16(1)(b) will not give ministers powers compulsorily to purchase land to address issues of sustainable land management where there is no connection to land that is already managed under the duty set out in section 13 of the bill. That is an important point. Ministers will be able to use the proposed power to purchase land only when that land is required in order for them to exercise an existing land management function under the bill. I have set out the technicalities to indicate that the precise wording of the powers is set out to constrain the potential exercise of the power in an inappropriate fashion.

The power has been provided in order to support the new duty that is placed on ministers by section 13 to manage non-forested land for the purpose of furthering the achievement of sustainable development. Around a third of the national forest estate is non-forested land and will be managed under the section 13 duty. The duty being placed on ministers in relation to such land is new, and I believe that it is prudent to take a CPO power that can support ministers in fulfilling that duty—for precisely the same reasons as committee members’ reasons for accepting that it is appropriate to have the power in respect of forest land, namely, that the power will exist as a backstop, to ensure that negotiations over, for example, a ransom strip, can successfully be brought to a conclusion. I remember that, at the previous stage, Mr Mason made that very point, in justification of the conferral of the powers.

Non-forested land in the estate is diverse and includes bogs, open mountain and farmland. Managing such land so as to further sustainable development will require ministers to consider a range of social, economic and environmental outcomes. It is not possible to say here exactly what those might be and how they might affect any particular piece of land. There might be issues with access to a site, management of a particular ecosystem or unlocking a piece of land’s economic potential. As I have set out, it is prudent to retain a power that can support the specific duty and that relates to land in respect of which the Scottish ministers will exercise land management duties. It is not intended to allow ministers to intervene in other situations.

It is also important to recognise the robust processes to which compulsory purchase powers are subject. The procedure for using the majority of CP powers is set out in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947; the bill provides for the use of that procedure for both of the section 16 compulsory purchase powers, ensuring that the process in the bill follows that for other compulsory purchase powers.

Because the exercise of compulsory purchase powers requires public notice of the intent to purchase and notices to be made to owners, lessees and occupiers, there is the opportunity for objections to be made. If necessary, a local inquiry can be held to weigh the order’s public benefit against the private interests of those with an interest in land, and ultimately, a challenge can be made to the Court of Session. This is, therefore, a robust process, which no acquiring authority, including Scottish ministers, would ever embark on lightly.

We recognise that the CPO process could be improved and modernised, and the Scottish Government is doing separate work on that in advance of legislation, including reviewing the current framework for preparing, confirming and implementing orders. We are drafting updated guidance for acquiring authorities and will be preparing updated and improved guidance for landowners, to improve transparency and confidence in the existing system.

Given the points that I have made about the scope of the power and robustness of the compulsory purchase process, I respectfully ask Mr Chapman to consider not moving amendment 39.

Stewart Stevenson

Is the cabinet secretary able to confirm that the Crichel Down rules will continue to apply to compulsory purchases made under these headings? In other words, if the land acquired by the Government for a particular purpose is not used for that purpose, will it be returned to the original owner?

Fergus Ewing

I have been told that the answer is yes. I am happy to provide that confirmation.

I hope that the additional information that I have provided in what I am afraid has been a rather long contribution about the various arguments, the whole backdrop to this and the existing checks and balances will lead members to decide that the Government can be supported on these matters.

Amendment 40 clarifies that the compulsory purchase powers in the bill include the power to acquire rights and interests in and over land. That flexibility will enable rights to be taken that fall short of outright ownership of the land—for example, a servitude right of vehicular access—and it will allow the creation of new rights and interests if reliance on an existing right or interest is not sufficient in the circumstances. There is precedent for such an approach in enabling acts such as the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, and I also point out that the exercise of the power to acquire rights or interests compulsorily is subject to the same high tests as exercising it to gain ownership. The committee will be familiar with the scenario of landlocked timber; back-stop powers of compulsory purchase have been recognised as a valid tool in the box, and amendment 40 adds to that toolbox by providing an additional option to outright purchase.

I thank you for your forbearance, convener.

John Finnie

Amendment 12 relates to section 17, which sets out the power to dispose of land, and its very simple aim is to ensure that funds raised as a result of disposals from the national forest estate are reinvested in that estate. Between 1999 and 2016, the repositioning programme for the national forest estate, which covered acquisitions and disposals, yielded a net profit of £59.3 million, and amendment 12 seeks to ensure that such profits are reinvested on behalf of the people of Scotland in securing sustainable management of the national forest estate, with the potential to create new native woodland, and acquiring additional outstanding examples of forest and woodland in Scotland and, importantly, securing them for posterity. Given that the amendment is entirely in line with the committee’s recommendation in its stage 1 report that income generated from disposals be reinvested in the national forest estate, I think it appropriate for the Government to include such a commitment in the bill.

I have heard what the cabinet secretary has had to say, so I am not expecting any agreement on this matter. Nevertheless, I will continue to engage on the issue. That said, I am going to press the issue today, as it was highlighted in our report. I hope to get a commitment for those matters to be included in the forest strategy, including details of the repositioning programme, so that they can be included in the consultation on the strategy and, importantly, be scrutinised by the Parliament.

I was not as animated as everyone else seemed to be about compulsory purchase orders. Appropriate checks and balances are in place, which continue to apply—I am relaxed about that, and about the powers relating to sustainable development. It has been argued that such powers are not used, but they are part of the range of options that are available.

The cabinet secretary and other members will be as familiar as I am with a very high-profile case in the Highlands in which a significant benefit to the public was being held back by a ransom strip. Fortunately, negotiations meant that a CPO did not have to be utilised, but the public good must be at the forefront. As I said, appropriate checks and balances are in place, so I support the cabinet secretary’s position on the powers.

The Convener

I call Jamie Greene to speak to amendment 12A and other amendments in the group.

Jamie Greene

There is much that I agree with in John Finnie’s comments about the use of revenues generated from the sale of land for forestry functions. My view is quite simple: the size of the forestry estate should not diminish in any way. However, I am nervous that the revenues achieved from the sale of land might be used to fill potential budget shortfalls or to fund the functions of the new division. In essence, the revenue generated from the sale of land should be used for the purchase of land for the planting of trees, to ensure that the size of our forestry estate does not diminish in any way. Therefore, amendment 12A goes further than John Finnie’s amendment 12 in proposing that capital from the sale of land be used for the purchase of land.

I will move on to other amendments in the group. On Peter Chapman’s amendments 39, 6 and 42, the cabinet secretary pointed out in great detail the compulsory purchase powers that other Governments in other jurisdictions have proposed. It is worth clarifying that we do not have any argument with that. In fact, we support the rollover of compulsory purchase powers from the Forestry Act 1967.

I understand that Mr Chapman’s proposed approach is that the compulsory purchase powers should be retained for the duties in section 9 but not for those in section 13. As a committee, we took a majority view in the stage 1 report that we were happy with that. Mr Chapman’s amendments simply reflect the view that was expressed in the report, so I hope that other committee members will stick to the agreed view and vote in favour of them.

Stewart Stevenson

I will address Mr Rumbles’s remarks about the decisions that we made at stage 1. He seems to suggest that instructions inform what SNP members do in this committee. The fact that SNP committee members voted on different sides of the argument at stage 1 is perhaps the evidence to the contrary. Of course, he who never changes his mind is unlikely to ever change anything. We will shortly see the results of my constructive discussions with my colleagues, but I cannot entirely predict what they might be.

When my granny died, I was minus 13 years old. I was told that she had said only one political thing in her life: never trust the Tories. On the subject of land, I adhere to that absolutely.

The Convener

Right. I am not sure that that was a great anecdote to trot out.

Richard Lyle

I have some comments that are not as bad as Stewart Stevenson’s.

Although Stewart Stevenson and I were on separate sides of the fence last time that we discussed the matter, I agree with him. This morning, I have recorded that I intend to press the Government to plant more trees as much as possible. I intend to stick to that. When I hear Mr Chapman continually vilifying the cabinet secretary because he has not planted more trees and then saying that he wants to tie the cabinet secretary’s hand behind his back in regard to compulsory purchase, I am appalled. It is inconsistent.

11:15  



Jamie Greene

Will Richard Lyle give way?

The Convener

Are you prepared to, Richard?

Richard Lyle

Do you want to make an intervention, Mr Greene? Carry on. I will accept your intervention and then I will come back in.

The Convener

I ask you to do it through the chair.

Richard Lyle

Sorry. He did not clarify whether he wanted to intervene.

Jamie Greene

Mr Chapman’s amendment 6 pursues the rollover of the compulsory purchase powers for the purposes of section 9, which concerns the management of forestry land. That includes planting, and there is broad agreement that we would like there to be more planting. I am not making any political points, because there is consensus on that. The only thing that amendment 6 does is to exclude section 13 from compulsory purchase powers. That section is about the management of land to further sustainable development, which is not about planting.

Richard Lyle

I thank you for the intervention. However, I want the Government to do more and to plant more trees and I, for one, will not tie its hands behind its back. I intend to ensure that it plants more trees. Members who have consistently said that they want the Government to do that should do the same as me.

Rhoda Grant

I will vote against Peter Chapman’s amendments 39, 6 and 42. It is important to have compulsory purchase powers for sustainable development in the bill. That keeps it in line with other legislation, so it is right. However, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments about reviewing the powers.

I support John Finnie’s amendment 12, because it is important to protect finance resulting from the sale of forestry and the like for reinvestment in forestry. I have some sympathy for Jamie Greene’s amendment 12A, which takes John Finnie’s approach a bit further. I am slightly worried that it might take it a bit too far in that it might result in activities that support sustainable forestry not being funded and, if there is a shortfall in the finance, that could hold forestry back. That is my one concern about amendment 12A and it would be useful if Jamie Greene would address that at some point.

Peter Chapman

I take umbrage at Richard Lyle’s comments about how I would be trying to tie the cabinet secretary’s hands. Nobody is suggesting that we do that in any way, shape or form. I want more trees to be planted and have always said so.

I am not saying that there should be no compulsory purchase powers. I am content to roll over the powers that are in the 1967 act. I made that clear as well. I object to widening the powers to cover sustainable development when no attempt has been made to justify that. It is a step too far and is not necessary. The cabinet secretary confirmed that, in the 50 years that ministers have had the powers, they have not used them, so, considering that fact, why on earth does he think that he needs any more?

As far as I am concerned, the 1967 act powers can remain but the widening of the powers to include sustainable development has not been proved to be necessary and, therefore, I object to it. That is what my amendments 6, 39 and 42 are about.

Gail Ross

A lot of reference has been made to the stage 1 report. I point out that, in recommendation 104, we said:

“the majority of the Committee is of the view that the Scottish Government is yet to provide sufficient justification for its proposed extension of compulsory purchase powers to cover sustainable development.”

However, in what the cabinet secretary said to the committee today, he provided sufficient justification for the extension of the powers, which is what the committee asked for.

The Convener

I will now bring myself in to speak. I will do so at two stages during the meeting, and this is the first one.

I support Jamie Greene’s amendment 12A, because we do not want diminution of the forest estate. The people of Scotland expect the forest estate to grow, and therefore it is fundamentally wrong to take money out of it by selling land and using that to fund the general running costs of the new body. I would therefore like the money to roll forward to be used for purchasing. Indeed, that is my understanding of the Parliament’s policy when it decided to allow the repositioning of the forest estate to take money from sales and put it back into purchasing estate. I believe that that gives people the surety that they need in relation to forestry, because forestry has a rolling aspect. Land without trees is purchased, if necessary, and trees are put on it. Once the trees are there and the safeguards are in place to ensure that they remain there, it is perfectly right for the Forestry Commission to sell that land and move on to the next bit. That approach will gradually increase the forest estate and forestry in Scotland, and amendment 12A allows for just that.

On the compulsory purchase powers, the cabinet secretary’s comments about previous legislation made me smile, because we are now in 2017 and a lot of the legislation that he mentioned was from way before the time when I became involved in politics. I declare that, as a surveyor, I have been involved in compulsory purchase powers and have some knowledge of them. I should also declare that I have an interest in a farm, for those who consider that important, although I do not think that it is important in relation to the bill. The compulsory purchase powers are deeply flawed as they are structured. I believe that they do not work very well and that they need to be completely reformed to make them fit for 2017.

Given that the compulsory purchase powers for forestry have never been used since the 1967 act came in, they are not that much of a threat. A lot has been made of the fact that threats have been made that they will be used, but I have never seen any evidence of that. When we pushed the officials who came to the committee, they said that there might have been one or two occasions on which they could have been used as a threat, but there is no clear evidence that they were. In this case, a threat does not particularly work because, under the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, a ransom strip, which the cabinet secretary said he wanted to avoid, still has to be compensated for at its value. All that happens is that someone says that they want it, and they have to agree the value. According to the definition of open market value, which is what an acquisition is based on, a ransom strip has a value, and that has to be taken into account.

Therefore, I do not support rolling forward the 1967 act provisions into the bill, although I can see why it gives the cabinet secretary some confidence. That is why, as an individual, I am happy to see those in relation to forestry. However, in relation to other land, I do not see that it provides a benefit at all. The other land that the Forestry Commission has—the one third of its estate that is not forested—will not be benefited by the compulsory purchase powers. I do not see how that will work, because that land is managed in accordance with the forest estate. I do not see much requirement for that, so I will not vote in favour of it.

Having set out my position, I now withdraw from the debate and put my convener’s hat back on. I see that Claudia Beamish wants to come in. I ask her to do so briefly, so that I can pass back to the cabinet secretary.

Claudia Beamish

It is simply to reinforce the point, which the cabinet secretary has clarified, about the need for management of land to further the achievement of sustainable development. That applies to the list that the cabinet secretary gave earlier in this grouping, and to other areas such as agroforestry, which may fall more under the definition of sustainable development than strict forestry definitions. It is very important that we keep the sustainable development opportunity.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, you have already spoken, but if you would like to come back briefly on any of the points that have been made, I am happy to let you in.

Fergus Ewing

I have enjoyed listening to the debate, and I had my opportunity earlier to set out the points in the way that I wished.

The Convener

Thank you. I call on Mike Rumbles to wind up and to say whether he wants to press or withdraw amendment 2.

Mike Rumbles

The minister eloquently outlined a number of acts over the years that have conferred compulsory purchase powers. He said that Parliaments have routinely given the powers to Government. We already know all of that, but it is good to be reminded of it, because that is exactly my point, which is that the Government has enough compulsory purchase powers already, and does not need any more. The 1967 powers have never been used, as we all know. Ministers of all parties always say that they would never want to gather further unnecessary powers, and the powers in the bill are unnecessary.

I do not focus on our current minister, who is an honourable man, but even he will accept that he will not be a minister forever.

Stewart Stevenson

Surely not. [Laughter.]

Mike Rumbles

In principle—this is about the principle of Parliament versus Government—it is not good for Parliament to give unnecessary executive powers to ministers. Over the years, I have asked questions about that to ministers of different parties—whose civil servants, by the way, always want them to have unnecessary powers—and they normally say that they simply want to future proof legislation. They say, “Who knows how things are going to change? We need the powers to future proof.” Well, Parliament should be wary of the Government’s future proofing.

Stewart Stevenson said that I said or implied that some members of the committee received instructions on how to vote on the issue from the Government. I would never say that. To repeat for the avoidance of doubt, I said that some members of the committee had received guidance on how to vote. There is a great deal of difference between instructions and guidance. The Government is perfectly entitled to issue guidance to MSPs, and it is for MSPs to choose what they do with that guidance. It is up to individual members round the committee table to decide for themselves, and they must live with the decisions that they make. I said that it is up to colleagues on the committee to vote the way that they wish to vote.

As to the evidence on the subject, I was a bit shocked to hear that there is new evidence. I have seen nothing, and nothing has changed in the evidence. I have not seen any new evidence brought to us by the minister that should affect our decision at stage 1. However, I am a realist, if nothing else, and I know what the numbers amount to. It is disappointing to realise that the recommendations in the stage 1 report might not be followed. They were good recommendations, although they were not accepted by all members of the committee. Of course people have different views, but it was a genuine compromise and attempt to do the right thing by Parliament and Government. I put the situation down to the Government guidance that has been received by some members. However, I repeat that it is guidance, and it is up to every individual member to decide what they should do.

The Convener

Do you want to press or withdraw amendment 2?

Mike Rumbles

I want to press it.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

Amendment 22 not moved.

The Convener

Because of the length of time that it has taken to get to this stage, I propose a five-minute suspension to allow members a comfort break.

11:28 Meeting suspended.  



11:35 On resuming—  



The Convener

The next group of amendments is on delegation to community bodies. Amendment 23, in the name of Richard Lyle, is grouped with amendments 43, 132, 44, 45 and 110.

Richard Lyle

During stage 1, the committee heard evidence from a number of stakeholders that the provisions in the bill relating to delegation of land management functions to community bodies, in particular sections 18, 19 and 20, are at best unnecessary and at worst will introduce additional complexity and bureaucracy for groups that seek to get involved in land management. That view was expressed in the context of the commencement in January this year of part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which deals with asset transfer. We also heard concerns that the definition of “community body” in the bill is different from that in other community empowerment legislation—notably, the 2015 act—which, potentially, will cause confusion.

The cabinet secretary for rural economy assured the committee during his stage 1 evidence that officials were aware of and were looking into the potential overlap between the bill and asset transfer legislation. On 3 November, the Scottish Government gave a response to the committee’s stage 1 report, in which the cabinet secretary confirmed that officials were considering the matter

“with a view to bringing forward any necessary amendments at Stage 2”.

In the event, we have seen no amendments from the Government. I refer the cabinet secretary to the views of key stakeholders, who have advised that the provisions are unnecessary and should be removed from the bill. I consider that the stakeholders are right, so my amendments seek to leave out sections 18, 19 and 20. Existing legislation—namely, the asset transfer provisions under the 2015 act—delivers the necessary outcomes for communities. Members should note that amendment 44 seeks to remove section 19: agreement to it would therefore make Jamie Greene’s amendment 132, which seeks to amend that section, unnecessary.

I move amendment 23.

Jamie Greene

As Richard Lyle just pointed out, the removal of section 19 would negate the need for my amendment 132. However, we have given some careful thought to the matter. I was a little bit surprised to see Richard Lyle’s amendments, which are small in wording but huge in effect: they would take out all references to community bodies from the bill.

Mr Lyle mentioned the ambiguity around the definition of “community body”. Amendment 132 seeks to resolve that by strengthening the definition, saying that “community body” would have the same meaning as it has in the 2015 act. That clarity would strengthen that whole area of the bill—sections 18, 19 and 20.

I am yet to be convinced or persuaded that we should support removal of sections 18, 19 and 20, so I am keen to hear more over the course of the debate on this group of amendments. For that reason, I am minded to maintain that my amendment 132 would strengthen the definition of “community body”. I hope that members accept that and that they will listen with great interest to why the sections should be removed.

Fergus Ewing

I thank Richard Lyle for lodging amendments 23, 43 to 45 and 110, and am content to support them. In consequence, I do not support Mr Greene’s amendment 132; I think that he understands that it will be negated if Mr Lyle’s amendments are accepted by the committee. I also thank the members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and many stakeholders for their scrutiny of the provisions and their insightful suggestions for improvement.

I signalled to the committee during stage 1 that officials were considering the provisions on delegation of land management functions to community bodies—specifically, how those interact with existing community empowerment law. I have concluded that the provisions in the bill duplicate and do not enhance law elsewhere on community empowerment. Further, I agree with points that were made during stage 1 evidence by the Community Woodlands Association that there is a risk that the existence of the provisions might unnecessarily complicate the landscape for delivery of community empowerment objectives, including for community bodies themselves.

I am content that the asset transfer regime under part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 can be relied on to deliver the policy objectives behind sections 18, 19 and 20 of the bill, and that those sections can therefore be removed. I note that a wide range of stakeholders, including the aforementioned Community Woodlands Association and Community Land Scotland, recommended that course of action, and that it is supported by the forestry sector, including Scottish Land & Estates.

I note the intention behind amendment 132, which is to deliver better integration between the bill and the 2015 act. As I have indicated, I am sympathetic to that outcome, but consider that it can best be achieved through removing sections 18, 19 and 20 altogether, rather than through their retention and amendment. For that reason I do not support amendment 132.

There is a strong track record of community involvement in managing forestry, and I wish to see that continue as we complete devolution of forestry. In January this year, Forest Enterprise Scotland launched the new community asset transfer scheme—or CATS—by implementing part 5 of the 2015 act. That builds on the highly successful national forest land scheme, which predated the statutory asset transfer regime and delivered 42 sales totalling 17,000 acres, including 31 sales to communities totalling more than 10,000 acres. The first successful request under CATS was announced last month, and a further 20 requests are in the pipeline. It is encouraging that the Scottish Government’s policies are giving people more control over decisions that affect them, and enabling communities to shape their individual and collective futures.

I therefore support the amendments in the name of Richard Lyle.

Richard Lyle

I will keep this short. The cabinet secretary has just made most of the comments that I was going to make. Therefore, I intend to press my amendments in the group, so I ask members to support them.

Amendment 23 agreed to.

Section 6, as amended, agreed to.

After section 6

Amendment 10 moved—[Peter Chapman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 10 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 10 disagreed to.

Amendment 130 moved—[John Finnie].

11:45  



The Convener

The question is, that amendment 130 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Abstentions

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 7, Against 3, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 130 agreed to.

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on the involvement of persons with an interest in forestry. Amendment 129, in the name of Claudia Beamish, is the only amendment in the group.

Claudia Beamish

Amendment 129 aims to preserve the involvement and inclusion of people on the ground in forestry and land management. The provision would follow section 6, which is entitled “Duty to have regard to forestry strategy”, and ensure that people who have an interest in forestry are involved in delivery and acting out of the functions of the bill by ministers. Agreement to the amendment would create a requirement to involve people

“with ... knowledge ... of securing sustainable economic benefits ... sustainable forest management ... silviculture ... land management”

and “environmental” and “biodiversity issues”. Amendment 129 would also require “consultation with persons” and representative organisations, such as unions.

Amendment 129 demonstrates the scope of social, environmental and economic functions that will be delivered by the Forestry Commission, and is designed to ensure that each of the six areas that it lists, which are vital tenets of forestry management, are taken into consideration.

Scotland has exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced people in its forestry sector, as I am sure that we all agree. My amendment 129 would enshrine their inclusion in forestry policy, regardless of the new arrangements for forestry organisations after devolution of forestry.

I ask members to consider supporting amendment 129 so that the matters that I have mentioned will be included in the bill.

I move amendment 129.

Stewart Stevenson

I have a technical issue with how the amendment is cast. It says:

“take steps to ensure that such arrangements involve”.

I really have no idea what is meant by “involve”, in this context. Does it mean that we need someone under each of the subparagraphs to be on a board of some kind? Does it mean that the minister simply has to have the people in for dinner and listen to them once every 50 years? Is it something in between? I am very uncertain about what “involve” might mean.

I repeat my regular rail against use of lists. Claudia Beamish mentioned unions when she spoke to her amendment. Unions, per se, do not appear in the list, but I accept that there will be unions that have the expertise that she is looking for. I guess that we will hear from the cabinet secretary once again about the difficulties for Governments in identifying people

“with experience in or knowledge of”

the listed areas.

Jamie Greene

Stewart Stevenson’s comments hark back to the cabinet secretary’s comments about the ambiguity in interpreting

“persons with experience in or knowledge of”.

It is incredibly difficult to do that.

Amendment 129 includes other vague terms, such as

“consultation with persons ... who have an interest in”.

Lots of people have

“an interest in forestry and sustainable forest management”

but how would we define what is meant by “interest”? Stewart Stevenson made a similar point about the term “involve”. What is involvement? In any case, the amendment might restrict the minister in his ability to discharge his duties under the act. Therefore, I am unable to support amendment 129.

Fergus Ewing

I thank Claudia Beamish for lodging amendment 129. I fully recognise the importance of ensuring that people who have the right professional skills, knowledge and experience are engaged in development and delivery of forestry in Scotland, but I am not persuaded that the amendment would deliver that outcome.

The bill includes suitable provision for how ministers must discharge their functions. Those are set out in part in section 6, which requires ministers to

“have regard to the forestry strategy when”

exercising their forestry functions. Amendment 129 overlaps with that requirement.

Furthermore, although the bill is mainly about management of forestry, it also covers management of land for sustainable development, which amendment 129 does not recognise. As drafted, amendment 129 would result in a requirement for wide consultation on all the activities that are covered by the bill, including ministers’ wider land management role of managing non-forested land and the more mundane regulatory activity for forestry. In neither scenario would the effect of the amendment be practical or appropriate.

It is vital that we maintain professional expertise and skills as we complete the devolution of forestry, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to make that absolutely clear for all the people who are listening or observing and for the record for the future. I have previously stated that, in the new structures for forestry, I wish to expand on the existing skills development mechanisms within Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland, and to continue to involve foresters and other professionals in the discharge of the Scottish Government’s forestry functions.

I am sure that it is an unintended omission, but amendment 129 makes no reference to involving persons with experience in or knowledge of community ownership or involvement in forestry. I point that out to highlight the inherent risks of including an exclusive list in legislation. Lists cannot be comprehensive, as stakeholders including Confor have noted, so the inclusion of such a list might date the bill.

I support the arguments that Mr Stevenson and Mr Greene have made about the technicalities, and I think that the use of the word “arrangements” is vague, because it is not clear what those arrangements would be, when they would be made or how they could be discharged. However, those are technical points.

I share the sentiments that have been expressed, but I ask members to resist amendment 129 on the basis that it is unnecessary and unnecessarily restrictive.

The Convener

I ask Claudia Beamish to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 129.

Claudia Beamish

I have listened carefully to the discussion, and I take on board Stewart Stevenson’s point about the use of the word “involve”. We do not want to get too tied up in definitions. I also take Jamie Greene’s point about the phrase “experience in or knowledge of”.

Amendment 129 resulted from my being approached by a range of groups who have concerns about the need to be open as we move forward to the devolved arrangements, so that the new body will not be subsumed within Victoria Quay and will have a presence throughout Scotland across a range of skills and professions. I take the cabinet secretary’s point that reference to people with experience in or knowledge of community ownership is missing from my amendment. Having been involved in consideration of what is now the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, I know that involvement of such people is very important, so that was, indeed, an omission.

To a degree, amendment 129 is a probing amendment. It is very important to many stakeholders, including unions, that their interests be taken into account. I certainly do not want to create a cumbersome process. I take the cabinet secretary’s point that my amendment might do that, because it does not make it clear what ministers would be obliged to consult on or how far that process would go.

I seek to withdraw amendment 129 on the understanding that—if I have got this right—the cabinet secretary has put on the record the fact that it is important that a range of skills, professions and organisations be involved in moving forward with a positive and sustainable forestry strategy, in the context of the new devolved powers.

Amendment 129, by agreement, withdrawn.

Sections 7 and 8 agreed to.

After section 8

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on co-ordination and co-operation in plant health responsibilities. Amendment 131, in the name of Jamie Greene, is the only amendment in the group.

Jamie Greene

Amendment 131 concerns the duty that is placed on ministers to co-ordinate and co-operate on plant health responsibilities. It is my view that, given the cross-border nature of plant health on an island, the bill should contain additional wording that reflects that and places an additional duty on ministers to take it into account.

Although I understand that the bill cannot mandate the Scottish ministers to ensure that a memorandum of understanding would be agreed or signed by secretaries of state or ministers of other Parliaments, I would like us to agree wording that ensures that they “take all reasonable steps” to achieve an MOU and that they set before Parliament a report to the effect that they have taken reasonable steps to achieve what is set out in subsection (1) of the new section that amendment 131 seeks to insert. The Scottish ministers should also update Parliament as to any arrangements or agreements that result from such an MOU. I hope that the cabinet secretary will find that to be a constructive addition to the bill. My understanding is that, if it is not put in the legislation, there would be no mandate for the minister so to act, and I hope that that will be taken into account.

I move amendment 131.

Stewart Stevenson

When I look at the words that are in the amendment, namely that ministers must take all reasonable steps

“to ensure that they agree”,

I just do not see that we can ensure that they will agree, so the wording that is before us is not capable of being delivered assuredly. On that basis, I cannot support the amendment.

Mike Rumbles

Again, I disagree with my esteemed colleague Stewart Stevenson. He focused on the word “ensure”. That is not the purpose of the amendment, which is to have ministers “take all reasonable steps”. Who could object to that? To emphasise and put the focus on the word “ensure” is erroneous. The amendment says simply that the Scottish ministers should “take all reasonable steps”, so I will support it.

Fergus Ewing

On the day of the stage 1 debate, I announced that agreement had been reached with my counterparts in the UK and Welsh Governments on sharing responsibility for important cross-border forestry functions. One Government will co-ordinate delivery of each function on behalf of all three. Under that agreement, certain forestry plant health responsibilities that are primarily linked to trade will be led by the UK Government. Those include inspections at ports and airports of wood and wood products; maintaining a register of premises for forest products and timber; and regulation for identification and control of seeds and cuttings. Other tree health functions will continue to be carried out separately in each country. For example, surveys and monitoring for tree pests in Scotland will continue to be co-ordinated here.

I would argue that that work, which was achieved after a great deal of positive interaction with the UK Government and the Welsh devolved Administration, perhaps constitutes “reasonable steps”. Therefore I reassure Mr Rumbles that reasonable steps have already been trodden, if I might put it that way. While they have not resulted in a formal written agreement, there is an agreement in principle, which we expect will be progressed to full agreement prior to the law coming into force. Therefore I do not accept that the current arrangements for co-operation are deficient. They are carried out in an extra-parliamentary way between the Scottish Government and the other Government bodies involved.

In addition, I do not believe that amendment 131 properly reflects the fact that completing devolution of forestry is one of the principal drivers of the bill. I anticipate that there will always be close co-operation between Administrations on these islands on matters such as plant health. Indeed, I have emphasised the importance of that. I know that many stakeholders are keen that that should be the case and also keen to hear me say so and to know that the message is being delivered, understood and acted on by the Scottish Government and other Governments in these islands.

I welcome the opportunity to reconfirm and restate that, because people listening to the meeting will welcome it. Plant and tree disease respects no borders. These are very serious matters and tackling them effectively is one of the absolute essentials of sustainable forestry management. These matters can be most effectively tackled on a cross-border basis.

12:00  



However, there is a different point here. As far as I know, what Mr Greene seeks to do is unprecedented. He seeks to place in statute a provision that we must somehow secure a memorandum of agreement with other bodies. My legal adviser informs me that there is no other statute in which that approach has been taken. It would perhaps detract from devolution if our law sought to fetter our scope in respect of devolved matters such as forestry. The approach that is being suggested might serve to detract from the very nature of devolved power.

I reassure Mr Greene that arrangements are in place to ensure co-operation on plant health. For example, we maintain a UK plant health risk register, which is reviewed monthly by the UK plant health risk group, and we take part in biannual UK plant health co-ordination meetings. We published the Scottish plant health strategy in March 2016, which sets out measures to safeguard agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the wider environment from pests and diseases from 2016 to 2021. I hope that that will reassure Mr Greene and other members of the committee, because it is consistent with “Protecting Plant Health, A Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain”, which was published in 2014 and was signed off by Scottish and other GB plant health ministers.

So, you see, Mr Greene, I am pleased to say that we are a wee bit ahead of you. We have been doing all that already, and we will continue to do it, but not on the basis of something that is inserted into Scottish Parliament legislation.

Jamie Greene

I thank the cabinet secretary and other members for their feedback on the amendment. However, there were perhaps some contradictions in the cabinet secretary’s response to the comments that I made. He acknowledged that plant health respects no borders. In that vein, far from seeking to detract from devolution, the amendment would make an important and necessary addition to the bill. I understand that positive and constructive work has already been done with the various Administrations.

I refer back to a point that was made previously. Putting the provision in the bill would future proof the concept. It is all very well to say that current Administrations have agreed orally to take this issue seriously and to work together constructively, but we are talking about three different Administrations that have their own parliamentary cycles. I want to ensure that the concept is future proofed so that, regardless of who is running those Administrations, that good work continues beyond the current three Administrations’ parliamentary terms.

For that reason, I am not swayed by the cabinet secretary’s argument that, given that good work has been done on this matter, we should let it rest. I will press amendment 131 to ensure that future Administrations take the issue of cross-border plant health seriously. As Mr Rumbles pointed out, all the amendment does is ask Scottish ministers to “take all reasonable steps”, which I do not think is an unreasonable request.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 131 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 131 disagreed to.

The Convener

The next group is on deer management. Amendment 11, in the name of John Finnie, is the only amendment in the group.

John Finnie

Amendment 11 proposes to insert into the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 a duty of deer management to ensure sustainable forest management.

It is important that I give some background. The population modelling is not exact, but it is thought that there are between 85,000 and 100,000 roe, sika and fallow deer in private forests and 45,000 in the national forest estate, and 45,000 to 60,000 red deer in private forests and 40,000 to 45,000 in the national forest estate. The Forestry Commission does 30 per cent of all culling, at a cost to the taxpayer of £5 million a year.

As we said earlier, woodlands are deer habitats, and new woodlands will create new deer habitats. It should be the responsibility of all owners of private forests to put in place arrangements to manage the deer that live in their forests and woodlands. That is important for the future timber crop and for the biodiversity value of the woodlands. There is also the question of the impact of deer on adjacent land, for example by causing damage to agricultural crops and increasing the risk of road traffic accidents.

There is a legal requirement on us to protect the forest asset. Amendment 11 would ensure sustainable forest management by incorporating a duty of deer management, which would be discharged through plans to manage deer and arrangements to carry out that plan, which would also reduce some of the damaging impacts that deer can have. There is also a view that the duty will create economic opportunities with the letting of deer stalking to qualified people and venison sales generating income.

Such arrangements already exist in some places and, if amendment 11 is accepted, we will ensure, through the bill, that suitable arrangements are put in place for all woodlands. It would help to drive a step change, particularly with regard to lowland deer management. It would also be in line with the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s report on the subject.

I move amendment 11.

Mike Rumbles

I do not support the amendment on the ground that we have not taken any evidence on the subject. We talked about the issue when we discussed Claudia Beamish’s amendment 123. If we wanted to go down that route, we could have taken a good deal of evidence from landowners and land occupiers, but we have not done so. It would be unhelpful to make such a substantial amendment at what I consider to be the last minute and without bringing people to the committee to give evidence on the issue.

The amendment says:

“The Scottish Ministers must by regulations make provision requiring owners and occupiers of forest land to take such steps as may be specified in the regulations”.

That would give ministers unspecified powers.

In subsection (5) of the amendment, there is a requirement to lay before Parliament

“a draft Scottish statutory instrument containing the first regulations under subsection (1).”

A legitimate question is: how many instruments has this committee rejected? I cannot think of any. We cannot amend statutory instruments, so the power of the committee and the Parliament is restricted.

It would be entirely wrong to put such a provision into a forestry bill. It is a legitimate subject but we should have taken evidence on it. We have not done so—we decided not to go down that route—so it would be entirely wrong to support such a last-minute change at stage 2.

Stewart Stevenson

Mike Rumbles asked whether any statutory instruments have been rejected. I am not sure whether the committee has rejected any, but I have been involved in rejecting an affirmative instrument—I think. I need to check that, as it might have been a negative instrument; I cannot quite remember as it was a long time ago. However, Mike Rumbles is right that that does not happen very often. Instruments are not even challenged very often. Nonetheless, Parliament decides on SSIs just as it decides on primary legislation.

On the substance of the amendment, I do not disagree in any way with John Swinney about the need to manage deer in forests—

Gail Ross

It was not John Swinney.

The Convener

I confirm that. I think that you mean John Finnie.

Stewart Stevenson

What did I say?

The Convener

For the record, I note that John Swinney is not here.

Stewart Stevenson

I beg your pardon. John Swinney is in India and John Finnie is in front of me.

I agree with the underlying principles of John Finnie’s amendment 11. My difficulty—I am open to hearing more about this issue—is with what happens if one manages only one part of the ecosystem and not what is going on in the neighbouring areas. For example, adjacent estates take different views on their deer management policies because they have different shooting policies that they make money off. If we create a hole in the ecosystem so that there are fewer deer, other deer simply move in. The proposal is to separate forests off from an overall strategy to manage deer populations, and I would want to hear arguments that suggest that that would be of assistance. That is my concern about amendment 11.

Peter Chapman

I concur with what Mike Rumbles and Stewart Stevenson have said, because I am against what amendment 11 proposes. We all know that deer management is an issue as far as trees are concerned, but there are deer management arrangements in place and the rules and regulations are well known. The bill is about trees, not deer, so I do not see the need for amendment 11.

Not everybody likes this, but it is a way of life: one way to manage deer is to fence off the trees. There are therefore other ways forward. Amendment 11 is not necessary and the bill is the wrong place for what it proposes. Rules and regulations for deer management are already in place and are well known, so the proposal in amendment 11 has no place in the bill.

Richard Lyle

I say to John Finnie, who is sitting beside me, that I am sorry, but I cannot support his amendment 11. It has been put to me that, under what amendment 11 proposes, forest owners could face penalties if they do not take measures to control deer, and landowners could be liable for new penalties if they choose to plant trees, which would tend to discourage afforestation and integrated land use by increasing disparity in regulation. I believe that it is in the interests of forest owners to control deer, but other measures should be used to tackle deer numbers, and they should be co-operative rather than punitive. I therefore cannot support the amendment in the name of my good friend and colleague John Finnie.

Rhoda Grant

I have sympathy for amendment 11. However, what it proposes is probably not necessary for commercial forestry, because deer would have to be controlled anyway in a commercial forest—there are no two ways about that. I have more sympathy with amendment 11 in relation to native woodland. We can encourage native woodland, but there are not many commercial uses for it. People might plant native woodland because it is aesthetically pleasing but leave it and not manage it properly. If we are going to manage, cultivate and use native woodland, there must be a degree of deer management. However, I am not sure whether the bill is the place for what amendment 11 proposes. Before I make up my mind about amendment 11, I will listen with interest to what the cabinet secretary says and his proposals for what the amendment seeks to achieve.

Claudia Beamish

I highlight again what I said about deer management when we discussed my amendment 123. The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee wrote to this committee to outline concerns about deer management, as it has done in relation to biodiversity and a number of other matters. Deer management has therefore been highlighted as a concern, although I take the point that this committee has not taken direct evidence on the issue.

John Finnie gave a clear argument about not only how complex the deer management issue is but how important it is, particularly in the context of forestry. In the previous session of Parliament, I was a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, which took a lot of evidence on deer management, so I know that there are areas of Scotland where deer management groups are not working satisfactorily. There could well be merit in having in the bill the provisions that amendment 11 would introduce, or in introducing at stage 3 something else that would recognise the significance of deer management in relation to forestry and native woodland, about which Rhoda Grant made an important point.

Although I do not have a vote, I wanted to highlight the significance of the issue in relation to the future of our forestry. I look forward to hearing the cabinet secretary’s comments.

12:15  



Jamie Greene

It is absolutely right to address this important issue but, like other members, I am not convinced that the bill is the place to do that. Amendment 11 talks about further regulations and about penalties as a result of those regulations, but it does not go into any great detail on what those regulations might look like. I am happy to be corrected, but I suspect that the detail would come through in such secondary legislation. Indeed, the amendment opens a huge can of worms, and I am not convinced that we have taken full account of the consequences.

Also, we have taken very limited evidence on the subject. We have had representations on this important matter but before adding something as substantive as amendment 11 to the bill, I would have expected the committee to have taken far more evidence and to have discussed it fully and properly, as the subject rightfully deserves. As a committee, it is an issue that we should look at, but I do not think that inserting the provisions in amendment 11 in the bill at this stage is the right way to address the problem.

Fergus Ewing

We all want forests and woodland to be managed sustainably and the Scottish Government is in no doubt that effective deer management is part of that, as many members have argued. However, there are technical and policy reasons why I and Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, cannot support amendment 11.

On the policy, members will be aware that deer management has been comprehensively reviewed and discussed over the past year. Scottish Natural Heritage’s deer review was published in November last year, and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s report on deer management was published in April this year. Both reports reached broadly similar conclusions on the state of deer management—that good progress has been made, but that significant further effort is required.

My colleague Roseanna Cunningham set out the Scottish Government’s response to the reports in an answer to a parliamentary question on 29 June. As part of that answer, Ms Cunningham stated:

“We intend to set up an independent expert group to examine and develop solutions to barriers to effective deer management in the uplands and a separate panel under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 to look at lowland deer management.

We will ask SNH to report on progress on deer management in 2019. We will be looking to see effective deer management that protects the public interest ... If the review does not find sufficient progress with these objectives, then we would have no alternative but to consider fundamental changes to the framework for deer management in Scotland.”—[Written Answers, 29 June 2017; S5W-10023.]

Having set up that independent group and given notice that we will look at making fundamental changes if there has not been sufficient progress by 2019, I believe that it would not be sensible to cut across either the work of the group—which was set up following parliamentary scrutiny—or the further efforts that will be required.

Deer management should not be treated in a piecemeal fashion. We have given the deer management sector as a whole, including forest and woodland owners and managers, a clear indication of what is required and a timescale, and we have been clear about the consequences if sufficient progress fails to be made. That is the approach that the Scottish Government has taken, which I understood had broad support.

Confor and Scottish Land & Estates agree with the Scottish Government’s position that amendment 11 should be resisted. They both favour co-operative approaches to tackling the issue over legislation that has the effect of singling out forest owners and managers.

There are also some technical reasons why I cannot support amendment 11. We do not think it appropriate to support an amendment that compels ministers to make regulations using the affirmative procedure. The provision is very broad and gives wide latitude regarding the content of the regulations; at the same time, it appears to indicate that ministers should create new penalties for failure to comply with those as yet unidentified regulations.

We need to be very careful about the creation of new penalties and potential criminal offences. It is vital that we are as specific as possible about the behaviour that we are criminalising—if that is the intention—including who the offence will apply to and what the appropriate penalties are. We would also expect Parliament to have an opportunity to scrutinise those aspects—usually through primary legislation. I agree with Mr Rumbles’s analysis that, had the committee intended to cover that as being relevant to the bill, it should really have consulted on it prior to stage 1 and taken evidence on it.

I understand the sincerity and commitment behind the views expressed by Mr Finnie and Ms Beamish. However, for all the reasons that I have given and although I understand the intentions of the members involved, I urge John Finnie not to press his amendment and, if he does, other members not to support it.

John Finnie

I am grateful to members for their contributions. We did have evidence: we heard from the convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, and there were references to deer in the submissions that we received. Mr Rumbles said that amendment 11 was unhelpful and last minute, but stage 2 is the first opportunity that we have to lodge amendments, and amendment 11 has been lodged in good faith.

The statutory instruments will have to be judged on their individual merits—

Mike Rumbles

My point, which the cabinet secretary reiterated, was that although nobody doubts that deer management is a really important issue, if it was our intent to amend the bill in that way, it would have been really helpful to question witnesses on the issue during stage 1. We could have interrogated everybody and come to a proper conclusion. In my view, doing it in this way is not the best way to do it.

John Finnie

I note your comments. However, you know the volume of evidence that we get and that only a very small percentage is scrutinised around the committee table.

Peter Chapman talked about the bill being about trees, but it is for that reason that we need to consider the negative impact of deer on trees. The comments about native woodland were welcome.

The approach is not piecemeal—and I note that an earlier amendment was about having an overarching approach. I also note members’ comments and the cabinet secretary’s willingness to continue to engage on the matter. If we can add this issue to two other items that are now on that agenda with the aim of understanding how our concerns—which are held in good faith, notwithstanding all the good work that is going on—can be addressed, I will not press my amendment.

Amendment 11, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 9—Management of forestry land

Amendments 24 to 26 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 9, as amended, agreed to.

Section 10—Meaning of “forestry land”

Amendments 27 to 31 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 10, as amended, agreed to.

Section 11—Meaning of “national forest estate”

Amendments 32 to 35 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 11, as amended, agreed to.

Section 12—Duty to publish description of forestry land

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on the Scottish ministers’ duty to publish maps. Amendment 36, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 36A and 37.

Fergus Ewing

Amendments 36 and 37 in my name are part of the suite of amendments to the land management part of the bill that have been lodged in response to requests for clarity on the land that will be managed by the Scottish ministers under the duties in sections 9 and 13.

Section 12 places a duty on the Scottish ministers to publish a description of the forestry land that they manage. The purpose of the duty is to provide transparency on the land that is to be managed under the section 9 duty to manage land for the purposes of sustainable forest management.

In consequence of the amendments to sections 9 and 13, including the stipulation that the non-forested part of the national forest estate is to be managed under the section 13 duty, I have concluded that the transparency duty should apply to land that is managed under the section 9 and the section 13 land management duties, not just the former. Amendment 36 seeks to make that extension.

Furthermore, as is set out in the explanatory notes to the bill, the intention is that the section 12 duty will be delivered via an online mapping tool. In the interests of providing clarity on what is meant by the word “description” in the section 12 duty, amendment 36 makes it clear that the duty is to publish a map. The map will provide the associated forestry inventory data.

Forest Enterprise Scotland currently publishes detailed annual snapshots of inventory data for Scotland’s national forest estate as open data online. Therefore, detailed land use data for the whole of the national forest estate, which covers the forested and the open areas, is available online for download, scrutiny and analysis by interested parties at any time, and it will continue to be made available.

Amendment 37 seeks to change the placement of the transparency duty in the bill so that it falls under section 13, thereby reflecting the extension delivered by amendment 36.

I do not support Andy Wightman’s amendment 36A. As I have said, the purpose of the section 12 duty is to provide clarity about the land that is managed by the Scottish ministers. It is right that there should be transparency about that, but amendment 36A would fundamentally change the scope of part 3, which is about the management of land, not the ownership of land.

Amendment 36A would duplicate the role of the keeper of the registers of Scotland and would cut across established arrangements to complete the land register of Scotland and to provide public information on Scotland’s forests and woodland. It would also place an uncosted and, in all probability, extremely substantial financial burden on the Scottish ministers, on which there has been no consultation whatever. No estimated costings have been provided, and the work that would be involved would entirely duplicate work that is being carried out by Registers of Scotland.

I draw committee members’ attention to the views of two of the organisations whose members are working hard to complete the land register. Scottish Land & Estates says that the amendment is unnecessary, as there is already a process of land registration under way in Scotland that will fulfil the objective. Confor says that legislation on land ownership should apply to all types of land equally, and should be dealt with under different legislation. It also says that the decision to plant trees should not be influenced by consideration of what information would have to be publicised, which would not be required if the land was left without trees.

The keeper is working to complete the land register by 2024, and to have public land registered by 2019. Information on Scotland’s forest and woodland cover will continue to be made available to the public. I can see no merit in cutting across those established arrangements, so I urge members not to support amendment 36A.

I move amendment 36.

The Convener

I call Andy Wightman to speak to and move amendment 36A, and to speak to the other amendments in the group.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I lodged amendment 36A with two purposes in mind. First, I want to extend the duty to publish information to include “other forest land”. That is in the context of the long title of the bill, which is a bill

“to make provision about Scottish Ministers’ functions in relation to the management of forestry land and other land”.

Secondly, I want to improve the availability of information on the characteristics, nature and ownership of forestry land in Scotland. We have an ambitious programme to expand forestry cover. Although much of that will be done by the private sector, there is little, if any, data to inform policy that would best achieve those goals.

In comparison with other European countries that publish extensive data about non-state-owned forest land, data is very scarce in Scotland. In 2006-07, the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe, together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, conducted an inquiry into private forest ownership in Europe. It collected demographic data on owners, including gender and so on, but the UK provided no data for that question. The UK also offered no data on the status of owners, their residency and their objectives.

12:30  



According to the Forestry Commission, the data that the UK supplied to the UN Economic Commission on Europe on 27 July 2006 were estimates, which in turn were derived from a survey that had been carried out UK-wide as long ago as 1977—40 years ago—and they could not be broken down by country.

Therefore, officially we know nothing about ownership patterns, owners’ motivations and the characteristics of the private sector. It is my contention that we need to know more about that to better inform policy. My policy goal would be to have a proper annual return and survey so that we know that information. The most straightforward way to make the amendment is to amend section 12. I understand the cabinet secretary’s comments that, technically, it should perhaps not amend that section. If he is minded to consider the purpose behind the amendment and put it in an appropriate place, I would be happy to have that consultation with him.

Finally, the amendment does not duplicate any work that the Registers of Scotland is doing. It is not about determining ownership; it is about the publication of information, data and analysis to better inform policy.

I move amendment 36A.

Stewart Stevenson

Andy Wightman properly noted that the long title refers to

“forestry land and other land”.

The cabinet secretary’s amendment 36 refers to “forested land”, as distinct from “forestry land”. I am not at all clear what “other forest land”, referred to in amendment 36A, actually means. Is it something beyond what in amendment 36 is “forested land”?

I am also left a little unclear as to how one would identify some of the information that amendment 36A requires without there being a right to access “forest land”, as it is called in the amendment, to establish the facts that it requires to be published. I am not sure that there is an access provision to enable anyone to achieve that.

I know and respect absolutely Andy Wightman’s very long-held interest in establishing the ownership of land in Scotland, and I agree with him on that matter. However, the practical issue is already emerging that, although the land register is making progress, it will be fundamentally pretty difficult to complete the transfer from the register of sasines to the land register on the timescales that are being considered. That will be particularly difficult where private land is concerned, because the associated costs fall on private land owners.

Subsection 5 of the amendment seeks to commit the Government to a two-year cycle of publishing maps. That would be extremely challenging. If I recall correctly, the Ordnance Survey works on a five-year cycle because it is not broadly thought that a two-year cycle could work, at least on the terms that the amendment appears to suggest.

I echo the cabinet secretary in saying that although the objectives of the amendment are perfectly fair and reasonable, I would be reluctant to agree to it without understanding the costs that are associated with it and, of course, the corresponding benefits that we might expect to derive.

John Finnie

I will speak in support of my colleague Andy Wightman’s amendment. If I noted the cabinet secretary correctly, he said that it would “fundamentally change the scope” of that part of the bill.

Andy Wightman referred to the UN looking at the land situation in Scotland and it is simply embarrassing. Yes, the word “challenging” was repeatedly used; this is entirely meant to be challenging. Of course it is challenging.

Another issue that has come up, and not for the first time, is about the phraseology that is used. People know how amendments come to be considered here; they are all competent and people can express a view on them. Surprise, surprise, Scottish Land & Estates does not support it but, in many respects, that would be the very reason for me to lend support to something in the first instance. There is a lot of merit in the amendment and I encourage members to support it.

The Convener

This is the second group on which I will speak.

In relation to paragraphs 2(a) and 2(b) in amendment 36A, I want to make it entirely clear that I support information on the ownership of land in Scotland being clear, available and accessible to all people. Therefore, I welcome the work that the register is doing and I see that as being a useful database that will be accessible to all. I am not sure that the amendment helps. We have heard evidence about how good the Forestry Commission’s mapping and control system is at the moment. I have found it to work very well when I have gone into it.

I have some issues with

“the characteristics of forests on the land covered by the map”

because it is difficult to define the characteristics of forestry. Where do you go to the next level? At the moment, we have some useful maps that were developed by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, which give a land classification for all land in Scotland and productive capacities for land. On top of that, you could factor in the different forests and the different yield class, but you would end up with a map that would be of little use. I cannot see how that helps forestry so, for that reason, I struggle to support the amendment. That is not because I want to cover up land ownership; as I have said, I believe that it should be open, but this is not the map to do it.

As there are no further comments from members, I ask the cabinet secretary to wind up.

Fergus Ewing

I stand by my previous remarks.

The Convener

Andy Wightman, would you like to press or withdraw amendment 36A?

Andy Wightman

To make it clear, I do not seek to duplicate any work that anybody else is doing. The argument that the Registers of Scotland is accessible is wrong; it would cost an individual tens of thousands of pounds to access that information from the registers. I see Mr Stevenson shaking his head, but to obtain information from the land register costs £30 per land title.

Countries around Europe publish good statistics on an annual basis about many aspects of land use, not just forestry, although we are talking about forestry here. Those include good data on the gender of forest owners, which we need with regard to the equalities impact of policy. We are developing policy around forestry expansion completely blind as to who owns forestry land and what kind of people—women, communities, farmers, families or so on—we might wish to see owning more forestry land.

Although I accept that there might be technical reasons for my amendment not to be included in section 12, it is very straightforward. It is designed to achieve the policy objective of providing better data to enable everyone with an interest in the matter, including policy makers, academics and the public, to better understand the nature, characteristics and patterns of forest ownership in Scotland, and to place a duty on ministers to publish that information in exactly the same way that they publish information relating to the national forest estate.

I press amendment 36A.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 36A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Abstentions

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Convener

The result of the division: For 2, Against 8, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 36A disagreed to.

Amendment 36 agreed to.

Section 12, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment 37 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 13—Management of land to further sustainable development

The Convener

I remind members that if amendment 38 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 39.

Amendment 38 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 38 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 7, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 38 agreed to.

Section 13, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 14 and 15 agreed to.

Section 16—Compulsory purchase of land

Amendment 6 moved—[Peter Chapman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 6 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 6 disagreed to.

Amendment 40 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 16, as amended, agreed to.

Section 17—Power to dispose of land

Amendment 3 moved—[Mike Rumbles]—and agreed to.

The Convener

I remind members that if amendment 41 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 42.

Amendment 41 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 41 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Against

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 7, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 41 agreed to.

Amendment 12 moved—[John Finnie].

Amendment 12A moved—[Jamie Greene].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 12A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Abstentions

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 6, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 12A disagreed to.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 12 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Abstentions

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 5, Abstentions 1. As the result is a tie, I must exercise my casting vote. I agree to the amendment.

Amendment 12 agreed to.

Section 17, as amended, agreed to.

12:45  



Section 18—Delegation of functions under section 9 or 13 to community bodies

Amendment 43 moved—[Richard Lyle]—and agreed to.

Section 19—Meaning of “community body”

Amendment 132 moved—[Jamie Greene].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 132 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 132 disagreed to.

Amendment 44 moved—[Richard Lyle]—and agreed to.

Section 20—Exercise of delegated function by community bodies

Amendment 45 moved—[Richard Lyle]—and agreed to.

Section 21 agreed to.

The Convener

Thank you. It is clear that we cannot get through stage 2 today. We will have to pick up where we have left off next week. I remind members that amendments to the remaining sections of the bill can still be lodged, and the deadline for doing so is noon 7 December. That concludes today’s business. I am sorry that we did not get through it all.

Meeting closed at 12:47.  



Second meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting held on 13 December 2017:

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Second meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning, and welcome to the 36th meeting in 2017 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I remind everyone to ensure that their mobile phones are on silent.

Agenda item 1 is stage 2 consideration of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, and his officials from the Scottish Government.

I declare an interest as a member of a farming partnership. That has little to do with the bill, but I wanted to put it on the record. Do any other members want to declare an interest?

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I have a small registered agricultural holding.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I, too, declare an interest as a partner in a farming partnership.

The Convener

Thank you.

Everyone should have with them a copy of the bill as introduced, the second marshalled list of amendments, which was published on Thursday, and the second groupings of amendments, which set out the amendments in the order in which they will be debated.

It might be helpful to again explain the procedure briefly. There will be one debate on each group of amendments. I will call the member who lodged the first amendment in the group to speak to and move that amendment and to speak to all the other amendments in the group. I will then call any other members who have lodged amendments in that group. Members who have not lodged amendments in the group but who wish to speak should indicate that by catching my attention in the usual way. If the cabinet secretary has not already spoken on the group, I will invite him to contribute to the debate just before I move to the winding-up speech. The debate on the group will be concluded by my inviting the member who moved the first amendment in the group to wind up.

Following the debate on each group, I will check whether the member who moved the first amendment in the group wishes to press it to a vote or to withdraw it. If they wish to press ahead, I will put the question on that amendment. If the member wishes to withdraw their amendment after it has been moved, they must seek the agreement of other members to do so. If any member present objects, the committee will immediately move to the vote on the amendment. If any member does not want to move their amendment when called, they should say, “Not moved.” Please note that any other member present may move such an amendment. If no one moves the amendment, I will immediately call the next amendment on the marshalled list.

Only committee members are allowed to vote. Voting in any division is by a show of hands. It is important that members keep their hands clearly raised until the clerks have recorded the vote. The committee is required to indicate formally that it has considered and agreed each section of and schedule to the bill, so I will put a question on each section at the appropriate point. We aim to complete stage 2 today.

Section 22—Key terms in Part 4

The Convener

The first group of amendments is on the offence of unauthorised felling. Amendment 46, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 133 to 135.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

Amendment 46 amends the definition of “felling” in response to the evidence that was provided to the committee during stage 1. It will move us to a position in which “felling”, for the purposes of the bill, includes both its ordinary meaning and the intentional killing of trees. That is intended to capture what the sector would recognise as felling and to ensure that, for example, the poisoning or ring-barking of trees in order to kill them and move land out of forestry use is also caught. That is in line with the fundamental principle behind the approach to the well-established regulation of felling, which looks to control and maintain woodland cover and, if appropriate, apply restocking requirements. The sector supports the change.

 

Mr Chapman’s amendments would hardwire a small selection of the current exemptions to the offence of unauthorised felling into the primary legislation. As I have stated previously, I do not think that the face of the bill is the place for such exemptions. I see no reason to treat that small selection of current exemptions preferentially while setting aside those that allow other things. Those include, for example, allowing power lines to be kept clear, exemptions for developments that have obtained planning permission to go ahead and exemptions for felling required by a water authority. I just give some examples of exemptions that Mr Chapman does not feel should be in the bill.

The amendments also fail to reproduce the exemptions that allow the felling of trees that are suffering from Dutch elm disease, for example, or for purposes associated with aviation, including obstructions to the approaches to and departures from aerodromes. Members will get the sense that there are a variety of circumstances in which felling might be appropriate or necessary so it is difficult to see why some should be in the bill and some should not. I am interested to hear what Mr Chapman says in explanation of his amendment.

In addition, I see nothing from Mr Chapman that caters for changes to be made to the exemptions that he has selected. They would be fixed and that is less flexible and proportionate than even the current arrangements, whereby much of what is in the Forestry Act 1967 can be changed by regulation. As you would expect, all the exemptions that are made in regulations can be changed. Mr Chapman’s amendments would introduce a degree of inflexibility that is not appropriate or desirable and could cause unforeseen and, presumably, unintended consequences.

Amendments 133 to 135 would create a two-tier system of exemptions—one fixed in primary legislation without any route for change, were it to be required, and one set in regulations, with all the flexibility that comes with that approach, which is substantially supported by stakeholders.

As introduced, the bill poses a more practical regime in which all the exemptions are created by regulations and are found in one clear set of regulations that can be suitably adjusted if there is a good reason to do so. For the practitioner, having one clear set of regulations is always desirable.

I am absolutely certain that Mr Chapman lodged his amendments with good intentions, so I hope that my response has highlighted how far-reaching and important the exemptions are. We have to get this right, and I am working with stakeholders to ensure that the exemptions that we carry forward are fit for purpose. I am determined that we should use this as an opportunity to adjust them if that would be beneficial, rather than simply copying and pasting all of, or an arbitrary selection of, what is there now. For example, I know that some people have suggested exploring whether there is a way of increasing the protection of ancient or semi-natural woodlands by adjusting the exemptions based on volume, which are one set that Mr Chapman proposed to set in stone.

I am committed to considering such ideas so that the most appropriate arrangements are in place at the point of completing devolution in April 2019. As the committee has already heard, I am using the current exemptions as the basis for what we put into regulations. Changes will be made only when there is a good reason so to do and there will be no gap between the current exemptions and the new ones. I say that because the committee specifically said in its report that there should be no gap, which was sound advice that we should follow. That approach has broad support from the stakeholders that we have heard from. Confor does not support the amendments.

The regulation-making power for exemptions is affirmative, so Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the result of the collaboration with the sector and other interested parties, which is a good thing.

I move amendment 46.

Peter Chapman

I am pleased to speak to amendments 133 to 135. As the cabinet secretary intimated, I lodged them with good intentions. We believe that the key definitions are in the Forestry Act 1967 and we want to ensure that they are in the bill.

Section 24 of the bill gives Scottish ministers the power to set out exceptions in regulations.

The cabinet secretary argues that that should remain a general and flexible power and he does not want the provision to set out specific detailed exceptions. However, given that the bill repeals the felling provisions from the Forestry Act 1967, we argue that specific cases that we want to be made exempt should be specified.

The three suggested provisions that we have taken from the Forestry Act 1967 would provide clarity for forestry landowners and widen the exceptions to the offence. That is why I intend to move amendments 133 to 135 in my name. I also support amendment 46 in the name of the cabinet secretary.

Stewart Stevenson

I will speak briefly to amendment 135, which is about the cubic size of trees that can be felled in three months. Putting that into primary legislation illustrates a more general problem: when you move something from secondary to primary legislation you remove the context. As a layperson—not a forester—I do not know what 5 cubic metres of wood is. Is it, for example, the size of the tree before you fell it? I suspect that that is not the case, as I cannot think of a single tree that would be 5 cubic metres before it is felled. Is it the result of what you get when you leave aside the brush that you are going to discard? What does it mean? When you bring something like that into primary legislation without those sort of explanations, you create some dangerous issues—at least for the layperson. I accept that that might not be the case for the professional forester. As a layperson reading the amendment, it struck me that it would stand alone, without the context that it would have had in the secondary legislation.

Fergus Ewing

I recognise that Mr Chapman lodged amendments 133 to 135 with good intentions. I thank him for doing so and for allowing a debate on an important matter. However, we need the clarity and flexibility that will come from having the exemptions determined in secondary legislation. Amendments 133 to 135 would deny us that flexibility, which could be required in future. They would appear to demote the importance of exemptions in other areas, many of which I have covered, although there are many more.

It is largely a technical matter on which all the stakeholders appear to agree with the Government’s approach. I commend that approach to the committee.

Amendment 46 agreed to.

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on remedial notices. Amendment 47, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 48, 52, 55, 57 to 75, 75A, 76 to 78, 78A, 79 to 81, 81A, 82 to 84, 84A, 85, 85A, 86, 86A, 87, 87A, 88, 89, 89A, 90 to 92, 97, 97A, 98 to 100, 100A, 101, 106 and 114.

Fergus Ewing

This large group of amendments encompasses three areas—two introduced by the Government and one by Mr Chapman—relating to the remedial notices provided for in part 4 of the bill. Remedial notices will be used where it appears to the Scottish ministers that a person is failing to comply with a permission, direction or registered notice. A remedial notice will set out what steps must be taken by a person in order to bring them back into compliance. Although the hope is that that will result in compliance, if it does not, ministers may then use their powers to step in.

For the sake of giving context to this large group of technical amendments, I will set out the sequence for felling permissions. A permission is granted for felling with conditions attached, usually relating to the restocking of the site. If one or more of those conditions is not complied with, ministers serve the person who is failing to comply with a remedial notice, setting out the steps that they must take in order to come back into compliance, perhaps in relation to the timing of restocking or the way in which it is to be done. If those steps are not taken, ministers may use their step-in powers to carry out those steps themselves. Finally, if ministers consider that it is reasonable to do so, they may reclaim the costs of taking those steps.

I thought it useful to run through that process. Remedial notices are a crucial part of the enforcement picture, in that they allow for the end that we all want to reach, which is for there to be compliance with conditions. In other words, conditions set out for restocking should be complied with, and the process allows us to have confidence that there is a mechanism to do that. However, remedial notices do not interfere with the ability to refer offences to the procurator fiscal. That option is open to ministers at any point in the process.

09:45  



The first of my proposed changes is to make it clear that remedial notices may have conditions attached to them. That proposed change, which is dealt with by amendment 85 and the consequential amendments 81, 84, 86, 89, 97 and 100, will bring remedial notices into line with felling and restocking directions and will ensure that the Scottish ministers are able to specify in regulations what the conditions that are attached to remedial notices can include.

The second of my proposed changes is to bring remedial notices into line with permissions and directions as far as the ability to register is concerned. Amendments 87, 88 and 101 seek to do that by enabling registration; by underpinning registered remedial notices with an offence of failure to comply; and by providing for appeals to be made against refusal to vary or discharge a notice. The consequential amendments 47, 48, 52, 55, 57 to 80, 82, 83, 90 to 92, 98, 99 and 114 are important in ensuring that remedial notices can be enforced in the same way as permissions and directions under the bill.

Peter Chapman’s amendments 75A, 78A, 81A, 84A, 85A, 86A, 87A, 89A, 97A and 100A seek to insert the word “reasonable” into all the Government amendments that insert references to conditions on remedial notices. I reassure the committee that ministers are bound to act reasonably in exercising all their powers. [Laughter.] Why that stimulates jocularity is a matter for members. We are bound by the law to act reasonably in exercising all our powers, including all those that are set out in the bill.

The power relating to the imposition of remedial notices and the inclusion of conditions is a discretionary power. All discretionary powers that ministers have must be exercised in accordance with the rules of administrative law, which means that they must be exercised in a manner that is reasonable and proportionate, and for proper purposes. In Scotland, the Court of Session has judicial oversight, and decisions may be challenged through the process of judicial review. That has happened not infrequently, and “reasonableness” is at the very heart of that process. If a power is exercised in a manner—to paraphrase Lord Greene in the so-called Wednesbury case—that is so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to that decision, the courts may interfere and hold that decision to be outwith the scope of the power that was conferred by Parliament.

I am very pleased that, in relation to decisions that I have taken over the years—I can think of four, which I will not name—the courts have eventually decided that I acted reasonably in all circumstances. That irrelevant personal observation aside—

The Convener

I am glad that you said that, cabinet secretary.

Fergus Ewing

That is an illustration of the fact that such matters are taken seriously.

I assume that Mr Chapman lodged his amendments with the laudable aim of protecting the regulated from unreasonable actions by their regulator, but I believe that, instead of providing clarity or reassurance, the addition of the word “reasonable” might cause confusion. After all, if one provides, in some circumstances, that ministers must act reasonably, that begs the question whether there is a difference between those circumstances and circumstances in which ministers have other discretionary powers in relation to the use of which the word “reasonable” does not appear. It begs the question whether different degrees of duty have been imposed on ministers.

Although I am absolutely certain that Mr Chapman’s amendments are well intentioned, given that that potential for confusion exists, I respectfully invite him not to move his amendments.

I move amendment 47.

Peter Chapman

I will speak to my amendments 75A, 84A, 85A, 86A, 87A, 97A and 100A.

Although we support the addition of remedial notices and registered remedial notices, we do not agree with the wording

“a remedial notice (including any condition imposed on it)”.

We think that that should read “including any reasonable condition imposed on it”. We feel that the provision is too wide.

Putting the word “reasonable” before the word “condition” means that the condition imposed under the bill would have to relate to forestry. I would argue that adding “reasonable” to the conditions imposed on registered remedial notices would make for conditions that are fair and proportionate. As the cabinet secretary said, the Government is bound to act in a reasonable manner, so I take it from that that he can have no objection to the word “reasonable” appearing in the bill in the various provisions to which my amendments relate.

Stewart Stevenson

There is always a temptation to take a blanket approach to these things but, unfortunately, that leads us into temptations that we should avoid. I particularly want to look at amendment 84A, where the addition of the word “reasonable” would have the opposite effect to that which Mr Chapman suggested.

Mr Chapman said that the power is too wide and that the word “reasonable” needs to be added to amend it. As introduced, the bill states:

“The Scottish Ministers may vary or revoke a remedial notice.”

If we add the cabinet secretary’s amendment, that becomes:

“The Scottish Ministers may vary or revoke a remedial notice (including any condition imposed on it)”.

When we add the word “reasonable”, it becomes:

“The Scottish Ministers may vary or revoke a remedial notice (including any reasonable condition imposed on it)”.

In other words, that would deny the Scottish ministers the opportunity to revoke a condition that was not reasonable. The addition of the word “reasonable” would therefore restrict the power to revoke a remedial notice.

One might make a logical case for adding the word “reasonable”, but we have to go back to the legislation and look at the effect of every individual word that we add. I focus on amendment 84A only to exemplify the dangers of what Mr Chapman is proposing because it would have the opposite effect to the one that I think he seeks. I cannot support the amendment because it would restrict the ability to revoke remedial notices that Mr Chapman or others might conclude were not reasonable.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

For a moment, I thought that I was on the set of the comedy production “Yes Minister” during that discussion about when the word “reasonable” actually means “unreasonable”. I am astonished to hear the cabinet secretary and Stewart Stevenson make a marvellous case to make the word “reasonable” sound unreasonable. I do not accept that proposition. If they are moved, I will support Peter Chapman’s amendments, which are full of reasonableness. I cannot think of better amendments that we have seen in this whole process. They would restrict ministers’ actions and would put that into law. I heard the cabinet secretary say that ministers are required by law to act reasonably—of course they are—but let us not forget that this is the law. We are making the law and putting it into black and white for the avoidance of doubt. To have to go to court to see whether ministers are acting reasonably or have not acted unreasonably would—

Stewart Stevenson

Will the member take an intervention?

Mike Rumbles

No, I think that you have had your say.

Stewart Stevenson

I have a question for the member.

Mike Rumbles

I am commenting on the minister’s comments.

It would be strange to have to go to court to prove that ministers were not acting unreasonably, whereas there could be a requirement in black and white in the bill, which will become an act of the Parliament, for the minister to act reasonably with regard to the notices.

I go back to where I started. I thought that I was on the set of “Yes Minister” when I heard the English language being turned on its head. I am full of reasonableness and am a reasonable person, so I will certainly support Mr Chapman’s reasonable amendments.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I quite often think that I am on the set of “Yes Minister” when I hear Mr Rumbles speak.

I am also a member of the Justice Committee, which transacts a lot of business that places certain demands on ministers, and I have to say that we would be dealing with an endless number of amendments if we had to insert the word “reasonable” every time. We heard from Stewart Stevenson a very graphic and practical reason why we should not support Peter Chapman’s amendments, and I will not support them.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I know that Mr Rumbles is always a reasonable man, but I think that he just destroyed his own case. I am concerned that a lawyer will have a field day with that word, so I will support neither Mr Chapman nor the reasonable Mr Rumbles.

The Convener

I want to make an observation before I hand back to the cabinet secretary. As a remedial notice issued under the bill will have to come with reasonable conditions, there is no way that any conditions that are not reasonable can be removed, because they will not have been put in the notice in the first place. I think, therefore, that there is a very good argument for inserting the word “reasonable”, and I will support Peter Chapman’s amendments.

Fergus Ewing

I will make just three points. First, if Mr Chapman’s amendments are accepted, we will be adopting in this statute an approach that is entirely inconsistent with the approach that we have taken in the Parliament and, indeed, that has been taken in the history of parliamentary draftsmanship. As I have said, such an approach is also unnecessary, given that the law extant in the UK is based on the Wednesbury test, and it will create confusion.

Moreover, there would, even in the bill, be unintended consequences. Mr Chapman’s imposition of the word “reasonable” would apply to some matters and not to others. I am thinking of section 31, which confers quite wide powers on ministers if it appears that the felling of trees is required. For example, under section 31(6)(d), any regulations that are made may include

“the imposition of conditions on a felling direction”.

Had Mr Rumbles seriously intended that a consistent approach be taken, the word “reasonable” should have appeared before the word “conditions” in that provision; after all, he would argue that the implication would be that we could act in unreasonable ways in felling directions. The approach therefore creates inconsistency even within the bill, because we would be explicitly bound to act reasonably in the case of remedial notices but not in other cases. Surely that is inconsistent and not something that any reasonably minded member would be liable to support.

Finally, the way in which Mr Chapman has worded his amendments leads to another presumably unintended consequence, which is that we would still be able to impose unreasonable remedial notices—we just would not be able to register them. The result of Mr Chapman’s amendments is that we would be able to impose but not register unreasonable conditions, and I submit that that would certainly be unreasonable—and perhaps even perverse.

Amendment 47 agreed to.

Section 22, as amended, agreed to.

Section 23—Offence of unauthorised felling

Amendments 133 to 135 not moved.

Amendment 48 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 23, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 24 to 26 agreed to.

10:00  



Section 27—Decisions on applications

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on the continuation of conditions on felling permissions. Amendment 49, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendment 50.

Fergus Ewing

I am grateful for the committee’s consideration of the provisions in the bill relating to registration, and I hope that our discussion on 13 September served to clarify the intention behind the powers to register notices. Specifically, they are about ensuring that the conditions that ministers, as the forestry regulator, place on a piece of land bind future owners, with the entire focus on ensuring that conditions—or, as the case may be, directions—can be enforced, regardless of the number of changes in ownership that there have been, and that conditions come up in solicitors’ ordinary property searches when a piece of land is being purchased.

Conditions are familiar to the forestry sector and routinely set out restocking requirements and timeframes. They may also set out how to ensure that operations respect buffer areas around certain rivers while salmon are spawning, for example, or stipulate that no operations may occur near capercaillie core areas during the breeding season. There could also be longer-term conditions relating to the management of important open space in a forest area to stop unwanted encroachment by natural regeneration of invasive species such as rhododendron.

As suggested, I have considered how best to ensure the proportionate and cost and resource-effective use of powers to register notices. At stage 1, the committee alluded to the risk-based approach to registration—which relates to the fact that it is a power and not an obligation to register in all instances—and the issue has now been given further thought. I consider a risk-based approach to registration to be the best way of using the power to ensure compliance with conditions such as restocking requirements on a felling permission. In future, owners will be required to advise the local conservancy of any plans to put their forest property on the market, and that will be a trigger for a conservancy—in other words, the new forestry division operating locally—to consider whether there are any conditions that require to be registered.

Amendment 49 seeks to put beyond any doubt that conditions can, on top of all the familiar conditions that I have mentioned, require those using felling permissions to provide information to ministers. The type of information that we envisage will be required might relate to, for example, the preparations for a sale of land so that ministers can take a risk-based approach to registering conditions. Amendment 50 makes it clear that the regulations on providing further information on how decisions will be made on felling permissions may include detail on how such requests for information will operate.

I believe that, taken together, the amendments support the proportionate use of the power to register that the committee rightly asked for, and I am pleased that Confor and Scottish Land & Estates, which had some initial reservations about registration, agree that this is the correct approach.

I move amendment 49.

Amendment 49 agreed to.

Amendment 50 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 27, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 28 and 29 agreed to.

Section 30—Felling of trees subject to tree preservation orders

The Convener

The next group is on the felling of trees subject to tree preservation orders. Amendment 51, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 53 and 54.

Fergus Ewing

Tree preservation orders—TPOs, as they are known—are used by planning authorities to protect trees in their areas in the interests of amenity or because they are of cultural or historical significance. As TPOs can impose prohibitions on the cutting down and lopping of trees, for example, there could be an overlap with the forestry felling regime. At the moment, however, such an overlap does not often occur.

Usually, TPOs are put in place when trees are currently subject to felling exemptions. Gardens, orchards and churchyards are currently exempt, as is the felling of small volumes of timber. As I have outlined, we are working with the sector to review the exemptions and, where appropriate, refine them. We expect the overlap to remain limited; however, to ensure that a person who wants to fell in an area where both regimes apply does not need to apply for permission twice, amendment 51 provides the Scottish ministers with the ability to refer an application to fell to the planning authority that made the TPO. If ministers decide to determine the application instead, amendment 51 preserves the requirement to consult the planning authority that made the TPO and to take account of its representations. It also disapplies the offence of felling without permission for actions taken in accordance with the TPO consent after such a referral, which is in line with current practice.

Amendment 54 requires ministers to consult a planning authority before issuing a felling direction if the direction relates to a tree that is subject to a TPO. That brings the felling direction provisions in line with the felling permission provisions. Amendment 53 is consequential to amendment 54.

I move amendment 51.

Amendment 51 agreed to.

Amendments 52 and 53 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 30, as amended, agreed to.

Section 31—Felling directions

Amendment 54 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 31, as amended, agreed to.

Section 32 agreed to.

Section 33—Restocking directions

Amendment 55 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 33, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 34 to 36 agreed to.

Section 37—Registration of notices of variation

The Convener

The next group is on the definition of “owner”. Amendment 56, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 109 and 113.

Fergus Ewing

Amendment 109 defines what is meant by “owner” for the purposes of the bill. Amendment 113 is consequential to amendment 109. We are seeking to define “owner” for the purposes of the bill in order to put it beyond doubt that, when ownership has transferred by a means that does not trigger a change to the title sheet of the land register, we mean it to refer to the most recent owner. For example, when ownership is transferred on inheritance, that is often carried out by docket transfer, with no change to the title.

Amendment 56 replaces “each owner” with “the owner” in section 37, regarding registration of notices of variation. The term “the owner” is used throughout the rest of the bill. The effect of amendment 56 is to bring section 37 into line with other sections.

I move amendment 56.

Amendment 56 agreed to.

Amendments 57 to 64 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 37, as amended, agreed to.

Section 38—Registration of notices of discharge from compliance

Amendments 65 to 71 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 38, as amended, agreed to.

Section 39—Meaning of “register” in Chapters 6 and 7

Amendment 72 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 39, as amended, agreed to.

Section 40—Registration of notices under Chapters 6 and 7: descriptions of land

Amendment 73 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 40, as amended, agreed to.

Section 41—Receipt of notices under Chapters 6 and 7 by Keeper

Amendment 74 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 41, as amended, agreed to.

Section 42—Requests for information

Amendment 75 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 75A moved—[Peter Chapman].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 75A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con))
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 4, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 75A disagreed to.

Amendment 75 agreed to.

Amendments 76 and 77 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 42, as amended, agreed to.

Section 43 agreed to.

Section 44—Site visits with consent of owner or occupier

Amendment 78 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 78A not moved.

Amendment 78 agreed to.

Amendment 79 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 44, as amended, agreed to.

Section 45—Power of entry: unauthorised felling

Amendment 80 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 45, as amended, agreed to.

Section 46 agreed to.

Section 47—Power of entry: failure to comply

10:15  



Amendment 81 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 81A not moved.

Amendment 81 agreed to.

Amendments 82 and 83 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 47, as amended, agreed to.

Section 48—Remedial notices

Amendment 84 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 84A not moved.

Amendment 84 agreed to.

Amendment 85 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 85A not moved.

Amendment 85 agreed to.

Section 48, as amended, agreed to.

Section 49—Remedial notices: offence

Amendment 86 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 86A not moved.

Amendment 86 agreed to.

Section 49, as amended, agreed to.

After section 49

Amendment 87 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 87A not moved.

Amendment 87 agreed to.

Amendment 88 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 50 agreed to.

Section 51—Step-in power

Amendment 89 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 89A not moved.

Amendment 89 agreed to.

Amendments 90 to 92 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 51, as amended, agreed to.

Section 52—Powers of entry and step-in power: application to court

The Convener

The next group is on powers of entry and step-in power. Amendment 93, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 94 to 96.

Fergus Ewing

Amendment 93 adds summary sheriffs to the list of persons who, under section 52, can issue warrants to authorise entry to land where entry “has been refused” or is “reasonably expected” to be refused, where “the land is unoccupied” or where the owner “is temporarily absent”. That means that the full list of those who can issue warrants for the purposes of section 52 would be sheriffs, summary sheriffs and justices of the peace. It is Government policy to include summary sheriffs in provisions for the granting of warrants such as those in section 52.

Amendment 94 is consequential to amendment 93.

Amendment 96 has the effect that references to “the Scottish Ministers” in sections relating to site visits, powers of entry and step-in powers, will include

“persons authorised ... by the Scottish Ministers”.

That means that ministers will be able to use contractors or consultants, as the need arises—for example, to carry out site visits to check compliance with conditions relating to a protected site.

Amendment 95 is consequential to amendment 96.

I move amendment 93.

Amendment 93 agreed to.

Amendment 94 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 52, as amended, agreed to.

Section 53 agreed to.

Section 54—Powers of entry and step-in power: further provision

Amendments 95 and 96 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 54, as amended, agreed to.

Section 55—Step-in power: recovery of expenses

Amendment 97 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 97A not moved.

Amendment 97 agreed to.

Amendment 98 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 55, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 56 to 58 agreed to.

Section 59—Time limit for prosecution

Amendment 99 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 59, as amended, agreed to.

Section 60—Appeals against decisions by Scottish Ministers

Amendment 100 moved—[Fergus Ewing].

Amendment 100A not moved.

Amendment 100 agreed to.

Amendment 101 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 60, as amended, agreed to.

Section 61—Information, research and education etc

The Convener

The next group is on information, research and education. Amendment 13, in the name of Peter Chapman, is the only amendment in the group.

Peter Chapman

In my opinion, amendment 13 is important. It would change the word “may” to “must” in section 61, which would mean that ministers must carry out research. We have spoken to many stakeholders who all agreed that there will never be a time when we do not need more research and education on tree health.

I move amendment 13.

Stewart Stevenson

The effect of changing “may” to “must” would be extremely slight. Were the bill to say “must”, the Scottish ministers would need to do research only once. That would be the effect. We know that research of the kind that is described is being undertaken: in a practical sense, the effect of the amendment would be that it would need to be done only once.

Fergus Ewing

Research, development and education are extremely important functions in respect of forestry. The Scottish Government is committed to carrying out those functions as appropriate. I can inform members that in 2016-17, the Scottish Government, through the Forestry Commission Scotland, commissioned nearly £1 million of Scotland-specific research and development. I have the full details here, but I wanted to start off with that clear commitment.

Although I appreciate what Peter Chapman is trying to achieve with amendment 13, I would like to offer an alternative approach, which I believe is to be preferred. I am also concerned that the amendment would oblige Scottish ministers to carry out functions even when the functions are not necessary. I acknowledge that that may seem unlikely when it comes to research into tree health; we are sadly unlikely to run out of avenues for research on that front in any of our lifetimes.

However, amendment 13 covers much more than research: it covers all the matters that are listed in section 61, to which members may wish to refer. It was necessary to draft section 61 quite broadly because the provisions are intended to be enabling in nature, but amendment 13 would oblige ministers to do all of the following: to

“conduct research and inquiries ... collect data and publish statistics ... provide education and training”

and

“encourage or assist other persons to do any of”

those things in the exercise of the bill’s functions.

Furthermore, amendment 13 would apply to all the ministers’ functions under the bill. Amendment 13 therefore goes much wider than, for example, the duty to carry out research into tree health or to provide training for machine operators in forestry, which I believe may be the intention behind the amendment. Such research and training are vital and are currently carried out without such an obligation being in place. The Forestry Act 1967 does not place such a duty on the forestry commissioners but, rather, enables them to carry out such work. As the duty would apply to all ministers’ functions under the bill, it would include functions relating to the management of non-forested land and to the regulatory functions that we have discussed in relation to the previous groups.

Even in relation to the forestry parts of the bill, it is unclear what amendment 13 would mean. Consider, for example, an obligation to provide education and training in connection with the duty to prepare a forestry strategy. That duty rests on Scottish ministers—currently, on me. Maybe Mr Chapman believes that I need to be educated or trained prior to undertaking the duty that would be imposed on me in order to prepare the forestry strategy. That is what his amendment would mean, but I presume that that is not something that he had in mind when he lodged it. Ministers may well consider it appropriate that the strategy includes material on education and training in the forestry sector, but that is not the same as a duty to provide education and training in connection with the duty to prepare the strategy.

A second example of the difficulties is that amendment 13 would oblige ministers to assist others personally, which would, again, have consequences that were, I presume, unintended. For example, the private sector has an obligation to collect data and publish statistics. Amendment 13 would impose an obligation on ministers to provide assistance in that, which might have the effect of imposing obligations on taxpayers to cover expenses that properly should be covered by private sector businesses. Again, I do not think that Mr Chapman intends that that be the case, but it would be a consequence because of how the amendment is framed and the wording of section 61.

Nonetheless, I understand the motivation behind amendment 13, and I have sympathy with anyone who is attempting to provide a sure footing for important issues. I am committed to ensuring that tree health research continues at the levels that we need. Indeed, on the day of the stage 1 debate, we announced that Forest Research would continue as an agency of the forestry commissioners: I will visit the Forest Research station at the Bush estate tomorrow.

I would prefer to work with Mr Chapman between now and stage 3 to develop a duty that focuses on having suitable arrangements in place to carry out tree health research. An amendment that focuses on maintaining or improving our capacity would be a proportionate way forward. I point out that ministers have agreed across the UK an equitable split of the £11 million core budget for cross-border functions, which is currently held in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The majority of that funding relates to research, which would be carried out in accordance with the published “Science and innovation strategy for forestry in Great Britain”.

10:30  



The Convener

Jamie Greene has asked to come in; I will let him do that. If any other member wants to come in before I ask Peter Chapman to wind up, let me know.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

After listening to the cabinet secretary with great interest, I have a few points to make on amendment 13.

The cabinet secretary has identified a technicality issue with changing the word “may” to “must”. Would it place a duty on the minister as an individual to undertake the activities that are listed in section 61(a) to (d)—including research, education and publishing data—or would it create a duty on the minister to ensure that they take place? I am unsure, so I ask for clarification.

In essence, I support what Peter Chapman is trying to achieve. It is up to him whether to press the amendment. However, in much of the evidence that we have taken, different factions have expressed genuine concern about the restructuring of the Forestry Commission Scotland and its becoming, in essence, a Government department. Those witnesses said that it is vital that we protect some of the commission’s key functions, including publishing data, providing education and training, and conducting research.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s proposal to strengthen the bill. The problem with the word “may” is that it also means that Scottish ministers may not do what is outlined in the section. Peter Chapman is trying to strengthen section 61 to ensure that those current functions of the Forestry Commission are not lost as a result of the bill or any restructuring that takes place. That is why I am keen to support his amendment 13.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, there was a question there, which I will give you a chance to answer. However, I will let Mike Rumbles speak first.

Mike Rumbles

Section 61 is an enabling section. It seems reasonable to me that the minister is being enabled to do all that it says, so I am perfectly happy with the word “may” rather than an instruction such as “must”.

Stewart Stevenson said that if we put the word “must” into section 61, ministers would have to do what it says only once, but if we leave the word “may” in it, they would not have to do it at all. However, I trust the cabinet secretary and other ministers to operate under this enabling legislation. I do not trust everything that ministers do, but I do in this case, so I am happy not to support amendment 13.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, would you like answer Jamie Greene’s question?

Fergus Ewing

I am sorry, but I did not quite catch it. I wonder whether he could reframe it for my benefit.

Jamie Greene

I am happy to. It was probably more an observation. It concerned your statement that changing the word “may” to “must” would mean that the duties would be on the minister as an individual as opposed to on the minister and his department.

Fergus Ewing

The objection to using the word “must” is that the obligation would then be to carry out research regardless of whether it was required. There is no question: we require research. We must have research because of the threats to tree health by Hylobius, for example. It is one of the biggest worries in forestry, as members know and as I am sure the committee has heard from stakeholders. There is no question about that. Our concern was that using the word “must” would mean that we had an obligation to carry out research of any sort, whether or not it is required.

I reassure members that the function will, in essence, be carried out at UK level. We have reached an agreement with the UK Government and the Welsh Administration about how that will be done. We have reached an agreement about how the budget should be allocated, and we have agreed that the various Administrations will take the lead in specific areas. We have agreed that the Welsh Government will take the lead on research; that the research that is to be carried out will be determined by all the relevant bodies, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations; and that it will be done in accordance with the “Science and innovation strategy for forestry in Great Britain”. There is already a settled approach to conducting research, and many excellent staff in Scotland are working on that.

John Finnie

I am reassured by what you have said about the collaborative work that will be done at GB level. Can you confirm that part of the liaison regarding research will be done on an international basis?

Fergus Ewing

Of course. Scientists have regard to all the evidence, regardless of where it is gathered. It is important for scientists to look at the work of others across Europe and beyond, as they do. Mr Finnie makes an important point.

The Convener

I invite Peter Chapman to wind up and to indicate whether he wishes to press amendment 13 or to withdraw it.

Peter Chapman

I absolutely believe that “may” is not a strong enough word to use in section 61. I do not understand Stewart Stevenson’s point. He said that if “must” were used, ministers would have to do the specified activities only once, which does not seem to be a logical argument.

However, I accept the cabinet secretary’s point about the effect of my amendment on section 61(d), which could result in private companies being encouraged or assisted to undertake some of the activities that are mentioned, which was not my intention.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s offer to work with me. I think that section 61 needs to be strengthened, but if Mr Ewing is minded to work to achieve a better solution, I am prepared to accept that offer, and so seek to withdraw amendment 13.

Amendment 13, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 61 agreed to.

Sections 62 to 64 agreed to.

After section 64

The Convener

The next group of amendments is on organisational structures. Amendment 102, in the name of Rhoda Grant, is grouped with amendments 103 to 105, 107, 108 and 136.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

When we took evidence on the bill, there was concern that the new structures would mean a loss of the Forestry Commission’s well-regarded forestry expertise. The Government has ignored the pleas not to change the structures. My amendments attempt to protect forestry expertise and keep the new organisation rooted in the industry and the communities that it will serve.

Amendment 102 seeks to create the post of chief forester. It is modelled on the statutory provision that requires local authorities to have certain professional heads of service, such as a chief finance officer, a chief education officer and a chief social work officer. It establishes a requirement for such a post but leaves ministers to specify in regulations what professional qualifications would be mandatory for anyone who sought to occupy the post. Under amendment 107, those regulations would be subject to the negative procedure.

Amendment 103 is similar to amendment 102, but it seeks to create the post of area forester. It does not prescribe the areas—it leaves that to the Scottish ministers. As I understand it, there are currently five divisions, which could be designated as areas to be covered by area foresters. Amendment 103 allows ministers to specify in regulations what qualifications or experience the prospective postholder would be required to have. Under amendment 105, those regulations would be subject to the negative procedure.

Amendment 104 seeks to put in place a national advisory group, which would not be a formal commission but a group that ministers could appoint to advise them. Once again, the amendment is designed to keep forestry rooted in the economic environment and social principles that should guide our forestry policy.

Amendment 105 sets up similar local groups in areas that could follow current forestry divisions.

I hope that those amendments will keep the best of what the industry and communities cherish in the Forestry Commission, keeping the management of forestry close to its stakeholders by giving them a real say in policy making.

I turn to amendment 136, in the name of Claudia Beamish. One of the most contentious parts of the bill is the part that is not included. I support amendment 136, which provides for the publication of the Government structures so that they can be scrutinised, which would give some comfort to those in the industry.

I move amendment 102.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Good morning. I speak in support of amendment 136, about which my office and other offices have had considerable dialogue with some stakeholders in the lead-up to the meeting.

In its stage 1 report, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee recommended that Scottish ministers should set out details of how they should manage and administer their forestry responsibilities and that members should also consult on and notify the Parliament of any significant future change in those arrangements. The committee also noted that stakeholders had expressed wide-ranging concerns about the separation of the functions of the Forestry Commission.

I would like to quote some of the consultation responses to the bill. The first question of the consultation was:

“Our proposals are for a dedicated Forestry Division in the Scottish Government (SG) and an Executive Agency to manage the NFE. Do you agree with this approach?”

The consultation analysis says:

“Around 5 in 20 respondents agreed with the proposal, while 13 in 20 disagreed, and around 2 in 20 did not answer the question.”

I am not sure how it could be “around” five, but they are not my words. It states that, among organisational respondents,

“The three most frequently-made points by those disagreeing with the proposals were that the management of Scotland’s forests:

  • Should be or remain independent and be the responsibility of a stand-alone organisation which is separate from government.

  • Should be managed by forestry experts/professionals, rather than by civil servants.

  • Should sit within a single organisation and not be divided between two different bodies.”

Amendment 136 seeks to reflect the committee’s recommendations, as I have understood them, and to address the concerns that have been expressed by some stakeholders, including the Forestry Commission Scotland staff union, by requiring ministers to lay before the Parliament a report setting out the administrative arrangements they intend to make for the carrying out of their functions under the bill. That would include the arrangements intended for the establishment of any agency, its governance, the different roles and responsibilities of senior officers, the financial accountability, the establishment of advisory groups and the exercising of the power to form companies and so on under section 62. The amendment would also require ministers to consult appropriate persons on any future significant amendments and to notify the Scottish Parliament.

As I have highlighted, several forestry stakeholders have raised concerns about the new arrangements. They have explained their belief that Scotland’s forests should sit within one organisation. As I said, that issue was raised in the consultation on the bill.

I have not lodged an amendment to directly address that issue, partly because I do not sit on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—I wish to show respect to the committee—but also partly due to advice that I have received about the legislative complexities. I do not wish to lodge an amendment that could be in any way construed as a wrecking amendment.

However, stakeholders are concerned about the bill’s proposals that could sacrifice the long-established brand identity, the culture of joint working and knowledge sharing and the practical attitude of the current organisational arrangements.

It would be welcome if the cabinet secretary were able to address those concerns, which—as he will be aware—were raised at the consultation stage. Amendment 136 is an attempt to address those concerns constructively. Although I live in hope that the cabinet secretary might consider accepting the amendment, I appreciate that that might be a tall order at stage 2. Nevertheless, if the cabinet secretary were to consider, before stage 3, holding discussions on the issue of a single organisation with those who continue to express those concerns, I would be keen to participate.

Although I do not have a vote, I also support Rhoda Grant’s amendments, which I think will enable a more outward-looking arrangement, especially if there is a chief forester to oversee things.

10:45  



Jamie Greene

I thank Rhoda Grant and Claudia Beamish for lodging their amendments. I will start with amendment 102, on the creation of a chief forester. I believe that the aim of appointing a chief forester reflects a view that was taken in the committee’s stage 1 report. It is a necessary function and a welcome addition to the bill, so I support amendment 102, in the name of Rhoda Grant.

However, I have concerns about amendments 103, 104 and 105. Putting in primary legislation that we must appoint area foresters is, in my view, a step too far in creating additional and perhaps unnecessary bureaucracy in the organisational structures of the future agency. I believe that the division of Scotland into administrative areas for forestry may be unnecessary when looking at a national outlook and strategy. I believe that decisions should be taken by the chief forester, which is why I am happy to support amendment 102, which would create such a role, but I think that, in putting area foresters into primary legislation, we would be setting in law a structure that might not meet the future governance needs of forestry.

In a similar tone, amendments 104 and 105 concern the creation of a national advisory group and local partnership groups. I have absolutely no doubt that Rhoda Grant has good intentions behind those amendments, but I feel that what those amendments propose would add unnecessary bureaucracy to proceedings. In any case, they could have unintended consequences in the sense that decisions made by future Governments could be hindered or disrupted if there were too many layers and levels in the decision-making process.

That said, I am happy to support amendment 107, which reverts regulatory powers to the chief forester. That amendment supports amendment 102, which creates that role, and it logically places regulatory responsibilities on that new role, if it goes ahead. However, I cannot support amendment 108, because it links back to the creation of the area foresters, which I do not support.

Finally, I will address amendment 136, in the name of Claudia Beamish. In my view, it is a welcome addition to the bill that addresses many of the concerns that we heard about over the course of stage 1 proceedings. I pay particular attention to proposed new subsection (3B), which I believe would increase accountability and scrutiny on the part of the Parliament of the Government’s next steps as it makes the bold move of integrating the Forestry Commission’s functions into its own departments. It also includes welcome additions to address some of the concerns that we heard about from witnesses concerning the loss of expertise, restructuring and the financial reporting and accountability of the department, as listed in proposed new subsection (3B). I would, therefore, be happy to support amendment 136. I also think that the cabinet secretary should take heed of the general comments that Claudia Beamish has made about the intention behind the amendment.

John Finnie

I speak in support of the amendments in the names of my colleagues Rhoda Grant and Claudia Beamish.

On amendment 104, we heard that there is a lot of affection for the Forestry Commission as it is presently structured, but we also heard concerns about the potential absorption of the commission into the Scottish Government and the potential loss of forestry expertise and professionalism.

Amendment 102 is entirely in line with not only what was said in the stage 1 report but also, as Rhoda Grant said, local authorities’ positions. It is also entirely in line with the views of people involved in the Scottish Government, such as the chief medical officer, the chief scientist and the chief planner.

On amendment 103, it will surprise no one that the Green Party wants things to be done from the local level up. Rather than there being an exclusive focus on the central functions, it is important that there is a clear responsibility laid out for the area. I therefore take issue with Jamie Greene’s view that the amendment is not needed. That approach will always be needed. There is no point in having central functions unless there is something to oversee.

Jamie Greene

I share the view that decisions can and should be made at a local level. However, should it not be for the chief forester to make decisions about how he organises his team structurally instead of having that imposed on him in primary legislation? That is why there is a concern around the creation of area foresters.

John Finnie

Whoever the person—he or she—who assumes that role might be, it is important that the Parliament gives a clear steer that local decision making is important. That could be followed by a more strategic approach.

I hope that the Scottish Government will support the creation of a national advisory group. That would be entirely consistent with decisions that it has taken in relation to other matters—the committee has dealt with issues around the National Council of Rural Advisers, for instance.

I will support amendment 105, although I have some concerns about subsection 1(b), which deals with the establishment of working groups. I hope that that can be looked at creatively, as a number of local fora exist that could fulfil some if not the vast majority of those functions. Again, the proposal is entirely in line with the design that we are looking for. We want collaborative local working.

I will say no more about Claudia Beamish’s amendment than that I fully support it and the direction that it would take us in.

Stewart Stevenson

I will pick up on wording again. Amendment 102 talks about the chief forester “assisting and advising” Scottish ministers. I might know what is meant by “advising”, but I am not quite sure what is meant by “assisting”. Amendment 104 says that the national advisory group will simply advise ministers—it does not use the word “assist”. Amendment 105 talks about the ministers being assisted and advised.

Leaving aside the immense burden of the hugely complex—that is just my personal view—oversight that appears to be desired, what will happen when the pieces of advice from those different levels are in conflict with each other? There would be a mandatory requirement for advice to be taken. If we were to accept the proposals in total—

John Finnie

Would you not accept that that is day-to-day politics? Ministers are often compelled to make decisions on the basis of competing pieces of advice.

Stewart Stevenson

Of course, and ministers discharging their responsibilities under this legislation—and many other pieces of legislation—would wish to consult and take advice, because anything that helps ministers to do the best job that they can do is to be welcomed.

However, I am not clear why we should create a structure in which the national advisory group, in particular, can be seen to undercut and cut across the functions of a chief forester. I think that that is not a comfortable place to be legislatively. Local partnership groups could be in conflict with the national advisory group, and that is not particularly helpful. I would have thought that, if you were going to create structures like this, there should be empowerment of local decision making, as there is at the moment and as there would be even if we did not pass any of the amendments.

I just think that the construct is difficult; I am not necessarily tackling the wider issues of principle, which we will hear about from the minister. If we were to pass all the proposals, the construct could be a recipe for unhelpful conflicts. I also do not know what the word “assisting” means.

Mike Rumbles

I am always astonished by the contributions of my colleague Stewart Stevenson, and I am astonished that he does not know what the word “assisting” means. It is perfectly obvious to me what “assisting and advising” ministers is all about—but there we are.

I am also astonished to be in complete agreement with my colleague John Finnie.

John Finnie

Maybe I should check my notes.

Mike Rumbles

Obviously, he is also astonished by that. I am with him 100 per cent on everything that he has said on the issue, which is really important. The amendments reflect the evidence that we received at stage 1 and the stage 1 report that we produced, and I hope that the minister will accept them.

We have not heard the minister’s response yet, but I understand that ministers can find a reason to reject any Opposition amendment through focusing on a particular word because it could cause confusion or difficulties and that they can persuade members to vote against such amendments. As I said, we have not heard the minister’s response yet—indeed, I could be completely surprised by what he says; he could say that the amendments are really good and that the Government accepts them—but I would prefer to see amendments 102 to 105 and 107, 108 and 136 in the bill. If the minister thinks that they could be improved at stage 3, I would still prefer to see them included in the bill at this stage, because they reflect the evidence that we have received, the committee report that we produced, and probably—although we do not know this yet—the views of the majority of committee members. I hope that we will see the amendments included in the bill. If the minister thinks that they need to be tweaked, he can lodge amendments that we can all support at stage 3.

Peter Chapman

It appears that there is a lot of astonishment around the table. I reflect that to some extent, because I am quite astonished that I agree with a lot of what of Stewart Stevenson has said. I am not so astonished that I agree with my colleague Jamie Greene, as that is almost expected, but I agree that the chief forester position received wide support when the committee took evidence. Many stakeholders agreed that that is an important post to put in place. Therefore, I agree with amendment 102, but I do not agree with amendments 103 to 105. The process would be too bureaucratic and cumbersome, and it would add another level of complication. Too many layers can stop things happening.

Amendment 107 is okay, because it refers back to the chief forester, but I do not agree with amendment 108.

I welcome and support Claudia Beamish’s amendment 136. It would be a fair addition to the bill, and there is a lot of support for it out there. The union people in particular are certainly keen to see something along those lines included in the bill.

Fergus Ewing

I thank Rhoda Grant and Claudia Beamish for lodging their amendments, for the way in which they have spoken to them, and for the whole tone of the debate.

I will start off with a very clear response to Mr Rumbles’s invitation. I have quite a lot to say, some of which is intended for the consumption of people around Scotland who work for Forestry Commission Scotland or Forest Enterprise Scotland. I want to place that on the record to provide reassurances to them, and that may take some time. However, for the sake of clarity, I make an undertaking to members that I will continue, as we did prior to stage 2, to work closely with all members prior to stage 3 with a view to going as far as we possibly can to meet members’ desires and, in particular, to bring some of the proposals into the bill if we can. I start off with that undertaking—in this non-scripted part of my remarks—as I very much want to continue the way that we have been working thus far. We can make progress on many aspects.

11:00  



I fully recognise the importance of ensuring that people who have the right professional skills, knowledge and experience are engaged in the development and the delivery of forestry in Scotland.

A concern about centralisation exists. Over the summer, I visited all the conservancies, and I heard that concern from individuals. I want to make it absolutely clear that we will not be bringing in people from the local offices to work in the centre. We value people who work in the conservancies. They work locally, that work is essential, and it is essential that they continue to do that work. Meeting them in person allowed me to see how important that was, so I am grateful for the opportunity to state that today.

I want to go further. I want to expand on the existing skills development mechanisms within Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland, and continue to involve foresters and other professionals in the discharge of the Scottish Government’s forestry function.

Our proposed structure is to establish a dedicated division and to retain an agency, which we will call forestry and land Scotland. Both will be part of the Scottish Government. That is as close to a lift and shift of the current arrangements as possible. We are transferring the functions of forestry commissioners to Scottish ministers and transferring the existing staff to undertake the functions.

The decisions on the new structures that I announced in May preserve—they do not disrupt or separate—the distinction between the two entities, Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland. Therefore, we will retain two entities.

I am not suggesting that this has been the case today, but some criticism has been based on a false premise that there is one entity at the moment. There is not. There are, and there will continue to be, two entities.

Retaining the separation between the two parts maintains, as I think that Simon Hodge said in evidence, the valuable financial flexibilities that FES currently enjoys. For example, the ability to carry over funding from one year to another would be lost without the retention of FES in the agency format. That was a significant and important practical factor.

Throughout the process, the day-to-day forestry functions and operations should be disrupted as little as possible. Therefore, I restate to those with an interest that there will be no compulsory redundancies in FES or FCS as a result of devolution; local offices will remain as the vital source of regional knowledge, skills and delivery; and forestry decisions will continue to be taken by forestry experts. I specifically give those undertakings on the record today. They are very sincerely and freely given, because those are the right things to do.

Staff will remain as civil servants on transfer to the Scottish Government. Put simply, the same experts will be delivering the same functions as they do now, at a national level and locally.

A forestry devolution programme board involving senior staff from the Scottish Government and the Forestry Commission has been established to plan for and manage the transition. As part of that work, I am grateful for the positive leadership role that Simon Hodge, the chief executive of FES, and Jo O’Hara, the head of Forestry Commission Scotland, are showing in leading on the implementation of the new agency and new division projects. A lot of work has been going on, is going on, and will continue to be done behind the scenes, and rightly so.

The projects are based on skills retention, including identifying ways to continue to recognise and value engagement with professional bodies, and identifying jobs that require specific professional qualifications, such as in forestry. Staff interchange between the division and the agency, both of which will be part of the Scottish Government, will continue to be encouraged, as it is now between FCS and FES.

This next part is important, and I think that it deals substantially with Claudia Beamish’s amendment 136. At stage 1, I committed to providing a statement providing further details on how ministers will manage and administer their forestry responsibilities and the relationship between the dedicated forestry division and forestry and land Scotland. I confirm that I will make that statement available before stage 3. I want to do that, so that members have the statement that will cover those matters prior to stage 3.

When I say prior to stage 3, that obviously includes leaving sufficient time for members to consider the statement in order to decide whether further amendments would be required as part of the stage 3 debate. I want to make it clear today that I have decided to make that statement prior to stage 3.

Such an approach was supported by the committee at stage 1 and by stakeholders in their stage 2 briefings. Confor, for example, states that the details of a chief forester post, the division and forestry and land Scotland would be better set out in a statement “alongside the bill”. I will come back to the amendment on that, because it is very important.

On Rhoda Grant’s amendments 102 and 107, I am giving active consideration to having a chief forester role as a way of recognising the importance of specialist forestry expertise. I have been taking soundings from stakeholders and although there is widespread support for the idea of a chief forester or a similar role, there does not seem to be a common view on the role or its title. It seems to me that further work is required on what the role or purpose of that post would be. Some people envisage the post as having a regulatory function; other people envisage it in relation to skills and education and ensuring the importance of delivering those. In other words, different people have different concepts and ideas about what such a role would involve. In urging Rhoda Grant not to press her amendments, I will say that I am sympathetic to her proposal and I undertake to give it further consideration. I also undertake to have further discussions on that topic with members who wish to do so, including committee members and members who take an interest but are not on the committee, such as Claudia Beamish, prior to stage 3.

As for amendments 103 and 108 on “area foresters”, I am not quite clear about their effect. We have five conservancies at the moment and we already have five conservators. The use of the word “conservator” is very important. It gives a sense of a calling and the ethos of those who work for the Forestry Commission. It is a great personal achievement to become a conservator and those who become conservators are themselves professional foresters who are proud of their calling. I am not quite clear what is meant by “area foresters” as opposed to “conservators” and how that would fit in, although I know that the amendments are well intentioned.

I have already made a commitment that the local office network will remain and that forestry decisions will continue to be made by forestry experts. I want to make a further comment about the proposal in amendment 102 to have a chief forester. I have had an opportunity to examine how similar roles have been established in Government. It is important to note that that research has revealed that the roles set out in statute are limited to the non-ministerial office holders as determined by the Scotland Act 1998—that founding statute of devolution. Those are the chief medical officer for Scotland, the keeper of the registers of Scotland, and other chief roles such as the chief planner and the chief economist. In other words, the type of role that I think we are speaking about is not set out in statute.

We also need to be mindful of which issues are reserved and which are devolved. The civil service is a reserved matter, and we need to be mindful of that when framing legislation. There are two types of chiefs at the moment—statutory chiefs and non-statutory chiefs—and we have to be careful about how we proceed. However, I think that we can find a way forward, working together, so that the people who have informed this debate—the stakeholders—can realise their objectives with a bit of further thought and work.

I would also respectfully point out to Rhoda Grant that other than the reference to assisting and advising, amendment 102 provides no clear definition of what the role of chief forester would be. In fact, it would allow Scottish ministers to “prescribe qualifications”, so it would confer a backroom power on ministers to have a substantial role, which may not match the thinking of many of those who might want a chief forester to have a degree of independence from ministers. That is one further matter that needs to be explored.

Jamie Greene

Is there not a slight contradiction in what the cabinet secretary says? The fact that amendment 102 does not prescribe the role gives ministers some flexibility to work with protagonists to develop it. Amendment 102 is an important amendment, but all that it does is to ensure that the role is created, and there is widespread support for that.

Fergus Ewing

I understand Mr Greene’s point, but I respectfully suggest that the way in which amendment 102 would amend the bill would mean that the chief forester would not be independent of the Scottish ministers. Perhaps many of the people who advocate there being a chief forester do so precisely because they would like that role to be independent of the Scottish ministers. It is certainly the case that the role is not particularly well defined in amendment 102, other than the amendment saying that the role should involve “assisting and advising” the Scottish ministers.

However, I re-emphasise the point that I am sympathetic to the proposal and believe that further work together would result in us being able to overcome some of the technical objections. That is why I hope that Ms Grant and Ms Beamish will not press or move their amendments. Nonetheless, I have some further comments to make because of the wide range of topics that the amendments cover.

I wholeheartedly endorse the need for close engagement with stakeholders across all aspects of forestry. It is essential. I hope that I have illustrated by the work that we have done since the most recent Scottish election that we regularly engage with stakeholders nationally and locally on specific issues, for example through the reference group that was set up to advise on the delivery of Jim Mackinnon’s recommendations, and on more general matters, such as through the forestry summits that I have hosted or the regional groups that provide local advice and input to the work of Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland.

Effective engagement is essential. I undertake to give further thought to whether there is scope for incorporating some commitment to that effect in the bill. I am not yet convinced that that is the best way forward, because any Government will wish to ensure that there is local and national engagement with stakeholders. The Scottish Government as a whole cannot be accused of failing to do that. Nonetheless, I am happy to give the undertaking that we will give further consideration to the amendments. I do so because I am aware that people still have some issues.

I hope that my commitment to provide, in advance of stage 3, a statement on the organisational arrangements to help ministers to deliver their forestry functions will persuade Claudia Beamish that amendment 136 should not be moved at this point. I say that as someone who has engaged substantially with workforce representatives, with whom I had at least three meetings of substance over the past year or so, and who will continue to do so.

Claudia Beamish

If the statement is not to be in the bill—understandably, because it might need some adaption in future—will the cabinet secretary clarify what its status will be?

Fergus Ewing

I hesitated slightly because it is partly a legal question, but it would be a statement of ministerial intent similar to any ministerial statement. It is intended to clarify the questions that underlie amendment 136. I hope that that is helpful to Ms Beamish. The statement will certainly cover many of the areas on which she seeks assurances through the amendment.

There is another, important reason why I cannot support amendment 136. Constraining ministers’ powers to commence legislation that Parliament has already approved strikes at the core element of any act. I am not aware of any precedent of such a provision in any bill that prevents the bill from becoming law once it is enacted. Once Parliament decides to pass a law, that is its decision.

I should say that I am informed that it is extremely rare in statute—I may have said that it has not occurred at all. I am not aware of any such example but I will just correct that point for that record.

11:15  



It is essential for the effective operation of the legislative process that ministers have control over when they bring provisions into force. Amendment 136 refers only to two sections, but in effect it would mean that we could not practicably commence large parts of the act. For example, we could not commence part 4 without laying the report, otherwise two felling authorisation processes would be in place. That would subvert the very advice that the committee gave; it wanted there to be no gap in respect of the felling provision. That is a technical point, which needs to be considered in any event. We could be looking at delayed timescales for implementation and increased uncertainty for the sector and for staff. I am sure that that is not what anyone would wish to achieve.

The approach that I have been suggesting throughout stage 2 is one that illustrates the effectiveness of the parliamentary process. We are not seeking to score points but working together to get the best outcome. I have given what I hope are clear undertakings today, signifying that the matters raised are substantial and important and that I respect the views of members. I undertake not only to make a statement but to work specifically on the content and substance of the amendments from now until stage 3, in particular in relation to having a chief forester post, something to which I am sympathetic, but also in relation to the other matters that we have discussed today.

I hope, given my somewhat long contribution today—for which I apologise—that members will accept at face value that my undertakings to work with members over the coming weeks are genuine and sincere. On that basis, I urge Ms Grant not to press amendment 102 at this time.

Rhoda Grant

I appreciate members’ comments, which were really helpful. My amendments are really designed to try to keep forestry rooted in the industry and the communities that it serves. I appreciate that there are layers in my amendments that may be a bit off-putting to some people, but those layers are designed to try to keep forestry well within the industry at not only the national level but the local level. I appreciate what people are saying about some of the layers and that they may be too complex. However, I hope that I can take the cabinet secretary up on his offer to look at putting in legislation something regarding the conservators and the like, which would keep that aspect local.

Stewart Stevenson had issues with the word “assisting”. I realised very quickly that he was not assisting me with his comment. [Laughter.] If that helps to explain it a little better to him, I hope that he will take it in the spirit that it was meant.

The most important amendment is amendment 102, on the chief forester. I think that it was very clear in the evidence that we got that such a role was wanted by the industry and indeed by communities. The reason that the definition is vague is to allow that consultation to go ahead so that the role will be meaningful and supported by the whole industry and the communities. It is important to put that down on the bill as a marker. The definition can be changed at stage 3 to make it fit people’s views and aspirations, but it is important to put it down today as a marker and then maybe consult on the other amendments in the group to see whether they could be shaped in a way that would assist with the post of chief forester and keep it locally placed.

I press amendment 102.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 102 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con))
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 6, Against 5, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 102 agreed to.

Amendments 103 to 105 not moved.

Section 65—Regulations

Amendment 106 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Amendment 107 moved—[Rhoda Grant].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 107 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con))
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 6, Against 5, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 107 agreed to.

Amendment 108 not moved.

Section 65, as amended, agreed to.

Section 66 agreed to.

Section 67—Interpretation

Amendment 109 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Section 67, as amended, agreed to.

Section 68 agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Sections 69 to 71 agreed to.

Schedule 3—Modifications of enactments

Amendment 110 moved—[Richard Lyle]—and agreed to.

Amendment 111 to 114 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 72 and 73 agreed to.

Section 74—Commencement

The Convener

Amendment 136, in the name of Claudia Beamish, has already been debated with amendment 102. Claudia—do you intend to move or not move the amendment?

Claudia Beamish

I do not intend to move the amendment today, but I would like to make a brief comment, if that is acceptable.

The Convener

Yes—you may make a very brief comment.

Claudia Beamish

Thank you. I note what the cabinet secretary has said. I also note the comments from Jamie Greene, John Finnie, Mike Rumbles, Peter Chapman, and Rhoda Grant, which are on the record. I think that it is extremely important that the discussion continue because there appears to be some confusion in the minds of stakeholders and elsewhere. I ask the cabinet secretary to correct me if appropriate, but I think that he said that it would be a case of “lift and shift”, as much as possible, of the arrangements of the agencies as they are now, when they are devolved. However, that is not the perception—I use that word with care—of some stakeholders who have discussed what will happen with me and others, so I have a concern about that.

I note the offer of a statement before stage 3, which I urge the cabinet secretary to make sure comes in good time, but there are still serious concerns. I intend to discuss the possibility either of a member of the committee lodging an amendment at stage 3 on a unified forestry agency, or my lodging a better-developed version of amendment 136, if we cannot make progress with the cabinet secretary—which I, as an optimist, hope we will be able to do.

The Convener

I do not propose to open up the matter to further debate, because we have already debated it, and the cabinet secretary has given an undertaking. I note Claudia Beamish’s comments. I take it that you do not wish to move amendment 136.

Claudia Beamish

I do not wish to move it.

Mike Rumbles

I would like to move amendment 136, convener.

Amendment 136 moved—[Mike Rumbles].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 136 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con))
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 6, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 136 disagreed to.

Section 74 agreed to.

Section 75 agreed to.

Long title

Amendment 115 moved—[Fergus Ewing]—and agreed to.

Long title, as amended, agreed to.

The Convener

That ends stage 2 consideration of the bill. The bill will now be reprinted as amended, and will be available online and in hard copy at 8.30 am tomorrow. Parliament has not yet determined when stage 3 will take place, but members can now lodge stage 3 amendments at any time with the legislation team. Members will be informed of the deadline for amendments once it has been determined.

That concludes today’s business.

Meeting closed at 11:27.  



Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill with Stage 2 amendments

Additional related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

More information on the powers the Scottish Parliament is giving Scottish Ministers to make secondary legislation related to this Bill (Supplementary Delegated Powers Memorandum)