The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 20 March 2018, but with significant last-minute amendments.
The Bill was introduced by the Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing on 10 May 2017 and aims to complete the devolution of forestry in Scotland. While strategy and policy is already set in Scotland, management of forestry currently lies with the Forestry Commissioners, a UK Non-Ministerial Department which operates in Scotland under the branding of Forestry Commission Scotland (dealing with policy, advice, regulation, grants) and Forest Enterprise Scotland (managing the national forest estate).
We have been providing updates on the progress of the Bill through parliament and you can read our previous blogs here. Once enacted, the Bill will be the first forestry legislation of the Scottish Parliament.
The most noteworthy amendment was the requirement for Scottish Ministers to establish a single agency or two agencies rather than a new government department.
Initial plans by the Scottish Government would have seen the Forestry Commissioners’ functions moved in-house to the Scottish Government. This sparked controversy within the sector, with concerns that 100 years of experience and expertise of foresters would be lost. In addition, it was felt by many that the Forestry Commission brand was too well known and well-respected to be abolished.
Many stakeholders were also concerned about the implications of forestry becoming a government department, fearing it would be affected by differing political agendas of the ruling party at any time, whereas forestry, by nature, requires long term strategy.
The amendment has been described as effecting a ‘lift and shift’, of Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland, to Scottish Government arms-length agencies, with the amended Bill intended to preserve the knowledge and expertise of existing staff.
Compulsory Purchase Powers
Another amendment to the Bill addressing industry concerns is the reduction of compulsory purchase (“CP”) powers. The Bill had been set to extend the Scottish Ministers’ CP powers, allowing them to be used to further sustainable development, as well as for their existing purpose, to promote sustainable forestry management. Although the existing CP power has never been used, the Scottish Government not only sought to keep it, but also substantially widen it. This proposal was voted down by MSPs at the debate.
Also included in the final Bill are:
- the creation of the role of ‘Chief Forester’ to assist and advise the Scottish Ministers in carrying out their functions. Originally proposed to address industry concerns when powers were to be brought into a government department, it will be interesting to see how this role operates in conjunction with the new agencies;
- a requirement for the Scottish Ministers to prepare a national forestry strategy;
- a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote sustainable forest management.
The amended Bill, approved 120 votes to 0, will pass into law once it receives Royal Assent. You can view the Bill, as passed here.