On 5 September 2023, the Scottish Government published its 2023-24 Programme for Government. The Programme sets out the Scottish Government's priorities for the forthcoming parliamentary year, including its intention to introduce a total of 14 Bills across a number of sectors.
Here we discuss some of the key pieces of legislation set to be introduced over the coming year, as well as likely timelines.
The Programme contains a commitment to introduce an Agriculture Bill creating a new rural support framework, replacing the current common agricultural policy schemes, with the stated aims of delivering higher quality food production, climate mitigation, nature protection and restoration and rural development. The Government has said that it will continue to work with stakeholders to develop that framework and the Bill will create powers to enable the framework to be delivered.
See here our previous update on the Government's Agricultural Reform Route Map for more information.
The Scottish Government will introduce its annual Budget Bill seeking the approval of Parliament for its resource allocation and spending plans. In his foreword to the Programme, the First Minister notes the three primary ambitions of the Government as being:
- Equality: Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm
- Opportunity: Building a fair, green and growing economy
- Community: Delivery efficient and effective public services
Accordingly, the Programme anticipates government spending to improve access to childcare, increase social security benefits and support entrepreneurship. There is also expected to be spending to address climate concerns and to increase pay for workers in the social care sector. We are likely to see all of these spending commitments reflected in the Budget Bill.
No firm date has yet been set for the Budget Bill, but the Scottish Budget typically takes place in December following the UK Budget in the Autumn.
In light of concerns around cladding safety, a Cladding Remediation Bill will be introduced aimed at safeguarding homeowners and residents from unsafe cladding. The Bill will create a power enabling the Scottish Government to take urgent remediation measures where cladding materials pose a risk to life.
An Education Bill is to be brought forward establishing a new public body with responsibility for qualifications in Scotland. An independent education inspectorate is also to be established. This builds on commitments previously made by Scottish Government but 'paused' earlier in the summer.
This Bill is intended to change the law relating to Scottish Parliament and local government elections, following a recent consultation on this by the Government.
Gender Representation on Public Boards Remedial Action
The Government has committed to introducing a Bill removing the definition of "woman" from section 2 of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018. This follows litigation challenging the original definition of "woman" in that Act.
The proposed Housing Bill will, the Government says, deliver its 'New Deal' for tenants by giving them the necessary rights and powers to enable a framework of long-term rent controls to be introduced. It will also introduce new duties targeted at homelessness prevention.
The Human Rights Bill is set to incorporate a number of international economic, social and cultural rights into Scots law, in addition to other rights relating to women, disabled persons and persons who experience racism. The Bill will also recognise in Scots law a right to a healthy environment, all within the bounds of devolved competence.
On a related note, the Government has also indicated its intention to invite Parliament to bring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill back for reconsideration stage following the UK Supreme Court's ruling that the Bill as originally passed was not within the Parliament's powers..
This Bill comes from the Scottish Law Commission and will implement its recommended changes to the law on appointment and supervision of judicial factors.
The Programme contains a commitment to introduce a Land Reform Bill, which the Government say will include measures to modernise agricultural holdings. It is also aimed at improving the transparency of land ownership and empowering communities.
A new Misogyny Bill, implementing the recommendations of a Working Group chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, will be brought in creating new offences relating to misogynistic conduct and Police Scotland will be given new powers in relation to such conduct.
Scottish Aggregates Tax
The Aggregates Tax Bill is set to be introduced in the next parliamentary year, which will make provision for a devolved tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregates in Scotland.
The Government will introduce a Bill in the next parliamentary year to strengthen the requirements around provision of Gaelic Medium Education, to bring in measured aimed at protecting and supporting Gaelic and Scots further within communities and to provide legal recognition for both languages.
Social Security (Amendment)
The final Bill which the Government has committed to bringing in will bring about changes to the Scottish social security system, enabling the Scottish Government to recover devolved social security from compensation awards where the reason for the social security payments is the fault of a third party.
The Government has also committed to supporting Gillian Mackay MSP's Member's Bill to deliver safe access zones for abortion services. It has said it will then carry out a review of abortion law, with a view to identifying parliamentary proposals for reform by the end of this parliamentary term.
Other areas in which the Government has indicated legislation may be forthcoming include the marine sector (to require Remote Electronic Monitoring on all pelagic and scallop dredge vessels fishing in Scottish waters) and nature (with a Natural Environment Bill set to be introduced establishing nature recovery targets and modernising existing National Parks legislation) and crofting law (with proposals for reform to be developed and consulted on). The Government has also said it will consult on proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill, with the aim of reducing housing and buildings emissions. A key issue which has featured in the news in recent months is the level of single use vape usage in Scotland among non-smokers and young people, particularly in light of their environmental impact. The Government has therefore also committed to consulting on a proposal to ban their sale which is set to take place in 2024.
No indication has yet been given of the timescales for introduction of any of these Bills, beyond a commitment to introduce them over the next parliamentary year.
There are also a number of Bills currently before Parliament that the Government has said it will continue to progress, subject to Parliament's approval. This includes reform of the justice sector and legislation to deliver a National Care Service.