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Chamber and committees

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Agenda: Interests, Transport (Update), Petition



Human Right to Food (PE1733)

The Convener

Item 3 is petition PE1733, which was lodged on 22 August 2020 by Peter Ritchie on behalf of the Scottish Food Coalition. The petition asks the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make the right to food part of Scots law. The Scottish Government has recently written about its intention to develop a non-statutory statement on the policy for food. The committee is therefore invited to consider whether it wishes to take any further action in relation to the petition.

Before we consider the petition, does anyone have anything to say?

I declare an interest, because not only is Pete Ritchie a constituent, I know him very well, so I recuse myself from the discussion.

Are we discussing the options now?

Yes. We are discussing what the committee would like to do with the petition.

John Finnie

It will not surprise you to know that I am very supportive of the petition’s intention. I note where we are in relation to the Scottish Government’s response. It is disappointing that the good food nation bill has not gone ahead.

We heard yesterday in the programme for government the intention to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Scots law. I wonder whether that would have any implications for where the Scottish Government sits on this matter. I would be keen for us to keep the petition open and monitor developments.

Colin Smyth

I agree—it is important to keep the petition open. It is deeply disappointing that the good food nation bill was dropped. It is ironic that we were told that it was dropped because of the pressure on parliamentary time as a result of Covid-19 when, if there is an issue that has become more important during the pandemic, it is the right to food, food supplies and all the associated areas in the good food nation bill. The issue is more important than ever.

It is worth pointing out that Elaine Smith MSP is currently consulting on a member’s bill on the right to food, so the issue is still very much live. It would be important for the committee to scrutinise the non-statutory commitment by the Government to develop a statement on food policy. We should keep the petition live until those issues are fully resolved.

Mike Rumbles

I support having legislation for this. A good food nation bill should be introduced. As I understand it, the bill was almost ready to be introduced in a matter of weeks, but it was withdrawn simply because of the problems with legislative time. Dissolution is in March, so we only have seven months, and there is no prospect of a good food nation bill going through Parliament in that time. I would advocate that we keep the petition open, as it will be up to the next Government, whichever Government that is, to come forward with a good food nation bill in the next session. Indeed, we can carry petitions forward to the following session.

Oliver Mundell

I am broadly supportive of the approach that other members have outlined. The good food nation bill is important, but we do not have it and, in fairness, I do not think that there is now time to start that work. However, the issues are important and, by keeping the petition open, we will keep a focus on the issue and we will, I hope, have a chance to return to it.

Emma Harper

I agree with colleagues on the approach of keeping the petition open. It is important that Pete Ritchie has highlighted the matter—I know Pete quite well. We need to keep an eye on what the Government is planning to do in relation to food and food supply chains, considering everything that has been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maureen Watt

I echo what Emma Harper has said, and I agree with what other members have said. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism has said that he is progressing some of the work that would have been in the good food nation bill anyway, and we could perhaps add the subject to the question list when he next comes before us.

The Convener

I will not repeat what everyone else has said, but I agree with committee members about the importance of the petition, and there seems to be a general feeling among the committee that we should keep the petition open and use the opportunities that we have to raise the issues that are highlighted in the petition with the cabinet secretary, as and when those opportunities arise.

It appears that we are all agreed on that, so that is what we will do. I ask the clerks to note that we intend to take the opportunity to raise questions with the cabinet secretary on this subject when he comes before the committee.

We are short of time, because we have to go to the chamber, and people have other meetings to go to, so I thank committee members for their attendance, their questions and their forbearance in allowing me to shorten some of their questions so that we could complete our business in the available timescale.

Meeting closed at 11:53.