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I, too, welcome the Minister to her Front-Bench position. I absolutely acknowledge her in-depth knowledge of the subject. She will know that the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government have made plant health a priority. I would be grateful if the UK Government stated fully and frankly which standards, if any, they intend to alter, and whether plant health is to be targeted.
Plant health is at the heart of Scotland’s thriving natural environment, our rural economy and our wellbeing. However, there are increasing pest and disease threats to our plant health, particularly through increased globalisation of trade and other factors such as climate change. The aim of the Scottish plant health strategy is to safeguard agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the wider environment from plant pests from 2016 to 2021 and beyond.
The strategy requires an integrated approach to ensure effective collaboration between all interested parties. That approach builds on work already undertaken by the Scottish plant health service, but recognises that Government alone cannot tackle current and future plant health challenges, and so has a focus on working in partnership with others to build and strengthen relationships. It sets out how together we can protect crops, trees and other plants from new and existing pests and diseases. That underpins the development of the economic potential of the Scottish agriculture, horticulture, forestry, rural land use and food and drink sectors, which in turn enhances production efficiency, protects the natural environment, including amenity sites and gardens, and maintains wholesome environments for rest and relaxation.
It is my job, and that of my fellow SNP Members, to make sure that powers devolved to Scotland are protected, and not taken back by Westminster, as that would prevent us from meeting the ambitions that we share. Scotland’s rich and diverse natural environment is a valuable national asset. Its continued health and enhancement is vital for the health and wellbeing of all, and for sustainable economic growth.
In Scotland, we have the largest green space project in Europe—the central Scotland green network. It receives and welcomes some 25 million tourist visits per year, which generate around £63 million for the Scottish economy. In my constituency of Falkirk, I witness local people enjoying the results of the Scottish Government’s ambition to enable and deliver a happier, more active lifestyle, particularly through the active travel hub plan; through encouraging walking and cycling, which everybody seems to enjoy in the area; and through connecting the magnificent Kelpies to the Falkirk stadium. There are also the canal paths to the world-famous Falkirk wheel, and of course there is the Antonine wall, a world heritage site. Local people, and people from all over Scotland and the rest of the UK, walk, cycle and use the canal boats, alongside visitors from all over the world, including Europe, all enjoying each other’s company. Long may this continue.
For your information, Mr Deputy Speaker, Scotland was the first country in Europe to implement a land use strategy. That allows our strategic approach to land use to account for the full range of benefits that our land resources provide. For example, Scotland created 73% of all new woodland in the UK in 2016-17. Furthermore, Scotland’s new target of 15,000 hectares per year from 2024-25 is both ambitious and achievable. The Scottish Government’s 2017-18 programme for government was described by no less a person than Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland as “the greenest” in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
The EU has provided significant funding for Scotland’s biodiversity. The EU’s nature policy and legislation are effective, ambitious, far-reaching, robust, consistent and well enforced. EU-wide implementation allows it to function on a supranational scale, thereby acknowledging that nature does not observe national boundaries and recognising the importance of promoting habitat connectivity, which allows biodiversity to thrive and adapt in response to anthropogenic pressures such as habitat fragmentation and climate change.
Regulations on animal and plant health and food safety remain essential for Scotland’s reputation to access EU and other international markets. These regulations are vital to ensure certainty of policy for Scotland’s future and must be respected and remain in the Scottish Government’s powers.