I see the headlines of stories that the Government have planted today promising that Brexit will transform our fields and farms. One would have to agree, although that transformation will not only be in ways that many in agricultural areas will necessarily welcome. The speed and scale of the reductions proposed worry many others, including, it seems, the Minister’s own colleagues, with the head of the National Farmers Union describing the Government’s approach as
“high risk and a very big ask”.
Lack of clarity on the detail of the replacement environmental land schemes remains a big concern for agricultural and environmental representatives alike. It seems to me that what qualifying criteria we have been made aware of could lend themselves equally well to shooting estates as to hill farmers, for example. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could enlighten us further on that point.
I find it astonishing that the Government have had since 2016 to construct replacement schemes, and yet here we are, just days away from either a no-deal or a low-deal Brexit, amid fears of lower imported standards and enduring the uncertainties of a global pandemic, with so many details still to be outlined. Scottish farmers and crofters do not face the same difficulties, because in Scotland the Government have committed to continuing payments at their current level. However, our Ministers were told just days ago in the spending review that, despite the Government’s manifesto commitment to match EU support, rural Scotland will be £170 million short of what was promised by 2025. The chair of NFU Scotland has said that this shortfall will undermine environmental and biodiversity targets for Scottish farmers and crofters. How does the Secretary of State answer that?
Finally, I would like to hear from the Secretary of State what the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and control over state aid being in the hands of Westminster means for the Scottish Government’s ability to maintain a divergent path to England on farming support. Can he provide assurances that the Bill will have absolutely no impact on Scotland’s ability to set support in Scotland independent of the system chosen for England?