Agriculture

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2003.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 27th March 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive when it last met representatives of the agricultural industry and what issues were discussed. (S1O-6711)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I met representatives of the agricultural industry on 17 March. The main topics for discussion at recent meetings have been implementation of the agriculture strategy and the European Commission's proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Does the minister accept that environmentally sensitive area status is extremely important for those parts of Scotland that have such designations? Does he accept that the consultation being undertaken by his department gives an opportunity to review not only the three options outlined in the consultation paper but a fourth option, namely the rolling-on of ESAs to ensure that, in a smooth transition, land management contracts can be introduced while the benefits of the ESAs are not lost to those farmers and crofters who have them?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I certainly accept that the consultation includes three options. Clearly, the purpose of the consultation process is to get considered and detailed responses, particularly from those areas currently under ESA designation, and to allow members to put their point as to what might be a better and preferable course of action. It is perfectly legitimate for the people of Shetland to take that course.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Did the minister's discussions cover the proposals of the Scottish Agricultural College to centralise its educational facilities in Edinburgh? Would he care to reflect on the folly of closing the most popular campus, at Auchincruive, with its most appropriate rural setting, in favour of an expensive city location?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I regret to say that the representatives who were present with me at the meeting found that the discussion on the agricultural strategy and, more important, on CAP reform, did not allow time for that important item to be discussed. I have made it clear—particularly in the evidence that I gave to the Rural Development Committee on Tuesday—that several very important questions need to be asked about the report that the board of the SAC has adopted. In particular, we must question some of the underlying assumptions that have led to the conclusions. I made it clear to the committee that that was a legitimate and proper course of action, and that my department and I have been querying some of the bases on which those conclusions and recommendations have been made.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Last week, when answering a question from my colleague David Mundell, the minister was unable to assure the Parliament that a suitable scheme for the uplift of dead stock would be in place when it becomes illegal to bury such stock on farm. Following his discussions with industry representatives, is he able to update the chamber on any further progress that has been made on that issue? Can he guarantee that any farmer who buries dead stock on farm after April will not be prosecuted if no suitable scheme is in place?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am unable to give the firm assurance that I might have wished to give following our discussions, but we continue to make much better progress than we have made in previous months. I remain confident that, following the discussions that are now taking place with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other devolved Administrations, we will have a national scheme. As for prosecution after 1 May, I very much hope that that will not be necessary.