Less Favoured Areas Support (Crofting)

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

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Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 27th March 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will work with the Scottish Crofting Foundation to undertake an investigation into the effectiveness of the current less favoured area support scheme in delivering support to crofting communities in less favoured areas. (S1O-6741)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The less favoured area support scheme is kept under review to ensure that it is effective in delivering support across the whole of Scotland's less favoured areas. Officials will work with the industry working group, of which the Scottish Crofting Foundation is a member, to review the implementation of the 2003 scheme.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

If the investigation determines that the current less favoured area support scheme is not delivering effective support, will the minister consider introducing a more appropriate funding structure?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The whole purpose of the review will be to determine whether the scheme has been effective. I expect that, as a result of the meetings of the working group, proposals to change the scheme will be produced, if necessary, and that such changes will be put forward to Europe, so that the scheme can be amended for the following year.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I thank the minister for meeting me earlier in the week to discuss the less favoured area support scheme. I seek an assurance from him that officials from Western Isles Council will be involved in the forthcoming discussions on the scheme. I know that the minister is well aware of the excellent work that the council's crofting committee has done in that important area of agricultural support.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am happy to confirm to the member that it will be extremely helpful for the working group to have the advice of the Western Isles Council's crofting committee and its input into our review of the matter to which he and John Farquhar Munro have referred.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Will the minister tell me why the less favoured area support scheme is not benefiting crofters in the most severely disadvantaged areas of the Highlands and Islands as much as it is benefiting farmers in areas of Scotland with richer agricultural land? Is not the main point of the less favoured area scheme to help those who are in the less favoured areas?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That point is self-evident. The difficulty that Jamie McGrigor has is that 83 per cent of Scotland's agricultural land is defined as less favoured area land. I do not believe for a moment that he is suggesting that it would be beneficial for Scotland to have a reduced amount of less favoured area land, but that is the inference to be drawn from his question. The scheme has been designed to be hugely beneficial to Scotland's agriculture as a whole. It is an agricultural scheme that delivers support. As I have indicated in my responses to Alasdair Morrison and John Farquhar Munro, the review group will keep under review the issue of whether any adjustments are necessary.