Scottish Natural Heritage (Single Farm Payment)

Environment and Rural Development – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 15 March 2007.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 2:15, 15 March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with Scottish Natural Heritage regarding levels of compensation paid under management agreements following the introduction of the single farm payment. (S2O-12396)

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Ministers have asked Scottish Natural Heritage to bring forward proposals to resolve the difficulty that has arisen. Those are expected in the next six to eight weeks.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

The minister will acknowledge that I have been in correspondence with her and her predecessor for some time about this matter. Indeed, we are dealing with farmers whose management agreements are up for review or, in some cases, renewal. They are the very people who were pioneering in accepting management agreements over land designated as sites of special scientific interest. Does the minister agree that it seems very unfair that they should be penalised now with any loss of income because of the introduction of the single farm payment as a result of decisions that they took 20 years ago not to increase the number of livestock units? Although it might not be possible to do anything through the single farm payment mechanism, it is open to ministers to give financial guidance to SNH to ensure that proper compensation is made available.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The issue is complex. Jim Wallace has made several representations to me and previous ministers. SNH is clarifying the position in relation to state aid. That must be done properly. It also has to check whether there are any vires issues. Unfortunately, investigating the scope and financial implications of the issue has been a significant task for SNH, which has involved examination of the basis of payment and determination of the number of production units involved for all the management agreements that were active during the single farm payment reference period of 2000 to 2002. As Jim Wallace rightly points out, the majority of those agreements were negotiated individually and many date back to the 1980s. I am very keen that this matter is resolved. As I said, we expect to receive SNH's proposals within six to eight weeks and I am keen that that date will be stuck to.