Land Management

Rural Affairs and the Environment – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 7th June 2007.

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Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 2:15 pm, 7th June 2007

The minister will appreciate that my question was lodged before his announcement last week.

To ask the Scottish Executive what funding will be provided for the individual elements of the Scottish rural development programme; what level of voluntary modulation will be required, and how it will support land managers so that they achieve the objectives of the European Union water framework directive, identified as a key outcome of the programme. (S3O-103)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The funding that is available to implement the new programme is set out in a summary document, "Scotland Rural Development Programme 2007-13", which was provided to the Scottish Parliament information centre to coincide with the parliamentary debate on the new Scotland rural development programme on 31 May 2007. The summary document includes details of the voluntary modulation rates to be applied and is available in the reference centre. The programme will include several land management measures related to the water environment. The uptake of those measures will help to achieve the objectives of the water framework directive.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I welcome the minister's endorsement of the programme that was proposed by his predecessor, Ross Finnie. What specific provision has the minister made to ensure that the Scottish Executive's commitments on water quality under the water framework directive and on climate change can be met?

NFU Scotland has estimated that the virtual doubling of voluntary modulation from the rate that was proposed by Ross Finnie will cut farm incomes by 20 per cent. What impact will that have on farmers' ability to deliver on environmental issues? Given the importance of the rural development programme, why has he failed to persuade the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth to provide the additional funding that is required?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I persuaded the Scottish Cabinet to make funding available for the programme, which members should welcome. On the modulation rates proposed by Ross Finnie, the situation that the Scottish Government has inherited is clear: we had a central Government funding figure and the European funding figure and, in order to fund the £1.6 billion programme that was proposed by the previous Administration and adopted by the new Administration, filling the gap would have required a trebling of the modulation rates that were announced by the SNP Government. Therefore, I do not accept the point that the member is making. Our modulation rates are far less detrimental to Scotland's farming communities.

There are many measures in the £1.6 billion programme that will enhance Scotland's water environment. I hope that Iain Smith's constituents and all our constituents in rural Scotland will apply for them.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The minister will be aware that in recent years many farmers and land managers were unable to access agri-environment schemes, which is precisely why Labour, in its manifesto, committed to setting a voluntary modulation rate of 15 per cent. Will the minister give us an assurance that there will be enough funding to meet the demand for agri-environment schemes over the next seven years? Does he know exactly where the extra £70 million is coming from? If it is from the Scottish Executive environment and rural affairs department budget, what funding will be cut in order to keep voluntary modulation down? Can we have an answer this time please?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The funding for the programme that was adopted last week amounts to £1.6 billion, which is exactly the same as the figure that was proposed by the previous Administration. What is different is where the funding is sourced. Therefore, the amount of resources being made available for the agri-environment element of that programme is exactly the same as what has been made available from our programme. The member seems to be criticising her own proposals once again. The £1.6 billion is a record investment for rural Scotland. The funding for agri-environment schemes will be much greater than in the previous rural development programme. I hope that members throughout the chamber welcome that.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The minister will know that he is implementing the programme that Ross Finnie put forward. Ross Finnie held voluntary modulation at 5 per cent. The minister is nearly doubling voluntary modulation to 9 per cent, which will hit our farmers' incomes by 20 per cent. Does the minister accept that situation? Will he introduce any other measures to help our rural community in that regard?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

If the member considers the comments from the agriculture sector since the programme was announced, he will note that it has been warmly welcomed by all sectors in rural Scotland, including our farmers. Our farmers have warmly welcomed this package, which they recognise is a record package that will provide a huge boost to our rural communities and agriculture sector.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Given the rates of voluntary modulation that were established last week, will voluntary modulation decrease proportionally if the European Union establishes increased rates of compulsory modulation?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

That is a good question. At the moment, there is no flexibility over the voluntary modulation rates that are set for the next seven years, other than an article in the rural development regulation that allows member states to reduce the voluntary element by any subsequent increase in the compulsory modulation element imposed by the EU. The answer to the question is that Parliament will indeed have that power.