– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:38 pm on 24 October 2007.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 2:38, 24 October 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-667, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on agriculture. In relation to this debate, members might wish to note that information detailing the support package for Scottish farmers has been provided by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment this afternoon and is available from the back of the chamber.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:24, 24 October 2007

It gives me pleasure to open this important debate.

Our farmers and crofters help to provide the nation with food and to care for our precious environment. Agriculture is, of course, a mainstay of our rural economy in Scotland.

In the medium to longer term, the outlook for Scottish agriculture is bright. The world's population faces the prospect of food shortages, arable farmers enjoy high cereal prices and consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable and local food. Scottish agriculture is well placed to benefit greatly from such opportunities in the years ahead.

Of course, we are also looking forward to Scotland's £1.6 billion rural development programme kicking in early next year, to the development of a Scottish food policy and to ensuring that future reform of the common agriculture policy reflects Scotland's interests.

However, as members are aware, many livestock farmers and crofters are in turmoil following the unwelcome events of the past few months. Although Scotland remains free of foot-and-mouth disease, thousands of families in our rural communities and the islands are counting the costs of the foot-and-mouth outbreaks south of the border. Given that Great Britain is currently a single epidemiological unit and that there was considerable uncertainty about the level of the disease spread, movement restrictions were imposed in Scotland to protect our interests. The potential consequences of failing to do so are too horrendous to contemplate. We aimed to minimise disruption by lifting restrictions as soon as it was safe to do so. I am pleased—and I know that members are pleased—that we were able to lift all domestic restrictions a week ago today.

The timing of the outbreak could not have been worse, particularly for the sheep sector. Normally, more than a million sheep move from the hills and islands to markets and lower ground in September and October. Europe's export ban on meat and live animals also caused significant difficulties. On top of a wet summer, poor commodity prices and higher feeding costs, the impact of the outbreak has pushed many livestock farmers close to the edge.

We were able to find early relief for part of the industry through the introduction of a sheep welfare scheme, which was needed to alleviate the emerging welfare catastrophe. Light lambs were stuck on the hills with a shortage of grazing, exports were closed and there were no realistic markets. We took our case directly to Europe, which allowed us quickly to address state aid issues and introduce a targeted animal welfare scheme on 9 October. We also met European officials to discuss the export situation. They were impressed by how Scotland had responded to the outbreaks in the south of England, which had a great impact here.

The Scottish Government supported the industry's case for a sheep welfare scheme. We did not want to see lambs without a market starving to death on our hills. However, we were disappointed by the United Kingdom Government's unwillingness to accept that there was a problem on Scotland's hills and its refusal to accept responsibility for funding the necessary welfare scheme.

Let me be clear: irrespective of the source of the outbreak, the funding responsibility for such schemes lies with Westminster. That is the view of our livestock sector and the Scottish Government; more important, it is also in the spirit of the devolution agreement on funding for animal disease control costs.

One of the reasons for retaining the budget on a GB basis back in 1999 was that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had direct access to the Treasury. It is bizarre to suggest that the costs of the outbreak are too small to justify opening up the Treasury reserves, as happened when we had the 2001 outbreak. The UK's reluctance to support our animal health and welfare costs as a result of the outbreak is perplexing. The concordat outlines DEFRA's responsibilities and, in that context, the recent statement on approaches being made by the devolved Government direct to the Treasury is difficult to understand. If Hilary Benn or Gordon Brown can spare the time to visit Scotland's hill farms or islands, they will see for themselves that the impact of the outbreak on rural Scotland is anything but small. It has certainly never been, to use the words of a UK minister, a "short-term local problem". For our sheep sector in particular, the crisis is enormous. Given the circumstances of the outbreak, we share the Scottish industry's firm view that the UK Government has the financial and moral responsibility to reimburse Scotland for our losses.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Does the minister stand by his comment in yesterday's Herald that the UK Government also has a legal responsibility for the matter? If so, will he publish that legal advice?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Our view is that the UK Government has a moral responsibility and a responsibility under the devolution settlement to pay for the consequences in Scotland of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Of course, it is not just our sheep farmers who have paid a heavy price. Everyone in the sector, from the primary producers to the hauliers to those involved with the abattoirs, has suffered. However, the Scottish Government will not allow a debate over funding routes to get in the way of what really matters—the need to support a sustainable livestock industry in Scotland. Therefore, today I want to outline an aid package for Scotland's sheep sector and other measures to support the wider industry.

The sheep sector, which has been the most severely affected, needs real support to maintain itself into the next breeding season. I can tell the Parliament that the Scottish Government is to invest £19.2 million in breeding ewes to support the breeding flock. That is equivalent to a headage payment of £6 per breeding ewe and gimmer. The money should be in producers' bank accounts by mid-November. We recognise that the sheep sector was already experiencing challenges prior to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, but we hope to offset some of the losses that have made matters worse.

In addition, we must continue our efforts to promote Scotch lamb—a top-quality product—as well as Scotch beef and pork. We have already provided £100,000 to Quality Meat Scotland to support lamb promotion. In the light of recent developments, we will discuss with QMS the potential for further measures. Initially, I am willing to provide a further £1 million. I will ask QMS to consult the industry on how that investment can be used to best effect over the next year, not only for the promotion of red meat but, importantly, to enhance supply chain development for the longer term.

In addition to that direct support, the First Minister is writing to each of the major food retailers to ask them to support the meat industry by ensuring that a fair price is paid to Scottish farmers. In his letter, he will highlight the recent announcement by McDonalds about raising the prices that it pays to its producers. I know that all members will welcome that decision and will share the hope that others will follow the example of McDonalds.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

The minister will be aware of the work that has been put in by the Prince of Wales and others on the Mey Selections range of products. Will there be co-ordination with that proven example of best practice, which is offering significant help to our farmers?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

There certainly will be. A representative of the Prince of Wales has been in touch with me about that initiative and I have offered him a meeting in the very near future, to which I look forward.

We are all aware that our rural communities have suffered financially but, on top of that, individuals have suffered personal hardship. We are therefore offering £200,000 to the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institute to help people who are in need of personal support. In addition, £60,000 will be made available to the Royal Highland Education Trust to help raise the profile of Scottish food and farming in the wider community.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Crofters have also been affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak and we look forward to discussing with them their initiative to develop a crofting brand, which is in the pipeline. We are exploring other smaller initiatives, too.

We believe that our package balances the need to provide immediate relief with the need to look ahead and support a sustainable red meat sector. In total, our package, combined with actions that have already been taken—for example, through the sheep welfare scheme—will provide more than £25 million, £20 million of which will be for the new measures that we have announced today.

Today my colleague John Swinney is writing to the UK Government to ask it to reimburse Scotland for those measures and to respond to the industry's case for compensation. The reinstatement of the £8.1 million that was originally earmarked for Scotland and then withdrawn would, of course, be a good start.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

You need not rush quite as much; I inadvertently cut your time by two minutes, for which I apologise.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I thought that you had cut it by five minutes.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Will the minister clarify where the funding that he has announced today will come from? Will it come from the agricultural budget, or is it new money to his budget?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I can reveal that, after some difficult searching, the money will come from the central unallocated provision; it will not be taken from other budgets that have already been allocated under my portfolios.

I know that many people have called for additional welfare schemes. We have considered those pleas closely, but many of the issues that have been brought to our attention are economic and we know that the industry would prefer us to concentrate on economic measures. Moreover, my chief veterinary officer is not persuaded of the welfare case that has been put to us in relation to animals that are not covered by the existing scheme.

No farmer or crofter—nor any of us—ever wants to experience again the pain that has been inflicted as a result of foot-and-mouth outbreaks hundreds of miles away in the south of England. That is why it is vital that we take steps to protect our rural economy from animal disease outbreaks. The review of our response to foot and mouth that Professor Jim Scudamore is conducting will consider all the relevant issues, including the implications for Scotland of being part of the same disease unit as the rest of Great Britain. The second outbreak delayed that review, but it is now getting under way. It will identify lessons that we can all learn from the outbreaks over the past two or three months.

There has been much talk about the new Scottish Government and the UK Government working together for the benefit of the people of Scotland. It is fair to say that the foot-and-mouth crisis has tested our relationship. For much of the past two months, I have worked closely with my UK counterparts, but it is no secret that in recent weeks the industry and the Scottish Government have found the UK Government unsympathetic and unhelpful at times.

Co-operation and being constructive are vital in order to help the people of Scotland, but it has to be a two-way process. I hope that everyone in the chamber, irrespective of party, will support the Scottish Government in our efforts to secure natural justice for our farmers at this difficult time.

We want to provide all our rural communities with the prosperous future that they deserve. Today, the Scottish Government has shown that we will not let down our farmers and crofters in their hour of need. I commend the motion to the Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern the impact on our livestock industry, particularly the sheep sector, of the recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in England; calls on the UK Government to recognise its financial and moral responsibility to reimburse Scotland's farmers; acknowledges the work being done in Scotland to support the sustainability of the Scottish livestock industry and the viability of rural communities; welcomes the review, to be led by Professor Jim Scudamore and commissioned by the Scottish Government, into Scotland's response to the outbreaks, and recognises the need to reduce the risk of future outbreaks and minimise the impact of future disruption.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I call Sarah Boyack to speak to and move amendment S3M-667.2. You have nine minutes.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:35, 24 October 2007

I very much welcome this debate, although given the seriousness of the issue, the gravity of the crisis facing our livestock industry and the negative impact across fragile rural Scotland, more time for debate would have been appropriate.

I lodged an amendment to Richard Lochhead's motion because the motion was simply not good enough. At the outset of this crisis, Labour members and colleagues from across the political parties represented in the chamber agreed that we needed to work together to support the Scottish Government in ensuring that the crisis was tackled in Scotland and that we did whatever could be done to help out.

I thank the Scottish and UK Governments, and their officials, for their handling of disease management and for playing their part in ensuring that the disease did not reach us and was effectively contained. I pay tribute, too, to those in the industry who played their part in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Lessons have been learned from 2001. We have not had the horrendous slaughter, the scenes of animal pyres and the bitter clouds of smoke covering our rural communities. However, because of the timing of the outbreak and the shutdown that resulted, markets have been closed, animals trapped on hills have been running out of grass, and feed prices have been escalating. Farmers have still had to pay the bills while facing the tragedy of watching their sheep die as the weather deteriorated.

That is why we on the Labour benches supported a sheep welfare scheme that would enable a cull, preventing thousands of sheep from starving to death. NFU Scotland and the Scottish Government estimated that the scheme would cost around £6 million, which would pay for the 250,000 sheep that were stuck on the hills. I was therefore shocked to hear from the NFUS yesterday that it expects that only in the region of £2 million to £3 million will be paid out. The NFUS estimates that 28,000 sheep have been dealt with and expects a further 20,000 sheep to be booked in.

In his closing speech, I ask the minister to confirm the figures. Is it his understanding that the scheme will be underspent and that only around £3 million will be spent on it? The scheme came too late in the day for some farmers, who, I am told, will never be compensated. They simply could not wait because of the awful condition of their sheep. What is more shocking is that, to date, that is all that Scottish farmers and crofters have had in assistance.

That is why I regret the time that it has taken for the Scottish Government to act. Alex Salmond is not here now, but the spectacle of his running a press conference in London on the sheep welfare scheme, which even his Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment estimated would cost in the order of £6 million, was reprehensible.

I remind members that that press conference took place just a day after Alistair Darling's budget announcement. That was serious grandstanding, in the week when the Treasury agreed to release £900 million from reserves to the Scottish Government over three years as part of an overall package that will give the Scottish Government a budget of £30 billion.

The fundamental question that I put, which I would like answered, is at what point the cabinet secretary put in a detailed submission to the UK Government in support of the scheme that he has announced today. Can he clarify that it is only today that he has made a detailed representation? I would love to hear the answer.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank the member for giving way. I clarify for her benefit that I have lost count of the number of telephone conferences and face-to-face meetings that I have had with Hilary Benn, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, during which I raised the issue to which Sarah Boyack refers. However, I have had no joy whatsoever in getting the UK Government to meet its moral and financial responsibility for what is an important scheme.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I do not doubt that the minister has had meetings and has been on the phone. My question is whether he has put before the UK Government not this issue but this package. UK ministers Hilary Benn and Des Browne have made it clear in the UK Parliament that it remains open to the Scottish Government to seek assistance from the UK Treasury. Why did the Scottish Government therefore leave it to the NFUS to go directly to the UK Government to ask for economic compensation? Why was the Scottish cabinet secretary prepared to leave farmers and crofters swinging in the wind as the Scottish National Party issued its customary "It's all London's fault and we was robbed" speech?

That is not good enough. What a contrast with Ross Finnie's handling of the 2001 crisis. Within a month of that outbreak, the welfare cull had started and Ross Finnie had accelerated the less favoured area support scheme and mainstream agriculture support payments. He accepted the urgent need to keep farmers in business and satisfying the banks, so he lobbied the banks and the Inland Revenue.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, thank you.

There will always be tensions between Government departments. I remember that we had similar discussions during the previous crisis but, within five weeks of the outbreak, a comprehensive package of measures had been announced while the funeral pyres burned and disinfection campaigns were still running. Fast, effective and decisive action was taken. It did not matter that Ross Finnie was a Liberal Democrat; he put the case for the action that was the right action to take. He persuaded the then Labour Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Wendy Alexander, to support a package for our rural communities, with support for businesses, agri-environment and tourism, to get rural Scotland back on its feet.

What a contrast with the SNP's approach. Farmers, crofters and associated businesses have been briefing ministers for months, not weeks, on their financial problems, but it is only today, when we happen to be having an agriculture debate, that a package has been introduced.

Politicians can debate endlessly who is responsible.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No; I have let the member in already.

The SNP puts the blame firmly at the UK Government's feet. The SNP motion states that the outbreak started in England and that therefore it is the UK Government's responsibility to fund economic compensation throughout the UK. The logical conclusion of the motion as it is worded is that should, God forbid, an outbreak start in Scotland and be contained in Scotland but impact on the rest of the UK, responsibility would lie here. Would we for a minute accept that the Scottish Government was automatically responsible for that? I do not think so. It is simply not good enough for the motion to talk about a "financial and moral responsibility".

Richard Lochhead was quoted in yesterday's Herald as saying that the UK Government had a legal responsibility to pay, but he did not answer Karen Gillon's question. Given that the outbreak was confirmed in August, will he say when he sought that legal advice, and will he publish it for us after today's debate? It is one thing for the NFUS to threaten legal action, but that is not an excuse for the cabinet secretary to delay action and wash his hands of the impact of the crisis. Under the devolution settlement, the responsibility for economic compensation lies with the Scottish Government. That was accepted during the previous outbreak by the Scottish Executive, to the tune of £30 million.

I have read the debates and statements that were made in the Parliament during the previous crisis. It is striking how members from all parties worked to be constructive. They asked tough questions, tried to be helpful, suggested ideas and ensured that the impacts were described in the Parliament. That is how the cabinet secretary started off on 6 September, but what a contrast today. There was no attempt to play politics in 2001 when Ross Finnie was negotiating with the UK ministers, when the industry, as today, needed immediate support just to survive and especially when he announced £30 million of long-term support to get rural Scotland back on its feet.

I met representatives of the NFUS yesterday. I totally understand their argument that we must ensure that farmers can afford to sustain the flocks on our hills and throughout Scotland into next year. The ewe headage payment that the cabinet secretary has offered to keep the industry in business seems extremely sensible. I note the difference between what the NFUS asked for and what the minister has offered, but I welcome that part of the package. I ask the cabinet secretary to construct the scheme carefully to ensure that the money reaches the farmers who bred the sheep, that third parties do not benefit from the money and that sheep are not exchanged in the process. I hope that he will accept that. I also hope that he will tier the scheme so that those in our most fragile areas do not lose out.

I would like to hear a little more in the winding-up speech about why we will not have enhanced LFASS payments or a modest sum for pig farmers, which the NFUS asked for yesterday. We support the inclusion of welfare charities and cash for marketing lamb. I welcome the fact that we have had action today, but I regret that, given the rhetoric, it has taken so long to happen. Perhaps the lesson is that government is about responsibility and action, not just rhetoric.

It is a real shame that we do not have time for a lengthy debate today, because the impact goes far beyond that on farmers and crofters. Haulage firms, marts and processing companies are all affected. Bluetongue disease is now on the agenda and people are concerned about its impact next year. I hope that our cold winter will keep it out of Scotland, but we must work with DEFRA on that. We also want a debate about regionalisation.

I call on the cabinet secretary to address head on the issue of abattoirs and processing facilities in rural Scotland. The more we can do to capture the economic benefit of primary produce in Scotland, the better—the better for our economy, our jobs and our animal welfare.

Today our farming and crofting communities are fighting for their survival. The Labour benches fully support the emergency package for our farming and rural communities, and we want the Scottish Government to get on and deliver it—and not waste time picking fights with the UK Government to serve a narrow agenda. Our rural communities deserve better.

I move amendment S3M-667.2, to leave out from "concern" to "communities" and insert:

"great concern the recent foot and mouth outbreak and its impact on our livestock industry, particularly the sheep sector; urges Scottish ministers to implement immediately a Scottish emergency scheme for Scottish farmers and crofters and use the powers and budget available to them such as supplementing Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme payments and introducing headage payments to provide additional support to our livestock industries at this difficult time; further recognises that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to provide funding to address the wider economic implications of the outbreak, as was the case in 2001; regrets the time it has taken to develop practical support for Scottish farming and crofting communities, and calls on the Scottish Government to develop constructive relations with the UK Government in order to address the future challenges in our agriculture and rural industries".

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 3:45, 24 October 2007

I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, and I refer members to the register of members' interests for further connected farming interests. I also welcome representatives of the sheep industry to the public gallery.

It is with a heavy heart that I take part in this debate. Regrettably, my memory takes me back through the BSE crisis of 1996, the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, the E coli 0157 disaster and, now in 2007, foot-and-mouth again. Sadly, however, one of the things that sets this crisis apart is that it appears to have been completely avoidable. If only a laboratory that was inspected, licensed and financed by Government had looked after its biosecurity—or, to put it plainly, had maintained its drains—the outbreak would not have happened. Indeed, as far back as 2003, the Spratt report made DEFRA aware of the problem at Pirbright. The report stated that

"pipes were old and needed replacing, but after much discussion between the Institute, Merial and DEFRA, money had not been made available."

What also sets this outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease apart from the 2001 outbreak is that, whereas the cost of the 2001 outbreak—£3.5 billion—fell largely on the taxpayer through animal slaughterings, this time the cost of the outbreak has fallen largely on the livestock industry, affecting hauliers, auctioneers, abattoirs, exporters and farmers alike.

The Scottish livestock industry has to start rebuilding itself again after this Government-induced crisis. In the meantime, sheep farmers are going to the wall, pig farmers are going out of business and banks are refusing to lend more money to some of those already deep in debt.

A welfare scheme is now in place. I and others campaigned for that, and although it was introduced too late to help some farmers, it is now helping others. However, the scheme will probably end up attracting only approximately 100,000 lambs. The remainder of this year's lamb crop is either stuck on farms or being sold for a poor price. Hundreds of thousands of draft ewes at the end of their working life also have nowhere to go and have little or no value. The welfare scheme should be extended to include them. Notwithstanding the minister's remarks today, I still ask him to discuss the issue further with the industry stakeholder group.

Thousands of cast sows need to be culled and included in the welfare disposal scheme, and so too do dairy bull calves. Those animals are stuck on farms, incurring feeding costs. They previously had a value but now have none. I welcome the minister's commitment to meet pig industry representatives next week to chart a way forward. Until normal export markets resume for lambs, calves and pigs, they all represent both a welfare problem and a huge drain on profitability.

Minister, we welcome the measures that you have announced today to help this beleaguered industry and provide it with some hope for the future, and I particularly welcome the increased support for QMS and the educational and charitable organisations. You have recognised that, to secure a future for Scotland's sheep industry, it is essential to try and maintain viable breeding flocks. However, for many businesses, the compensation package simply will not be enough. Indeed, with the likely underspend in the present welfare disposal scheme of £3 million, it is hardly a generous offer when compared with the actual losses being faced by the sheep industry as a whole, through no fault of its own.

The payment of approximately £6 per ewe, when added to the LFASS payment that is due in late December and to the single farm payment that is also due in December, will tide farmers over, but the real crisis will become apparent next spring and summer—in April, May, June and July—when cash flows are at their lowest and overdrafts are at their highest. For many sheep farming businesses in the most fragile areas, the battle to survive may well be finally lost. Already I am told that land abandonment is happening in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area. Tenant farmers in particular are going out of business. Regrettably, this time next year tenancies will be easier to obtain and more farmland will be on the market.

Hilary Benn, Labour MPs and DEFRA will be remembered for discourteously not supporting Scottish farmers in their hour of need, for not supporting a Scottish welfare scheme when asked, for not caring enough to get drivers' hours relaxed timeously at the height of the crisis and for offering £8 million to help Scottish industry but then taking it away again.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

No, I will not.

Dr Elaine Murray's comments on her website illustrate the difference between the Labour Party in Scotland—and Sarah Boyack's reasonable embodiment of it—and the Government in Westminster, when she says:

"I think both DEFRA and SEERAD probably have a good case to argue that their spend on compensation should be funded from Treasury reserves, especially as Foot and Mouth seems to have originated from a government laboratory."

Professor Scudamore's report, which will be delivered by this time next year, will be welcomed. I hope that his remit will be wide enough to examine and pass judgment on the behaviour of Hilary Benn and DEFRA before and throughout this crisis, and to consider the Scottish Government's response to the crisis.

As Sarah Boyack said, this is a subject that the Parliament will need to debate again. Time has been too short today, and the wider ramifications and costs of the outbreak are not yet fully apparent. Time is also running out for Scotland's sheep industry, and notwithstanding the minister's announcement of support today, I urge the Parliament to support the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S3M-667.1, to insert, after "communities":

"believes that the Scottish Government should introduce additional measures to support Scotland's sheep industry".

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I remind members to speak through the chair and to use full names.

I call John Hume. You have six minutes.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 3:51, 24 October 2007

Jim Hume, Presiding Officer.

I declare a farming interest, as I am a farmer and a past director of the NFUS twice over. I am therefore glad to be leading the debate for the Liberal Democrats.

The Scottish Government should have done more, and more quickly. I have had regular meetings with farmers and people in related industries who have spoken passionately and eloquently not only about their businesses but about what they see as their way of life—a life that has to be profitable to have a future. Agriculture benefits Scotland both economically and environmentally. I have some facts here with which all members will be familiar: Scotland's farmers produce output—including whisky—worth £2.4 billion a year to the Scottish economy; and one in 10 of all Scottish jobs is dependent on agriculture, with the agri-food sector now the UK's largest manufacturing sector.

However, it is not just about economics and money. Yes, there are clear economic benefits to the country, but having a long-term secured and profitable agriculture sector also means that land managers are looking after the land and its habitats. Some have had access to agri-environment schemes, such as the rural stewardship scheme, whose re-implementation we are still waiting for. Because of that, our farmers have been able to ensure the sustainable future of our countryside's flora and fauna. Scotland's diverse wildlife has made it one of the best tourist attractions in the world. Scotland's grazed upland pasture land, with its high nature value, is among the most biodiverse in Europe, only because of the way in which it is farmed with grazing animals. Conservation groups are concerned that if farming stops in those fragile areas, Scotland's nature will be badly affected.

As we have all sadly witnessed, foot-and-mouth has had a devastating impact on rural Scotland and, in particular, on the export-dependent sheep industry. Unfortunately, that has not been helped by the major buyers, who have been opportunistic in making money. The only competition—exporting—has been taken out of the equation, with sheep prices in rapid decline and, according to the recent press, in meltdown. It further shows the absolute need for an independent ombudsman to see that producers get a fair price in relation to the price that is charged in the supermarkets, where the prices have not come down.

The cabinet secretary heard from the NFUS this week that emergency aid must be delivered to Scotland's livestock farmers "to avoid that meltdown". That turn of phrase is not an understatement. If there has to be a focus, it should be on a meaningful—not £6 a head—payment for sheep. That figure represents about half the estimated losses per ewe. We should also focus on the LFASS supplements, which could easily have been quickly released. I hope that the cabinet secretary sees today's announcement as an interim announcement and, in conjunction with Westminster, continues to pursue a more comprehensive package for all agriculture.

I have always been positive about agriculture, which was flourishing until this outbreak, but on this occasion I am left feeling very despondent. I am despondent for two reasons: first, because the industry is suffering badly, through no fault of its own; and secondly, because the UK and Scottish Governments appear not to be taking the resultant dire situation seriously enough or acting quickly enough to save an industry that is the third largest employer in rural Scotland. I find that insensitive, to say the least, and I am astonished at the disregard that has been displayed by those in a position of authority who have—to use that all-important phrase—decision-making powers. They should build relationships with Westminster, rather than breaking them down.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

Not at the moment, but perhaps later.

Why did the SNP waste time squabbling with Westminster over who should pay and why did our farmers and producers suffer when there was a mechanism in place for Mr Lochhead to make financial aid available and then claim the money back from the Government using the contingency fund? If we are not experiencing exceptional circumstances now, I need a new dictionary.

Mr Lochhead has been knocking at the wrong door. DEFRA does not have the budget, but the Treasury does.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I wonder whether Jim Hume could square what he has just said with the statement that he made on 11 October:

"I want to see a commitment from the Westminster Government that Scottish farmers will not be left out of pocket by an outbreak which is not their responsibility."

Does he still hold to that? If he does, is the statement that he just made not intellectually incoherent?

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I am talking about the Treasury. My statement is that the SNP and the Westminster Government should work for the good of farmers.

Reaction to the crisis has been slow to date. Party politics has got in the way of justice as Westminster has shirked its reserved animal health responsibilities by failing to provide Scottish producers with compensation for the disaster and the SNP has passed the buck back to the UK Government, leaving onlookers bewildered. We need meaningful discussion between the two Governments. Moreover, the welfare scheme came two to three weeks too late, which led to many farmers literally giving their sheep away. How much of the new scheme will be old money recycled from the welfare scheme?

With the outbreak coming at sale time, its economic effects have been far worse than those of the outbreak in 2001, when the Liberal Democrat Minister for Environment and Rural Development pushed out funding to the sum of just under £32 million from the Executive to affected businesses. The SNP Government needs to show the commitment that the Lib Dems did in the past by providing a more comprehensive package.

Once again, I tell the cabinet secretary to take the matter more seriously and come up with a fairer and entirely appropriate aid and compensation package, including help for the pig and cattle industries. Without question, the Scottish Government has a moral duty to do that, so I suggest that, rather than simply note with concern the impact of foot-and-mouth disease, Mr Lochhead and his colleagues should adhere to their moral duty and provide a more comprehensive package in conjunction with Westminster.

Risk of foot-and-mouth disease, whether from imports from infected countries or illegal imports, must to be reduced in the future. I hope that the review will take serious account of that.

I urge members to support Sarah Boyack's amendment.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I have already had to tell three members that they will not be called and I am already two minutes short—nearly three minutes, now—so speeches will have to be a tight six minutes long.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 3:57, 24 October 2007

My constituency is half urban, half rural. That means that I get the best of both worlds when there is the best to offer and the worst of both worlds when the worst happens. For the rural part of the constituency, the past few months definitely fall into the latter category. Moving around the constituency, one has the evidence of one's own eyes: fields crowded with sheep eating the farmer out of feed, not to mention house and home.

My recent visit to the United Auctions mart in my constituency allowed me to have a more detailed discussion about the specific problems that faced farmers even after some of the restrictions were lifted. It has already been mentioned that the problems do not go away when the restrictions are lifted, but here is a case in point: I received an e-mail on Monday from a Perthshire farmer, who pointed out that the average price per lamb received in Perth at the beginning of the week means that a farm with 600 lambs to sell will get £7,200 less in income this year than last year while, at the same time, feed costs are increasing. How are such farmers expected to survive through the winter into the spring with that kind of income loss? Members who think that the word "farmer" somehow equates with the word "rich" need to remember that many of our farmers are already living on marginal incomes and this latest blow may well put a number of them out of business. That is not good for Scotland economically, environmentally or socially.

Rural Scotland holds this Government in general and the cabinet secretary in particular in high regard, but the farmers who are most affected quite rightly want to know what further support they can be offered, especially in light of the stance that Hilary Benn has taken. To be frank, his dismissive attitude to Scotland's farmers beggars belief. If the Labour Party wanted any explanation for its continued failure to win electoral support in rural Scotland, it should look no further than his office.

Benn's attitude was bad enough. I am tempted to quote from the front page of last Friday's Scottish Farmer but, to keep on the good side of the Presiding Officer, I will merely paraphrase. The report says that farmers' view of their meeting with Benn is that it ended with him telling them in effect to get lost—that is the polite way of putting it; the phrase that the report used included a four-letter word. Anyone who wants to read the actual expression can read the front page of The Scottish Farmer. That is what farmers thought that Hilary Benn was saying to them. The utter failure of Scottish Labour to support Scottish farmers was disgraceful. Not for the first time, I have to observe that Welsh Labour appears to have far more gumption than its counterpart in Scotland.

Frankly, this issue is not about an SNP Government picking fights with Westminster; it is about Westminster picking a fight with Scotland's farmers. Labour—both in Westminster and in Scotland—gave every indication that it does not care if the whole of Scottish farming goes to the wall. Scotland's farmers have taken careful note of that attitude.

On the compensation row, many have criticised the Scottish Government for making the first draft of Hilary Benn's speech known to the public. The first draft contained a clear commitment of £8.5 million for Scotland's affected farmers. However, the speech as delivered contained no such commitment. Apparently, the Scottish Government was supposed to say nothing about that, despite being perfectly aware that something pretty significant must have occurred between Friday 5 October and Monday 8 October. I make no comment on what matter of significance took place that weekend, but I wish to make the point that it is expected in some quarters that, knowing about the change, the First Minister and the cabinet secretaries should have kept schtum. Should they really have done so? If they had, would they not have run the risk of being exposed in the future as not having properly represented Scotland's farmers? I have no doubt that the fact that they had been given prior knowledge of the draft speech containing the commitment but had said nothing when the speech did not contain the commitment would have been used ruthlessly by Westminster as evidence of Scottish Government acquiescence. They were absolutely right to go public. Maybe that drives a coach and horses through the cosy consensus that appears to have operated in the past. However, if that cosy consensus was not operating in Scotland's best interests, what else could the Scottish Government have done?

The fault for all this lies south of the border. The source of the outbreak was a DEFRA laboratory. Speaking as a lawyer, I do not think that the UK Government is out of the compensation woods on this one.

I welcome Richard Lochhead's announcement of an aid package today. I am sure that farmers would have wanted more—of course they would—but I welcome the announcement not because I think that this Government should have to pay but because it clearly shows that the Government can be counted on by farmers. I hope that the issue will not rest there.

Further to my comments about Welsh Labour, I refer the Liberal Democrats to the comments of Roger Williams MP, their Welsh affairs spokesman, who also seems to have a little more gumption than his Scottish counterparts. He was crystal clear about where the blame lies, no weasel words about it. Liability lies fairly and squarely at DEFRA's door, and I fully expect that, on behalf of Scotland's voters, the Scottish Government will make every possible effort to get restitution from those who were at fault.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:03, 24 October 2007

Today should have given us an opportunity for a debate on the future of the Scottish agriculture industry in its widest sense, but I am afraid that that opportunity has been lost because of the derisory amount of time that has been allocated to the debate at a time when the industry is facing many problems.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Will the member take an intervention on that particular point?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Let me get into my stride. The Government has plenty of time to allocate for debates.

Today is also a lost opportunity because the motion is deliberately divisive and reiterates points made by a minority Government that is obsessed with Westminster.

I would have liked to spend my time today talking about the long-term challenges to the industry, such as the challenge of recovery after the immediate consequences of the foot-and-mouth outbreak are dealt with, the challenges from changing markets and changing consumer demand and the challenge of preparing for the spread of bluetongue across the UK, which Sarah Boyack talked about. I would also have liked to talk about the opportunities for the industry that arise from the development of local food markets, which add value to local produce.

There is no question but that farmers and crofters in my region are facing one of the biggest crises of recent times. Because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the restrictions on cattle movement, the disappearance of export markets and the collapse of some markets, cash is in short supply in the industry. Many farmers and crofters, and their suppliers, face financial ruin as the cash income that they normally depend on at this time of year has dried up, yet it has taken this minority Government three months from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease to begin to take action to acknowledge the financial plight of the industry. Although welcome, the scheme that the Government has announced today is too little, too late; it is barely half of what the farmers sought. We on the Labour benches pressed the Government weeks ago to introduce a welfare scheme for those with small lambs. It took so much time that a number of farmers and crofters had to cut their losses and get out early, and they will not benefit from the scheme.

Over the past couple of weeks, a minister and a First Minister have appeared principally interested in trying to gain political capital from a dispute with Westminster. That should not be surprising, as it is a pattern that we are seeing more clearly as each week progresses—another day, another squabble with Westminster. They are seeking all the time to build up grievances and to use that sense of grievance to argue for more powers for this Parliament. Yet, during all that time, the Government has not been prepared to use the powers that it has here to keep farmers in business.

Every form of government, at every level, has some disagreement with other governments or levels of government from time to time—that is the nature of governance. It is not something to be surprised about but something to be worked on and managed positively. Community councils disagree with local authorities; local authorities disagree with national Governments; the Scottish Government will disagree with the UK Government; and the UK Government will disagree with the European Union or the United Nations. That is why we have concepts of constructive engagement and diplomacy as a central part of how government relations work.

What distinguishes this minority Government from our community councils, local authorities and the UK Government is that none of those bodies sees intergovernmental disagreements as a central purpose of its existence. Sadly, this minority Government sees that as part of its purpose, and every disagreement requires front-page treatment. It presents its position—completely mistakenly—as standing up for Scotland, yet we have a minority Scottish Government that has no influence in Westminster because of its behaviour.

Whether it is the farmers today, the broadcasters tomorrow or the local authorities in a few days' time, they should all expect to become convenient pawns as part of this minority Government's political purpose of fomenting disagreements and blaming Westminster.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

No, I will not give way—the member has had plenty of time.

We have a group of constitutional obsessives here that is masquerading as a Government but, sadly, that group is the Government and it has responsibilities as such. It has huge powers and a huge budget, which it needs to put to use in the interests of the Scottish people first and foremost. Our farmers and crofters are decent hard-working people, who work long hours all year round in the toughest possible conditions. Their current plight deserves better than to have been used for a week or two at this crucial time as part of a wider constitutional game. The Scottish Crofting Foundation has taken the right line: it does not care where the money comes from as long as it gets to those who are in financial distress.

Today, we have had a minister coming to the Parliament who has at last recognised that he needs to act—but how little he has done. He has not even matched what the previous Government did from its own resources at the time of the previous foot-and-mouth outbreak, allocating less money from a budget that has almost doubled in the intervening period. As other members have mentioned, there has been nothing for the pig sector, which has high feed costs in addition to the other difficulties that have been referred to.

There is an intrigue in all of this. Only last week, the minister's spin doctors were briefing outrage at Hilary Benn for not agreeing to a compensation scheme that the minister apparently backed. Today, it is unclear that he ever formally asked Hilary Benn for the money to fund what the farmers were seeking until after the First Minister had condemned Westminster for not giving money.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am not going to give way.

Even then, it is not clear how much the minister asked for—if anything. He has told us that John Swinney is only today writing to make a formal submission. If the minister thought that it was right for Hilary Benn to fund the farmers' scheme in full, how come it is not right that he should fund it in full now? It appears that Richard Lochhead or John Swinney—or both—may be the villain in this episode. The minister has either failed to ask John Swinney for enough money, or John Swinney has refused to give that money. It is time for the minority Government to start taking responsibility for its actions and stop constantly seeking to shift the focus elsewhere.

This minority Government has given every appearance of encouraging the dispute between farmers and Westminster to run for political advantage before it has belatedly stepped in with an inadequate response.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be finishing now, Mr Peacock.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

The Labour amendment sets out our position, and it deserves the support of Parliament.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:10, 24 October 2007

I draw members' attention to my entry in the register of members' interests, which shows that I am still a partner in my family farming business, which is now run by my son.

The issue that brought us here for this debate is essentially the effect of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the south of England. Many speakers commented on the background of the outbreak and attempted to cast some light on it, but I understand that we do not have to go through the whole process to get to the crux of the matter that we need to discuss.

I praise the actions that Richard Lochhead took in his role as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment to deal with many of the issues that were presented by the outbreak. However, I cannot let this opportunity pass without criticising some things that happened more recently.

The Government's commitment to Scottish farming is undoubted, and the actions that it took to protect the hill farming industry are examples of that commitment. However, I and others believe that the Government delayed bringing forward some of the proposals that are now on the table with money attached until an unseemly row had been allowed to develop between the Scottish Executive and the Government in London.

I would have thought that the obvious position of a committed Government in Scotland was to make financial commitments and then dispute where the resources were to come from, rather than to have the dispute and then go ahead and make the announcement.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank the member, who is getting a bit more cynical in his old age, for giving way.

I remind the member that we delivered an emergency scheme—the sheep welfare scheme—in early October, before the incident that he spoke about. I also remind him that NFU Scotland wrote to me last week asking for an emergency aid package. I met it on Monday, and today I announced an aid package for the industry. That shows greater urgency than has been shown elsewhere.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Indeed. I believe that I acknowledged that the Government has shown that commitment. It is the unseemly row that I find distasteful.

In the time that remains to me, I will speak about the potential effects that might continue to impose themselves on Scotland's hard-pressed hill livestock farmers during the next 12 months and perhaps well beyond that.

During the period in which we have suffered from the unfortunate recurrence of foot-and-mouth disease, some rather radical changes have taken place in the agriculture industry. The radical changes in the price of grain, of which the cabinet secretary is well aware, have resulted in changes in some agricultural practices in Scotland's lowlands. Many of those who produce lambs and cattle on Scotland's hills rely on markets that exist further down the hills, but the sad fact is that the vastly increased grain prices this year are likely to lead to changes in farming policy on many of those lower farms. In a normal year, farmers who choose to grow more grain might buy more cattle to feed it to. The fact that export prices are so high means that cattle will have to be a lot more expensive before farmers are willing to feed expensive grain to them.

The market for Scotland's hill livestock—the finishers lower down the hills—might well be about to dry up. The minister needs to take that situation into account when he considers what further support is likely to be necessary for Scotland's hill farmers.

The increase in feed costs is unlikely to impact only on Scotland's hill farmers. Scotland's pig and poultry industries will also suffer. The poultry industry's crisis can be dealt with in a fairly short-term way because of the short cycles that are involved. Although I have every sympathy with Scotland's poultry farmers, I suspect that they will manage to avoid the extreme losses that are now almost inevitable for Scotland's pig farmers as they attempt to downsize in the face of vastly increased grain prices.

It is for that reason that the minister hit on an important point in his opening remarks, which was that we have to examine the complete market structure. I make no apologies for mentioning once again, as I have done in the chamber many times before, the role of the retailers—largely, the supermarkets—in dealing with the crisis. Unfortunately, other sectors of Scottish agriculture have suffered in the past through low market returns due to low retail prices. In many cases, such as my own experience in the dairy industry, low prices have forced so many people out of the industry that supplies of raw material have begun to dry up and prices have had to be corrected.

Markets can do positive things as well as negative ones, but unless Scotland's retailers and the United Kingdom's supermarkets are willing to look seriously at guaranteeing a proper return in the marketplace for the end product that comes down off Scotland's hills, there will be no purpose for Scotland's hill farmers, Scotland will deteriorate to monoculture, and ultimately Scotland's farming industry and the contribution that it makes to rural Scotland will be lost. The minister has my full support in going back to the retailers and working as hard as he can to ensure that they account for themselves properly in the market.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before I call Alasdair Allan, I remind members that they will have to stick to a tight six minutes.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party 4:16, 24 October 2007

Sometimes the business of the chamber involves a certain amount of synthetic rage. Sometimes, I dare say, the most consensual of politicians have to force a little anger into a debate purely to keep it going. However, despite what some have suggested, there is no reason why any of us who represent farming or crofting interest needs to resort to such a tactic.

The anger in crofting and farming communities is only too real. Crofters in particular do not expect to become rich by crofting. They are willing to do what they do in all weathers, for the most part because they realise that it is integral to their community's way of life and because it is essential to the wider Highland economy.

However, when lambs are selling for less than £8 each, as they did on one recent occasion in the Western Isles, we are dealing with a situation that is unsustainable for any length of time. To some extent, that has already been recognised and acted on. The NFUS and others have welcomed the swift action in Scotland to cope with the build-up of light lambs on farms, for instance, and the early relaxation of certain movement restrictions in the islands has also been useful.

Crofters have indicated to me that they do not want to have to slaughter their lambs to no great purpose, but there is no realistic alternative while foreign markets remain restricted and while the livestock industry is still trying to bring livestock movements back to something like their normal pattern.

Farmers and crofters have had to struggle with the fact that, until today, there has been no obvious move to compensate them for the losses that movement restrictions have forced on them. Many farmers would have to question the viability of their farms in those circumstances, so I welcome what the cabinet secretary has announced today.

It would be foolish of any of us to claim that today's announcements are everything that crofters or farmers have asked for, but they are a substantial move in that direction. The Government in Scotland is going well beyond what it is required to do morally and, I believe, legally. I hope that the actions of the Scottish Government will now shame others into living up to their responsibilities—because the UK Government most certainly has responsibilities.

Unlike the 2001 outbreak, there is little mystery this time about where the virus came from. There is no need to speculate about pigs being fed Chinese food; we all now know that the foot-and-mouth virus that has so destabilised the farming industry in Scotland was released from a UK Government lab. That is probably more than a moral argument, but if it fails to impress, there is the argument of precedent. If compensation was made in 2001, why should it not be made now?

And if precedent fails to settle the question for some people, there is the small but important matter of the Scotland Act 1998 and its attendant concordats, which so many members hold up to be inviolable and unalterable sacred texts.

The animal health budget is clearly reserved to the UK. No farming or crofting body has questioned that assessment, so what has happened to influence the UK Government's view?

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was in the passenger seat of a car travelling in North Uist. I went out of mobile range, as always, in Lochmaddy. When I went out of range, I was discussing the forthcoming general election with a journalist who had phoned me. By the time I came back into mobile range, I had learned that there was to be no general election. Within hours of that, the UK Government had reneged on its position on compensation. According to his draft speech, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Benn, was due to say:

"I have also agreed with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that Scotland should receive £8.1 million and Wales £6.5 million to assist them in countering the impacts of foot-and-mouth on their livestock farmers."

However, by Monday 8 October, when Mr Benn delivered the statement to MPs, that paragraph had disappeared. He instead said:

"I am announcing today a package of assistance for the English livestock sector amounting to £12.5 million. The devolved Administrations are proposing to introduce their own schemes."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 8 October 2007; Vol 464, c 39.]

Who are we to judge whether the disappearance of the general election was in any way related to the disappearance of the compensation scheme? However, if the question was asked of any crofter in my constituency, the assessment would be pretty universal. It would not be far from the assessment of Jim McLaren, the president of the NFUS, who said:

"There is a crisis on farms across Scotland and we cannot accept that the UK Government has no responsibility."

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, must now live up to his word and address the problems in Scotland or face the imminent wrath of its rural communities.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before I call Tavish Scott, I point out that wind-up speeches will each be one minute short.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:21, 24 October 2007

I only wish that my constituency had the mobile coverage that Alasdair Allan's constituency has. I also broadly agree with Alex Johnstone's analysis.

In this week's The Shetland Times, the Scottish Agricultural College adviser penned an article entitled "Is it still worth crofting?" I want the unambiguous answer to be yes; however, the industry needs short-term help to allow for a medium and long-term future. There is a crisis in the industry in my constituency, which has been caused by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Surrey, the responsibility for which lies wholly with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at Westminster.

NFU Scotland says that Scottish agriculture faces a loss of some £50 million. To many, that is a conservative estimate, and the Government has not met that demand today. Richard Lochhead has taken a welcome step forward, but he has not recognised entirely the scale of the financial losses that are faced by crofts and farms throughout the country. Why does the minority Government not accept the NFUS's assessment of the losses that Scottish agriculture faces? I ask the minister to be specific in his wind-up speech about the reasons why he has not accepted that argument.

The industry needs a hill ewe welfare scheme. Drew Ratter, the chairman of the Crofters Commission wrote in this week's The Shetland Times that

"female sheep stock was pretty well unsellable, and that is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as the year end approaches."

There is little or no market for light hill ewes. The industry has argued that for some weeks now, and I am disappointed that the minister has not accepted its careful argument. The chairman of the Scottish Crofting Foundation reinforced that argument to me at lunchtime today.

The minister is quite wrong to say that the hill ewe issue is an economic one only; that is absolutely not the case. It is demonstrably a welfare issue. I urge the minister to rethink his position. When Richard Lochhead was in opposition, he argued that any underspend on the decommissioning scheme for fishing should be reinvested in the industry. I hope that, in the light of the underspend that is clearly going to occur on the welfare scheme, he will agree today to reinvest that underspend in the industry. I look for clarification of that in his wind-up speech.

Last week, the SNP attacked my colleague, Alistair Carmichael, for not doing anything for farmers. On the same day, Alistair Carmichael brokered a cross-party meeting with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn, and the NFUS president, Jim McLaren. If that meeting was not worth having, why was Angus MacNeil there? Farmers and crofters have been used as a political football by both the UK Government and—depressingly—the Scottish minority Government. I expect better from both for the constituents I represent in Parliament.

I also want the minister to stop putting undue pressure on the Lerwick collection centre to export all lambs under the welfare scheme by the end of this month. The mart staff there are doing a tremendous job; they are working very hard and trying to comply with the scheme, but Edinburgh needs to understand that there is only so much space on ships to Aberdeen and that there are other store lambs, ewes and cattle to export as well. I would therefore be grateful for a bit of understanding for those hard-working people in Shetland from the Government in Edinburgh.

The industry needs short-term investment to give it breathing space for the long term. We must care that more and more sheep and cattle are disappearing from the Scottish uplands and islands. I say yes to local food initiatives, farmers markets and local food procurement in the public sector. I say yes to sorting out EU state aid so that a new abattoir in Shetland is not stopped, because that will be a hugely important investment in the future of the islands that I represent. I also say yes to a real assessment of the disease prevention regime that has been put in place.

The minister has no choice but to accept—as any minister would—that the UK remains highly susceptible to outbreaks of exotic diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and bluetongue. The inquiry that the minister has rightly set up must assess and, I hope, advocate a regional approach in future. What is the justification for stopping sheep from being exported from the Scottish islands because of a disease outbreak more than 600 miles away? If a regional approach had been agreed with vets and the authorities, we might have avoided—which would have been desirable—a welfare scheme in Scotland and, indeed, a row with Westminster.

The Scottish industry needs to take a new approach based on allowing farm and croft businesses to trade unless they are directly threatened by a disease outbreak, and on a real assessment of risk. We need a regional approach that will mean that farmers and crofters in different parts of Scotland who are under no threat from things happening more than 600 miles away can operate, trade and export to markets that want our produce. The Government's job is to eradicate disease outbreaks, but not by eradicating our livestock industry.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 4:27, 24 October 2007

In 2001, the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Scotland was first detected in Lockerbie, and, thanks to the excellent work of local agencies, it was restricted mainly to Dumfries and Galloway.

During the recent outbreak, Dumfries and Lockerbie agricultural show was one of the first to be affected by the ban on animal movements. I thank the cabinet secretary for his phone call of 4 August, which I took while standing in a queue outside the catacombs in Paris. I was grateful to him for his courtesy in calling me and his recognition that the mere mention of foot-and-mouth disease sends shivers up the spines of people in Dumfries and Galloway.

I also welcome what the Scottish Government has announced today. It is not what the NFUS has asked for, but we recognise that it is a step in the right direction, as Sarah Boyack and Peter Peacock said.

In 2001 in Scotland alone, 735,000 animals were slaughtered, 644,000 of which were sheep; 187 farms were infected and 1,048 had their animals culled because they were contiguous to or within a 3km radius of an infected farm. The estimated reduction in the Scottish gross domestic product was between £14 million and £30 million, and the net effect on the Scottish economy was £33.5 million. According to the National Audit Office, the estimated cost to central Government of compensation for slaughtered animals was in the region of £334 million. The Scottish Executive provided £30 million out of its reserves for measures to alleviate hardship and to assist with economic restructuring, principally through VisitScotland, the local enterprise companies and local authorities.

The 2007 outbreak is therefore very different, with only eight confirmed cases, which is thanks to the lessons that were learned last time. That does not mean to say that it has not caused severe problems to the livestock industry, as others have described cogently, and especially to sheep because of the time of year at which the outbreak occurred. The outbreak has also affected related industries. Workers at the slaughterhouse in Annan in my constituency were laid off or had to endure considerably reduced hours of work.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does the member agree that it is important that the commission that the Government is setting up considers both the part that local slaughterhouses could play in reducing the possibility of the spread of disease and the part that vaccination could play in reducing the possible effects of any outbreak? Today's debate has been entirely reactive, with no planning for the future.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I am happy to agree. As I hope to mention later, a greater supply of local abattoirs would mean that animals would not be required to be moved around the country to the same extent.

Vaccination has been hotly debated since 2001, but there are certainly arguments in favour of when it should be used. That was highlighted in some of the research that was carried out after the previous outbreak.

I was rather surprised to hear Mr John Scott express shock at my suggestion that the Scottish Executive's environment and rural affairs department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should work together. I might have been less surprised if an SNP member had made such a comment, but I was slightly surprised that a Conservative should say that SEERAD and DEFRA should not work together.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Sorry, I have already taken an intervention and I have only two minutes left.

In fact, at the time that this spat started, Hilary Benn made it quite clear that the door to the Treasury remained open if he required to seek additional funding. My suggestion is that SEERAD and DEFRA should be prepared to make a case together. If they feel that their budgets have been overstretched as a consequence of providing compensation, they should work on putting a reasoned, argued written case to the Treasury on why they need additional funding.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Sorry, I do not have time.

SEERAD and DEFRA might wish to argue that a UK institution, rather than a DEFRA institution, was involved. They might wish to make that case.

However, I am really quite surprised that a member of a unionist party should say what John Scott said. I would have thought that unionists would expect people to work together across the devolved Administrations to try to do the best for farmers. I would not have thought that Conservatives would be surprised at my suggestion.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No, I have only one minute left.

Like others, I am disappointed that the fact of one of Scotland's important primary industries finding itself in dire straits has been used for political argument. On 16 May, Alex Salmond said:

"I commit myself to leadership wholly and exclusively in the Scottish national interest."—[Official Report, 16 May 2007; c 36.]

I do not believe that it is in the Scottish national interest to use a crisis in the Scottish livestock industry to create a fight over the constitution. We have heard a lot of talk in this Parliament about the new consensual politics. Surely it would have been in the Scottish national interest to have taken action early in the crisis to build consensus on the need for a compensation scheme by taking into account the various suggestions from the NFUS and by presenting to the UK Treasury a reasoned, properly costed case that had cross-party support from this Parliament.

In 2001, the Scottish Executive made strenuous efforts to work with the Scottish Parliament and the Rural Affairs Committee in responding to the effects of the foot-and-mouth crisis. During the period of the epidemic, all parties recognised the need to work together because the crisis was far too serious an issue to be used for political advantage. I am sincerely sorry that the current Scottish Government has not seen the matter in the same light as the Executive did back in 2001.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to wind-up speeches.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:33, 24 October 2007

In this short but focused debate, it is interesting that the tone of SNP members has been very different from that of members on the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative benches. A very different style and tone has been evident.

The minister started by saying that Westminster had a moral responsibility to fund animal welfare. However, when he was challenged by Karen Gillon, he refused to say that that was a legal responsibility under the devolution settlement. In other words, there is no agreement that the matter is purely a UK issue.

Sarah Boyack pointed out that the sheep welfare scheme will have an underspend. The Liberal Democrats agree that that is the case, but the SNP would not acknowledge that. The reason for that is that the Government was too late in setting up the scheme in the first place. John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, managed to have transferred the £900 million of underspend that there has been. Richard Lochhead has obtained £19 million of that to provide £6 a ewe and, as I see it, nothing for our pig farmers.

John Scott and Tavish Scott—both Scotts—pointed out that the UK Government could have avoided the outbreak at Pirbright. They are absolutely right to say that it was an avoidable crisis. However, Tavish Scott pointed out that our farmers and crofters have been used as a political football and that that must stop.

Jim Hume, leading for the Liberal Democrats, stressed the importance of our farming industry to the Scottish economy. There should have been a meaningful focus on financial aid. I have mentioned the £6-a-head scheme for ewes. That is not a meaningful amount—the NFU asked for £10 a head, and I thought that that was a conservative figure.

We should build relationships with the UK Government. Party politics has got in the way of our handling of the crisis; I could not agree more with Jim Hume on that point. As Sarah Boyack said, Ross Finnie, the Liberal Democrat Minister for Rural Development at the time, issued £32 million in 2001, without falling out with the UK Government.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I clarify for the member's benefit that the £900 million that John Swinney has secured from the UK Government is for the next three years, not just for now. The aid that was available in 2001 resulted from consequentials that came from the UK Government and that we do not have this time.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The Government has an extra £900 million that it was not expecting. The minister has told us that he has managed to obtain £19 million not from his budget, but from an allocation by John Swinney. Why could he not have got a bit more of the £900 million?

Roseanna Cunningham, convener of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, of which I am a member, blamed Labour ministers, rather than focusing on what our Government could do to help from our budget. That sounds to me like more SNP girning and is a disappointing spectacle. If the UK Government disputes its responsibilities, we should get on with using our funds, as we did in 2001. We should take on the dispute later, but help our farmers now and take action in time to help our rural communities. Ministers should not give us too little, too late, as Richard Lochhead has done with the sheep welfare scheme and now with the Scottish ewe scheme. Throughout the debate, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative speakers such as Alex Johnstone made the point that, unfortunately, the SNP Government seems to be rather more interested in playing party politics with London than in providing our farmers with timely and sufficient financial help to deal with the disaster that faces them.

In conclusion, I refer to the amendment in Sarah Boyack's name, which

"recognises that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to provide funding to address the wider economic implications of the outbreak, as was the case in 2001; regrets the time it has taken to develop practical support for Scottish farming and crofting communities, and calls on the Scottish Government to develop constructive relations with the UK Government in order to address the future challenges in our agriculture and rural industries".

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Unfortunately, I cannot—I have run out of time.

Sarah Boyack's amendment should be the way forward for us in Scotland. I hope that at decision time Parliament will make that clear to the minority Administration.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:38, 24 October 2007

I draw attention to my livestock farming interests in the register of members' interests.

I congratulate Richard Lochhead on securing a debate about agriculture. It is good to see the word agriculture back in the Parliament, and not dressed up as environment or rural development. It is agriculture—farming—and it is important to Scotland.

Yesterday I attended the important annual auction market in Dalmally in Argyll for store beef calves. The quality of the stock was excellent and prices were similar to those in the 1980s. I never fail to be amazed by the optimism of hill farmers, who have tightened their belts so far that there are no notches left for further tightening. These people are fighting desperately to save their businesses, which already contribute so much to the Scottish environment and economy and could contribute so much more.

The main talk was obviously of the sheep sector, and my impression was that, since the error at Pirbright, product income for ewes and lambs had halved. There were many rumours of a headage payment of £10 per breeding ewe, which would just about cover half the losses that had, through no fault of their own, accrued to those hard-working people. That speculation had come from last Saturday's tup sale at Stirling and had possibly encouraged people to spend a bit more money on better quality tups for breeding. I am afraid that they will be disappointed.

However, they will not lie down and die at the whim of Hilary Benn and his broken promises. I pay tribute to the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders Association, the National Sheep Association and the NFUS for the work that they and other individuals have carried out on behalf of farmers and I sympathise with their difficulties in dealing with a Labour Government that appears to have turned its back on farmers, crofters and the rural economy. I am appalled by the cynicism and the lack of concern shown by Hilary Benn and Gordon Brown. It is awful to hear a UK minister such as Mr Benn being described as unspeakably arrogant, ignorant and, even worse, incompetent, but I find it difficult to disagree with such assessments. He should have listened to the NFUS, which was only representing its members, instead of deliberately humiliating it.

Of course we know that DEFRA is strapped for cash. After all, Gordon Brown insisted that it pay the £36 million EU fine for Labour Government incompetence over payments to farmers in the past. How appalling it is that that fine is more than the amount that is being offered to Scotland's hard-pressed hill farmers. There seems to be little love lost between the Treasury—or for that matter, Gordon Brown, who used to run that Treasury—and DEFRA.

I agree with farmers, crofters and the NFUS that the UK Government has a clear responsibility for addressing the crisis facing Scotland's rural economy for three reasons. First, the animal health budget is not devolved. Secondly, any payments from this budget apply to England, Wales and Scotland. Thirdly, losses incurred in this type of emergency can be compensated out of the contingency fund held by the UK Treasury. Indeed, that was the source of funding for compensation during the 2001 outbreak. The only difference this time is that farmers have incurred losses as a result of movement restrictions, which has dramatically reduced direct compensation payments made by Government at huge cost to businesses.

I note from the piece of paper that the cabinet secretary has provided that the support package for farmers amounts to £25.1 million. That is something, but it is not enough; Scottish losses are estimated at £60 million. As the cost of the 2001 outbreak was paid for by a UK contingency fund, why does the Labour amendment suggest that that should not be the case this time?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative


For the future of farmers and crofters all over Scotland, especially in my region of the Highlands and Islands, and for the future of hauliers, veterinarians, auctioneers and all the others who are part of Scotland's great agriculture industry, the Government should take steps to ensure that they and the farming industry are never again caught in such an exposed position. Scottish sheep farming can have a happy future, but only when the prices that we get for our animals are the same as those that farmers in France and Germany get. German farmers are getting £75 for lambs that Scottish farmers would be lucky to get £40 for, and my question for the minister is why a Scottish lamb should be worth only half a German one.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 4:44, 24 October 2007

I am pleased to be able to participate in what has been a worthwhile—and at times robust—debate.

Like other members, I represent a rural constituency and regularly meet farmers to discuss issues that affect them. Only two weeks ago I met local hill farmers and heard at first hand about the challenges that they face, not only from this outbreak but, as Alex Johnstone so eloquently highlighted earlier, with regard to the future of their industry. They are struggling to come to terms with the long-term future of their industry. They are wondering what lies ahead and how we can all work together to secure a future for their industry. I support what Alex Johnstone said, particularly about supermarkets, whose hold on Scottish agriculture is simply not healthy. They dictate the price and size of animals. They even dictate the weight of lambs to determine the size of chops that consumers can buy. That is simply bizarre. Labour members will work with other members to ensure that the supermarkets play their part in ensuring the sustainability of Scottish agriculture.

Tavish Scott made important and worthwhile points about his constituency and the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak on Lerwick as well as more general points. I say to John Scott that we all lobbied the Government on drivers' hours, and we got the relaxations in time for the lifting of restrictions.

Robin Harper made excellent points about the need for local slaughter, not only to control diseases but to help tackle climate change. If we are serious about local procurement, local slaughter must be an integral part of our programme. I would be interested to hear from the minister—in his summing up or at a later date—how we can progress that matter in particular.

I seldom find myself on the same side of a debate as Mike Rumbles, but he made a measured speech.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

It is not new. The member will find that it is a rather old coalition. Mike Rumbles's measured speech is worth reflecting on.

It is important to return to what happened in 2001. When Ross Finnie went to the chamber in March 2001, he put forward measures relating to the foot-and-mouth outbreak not knowing who would finance them. He acted quickly because doing so was in the interests of Scottish farmers. Unfortunately, the welfare scheme that the SNP Government announced in October could have been announced sooner. It would have been more effective if it had been announced sooner.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I want to clarify something for the member's benefit. DEFRA funded the welfare scheme that was announced in 2001. We do not have a similar scheme to implement in Scotland, so we had to implement our own scheme, which we did in early October. I ask the member to bear it in mind that she is not comparing like with like.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The member should reflect on what I said. When Ross Finnie got to his feet in the chamber and announced a scheme, he said that he did not know whether compensation would be available and that he was still negotiating to make money available. He then found, and negotiated with, his colleagues at Westminster. Rather than waiting for the day after an unseemly row with Westminster to announce a scheme for which he is paying, Richard Lochhead could have announced a scheme much earlier. He could have announced the scheme a month before. If he had done so, it would have benefited Scottish agriculture much more than it is currently doing.

Let us consider the sheep welfare scheme, which was originally priced at £8.5 million. Its price then went down to £6 million. In the figures that the minister produced today, the price was £4.5 million. In the estimates from the NFUS yesterday, the price was £3 million. How much will the scheme cost? How much will it benefit agriculture? The Scottish Government has provided too little, too late. The minister cannot continue to walk away from his responsibilities. I am happy to speak to him, work with him and support him in his negotiations, if he is negotiating properly in the interests of Scottish farmers rather than because he wants to pick a constitutional fight. Picking such fights is his party's raison d'être, as opposed to fighting in the interests of Scottish farmers. Scottish farmers deserve much more.

I want clarification. In his statement, the minister mentioned that John Swinney is writing to the Government today—some 12 weeks after the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK. There are consequences—

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The minister will have more than enough time to respond to what I am saying through his colleague Mr Russell.

Five weeks after the 2001 outbreak, Ross Finnie had brought forward LFASS and other agricultural support payments. He had negotiated with banks and the Inland Revenue and introduced a comprehensive package of measures. The Scottish Executive had found £32 million from its own budgets to support Scottish agriculture. I have the figures.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The minister can come back on his own point. I want to clarify whether the £25.1 million is what John Swinney is asking the UK Government for.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Why is it so little? Is that all that ministers have the gumption to ask the UK Government for, when the NFUS says that £50 million is needed? Members of all parties have said that they want agriculture to get the support that it needs. Richard Lochhead has said that the £25 million can be funded from the Executive's budgets. Is that the only case that is being made to the UK Government? Is that all that the UK Government is being asked to pay for? That is simply not good enough. It is not good enough for Scottish agriculture or for the long-term sustainability of Scottish farming. Mike Russell should reflect on that in his closing comments.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 4:51, 24 October 2007

Before I devote myself to some of the speeches that have been made, I make two further points in addition to what the cabinet secretary said in his opening speech. The first small addition is that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency is to set aside the second instalment of the disposal to land charge in 2007-08, which will benefit roughly 1,600 sheep farmers to the extent of £91 each.

It is also important, at this stage, to thank the officials who have been involved in dealing with many of the difficulties that have occurred over the past few months. Along with the cabinet secretary, I pay particular tribute to Ian Anderson, who led our response to the recent outbreak and who was involved in managing the 2001 outbreak. He will be familiar to former Labour ministers. He retires on Friday after many years of service and I know that all of us will want to wish him the best for the future. [Applause.]

Before I lay to rest some serious mistakes that have been made in the debate, I will deal with a number of speeches, beginning with that of Mike Rumbles, whose inability to understand the financing of government is truly breathtaking. It is impossible to spend money that has not yet been drawn down and which will not be drawn down until next year. In addition, his speech contained an element of political grandstanding that we have come to expect from him, but the worst aspect of it led me to decide that we should try to swap him for his Welsh colleague, Roger Williams, the Liberal Democrats' Welsh affairs spokesman. At the Welsh Lib Dems' autumn conference—no doubt a crowded event—Mr Williams said:

"The decision of the Westminster Government not to pay Welsh and Scottish Farmers compensation for the restrictions placed on them due to Foot and Mouth in England is outrageous. Especially so as money was promised by the Minister, Hilary Benn, before last weekend who then withdrew it once it was known there was to be no election. Yet he is still going to pay farmers in England."

Mr Williams understands the issue; Mr Rumbles does not.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I certainly understand the issue and I agree entirely with Roger Williams. My point was that the Government should get on with governing Scotland and providing rescue packages for our farmers. Rather than grandstanding, it should take up the dispute later.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

That is exactly what we are doing, so Mr Rumbles will have to vote for our motion.

Now, I will agree with a Liberal Democrat, Tavish Scott, whose endorsement of regionalisation I welcome. We are extremely keen that a regional approach to such outbreaks be adopted. That would have helped in the present case—Tavish Scott is right to say that it would have avoided some of the difficulties in which we now find ourselves, which I wish we could have avoided.

The key speech on those difficulties was what I can only call a masterly speech from Dr Alasdair Allan. He laid out the moral, legal and political background to the issue and placed it in the context of the constitutional settlement. Alas, we are discussing not what Tavish Scott referred to as a spat, but a legal, moral and constitutional failure by Westminster. This Government is attempting to deal with that matter.

I want to lay to rest two issues that Sarah Boyack raised—unfortunately, because both were errors. First, she expressed regret, which was echoed by Peter Peacock, that more time was not allocated to the debate. My friend the Minister for Parliamentary Business informs me that he offered the business managers more time for the debate on 2 October. He said that if any business manager wished to have more time, they should come back to him and that it would be granted—no business manager did that.

The second issue is the invidious and divisive comparisons that have been made between the 2001 outbreak and this outbreak. Those comparisons demean the work that Ross Finnie did. It is wrong to attempt to undermine what he did by making comparisons that would alter the historical record, so let us make the record clear.

First, let us look at the size of the packages. There was £32 million from Ross Finnie, which was a rural recovery package; the present package is an agricultural one worth £25 million. That is the difference between them. In fact, given the nature of the outbreak, the level of help that we are giving is considerably larger than that which was given in 2001.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No. I must make progress.

Secondly, the timescales involved are crucial. The outbreak in 2001 started on 20 February and the first livestock disposal welfare scheme was introduced on 22 March—we all praised Ross Finnie for doing that. In this case, as we know, the second outbreak triggered the requirement for the welfare scheme. That outbreak took place on 12 September, and the welfare scheme was announced on 9 October.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Order. There is an awful lot of background noise.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I do not praise Richard Lochhead at the expense of Ross Finnie; I praise both of them for the way in which they reacted to a crisis that developed regarding foot-and-mouth disease. That is the right thing to do and I think that many of us would reject the divisive approach that Sarah Boyack took.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I accept what the minister said about the historical record. Will he elaborate on why the Government has not accepted the financial figures that the NFUS forwarded?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Assessments are made, in a variety of ways, by officials. In all those circumstances, the chosen scheme seemed to be the most affordable, and one that could be introduced as quickly as possible. My colleague Richard Lochhead has made it clear that there will continue to be discussions. He said in his speech that he will meet representatives of the pig sector.

In those circumstances, the scheme is affordable and right. In fact, it is a larger scheme than the previous one. I know that it will be welcomed; it does not provide everything that was asked for, but it is substantial.

I deeply regret some of the speeches that we have heard, particularly from Labour members. I would have hoped that the Labour Party had learned its lesson by now and realised that its job is not to stand up for Labour, but to stand up for Scotland. What we heard today was a case of defending the indefensible, of aiding and abetting, and of a failure of moral, political, constitutional and legal leadership. That failure involves Hilary Benn, Gordon Brown and, regrettably, every Scottish Labour MP who supports what has taken place. A complete misunderstanding of the situation in Scotland, which is at the root of the matter, has also been aided and abetted. The misunderstanding is that, in some curious way, the situation in Scotland is of little consequence and can be massaged out of existence.

The wisest thing that I heard in the debate—apart, of course, from what was said by my colleague the cabinet secretary, who is always wise—was Robin Harper's interjection. We heard regrettably little about the future of the agriculture sector in Scotland. I conclude with the very words that Ross Finnie used in his speech in May 2001:

"Farming creates the attractive landscape and environment that tourists are keen to visit. As recent events have demonstrated so painfully, many tourists will not come here while a negative message is coming out of our countryside."

We have heard such a negative message from Labour today. Ross Finnie continued:

"A healthy rural economy needs a healthy farming sector. We must take that on board to ensure that we recognise the wider role that agriculture plays in today's Scotland."—[Official Report, 24 May 2001; c 1047.]

I endorse Ross Finnie's view. I hope that members will endorse the package that was announced today, so that we can move forward together.