I am extremely concerned about the serious financial difficulties that the livestock sector is experiencing as a result of foot-and-mouth disease in Surrey, which is why I announced yesterday a package of measures that is designed to support the industry through these difficult times and beyond.
Will the cabinet secretary reflect on the remarks that he made yesterday about the state of the welfare crisis that exists not just for light lambs but for other classes of sheep? Does he accept that the president of the Shetland branch of the National Farmers Union Scotland, the chairman of the Crofters Commission and the chairman of the Shetland Livestock Marketing Group—who are all practical farmers and crofters—consider that there is a significant issue
Will the cabinet secretary reflect on that in the context of the underspend that is likely to happen in the welfare scheme? Will he consider whether he can extend the scheme as soon as possible and use the Shetland abattoir to progress the matter quickly?
The member has raised the issue with me several times. The farmers on Shetland are making strong representations to him and, indeed, to me as cabinet secretary.
I reflect daily on the situation that faces our livestock in Scotland and its welfare implications. I am sure that the member and the Parliament appreciate that livestock welfare schemes are a last resort. The introduction of the light lambs scheme is an exceptional event. The light lambs were reared for an export market that was closed, and they faced starving to death on our hills due to a lack of feed.
I have to take the professional advice of the chief veterinary officer in Scotland, who tells me that many of the cases that are being made for extending the welfare scheme to include other animals are based on economic issues. If the situation changes, we will react to it. I am keen to maintain dialogue with the member for Shetland and I am happy to have my chief veterinary officer discuss the issue with him directly.
I ask the cabinet secretary to comment in detail on the tiering and structure of the headage payment scheme for ewes that he announced yesterday. I raised the matter in my speech in the agriculture debate yesterday. When I met crofters yesterday, they were most concerned that, without tiering in the scheme, crofters and farmers in our most fragile rural areas might lose out. Will the cabinet secretary take the time to outline his thoughts on that to the Parliament today?
That is an important point. I am well aware of the crofters' representations on the issue. The scheme that we are introducing provides a headage payment of £6 per breeding ewe and gimmer. That is a flat rate—there is no banding. We decided on that approach because it is an emergency scheme and we had to opt for the scheme that we could put in place most quickly. We had many representations from different sectors of the livestock industry, and I am afraid that it was not easy to keep everyone happy. I am sure that the member understands the pressures that we are under, given the background to the foot-and-mouth crisis in Scotland. We believe that we put forward the best, most effective scheme in the time that was available.