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Linked Holdings

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th November 2016.

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Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

5. I declare an interest as a farmer.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to address the reported concerns of farmers and industry representatives regarding new rules on linked holdings. (S5O-00306)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The purpose of the ScotMoves system is to enable efficient and effective disease control and eradication and the protection of public health. The system has been developed collaboratively by a joint Scottish Government and industry working group to ensure that, while animal and public health is protected, the requirements are feasible for businesses, meet European Union legislative requirements and do not impede trade.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

The cabinet secretary will be aware from his meetings with stakeholders and industry leaders that the change has caused a great deal of concern among the farming community. Can he explain why he is changing a perfectly good system when the new system is creating further anxiety for farmers and another hoop for them to jump through at an already difficult time?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The original question referred to “reported concerns” that were and remain unspecified. The working group included the National Farmers Union Scotland, which developed the proposals along with us, so it cannot be said that they come as a surprise.

The direct answer to Mr Chapman’s question is twofold. First, the current system risks non-compliance with EU rules and a fine of up to £3 million. It seems sensible to avoid that if we can, and any prudent Government must do so.

Secondly, and most important, there is the issue of disease control. It is essential that we have a system of recording cattle movements and keeping records that protect against disease. Some of us in the chamber can recall what happened when Scotland was beset by disease; Mr Chapman, as a farmer, will be well aware of that.

I will write to Mr Chapman with the details, but it is important in principle for all members to know that the proposals are driven by the need to protect Scotland against serious outbreaks of disease such as foot-and-mouth disease, and that, for that reason, the change is absolutely necessary. Everybody in the working group—including the NFUS—acknowledged that, which is why it is going ahead.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary tell us what progress has been made in implementing the 2016 common agricultural policy basic payment loan scheme?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am pleased to tell Joan McAlpine that the first payments under the national basic payment support scheme were paid to almost 12,000 farmers last Friday and totalled just over £246 million. That funding will give our rural communities the security and certainty that they need to plan for the year ahead, while driving forward the rural economy. I am grateful to all the officials who successfully administered the £246 million in payments to just under 12,000 farmers.

Finally, we encourage the 5,000 farmers who received a loan offer but have not yet replied to decide whether they wish to apply and, if so, to return the application slip as soon as possible.