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We are 78 days from Brexit, yet we still do not know what sort of Brexit we face. What is clear is that none of the Brexit options is good for Scotland’s rural economy—all are problematic for sectors such as farming, food and drink, aquaculture, forestry and fisheries. The Government maintains that the best outcome for Scotland is what we voted for: to remain in the European Union. The least bad option is membership of the single market and customs union.
I am actually pleased about that intervention, because it allows me to point out that one of the differences between my party and Mr Chapman’s is that we believe that the people of Scotland have the right to determine their future. I believe that other parties subscribe to that principle, too. It is astounding to me that the Conservatives prefer to ignore the view expressed by the population of Scotland in that vote—it was a clear no, a clear remain and clear opposition to Brexit. We respect that mandate and we are doing our best to deliver it.
A no-deal scenario would be catastrophic for rural Scotland and simply must be taken off the table.
When we first debated Brexit’s impact on rural Scotland, in September 2016, I was clear that Scotland needed to get on with deciding her own future, and that is what we have done. We have worked to gather views and recommendations to inform policy and support, and I thank everyone who participated in that work—principally the agricultural champions and the members of the National Council of Rural Advisers.
We have listened carefully to the changes that stakeholders have recommended and we continue to do so. We have consulted on a plan to transition from the common agricultural policy, which sets out the most detailed proposals that exist in the UK, and I am pleased that most respondents have said that they broadly support our proposals in the “Stability and Simplicity” paper. Those proposals take us forward not to 2022, as some of the Conservative Government’s proposals do, but to 2024—five years ahead—and I am determined to continue to take those forward.
Our plan sets out as much stability as we can provide for the first two years. Beyond 2021, we will maintain the current landscape of schemes but with changes to simplify them. We will also seek to free up resources to pilot new approaches that we want to implement beyond 2024.
We have created an internal simplification task force and have appointed a panel of individuals and sector representatives to guide the task force’s work and priorities. Members of that panel have real-life experience of how CAP schemes have operated and a significant stake in rural Scotland’s future.
Opportunities have already been identified to streamline current schemes. I can announce that the task force will be asked to review the process for forestry grant applications to determine where we can make improvements. I have also asked for a review of the whole forestry grant scheme, so that more small landowners can access support to plant trees and create woodland.
Yes, it will. Mr Scott raises a point that has been raised by members across the political spectrum. Many farmers and crofters, including in Shetland, are very concerned about the overprescriptive nature of the CAP scheme, the limited and restricted permitted margin for error, the way in which alleged or actual infringements of the scheme are treated and the disproportionate nature of the penalties, which often seem to be far more swingeing than anyone feels is fair or reasonable. There is common ground on that point, and it is at the root of many farmers’ and crofters’ discontent with the CAP rather than the EU itself, which in financial terms has been a good friend particularly to the Highlands and Islands, part of which Mr Scott represents.
We believe that that is very important work, but creating bespoke policy for farming and food production requires careful consideration. It is very complex, and it is right that we give it that careful consideration. I was, therefore, happy to include in our motion the proposal from Mr Rumbles and the Scottish Liberal Democrats that we
“convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform” the development of future—[
] Well, Mr Rumbles thinks that it is right to involve the people of Scotland in the work that we do and not impose top-down policies from these benches. We think that it is right to involve stakeholders in policy making and not exclude them.
The written part of my speech says, “I hope that all parties will support this action.” How naive am I, Presiding Officer?
The motion also sets out key principles for future policy. Sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability are core objectives. Those objectives are designed as a starting point rather than an exhaustive list, and I will focus on the last one—profitability—because we need to create policy and support for Scotland’s rural economy that allows it to succeed.
One key driver and measure of success should surely be that rural businesses and sectors are profitable, that they create wealth for their owners and—perhaps more important—provide fair work beyond their own families where possible, creating opportunities for wider supply chains and helping the communities in which they are based to flourish. Creating greater profitability in the sector will, in part, depend on future support. I have been clear that this Government sees a continuing role for direct support, particularly for farming and food production. Our definition of public goods must encompass the multiple roles performed by farmers and crofters in food production and in stewardship of the countryside and our natural assets.
However, policy needs funding to turn good intentions into success, and the UK Government is at risk of having overpromised and continuing to underdeliver in that regard. Those in favour of Brexit, including Michael Gove and George Eustice—with whom I have good and workmanlike relations and whom I will see in London on Monday—led us to believe that there might be more funding available post-Brexit for rural industries if we voted to leave. That is what they said during the Brexit referendum. They gave those guarantees and, although the guarantees are welcome, we are some way off their delivery.
I hope that the review of convergence funding, which is now—at long last—under way, will deliver the fair outcomes that Scotland’s farmers are due. I remain hopeful that the UK Government will accept amendments to its Agriculture Bill to provide a funding guarantee for the future. However, on-going uncertainty about funding is creating specific real-time issues.
Turning to the less favoured area support scheme, we should not forget that Scotland is the only part of the UK that currently provides that additional support to our most marginalised farmers, especially in crofting and in the hills and uplands. We continued the LFASS funding when England and Wales did not, because it is needed. That is why the situation in which we find ourselves—transitioning out of LFASS without clarity on what we are transitioning to—is so difficult. I want to provide certainty where I can.
Less favoured areas funding for 2019 and 2020 will not fall below 80 per cent of LFASS. I and my officials will continue to work with stakeholders to find options to achieve that. Further, as I have previously committed to, any additional funding arising from Lord Bew’s convergence review, which is now under way, will be prioritised for that purpose. If there are sufficient moneys, we will effectively reinstate funding levels to 100 per cent of LFASS. I want to make it absolutely clear that, in the future, this Government will continue to ensure that the most marginalised farmers and crofters receive additional financial support that acknowledges the difficulties under which they farm and steward our countryside.
Of course, funding is not the only thing that we are having to fight for. As the legislative consent memorandum laid before this Parliament sets out, we have had to fight a rearguard action to keep Scotland’s powers over farming and food production. I have sought to resolve those issues constructively with Mr Gove in the Agriculture Bill and have been heartened by his willingness to at least consider those matters.
However, on fundamental issues—which he maintains are reserved but which I and this Government are certain are devolved—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has not budged, sadly, and we have run out of time. Some people continue to suggest that the best way to legislate for future rural policy is through a schedule in the UK’s Agriculture Bill, but that would be inappropriate, not least because the substantive issues over powers in the UK bill remain unresolved.
I contend that it is this Parliament’s job and role to develop, consider and pass the legislation that rural Scotland needs to underpin policy in the future. Indeed, I suggest that this Parliament is best placed to legislate for rural Scotland’s needs and interests, not least because our legislative process is more transparent and more thoughtful. Our process also ensures that stakeholders and communities are fully engaged, and I can testify that this Parliament can and does hold the Government to account in seeking to arrive at a considered compromise.
I cannot give a date for that at the moment, as the timetable has yet to be fixed, but it will be introduced in more than sufficient time before it is required. The purpose of the bill is primarily to provide the fundamental framework for the continuance of payments being made as well as to allow changes in future policy post-Brexit, should that occur.
I will, of course, come back to the member—and all members—about the timetable in due course, but the key point is that I can provide a 100 per cent assurance that the bill will be introduced in more than sufficient time for Parliament to debate it in full and for the bill to receive consent and approval in time to do its job. There is no dubiety about that: this is what we do, this is what we are here for and this is what we will achieve.
I look forward to the debate and to hearing what all members have to say. In Scotland, we are proud of what our farmers and crofters, as well as those who work in the wider rural economy, achieve. They produce great food and provide the environmental stewardship that creates the scenery and the landscape that we enjoy, which so many people come to Scotland to visit. They are at the heart of rural communities. It is impossible to imagine rural Scotland without farming continuing for generations and, indeed, centuries to come, as it has played an essential part in the history of Scotland over generations and centuries past.
It is my privilege to champion their interests, and I will do everything in my power to continue to do so. The motion in my name marks the start of that process.
That the Parliament acknowledges that future policy for Scotland’s rural economy should be founded on key principles, including sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability; recognises that it should seek to maintain flourishing communities, enable farmers and crofters to continue to deliver high-quality goods and services through food production and stewardship of the countryside and Scotland’s natural assets, and encourage diverse land use; calls on the UK Government to deliver a fair allocation of future rural funds to Scotland, including fully replacing all lost EU funding, that will allow development and implementation of a funding support scheme that meets rural Scotland’s needs and interests; further calls on the Scottish Government to convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland, and agrees that the Parliament should legislate for future rural policy.
I refer to the mention of crofting and farming in my entry in the register of members’ interests.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss our vision for future rural policy and support in this important debate. Both the challenges and the possibilities for rural Scotland are significant, particularly as we leave the European Union, and it is our determination that we do right by our rural communities in this regard.
I cannot let the reference to the Prime Minister’s deal go unremarked upon. The fact is that there is the Prime Minister’s deal or there is no deal on the table. The Scottish National Party opposes no deal, so it should support the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s deal has the support of NFU Scotland but not the SNP, and I know whose word I would prefer to take.
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I recognise and understand the challenges that rural parts of Scotland face.
From concerns over long-term funding and farm debt, to fewer younger people looking to take on a career in farming and the on-going battles that farmers face to get a fair price for their product from supermarkets, there are a lot of issues to tackle. However, there are also reasons to be optimistic about the future, and the opportunity to design a new and bespoke system of support for our farmers and crofters is one of them.
I would like to address some of the issues covered in our amendment. In it, we refer to the UK Agriculture Bill, as did the cabinet secretary. We continue to believe that the interests of Scottish farmers will be best served by Scotland being part of the bill, just as Wales and Northern Ireland will be; that will provide a framework for support payments to be made. We take succour from the fact that the clear preference of the NFUS is to have a Scottish schedule to the UK Agriculture Bill in order to, as it says,
“offer certainty and stability sooner rather than later”.
That is described as a belt-and-braces approach.
It is a matter of great regret that the SNP appears to be more concerned with putting nationalism ahead of the interests of Scotland’s farmers by refusing to engage with, or take up the offer of a Scottish schedule to, the bill. Such a schedule would not restrain our ability to create a bespoke Scottish system later via Scottish legislation.
On the wider aspects of the UK bill, although I think that many of the principles and ideas articulated by Michael Gove on agriculture in England deserve consideration, such as the principle of public money for public goods, we on these benches are committed to a definitive Scottish support system that addresses the unique nature of farming here in Scotland.
Our amendment also mentions the reduction of LFASS payments and
“the effects that this will have on livestock farming”.
The fact of the matter is that only a few days ago, the cabinet secretary suggested that LFASS payments would drop to 40 per cent of current levels over the next two years, but today he has clarified his position in what I have to say was a screeching U-turn made under intense pressure.
I have made it clear countless times, including from where I stand, that I am determined that LFASS should not go below 80 per cent. The press release to which Donald Cameron refers simply alluded to the fact that at the December council meeting, which I attended and where I made representations to Commissioner Hogan directly, the European Union decided to lift its proposed reduction from 20 per cent to 40 per cent. That is a modest improvement, but it is not enough; that is crystal clear. I have always made that as clear as I have made it today.
Nevertheless, cuts to LFASS will have a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s hill farmers and crofters. They have nothing whatever to do with Brexit; to pretend otherwise is to play politics with farmers’ livelihoods.
The NFUS has been clear about LFASS.
Andrew McCornick said:
“LFASS payments provide a vital financial boost to those who are trying to forge a living out of some of the hardest land in the country.”
Much starker were the words of the chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Russell Smith, who said yesterday:
“Reducing the Less Favoured Areas support to 80% of current rates for 2019 sends out a very negative message, but we can live with it but to then cut it to a mere 40% for 2020 will be ruinous ... Being told now that this vital support to crofters will be reduced to 40% next year is a slap in the face to us in the less favoured areas and indicates failure on the part of the Scottish Government.”
Looking forward, as the cabinet secretary designs the new support system, I urge him to ensure that those farming on the 85 per cent or so of Scottish land classified as less favourable are properly supported. This moment in time provides him with the perfect opportunity to mitigate the effects of the damaging cuts that he is making to LFASS payments.
On future support, let me strike a more consensual note. We agree with much of the Scottish Government’s motion and we pledge to work with the cabinet secretary, others across the chamber and the many interested parties across Scotland to help to devise a support system that is fit for Scotland’s farmers.
We agree that any future support must ensure that farmers are able to continue to deliver the high-quality produce that makes up Scotland’s natural larder. We agree that the new system must be simpler, create stability and reward active productive farming. We agree that profitability is central.
We welcome the opportunity to include producer groups, consumer groups and environmental groups in assisting with the formulation of a bespoke system. However, like many others, we are wary about the creation of yet another expert group. We have task-force fatigue. Over the past two and a half years, since the Brexit vote, we have had countless councils, committees, task forces, groups of advisers and reports, all of which have been well intentioned, but yet another Scottish Government committee or group is the last thing that we need, especially in the absence of any detailed policy from the Government.
I turn to some of the specific things that we on these benches have proposed, which we think will help our rural communities to flourish. First and foremost, I pay tribute to our farmers and crofters who are, after all, the custodians of our countryside. I know how hard they work and I am always conscious of the decisions that we as politicians make and the impact that they will have on our farming communities.
I have written to the cabinet secretary to say that we
“believe that food production must be at the heart of future farming policy.”
Scottish food and drink is world renowned and the promotional efforts of both the UK Government and the Scottish Government should be commended, not least because we know that our food and drink sector is looking to double its worth from £15 billion to £30 billion annually by 2030. We think that that can be achieved.
We think that farmers should be incentivised to deliver the raw produce required to make that ambition real. Our farmers and crofters do exemplary work in looking after the natural environment. Scottish Environment LINK argues that
“food production is part of a fair, healthy and sustainable food system.”
I am pleased to see that Scottish Rural Action, led by Emma Cooper and Fiona Thompson—who have had a stand in the Parliament all week, promoted by Finlay Carson—wants to promote the importance of engaging more widely with Scotland’s rural communities.
We also believe that for there to be a stable future in farming we need to look at ways of encouraging the next generation of farmers to get involved. Organisations such as the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs already carry out important work in encouraging new entrants. However, we need to make farming more flexible, so that new farmers can pursue other income streams while maintaining the farming side of their business, thereby making farming a more attractive prospect for new entrants. Above all, we need a system that allows farmers to improve their farms rather than one that punishes them for non-compliance.
We want a proper system to be put in place that is tailored to Scotland, is easy to access and does not burden farmers with unnecessary bureaucracy. We want our food and drink sector to grow, and we want rural communities to reap the benefits of that growth. We are willing to work with the Government to achieve those aims, but the SNP needs to present a clear and detailed policy proposal soon, so that Scotland’s farmers and crofters have clarity on what the future holds for them.
I move amendment S5M-15279.3, to leave out from “including fully replacing” to end and insert:
“which will allow the development and implementation of a funding support scheme that meets rural Scotland’s needs and interests; notes the serious concern across the farming and crofting sectors about the potential reduction of Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments and the effects that this will have on livestock farming, given the unique importance of LFASS; welcomes the input of producer, consumer and environmental organisations in assisting with the formulation of a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland; notes the preference of the NFUS for a Scottish Schedule to the UK Agriculture Bill in order ‘to offer certainty and stability sooner rather than later’, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that it has sufficient legislative powers to implement a support scheme that will allow the active rural economy to transition from the current system.”
Our crofters and farmers have been looking for an indication of the direction of travel on agricultural support post-Brexit for some time, and I hope that today will bring some clarity.
There is little to disagree with in the Government’s motion, but it lacks ambition for our rural communities and takes little notice of the particular disadvantages that affect those on the periphery. The motion is about preserving the status quo rather than showing ambition for our farming and crofting communities. In turbulent times, I can understand that the status quo appears attractive, but we need to grasp this opportunity. Now more than ever, we need to grow rural economies, and agriculture remains a key driver in achieving that.
The motion does not recognise the needs of our more remote rural areas, which have higher costs due to the distance from market and suppliers. Such areas need more funding. It also does not mention the disadvantages of climate and poor soil quality, which put people in the industry in some parts of Scotland at a natural disadvantage. LFASS was designed to mitigate such disadvantages, but when the EU proposed a new scheme to assist areas of natural constraint, the Scottish Government did not move from LFASS to an ANC scheme. Although we welcome the assurances that the cabinet secretary has given today, the Government must take responsibility for the 80 per cent cuts to LFASS that our most marginal farming and crofting businesses are facing, and from that must learn that the status quo is not always best.
Our current system is very biased towards large-scale production, with some farmers who could run profitable businesses without support receiving the lion’s share of the support. The top five recipients of single farm payments in Scotland receive more that the bottom 3,500 recipients combined. Sadly, 45 per cent of farms make an income that is equivalent to less than the minimum agricultural wage, with 23 per cent making a loss; yet it is those businesses, which arguably offer more by way of public goods, that receive the least funding. Public money must be used prudently to address those issues.
The new scheme must recognise public benefits as well as food security. The scheme cannot operate in a silo; it has to fit with wider Government policy, which is why we have been calling for a good food nation bill. We have fantastic world-renowned produce, yet many of our people are malnourished; therefore, what we want from our farmers and crofters needs to be the basis of the new scheme. Although the key principles of sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability are laudable, they do not take into account the right to food. Many of our children are growing up in poverty, which stores up problems for future generations and their health service and affects children’s life chances and lifespan.
Farmers and crofters are economic drivers as well as food producers, but much of their profitability is lost through very long food chains, which build in costs that eat into profits. Local procurement could cut costs to the public sector while supporting the local agriculture industry. We have never fully recognised the potential for allowing farmers and crofters to sell directly to large public bodies. We need to encourage co-operative working between individual businesses, which would allow them to compete and would ensure a supply of goods to such organisations.
Such enterprises would need support to get off the ground, but given that co-operation already lies at the heart of many of our agricultural communities, with the use of machinery rings and management of common grazings, the concept is not alien. However, current schemes—especially environment schemes—work against that method of co-operation. We must recognise that, by providing work and economic benefit, agriculture plays a part in keeping people in those communities. If we are to halt and turn around depopulation, we must maximise the impact of the industry by keeping secondary processing in those communities, too. We speak about diversification, but we should couch that in terms of maximising the benefits that agriculture brings to our rural communities.
We agree with the call in the Scottish Government’s motion for fair funding, which recognises that Scotland, with its large rural areas, provides a greater share of the UK’s agriculture and should be funded accordingly. Although the UK Government appears to have accepted the argument for fairer funding, we must work to ensure that that comes to fruition. Labour cannot support the Conservative amendment, because it removes that part of the motion.
Our preference would be for a Scottish agriculture bill in order to protect the devolved settlement, and we welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to that. However, we must also work to replace other EU funding for our rural communities, for example the LEADER programme, which initiated innovative work that helped to underpin many of those communities.
Like the Labour amendment, the Green amendment highlights the need for schemes to encourage good environmental practice. As I mentioned, current schemes lock out co-operative working, but they also ignore steps towards carbon sequestration. That is a disincentive, when we must use such support to help to offset emissions from the farming sector.
We recognise the impact that the prevailing uncertainty has on our agriculture sector, but we believe that we have an opportunity to build a policy and a strategy that support our farming communities. Given the challenges that the future holds, it is important to strengthen and protect the sector now.
I move S5M-15279.2, to insert at end:
“; notes that, in designing a future farm payments system, there is an opportunity to mitigate current reductions to Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments; recognises that any future system should prioritise payments to those farmers and agricultural workers most in need of financial support, due to land quality and distance from market, and notes that there is an opportunity to design a scheme that tackles rural poverty and food poverty, leads to sustainable development and inclusive growth, supports the repopulation of rural areas, protects the environment and addresses climate change.”
Like other members, I welcome the opportunity to debate the future of rural policy and funding, but the opportunity has been a long time coming. With only 78 days to go, allegedly, until we leave the EU, we are behind other parts of the UK in deciding what will replace the common agricultural policy. I had hoped that we could find consensus in the debate and begin to move forward with that urgent process.
My amendment seeks to place the climate emergency at the heart of our rural support policy, because the future of farming—perhaps more than any other sector—is in doubt if we fail to take urgent action. It is not just our domestic industry that is at stake, but our entire globalised food supply chain.
The NFUS said in Parliament recently that it did not believe that climate change was a top priority for the Scottish Government—its words, not mine. We need to see that change, and we need to see greater recognition that profitable farms are also low-carbon farms, which can maintain strong market advantage on quality and public goods delivery.
Government ministers have previously said in the chamber that a net zero target for the farming sector is not possible because of the emissions inherent in our food production, but that misses the point of net zero and the need for whole-farm accounting. When I talk about achieving net zero emissions from agriculture, I mean emissions on a whole-farm level, with farmers being credited with the positive carbon sequestration effects of well-managed farmland on one side of the balance sheet, and the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions caused by farming practices on the other.
Just as a matter of clarification, is it now the Greens’ policy that every single sector has to produce zero greenhouse gas emissions? I had thought that the policy applied to Scotland, which is quite different.
Mr Stevenson will know from our deliberations in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that every single sector needs to play its part, and farming, or agriculture, and transport are two sectors that need to work very hard. He will also be aware of the enormous carbon sequestration potential from land management in Scotland. I am sure that we will continue that discussion in the committee as we work on our report on the
Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill.
Current emissions accounting puts agriculture in one silo and land management in another, and it does not reflect the reality of whole-farm systems. The farming and land management sector is perhaps the only one where we can talk not only about reducing emissions, but about the carbon-banking side of the balance sheet. That needs to be at the ambitious heart of a national plan for achieving a net zero carbon economy.
Until now, we have relied on voluntary methods, such as the farming for a better climate programme. That is good, but such methods have had limited uptake, and reductions in emissions from the sector as a whole have stagnated in the past 10 years. Resourcing remains poor: the committee heard that there is only one full-time equivalent in the Scottish Government dedicated to that huge agenda. It is clear that voluntary measures on their own are not going to deliver the transformation that we need in farming. Although worthy, farm-assurance schemes will always be limited in ambition if they are governed solely by their membership.
Therefore, it is time for us to use our most powerful non-punitive measures and directly link farm support to action on climate change and the delivery of other, wider public goods. That means embedding the principle of a net zero target into our farm support scheme and financially rewarding farmers for actions such as reducing reliance on industrial fertilisers while building soils as healthy carbon sinks through agroecological farming and agroforestry. Alongside essential flood management work, many of those approaches can be rolled out on a catchment-wide scale, but that needs co-ordination between farms, as Rhoda Grant alluded to. Without that co-ordinated delivery work, we will not see the scale of knowledge transfer and action that can make the difference on the ground.
Our net zero target has the backing of civil society, with 50 organisations, including Community Land Scotland, the Organic Growers Alliance, the Scottish Crofting Federation and Scottish Land & Estates, writing an open letter to the Scottish Government last year in which they called for a target for carbon neutral farming.
Just last week—
As Mr Scott knows, there are complexities in the way that the inventory in relation to agriculture is assessed. I would welcome the UKCCC’s advice on that and the Government has requested advice, so let us see what it comes back with in April. We may be in a very different place on that.
“Our aim must be ambitious: to get our industry to net zero across all greenhouse gas inventories by 2040 or before.”
That is not the Green Party speaking—that is the National Farmers Union speaking. She recognises that that will not only fulfil farming’s duty to the environment, but help build our reputation as a world leader in climate-friendly food production.
For those of us who see Scotland’s place as being firmly within the EU, it can be hard to talk about opportunities that may come from Brexit, but seeking alignment with the common agricultural policy does not have to mean clinging to the status quo. The CAP is changing, with plans well under way for reform post-2020. We can guarantee that climate change and the Paris agreement will be at the heart of the new CAP.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned us last year that we have only 12 years left to make the necessary changes to avoid catastrophic climate change. This may be our only chance to change the direction of our rural policy and funding in Scotland. We must prioritise the sustainable management of our natural resources and our climate, on which our entire farming system is based. We are the first and last generation of people on this earth who know both the scale of the climate emergency and how to fix it. We should act now without any further delay.
I move amendment S5M-15279.1, to insert after “land use;”
“agrees that agricultural support is a key tool in addressing the climate emergency and emissions from agriculture and land use, and that future funding should help develop a net-zero emissions farming sector in Scotland;”.
I am very pleased to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in support of the Government motion before us today.
In the spirit of New Year cheer, I put forward a positive addition to the draft motion, which Fergus Ewing generously shared with me over the break. As he said, he has incorporated my proposal into the motion, and I appreciate that. The motion
“calls on the Scottish Government to convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland”.
I have long argued, both in the chamber and beyond, that if we are to establish an effective, bespoke policy for the rural economy that works, we need to ensure that everyone involved buys into whatever is produced. We will get a successful, bespoke new policy if we manage to achieve buy-in from producers, consumers and environmentalists. If organisations representing those interests can get around the table and reach an agreement that informs and recommends to the Scottish Government a positive way forward, we will have a much better chance of succeeding in developing the right bespoke system for Scotland. I am a bit lost, because I do not understand how anyone could call that the status quo.
I am very pleased to see that Fergus Ewing is willing to convene such a group, and if producer organisations such as NFU Scotland, consumer organisations and environmental groups such as Scottish Environment LINK are more than happy to participate, we will be well on the way to achieving success in developing our new policy.
I do not wish to be prescriptive as to which other producer, consumer and environmental organisations should be involved as I think that it is only right that the rural economy secretary himself should make that decision. It is, however, important to acknowledge that, as political parties, we have our genuine differences. For instance, as a Liberal Democrat, I fervently wish that we were not leaving the European Union and therefore in need of designing our own system of rural support. However, we are where we are. For the future prosperity of our rural economy, it is essential that we all make our best efforts to reach agreement across the chamber on designing the best bespoke system of rural support that meets the unique needs of Scotland’s rural economy.
This is where, if I may gently say this to Donald Cameron, the Conservative amendment completely misses the whole point. That amendment would remove the requirement for the Scottish Government to convene the group of producer, consumer and environmental organisations that needs to come up with recommendations for our new bespoke system—it would remove the requirement for any real buy-in from those organisations.
Fergus Ewing, our rural economy secretary, has an enormously difficult job to do and I want to see him succeed in the task. I am glad that the motion recognises the need to reach broad agreement from stakeholders, but I am sorry to say that if we were to accept the Conservative amendment, we would actually make things more difficult.
I would like to see us put party arguments and party advantage to one side. If we do, I am sure that our producer, consumer and environmental organisations will also be willing to do the same. The great prize is a bespoke and successful system of rural support that will enable our rural economy to thrive.
I agree. That is the message that I am getting, and I hope that everyone else is also receiving it.
There is no reason why every party in Parliament cannot back the motion.
There is obviously some discussion to be had about future frameworks for rural support across the UK. However, there should be no doubt that rural issues are devolved under the Scotland Act 1998, and that the Scottish Parliament has responsibility for legislating in the area. It is clear that it is our responsibility to legislate for Scotland’s rural economy. However, that puts even greater responsibility on our rural economy secretary and on the UK ministers who are responsible for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to use their best efforts to reach agreement on how any future common framework would operate.
Having a bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland legislated for by this Parliament and having an agreed UK-wide common framework for rural support are not mutually exclusive. We should not put up false barriers to reaching a commonly agreed framework; it must be an agreed framework that lies within the competences of both the Scottish and UK Parliaments and which is operated in a spirit of co-operation by both Governments.
It is a new year. I know that 2019 might bring division and differences between political parties to the fore on many issues and, at the right moment and on the right issue, I will be party to that—as I sometimes am. However, in designing a new and bespoke system of support for our rural economy that works, the rural economy secretary has a difficult task ahead of him, and we must all make the extra effort not to create false divisions between us simply for party advantage.
We have an opportunity to create a new and bespoke system that works for the benefit of the people we represent. If we agree to the motion, the rural economy secretary will have a clear way forward to create a successful new and bespoke system.
When the cabinet secretary delivered a statement on the future of agricultural support and post-Brexit transitional arrangements in the chamber last June, he said that a central conclusion of the agriculture champions’ report was that
“No change is not an option.”
He also cited the discussion paper that the national council of rural advisers published, which said:
“Now is the time to change the way we think, act and operate to tailor bespoke policy frameworks.”
That date marked the start of a consultation to provide rural Scotland with stability and some continuity for rural support payments.
The Scottish Government’s consultation document “Stability and Simplicity” focused on the arrangements that will need to be put in place immediately after the UK leaves the EU in March or whenever that happens. It asked what short-term simplifications could be made to help current claimants of CAP support and discussed how best to support agriculture and integrate it into the broader rural economy. The consultation asked how pilot projects might be developed and used to test different approaches and how to reduce the administrative burden; it contained proposals to streamline and synergise some pillar 2 schemes and suggested the creation of a transition period. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s confirmation in his opening speech that we will commit to a five-year transition period, as recommended by the agriculture champions.
If, as the motion says, we want to ensure the key principles of a future rural support system that
“should seek to maintain flourishing communities”, we cannot ignore the contribution that LEADER funding has made to our rural areas. LEADER is part of the Scotland rural development programme pillar 2 funding. In my constituency alone, in the tranche of funding from 2014 to 2020, it will invest £3.2 million in projects on activities that include farm diversification, electric vehicle training, road signage and many more. So far, 55 projects have been given a considerable boost in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, with the added bonus of attracting other sources of funding, match funding and investment.
For our small communities, the effect of such support from the EU cannot be overstated; it has transformed communities that have suffered decades of neglect from successive Westminster economic policies. The aim of LEADER funding is to increase support to local, rural and community networks and to build and modernise our wealth of knowledge and skills. It encourages innovation and co-operation in order to tackle local development objectives. The funding is the embodiment of the community empowerment policies that the Parliament has laid down, and I am grateful for the support from our European friends to invest in such crucial developments.
Meanwhile, in Westminster, we see the progress of the Agriculture Bill, which I have no doubt will have its third reading in coming weeks. While the Scottish Government is doing everything possible to support agriculture and integrate it into the broader rural economy, it is frustrating that the UK bill still requires significant improvements to meet the aspirations of the industry in Scotland. My SNP colleagues in Westminster have tabled amendments to that bill to replace current EU geographical indicators in future UK legislation and to protect the quality of the domestic food supply by ensuring that any imported foodstuffs are held to the same standards as domestic foodstuffs. Those are only two examples, which might seem simple enough but, unfortunately, the Tory Government rejected both proposals at the committee stage. It will be interesting to see what approach is taken when the bill returns for its third reading. Is this another example of the UK Government abandoning our rural communities?
Many suggestions have been made about what a new agricultural support system could look like. It could be based on food production rather than land area, and it might not even be an agricultural system—it could be a countryside system that encompasses all our rural commitments, including biodiversity, forestry and the wider environment.
I conclude with a quote from the Scottish rural parliament’s policy statement on engaging Scotland's rural communities on Brexit:
“The EU brings a long history of support for peripheral rural and island areas which has had a significant impact on the sustainability and development of rural areas. We need reassurance through clear commitments that the UK and Scottish Government will continue to meet the needs of rural people, places and enterprises.”
I welcome the debate today and I am happy to say that the Scottish Government has pledged to meet its commitment to rural Scotland.
I start by declaring an interest as a partner in a farming business.
This is a crucial debate at a time when the future of our farming sector has never been so uncertain. Farmers across Scotland are desperate for some answers as to what their future holds. Frankly, they are watching with dismay and anger at the way in which many of our MSPs and MPs are putting short-term party politics ahead of our country’s long-term prospects and prosperity.
The outcome of Brexit is the big question on which all else hinges. If the deal that was negotiated between the UK Government and the EU is passed next week, we will have some degree of certainty on a way forward. If it is voted down, as appears likely because both Labour and SNP MPs have their own party politics to pursue, we are heading for uncharted waters.
Many people do not want a no-deal Brexit, but the only sure way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to vote for the only deal on the table. MPs of all parties need to reflect on that. This morning’s letter from the four UK NFUs is a stark reminder that a no-deal Brexit could be catastrophic for UK agriculture. Fergus Ewing is well aware of the danger, yet he blithely follows the party line that the SNP MPs will all vote against this deal for their own narrow party-political reasons—politics at its worst.
There is a plethora of study groups set up by the Scottish Government. I remind Mike Rumbles of just how many we have already had: the agricultural champions, the national council of rural advisers, the Scottish sheep strategy group, the beef strategy group, the fruit and veg group, the Griggs greening review group, and another agricultural policy simplification task force. Yet, despite all these groups, we still have no vision and no idea of where the SNP Government wants to take the industry.
I do not have time. I have only six minutes.
Indeed, I note from the motion that the Government wants to convene yet another group. Fergus Ewing should already be the best-informed minister in history with all that advice, but it looks much more like an exercise of kicking the can down the road than an attempt to come up with any decisions. Setting up another group reinforces my fears that the cabinet secretary has no idea how to proceed.
I understand it fine, but what it really says is that the status quo will remain until 2024 but we do not know what will happen then. That is not nearly good enough
. The big prize that is available from Brexit is the ability to design a system of support that is much better suited to the needs of Scottish agriculture than the CAP could ever be and yet, two and a half years on, there is no vision and no plan.
The industry is also facing swingeing cuts to LFASS payments. The cabinet secretary just confirmed—[
.] Can we carry on?
Anyway, as we know, LFASS money is vital in supporting farmers who are trying to eke out a living in some of our most remote and hardest land. We should be in no doubt that cuts to LFASS, even to 80 per cent, will result in bankruptcies and land abandonment.
As well as lacking vision for the future of farming, we are also lacking the necessary legislative structure. We are content that the Scottish Government has the legal basis to make payments under pillars 1 and 2 for the 2019 payment year, but we believe that legislation is necessary to make payments in 2020 and beyond and, as things stand, that legal basis does not exist. The Scottish Government, unlike Northern Ireland and Wales, has declared that it will not take powers within the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill, which means that the Scottish Government must produce a Scottish agriculture bill to ensure that farmers are able to be paid and future policy can be developed from 2020 onwards. However, there was no mention of such a bill in the programme for government that was published in September. That is hardly the sign of a Government that is in control of events.
The industry deserves better. We need to recognise that our farmers’ first priority is to produce high-quality food, but there is no way we can grow our food and drink industry to £30 billion by 2030 unless measures are put in place to fund the industry properly. Any new system that is put in place must be easier to apply for, easier to administer and targeted at the farmers producing the food that we need. It must recognise that 85 per cent of our farmland is LFA and target extra support to those areas to maintain our high-quality red meat industry, and it must also support a suite of environmental measures that all farmers can buy into simply. There can be no tension between productive agriculture and high environmental standards—both must go hand in hand.
The industry is at a pivotal point. Brexit negotiations are at a critical stage, creating huge uncertainty. On top of that, we have an SNP Government that is presiding over huge cuts to LFASS payments, which is failing even to put the necessary legislation in place to allow for future support payments and which has no vision for what our future support should look like. In short, it is an SNP Government that is incompetent, tired, out of ideas and failing our farmers.
First of all, I declare my joint ownership of a very small registered agricultural holding, from which my wife and I derive no income whatever.
Like, I suspect, the whole chamber, I want to agree with Donald Cameron’s comment that we should demand that our farmers be properly supported. Of course, this debate is about the question, “What is proper support?”
I always like to look at what the motions and amendments before us are doing. The first and most obvious thing to note is that the first seven words that the Conservative amendment would delete from the Government motion are:
“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.
That tells us straight away that the Conservatives are opposed to farming having the amount of funding that it currently gets from the EU. It therefore ill behoves Peter Chapman or anyone else on the Conservative benches to talk about funding, lack of vision or kicking cans down the road, given that the stark reality is that the Conservatives are opposed to farmers having all the funding that they currently have under the scheme. They will have to account to farmers for that.
I have not quite finished dealing with the amendment.
The amendment ends:
“and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that it has sufficient legislative powers”.
If it has “sufficient legislative powers”, the Government will legislate, but the Tories are clearly suggesting that we do not have “sufficient legislative powers” and therefore cannot legislate.
I know that the motion that is before us is in the name of an advocate. I have had many informed and interesting discussions with him, and I suspect that he just didnae read what somebody put in front of him, because it makes no sense to imply that we do not have sufficient legislative powers unless the Conservatives are suggesting that, as we have suggested, powers are being taken away.
The point that is being made in the last sentence of the amendment is that, if we are not part of the UK Agriculture Bill, we will not have the belt-and-braces approach that the NFUS has said will provide clarity now. That is the lack of legislative power that we are talking about. Why does the SNP Government not agree with the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Administration and believe that it, too, should be in the bill?
I understand the point that is being made in the debate, but I have to go back to the words that are on the page, which are fundamentally different. I will now take Mr Chapman.
I want to respond Mr Stevenson’s claim that we do not want agriculture to be fully funded in Scotland. Of course we want agriculture to be fully funded, and we support the convergence money coming fully back to Scotland. That has always been our position. It has never changed.
I was conscious of that when I accepted the interventions, Presiding Officer, but I wanted to be fair to the Conservatives, because probably nobody else will be.
The bottom line is that the Conservative amendment would delete the words:
“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.
Let us move on from that, because enough has been said about that subject.
I think that we all accept that farming is an important part of our economy, especially our rural economy. At Christmas, I was delighted to see that everything on the table had come from locations that were no more than 50 miles from my home. I hope that that was the case for others, but that will not be the case if we do not get the kind of environment that is important.
I will pick up on one or two points that I suspect that others will not pick up on.
The report of the National Council of Rural Advisers contains some wider recommendations beyond support from Government. Action point 4B in that report says:
“Ensure equitable access to finance for rural communities and businesses, including a simplified grant system.”
That is great. However, when I picked up the Scottish Rural Action report that I got from the stand yesterday, I saw that it focuses on the closures of branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is a bank that is publicly owned by the Government down south. If we take banks out of communities, it will be a heck of a lot more difficult to follow that recommendation. The issue is not just about funding farmers; it is about the total infrastructure that we have.
Action point 8B of the report of the National Council of Rural Advisers talks about micro-enterprises and ways of encouraging women and young people into the sector. I support that very much.
The bottom line that the Conservatives at Westminster in particular have to think about is this: what is the effect of creating barriers between Scotland—and the UK, for that matter—and one of our biggest markets, which is the EU? The NFUS and other farmers unions have called for frictionless trade. If we are not in the single market, we do not have frictionless trade, and, as the ministerial statement that we heard before this debate highlighted, if we do not have free movement of people, there will be problems for more than just the strawberry farms in Fife—as well as the raspberry farms in Fife, one of which I worked on donkey’s years ago. That issue goes to the heart of the problem that confronts us. Yes, the issue is about support to farmers, but it is also about the total system, and things are not looking terribly good.
I want to start by addressing some of the climate change challenges, as that is part of my brief. Agriculture and related land-use sectors are Scotland’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitters, yet they seem to be the sectors that have perhaps the weakest leadership in that regard from the Scottish Government. The latest climate change plan asked for only a small reduction of 9 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions from the sector, which went against the recommendations of this Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and the UK Committee on Climate Change.
Much more is possible, but only if the Government improves the system in many ways and provides support and advice that enables farmers to be productive and environmentally conscious. As many farmers already know, that is not a false dichotomy. It is great to see growing instances of knowledge sharing and perception shifting in farms across the country.
Many farmers are already adapting and supporting each other with best practice, as was clearly demonstrated in how a recent ban on burning farm plastics was taken up. In England, the NFU has called for net zero agricultural emissions by 2040, which is inspiring.
Farmers are among those in the front line of the global challenge, and we rely on them and land managers to help us to reach net zero more easily by playing an increasing role in sequestration. The agriculture industry is on a longer decarbonisation journey than much of big business or electricity, for example, and it could be the sector that benefits most from a just transition commission with a long-term purpose that is set well beyond the two years of the current commission.
Climate-friendly farming is full of win-wins that can be shared between farmers, the planet and the public. The NFUS sent a briefing on climate change issues today and my speech will highlight some of the challenges and how they may be addressed.
One such challenge is that the data that is held on agricultural emissions is flawed and does not recognise much of what farmers do on their farms, such as peatland restoration and forestry. Farmers have said to me that carbon audits do not fairly reflect their climate commitment. I hope that the cabinet secretary will consider that issue in his closing remarks.
The Government motion calls for a togetherness of food production and stewardship of land, and I agree with that holistic approach. Considering our land and food production as a public good is the right approach for a more sustainable farming system. That principle could deliver benefits to local communities, wider society, the environment and future generations. Such a fusion of purposes should be intrinsic to any new farm payment system. What work is the Scottish Government doing to ensure, as a priority, that pillar 2 environmental payments are more integrated, rather than just being an add-on? If that is our aim, perhaps agroecology is a way to achieve it.
All farming and food production can sustain and restore the natural environment, rather than further depleting natural capital, whether in Scotland or in the countries from which we import feed. This Government has promised that Scotland is to be a world leader in green farming, but it still has a long way to go in promoting that sort of model in the way that we do our farming, teach farming at colleges, do research and design public support for farming. Has the cabinet secretary looked at models in other countries, such as France, where a basic law on agroecology has been introduced?
In this context, I turn our thoughts to the present agri-environment schemes and ask the chamber and the cabinet secretary to reflect on the words of Tom French, who is the vice-chairman of the Clydesdale branch of the NFUS and an upland beef and sheep farmer from Crawfordjohn in South Lanarkshire. He says that currently, only a small percentage
“of farm businesses have achieved access to agri-environment schemes in spite of many more wishing to do so. One of the main reasons for the lack of uptake ... is the work involved in preparing applications and the costs involved.”
He says that sometimes even small farmers feel an obligation to engage with a consultant to prepare their application and can spend around £2,000
“with absolutely no guarantee of success.”
He goes on to say that those measures and restrictions are “very inflexible” and that
“perhaps a solution would be to guarantee entry to possibly a tiered scheme with entry level measures that all businesses could access should they so wish”.
I stress the next point that he makes, which is that management measures and restrictions could be drawn up “in conjunction” with individual farmers, with a limit or ceiling—I also stress that point—on what any business could receive. He says:
“I would think this would give multiple benefits ... and enhance the green credentials of the industry.”
As we know, farmers often work in isolation and in challenging weather conditions. Better advice and support are vital for sustainable development.
As one of the Scottish Co-operative Party group of MSPs, I have attended Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society conferences. This year’s conference is entitled “Promoting Innovation”. Opportunities for support for co-operative working are very important to farmers. It was unfortunate that the EU questioned the need for the pillar 2 co-operation fund, which had to be abandoned. I hope that the cabinet secretary in his closing remarks will talk about the need for a future fund.
It will be very obvious from every speech on the subject that I have made in Parliament that I am a supporter of staying in the European Union, and that I struggle to find any positives to Brexit. When it comes to the financial benefits of membership of the EU, agriculture in Scotland is one of the main beneficiaries. Those benefits have been outlined many times by members in the past two years.
However, we are where we are, so we must seriously contemplate and plan for a Scottish farming future that does not have access to the funding support that has been given to us as part of our EU membership. Questions remain about the replacement for that funding, but our current situation could at least give us a chance to start from scratch and build a new system that throws out everything that was problematic about the CAP, which actively tackles the challenges that the land-use sector is facing in the 21st century and which takes into account Scotland’s geographic diversity.
My understanding of farming support is that it is for three key things: to protect our domestic quality food supply, to support management of the land and the environment, and to support rural communities to thrive though job creation. Are we currently achieving all those things? That is the question that we must ask ourselves as we debate what a new system should look like.
Over the past week, I have reached out to a number of my farming contacts, professional and personal, to ask them the simple question, “What would you like to see in the new support system?” As convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I have also been party to a great deal of discussion with various land-use stakeholders on how the system can support farmers to play their part in tackling climate change. Every opinion that will be expressed in the remainder of my speech is reflective of the feedback that I have had from those people.
Very high on the list in that feedback was that the system should encourage more new entrants into farming. Colleagues at the Scottish rural parliament mentioned that and—as in the sentiments that were expressed by Rhoda Grant—the unfairness and imbalance between funding for small farms and that for large farms. I was encouraged to hear the cabinet secretary make the commitment today that smaller business concerns will be treated more fairly than they are under the CAP, and that we will dispense with the penalties that have caused so much stress and heartache for businesses that have tighter margins.
A good few of my correspondents mentioned the need for the funding system to include start-up grants to allow minorities, young people and women to enter the sector.
John Fyall is the current chair of the National Sheep Association Scotland, and is a neighbour of mine, at Sittyton farm on the Straloch estate in Newmachar. He was very critical of the tenure system. At the top of his list is a system that is based on business structure, and which pays out to farms that create jobs for people and discourages payment for existence rather than activity. He said:
“We need a system that supports those with the most to offer, not the most to lose” and that
“Public money should be used for those who are investing in producing quality food for the nation, working to ensure the environment is left in better condition, those creating employment, and protecting communities. Subsidy should be a stimulant, not a right that belongs to an individual regardless of activity”.
“Active farming is key, as is membership of Quality Meat Scotland for those in livestock, for a guarantee of welfare standards.”
Daye Tucker, who is also a Highlands sheep farmer, said:
“We have no excuse not to embrace change and those who do so should be rewarded. Support for protecting and preserving soils is a no brainer. They are our national assets and they should be protected and enhanced for future generations”.
Many people have made the point today that farmers are among our key temporary custodians of the land. Their efforts, which benefit the wider environment, should be recognised and built into the funding system. We should be incentivising people to farm sustainably in business terms and in environmental terms. Those who are actively reducing emissions, who are producing quality food in ways that enhance and protect the environment, who are actively encouraging biodiversity on their land—for example by restoring and preserving peat bogs—and who are using areas of land for trees alongside food production should be incentivised and encouraged.
My contacts also echoed the points that have been made in the debate, particularly by Gail Ross, about the need to continue LEADER funding, and about our responsibility to recognise the wider economic and community benefits that agriculture brings.
I will sum up the other points that were raised by my contacts. Any new system of funding must at least match the volume of funding that is currently gained by EU membership, and must be tailored to the particular needs of Scotland—especially the needs of those who farm in the remotest places, which face most challenges.
The system must be simplified and must not be closed to new entrants, tenant farmers and smallholders. It must reward and encourage knowledge exchange, good welfare practice, profitable, fair and innovative business models and environmental sustainability, and it must dispense with mechanisms that encourage inactivity.
Most of all, the system must ensure that Scotland remains food secure, and that we can all know that most of the food on our plate is local, of a high standard and has created jobs in our localities. Almost everyone whom I spoke to said that they want all political parties to work together to realise those goals.
I declare interests as a farmer and food producer, and as a member of the NFUS. I welcome the debate on post-Brexit Scottish agriculture. I recognise that, for the first time in my lifetime, we in Scotland have a blank sheet of paper on which to consider how to shape a bespoke policy for Scottish land use in general, and agriculture in particular.
Some of the known parameters are the available budgets as promised by the UK Government until 2022, the current lack of profitability of Scottish farming, and the need for Scottish agriculture to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in order to help to keep planetary temperature rise to a minimum.
Having established some of the parameters, we have to define our ambition. I have spent much of my life farming and fighting for farmers’ and crofters’ livelihoods, as well as fighting for the preservation and enhancement of our landscapes, so no one will be surprised to learn that my vision is of working landscapes. That builds on the NFUS concept of actively farmed hectares, and offers a more holistic approach to land use in Scotland.
It is self-evident that working landscapes require people to work on delivering food production, forestry, environmental enhancement and tourism, and to create and maintain renewable energy systems, maintain our road and rail infrastructure and build strong and integrated communities that are supported by strong and resilient rural businesses.
The first priority in that objective is, therefore, the need for rural business to be profitable. In particular, and in the context of this debate on agriculture, farm businesses need to become profitable if production of livestock and red meat is to continue in Scotland. Already, barely enough livestock is produced in Scotland to support our growing food-exporting business, and tens of thousands of hectares that used to carry livestock only 30 years ago no longer do so. Furthermore, one can conclude only that the pathway that the Scottish Government has chosen is one that will create still more wilderness landscapes without people in them.
As a past convener of the NFUS hill farming committee, I know how important LFASS payments are to the 85 per cent of Scotland that is classified as less favoured areas. Therefore, the 20 per cent reduction that is being proposed by the Scottish Government for next year would, along with the increase to a 60 per cent reduction in the following year that had been proposed, have been completely unacceptable, because those cuts would have driven many more farmers and food producers out of business and off their land.
As the cabinet secretary will be too well aware, there are no financial reserves left in many LFA farming businesses, following many years of declining profitability, as demonstrated by his own TIFF—total income from farming—figures. It is not acceptable to blame the CAP, the European Union or the UK Government when it is apparently in his gift, or at his discretion, to maintain the payments at current levels. I welcome his commitment today that future payments will not fall below 80 per cent of current levels, although a 20 per cent reduction would be unsustainable. I hope that the cabinet secretary will make Lord Bew aware of that in his discussions with him.
Everyone accepts that we need, now more than ever, more timber production to support our timber-processing industry, but driving people off the land and leaving crumbling empty steadings, farmhouses and cottages is not the way to go about it.
I suggest to the cabinet secretary that creating his own hill and upland clearances is not what he wants—or, indeed, deserves—to be remembered for, so a balance has to be struck. People must be supported in our countryside, and land use prioritised. That is a job for the Scottish Government, using the tools that are at its disposal—the most important one being the ability to disburse financial support in order to deliver on its rural objectives.
Farmers and crofters have for many years been demanding that activity be the benchmark for delivery of support, and have willingly accepted that that should also require delivery of public goods. In the future, the concept of delivering public goods should apply not only to agriculture, but to forestry, renewable energy production, housing and tourism grants and generally to all rural industries that are in receipt of public money.
In addition, to help to restore profitability, collaborative working should be a Government-supported option, which would allow those who wish to work together to get a better return from the marketplace. The concept of co-operation, which is supported by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, should again apply to all Scottish rural industries, whether in tourism, food, timber or energy production.
Better locally delivered further education provision and knowledge transfer in our rural areas will also be required in order that people understand the new complexities of post-Brexit rural Scotland, and can understand and deal with the complexities of carbon reduction and climate change across all the sectors that I have mentioned. The decision by Scotland’s Rural College to withdraw that capability from the University of the West of Scotland at Ayr is among the SRUC’s poorest decisions yet—goodness knows, it has made many—and is another hammer blow to the Ayrshire rural economy. In my view, it should be reversed, as the cabinet secretary knows.
I turn now to the Government motion. Scottish Conservatives remain to be convinced that we might benefit from yet another representative advisory committee being set up to advise the Scottish Government on the content of a new Scottish agriculture bill. Surely, enough advice has already been given to the cabinet secretary.
However, what is important is that the cabinet secretary makes up his mind soon on the content of the new Scottish agriculture bill that we will require—that is more the case if there is not going to be a Scottish schedule in the UK agriculture bill—and gets a document into the public domain for discussion. The next Scottish agriculture bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do so much more than deliver agricultural support, essential though it is. It is an opportunity that should be seized with both hands, and the sooner, the better.
I am pleased to speak in this afternoon’s debate about the future of rural policy and support in Scotland. Since coming to this place as a newbie, in May 2016, I have been actively involved with our rural and agricultural communities.
Since I was elected, I have had the opportunity to learn from many experts from the NFUS, the SRUC, the National Sheep Association Scotland and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association. I thank them all for their willingness to engage, for informing me about policy and issues across rural Scotland and for suggesting changes that need to be made.
In recent meetings with those organisations and with farmers across south-west Scotland, one thing has been clear: Brexit is causing much concern, anxiety and uncertainty. I do not need to remind members that Scotland’s farmers and rural communities receive valuable support from the EU. With a chaotic UK Government reluctant to provide clarity over future funding arrangements, I am pleased that we have a Scottish Government that is standing up for our rural communities, farmers and agricultural workers.
Prior to the recess, I attended the Scottish rural parliament, which was hosted by Scottish Rural Action and was held in Stranraer. I will mention some of the points that were raised by SRA in its annual report, which I know many members across the chamber will also have read. SRA is asking both the Scottish and UK Governments for a commitment to equality for our rural people, places and businesses in Scotland, to ensure that they are not forgotten but are considered in any policy and decision making. The idea of not being forgotten is becoming a theme for me—earlier this week, I spoke in a members’ business debate about the need for further and major infrastructure investment in the south-west of Scotland’s roads. Many constituents there say that they feel forgotten. I therefore seek assurances from the cabinet secretary that our rural people, communities and businesses will be supported by the Scottish Government, because they are crucial not only to our rural economy but to Scotland’s economy.
Another of SRA’s asks, and one of the most important, is that the UK and Scottish Governments attract migrant workers and their families to live and work here and to become integrated members of our communities. Those families help to keep our rural communities functioning: their children attend our rural schools; they work on our farms, in our care sector and in small and microbusinesses, of which we have dozens in south-west Scotland; and they add to our diverse and open society. However, their future has been put in question by a chaotic and out-of-touch UK Government that is imposing a salary cap of £30,000 on tier 2 visas for EU migrants coming to Scotland. Many of those EU workers will not earn that amount of money. It is all very well that the UK Government has proposed a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but Scottish dairy farms, 48 per cent of which are in the South Scotland region, are not seasonal. Those farms rely on 24/7, 365-days-a-year workers to milk cows, clean out sheds, look after the beasts and carry out complex jobs such as artificial insemination as well as providing support to vet care. Therefore, I seek assurances from the cabinet secretary that the Scottish Government is actively lobbying the UK Government to scrap that unrealistic UK Government migrant salary cap.
No, I do not have time.
The Green amendment proposes addressing agricultural emissions. As a former member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I am interested in that issue. Just this morning, I met representatives from Biocell Agri Ltd and Tricet UK. Both companies promote products that improve the efficiency of ruminants and slurry processing and that improve soil health. Following the meeting, I will write to the cabinet secretary, as I would like the Government to be aware of and perhaps support such products. Biocell and Tricet are about innovation, sustainability and profitability.
The Labour and Conservative amendments talk about LFASS support for sheep farmers. There is an additional economic consideration in that, year on year, there has been a rise in the number of attacks on sheep by out-of-control dogs, which has had a direct negative economic and emotional impact on those farmers. I ask all members to get behind the consultation that I am about to launch to ensure that we get the legislation right for our farmers. The consequences of livestock attacks can be traumatic and tragic for animal and farmer. I am extremely grateful for the fantastic support that I have been given in that work by many organisations including NFUS, NSA, SRUC, Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA and others.
Our rural economy is diverse and multinational, and it is not about just one particular group. For example, during my time as an MSP, I have met deer farmers, beekeepers, chilli growers and even oyster farmers.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has published the most comprehensive Brexit paper on farming of any Government or devolved Administration in the UK. I urge the Scottish Government to continue to stand up for rural Scotland and to ensure that our agricultural sector continues to thrive, is attractive and welcomes all regardless of their background and where they come from.
Fortunately, the opportunities that this debate presents have not been totally usurped by the shambles that is Brexit, which the Tories in the Scottish Parliament continue to try to defend while knowing in their heart of hearts that it will be catastrophic for Scottish farming.
We all know that farming in Scotland is vastly different from farming in the rest of the UK, not least because of the vast tracts of less favoured areas that we have in Scotland, which is recognised in the motion and some of the amendments. That, of course, is why agriculture is a devolved competence, which it was prior to devolution. The fact that the Westminster Government has taken for itself powers over Scottish agriculture is an outrage, so I am very pleased that the cabinet secretary announced today that an agriculture bill will be introduced to this Parliament. I look forward to scrutinising it in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
During the debate, the Tories have asked us to get involved with the Agriculture Bill that is currently going through Westminster, but why should we when we can have a bill of our own? After all, as Gail Ross said, the UK Government has not accepted any of the amendments that were lodged by our SNP colleagues at Westminster. The UK Agriculture Bill will impose unwanted policies and rules on Scottish farmers in areas of devolved competence. For example, as drafted, it could affect the Scottish Parliament’s ability to provide support for active beef and sheep farmers.
“The Agriculture Bill represents a major transfer of powers from the EU to Ministers of the Crown, bypassing Parliament and the devolved legislatures ... Parliament will not be able to debate the merits of the new agriculture regime because the Bill does not contain even an outline of the substantive law that will replace the CAP after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.”
“At this stage it cannot even be said that the devil is in the detail, because the Bill contains so little detail ... Significantly, powers are exercisable indefinitely and without sunset clauses”
—the Tories in this place are always calling for sunset clauses. It adds:
“We are not convinced by the need for such extensive powers to be conferred on Ministers indefinitely.”
By contrast, the stability and simplicity paper that was published in June last year set out this Government’s detailed plan to minimise the potential disruption of Brexit to our rural communities. That is dependent, of course, on the UK Government honouring its commitments to replace the lost EU funding in full—and we all know that its history on that is not favourable.
We have a wealth of talent and ambition in our rural communities, which is demonstrated not least by the number of briefings for the debate that we have received from many organisations. They are brimful of ideas and recommendations for the Government on the future of our rural communities. As a farmer’s daughter, I remain convinced that the primary use of our land should be—where appropriate and as far as possible—sustainable food production. Although there is much that we cannot grow because of our temperate climate—obviously, we will continue to have to import—there is much that we can grow for our own use and for export to offset our imported food bill. The growth in our food and drink production and export has been spectacular over the past few years and is based on the quality of the product, the purity of the environment in which it is grown and the ambitions of those in the sector.
As the cabinet secretary said in his opening speech, he has listened to many organisations, including the National Council of Rural Advisers. I represented the health portfolio on the day that the NCRA came to the Cabinet, and I had the opportunity to hear its presentation of its findings. I was blown away by the analysis, the initiative and the sheer enthusiasm for the rural economy of Alison Milne, the co-convener of the council. One of the council’s recommendations is about recognising the strategic importance of the rural economy and
“mainstreaming it within all policy and decision-making processes.”
The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is currently scrutinising the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill. As we know, the south of Scotland is the centre of Scotland’s dairy production, yet dairy production is not currently embedded by Scottish Enterprise as an area with potential for growth. The opportunities in the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill are there to be seen. In other recommendations, the NCRA dovetails into this point. It calls for a rural economic strategy
“putting the rural economy at the heart of the national economic plan.”
The NCRA says that it is significant that the Scottish Government embraced that idea in its programme for government.
The motion and the announcement today confirm that this Government is, as always, putting the interests of our rural economy at the heart of everything it does.
This has been an interesting debate and what could be more important at this time? The cabinet secretary started by giving us the timeframe within which we are operating and setting out the uncertainty that is being caused by Brexit.
The Scottish Greens welcome the announcement of a Scottish bill.
Of course, it is about not just policy but support, which is an important factor. Like others, I am very grateful for the many briefings that we have received. Scottish Environment LINK calls on the Government to set up a process, which is outlined in the motion and which has long been championed by my colleague on the RECC Committee Mike Rumbles. It is important that we have
“a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a bespoke policy”.
Scottish Environment LINK calls on us to help deliver the sustainable development goals, which Scotland was among the first nations to sign up to. A number of the 17 goals are highly pertinent, such as zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, climate action and life on land. Others have alluded to that, and the goals are also part of the Scottish Government’s national performance framework.
It is important to say that we have a climate emergency. The briefing that we got from NFU Scotland, which arrived at 13:22 today, states:
“farmers and crofters are on the front line in experiencing the impacts of climate change.”
That is irrefutable. It continues:
“Agriculture is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, and farmers and crofters are a big part of helping tackle the collective challenge that we face.”
That is an honest assessment. It is disappointing, however, that the first bullet point in the briefing is:
“A future emission target of ‘net zero’ for Scottish agriculture is unrealistic as food production necessarily involves emissions.”
My colleague Mark Ruskell touched on that, as did Claudia Beamish. Life is challenging and we must push ourselves. In a spirit of consensus, I commend the position that has been adopted by the National Farmers Union south of the border. It is worth repeating that, on 16 October, the United Nations report warned that CO2 emissions must be stopped completely if we are to avoid dangerous climate disruption. Green GB week was designed to encourage debate in society about how to tackle that. The NFU deputy president Guy Smith said:
“Last week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a final alarm call from the science community; the rise in global temperature must be limited to 1.5 degrees. Farmers and growers have weathered extremes of cold, drought and flood so far this year, and we are ready to play our part in a global move towards net zero emissions.”
Everyone seems very happy that we have an evidence-based approach. I am not hearing anyone say necessarily that we want more of the same. What is important is the very issue that the cabinet secretary rightly challenged one speaker about: the level of engagement. It is manifest in the motion that it is important that everyone plays their part.
There is not a level playing field and there are great variations across our country. A news release from today states:
“Crofting must get support for disadvantage”.
Everyone seems very happy with the idea of public money for public goods. One of the briefings that we received states:
“The strongest justification for using public funds to support farming, crofting and forestry is that these activities can produce a wide range of environmental and social goods and services (public goods) that are not rewarded through markets.”
The relationship between support for the producer and the market is very important. The briefing goes on to say:
“Support to land managers should therefore be tailored accordingly.”
I have not heard anyone say any different. We are custodians of public money, given the decisions that we make here. It is important that we ensure that those funds are disbursed sensibly and to the general benefit rather than individual benefit.
One of the principles that Scottish Environment LINK talks about is the business-based and plan-led principle, which would be part of the evidence process.
I hope that people understand that the position of the NFU south of the border has not been adopted recklessly; it wants to play its part. I remind members of our amendment, which would insert the phrase:
“agrees that agricultural support is a key tool in addressing the climate emergency and emissions from agriculture and land use, and that future funding should help develop a net-zero emissions farming sector in Scotland;”.
I hope that no one could take issue with that, but I suspect that our amendment will not be supported. However, as others have said, it is important that we work as consensually as possible on policy development in this very important sector.
This has been a welcome, if long overdue, debate. Getting support for rural communities right post-Brexit is crucial, not only to sectors such as agriculture but to Scotland’s economy as a whole. Agriculture is a vital source of jobs and income in our rural areas, but it is also the foundation of a food and drink sector that is worth billions of pounds and countless jobs across Scotland. However, agriculture is one of the sectors that is put most at risk by the utter chaos of the current Brexit process.
During this time of uncertainty, we need as much direction and clarity on the future as possible, which has so far not been forthcoming from either the UK or Scottish Governments. I therefore welcome the commitment that was given today by the Scottish Government, at long last, to bring together a truly wide range of stakeholders to inform policy and direction.
The clock is ticking towards our leaving the EU and the common agricultural policy, and there is a great deal of ideas and agreement from many stakeholders on what our aims, priorities and direction of travel should be.
Does Colin Smyth accept that “Stability and Simplicity”, which forms the basis of this debate, provides clarity, financial certainty and the prospect of stability for five years? Given that that was welcomed by the majority of stakeholders during the consultation, all of us should be able to welcome that.
I welcome that, but producers in rural communities want long-term stability and a long-term vision for the future of rural support. Farmers do not plan on the basis of one, two or three years; they plan beyond five years, so we need to get the detail right beyond that five-year period. That is why I agree with the Government’s decision to bring together a group of stakeholders. Harnessing the consensus that is out there among many stakeholders is important, and it is critical to providing farmers, crofters, food and drink producers and the wider rural community with the long-term vision and stability that they need.
As the cabinet secretary said in his opening remarks, one of the challenges to setting out the detail of our new system is funding uncertainty from the UK Government. I share that frustration, but that does not prevent us from making the case for the resources to meet the unique needs of Scotland’s rural communities and agriculture sector. We should do so by putting forward credible, detailed plans that show what a new Scottish system should look like in the long term. The system should be evidence based, it should better target support to those who need it most and it should incentivise the change that is needed. The system should promote not only growth but inclusive growth, tackle deprivation in rural communities and help to put an end to the scandal of food poverty.
Direct payments make up the bulk of current funding, and they are one of the areas in which reform is needed most. Such payments provide large, and often wealthy, landowners with significant sums of money, while 45 per cent of farms generate income that works out below the minimum agriculture wage. Funding needs to be allocated more fairly and according to the principle of public good for public money, and new schemes should have clear, coherent policy aims.
Labour believes that protecting some element of basic payments is important, but we need to move the emphasis towards targeted and conditional payments, such as the ones that are currently paid under pillar 2. Those two sources of support should be integrated to provide a simplified and cohesive system. Over time, the proportion of funding that is spent on land-based payments should be reduced, with a cap placed on the amount that an individual or single organisation can receive.
Additional agricultural payments should be focused on three broad priorities: redressing natural disadvantages; promoting environmental and social benefits; and improving productivity. Redressing natural disadvantages, such as biophysical constraints and remoteness, is essential. A number of members have mentioned LFASS, and Jen Craig, the chair of the Clydesdale branch of NFU Scotland, has said that she cannot highlight enough the importance of LFASS. The cabinet secretary needs to guarantee not only that he will protect against the upcoming 60 per cent cut but that a source of support of that kind will be made available in the long term.
A greater emphasis on social and environmental benefit is the key change that needs to be made to our support system. That means incentivising best practice and helping to fund measures that provide a public good. As Claudia Beamish stressed, it is also crucial that we support environmental sustainability in the sector, taking into account factors such as emissions, biodiversity, and air and soil quality. Likewise, improvements to the culture and conditions on farms and crofts should be incentivised to underpin good working conditions and animal welfare, with a particular emphasis on expanding ethical farming practices. There is also a need to improve productivity.
Beyond agricultural support, a range of other vital schemes that are currently provided through the Scottish rural development programme need to be replicated following Brexit. The new entrants scheme, which is closed for the foreseeable future, is of huge importance to the long-term sustainability of the sector. As Rhoda Grant and Gail Ross stressed, the LEADER scheme is a vital source of support and funding for a range of rural projects, and recreating an equivalent scheme for Scotland in the long term is essential.
Crucially, in the support that we provide rural Scotland there needs to be a greater emphasis on tackling poverty, for example in rural communities, where the problem can often be hidden. We must also tackle the scandal of food poverty throughout Scotland. As Rhoda Grant said, the Scottish Government’s lack of commitment to a good food nation bill, with the right to food at its heart, remains deeply disappointing.
Finally, any new support scheme must have inclusive growth at its heart to ensure that all areas of Scotland benefit from any new system.
Labour is pleased that the Scottish Government is, at long last, beginning to develop the details of a new rural support system and is bringing a wide range of stakeholders together to help to achieve that consensually. European funding may no longer be coming our way, but the case for additional support for rural Scotland is clear and has been stressed here today.
Although the somewhat petty decision by the Scottish National Party to oppose Labour’s reasoned amendment today suggests that the usual barriers exist at the top of the Scottish Government, Labour is committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that the process that is being debated today provides the change that is needed to deliver the ambitions of rural Scotland.
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests—specifically, as it relates to farming. To be absolutely clear and to avoid any dubiety, I point out that my family farming partnership receives payments under the current schemes, including LFASS.
I welcome the debate, but like many others who understand farming, I feel let down by the slow progress over the past year. I had hoped that the new year might herald a more constructive approach from the cabinet secretary, and a timescale for a Scottish agriculture bill, but we do not seem to have that. The cabinet secretary is still putting politics before farmers, and soundbites before the rural economy.
We have heard this afternoon from many members. Before I pick up on what they have said, I want to focus on two things: future policy and the LFASS. The cabinet secretary’s views on Brexit are clear: he makes them clear at every opportunity. He has shown a lack of commitment to preparing rural businesses for the future. He has hidden behind numerous task forces and consultations and has shown a lack of vision and leadership. If he holds up the “Stability and Simplicity” document again, with its 46 questions, I will begin to wonder where the answers are.
I contrast that with what happens when he deals with Scottish fishermen. There is no such obscuration and prevarication: there is just the promise that he will get them the very best deal under Brexit. That shameless politicking has led him into a trap that means that he cannot implement any changes to rural policy until he gets on and produces a Scottish agriculture bill. I urge him to do that. Like other members, I do not believe that there is any problem with the belt-and-braces approach of joining in with the UK Agriculture Bill 2017-19.
The shameless politicking has extended to LFASS payments. The cabinet secretary always takes time to remind me of things that I have said in the past. Let me remind him of some of the things that he has said in relation to the importance of LFASS. On 31 May 2017, he said:
“LFASS is vital for our rural economy and remote communities”.—[
, 31 May 2017; S5O-1040.]
On 13 September 2018, he said:
“I have said to local farmers and NFUS members that we are absolutely committed to finding a way to avoid that 80 per cent reduction in LFASS.”—[
, 13 September 2018; c 83.]
On 31 October 2018, he told the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee:
“We made it clear in ‘Stability and Simplicity’ that reducing LFASS payments to 20 per cent is unacceptable. However, those are the rules of the scheme, so we indicated in our consultation paper that we need to find a workaround for recipients” and went on to say that he was
“determined to find a workaround. My officials are working very hard on the issue, and I think that that is within our reach. I hope that we are approaching the issue in a practical way.”—[
Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee
, 31 October 2018; c 12-13.]
Cabinet Secretary, as to the workaround for LFASS for next year—what have you achieved? You have achieved a 20 per cent cut. That is £13 million that has been taken out of the rural economy from the areas that probably need it most. Serious questions need to be asked about why you have not found a workaround to the problem and how you are going to find a workaround for the further reduction that is looming over us, unless you can find a way around the state-aid rules. I would like to hear about that. To me, that shows a complete lack of simplicity and stability in your policy—it is neither simple nor stable.
I turn to important points that other members made. It is vital to remember Donald Cameron’s point that having no deal is not a good position to be in. If you do not want a no deal position, you must look seriously at the deal that is on the table instead of writing it off at every opportunity. I also agree with Donald Cameron that we should look at being included in the UK Agriculture Bill. There is no power grab: to say so is politics speaking.
Rhoda Grant was right that the Government’s statement “lacks ambition”. However, I also agree with her that public funding should be for the public good.
I agree with Mark Ruskell—let us have a debate about the issue. I agree with something else that he said in relation to net zero emissions. Before we can get down to that, we must identify all that farmers are already achieving in the countryside, in order to identify how net zero emissions can be achieved. Farmers are undervalued for what they are achieving. What has been done under the peatland restoration grant scheme is a perfect example.
I agree with some of what Mike Rumbles said, but he asked for more talking shops. How many more talking shops do we need?
I agree with Peter Chapman that we need to get on with the new system, but we need to have a vision.
Presiding Officer, one or two other points were made that I agree with, but I have to disagree with Maureen Watt. I am sorry, but there are no bears hiding behind the trees: there are no power grabs by Westminster.
We would welcome a Scottish agriculture bill, so let us get on with it. We do not see problems with being included in the UK Agriculture Bill. We welcome the signposted U-turn on the LFASS.
Before I call the cabinet secretary, I have noticed a tendency this afternoon for members to speak directly to other members. All remarks should be directed through the chair.
I call the cabinet secretary to close the debate. Less than eight minutes would be appreciated, up to decision time, please.
Being possessed of a thick skin, I have enjoyed most of the debate. We have had many thoughtful and informed contributions from across the chamber.
I would like to respond to some of them, starting with Donald Cameron. Yes, the NFUS wanted clarity in relation to what we are going to do in an agriculture bill. My announcement today gives that clarity. That has followed the proper procedure of taking permission for a Scottish agriculture bill through cabinet and spelling out—in full technical detail—why that is required; that has been agreed. Mr Cameron says that he is in favour of a bespoke policy for Scotland. I welcome that, but he does not appear to want this Parliament to be able to legislate for it. Obviously, I disagree with him there. I do agree with him that food production should be at the heart of our policy but respectfully suggest that he should perhaps point that out to Michael Gove.
I am grateful for Rhoda Grant’s support for fair funding and for having a Scottish bill—I am also grateful for the Greens’ support for that, as Mark Ruskell mentioned. I also agree with Rhoda Grant that all lost funding should be replaced. She was one of many speakers who referred to the importance of funds such as LEADER, forestry rural priorities, and AECS. They all serve different but important functions, and many of them provide good environmental stewardship. It is essential that they are all replaced.
So far, the assurances that Mr Gove has provided relate primarily to pillar 1 and farm support under pillar 2, but they do not relate to LEADER, forestry and other areas. That is troubling, particularly because almost all pillar 2 programmes take several years to organise. Some of them have to deal with multiple landowners. The lack of confirmation that funding will be available in relatively short order, beyond 2020 in some cases, is worrying and it is impairing investment and holding us back from doing good work in the environment, the likes of which Mr Ruskell, Claudia Beamish, Rhoda Grant, Gail Ross and others all quite correctly mentioned.
On the good food nation, a consultation exercise is taking place right now. It is right that we consult people and I hope that members respond to that. No doubt we will come back to it.
I agree with Rhoda Grant that we should support collaboration among farmers, which was recommended by the agricultural champions. She also highlighted that some CAP payments are very large. There is a cap but it is very high at the moment. In the paper “Stability and Simplicity”, which I am proud to be brandishing once again, we set out a table that indicates the types of return in the event of putting a maximum or ceiling on the level of payment to any individual recipient. We should consider that, as the agricultural champions recommended, and consider using those funds for other purposes.
Mark Ruskell and Mr Finnie pointed out that the NFUS president has supported the Scottish Government’s approach. I can assure Mr Ruskell that more than one official is working on this. My colleague, Ms Cunningham, who has just arrived in the chamber, will continue to engage with Mr Ruskell and others on those matters.
I have less time that I normally do, so I apologise to the various other members who contributed to the debate. I thought that Mr Scott made an interesting contribution apart from the uncharacteristically political remarks, but there we are—so what. I almost always agree with his remarks on farming and I am sure that we can work together.
I kept Mr Rumbles’s contribution to last. Perhaps I am not the only person who felt that the tone of his contribution was slightly different to that of some of his previous efforts. The new Mike Rumbles is very welcome. His 100 per cent constructive contribution to today’s debate was as welcome as it was somewhat surprising to us all. He and Gillian Martin made the point that the people out there in Scotland want to see us talk about the real issues of farming, without constantly bickering and backbiting. To be fair to Mr Rumbles, he did that today, so good luck to him. That is a very good sign for 2019 and a lesson for us all to follow.
I will finish with one reflection. In our document, “Stability and Simplicity”, we have provided a set of proposals that will take us forward through Brexit. We do not support Brexit but, as a responsible Government, we have to prepare for the worst and for every option, and we are doing that. This document is the only document in the UK that sets out a series of plans for five years to 2024. I fully appreciate that some members are impatient to hear what policies we might be implementing in 2029 but, to be fair to ourselves and to the respondents to our consultation document, the farmers and crofters throughout the country who have welcomed the certainty and stability of our proposals for continuing to provide financial support to them in the most uncertain of times, it takes chutzpah to a new level of brazen effrontery to criticise us for not going beyond five years and 2024 when the Conservative Government cannot tell us what will happen next Tuesday.
I departed slightly from my consensual tone there, but I hope everyone enjoyed it.