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Supporting Scottish Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am pleased that we, as the Scottish Government, set out last summer in our document “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for rural funding transition period” proposals for a rural funding transition period of five years. That was a consultation document, and we listened carefully to the responses that we received, which were largely positive and supportive. We have now, therefore, set out a clear five-year plan that we believe will see the industry through the transition following the UK’s exit from the EU—if it takes place. I am delighted that we have had a positive response to that plan.

I respect many of the farmers who sit in this Parliament, and I always listen carefully to their advice. I agree with much of what John Scott, for example, has to say about improvements in farming practice. Sadly, I do not have enough time to answer—as I would like to—all the individual points that have been made.

If I may, I will get to the nub of things, which is this: in a debate just a few weeks ago, Parliament agreed to take a certain path, and it did so by an overwhelming majority. I think that it had the support of everyone except the Conservatives—although, if anyone in the other Opposition parties did not support me, please correct me. Everybody said that we should proceed on the basis of the principles that we had set out in the motion for debate—with an amendment from Mr Rumbles that I was happy to accept—namely, that we appoint a group of people to guide us and to provide advice on the way ahead and the long-term future after the five-year period is over.

Parliament instructed me to proceed in that way and I, of course, respect the will of Parliament. Indeed, I imagine that were I not to respect it, the Conservatives would be the first people to criticise me for ignoring the will of Parliament. I intend to do what Parliament asked me to do. I am happy to respond to the specific request that Mr Rumbles made and confirm that we are making good progress towards selecting a group of people using consideration of the particular wording of the amendment. I am happy to say that I will announce the composition of the group in due course, and as soon as we can. There are practical matters about appointing people to serve on groups—we must ensure that they are available and ready to do it, which takes a little time.

I am proud that we have set out our five-year plan. However, I asked one question of the Conservatives at the beginning of the debate. It was this: what is the Scottish Conservatives’ policy not just specifically on future funding for agriculture, but for rural areas as a whole? As far as I know, other than some abstract nouns and some desirable sentiments, there is no policy whatsoever. It might be—although no Conservative member mentioned this—that they support the vague proposals that were set out in Michael Gove’s “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit” paper. However, they have not said that, and I think that I know why. It is because Michael Gove proposes that all direct payments to farmers cease by 2027, in eight years.

I am happy to accept clarification from Mr Cameron. Do you support that or not?