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In a recent parliamentary debate on future rural policy and support, I announced that we would introduce a rural support bill in this parliamentary session. That bill will enable us to amend retained European Union law to deliver on the proposals for the period up to 2024, as set out in our “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period” consultation document. Consideration is currently being given to the timetable and I will, of course, advise Parliament of it once it has been agreed.
As the cabinet secretary knows, an agriculture bill is essential to allow the Scottish Government to continue to make support payments to our farmers post-Brexit. Last year’s farm business income figures showed that more than 60 per cent of farms were making a loss, with the average farm business making a loss of £7,400, without receiving additional support.
We will introduce an agriculture bill in due course, as necessary. Let me stress one simple point: the bill will cause no difficulty with, or impediment to, the continued payment of moneys that are due to farmers and crofters. Maintaining that process is a top priority for me and commands a great deal of my time—rightly so. The money is due to farmers and crofters, and I give an absolute assurance today—as I have done repeatedly—that the agriculture bill will simply be a mechanism that will allow us to continue to make those payments. The bill will be introduced in time to enable that to happen.