4. I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
“S tability—The Platform for Change
, what pilot schemes for agricultural support it will introduce for the 2021 claim year. (S5O-04247)
As convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Mr Mountain will be aware that I and Scottish Government officials recently gave evidence on the issue as part of the stage 1 process on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, when we set out our approach and thinking on pilots.
I note the recommendations of the committee’s stage 1 report in that regard, to which I will of course respond before stage 2 begins. I am happy to keep Parliament updated on the development of policy on pilots.
As we debate the issue here in Parliament, spring calving is under way. Farmers who plan three to four years ahead need to know what to do with their calves now. Will the cabinet secretary bear that in mind and introduce pilot schemes as quickly as possible, so that farmers can see a way forward?
I am always acutely aware of the importance of providing long-term assurances to farmers. That is precisely why we set out in our document an approach that will take us to 2024. It is most unfortunate that the United Kingdom Government is to take an annual budget approach to replace the seven-year programme that the European Union provided in respect of rural support. That is exactly the opposite of the approach that farmers require.
Happily, farmers—who include some of Mr Mountain’s colleagues—have received the first tranche of their convergence payments. More than 17,400 active farmers have received £86.2 million. I think that farmers are very pleased that we are dealing with the day job effectively and getting that financial support out to them.
I was astonished that any adviser of the UK Government or any other Government in these islands would say, essentially, that farmers and farming are expendable. That was quite shocking, and it displays an attitude that we believe has been prevalent for some time in the Treasury, where people are anxious to get rid of support for farmers and crofters in Scotland. Well, they will not be doing that as long as I am around—that is for sure.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that one way in which he could set out a clear direction of travel during the transitional period would be by including a purpose clause in the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, in which he could set out what he believes the pilot schemes should be used for?
We will debate the inclusion of a purpose clause in the bill. It is right that we take that suggestion very seriously.
However, I say to Mr Smyth, with respect, that, at the moment, farmers and crofters are concerned about paying their bills and carrying on their work. They are concerned about the unfounded attacks on them from many quarters. What do they need from Government? They need the support schemes to be administered efficiently, and we are delivering that. They also need a clear sign about where Scotland is going. We have provided that in the document that I alluded to earlier and in many utterances that I have made in this Parliament, and we will continue to do so.