Last week, the Scottish National Party Government overruled a key recommendation of the Werritty report and announced that it will issue licences to grouse moors before the suggested five-year probationary period has ended. That decision risks an industry that is worth £350 million annually to an already precarious Scottish economy and puts jobs and livelihoods in rural areas such as my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire in jeopardy. The Scottish Conservative Party values the role that grouse shooting plays in Scotland’s rural communities, economy and natural environment. Could the First Minister explain to rural communities why the SNP has ignored its own research and gone against the evidence?
In considering our response to the Werritty report, we took a range of different reports and evidence into account, including evidence that was heard by the Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. Last week, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment set out our response to the Werritty report, including on the recommendation to introduce the licensing of grouse moor businesses; the response also covered the other recommendations in the Werritty report.
We do not think that it is practical or appropriate to wait for a further five years to assess raptor populations before introducing licensing, as the review recommended. There is a pressing need—much more pressing than that timescale would allow—to address problems of raptor persecution now. Waiting five years before deciding to act might mean that it could take eight years or longer before legislation was completed and a licensing system implemented. I appreciate that not everyone will agree with that, but the problem of raptor persecution demands action more quickly than that, which is why we have committed to taking action more quickly.