Scottish Devolution and Article 50

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Calum Kerr Calum Kerr Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Digital) 5:00 pm, 15th March 2017

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Mr Gray. I must admit that I did not originally intend to, but I was impelled to do so by the excellent lead given by my hon. Friend Deidre Brock. In my brief contribution I want to drive home the message about the importance of doing things right, particularly for big areas such as agriculture and fishing. I shall focus on agriculture.

My hon. Friend Patrick Grady reinforced the principle: if it is not reserved, it is by definition devolved. Let us consider the distinct nature of Scottish agriculture: 85% of our land has less favoured area status; as a nation Scotland is approximately 8.4% of the population; we received 16.5% of CAP and we are approximately 32% of the land mass. We have to have a policy that reflects that profile and the different challenges in Scotland. I am the Scottish National party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson and have yet to meet a Scottish farmer who is happy for this place to be responsible for Scottish agriculture—and, by the way, a lot of those farmers are not traditional SNP supporters.

At the moment we have no confidence. To be honest, English farmers do not have confidence in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. At the Oxford conference in January, when I stood in for the Scottish Farming Minister, the audience was asked who had confidence in DEFRA to deliver in a Brexit world, and no hand went up until, belatedly, the Farming Minister, sitting in the front row, put his hand up, thinking “At least I should have confidence in my own Department.” The industry across the UK, but especially in Scotland, lacks confidence in this place’s capability to design a UK framework—particularly one that takes into account the distinct nature of Scottish farming.

Dr Poulter made an interesting contribution. There is a bigger picture and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry reinforced aspects of that. We are not saying that there should not be a level of negotiation within the UK; absolutely there should. There is a need for common frameworks in certain places. Within the common agricultural policy there is a common framework, but there is a level of devolution and Scotland and England have different CAP deployments. However, we are absolutely clear that we must negotiate that as partners—as equals at the table, looking for the common framework and agreeing it. At the moment, all the mood music and the signs suggest a power grab. The message is “Don’t you worry. We are the head of the family. We’ll look after you.” I am afraid that that will not wash with the rural communities in Scotland.

Before I close, perhaps I might reinforce the explanation of why there is a lack of trust and why the Government should actively seek to be as transparent and open as possible about their intention. The fact that they do not do so sends out the wrong signals. It worries people. That is because of our experience. We have heard what happened to fishing; it was “expendable”. Even today, as Brexit negotiations go on, a certain individual from the UK Independence party who leads the charge on many such things is going around TV studios saying “I’m hearing fishing is expendable again.” There is no trust that a UK Government will stand up for Scottish fishing. Let us remember, more fish were caught in Orkney and Shetland than in the whole of England and Wales put together last year. It is overwhelmingly a Scottish industry.

The second area I want to mention is the convergence uplift. It is EU money—€230 million—almost all of which should have gone to Scottish farming. It was distributed across the UK and we got 16%. Scottish farmers see that and think “If they will take money out of my pocket, will they look after me when they design a UK farming system?” I do not think so. The Government must step up and be clear, and if they do not pass on responsibilities the judgment will be at the ballot box.

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