Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 03 April 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, NHS and Social Care Staff (Workplace Support), Health Education, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Recall of Parliament, State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)


Portfolio Question Time

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

The first item of business is portfolio questions. I will try to get as many members in as possible, so let us have succinct questions and answers, please. I have grouped questions 1 and 4 together.

Air Quality Improvement Programmes (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what funding it provides to support programmes that aim to improve air quality. (S5O-03086)

The Scottish Government provides £2.5 million of funding annually for three local authority funding schemes. Those support air quality monitoring and modelling, implementation of air quality action plan measures, and roadside emissions testing and enforcement of idling legislation. The 2017 programme for government announced the establishment of a new air quality fund to provide additional support to local authorities for transport-related air quality measures. In 2018-19, the first year of operation, £400,000 was awarded.

Dundee has one bus operator that has more than 100 buses that fail to meet the Euro 6 standard, yet Dundee is expected to have a low-emission zone in place by 2020. Given that some of our most polluted streets are on main bus routes, can the cabinet secretary tell us how much money was awarded to Dundee bus operators in phase 2 of the Scottish bus emissions abatement retrofit programme to bring their fleets up to the Euro 6 standard and whether a third phase is planned?

I understand that the 2018-19 applications are currently being assessed by Transport Scotland, so I can give no further detail in respect of that. I know that one bus company has applied, but I am not sure whether it is the one to which Jenny Marra refers. We will obviously have to keep those schemes in mind as we move forward, because the intention is that all four major local authorities will have low-emission zones by the end of 2020.

Air Pollution in Edinburgh

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle air pollution in Edinburgh. (S5O-03089)

City of Edinburgh Council has produced an action plan containing a number of measures to improve air quality. The Scottish Government is working closely with the council as it implements the measures that are contained in the plan, and it is providing practical and financial assistance both to monitor air quality and to support delivery of the measures. As was announced in the 2017-18 programme for government, the council will establish a low-emission zone in Edinburgh by 2020.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that, in the 2015 British Lung Foundation survey of lung patients, 40 per cent of respondents said that they had bought a diesel car because it was better for the environment and 48 per cent had bought one because it was cheaper to run. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what plans the Scottish Government has to invest in schemes that will help private car owners to make cleaner decisions instead of simply charging them to go to work?

Jeremy Balfour will be aware that the Government has done a great deal of work to ensure that, for example, there is a really good network of electric vehicle charging points, which will encourage the take-up of electric vehicles, and that we begin to see a reduction in the number of vehicles that contribute to poor air quality. However, notwithstanding the real issues that there are around air quality, the fact is that the average level of man-made PM2.5, which is due mainly to road traffic, reduced by 22 per cent across Scotland between 2010 and 2016. Although there is a great deal still to do, a great deal has already been done.

In its stage 1 report on the Transport (Scotland) Bill, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee recognised that low-emission zones could result in the most polluting vehicles being pushed into neighbouring areas, causing increased congestion and air pollution. What analysis has been carried out to identify areas of potential displacement? What support will be provided to affected local authorities?

The member will be aware that the introduction and management of low-emission zones is a matter for the local authorities that are progressing them. I anticipate that information on the issue that Mr Golden raises will be among the information that local authorities gather to ensure that the creation of such zones does not create bigger problems for them. However, that will be a matter for their management. If the member has a particular proposed low-emission zone in mind, I strongly advise him to contact the relevant local authority to ask it what its proposals and intentions are.

I know that the issue of displacement could be a particular problem in Edinburgh, because of the situation there, but I am absolutely certain that City of Edinburgh Council is already considering that issue as well as the other issues that it will have to take on board before it introduces a low-emission zone.

Trail Hunting (Definition)

To ask the Scottish Government how it defines trail hunting in relation to its proposals for legislative changes to fox hunting practices. (S5O-03087)

The Scottish Government has not yet set out to define trail hunting in legal terms, but it might be helpful for me to outline the description of trail hunting that was provided by Lord Bonomy in his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. He described it as

“the hunting of a scent laid manually in such a way as best to simulate traditional mounted hunting activity. The trail is laid along the line a fox might take when moving across the countryside. Trail hunters use animal-based scent, primarily fox urine, a scent with which the hounds are familiar and with which it is intended they should remain familiar.”

Would the minister be open to looking at drag hunting, which uses a pre-laid, non-animal chemical scent, such as aniseed oil, as an alternative? It would allow the cultural heritage and social aspects of such countryside activities to continue.

In January, I announced the Government’s intention to prevent trail hunting from becoming an established practice in Scotland, to protect animal welfare. Since trail hunting has been introduced in England and Wales, we have seen that it can sometimes lead to hounds killing a fox, whether by accident or intentionally.

As we develop our proposals and move forward, if the evidence shows that drag hunting does not pose a risk to animal welfare, I envisage that we might well consider that practice to be fit to continue in Scotland.

It is clear that we need to end the current loopholes in the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and avoid creating any new ones, such as trail hunting, appearing in Scotland. Does the minister not accept that the Government’s plans for a licensing scheme that would allow the use of more than two dogs risk creating an entirely new loophole for hunters who want to dodge the ban? Will she accept that cruelty cannot be licensed and scrap the Government’s proposals for a licensing scheme?

I understand Colin Smyth’s concern, but I reiterate what I said in my statement in January. The reasoning behind our proposals is to close any loopholes and not create new ones. I have openly said that I want to work with members across the chamber to develop the legislation.

I have talked about the potential for licensing. We do not know what the scheme might look like, because we have not developed the proposals. I want to work with Colin Smyth and other members across the chamber so that, when we introduce the legislation, we do it right and we avoid creating any loopholes.

Post-Brexit Environmental Governance

To ask the Scottish Government what process is in place for it to identify its preferred option for delivering effective environmental governance following Brexit, including functions equivalent to those carried out by the European Commission and European Court. (S5O-03088)

On 16 February, the Scottish Government published a consultation paper on future environmental principles and governance in Scotland. We are currently engaging with stakeholders, and the consultation will close on 11 May. We will publish an analysis of the consultation responses and develop proposals to bring before Parliament. As the consultation paper makes clear, any proposals for the future must reflect ministers’ accountability to the Scottish Parliament and the role of the courts.

The expert report highlighted the risks and identified potential options and solutions. The Government has not provided its view on its preferred option for addressing the environmental governance gap in its recently launched consultation on environmental principles and governance. On what basis will it do so once the consultation closes?

Fundamentally, we will do it on the basis of what the consultation reveals. In considering how to design the consultation, we decided to proceed not by consulting on a Government-preferred scheme but by inviting real consultation on where people genuinely think the governance gaps are. I note that Wales has followed the same route. We take the view that that approach can deliver the most appropriately designed response to the governance gaps that may or may not occur, depending on what may or may not happen in the House of Commons in the next few days.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments on the consultation and look forward to hearing the analysis. However, does the chaos that we are seeing at Westminster not mean that it will be very difficult for us to identify what those governance gaps are?

As I said briefly at the end of my previous answer, it is hard to make plans in the face of the uncertainty at Westminster. However, it is vital that effective and appropriate governance remains in place to monitor and enforce environmental standards in Scotland. For obvious reasons, and as everybody would expect me to say, my choice would be to remain fully within the European Union’s governance systems, but we are trying to prepare for whatever the future brings. At the moment, we do not know what governance system might or might not apply even if there were to be a deal—and we do not know whether that will be the case either.

Deposit Return Scheme (Exemptions)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to possible exemptions from a deposit return scheme. (S5O-03090)

Work is on-going to finalise the preferred design for a Scottish deposit return scheme, in line with the commitment contained in the 2018-19 programme for government. In doing so, we are giving careful consideration to the views that have been expressed by the more than 3,000 individuals and organisations across the country who responded to the public consultation on the proposals. We recognise the need for any scheme to properly take into account the interests of retailers while reflecting the needs of members of the public across the country, who will require convenient access to return points if the scheme is to be a success.

The cabinet secretary will be well aware of some of the concerns about the issue and the discussion among the business community on whether there will be any form of exemptions. Is she actively discussing what those exemptions might be?

There is an active discussion about all aspects of our proposed deposit return scheme. Exemption proposals have been put forward by some organisations. The member is right that conversations with those organisations have been going on for a considerable time; indeed, they stretch back some years. However, I ask members to have a degree of wariness when they are thinking about and listening to some of what is said. For example, the request that exemptions should be applied to shops with a floor space of under 280m², which is one of the asks that we have received, would effectively exempt all but 17 per cent of the premises in Scotland. That would create significant issues with accessibility and could affect the potential success of the scheme. The issue is not as straightforward as some members like to imagine, as that suggestion would potentially leave huge geographic areas without a return point. That is the kind of thing that we have to balance and take on board, and we are doing so.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the issue for small retailers in urban and rural areas is not necessarily about exemptions, which she has touched on, and might be about support for good arrangements, such as those that she and I saw last summer on our visits to Norway? Will that be considered by the new advisory group?

The new advisory group has not yet met formally, but I expect that all that will be part of its consideration. I fully anticipate that all potential solutions to the problems and challenges that introducing a new scheme will bring will be part and parcel of the conversation.

I remind members that we are not out here on our own on this. A huge number of other countries across Europe have deposit return schemes of one kind or another that are actively and successfully working, and we should be able to have exactly the same.

Question 6 was not lodged.

Fly Tipping (Alleviation)

7. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to alleviate fly tipping. (S5O-03092)

Local authorities are primarily responsible for clearing fly tipping and litter. Fly tipping is illegal, dangerous and unnecessary. Valuable resources that could be recycled are wasted and publicly funded organisations and landowners bear the cost of the clean-up.

To tackle the issue, we support the reporting of fly tipping, through the flymapper and dumb dumpers systems, and the wider work on prevention and sharing expertise of Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish partnership against rural crime. We have provided SEPA and local authorities with the powers to fine people who are caught fly tipping, from the minimum fixed penalty of £200 up to a maximum fine of £40,000 if the person is prosecuted.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that comprehensive response.

Fly tipping seems to be a growing problem. In Perth and Kinross, for example, the number of recorded incidents has doubled in the past four years. Under current law in the area, the owner of the land is responsible for the cost of cleaning up after fly tipping. That goes against the polluter-pays principle. Is it time to revisit the law, so that owners of land are not held liable for the irresponsible actions of other people?

I would need to see a great deal more detailed analysis of what actually happens in respect of fly tipping to be certain that changing the law would help the situation.

Fly tipping is a considerable problem, which I suspect is growing, unfortunately. At the end of the day, the responsibility lies with the individuals who are doing the fly tipping. Ideally, we would be able to identify those individuals; in the absence of that, it is indeed the landowner who is currently responsible.

Will the cabinet secretary say how the Scottish Government encourages a preventative approach to reducing litter?

The national litter strategy, “Towards a litter-free Scotland: a strategic approach to higher quality local environments”, sets out a strategic approach to preventing littering. It focuses on a range of approaches, key to which is the underpinning message about the waste of time and money that clearing litter involves, and the harm that littering does to our communities, countryside and marine environment.

We continue to look for new ways to reduce littering. Today, I announced our intention to introduce a new offence of littering from vehicles, to target the blight of roadside litter in Scotland.

Special Marine Protected Areas (Consultation)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to consult on the outstanding special marine protected areas. (S5O-03093)

The Scottish Government is currently preparing consultations in two areas, both of which could be covered by the member’s question. First, there is to be a supplementary consultation on the strategic environmental assessment for the classification of special areas of protection for seabirds. Secondly, there is to be a consultation on the designation of four additional nature conservation marine protected areas for mobile species. Both consultations will be launched shortly after the Easter recess.

We are currently consulting on two new historic marine protected areas at Bressay Sound and Scapa Flow. That consultation is open and will run until 17 April.

Will the minister clarify that that work will include consultation on massive deep water marine protected areas? As she knows, Rockall basin will single-handedly double the size of the marine protection network.

Will she also assure me that that consultation will be well under way so that we see conclusions before the end of this parliamentary session?

That is certainly the intention behind launching the consultations in the Easter recess. We want to ensure that we have as wide engagement as possible.

I will probably have to catch the member at another time about the first part of her question. We have proposals for a deep sea reserve—I do not know whether that is what her first point related to. I will happily write to her with more details about that.

Farming and Food Production Policy Group

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made since 10 January 2019 with setting up a farming and food production policy group. (S5O-03094)

The remit and membership of the farming and food production policy group are under active consideration and details will be confirmed in due course. As indicated during the parliamentary debate on 6 March, the Scottish ministers are committed to establishing the group in a way that reflects the wishes of Parliament, and membership will include representation of farmers, environmental organisations and consumers.

Will the cabinet secretary commit today to a timeframe for progressing the group in more detail as well as the group’s deliberations and outputs? Given the parliamentary appetite for such a group, will he work collaboratively with all MSPs across the chamber who are interested ?

I do not want commit to a specific timetable. I can assure the member and all members across the chamber that active consideration is being given to the composition of the group. It is a very important piece of work that Parliament wishes us to do, and I am always happy to take the views of members into account. I have a remit from Parliament that I intend to fulfil as soon as I can, but I find that imposing a deadline on one’s self is perhaps not a prudent ministerial practice.

Given the many analyses that suggest that significant action is needed to tackle emissions from agriculture, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that farmers and food producers play their part in reducing emissions?

We want Scotland to be a world-class producer of high-quality food. We believe that we are producing that food sustainably, profitably and efficiently. The agricultural chapter of the Scottish Government’s climate change plan sets out our approach and we are working with the industry and with our institutes and our renowned scientific community, which contribute so much in that area.

We have reinforced our intentions with three commitments in the 2018-19 programme for government: our young farmer climate change champions, which we have delivered on; the nitrogen modelling tool, which we are on target to deliver; and the farming for a better climate programme.

I refer members to my farming interests in my entry in the register of members’ interests.

The cabinet secretary will be aware from recent Scottish farm business income estimates that although average farm income has risen, too many farms are still making average losses of £7,400. What support can the Scottish Government provide to farms now in term of food production to help them to diversify in order to become more financially sustainable?

Mr Cameron is right to make that point. Indeed, I met some farmers from Lochaber with him just a few weeks ago. I am acutely aware that many farmers in less favoured area support scheme areas, particularly in hill farm areas in the Highlands and Islands, face acute financial pressures. That is why we have worked very hard to deliver loan payments for the basic payments scheme from October last year—two months ahead of most of the rest of the UK—and for LFASS from March. Most of the LFASS loan payments have been made.

My main job is to get that financial support out of the door and into the hands of farmers and crofters. In practical terms, we have succeeded in that, and I am acutely aware that with the pressure of Brexit and the fear of the unknown and what that may lead to, it is a very important piece of work. I can assure Mr Cameron and other members that that has my daily attention, with weekly conference calls—including this morning—with officials, to make sure that team Scotland is on the case. I believe that we have been and are.

Food and Drink Industry (Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact that leaving the European Union will have on the food and drink industry. (S5O-03095)

If the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a deal on 12 April, Scotland will experience substantial disruptive impacts across the food and drink sector, which will be felt by those who supply this vital sector. The highest risks in the immediate term are as a consequence of significant disruption to the flow of goods across the Channel. Our seafood sector, which accounts for 58 per cent of our overall food exports, is likely to be particularly affected, given the just-in-time and perishable nature of that trade.

It is also worth noting that, as James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink has stated, the impact on our food and drink sector would likely cost us somewhere in the region of £2 billion, which is a cost that we can ill afford.

Is the Scottish Government initiative to support businesses that are affected by Brexit open to food and drink companies? How might companies in my constituency of Cunninghame South access that funding?

Food and drink businesses can apply for that funding. Our initiative to support businesses is being promoted through our enterprise agencies, which have produced a self-assessment toolkit and checklist and are offering access to events and expert advice. The details can be found at

The Brexit support grant provides 100 per cent funding—from a minimum of £2,000 to a maximum of £4,000—to help VAT-registered small and medium-sized enterprises manage a wide range of Brexit impacts. Information about the scheme has been placed in the Scottish Parliament information centre, and I encourage all members to make relevant businesses in their constituencies aware of the grant, as well as the Brexit self-assessment toolkit.

A significant amount of Scottish lamb is exported to the EU. What will the minister do to support sheep farmers in Scotland if there is a no-deal Brexit or, indeed, if we end up in a backstop situation?

I thank Rhoda Grant for raising that question, because we identified sheep meat as one of the areas that would probably be worst affected, especially by a no-deal Brexit. Together with the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, I have attended the Scottish Government resilience committee meetings. As well as those meetings, we have the fortnightly food sector resilience group meetings, which involve all sectors across the industry, with the purpose of establishing exactly what the issues are and what contingency measures we can put in place to try to prevent the worst-case scenario that we could well be facing.

The point to bear in mind is that not all the issues are in our control in Scotland. We are simply trying to mitigate the worst aspects, as far as possible. We are working as closely as we can with the industry to prevent some of the worst impacts.

Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire Agriculture (Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact Brexit could have on the agriculture sector in Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. (S5O-03096)

Leaving the European Union will significantly impact on agriculture across Scotland, including in Mr Arthur’s constituency, particularly in a no-deal scenario. The Scottish Government recently published a list of 67 known negative impacts of Brexit across the rural economy, many affecting farming and food production. Analysis shows that the impact of defaulting to World Trade Organization terms could be severe for some sectors. For example, the farm-gate price for sheep meat could fall by up to 30 per cent.

However, the loss of people is potentially the most significant issue. Food Standards Scotland estimates that around 75 per cent of vets currently working in our abattoirs are non-United Kingdom EU nationals. If we were to lose that skilled workforce, we would have serious difficulties in providing meat for domestic consumers as well as for export.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed and sobering answer. Given that the UK Government has failed to guarantee future funding for farm support beyond the end of the current UK parliamentary session, which is scheduled for 2022, can he advise what he is doing to ensure that farmers and food producers get their payment entitlements this year, to help to address the stress that is being caused by on-going Brexit uncertainty?

Who would put money on the UK Parliament lasting until the end of 2022? The guarantee may expire somewhat sooner than that.

We are doing what we can. We have operated two successful loan schemes, for the 2018 basic payments and the 2018 less favoured area support scheme payments, directly putting £370 million into rural businesses.

We commenced basic payments balance payments in March and I am pleased to confirm today that payments that were made under the 2018 Scottish suckler beef support scheme are being processed this week and will begin to reach bank accounts from 9 April, which is next Tuesday. I expect that an initial round of payments worth an estimated £33 million will be processed, with work in hand to make the remainder of the payments between now and the end of the payment window in June.

I can also confirm that we will begin to process LFASS 2018 payments next week, which means that we will close the LFASS loan scheme on 12 April, which is next Friday. Anyone who still wishes to accept a loan offer should reply by that date. So far, we have paid out LFASS 2018 loans worth £51.7 million to 8,379 claimants, which is in line with our experience of previous loan schemes.

NFU Scotland (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NFU Scotland and what was discussed. (S5O-03097)

I met NFUS on 21 March and my colleague, Roseanna Cunningham, also met NFUS on that date. We meet officials and office bearers regularly.

Farmers in the north-east have been impacted by record levels of fly-tipping. As Murdo Fraser highlighted earlier, the burden of clean-up falls on farmers, on pain of being fined. What will the Scottish Government do to support farmers in the region to respond to fly tipping? Given that just one in 600 cases in Aberdeenshire results in conviction, does the cabinet secretary agree that the law needs strengthened?

I believe that the matter is actually dealt with by my colleague, Roseanna Cunningham; indeed, it was raised during the immediately preceding session of portfolio questions on environment, climate change and land reform. That said, I entirely agree that this is an extremely serious matter. Fly tipping is a form of criminal activity. It is selfish and it has a huge impact on farmers. People who do it should be, frankly, ashamed of themselves and I hope that those who do it are caught.

As the member knows, the evidential requirement is a difficult matter, particularly in rural Scotland, where there tends to be a lack of eye witnesses to such behaviour. I have no hesitation in condemning such behaviour. I have recently had meetings with the police in relation to rural crime and I know that they take these matters very seriously—and rightly so.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, NFUS has expressed serious concerns about the increasing numbers of migrant greylag geese, which are affecting a number of communities around the country, including Orkney.

Will the cabinet secretary lend his support to efforts to get Scottish Natural Heritage, NFUS and other partners to look at ways of extending the adaptive management scheme programmes, so that the issue can be dealt with more effectively?

Again, I think that the matter is specifically within the portfolio responsibility of my colleague, Roseanna Cunningham. However, I am aware of the issue and have followed the recent publicity about the burgeoning numbers of greylag geese and the serious issue that they pose for Mr McArthur’s farmers—several of whom I met on a visit in the not-too-distant past. I respect the great work that Orcadian farmers do and the high quality of the produce with which they provide Scotland. Therefore, I have no hesitation in agreeing that we should encourage all parties—including SNH—to see whether a solution that is congenial to Mr McArthur’s constituents can be found.

Offshore Wind Developments (Effects on Fishing Industry)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with fishermen in Angus regarding the impact of offshore wind developments on the fishing industry. (S5O-03098)

Scottish Government officials regularly discuss immediate and strategic issues relating to the impact of offshore wind developments with fishermen and their representative organisations, including those from Angus. That includes discussions on projects that are going through the consenting and post-consent construction processes and on the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind—fisheries representatives sit on the cross-sectoral steering groups for that work.

My officials are currently undertaking a review of consenting instruments in order to ensure that adequate mitigation is in place to protect the fishing sector. Marine Scotland has actively sought views from the fishing industry and would welcome any further input from fishers and their representative organisations.

Arbroath and Angus had thriving fishing industries prior to the implementation of the common fisheries policy. I welcome the sea of opportunity that leaving the CFP will afford my constituents. What assessment has been made of the impact that the increasing number of offshore wind structures will have on the increased number of fishing vessels after leaving the CFP?

I am not quite sure what causal link there is between the two topics that Bill Bowman has raised. I will stick to the topic that was raised in the question—I think that that is the appropriate process that we are engaged in.

I am very happy to say that we take extremely seriously the protection of fisheries’ interests while we successfully pursue our renewable energy ambitions. I have taken a personal interest in that; indeed, when I was the energy minister, I ensured that the consents that were granted contained provisions to ensure that the fishing sector and the energy sector could work together—they are both great sectors of the Scottish economy, and it is right that we ensure that. Where conflict arises, the cross-sectoral groups on which Angus fishermen sit are a good way to resolve it. However, the consultation that I am engaged in is designed to ensure that what further—if anything—can be done to ensure that fishing interests are not prejudiced can be done. After all, the fishermen were there first.

Population Decline in Rural areas

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action it is taking to tackle population decline in rural areas. (S5O-03099)

The Scottish Government recognises that people are Scotland’s greatest asset. Our economic action plan set out a commitment to a come to Scotland campaign, and we are developing with our partners a package of measures to attract people to and retain people in Scotland, including in our rural areas. However, Scotland needs further levers to be able to action change. Those include having a tailored approach to migration that will attract and retain people with the skills that we need to ensure the future sustainability of our rural communities.

A community organisation on the isle of Harris recently raised with me its concerns about the sustainability of having more than 50 per cent of homes in certain fragile communities given over to holiday houses. There is consensus—rightly—that tourism is important to the island economy, but what assessment has the Scottish Government made of the issue? What measures can be taken to ensure that communities do not become unsustainable, depopulated or unaffordable for people to live in?

I completely understand the concerns that Alasdair Allan has raised. “Scottish Planning Policy” sets out that the planning system should

“encourage rural development that supports prosperous and sustainable communities and businesses”.

The Planning (Scotland) Bill was amended at stage 2 to include provision that a residential property’s change of use to short-term holiday letting would be a material change of use that would require planning permission, and a further amendment to that section of the bill has been lodged in advance of stage 3. The Scottish Government is considering the effect of the amendments and will respond in due course.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Is the minister concerned that the reduction in agricultural tenancies will reduce population levels in rural Scotland?

We are seeing a declining population in rural areas for a number of reasons. That is why I recently met the Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson, to discuss the matter and to see what other measures we could take to try to sustain and build our populations in rural areas.

A number of issues have been raised with me continually in the visits that I have made in my role, including, particularly by young people, the issue of their ability to stay in rural areas. We need connectivity, infrastructure, jobs and housing. By looking at all those things in the round, we can hope to not only maintain populations in rural areas but attract people to live in those areas.

Agriculture Bill

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am a farmer.

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to introduce an agriculture bill. (S5O-03100)

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.

Could you come to your question, please?

More worrying, sheep farmers in less favoured areas were making a loss of £27,400. Those figures show how vital support payments are.

Mr Chapman, could you come to your question?

With that in mind, can the cabinet secretary tell me when an agriculture bill will be introduced in this Parliament?

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.

That concludes portfolio questions. I did not reach question 8, so I apologise to Clare Adamson.