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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 04 September 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Programme for Government 2019-20, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Hamish Henderson


Portfolio Question Time

Community Land Ownership (South Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support community land ownership in the South Scotland region. (S5O-03465)

The Scottish Government supports community land ownership through legislation, guidance and the provision of advice to community groups and by making available grant funding for communities to acquire land or land assets. Since 2016, the Scottish land fund has awarded £272,000 to 25 groups in the south of Scotland to carry out feasibility studies into buying land or buildings for community use. Of those, 17 groups to date have gone on to secure approval to acquire the assets in question, with funding of just over £1.99 million.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that of the 560,000 acres of land in community ownership in Scotland, almost 530,000 acres are in the Highlands and Islands and, so far, just 800 acres are in the South Scotland regions of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. Given that there has been an explosion of interest in community land ownership in the south of Scotland in recent months—for example, Langholm Moor, Wanlockhead and Dumfries town centre—will the cabinet secretary consider whether there is anything more that the Government could do to support potential community landowners in South Scotland, where the need to tackle economic challenges is as great as it is in the Highlands and Islands?

I am aware of the motion that Colin Smyth lodged, which had cross-party support, so I am aware of the figures on which he founded his question.

There are a couple of things that I should say. Colin Smyth has looked at the issue in terms of acreage but, sometimes, although a community right to buy application is for a small package of land, it is one that would make a massive difference to the local community. He is right to talk about a recent explosion in interest and it is fair to say that communities in the south of Scotland have been slow to think about community right to buy as applying to them. I suspect that people there have now woken up to the opportunities.

Since the inception of the community right to buy, the Scottish ministers have assisted in setting up 32 compliant community bodies in the south of Scotland area, which has resulted in 39 applications. Those community bodies have purchased land and buildings through the appropriate legislation. I am sure that Colin Smyth is aware of the most recent purchases, so I will not list them.

I also flag up that, with the advent of South of Scotland Enterprise, we expect the new agency to take a positive and practical role in working directly with communities, which could include working with existing legislation that is designed to encourage and support the ownership and control of assets by communities, including through the community right to buy.

I am perfectly able to give Colin Smyth a great deal more detail if he wishes it, but I do not want to provoke the ire of the Presiding Officer.

Climate Emergency Response Group (12-point Plan)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the 12-point plan published by the climate emergency response group on 26 August 2019. (S5O-03466)

The 2019-20 programme for government contains a point-by-point response from the Scottish Government to the 12-point plan that was published by the climate emergency response group. I hope that Mike Rumbles has been able to look at the PFG since he lodged his question.

I am interested in focusing on one of the 12 points in the plan, which is the £100 million agricultural modernisation fund with zero-interest loans for investments and improvements that will secure a reduction in emissions. Will the cabinet secretary accept that request for investment and commit to it being new money and not money that is taken from current funds for agricultural support from the agricultural portfolio or her own portfolio?

Mike Rumbles will probably realise that I cannot make that kind of commitment on behalf of my colleague Fergus Ewing. However, I know that Fergus Ewing is particularly keen to ensure that any agricultural transformation programme delivers across the board in areas such as sustainability. Obviously, there is a budget process to go through, and there might be additional funding implications in that. However, those would be matters for the appropriate cabinet secretary to deal with. I am sure that Fergus Ewing would be happy to engage directly with Mike Rumbles.

Climate Change

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address climate change. (S5O-03467)

Scotland is a world leader in the fight against climate change. We have almost halved emissions since 1990, while growing the economy and increasing employment and productivity.

The concrete actions that we will take to address climate change are set out in our climate change plan, which was published in February 2018. We have committed to update that plan within six months of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill receiving royal assent, and we are looking across our responsibilities to make sure that we continue with the policies that are working and increase action where necessary. The programme for government outlines the areas in which we will do that, including through measures on transport, green finance, land use and investing in innovation.

The cycle to work scheme has encouraged many people to buy a bike and use it for getting to work. The United Kingdom Government is expanding the cap on the scheme so that people can purchase electric bikes. Although cycling is not in the remit of the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, given that air pollution and other areas are in her remit, will she lobby her ministerial colleagues to see whether there are other ways in which we can increase the incentives for people to take up use of e-bikes?

I reassure Neil Findlay that my ministerial colleagues are probably fed up with me lobbying them on a variety of issues. Nonetheless, I absolutely undertake to continue to do so, across the board, in respect of the sorts of activities that will be required for us to reduce carbon emissions. That will include continuing to focus on alternative modes of transport such as cycling.

Climate Emergency

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle the climate emergency. (S5O-03468)

Obviously, I gave Neil Findlay an answer on that topic. The 2019-20 programme for government outlines the need to respond to the global climate emergency as well as the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to do so. For example, the development and publication of a climate emergency skills plan will build the right skills in Scotland’s workforce to take advantage of new areas of investment.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, in a national poll that was run by Quinnipiac University last week, 67 per cent of US voters supported doing more to address climate change? Is that further confirmation that the climate emergency is now recognised worldwide and requires a substantial response from every country, including our own?

It may not surprise Stewart Stevenson to hear that I was unaware of that very specific poll from Quinnipiac University. However, I am not sure that the results surprise me enormously. It is encouraging to see that more US voters want action to address climate change.

The global climate emergency needs a global response. Although we can lead by example—indeed, we will end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045—we need the rest of the world to follow that lead and work collaboratively with us to tackle the global climate emergency. I meet representatives from many of the state legislatures in the United States that have maintained, and want to forge ahead with, their commitments to reduce emissions, and the sum total of their efforts will mean that we still get a contribution from the United States.

Climate Change (Agricultural Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in meeting its climate change targets, and how it works with the agricultural sector to maximise the potential that farmers have to help achieve these. (S5O-03472)

We are on track to meeting Scotland’s world-leading climate change targets, with emissions down by 47 per cent between 1990 and 2017. Scottish farmers already play a key role in that progress, including in contributing to emissions reduction through forestry, land use and electricity generation.

The Scottish Government is working with the agriculture sector to do even more. Our initiatives include encouraging more tree planting and agroforestry on farms, promoting the multiple benefits of good grassland and grazing management, encouraging farmers to invest in renewable energy and developing models to demonstrate and promote carbon-neutral farms.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that we should look at reducing our meat intake to help the environment. That has led to farmers being unfairly targeted. Does the cabinet secretary agree that agricultural practices are different in Scotland, that there are Scottish farmers who are leading the way in best practice and that that should be recognised?

I think that we all recognise that Scots need to significantly increase the fruit and vegetable part of their diets. That is a simple health message that health authorities in most countries would wish to work on.

The Scottish Government recognises the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet that includes lean, quality red meat. Scotland produces some of the best-quality grass-fed red meat in the world, and many farmers are already choosing sustainable methods of production and land use. It is important that that story is told and that more farmers are encouraged to play their part in helping to reduce emissions in Scotland and end climate change, particularly through the agriculture transformation programme that was announced yesterday in the programme for government. I recommend to members who are at all interested in the matter that, if they wish to know more about some of the world-leading research that is being done in Scotland, they should be in touch with Scotland’s Rural College and other research institutes that are conducting that work. It is extremely important for the future of agriculture in Scotland, which has a very good story to tell.

I have a lot of requests to ask supplementary questions and will do my best to take as many as possible.

On tackling climate change, yesterday’s programme for government promised to accelerate Scotland’s energy retrofit scheme to reach energy performance certificate band C by 2030. Why did the Scottish National Party previously vote against Conservative amendments to achieve that?

I do not have specific recollection of the details of Scottish Conservative amendments, but I rather suspect that they were worded in such a way as to make it almost impossible to support them. Members are shaking their heads, but they know exactly what I mean in that regard.

Our commitment and drive forward on renewable energy are absolutely second to none and, frankly, they would be helped a lot more if we could get the United Kingdom Government to step up on that instead of cutting the legs out from under a great deal of renewable industry and cutting subsidies. In those circumstances, I strongly advise that, instead of there being the wordplay that would undoubtedly have been part of any Tory amendments, the Tories should get on to their colleagues down south and see whether they can find a little chink in all the chaos to have a proper conversation about what is needed for the future of not just Scotland but the UK.

Over the summer, there have been forest fires across the Amazon, and the great barrier reef is in peril. Can other countries learn anything about tackling climate change from the Scottish Government’s programme for government?

I would say—and it is true—that Scotland is leading the way in its actions. We were among the first countries in the world to declare a global climate emergency, and we followed that declaration with a world-leading net zero target and a programme for government that prioritises tackling climate change. I look forward to discussing that programme in the debate that will follow portfolio questions.

The fight to save the Amazon forest, which is the world’s biggest land-based carbon sink, shows the importance of global co-operation in tackling climate change. I hope that other nations will join us in committing to end their contribution to climate change. I know that my colleague Fergus Ewing, who is sitting beside me, will play a very direct part in that in encouraging increased planting of trees in Scotland. We probably cannot make up for the number of trees that have been lost in the Amazon, but we can do our bit. If every country does its bit, that will help enormously.

The cabinet secretary talks about deforestation, and the programme for government promises an extra £5 million of investment and an increase in the planting target to 12,000 hectares. However, she will know that hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Scotland are ready for regeneration, which is being stopped only by grazing and burning. Does she agree that the 12,000-hectare planting target should be matched with a 12,000-hectare native forest regeneration target, through statutory regulation of rural upland land use and stopping the farming subsidies that are actively contributing to deforestation over much of Scotland?

That is an interesting question. Proportionately, Scotland is doing way more tree planting than anywhere else in the UK, which is an important point to note.

I am not quite sure what Andy Wightman is suggesting. Should we sweep away people from about 70 per cent of our land and stop the food production that is the only feasible form of food production on that land? Then what would we do? I am a little uncertain about the future that the member is suggesting for Scotland. There are areas—this relates to an earlier question—in which the form of food production that is taking place is the only possible form of food production that can be undertaken on that land. In the longer term, I am not sure that taking such land out of food production is the most sensible way forward.

Water Pollution (Almond Valley)

To ask the Scottish Government how water pollution is being reduced in the Almond Valley constituency. (S5O-03469)

The Scottish Government supports on-going work by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Water to reduce water pollution in Almond Valley. As well as protecting the River Almond catchment from pollution incidents, SEPA is undertaking a wide range of initiatives to improve environmental water quality.

The River Almond has received significant investment to enable the return of Atlantic salmon, eels and lamprey. However, the river is still downgraded due to its water quality and many other issues, including the spillage of untreated sewage and litter. The problem has been on-going for years. What commitment can the minister give to ensure that local people can be confident of the water quality for wildlife and recreational use?

I am aware of the work that the member has been undertaking. Through river basin management planning, the Scottish Government and SEPA have prioritised action on the River Almond to remove barriers to fish and improve water quality when it has been downgraded.

Scottish Water responds to any pollution incident as an absolute priority. In May 2019, when a waste water sewer collapsed, which caused pollution of the River Almond, work was carried out immediately to fix the problem and clean up the watercourse. Following the River Almond strategic study, Scottish Water and SEPA are prioritising long-term upgrades to Scottish Water’s assets that will provide water quality improvements for the local community and for wildlife.

Clean Air Strategy

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the holistic approach taken in the United Kingdom Government’s clean air strategy 2019 could be applied to Scotland in order to reduce carbon and other such emissions. (S5O-03470)

The Scottish Government-commissioned report of the independent review of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy was published last week. The report sets out a number of recommendations for building on our achievements to date in reducing air pollution. We will consider the recommendations and consult on proposals for a revised air quality strategy in due course. If Bill Bowman has not already sourced a copy of the independent review, I recommend that he should do so.

It has been reported that three of Scotland’s 10 most polluted streets are in Dundee, and we now know that plans for the development of a low-emission zone for Dundee will not be published until March next year. Does the cabinet secretary consider that to be acceptable progress, given that we are in a climate emergency?

Of course, I want there to be fast progress across the board. We always understood that the first two cities to have LEZs would be Glasgow and Edinburgh. Dundee is working hard on the development of its low-emission zone. There are hotspots in Dundee, as there are in a number of other places, but the process of establishing a low-emission zone is progressing. If Bill Bowman feels that he has not received enough information about the issue, I would be happy to ensure that he is given an up-to-date briefing. I know that Dundee is on track.

I always want to encourage local authorities to do more if they can, but we are not in the business of dictating to local authorities and I do not expect that the Conservatives would wish me to do so.

Rural Economy

We now commence portfolio questions on the rural economy. I remind members that questions 1 and 5 will be grouped together. I also remind members that supplementary questions from members other than the questioner will all be taken at the end of the question.

No-deal Brexit (Impact on Farm Incomes)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the findings of the Andersons Centre research on the impact of a no-deal Brexit on farm incomes. (S5O-03473)

We note the publicity around the Andersons Centre report. Its conclusions echo those of other research and analysis that has been conducted, including by this Government. Although there will be variation in the severity of impacts, no part of the rural economy will not be adversely impacted by a no-deal Brexit. The fact that a no-deal Brexit is still being contemplated shows complete recklessness and how little this Tory United Kingdom Government cares about the fates of thousands of people in rural communities across Scotland. We will continue to do all that we can to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The report highlighted what we have always known to be the case: leaving the UK without a deal would be a disaster for Scotland’s farmers. I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide some certainty to farmers in the delivery of the current loan scheme offer. Has the UK Government given any indication that it is seeking to protect Scottish farming, be that in the form of funding post-2020, an appropriate immigration system for Scotland’s soft fruit sector or anything else?

I wish that I could say that it has, but the UK Government has provided nothing but uncertainty for Scottish farming. We are now potentially only 57 days from leaving the European Union without a deal. Richard Lyle mentioned the immigration system, which is a massive concern for the rural economy and our economy as a whole. The UK Government introduced a seasonal workers pilot scheme to secure 2,500 workers across the whole of the UK, but that scheme is not enough to satisfy the labour needs in my constituency, let alone across the whole of Scotland or the UK. With current immigration proposals as they are, the situation will only get worse. We simply cannot rely on the UK Government to resolve the issue with its increasingly hostile environment, which is why we want and need to see migration devolved to Scotland. In the meantime, we have committed to working with rural businesses and industries to encourage more of their employees to stay in Scotland. We will continue to work with our soft fruit and seasonal vegetable sectors to better understand the challenges that they face with their workforce needs.

No-deal Brexit (Impact on Agriculture in Renfrewshire South)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact a no-deal Brexit could have on the agricultural sector in the Renfrewshire South constituency. (S5O-03477)

A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for farmers and the farming industry in Mr Arthur’s Renfrewshire constituency, as it would be across Scotland. We will do what we can with the powers that we have, but, as we have said, we will not be able to prevent or mitigate all the impacts. Scotland was first in the UK to offer advance payments by way of a loan scheme to farmers and crofters to help to address concerns and maintain the vital cash flow within the rural economy.

The minister will be aware that farmers who operate in my constituency and the wider area have been engaged in a range of diverse activities, including planting trees. Can she advise what funding will be available for farmers like them to continue to plant trees—diversifying incomes and contributing to our climate change efforts—if we have to leave the EU? I invite her to come to my constituency to meet farmers.

I would be delighted to go to the member’s constituency and to meet anybody who has concerns and would like to discuss them with me. I am glad that the member has raised the issue of forestry. In yesterday’s programme for government announcement, we announced our intention to create 12,000 hectares of new woodland this year, which is 2,000 hectares more than the climate change plan target. However, the UK Government is yet to confirm future funding for forestry. So far, the UK Government has committed to providing

“the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this parliament”,

but it still has not set out exactly what it means by “farm support”, despite our repeated calls for clarity on that. The programme for government also makes it clear that we will continue to press the UK Government for that clarity, which farming and forestry desperately need.

The British Egg Industry Council has recently contacted me with concerns about catastrophic tariffs and lowered food standards in the event of a no-deal Brexit. To protect our industries and the quality of produce that we consume, will the Scottish Government continue to put pressure on the reckless UK Government to abandon the notion of leaving the EU without a deal?

Absolutely. As I said in response to Tom Arthur’s question, a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Scotland, and our primary producers would feel the brunt of that through tariffs, particularly for red meat and sheep meat. We are a responsible Government and we will continue to do everything that we can to prepare for that, but it simply is not possible for us to mitigate all the impacts of leaving the EU without a deal. That is why a no-deal exit must be removed as an option.

Brexit (Impact on Farming)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact Brexit could have on farming in Scotland, and what action it will take to maintain current agricultural standards and measures. (S5O-03474)

A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Scotland and our farming industry. Coupled with a lack over certainty of future support payments, that means that many businesses will be facing a cliff edge. Rural areas are particularly vulnerable because they are dependent on sectors such as farming. Sheep farmers are particularly at risk, with United Kingdom sheep meat exports worth £390 million a year and with almost all of those exports going to the European Union. There is a prospect of 40 to 50 per cent tariffs being imposed on those exports, which would be devastating. It is therefore essential that sheep farmers are compensated if we leave the EU without a deal.

What measures are in place to protect plants from disease if Scotland has to leave the EU?

The EU is an important resource for knowledge and disease surveillance to aid Scotland in taking preventative measures to protect our plants from the threat of incoming pests and disease. That is an extremely important area, so I am grateful that the member has raised it. We believe that exiting the EU is not in our interests, but we have been preparing Scottish legislation so that our existing protective measures will continue to be robust on exit, and we remain committed to adhering to current and future EU standards and regulations.

Question 3 was not lodged.

Scotch Lamb Exports

To ask the Scottish Government what the value is of Scotch lamb exports to Europe. (S5O-03476)

Information from Quality Meat Scotland is that almost £31 million-worth of Scotch lamb was exported to Europe in 2018, accounting for approximately 22 per cent of the sector’s income for the year.

Lamb prices are okay at the moment, but hill farmers are concerned about a potential reduction in the value of lamb and the loss of the European Union market. What contingency measures does the cabinet secretary have in place to assist farmers post-EU subsidy in the event of a fall in the value of lamb?

I am not sure that Jackie Baillie is entirely correct, because the information that I have had in the past couple of days indicated that in the market in, I think, Newton Stewart, prices fell by about 20 per cent. We closely monitor the price figures from all the marts. We are concerned not only about the fall in beef prices and rising costs but about the overall financial position that the sheep sector faces.

One of the things that we have done—and I am pleased that we are doing this—is arrange that every farmer, crofter and land manager who is entitled to receive pillar 1 payments will receive payments at the earliest possible date. Ninety-five per cent of all eligible claimants have received a loan offer and about half of them have responded. I urge the people who have not responded to do so, so that they can obtain 95 per cent of their full entitlement by the beginning of October. Getting that money in the bank is the most practical thing that we can do in the short term.

If EU markets for lamb are lost because of high tariffs, it will be the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government to come up with a compensation scheme that is based on a headage payment on breeding ewe numbers, with 2018 historical information. That is the only way for us to administer a compensation scheme quickly and successfully.

It would be far better if the problem did not have to arise in the first place. It would be far better to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Crofting (National Development Plan)

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to publish a national development plan for crofting. (S5O-03478)

As we set out in the programme for government, the national development plan for crofting will be published in the coming year.

I was hoping that the cabinet secretary would enlighten us on what next week’s statement on crofting might include. Will it include something about the national development plan for crofting? The plan was promised in last year’s programme for government, as was a crofting bill, which also has yet to appear and has disappeared from this year’s programme for government. Perhaps the cabinet secretary can tell us what has happened to that, too.

Graham Simpson is correct in one respect: it is intended that there will be a statement on crofting next week. If I were to accept his invitation to say what will be in the statement, prima facie I would be in clear breach of every parliamentary rule that has been written. With respect, I will not accept the member’s invitation, which he will understand.

I am proud that in 2018 there were more than 200 new entrants to crofting. In the last financial year, we have provided crofting businesses with more than £46 million of funding. In the financial year 2018-19, we approved more than 618 crofting agricultural grant scheme applications.

I have driven that forward. I am proud that, as far as crofters in Scotland are concerned, we are getting on with the day job, while Graham Simpson’s colleagues in Westminster have, apparently, abandoned the day job altogether.

Beef Efficiency Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to take forward the beef efficiency scheme. (S5O-03479)

The five-year beef efficiency scheme is in its third year, and we expect to be able to continue the scheme as it is until its conclusion. However, that depends on the United Kingdom Government including the beef efficiency scheme in its commitment to maintain farm support until 2022.

Any decisions on a future scheme can be made only when there is clarity and certainty from the UK Government on future funding. At present, there is no such clarity and certainty.

The available budget in the beef efficiency scheme stands at £600,000, as of August 2019. Will the cabinet secretary give further details on exactly how, and within what timeframe, the funds will be allocated to support beef farmers and optimise sustainability for beef livestock farming across Scotland?

Maurice Corry knows that the funding that is available in the beef efficiency scheme is being front loaded. That is the nature of the scheme, which I think was welcomed by everyone who chose to participate. I am pleased that we—unlike other parts of the UK, I believe—were able to support our beef sector with such a scheme.

I will be happy to discuss any proposal that the member might have for the future, but the starting point is this: Mr Gove, in his paper, “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit”, said, basically, that direct support for farmers should cease by 2027. Maurice Corry asking me for more money for this or that scheme runs contrary to the UK Government’s plan to scrap all support payments for food production in a fairly small number of years. There is just a little inconsistency in that.

For clarification, can the cabinet secretary advise whether there is an equivalent scheme elsewhere in the UK, and if there is, can we learn anything from it to support our beef farmers?

As far as I understand the matter, the answer is that there is no equivalent scheme elsewhere in the UK. That is an example of Scotland benefiting from the devolution of responsibility for agriculture. We have been able to respond to the clear wishes of the farming sector to deliver the scheme, to benefit Scotland’s farmers and to meet our needs. That reinforces why farming policy and future arrangements for rural support need to stay devolved, without any strings being attached by the UK Government.

Farm Payments (Lothian)

To ask the Scottish Government how many farm businesses in the Lothian region are still to receive 2016-17 and 2017-18 common agricultural policy basic and pillar 2 payments. (S5O-03480)

For the common agricultural policy basic payment scheme, there are no payments outstanding for scheme years 2016 and 2017, and seven businesses are due payment for 2018. For pillar 2, two businesses are due payment for 2016, four for 2017 and 24 for 2018. We continue to work with customers to pay out the remaining claims in line with the scheme regulations.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm absolutely that these payments will be made to all farm businesses by the end of this year? Yes or no.

I am sorry. I did not quite catch whether Jeremy Balfour asked whether “all beef payments” will be made.

I said, “these payments”.

The member should understand that we are dealing with 17,000 or 18,000 claims for pillar 1 payments. I said in my answer to him that in 2016 and 2017, the outstanding number is zero. In other words, our record is 100 per cent for those two years, which is a fair result—and not one that I ever achieved in an examination, members will not be surprised to hear. Perhaps Mr Balfour did; I do not know.

I can also say that with such payments, there is always a tail; there are always very complicated cases that involve a great deal of time and effort. I have been overseeing and double-checking some of that work, because we are determined to make all payments that are due to farmers, crofters and land managers in Scotland as quickly as possible.

Frankly, everyone but the Scottish Tories recognises our record in improvement over the last three years.

What arrangements have been made by other UK Administrations to make sure that farmers and crofters get their basic payments ahead of a no-deal Brexit?

As yet, I am not aware that any other UK Administration is offering a loan scheme or advance payments to farm businesses. Here in Scotland, I have been determined to give as much support and certainty as possible, ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit. That is why we are offering advance loan payments that are worth up to 95 per cent of anticipated 2019 CAP BPS and breeding payments. We have issued 16,600 loan offers that are worth almost £395 million to the rural economy. We will start payments in early October. I am pleased to report that, as at today, 9,500 farmers and crofters have returned their loan acceptances.

I know the officials who are administering the payments. They are doing a grand job for Scotland. If our colleagues in England would like to learn how to do it, I am happy to arrange for our officials to offer—at a cost, of course, which we will negotiate—to administer the scheme. I am quite serious. With the risk of a no-deal Brexit, I am astonished that our colleagues in England have not seen fit to make sure that there will be some money in the bank accounts of their farmers down south, because of the challenges that they, too, would face. That is not a fate that I wish on any farmers in the UK.