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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 12 September 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Transvaginal Mesh, Suicide Prevention, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Social Enterprises (Child Poverty)


Portfolio Question Time

Environment (South Lanarkshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what initiatives it plans to improve the environment in South Lanarkshire. (S5O-02329)

The local authority, together with local partners, plays the lead role in improving the environment in South Lanarkshire. At a national level, standards and support are provided through public bodies such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, as well as targeted initiatives such as the central Scotland green network. The 2018-19 programme for government sets out a range of commitments to drive forward the Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland’s environment and on climate change. They include a commitment to develop an environment strategy to guide future activity across Scotland’s existing environment policies.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that South Lanarkshire Council has not declared a low-emission zone. Campaigning groups in Cambuslang, including Cambuslang community council, have highlighted the issue of emissions in Cambuslang Main Street, so I ask the cabinet secretary whether the Government will consider designating South Lanarkshire as a low-emission zone in order to tackle the emissions in Cambuslang Main Street.

The member is aware that the focus of the current plans for low-emission zones is to progress those zones in the four major cities in Scotland, and thereafter to begin to look at those areas of Scotland that may indeed also require low-emission zones. If South Lanarkshire Council is thinking about that—I do not know whether it is—I hope that it will come forward with some ideas well in advance of that process. It will be able to learn from the process that is being gone through in respect of the four cities that we are talking about now.

That was an illuminating answer from the minister. [Interruption.] I say that because the lights came up as she was speaking. [Laughter.] I will put my hand up next time if I want to speak.

Further to her response on low-emission zones, does the cabinet secretary recognise that, in order for cities to have successful low-emission zones, notice must be taken of surrounding towns, commuter towns and satellite towns? Does she agree that it would be beneficial for those heading up the initiatives in the cities to open discussions with groups in the surrounding towns, such as the East Kilbride task force in my constituency of East Kilbride?

I am beginning to get the feeling that I might be stepping into a discussion or an argument that I have not hitherto been involved with, so I will tread warily and suggest that groups across Scotland that have a strong interest and concern in the issue should be flagging up their interests and concerns with all other areas. It is the case, particularly in urban Scotland, that the boundaries between local authorities do not simply cut off issues such as air quality. It may be different when it comes to more rural local authorities where there is a huge hinterland, but I take the point that the member is making about the need for there to be cross-boundary conversations, and I hope that those are going ahead.

Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography Project

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish coastal rubbish aerial photography project. (S5O-02330)

I thank Jenny Gilruth for that question, because it is great to have the opportunity to say a little about the project. The Scottish coastal rubbish aerial photography project—or SCRAPbook—is a fantastic project that involves the work of volunteer pilots through Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol, capturing images of our coastline, highlighting where marine litter is collecting and trying to identify the often hard-to-reach areas where a lot of that litter can accumulate.

I had the opportunity to see that first hand in the summer, when I went out on an amazing, if slightly terrifying, gyrocopter flight to examine the coastline around the Moray Firth. All the images that the Sky Watch pilots capture are collated on the SCRAPbook website——which has an interactive map that members of the public can use.

A pilot was funded by the Scottish Government earlier this year and, since then, the project has grown in size and success. More than 50 per cent of Scotland’s mainland coasts have now been mapped and more data is being added to the online interactive map every day. That achievement is credited to the organisers Moray Firth Partnership, Marine Conservation Society and Sky Watch, and to the many volunteers who support the project.

Visitors to the SCRAPbook website can see the areas that are worst affected and use that information to prioritise beach clean-ups. The information has been invaluable to local coastal partnerships, organisations and individuals tackling marine litter first hand, and I applaud their efforts. I will meet representatives of SCRAPbook on Friday when I take part in the Marine Conservation Society’s 25th Great British beach clean. I take this opportunity to urge others to do their bit for the environment and join their local beach clean this weekend.

I welcome the minister to her new role.

Although the SCRAPbook project is undoubtedly helpful in identifying where coastal litter collects, what action is the Scottish Government taking to protect and promote our coastline, including places that could benefit from investment, such as beautiful Leven beach in my constituency?

As Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, I want to enhance the natural environment and promote it to people. A massive part of that is tackling the blight of litter on our coastlines. The vast majority of the litter that lands on our coasts originates on land, even though it comes in from the sea. The Scottish Government is taking a number of measures to prevent the use of single-use plastic and prevent it from entering the oceans, which causes the litter to accumulate in the first place.

I encourage as many people as possible to visit our incredible coastline, including at Leven, where Jenny Gilruth has invited me on Friday to take part in a beach clean. By doing our bit to encourage more people to visit our coastline, we will do a lot for tourism and give an extra boost to the local economy. I look forward to seeing Jenny Gilruth on Friday, and I again encourage members to get out and about and to do their bit for the environment.

The minister will be aware of the many voluntary organisations such as the Friends of Troon Beaches and the Ayrshire rotary clubs that organise litter picking on beaches in my area and elsewhere in Scotland. What support can the Scottish Government give to such voluntary organisations, as well as local authorities, to address the problem?

We are keen to support that work. Another organisation that I am aware of is Surfers Against Sewage, which does a power of work in engaging with local communities and schools to get everybody out and about. Coastal litter is not one person’s problem, and it is not entirely up to the Government or to any one individual to solve. We all have a part to play and we can all do our bit, whether as individuals picking up pieces of litter that we find on the beach or the Government leading with legislation and support. I actively encourage and support all those groups in the amazing work that they and their volunteers do. I again encourage everybody to do their bit.

Deposit Return Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the establishment of a deposit return scheme. (S5O-02331)

Scotland was the first country in the United Kingdom to commit to introducing deposit return on drinks containers and we have been making good progress since that commitment was announced. We are currently consulting on the range of options that will make up a successful scheme, building on the detailed analysis work that was previously done by Zero Waste Scotland. The consultation closes on 25 September 2018, after which the results will be analysed and published. If people have not already made their views heard, I encourage them to do so.

This year’s programme for government commits us to bringing forward a final design that is based on the outcome of the consultation and our wider engagement.

Is there any further information about how the pilot programmes are performing and how that will inform the final scheme that will be introduced in Scotland?

A number of organisations and businesses are piloting how reverse vending machines would operate in their shops. Although it is important to note that those schemes provide a reward rather than returning a deposit, we will view the results with interest alongside the various responses to our public consultation which, as I have already indicated, closes on 25 September. I look forward to bringing the deposit return scheme to Parliament next year.

I declare an interest based on my work in the waste sector.

How many jobs will be lost in local authority kerbside collection as a result of the introduction of a deposit return scheme?

I am a little unclear from the member’s question whether he supports a deposit return scheme or is opposed to it. I would be concerned if he is going to make an opposing argument.

A deposit return scheme will create jobs. That needs to be kept in mind. During the summer, I visited Norway to have specific conversations about Norway’s scheme, and it is clear that the economic opportunities that spin off from such a scheme are enormous and there for the taking in Scotland. I hope that the scheme results in a net increase in jobs rather than a net loss.

The cabinet secretary talked about widening engagement, which is vital. There is still misunderstanding about what can be recycled and where it can be recycled. Will the cabinet secretary look at running a public information scheme if a deposit return scheme is to be implemented so that we can raise public awareness of appropriate recycling?

That is vital. There is a general sense that a deposit return scheme is a good thing to have. People want to see it happen. In its specifics, however, it might not be as well understood as we might want. There are issues about individual items. I hope that a Scottish scheme will be as ambitious as possible.

We have already reached an enormous number of people through the consultation. We have had just over 1,000 responses, which is a huge number, and the majority of those are from individuals.

Zero Waste Scotland is doing a good job of getting out into communities. If members get the opportunity to join in one of Zero Waste Scotland roadshows around Scotland, they should take it. That process will help with the issue that James Kelly raised. He is quite right that, when we get to introducing a scheme, there will have to be a further process of consultation, advice and education.

Chemicals of Environmental Concern

To ask the Scottish Government how it monitors and shares data on chemicals of environmental concern, particularly chemicals that are closely related to those that are already restricted. (S5O-02332)

This is quite a technical question, Presiding Officer, so I hope that you will bear with me.

The European Union REACH regulation provides a mechanism for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals across EU member states, and it provides a formal process for identifying substances of concern. The regulation also establishes the European Chemicals Agency to oversee the EU chemicals regime and requires each member state to designate a member state competent authority to share information.

As a Great Britain-wide agency, the Health and Safety Executive hosts the UK’s member state competent authority and acts as the delegated competent authority for REACH on behalf of the secretary of state and all the devolved Administrations, supported in terms of environmental science by the chemicals assessment unit, which sits within the Environment Agency based in England. There are working arrangements in practice for collaboration between all the relevant departments and regulators, principally the chemicals delivery board and the enforcement liaison group, both of which are operated by the HSE.

The question was prompted by a concern that, even when chemicals of environmental concern such as certain poly or perfluorinated alkyl substances that are covered by REACH are restricted by European legislation, substitute chemicals of similar composition and concern are still used for things such as stain-resistant coatings on school uniforms.

The environmental charity Fidra, which is based in my constituency, has highlighted its concerns that the current legislation is not able to tackle the substitution of chemicals of concern. Fidra also notes that data regarding monitoring is not readily accessible. What more can the Scottish Government do to ensure that environmental standards cannot be bypassed in that way? Will the cabinet secretary commit to making the monitoring data that is available to her more publicly accessible?

I outlined in my opening answer the way in which the issue is dealt with overall. In relation to monitoring and sharing data on chemicals of environmental concern, if it became apparent that a new restriction on a substance might be appropriate—I think that that is the conversation that is taking place currently—the Scottish Environment Protection Agency would provide details of that to the HSE for submission to the ECHA on behalf of the UK. The process can also work the other way.

The difficulty with some of the discussion that is taking place about not just stain-resistant treatment but some of the other issues that are beginning to arise from chemicals of environmental concern is that, as yet, there is not sufficient global research and understanding to know exactly what we might be able to do to handle the issue. However, there is a process once monitoring and research has taken place.

I will take on board Iain Gray’s question. I will endeavour to get more detailed information on the very specific issue that he has raised, and then I will have a conversation with him about that.

With reference to chemicals of environmental concern, will the cabinet secretary look into the SEPA guidance to local authorities on issuing planning consent to car washes and on the disposal of their waste water? From my inquiries, I have concerns that the guidance might not be sufficiently robust.

Planning consent for automatic and hand car washes is a matter for each local authority. SEPA guidance on vehicle washing and cleaning provides systematic requirements for a number of activities, including drainage. The preferred option is that any new discharge from a car wash should discharge into the Scottish Water public foul sewer or be stored in a holding tank as liquid waste, pending off-site disposal. However, SEPA is not routinely consulted by the planning authority on proposals for new car washes.

I am not aware whether Christine Grahame has a specific example or concern that she wants to raise, but if she does, I am happy to have that conversation with her.

Protection of Wild Mammals (Consultation)

I refer members to the voluntary part of my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a member of the League Against Cruel Sports.

To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will respond to the results of its consultation on improving the protection of wild mammals. (S5O-02333)

Almost 20,000 people responded to our consultation on Lord Bonomy’s recommendations, and the analysis of those responses was published just before the summer recess. At that point, I was appointed Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment. Since then, I have been considering all the issues, and I have met a number of key organisations and individuals. I hope to be in a position to announce the Scottish Government’s response to the consultation soon.

I welcome Mairi Gougeon to her new ministerial role.

When Parliament voted for what became the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, it did so believing that that would lead to a proper ban on hunting. Since then, some hunts have gone out of their way to ignore the law in spirit and in practice through exposing unintended loopholes in the act. Does the minister agree that, if the Government fails to bring forward proposals that would implement a proper ban, including ending the loophole that allows mounted hunts to flush out foxes and reducing the number of dogs that are used in all exemptions to two, the Government would be not only ignoring the overwhelming views that were expressed in the responses to its consultation but undermining the very credibility of Parliament?

I am well aware that Colin Smyth has been very vocal and active on the issue, as have other members across the chamber. A number of people feel very passionately about the issue, as we can see from the 20,000 responses that we received from the consultation. However, the last thing that I want to do is pre-empt what I will eventually bring to Parliament. If anybody has any evidence of illegal activity taking place, I urge them to contact Police Scotland but I hope that the member understands that I take the matter very seriously, given its nature and importance. I want to take the time to consider it properly before I make any recommendations to the Parliament, so I hope that he can allow that process to take place.

I will take question 6 if Mr Finnie can keep his supplementary question brief.

Kelp (Mechanical Harvesting)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to environmental protection concerns regarding proposals to mechanically harvest kelp by dredging. (S5O-02334)

I am aware of concerns in light of a proposal from a company that seeks a marine licence to mechanically harvest kelp from multiple areas on the west coast, although I understand that the process is not dredging in the traditional sense. I assure John Finnie that the Scottish Government takes the protection of its marine environment very seriously. We have one of the world’s richest marine environments and will continue to support clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas, balancing sustainable development with environmental protection as set out in Scotland’s national marine plan.

Kelp beds are vital ecosystems. They absorb the power of the waves, lock up millions of tonnes of carbon every year and provide shelter to many species, including harvested species. I hope that the cabinet secretary is fully aware of the concerns that exist on the west coast about dredging proposals. People are fully supportive of traditional harvesting methods, which are sustainable. It is clear that dredging will seriously damage the entire ecosystem and is not sustainable. Will the cabinet secretary acknowledge how disastrous it would be to permit dredging for kelp and put a stop to it now?

John Finnie knows that we are currently in a process. It is early in that process. The company that has an interest in the matter is undertaking a scoping exercise. Of course I am well aware of the very strong views on the matter. Marine Scotland will take all that into account.

Farming (New Entrants)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to encourage a new generation of farmers into the agricultural industry. (S5O-02339)

The Scottish Government has done a lot to encourage new entrants. Key initiatives have been specific start-up support, which created more than 250 new businesses, most of which are for young people; support for another 600 business development projects for new entrants; the delivery of a farm advisory service that provides a network of new-entrant groups throughout the country and offers a free mentoring programme; the putting in place of the farming opportunities for new entrants—FONE—programme; and the development of a partnership with Lantra and the Royal Highland Education Trust to help to raise awareness of, and increase knowledge about, farming in schools.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the dismay among many farmers at the closure of the new entrants scheme two years early, which has caused particular concern to people who were in the process of submitting applications to it. Will there be a replacement for the scheme? If so, when will it be replaced and when will we hear the details?

We are proud that the support for new entrants in Scotland has injected £22 million into new businesses over the past four years and has helped a huge number of young people. I have to say that there is no such programme in England. There has been no support whatever in England for new entrants.

We still support new entrants in Scotland in a number of ways. Direct support through the national reserve will continue, the farm advisory service remains ideally placed to provide support, and an independent European Union research study stated that our FONE initiative, which involves public bodies making available land for new entrants—around 60 such plots have been, or are to be made, available—was inspirational.

We continue to do more. In our paper “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for rural funding transition period”, we clearly state that we hope that all parties will wish to do more post-Brexit, provided that the funding is available. Given this morning’s announcement on the Agriculture Bill, it is clear that there is no guarantee whatsoever about future funding levels for agriculture or for rural Scotland or Britain.

Will the cabinet secretary consider in future crofting legislation any new measures that might limit speculation in croft tenancies, a trend which has had the effect of deterring many new entrants to crofting in some areas?

I am aware of Dr Allan’s close and constant interest in this important topic. Croft tenancies used to pass between family members. It is true that tenancies are now, as the member indicates, sometimes sold by crofters, with consequences for the availability of suitable crofts for new entrants. I am currently exploring what we might do in this regard to support more people to secure a croft.

We will consider what might be usefully included in the forthcoming crofting bill. I know that Dr Allan takes a close interest in all these matters and I would be happy to meet him and indeed any other MSPs with an interest in crofting to discuss any specific proposals or ideas that they may have to assist new entrants in the crofting counties.

With the average age of Scottish farmers at 58, attracting new entrants to farming is vital for the long-term sustainability of the industry. How is the Scottish Government making use of public land to attract people to farming and how many farmers have benefited as a result?

As part of our commitment to developing opportunities for new entrants, the chance was offered to nine new entrants to lease part-time starter units on Scotland’s national forest estate. We want to go further in respect of our national forest estate.

The FONE group is developing a new entrants programme that includes maximising the amount of public land that is used to help farmers of the future. That could be land owned by the Scottish Government, agencies of the Scottish Government, local authorities or indeed non-departmental Government bodies. To date, it has helped to provide 59 new land opportunities across the national forest estate, with 37 being awarded to new entrants. Scottish Water, Highland Council and East Lothian Council are providing a further four new opportunities, which either have been finalised or are being progressed through marketing processes.

Working together across the board in the Scottish public realm, we are achieving a considerable amount, but we want to do much more. I hope that if we can get the funding and the powers secured in any Brexit deal, we will be able to do more still.

Farming and Food Production (Impact of Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the United Kingdom Government to discuss the impact of Brexit on farming and food production in Scotland. (S5O-02340)

I last met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss these matters on 5 July 2018, along with the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs and the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Executive. I also spoke with the secretary of state, Mr Gove, last week to discuss the UK Agriculture Bill.

Can the cabinet secretary assure us that he has had appropriate input to the Agriculture Bill and that its provisions do not attempt to grab powers over farming and food production that rightly sit with this Parliament?

I wish I could, but I cannot provide those reassurances. I have repeatedly asked for discussion of the bill at the regular ministerial meetings between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and devolved Administrations, but there has been zero discussion of the content and merely discussion about the timetable.

I acknowledge that there have rightly been many hours of discussion at official level, but we did not see the full version of the bill until the very end of August. I am sure that Parliament will share my concern about that and what it may mean for other important Brexit-related bills.

Far from allaying concerns about a power grab by the UK Government, the bill makes those concerns worse. In a number of areas, DEFRA is making the outrageous assertion that various areas of law are reserved when our position is that that is plainly not the case. This could result in serious constraints on Scotland’s future choice of policies and schemes.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government recently consulted on support for agriculture and the rural economy during the Brexit transition period. Will the cabinet secretary tell us when the Scottish Government will set out in detail the long-term vision for agricultural support after Brexit, which the industry is desperate to hear?

I thank Mr Smyth for his recognition of the fact that we have introduced serious proposals in our paper, “Stability and Simplicity”, and that that is a consultation to which there has been a substantial response. We will obviously need to study that response carefully, and I intend to report back to Parliament in due course. We also expect shortly to receive the report from the National Council of Rural Advisers, and it is correct that I have previously undertaken to make a report at some stage to Parliament on those matters.

I want to do all that sooner rather than later, although I am bound to say that we are debating this on the very day when, of all bodies, the National Audit Office—the UK’s official audit office—has highlighted several respects in which a no-deal Brexit could cause absolute mayhem with regard to the lack of vets who are able to carry out inspections and the chemical industry’s inability to deal with checks, other than on a manual basis. Those matters are very serious and we hope that the Brexit boorach can be sorted out sooner rather than later.

Protected Food Names and Geographical Indications (Impact of Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding maintaining Scotland’s protected food names and geographical indications following Brexit. (S5O-02341)

Geographical Indications are vital to the Scottish food and drink sector with £1.37 billion of whisky and £282 million of salmon sold to Europe in 2017 alone. That needs to be protected. The UK white paper in July confirmed that the UK Government will be establishing its own GI scheme after exit, but there are no details.

The UK Government has failed to agree to the proposals in the draft withdrawal agreement for continued protection of European GIs in the UK. It seems to wish to use the scheme as a bargaining chip and is assuming that the EU will continue to protect UK GIs even if we do not reciprocate. This is no time to play games with the interests of our key businesses; PGIs are essential for a range of high-quality Scottish food and drink produce.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that information, which ties in with the report that Michel Barnier has said that the UK Government has not yet agreed to protect geographical indications. I am really concerned about this issue; Scottish food and drink exports are at an all all-time high and this is not a time to compromise the provenance of Scottish food and drink. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the UK Government must now make every effort to ensure that Scotland is protected in this regard and must open full discussions with the Scottish Government about how we move forward.

I agree that it is extremely alarming that the European Union says that this matter has not been resolved. In the scheme of things, it is not complex to resolve and it should surely have been resolved. The reciprocal recognition of GIs has been hard earned by our beef, lamb, salmon and Arbroath smokies and in Europe by champagne and many products that have GIs. How complicated is the matter to resolve? The fact that it has not been illustrates just how parlous the Brexit boorach has become. I will meet Mr Gove on Monday next week and I shall most certainly press home this matter, which Linda Fabiani has rightly raised and which is essential for the continuing success of our food and drink sector.

The cabinet secretary will be well aware that GIs are vitally important in the Highlands and Islands. An example is Stornoway black pudding, which has been protected by GIs, and I thank Rhoda Grant for her great campaign. I have undergone extensive market testing of Stornoway black pudding; it is a first-class product with no adverse effect on my waistline.

I am perfectly prepared to accept Mr Stewart’s proposition, and I assume that he has consumed the excellent black pudding that can be purchased from the butchers in Stornoway, as I have done. We have a joint, shared, passionate, detailed, prolonged and protracted interest in the continuing success of Stornoway black pudding. Let us be ecumenical and include Cornish pasties, too. A series of food products across the UK have gained GIs because of their niche value. Having a GI helps companies to get a market, to export and to get a premium price. David Stewart makes a good point and I am happy to join him in the crusade and campaign for the continuing worldwide success of Stornoway black pudding.

Healthy Food (Support for Small Retailers)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to help small food retailers and convenience stores to provide healthy food options to local communities. (S5O-02342)

The Scottish Government has provided £250,000 of funding to the Scottish Grocers Federation this year to support small independent grocers in introducing food-to-go stations in their stores. The fund provides grants of up to £7,500 to help individual retailers to innovate and respond to changing customer demands by developing a food-to-go offering, with a focus on fresh and healthy produce. There have been 62 successful applicants to the fund, of which eight are independent grocers from David Torrance’s Kirkcaldy constituency.

I welcome the fund and the awards to businesses in my constituency. One issue that small retailers face is staying competitive. Does the minister agree that the biggest threat to small shops and their customers is a hard Brexit, which would result in huge food price increases?

David Torrance is absolutely right to raise concerns about the impact of Brexit on small grocery and convenience stores. To be honest, Brexit could have a number of harmful impacts that we do not know about yet. There are an awful lot of unknown unknowns.

Several bodies, such as the British Retail Consortium and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have predicted that a hard Brexit could cause food prices to rise by about 22 per cent. David Thomson, who is the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, warned recently that a no-deal Brexit would lead to a rise in food prices and a reduction in the choices that are available in our stores.

There is no doubt that, if we end up facing a hard Brexit and if we have no deal, that will be extremely damaging not just for consumers but for small independent convenience stores, which already operate in a highly competitive trading environment.

The minister will know that local government has a role in promoting healthy options. I am sure that she knows about the innovative schemes that Aberdeen City Council and North Lanarkshire Council put in place this summer to provide nutritious meals to schoolchildren outwith term time. Does she agree that such schemes are worthy of Government support, as they support producers and consumers of healthy food?

I am sure that the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning would also take an interest in such schemes, but I welcome all such initiatives. A large part of our food and drink strategy is about encouraging the use of local produce and access to it locally. It is only right to look at places where that is happening and to look at what we as a Government can do. We are keen to support and look at such work to encourage and promote access to local produce in our communities and in places such as our schools.

Farmers and Crofters (Impact of Adverse Weather)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help farmers and crofters cope with the impact of adverse weather. (S5O-02343)

The prolonged dry period compounded problems for farmers and crofters, who had already coped with the wet weather of 2017 and the subsequent late spring. The dry weather limited the growth of grass that is used for making silage or for livestock grazing purposes, so some farmers and crofters have had to use up feed and fodder stocks that were intended for the winter. It has also been reported that some farmers have had no choice but to sell their livestock early.

We have therefore worked with the agricultural weather advisory panel to take the following measures. We sought a derogation from greening crop diversification requirements in spring this year as farmers struggled to plant crops because of the poor weather. We are supporting a pilot that the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society is running to help farmers and crofters to co-operate to take advantage of available grazing opportunities. Crucially, we are introducing a national basic payment loan scheme to provide access to much-needed funding to businesses that face additional costs and cash-flow shortages.

I very much welcome the action that has been taken to date. However, it is clear that some farmers and crofters will struggle to meet their obligations to satisfy greening rules under the common agricultural policy. What temporary help might be available from the European Commission for farmers who are in such a situation as a result of the adverse weather?

Mr MacDonald is correct. I am pleased to announce to the Parliament that the European Commission has accepted my request to increase the level of flexibility for Scottish farmers under greening rules regarding the use of catch and cover crops. The additional flexibility can allow farmers to continue to meet the greening obligations while increasing the availability of fodder in what has been an extremely testing year.