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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 16 January 2019

Agenda: Response to the Outcome of the Meaningful Vote in Westminster, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Future Economy, Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Highland Youth Survey


Portfolio Question Time

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

We turn now to portfolio questions. Question 1 has been withdrawn, so we start with question 2.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Cessation of Medical Waste Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what action SEPA has taken to seek regulatory compliance for the sites affected by the cessation of medical waste services by Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd. (S5O-02760)

SEPA has been closely monitoring and inspecting the HES sites in Dundee and Shotts, including weekly inspections since December, to ensure that they comply with relevant environmental legislation. Enforcement notices were issued to HES in September and December 2018, however further scrutiny has established that the company has not fully met the requirements of the notices.

Subsequently, SEPA has commenced an investigation to establish whether criminal offences have been committed. SEPA has also robustly reviewed the contingency arrangements that are in place at affected national health service sites, to ensure that all regulatory requirements are met, and it will continue to monitor all the affected sites to ensure that the environment and local communities remain safeguarded.

SEPA has indeed served four enforcement notices against HES and we know that the company continues to not comply with legal requirements and that criminal proceedings may well be necessary. Along with the stockpiled waste, unanswered questions are mounting up. Can the cabinet secretary advise: how many tonnes of waste, and what materials, have been stockpiled; how long the waste have been piling up; and what the estimated cost of achieving compliance is likely to be? In circumstances in which HES will not, or cannot, return to compliance, will the Scottish Government recognise that NHS Scotland retains a legal duty of care in respect of its healthcare waste and agree to fund the clean-up of the stockpiled waste that has been left behind by HES?

There are a number of questions there.

There are a number of questions, and some of them are not entirely within my portfolio remit. I am sure that Monica Lennon realises that. I will try to deal with as much as I can.

The best available evidence suggests that there is a backlog of somewhere between 250 and 300 tonnes of clinical waste on Scottish sites, and around 10 tonnes of anatomical waste, mainly at Hassockrigg. Specialist providers advise that a specialist team will be needed to pack and load that anatomical waste, and that the loading may take something like two days.

A current estimate of the total clearance and disposal costs is around £250,000. I am conscious that those are estimates, not fixed figures. The issue around cost is that there is a contingency arrangement cost as well as a clearance and disposal cost, which somewhat complicates the answer to that question. Contingency, by its very nature, tends to cost more.

SEPA continues to carry out robust regulation and monitoring, and there is potential future action that it can take. As I indicated already, there is an investigation into whether criminal activities have taken place and we have to allow that to run its course.

I realise that my two questions may require the cabinet secretary to check details before she can reply, but I ask, first, what the likely timescale is for the disposal of the waste in Scotland under those enforcement notices and, secondly, whether she can advise whether the local authorities concerned—North Lanarkshire Council and Dundee City Council—have powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to remove the waste?

Compliance with regulatory standards is, of course, mandatory and non-negotiable, whichever organisation is involved. NHS National Services Scotland is working hard to ensure that all contingency measures that can be taken are being taken, sensibly and properly. HES currently remains responsible for meeting its environmental obligations under its permits. That includes the removal and treatment of waste from its sites. SEPA is monitoring that weekly and continuing to seek compliance from the operator. Alex Neil has asked slightly more technical questions, so it would be advisable for me to get back to him when there is a more detailed response.

One of the affected sites, as reported in the press this week, was a health centre in Coatbridge. I understand what the cabinet secretary said about SEPA’s inspections and that it has not identified any current risk of pollution from the waste. However, will she outline what action, if any, could be taken by SEPA if such a risk was identified at a later stage?

As I indicated earlier, SEPA has continuing powers. If there is a serious risk to the environment or to human health, SEPA has powers within the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012 that would allow action to be taken to deal with that. In particular, section 57 of those regulations allows SEPA to arrange for steps to be taken to remove an imminent risk of serious pollution, should such a risk be clearly identified. Those powers also allow SEPA to recover from the operator any costs incurred in making the site safe.

Responsible Dog Ownership

To ask the Scottish Government how it promotes responsible dog ownership. (S5O-02761)

The Scottish Government code of practice on the welfare of dogs, which was approved by the Scottish Parliament, provides dog owners with information on caring for, and acquiring, their pets.

A recent awareness campaign, which was funded by the Scottish Government and designed in partnership with the main dog welfare charities, directed potential puppy buyers to detailed advice hosted by the Scottish SPCA. As I said last week in my statement to Parliament on improving animal welfare, that campaign elicited a 130 per cent increase in visits to the website and calls to the Scottish SPCA helpline. Also, we held a consultation last year to inform the modern system of licensing and registration of dog, cat and rabbit breeding that we will introduce.

I would like to recognise the work of my colleague Emma Harper on preventing livestock attacks and the work of my colleague Christine Grahame, who is progressing a members’ bill on responsible dog breeding and ownership.

Yesterday, the British Veterinary Association reported findings from its voice of the veterinary profession survey that

“French bulldogs and Pugs top the list of dog breeds ... most commonly suspected of being imported illegally into the UK”.

I should declare an interest as an owner of two pugs. Given the unscrupulous tactics that are employed by puppy smugglers, does the minister agree that responsible dog ownership begins prior to purchase or adoption, with researching the breed, establishing whether one has the time, space and resources to offer a lifelong home to the dog and engaging only with reputable breeders? That is particularly important when considering the purchase of a popular breed, such as pugs, which can be susceptible to particular health problems.

Pugs are, of course, one of my favourite dog breeds. I see lots of pictures of Tom Arthur’s pugs on Instagram and I encourage all members to follow him.

I absolutely agree with what Tom Arthur has said. A number of people care about issues in the area, which is why we have so many members’ bills on animal welfare, including those from Emma Harper, Christine Grahame and Jeremy Balfour.

The Scottish Government has made general information on the purchase of puppies available to the public through its code of practice on the welfare of dogs, which the Scottish Parliament approved in 2010. As I mentioned last week, we ran an awareness campaign between November and December last year. Given its success and the number of people who then visited the Scottish SPCA website, we are looking at running another campaign later this year and doing everything that we can to tackle the scourge of illegal puppy dealing and the activities that drive the trade. Following our consultation on the licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding activities last year, we are looking at a number of measures that we hope will lead to responsible dog breeding and ownership.

The Scottish Government recently confirmed that the use of electric shock collars is still permitted. Can the minister confirm when the use of those harmful devices will be effectively banned, as promised?

The member has raised that issue on a number of occasions, and I believe that there has been a drop-in session for MSPs to attend today. Members from across the chamber have written to me about the issue, and it has been raised in the chamber a number of times. I met the Kennel Club recently, and it raised its concerns with me.

Our position on electric shock collars has not changed. We introduced the guidance to Parliament, which was agreed to by a number of people at the time and by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. We committed to reviewing the guidance within 12 months, and that is exactly what we will do. We will look at how the guidance has operated and whether it has changed behaviour, and we will re-evaluate it at that time.

Dog fouling is a huge concern for my constituents in the south-west of Scotland and for community councils across the south-west region. I have been exploring innovative ways of dealing with this nuisance problem. Is the minister aware of projects such as park spark and street clean, which use anaerobic digesters for dog poo to power park and street lighting? Would she be willing to look at such projects and their potential development?

Dog fouling is a scourge in all our communities across Scotland; it is certainly raised with me in my constituency. That view is shared by the Minister for Community Safety, who has responsibility for the issue under her portfolio. I believe that Emma Harper raised the issue directly with her last year.

Local authorities are responsible for tackling dog fouling in their communities, so the decisions on how best to deal with the problem are for them. However, I am always interested in innovative solutions that are being developed and in how we can tackle issues that affect our natural environment, and I would like to hear more about them. Anaerobic digestion is an important part of our waste infrastructure for food waste, and I see no reason why other materials cannot be utilised in the same way.

The Parliament should be commended for the importance that, in my experience, it has placed on animal welfare. However, like Maurice Golden, I believe that the use of electric shock collars should be banned. Is that the minister’s view?

I know that the member raised the issue after my statement to the Parliament last week on improving animal welfare. She and many other members have written to me about the issue. I say again that we said that we would review the guidance and fully evaluate it within 12 months of its being agreed. I give the member an assurance that that will happen.

District Heating Schemes (Carbon Reduction Target)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress towards its 90 per cent carbon reduction target, and how district heating schemes can help achieve this. (S5O-02762)

Greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland have fallen by 49 per cent since 1990 and we are on track to meet our current statutory targets. As the member knows, a bill—the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill—to increase those targets is going through the Parliament.

Heat networks are one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing carbon emissions from heating, as they are able to make use of large-scale and low-cost renewables and recovered heat sources. The report, “National Comprehensive Assessment of the Potential for Combined Heat and Power and District Heating and Cooling in the UK” estimates that 6.7 per cent of Scotland’s total heat demand in 2025 could be met by district heating and cooling.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her assessment of that source of heat. She is, of course, aware that a district heating scheme has been operating in Lerwick since 1998.

Does the cabinet secretary recognise the importance of the standard assessment procedure—SAP—rating system in ensuring that energy efficiency standards can expand across the country? There are plans to consult on the matter later this year. Will the Government ensure that there are no barriers to the expansion of district heating schemes, given the advantages that the cabinet secretary has pointed out?

I think that all members of the Government would be able to answer yes to that. I know that Tavish Scott has been in discussion with my colleague Kevin Stewart on related issues; I should also say that my colleague Paul Wheelhouse will be anxious that I remind Tavish Scott of the commitment that he made in November to set out proposals to legislate, in the near future, on regulatory and licensing arrangements for district heating. I hope that the cross-portfolio nature of the response on the matter gives Tavish Scott confidence that it is being seriously undertaken.

Has the Government not already set a clear pathway for heat decarbonisation in its climate change plan, in the section of the plan that deals with the residential sector and throughout the document?

Yes. We have set clear pathways for decarbonising our heat supply. Our initial efforts are focused on reducing demand for heat across the entire building stock and replacing high-carbon forms of heating in off-gas areas with lower-carbon alternatives, as well as developing heat networks where it makes sense to do so. That is in line with expert advice from the Committee on Climate Change. It is an issue that requires us to go carefully, because decarbonising heat brings into the discussion issues to do with fuel poverty, which we must make sure that we understand.

Members should be reminded that the issue of decarbonising the gas network remains reserved to Westminster and that, at the moment, gas provides an enormous amount of heating—particularly domestic heating—in Scotland.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary agrees that the Scottish Government should lead by example. Will she encourage the First Minister to publish an energy performance certificate rating for Bute House and not to hide behind a statutory exemption?

I will refer that question to the First Minister. I am not entirely sure that it is in her remit, given that Bute House is not owned by the Government, so I will have to ensure that the member is responded to appropriately.

Small Businesses (Climate Change)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the findings of a recent survey by WWF Scotland, how it supports small businesses to prepare for the risks posed by climate change. (S5O-02763)

The climate ready business guide, which was published last year by Adaptation Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland and sent to more than 20,000 businesses, provides guidance for small and medium-sized enterprises and includes examples of how businesses are responding to climate risks and opportunities. The guide continues to be available.

Last year, Adaptation Scotland sponsored the first vibes—vision in business and environment Scotland—award for business adaptation.

Last month, a survey by WWF revealed that five out of six small firms in Scotland do not feel that their sector has direction from the Scottish Government about their role in tackling climate change, with 60 per cent saying that they felt underprepared.

Climate change poses severe risks to our economic stability, yet it is clear from the poll that Scotland’s SMEs need more support and advice to ensure that their businesses have a sustainable future. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what action will be taken to ensure that the statistics improve and that the majority of small businesses are prepared?

I am conscious that reaching SMEs in respect of a range of issues can be difficult, because often we are dealing with quite small businesses that are not always able to spend the time that very large businesses can on some of the issues. However, we take the situation seriously.

I am aware of the WWF research. I can advise the member that we have a range of research projects under way, in order to better understand climate risks to business and to inform future policy. We are trying to keep on top of the situation, but I take on board the concern, particularly about microbusinesses and their ability to access some of the support. I am sure that the WWF research has been of particular interest to those of my colleagues who deal with very small businesses more often than perhaps I do.

The WWF report is very important, and I am sure that the cabinet secretary’s answers bring some reassurance to SMEs. Does the Scottish Government have any plans to ensure that the just transition commission might be guided to engage with SMEs, rural and urban, to ensure that its recommendations support them to take advantage of the net zero emissions economy, including possible manufacturing and remanufacturing developments?

The just transition commission will look at the issue of just transition in the broadest possible sense. We have already had some discussions about areas that might not be automatically assumed to be part of that. I raised the issue of hill farmers at committee—that is a just transition issue. Managing how very small businesses and microbusinesses are able to cope with progress to a decarbonised economy is also part of a just transition. It is important that we see the concept of just transition quite widely, and the just transition commission is well aware that we want to ensure that that takes place.

Given Claudia Beamish’s supplementary question, can the cabinet secretary confirm that an important consideration for the Government’s just transition commission is that no one should be left behind in our move to a carbon-neutral economy?

That is indeed the purpose of having a just transition commission. The discussion is beginning to take place in a number of countries. It is very important that, as we move to our carbon-neutral economy, we do so in a way that is fair for all—and by “all”, I mean all, because there is a danger that we lose and forget pockets of the economy in all of this.

Yesterday, we had a full afternoon’s debate on the issue, and there was clear consensus across Parliament that no one should be left behind as we move to carbon neutrality. I hope that we can hold that consensus as we discuss just transition in the years to come.

Food and Drink (Local Sourcing and Production)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports initiatives that celebrate and promote locally sourced and produced food and drink. (S5O-02769)

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the growth of local food throughout Scotland, including through farmers markets, farm shops and other local food initiatives, because the sourcing of local food and drink not only helps to strengthen the local economy but is also vital for our rural economy and the wider economy of Scotland as a whole.

Last month, we announced funding of £95,700 from the regional food fund for 21 projects across Scotland that celebrate and promote local food and drink. That fund is still open for applications, and I encourage all members across the Parliament to promote the fund within their constituencies and to encourage many to apply.

I welcome the funding from the regional food fund for the Fife partnership, but all the Government’s work to promote the kingdom’s fantastic food and drink sector is now threatened by the disruption of Brexit. Does the minister share my concern about the catastrophic impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on businesses such as the award-winning Balbirnie House hotel in Markinch, which has always employed upwards of 20 per cent of its staff from European Union countries?

I share that concern. Jenny Gilruth also raises an important point about people from EU countries who currently live and work in Scotland.

Yesterday, the cabinet secretary and I met representatives across the food and drink sector, who told us how vital EU citizens are across the board to that sector. That is also true in relation to vets and abattoirs, which fall within my remit, as 98 of the vets who work in our abattoirs are EU citizens.

I have to be perfectly honest and say that I do not think that I have the words to fully describe how absolutely outraged and disgusted I was last night to hear the Prime Minister, in response to her Government’s defeat, suggest that, because of that defeat, there is now no clarity for EU citizens. Clarity is something that she and her Government could have given to EU citizens at the very start of the Brexit process, two years ago, as many other countries across the EU did for British citizens living in their countries. That is exactly what she refused to give, because she was too busy playing to the hard right of her party.

I am proud that this Government has done all that it can to reassure EU citizens living in Scotland that we will do everything in our power to help them. It will be to the UK Government’s eternal shame that it has not seen fit to do the same.

The minister will be aware of the importance of Orkney beef and lamb not just to the island’s food and drink sector but to Scotland’s food and drink sector. She may also be aware of the damage that the loss of the local abattoir has had on those high-quality brands. Following the cabinet secretary’s efforts last year—for which I thank him—will the Scottish Government’s ministerial team re-engage with the local council, NFU Scotland, Orkney Auction Mart Ltd and others to ensure that every possible option is explored in securing a long-term future for a local abattoir in Orkney?

Absolutely, and I know that that work is on-going. The issue of mobile abattoirs was raised during last week’s statement on improving animal welfare. I know that projects are being looked at, and some of those have been funded through the rural innovation support service. I would be happy to meet the member to discuss the matter further.

The minister will be aware of the positive impact that East Ayrshire Council’s public food procurement policy is having on the rural economy in East Ayrshire, not to mention on the health of our schoolchildren. What can the Scottish Government do to encourage that approach across Scotland?

I welcome that on-going work, which we are funding, too. Just before Christmas, I visited a project in the centre of Edinburgh that had experience of such initiatives.

Work is continuing to encourage that public procurement process. Indeed, I visited a primary school whose approach is all about sourcing locally produced food.

The issue is very much a priority for us, and we hope to continue that work.

If Scotland’s food and drink sector is to reach its potential, it needs to be supported by ambitious, comprehensive legislation. Over the past year, the Government has, at various points, proposed a good food nation bill, a food and farming bill and a Scottish agriculture bill. Which one will it be? Will the legislation introduce a statutory right to food and put an end to the scandal of food poverty?

We are considering all options in that regard, and there will be a consultation on that.

I share Jenny Gilruth’s concerns about the increasing likelihood of our crashing out of the EU on 29 March. Does the minister agree that the absence of a trade agreement between the UK and the European Union will cause untold damage not only to food and drink businesses such as Macduff Shellfish, which is in my constituency, but to the wider local economy and the prospects of future generations that rely on the industry?

Absolutely. Probably nothing could illustrate the damage of not having a trade deal in place in a no-deal situation. Scotland Food & Drink, NFU Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Scottish Bakers and the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society jointly signed a letter in which they estimate that the cost to our industry of having no deal would be at least £2 billion in lost sales annually on top of the short-term chaos resulting from transport delays and labour shortages.

Our businesses are already bearing the cost of having no deal, as they are having to spend millions of pounds and their time to mitigate the potential disruption. There is no doubt that a no-deal situation would be absolutely catastrophic for Scotland.

I mentioned that the cabinet secretary and I met some of those organisations. We also attended a meeting on Monday with Michael Gove in London, at which the cabinet secretary outlined that the UK Government needs to remove a no-deal Brexit as an option, because that would be catastrophic for Scotland in particular but also for the rest of the UK. The UK Government needs to stop blackmailing us with that, firmly remove it from the table so that it is no longer an option and work to find a solution for the hugely important food and drink sector in this country.

Good Food Nation (Consultation)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will engage stakeholders and the public with the good food nation consultation. (S5O-02770)

The publication on 21 December 2018 of our “Consultation on Good Food Nation Proposals for Legislation” represented an important step forward in the move towards Scotland’s becoming a good food nation. The Scottish Government has invited more than 300 stakeholders and interested parties to respond to the consultation. Its publication was accompanied by social media coverage announcing the consultation, and social media will also be used to highlight the approaching closing date and to encourage responses.

In preparing its report last year, the Scottish food coalition engaged more than 800 people in 160 conversations, to hear about what living in a good food nation meant to them. The top two concerns were the affordability of a healthy diet and the environmental impact of our food. There is clearly a strong desire for public engagement, but the open government action plan states that there is

“a growing mistrust of both the processes and the outcomes”

of consultations in Scotland.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm how the Scottish Government has taken such concerns into account in planning and designing the good food nation consultation and how it has met its commitments to open government?

We welcome the responses to our consultation. We have encouraged more than 300 stakeholders and interested parties to respond, and I take this opportunity to seek responses from members, and perhaps from political parties, in the chamber. We take extremely seriously any responses to such consultations, which are open, transparent and free for people to contribute to. I very much hope and expect that the contributions received will be considered with due care.

We all know that the main priority for people in food poverty is to feed their families and not to fill in consultation forms—that becomes a secondary concern for them—yet for the good food nation consultation more than most, we need to get the views and thoughts of the people who are using food banks. Will the cabinet secretary work with food banks to engage those who suffer from food poverty and to facilitate their responses to the consultation?

That is a very fair point and I am pleased to advise Rhoda Grant that I am already engaging with them. Just a few weeks ago, I met the chief executive of the Trussell Trust and, very recently, I visited a food bank in Nairn in my constituency. It is a sobering and humiliating experience for people to have to go to such lengths. I was advised, both in Nairn and by the Trussell Trust, that, very often, people leave it until after they have been more or less starving for several days, because it takes desperation to force them to go there and subject themselves to such humiliation.

Thanks to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, we are increasing the fair food fund budget from £1.5 million to £3.5 million in 2019-20, to enable us to continue our work in promoting food delivery models that embrace dignified food proposals. As I hope the member will agree, our whole approach is very different—like chalk and cheese—from the austerity approach of the United Kingdom Government, which so lets down people who are in food poverty in this country.

Single Farm Payment Scheme (Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has for the single farm payment scheme post-Brexit. (S5O-02771)

The Scottish Government has set out clear plans in relation to farm payments after exit from the European Union. I commend to Mr Rowley the “Stability and Simplicity” document—I think that this is the fifth time that I have brandished it in the chamber, and rightly so. We will implement our proposals, which cover payments up to 2024. As was stated in the motion in last week’s parliamentary debate on rural support—which I believe was agreed to by everybody except the Tories—we will set up a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a new, bespoke, long-term policy for farming and food production for Scotland.

I look forward to the cabinet secretary sending that document. Farmers are concerned about what will happen post-Brexit. When does the Scottish Government intend to introduce its agriculture bill? The cabinet secretary specifically mentioned the group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations. When does the Scottish Government intend to convene that group, what will be the process for appointing representatives of those organisations and what will be their role once appointed?

There were several questions there.

Mr Rowley referred to farmers, who responded to the document in large numbers last year. Overall, the responses were supportive of our approach, which is to provide stability and certainty in the face of the Brexit uncertainty to which Mr Rowley rightly referred. The proposals in the document are the most comprehensive set of proposals in the United Kingdom and will last for a period of five years in Scotland. That certainty and stability, which has been welcomed by farmers, is a positive step forward in helping the farming sector.

Alex Rowley asked what we will do about setting up the stakeholder group. The proposal came from Mr Rumbles and I was happy to agree to it—I am looking at Mr Rennie, but it was not him who proposed it; it was Mr Rumbles. We agreed to that just last Thursday, so we are obviously in the early stages of looking at those questions. However, I intend to make progress as rapidly as I can to bring forward a distinguished group that represents all relevant stakeholder interests, in accordance with Parliament’s wishes, as agreed to by a substantial majority last week, except by the Tories.

Will the cabinet secretary advise what guarantees have been put in place to ensure funding for forestry, woodland creation and tree planting in the future?

Funding for forestry is provided by the Scottish Government in partnership with the EU. We have come to rely on EU funding, which is vital to the continuing success of forestry.

On Monday, I sought from Michael Gove better assurances about the future of forestry, which I did following the submission to Mr Gove of a letter from Confor in Scotland. In the letter, it pointed out that, whereas some assurances have been received on funding for farmers until 2022, funding for forestry is subject only to assurances on contracts entered into up to 2020 and, not unreasonably, Confor asked for assurances for the same length of time as for farmers. I asked Mr Gove the question—it came from the industry and I thought that it was reasonable—and I pointed out that forestry is a long-term venture; for example, nurseries plan three years ahead and the average substantial woodland proposal takes 18 months.

The lack of assurances is already impairing investment in forestry in Scotland but, despite that, Mr Gove completely failed even to recognise that there is a problem. That is completely unacceptable of Mr Gove and I deeply regret that. However, we will continue to persevere and I hope that all colleagues—including even the Conservatives—will support the efforts to ensure that there is proper, structured, guaranteed, long-term, clear funding for forestry, which is a long-term sector.

Land Management Support (Principles)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Scottish Environment LINK’s 10 principles for future land management support in Scotland. (S5O-02773)

The Scottish Government welcomes Scottish Environment LINK’s 10 principles for future land management support in Scotland. The proposals broadly reflect what other stakeholders, the agriculture champions, the national council of rural advisers and the common agricultural policy greening review group already recommended and also the key principles that were set out in the motion that was agreed in last week’s parliamentary debate on future rural support.

The principles will be considered more fully as part of the wider process in relation to future policy. I particularly welcome the call for accountability on definable outcomes, which is why I have already signalled my intention to put a cap on the level of maximum payments in the future.

I welcome the plans for stakeholder engagement that were discussed and announced last week. However, since 2016, the cabinet secretary has convened no fewer than five stakeholder groups to advise on food and farming policy, which, for the most part, have met behind closed doors, worked on short-term remits and reported only to him, not to Parliament. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that the new group is transparent and that Parliament and the wider public can be involved in its work?

The public can be involved at any time by writing to me or to other MSPs; their representations are quite properly considered. They can also contribute to the work of the groups by making their views known. The groups have published their reports—they have been made available to the public—so I do not accept the principle that somehow the work has been other than welcome, positive and a constructive contribution to the debate overall. I think that I am right in saying—although Mr Ruskell will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong—that the Greens last week supported the proposal to set up this group. I hope that that support is still forthcoming.

I refer to farming in my entry in the register of members’ business interests. Scottish Environment LINK also called for opportunities for young people to work and manage the land, and it hopes that new entrants to traditional sectors will be encouraged and supported. How can the Government realistically achieve that when it has decided to close its new entrants capital grants scheme and has failed to replace it?

I have been proud that Scotland, in contrast with other parts of the UK, has had very substantial support for new entrants, which has helped many new entrants into farming. Such support was not available in other parts of the UK; Mr Cameron and his colleagues never mention that.

Of course, the farming opportunities for new entrants initiative, which Henry Graham is developing with our full support to help new entrants into farming, still continues, and the “Stability and Simplicity” consultation paper sets out very clear proposals on the desirability of looking to develop new proposals that will help further new entrants into Scottish farming.