Meeting date: Thursday, January 19, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 19 January 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Jobcentres (Glasgow), Draft Climate Change Plan, Rural Development (Funding), Decision Time, Points of Order
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Jobcentres (Glasgow)
- Draft Climate Change Plan
- Rural Development (Funding)
- Decision Time
- Points of Order
Rural Development (Funding)
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03463, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the future of funding for rural development.15:01
The devolution of most rural powers in 1999, together with access to billions of pounds of funding through European Union membership, gave Scotland’s Parliament and Government key tools with which to support our rural and coastal communities. The now clear intention of the United Kingdom Government to take Scotland and all of the UK out of the EU and out of the single market means that rural Scotland faces a very uncertain future, so I want to set out what Scotland should rightly expect from the UK Government, and to seek cross-party support and agreement from Parliament on how best to protect Scotland’s rural interests.
I and my advisers have had fruitful discussions with other parties, and I am pleased to say that those fruitful discussions have enabled us to be in a position to support the Labour and Liberal Democrat amendments. Let me say at the opening of this first rural debate of the new year that I shall seek to work with members in other parties on the key matters that we face. That is my new year’s resolution.
Members: Hear, hear.
We all heard it and we will hold you to it.
I am sure that you will, Presiding Officer, and rightly so. We will see how it goes.
I hope, too, that we can agree on the fundamental point that devolution has been good for rural Scotland. It has enabled the Parliament and successive devolved Administrations to focus their time and energy on key rural issues. All those issues have benefited from our having control over policy and legislation, which has been underpinned by public funding within the context of a wider EU framework.
Indeed, much of the development that has been undertaken in rural Scotland in the past 18 years has been possible only through EU funding support, with around €4.6 billion being provided through the common agricultural policy between 2014 and 2020 alone. At the same time, EU membership has enabled us to protect our precious natural environment and to contribute to our climate change ambitions.
Now we are losing that, and there is to be nothing in its place. We have no guarantee of funding beyond Brexit; we simply have a promise of policy to come and a plea for trust to deliver a better, brighter deal for rural Scotland. The fact that there is no plan for Brexit is no excuse for there being no plan on what will be done to replace EU CAP funding, including the funding that is provided through the Scottish rural development programme and the European maritime and fisheries fund.
Today, Michael Russell is representing the Scottish Government at the joint ministerial committee on UK negotiations, and next week Roseanna Cunningham and I will meet counterparts from all the UK Administrations to discuss rural and environmental matters. Such discussions will be essential as we negotiate the difficult months and years ahead. We have been promised treatment as equal partners: we will hold the UK Government to that promise and will enter all discussions about the future of rural Scotland in good faith. However, if we consider the actions of the UK Government—or, rather, its inaction on commitments that it made on rural funding, and on the CAP funding review in particular—we can be forgiven for also retaining a degree of scepticism.
So far, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has failed to carry out a full review of the UK allocation of agriculture funding. George Eustice, with whom I have a workmanlike relationship, promised that the review would be concluded by the end of last year. It has not even begun—far less, been concluded.
If the CAP is to end, why is a review needed? One very good reason is that it will highlight the stark difference between payment rates per hectare for Scottish farmers and for farmers in the rest of the UK. For example, English moorland farmers receive about €65 per hectare, whereas Scotland’s poorer settlement means that our region 3 moorland farmers only get about €10 per hectare. Even on better-quality land, English farmers receive almost €30 per hectare more than Scottish farmers.
At present, there is no level playing field north and south of the border. I hope that we all agree that livestock and arable farmers doing the same job in different parts of the UK should receive comparable levels of payment within devolved systems. However, English, Welsh and Northern Irish farmers receive payments of which Scottish farmers can only dream.
That is not the only example of the UK Government treating Scotland unfairly. I remain deeply dissatisfied with the current constitutional arrangements pertaining to Seafish, following the UK Government’s refusal to include the power to raise a Scottish seafood levy in the Scotland Act 2016. To me, repatriation of the near £2 million Seafish levy that is raised here in Scotland makes perfect sense. The UK Government’s inflexibility on the matter is all the more surprising when one considers that fisheries policy is devolved.
The parallels between the Seafish levy and the red meat levy are striking. Scotland’s legitimate request for greater influence on how money that is paid by Scottish farmers is utilised to promote their interests has, until recently, been rebutted by the UK Government. Although some progress has been made on those levies in the short term—and I have sought to encourage good relations with my UK counterparts—none of those examples augurs well for our future relationship on funding, should the UK Government seek to take over from the EU after Brexit.
Aside from the unanswered question whether the UK will match EU funding post-Brexit, there are, where Scotland’s rural fishing and farming communities are not getting a fair deal, key unresolved issues between the Scottish and UK Governments.
At a farming conference in the new year, Andrea Leadsom appeared to suggest that funding for rural development should be fundamentally changed. The UK Government has guaranteed continuation of direct payments in farming until 2020, and structural fund payments—which include farming, fisheries, forestry, rural development and environmental funding—up to the point of exit from the EU. That is welcome as far as it goes, but outstanding issues remain and must be addressed.
Support for less favoured areas is crucial for Scotland; 85 per cent of our farming land is classed as less favoured, compared with only 15 per cent in England. However, the UK Government is yet to guarantee the funding for applications in 2019, let alone beyond that year.
EU funding is vital for continued viability and sustainability of Scotland’s rural economy and communities. UK ministers are signalling a major shift, beyond Brexit, in how such funding might be determined and allocated in the future. They are suggesting that there might be a UK-wide scheme, with the UK Government apparently in charge. We have cause to be wary of that approach while we are still asking the UK Government for the full £190 million of CAP convergence moneys that UK ministers top-sliced for their own purposes—money that is rightly Scotland’s, to support our farmers and crofters.
Surely there should be repatriation, with power over policy and funding—and the moneys themselves—transferring directly to Scotland and not passing through Westminster. On that, we agree with the point in Labour’s amendment on repatriation of powers. We have made clear in the document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” our position that the powers should be repatriated from Europe to Scotland. Powers over rural policy that are still reserved should be transferred, and where additional powers are required to enable us to support our rural economy more fully—for example, on immigration—they should also be devolved.
Moreover, discussions on powers over policy should be based on mutual respect for the current constitutional settlement on these islands. It is hard to see any evidence of such respect when we learn of UK ministers’ intentions only through a question-and-answer session at a conference.
However, there is a strong case for stability and certainty—at least in the short term. Rural Scotland now faces three different serious threats—loss of labour through the UK view on immigration, loss of access to the EU single market and loss of financial support. I will give as a specific example the humble Scottish tattie. Currently, EU funding supports not only the production on farms all over Scotland of the potatoes that end up on our plates, but crucial research and development on seed potatoes. That has enabled Scotland to become a world-leading producer of seed potatoes; we export our knowledge, our expertise and—of course—our tatties to other EU states and beyond. Currently, we pay no tariffs for such exports. Further, our application of EU regulations guarantees the provenance of our seed potatoes, which enables their being exported internationally. Indeed, potato producers to whom I have spoken see that the regulations, far from being red tape, are proof of quality and compliance and are necessary to maintain access to vital export markets.
Seed potatoes are an important issue for my constituents. Is the cabinet secretary aware that some of the more northern states in the United States, for example Idaho, which have similar climatic advantages for growing seed potatoes, are poised to exploit any lacuna in our ability to supply seed potatoes to export markets, and that the danger is not simply local but global?
I have always found that one of the distinct advantages of taking an intervention from Mr Stewart Stevenson is that it tends to be an educative process. That was no exception. He made a point of which I was unaware, but it is a very salient point, indeed. There are many growers of potatoes and other produce who are ready to step into the breach, and in a future world where there are tariffs, they will, of course, see the commercial opportunities to do so. There is a clear commercial opportunity, and all over the world growers of various types of produce—including potatoes—will see advantage for themselves. Of course they will, and they cannot be blamed for that. That extremely important point is illustrative of just one of the several serious risks. I have deliberately sought not to express all this in hyperbolic ultrarhetorical terms, but simply to set out the facts in a calm and reasoned manner.
I return to the humble tattie. People are employed at every stage of the process and are engaged in growing, harvesting, storing, researching, developing, transporting, selling, preparing and trading our potatoes. Many of those people are Scottish, but many of them are from the EU, and we want them to be able to stay here and to continue to give of their work for this country.
I will now fast-forward to a conclusion. I am very much looking forward to the debate. I hope that it will shed more light than it casts heat. The priority for all of us is clear: it is to do all that we can to protect rural Scotland’s interests in these times of uncertainty. I reassure all members that I will continue to work tirelessly towards such objectives.
That the Parliament acknowledges the importance of public funding for rural development to help drive forward Scotland’s rural economy and continue to carry out works to protect and enhance the natural environment; notes the significant contribution made by EU funding and welcomes the continuation of that funding until 2020; regrets that the current UK Government has failed to provide Scotland with its fair share of funding for rural interests; is concerned at recent statements by UK ministers on their intentions for future funding for rural development; notes the substantial potential adverse impact that such changes could have on rural Scotland after 2020; is further concerned at UK ministers’ apparent desire to create a UK-wide policy approach on devolved rural matters without consultation with, or the agreement of, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish ministers, and resolves to continue to make the case for fair funding for rural development in Scotland that best meets its needs and interests and to ensure that the current devolution settlement is enhanced through repatriation of appropriate powers and the devolution of additional powers to protect rural Scotland’s interests.
I never thought that I would hear “lacuna” and “potato” in the same sentence, but I have today.15:15
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I also welcome the new, cuddly Mr Ewing.
We have just heard the cabinet secretary’s concerns over the future of rural development in the years to come. It is, unfortunately, typical of the SNP Government to treat everything that the UK Government does as another sign of impending doom for Scotland. It is incredibly disappointing that Fergus Ewing cannot and will not recognise the opportunities that we have before us.
There is a huge prize to be won for Scottish and UK agriculture in the ability to design our own system to cater specifically for our farming sector. We need a policy that is simpler and easier to access. We need a policy that delivers support to the farmers who are producing our food, not one that supports slipper farmers. We need a policy that drives innovation and the uptake of new technology and which delivers an efficient and profitable industry that respects and enhances our environment and has high animal welfare standards at its heart.
For the past 20 years of the CAP, each review has involved a reduction in the pot of money that is available for farmers and an increase in complicated red tape and bureaucracy. The cabinet secretary cannot look at that information and seriously expect that the position would have been any different going forward. Across Europe, budgets are under pressure and, with the CAP being the largest spending item on the EU’s balance sheet, it was never realistic for CAP spending to be maintained when southern European economies are struggling so much.
Fortunately, going forward, the UK economy looks in much better shape to deliver the support that agriculture needs. We need to argue strongly and with one voice that agriculture should receive roughly the same level of support after 2020 as it is receiving now. The future prosperity of agriculture demands nothing less.
I am sure that the member will be aware that Scotland gets 16.4 per cent of the support that is given to agriculture in the UK. Is he arguing for that proportion of support to Scotland to be maintained or indeed, perhaps because of the lower acreage payments in Scotland, to be increased as a proportion of UK agriculture support?
I am basically saying that we must argue for roughly the same level of support as we have been used to.
It is time for the SNP to accept that we will not be members of the EU after 2019 and to start planning for the future after Brexit. Starting that process will require a clear set of objectives. It will need guiding principles that inform policy throughout.
There are serious concerns that the population of farmers is ageing, which is a definite sign that more needs to be done to encourage new entrants. That is why I am so angry at the lack of funding for the young farmers start-up scheme. I know that more than £5 million out of a pot of £6 million has been spent in year 1, which shows how important the fund is. That scheme should be operating throughout the SRDP period from 2014 to 2020, but how can it when most of the money has already been spent? I urge Fergus Ewing to allocate additional money to the scheme to help new farmers into business. It is vital that new entrants gain access to all support payments from day 1 of their starting to farm. Sadly, that does not happen now, which is a great disadvantage to young folk starting.
The objective for Scottish ministers should be clear: a system that is built to work specifically for our agricultural industry. The last thing that anyone in rural Scotland wants is totally different systems on each side of the Tweed, because that would distort competition too much. A UK framework is needed that allows unique Scottish interests to be catered for without creating, in NFU Scotland’s words,
“Significantly diverging agricultural policies across the UK”.
That is why my colleagues and I are today calling for the SNP Government to engage with DEFRA’s upcoming consultation. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her team have started to set out what they see as their priorities for the future of farming south of the border, but we know nothing of Scotland’s plans yet. The UK Government will seek to scrap the three-crop rule, cut back on red tape, simplify rules and abolish absurd regulations on, for instance, what makes a hedge a hedge. The UK Government is also committed to encouraging innovation and efficiency and to reducing Government inspections through increasing the use of technologies such as aerial photography.
The cabinet secretary should not be using Parliament’s time to make political points against Westminster; he should be figuring out what regulations Scotland’s farmers can do without and helping us to become more efficient. Of course, we know that the Government is not focused on making our farmers more competitive, which is why I had to write to the cabinet secretary about our overprescriptive greening regulations, for instance. As members will be aware, the unnecessarily strict management rules are holding Scottish farmers back compared with their competitors in England. I remind the cabinet secretary that he has already promised to look at our greening rules and make them fit for purpose, so why does he not get on with it?
To take the example of vining peas, limited harvesting dates combined with the SNP Government’s two-crop rule are making that potentially attractive option almost irrelevant in Scotland, while English farmers face no such restrictions. That is not by any stretch of the imagination the SNP Government’s only failure on managing the rural economy.
As we well know, there are still on-going issues with 2015 CAP payments; many farmers are still waiting for pillar 2 money because of the knock-on effect from the catastrophic handling of the loan payments. Not only that, but the SNP Government is at least a month behind where it should be on 2016 pillar 1 payments. Farmers would usually expect to have full payment in early December, but here we are in mid-January and many farmers have received, at best, an 80 per cent loan—or, indeed, nothing at all—with little prospect of payment of the 20 per cent balance before June this year.
Is it any wonder that the total income from farming has fallen for two years in a row? From 2014 to 2015, the Scottish Government recorded a fall of £110 million, which is about 15 per cent in real terms. On the back of those shocking figures, I fail to see how anyone could be surprised that the finances of the Scottish farming community are in a perilous position. Farm debt levels have never been higher—they have increased by nearly £200 million to a record £2.2 billion—while the SNP Government has failed to deliver CAP moneys. Nearly 50 per cent of farmers are not making enough money to earn the minimum wage and, worse still, 20 per cent of farm businesses posted losses in 2014.
What do we need to do? We need to take a hard look at the problems that have grown over the Government’s past two terms. I hope that today is a genuine attempt by the cabinet secretary to start a debate about how our future support for Scottish agriculture might look and is not another attempt to drive division and mistrust between here and Westminster.
I move amendment S5M-03463.3, to leave out from “continuation” to end and insert:
“UK Government’s continuation of that funding until 2020; further notes the opportunity to cut bureaucracy and red tape on leaving the EU; welcomes the chance to design an agricultural support system more suited to domestic needs, rather than those of the whole of the EU; understands that the UK Government is committed to working with the devolved administrations regarding the UK’s exit from the EU; recognises NFU Scotland’s view that significantly divergent agricultural policies across the UK could lead to distortion in agricultural markets, and recognises the uncertainty that delayed CAP payments by the Scottish Government has caused the agricultural sector.”15:24
We all welcome the commitments of both our Governments to funding rural development along current lines until 2020, which have provided producers and communities with a degree of stability. That said, we know that farming and crofting involve long-term planning, so three years does not buy a lot of planning time. The commitment is therefore, at best, staving off panic. It is right and proper for consultation and discussions about what will take place beyond 2020 to begin now. As with all discussion about Brexit and its implications, the constitutional question rears its head and too often overshadows the issues that we should be concerned about.
Agricultural policy is devolved within the parameters of our status in the EU so, going forward, there will be parameters for the whole UK that are set by trade deals and World Trade Organization rules. Therefore, it is right and proper for the UK Government to represent the needs of all our farming communities in those negotiations, and to do so the UK Government needs to talk to them.
We believe that devolved Governments have a role in the negotiation of trade deals, too, and the UK Government would be negligent if it ignored the knowledge and expertise that they hold. We are clear that changes to the rules that we trade by should not be used to claw back devolved powers—indeed, quite the opposite. When powers and decision making are repatriated, it follows that those powers should come to devolved Governments.
The reason why we lodged our amendment is not that we disagree with the direction of travel of the Scottish Government or with its need to be involved. Our amendment sets a more positive tone. If both Scotland’s Administrations are to work together for the good of our rural communities, we surely need to lead with a positive approach. This is not the time for party political or constitutional squabbling; our farmers and crofters cannot be pawns in those political games.
With that explanation, I turn to what should be the substance of the debate. What strikes fear into the hearts of most of our producers is the New Zealand example, which is often used to show what can happen if subsidies are removed, with people pointing to that country’s profitable farm enterprises now. However, they do not point out the number of small farms that went to the wall and the impact that that had on rural communities, which we really do not want. We need to start discussions about what we want and need from our farming communities.
It is obvious that the first goal is food production. We need to have food security. Leaving the EU, and the following currency fluctuations, will make imports more expensive and therefore imported foodstuffs more expensive. Should we therefore be looking to be more self-sufficient?
Our producers will also look at exports. A low pound makes their exports more attractive abroad, albeit that trade tariffs, if they were in place, could offset that. If we end up with trade tariffs, they will be in place going forward, whereas the value of the pound might stabilise, depending on our country’s economic future. The market will always find its place. The role of Government intervention is to deal with the problems that that creates and to make sure that we are secure. We therefore need to look at food production for the home market.
There is a suspicion that farm subsidies are used to fuel the profits of supermarkets, which in turn pay hefty dividends to their shareholders. That cannot be right when too many of our people are living in food poverty. The fact that people in our country—in Scotland—are living without enough food to eat is a disgrace. Any future farming subsidy regime should have the elimination of food poverty built into its foundations, rather than being tacked on as an afterthought. I find it utterly bizarre that, in a country whose biggest net export is our fantastic food and drink, we have farms and crofts that cannot make a living, and they have neighbours who cannot afford the food that they need to eat. Food poverty is not inevitable for either producers or consumers. We can choose to end it, and we need to use the future subsidy regime to do that.
We must look at the needs of rural communities, where many of our producers are based. We need to find a balance between food production profitability and the need to support rural communities. The EU has recognised peripherality and the difficulties that remote rural areas face in a way that neither of our Governments does or has done in the past. We know that the way in which EU rules were interpreted led to their having less of an impact on peripherality than they could have had, but that was in the past. We must learn from those mistakes and make sure that, if we are putting public money in, there are public benefits, which should include community cohesion and population retention.
Environmental benefits and protection are also things that public money should support. When we look at climate change, we see that emissions from farming have hardly changed. We need to use public funding to help that change to happen. However, we also need to recognise that many of our land managers militate against climate change by planting trees and carrying out land management activities that make the countryside a place for all of us to enjoy.
Such balances need to be struck. We all know that there is no money tree to shake, but we also know that, without public support, food production and the communities that producers support are likely to fold, and we cannot afford that. This is the time when we need to take a holistic view of what needs to happen, how both our Governments can support that and what trade deals we can make to enhance it.
Scottish Environment LINK has called for a commission of stakeholders to be put in place to look at the subject. I tend to agree with that suggestion, which the Scottish Government might take to the other Governments in the United Kingdom with the purpose of setting up a commission jointly that also stands for each of the devolved nations. It is clear that all stakeholders need a voice in the process. We will therefore support the Liberal Democrats’ amendment.
We face huge challenges, but we also have the opportunity to take a long, hard look at what we need to do for the good of our producers, what they need from both their Governments and how we can fix historical problems. Let us not miss the opportunity by wrangling; let us grasp it and make a real and lasting difference to how we deal with food production and eliminate food poverty.
I move amendment S5M-03463.1, to leave out from “is further concerned” to end and insert:
“understands that the UK Government will require to draw up trade agreements with the EU and other countries; welcomes that it will consult widely with producers throughout the UK on this; urges it to also work with the devolved governments to ensure that the differing needs of all of devolved nations are met; believes that devolved powers over policy should not be centralised and, where powers are repatriated from the EU, should be devolved in line with the Scotland Act 1998, and further believes that producers will continue to require support and that this should be distributed fairly, taking into account natural and geographical disadvantage in order to create a level playing field for all producers in the UK, and to ensure that appropriate funding is available to support farmers, land managers and rural communities to meet biodiversity and climate change targets.”15:31
The United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union is to bring to an end nearly 40 years of rural development funding under the common agricultural policy. Since the vote to withdraw from the European Union last June, much has been said about the lack of information from the UK Government, in particular about the future level of that funding now that there will be no obligation to deliver it. It will be entirely up to the UK and Scottish Governments between them to decide on both the level of funding and the way in which that funding is delivered.
The only thing that is certain about this situation is uncertainty. Although funding is secure until we leave the EU, nothing is certain after that. It is surely the task of both the UK and Scottish Governments to act responsibly. Too much is at stake for our rural communities for any blame game to take hold about too much or too little funding or, indeed, about how funding is to be allocated. That is why I am pleased that Fergus Ewing has indicated support for my amendment.
Since September, I have been suggesting gently—and, I admit, not so gently at times—that it is essential that a group be set up to examine options for designing a new system of delivering public money for public good in our rural economy. As the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for rural development, I have been in discussions with various stakeholders over the period since the vote to leave the EU in June. I am particularly taken with the proposals from both Scottish Environment LINK and NFU Scotland. Both have come up with practical ways of ensuring future funding post 2020. The NFUS says that we need to agree the correct policy direction and secure the necessary budget. It states:
“The real prize will be a future policy framework which is simplified and suited to Scotland’s unique landscape and needs, and allows the primary producer to take more back from the marketplace—enabling farmers and crofters to become more resilient while delivering for the market, consumers, for public goods, and for the taxpayer.”
Scottish Environment LINK agrees that we need to retain funding for agricultural and rural development, reshape the way in which it is given to farming businesses and thereby renew Scottish agriculture. It says that the key to that is the creation of a commission chaired by an independent person that, within a short timeframe, would be tasked with getting agreement on a set of policy principles upon which Scottish agricultural policy frameworks could be based.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will just finish the point.
That has formed the basis of my amendment to the Government’s motion. If Parliament votes for my amendment at decision time—as, I believe, it will—the Scottish Government will set up an independent group of relevant stakeholders to provide advice to it on the principles and policies that should underpin the design and delivery of an appropriate system of rural development funding post 2020.
I thank the member for giving way. Would he see a role for the Scottish land commission, given its unique role as an independent adviser?
I see a role for every person and body who feels that they have something to contribute. We should be inclusive rather than exclusive, as far as we possibly can be. Everyone has something to contribute. This is a really radical change and it is an opportunity that we have not had for 40 years.
In my view, this has to be the more sensible way to proceed and I would have thought, or hoped, that all parties in the chamber—and I mean all parties—could have supported our amendment regardless of whether they support the whole motion in its final form.
It might sound as though 2020 is a long way off, but our rural businesses and stakeholders need to have as much certainty about the future of rural development funding as they can. We know only too well that huge numbers of stakeholders are reliant on such funding for their very livelihoods. The last thing that we need is people or organisations digging their heels in and being unwilling to compromise about where limited funds—and they will be limited, not unlimited—are directed.
It is really important that as much agreement as possible is reached among stakeholders on the principles of how those limited funds will be distributed before the next set of discussions take place on the actual level of funding. That is absolutely essential, so that we have a system that is designed to ensure that the public money that is to be invested for the public good is invested in a way that meets the needs of our rural economy.
On the Conservative amendment, I say gently to Peter Chapman that it is a pity that we could not find a way forward on which all parties could have agreed. This is such an important issue that we should have come together on it.
It is interesting that even Scottish Land & Estates, in its briefing paper, says that it is disappointed that the Conservative amendment would remove a clause in the Government motion that happens to express regret that the UK Government has not provided Scotland with its “fair share of funding”—even Scottish Land & Estates recognises that point.
I will not say too much more about that—I just wanted to make the point—but I say again to Peter Chapman, who talked about the CAP, that there is, as he knows, no fiercer critic of how the CAP farm payments have been rolled out than me, but today of all days should not be about the CAP payments; it should be about trying to get agreement on the way forward for a new system of rural development funding.
We agree with and support the Labour amendment, especially where it says that
“where powers are repatriated from the EU,”
“should be devolved in line with the Scotland Act 1998”.
Do we have to say that? I cannot believe that that would not happen. It would be unacceptable if it did not happen and I think that Parliament should speak as one voice on that.
There is much work to be done. Fergus Ewing, as the minister responsible for the process, has a huge task ahead of him. I want him to know that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support him in the endeavour of designing a new system of public support for rural Scotland, because the aim of having a successful and vibrant rural economy post 2020 is an aim that we share.
I move amendment S5M-03463.2, to insert at end:
“, and calls on ministers to establish an independent group involving relevant stakeholders to provide advice as to the principles and policies that should underpin options for appropriate rural support beyond 2020, and, in the intervening period, provide as much certainty and information as possible to farmers, crofters and the wider rural economy.”
We move to the open debate. Everyone has a very tight six minutes.15:38
I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the cabinet secretary, Mr Ewing.
Securing the future of funding for rural development in Scotland has always been an important issue. However, against the backdrop of this week’s confirmation that the Prime Minister is indeed determined to rip us out of the single market, the sense of urgency is even greater.
Rural Scotland accounts for 98 per cent of the land mass of Scotland and nearly a fifth of the population are resident there. The future of funding for rural development, as the motion is titled, is about more than how a hedge is defined. Membership of the EU is worth billions to the rural economy—much more than the £4 billion received in EU funding.
Permanent and short-term migrants add considerable value when they come here to work in the agriculture, tourism and food and drink sectors. The uncertainty surrounding the future of EU nationals working in the food supply chain is a real concern that Theresa May continues to fuel with her red, white and blue rhetoric. These are skilled workers whose departure will do real damage to the economy.
Although rural Scotland is a beautiful place to live and work, it has stubborn pockets of deprivation as a result of a combination of factors including remoteness and an ageing population. Rural communities—and, indeed, the UK as a whole—have benefited immensely from EU funding, and it is time that the Westminster Government acknowledged not only that but the inevitable impact of the removal of that money.
Tuesday’s announcement by Theresa May was devastating. The hard Brexit for which we are now headed will be especially cruel to our rural communities as it represents a two-pronged attack that will strip them of EU funding while in effect denying the industries that underpin their economy access to their biggest market, through prohibitive tariffs.
Currently, Scotland receives 16.5 per cent of the UK’s CAP funds. From 2014 to 2020, Scotland would have received around €4.6 billion under CAP from the EU, €477 million of which is delivered via pillar 2 funds for rural development. In the lead-up to the referendum, pro-Brexit campaigners insisted that all agricultural funding would be protected and we were assured equally that Westminster would redistribute the silver bullet of £350 million a week that it would allegedly save from no longer funding the EU. Indeed, the farming minister said:
“The UK government will continue to give farmers and the environment as much support—or perhaps even more—as they get now.”
However, earlier this month, both the secretary of state and the minister refused to confirm that funding would match current levels beyond 2020.
Likewise, the Scottish secretary, David Mundell, promised to
“ensure that Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal clearly involves being part of the single market.”
Yesterday, however, he appeared to give up on membership of the single market completely. When asked by a BBC presenter,
“Aren’t you a Scottish Secretary to defend the interests of the Scottish people in cabinet?”,
astonishingly he replied, “No.”
Of course, it is not just the agricultural sector that is set to lose out. In Scotland, EU funding has helped to support the roll-out of superfast broadband, business development, housing investment and improvements to infrastructure. For five years, I have listened to my colleague Joan McAlpine talk about the importance of securing NUTS 2 status for the south of Scotland. The Scottish Government had approved plans to amend current boundaries, which could have made the region eligible for an uplift of £840 million from the EU. The prospect of the south of Scotland now missing out on that transformative amount of funding is bitterly disappointing. That is £840 million that the folks in the south of Scotland will never see and which could have made a real difference to their lives. It is now in jeopardy.
To listen to the Brexit cheerleaders at Westminster—and in this chamber, even—one would believe that the EU had contributed nothing tangible to the rural communities that we represent. EU funding has made a huge difference to Dumfries and Galloway and its removal has serious implications.
Will the member give way?
Actually, no. I want to proceed.
Local projects are currently being funded by grants from the European social fund for employability, worth £7 million; the European regional development fund, worth £1.4 million; and the LEADER programme, worth about £6.1 million. Those grants alone support the jobs of some 50 staff who are directly employed to deliver the schemes, and many more partners rely on that and other funding to support employment. Those jobs are now in jeopardy. Will the Tories at Westminster, who have caused this mess, commit to replacing that money?
Thank you. That is the reality of Brexit.
There is no doubt that our exit from the EU and the loss of funding opportunities will hinder our efforts to create a sustainable future for Scotland. However, the EU referendum result does not reduce our desire to protect Scotland and the rural economy. The Scottish National Party Government will exhaust every avenue to create conditions under which Scotland will flourish. There can be absolutely no question of the UK Government attempting to reserve powers that are currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament
You must close now, please.
It has proved 100 times over that it cannot be entrusted with the task of protecting Scotland’s interests.15:45
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate on the future of funding for rural development, which gives members from all parties the chance to raise the profile of our rural communities and to highlight some of the excellent work that goes on there.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s new year’s resolution and I look forward to holding him to it. Unfortunately, gripe and grievance has crept in again—it seems to be the order of the day from Emma Harper and members on the Government benches—and its appeal is wearing thin. We need to forget about what has happened in the past and get on with the job of getting the best deal for Scotland in the future. We must not allow the Scottish Government to use the smokescreen of Brexit to avoid getting on with that job.
Earlier this week, the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, set out a clear and credible plan ahead of the triggering of article 50. In her speech, Mrs May was very clear in her commitment to delivering a Brexit that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why Scottish Government ministers are fundamentally incorrect when they claim that they are being sidelined and ignored. They should stop the rhetoric and political posturing, and get around the table to secure the best deal from the negotiations—that is what our rural communities deserve.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am in my first minute.
As has already been mentioned, leaving the European Union means that we will be able to deliver a system that best meets the needs of those who work in our agricultural sector. Brexit allows the UK to design a new system of support from first principles. We have the chance to address Scotland’s priorities, to support and reward efficiency and innovation, to promote sustainable production, to ensure habitat and species protection, and to require primary producers and processors to work in a sensitive and correct way to ensure that the supply chain from producer to consumer is fair.
I agree with a great deal of what I hear from Finlay Carson. He talked about the collaboration between the Scottish Government and the UK Government as well as the Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments. Can he tell us a single thing that any of the devolved Administrations has successfully got the UK Government to change its policy on during the negotiations?
I will leave it to Scottish Government ministers to tell us about that as they are the guys who are sitting around the table. We have just started negotiations and I would like to think that, unlike in the past, our cabinet secretary will be able to go down to London and do his best for the Scottish rural economy.
The NFUS considers that this is a
“real opportunity to design and implement a new system appropriate to Scotland’s unique circumstances and farming systems, which will create environmental protection, innovation and profitability.”
That will be one of the real prizes of the negotiations.
In a speech at the start of the month, Andrea Leadsom correctly pointed out that
“for too long, a bureaucratic system, which tries to meet the needs of 28 different member states, has held farmers back.”
Post-Brexit, it will be for the Scottish Government to decide the funding priorities for Scotland’s agricultural sector and rural development. We must start that hard work now. My only worry about that is whether the Scottish Government is capable of delivering it. One only has to look at the Government’s shambolic track record on managing the current CAP payment system to be presented with a catalogue of failures. Let us not forget that, as a result of the SNP Government’s mishandling of the system, farmers the length and breadth of Scotland were left worried about their cash flow, and the knock-on effect was that Scotland’s rural economy was on the brink of collapse.
Only last week, the NFUS called for a “step change” in the CAP information technology system, which continues to affect pillar 2 schemes, and millions of pounds from 2015 schemes are still to enter farmers’ bank accounts, which is a ridiculous situation.
Farmers want certainty, which is exactly what the UK Government provided them with when the Chancellor of the Exchequer guaranteed for their lifetime all pillar 2 payments that are signed before we leave the EU and pillar 1 payments to 2020. That welcome announcement provided farmers with an important assurance that they will be financially supported throughout the negotiations as the UK leaves the EU.
It is time that the Scottish Government started to be optimistic about our post-Brexit future. We are going to be presented with a unique chance to start from scratch and come up with our own support system in the deal that is negotiated with all areas of the UK. Such a system could support our rural economy in a way that the current system simply does not allow. In its briefing, the NFUS outlined a number of potential measures, including incentives to improve efficiency and productivity, initiatives to promote and assist collaboration, schemes to prevent environmental damage and enhance the environment, and more support for new entrants and developers.
We on the Conservative benches are ambitious for Scotland’s rural communities. We want less red tape, a unique Scottish support system and more control over our priorities. Scotland’s rural communities need a Scottish Government that is ready to embrace the opportunities and be open minded and imaginative about how to deliver on them.
The UK voted to leave the EU and we now need to do the right thing for Scotland. I welcome the opportunity to work with Fergus Ewing and help him keep his new year’s resolution.
Members should please remember that we are tight for time.15:51
The Highlands and Islands have been transformed by European support over the years. Roads, bridges and other important infrastructure have been built there with support from the European Community and then the European Union. Indeed, if we were to take the north coast 500 route, which is largely in my constituency, we would see a multitude of EU flags on signs at the side of roads and bridges that were built with European funds. That is just one legacy of the EU. Unfortunately, potential has been lost. That is not a gripe or a grievance, but a real and tangible worry.
Education, agriculture and renewable energy are sectors that, throughout the years, have greatly added to the economy and society in rural areas. Those three sectors have benefited and continue to benefit from European co-operation and support.
As I have said before, the effect on education of the decision to wrench Scotland from the EU could not be clearer. The University of the Highlands and Islands will be hit worse than any other university in Scotland. Thirty-five per cent of the UHI’s external funding comes from the EU, which means that there is a potential cut to UHI of more than one third of its budget post-Brexit. That figure should make everyone in the chamber pause for thought.
It is not just funding that will be lost to UHI. On pan-European academic co-operation, the horizon 2020 scheme, in which UHI has been playing a leading role, is a chance to swap ideas on and find solutions to a range of issues in areas such as carbon reduction and offshore development. Also set to go is the chance to participate in the Erasmus plus programme, which for decades has given students and lecturers the opportunity to interact and collaborate with colleagues across the continent. The benefits of those experiences are intangible and we will be the poorer for their passing.
Over the years, there has been great investment in UHI from the EU; indeed, the EU has been at the heart of the university since UHI started. It is a great shame to see things end this way and I and members of UHI have real fears about the ground-breaking and excellent work that has been achieved, especially in the environmental research institute in Thurso.
The situation could not be starker for the farming, forestry, fisheries and food and drink sectors. They are key players in many rural areas and receive the greatest support from the EU. As Emma Harper said, that support amounts to more than £4 billion of funding from 2014 to 2020. That tells its own story. It helps create jobs, it underpins communities and it creates landscapes where the land is used, which helps ecology as well as putting food on our tables. In short, it allows people to live, farm and contribute in our rural areas.
European support for farming cuts across the whole industry, from arable fields to sweeping hillsides. Beyond 2020, the future is uncertain and people in rural communities are rightly concerned about what will happen.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, thank you.
As I have mentioned, there are many schemes to support farming. One such scheme is the less favoured area support scheme. LFASS comes under pillar 2 of CAP and is directed at those people—our crofters and hill farmers—who farm on marginal lands on which they turn a marginal profit. LFASS land accounts for 85 per cent of the land mass of Scotland, and the funding for the scheme is vital—indeed, critical—for those areas. The great worry for me and others is the fact that, as the cabinet secretary said, the UK Government has not committed to funding applications in 2019, which is only two years away. Fergus Ewing has raised that situation with the UK Government, and I add my voice to his today.
One of our greatest exports is food and drink. A hard Brexit, as it is called, could threaten many of our exports to the EU, which is our closest and biggest market. The food and drink industry directly employs—
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I will not.
The industry directly employs around 116,000 people, including many in rural areas.
One issue that needs clarity concerns funding for the agricultural sector and farmers, from the arable farmer to the hill crofter. Those people help to influence the biodiversity of many rural areas, and they create the communities that are so important. The CAP system, while it is not perfect, has helped to protect that way of life for many years. It is important that, whatever post-Brexit may bring, there is a way to allow that way of life to continue.
The renewables sector is another that has received sustained backing via the EU. It helps to deliver high-quality jobs in rural areas, including through the Beatrice offshore development, which has received hundreds of millions of pounds in support and is due to create hundreds of jobs in construction and maintenance, and through the money that was recently given to help to develop the MeyGen tidal energy scheme.
If we are serious about supporting our rural areas, and if we value them, we need to recognise that they have been immeasurably improved by the funding and support that the EU has given over the years. It is incumbent on the UK Government to listen to and work with the Scottish Government to make sure that, post-Brexit, our rural communities get the help that they need and are not left behind following the loss of major funding streams caused by our exit from the EU. The best solution for the future of rural funding is, of course, to remain in the EU.15:57
I start by focusing on the draft climate change plan that has been brought to Parliament today. Agriculture and related land use account for 22.8 per cent of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions, although it must be recognised that agricultural emissions have decreased by 25 per cent since 1990. We can all acknowledge that, as farming is the sector with the third heaviest emissions, improvements must be made through greening it appropriately—I use the word “appropriately” advisedly, because the improvements must be appropriate for Scotland.
Furthermore, it seems that Scotland will not meet the biodiversity targets for 2020, and it is ranked in the lowest fifth of all the countries analysed in the intactness index. Amid the uncertainty around the future of CAP, I am concerned that further progress may falter.
Our farmers are not only producers of food; they also act as custodians of our land. Of Scotland’s land mass, 75 per cent is used for agricultural production, and the sector directly employs 63,000 people. Limiting global warming is a responsibility that we all share, but we must respect the fact that farmers’ shoulders cannot be expected to bear the brunt of that, and it is unreasonable to demand and expect those business owners and rural communities to act in the public interest without being provided with proper support in the transition.
There are brilliant examples of positive changes that farmers can make, and I commend the nine monitor farms in Scotland, some of which are in my region. By sharing knowledge with others, those farmers have improved their own sustainability and profitability. It is paramount that we bring agricultural workers with us to the forefront in the green shift, and Scottish Labour will fight for farmers’ rights—yes, rights—in trade negotiations and rural policy and in securing a just transition.
In the future, I see a sustainable and strong Scottish agricultural sector, with food production and climate mitigation fully integrated. Even before the Brexit vote, Scotland spent the second lowest amount per hectare in the EU on agri-environment schemes from CAP pillar 2. As we are faced with an opportunity to reconsider the agricultural subsidy regime, I urge the Scottish Government to link environmental and economic objectives with a bottom-up approach.
I take the opportunity today to specify—briefly—three aspects of our rural economy to emphasise the necessity and the benefits of the support given to rural Scotland up to and beyond 2020.
First is the need for more support for the organic sector and continuing consideration by the Scottish Government of the benefits of agroecology. I have been welcomed to Whitmuir Organics, in my South Scotland region, several times by the owners, Pete Richie and Heather Anderson. Their commitment to organic production, along with that of other organic producers, shows what is possible. I also applaud the Soil Association’s contribution.
On climate change, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture states:
“The main mitigation potential lies in the capacity of ... soils to sequester CO2 through building organic matter. This potential can be realized by employing sustainable agricultural practices, such as those commonly found within organic farming systems.”
Of course, good soil husbandry is essential across the agricultural sector, and many farmers, although not in receipt of organic certification, manage their soils and wider businesses for a better climate and biodiversity. Those who do not must be supported—indeed, I argue, expected—to do so, not least because they are in receipt of public money.
Secondly, I stress the need to support innovation. In order to develop new systems and to build confidence, support is essential—sad as I am to have to say this—post-Brexit.
I can use the example of agroforestry or silvopasture, depending on whether I am speaking in today’s debate or next Tuesday’s debate on forestry. The Forestry Commission Scotland recognises the significance of agroforestry. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states:
“Agroforestry’s mixed land-use approach makes it a tailor-made example of how the agricultural sector can contribute to the global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”
Significantly, the UK Committee on Climate Change has stated that a new policy is required to
“address barriers to and awareness of agroforestry.”
Thirdly, I highlight the continuing importance of the co-operative models in rural Scotland. I am a member of the Scottish Co-operative Party parliamentary group. The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society does a terrific job of supporting co-operatives. James Graham, its secretary, states:
“Farmer co-ops are self-help businesses that add to the development of both economic and social capital of rural Scotland—investing and employing in areas where plc businesses will not.”
EU pillar 2 grants, which assist co-operatives and community groups with investment and access to facilitation support, are essential. Key schemes are the food processing, marketing and co-operation grant scheme, the knowledge transfer and innovation fund and LEADER. We must protect those and similar funds.
I hope that those three examples highlight the need for continued Scottish Government support across rural Scotland. Together, we can bring about a healthier and more equal society, as highlighted by Rhoda Grant, and a stronger rural economy.16:03
I draw members’ attention to my registered extremely large 3-acre agricultural holding, from which I receive no income whatsoever.
I am an MSP for an intensely rural area, which is dependent on farming and fishing, albeit that we have other industries, too.
I start on a consensual note. I very much welcomed Peter Chapman’s response to my intervention that we would be guaranteed a minimum of 16.4 per cent of the agricultural support that the UK gets. However, I will give a little bit of context to that. We might consider it in the light of a tweet from George Eustice on 4 January saying that there will be
“No more ‘subsidies’ post 2020 for farmers”.
Will the member take an intervention?
One moment, please. I am not much encouraged by getting 16.4 per cent of nothing, and I do not think that that is quite what Peter Chapman—and certainly I—had in mind.
Peter Chapman rose—
Of course, George Eustice also said on 26 May, before the referendum, that we would have as much support or, perhaps, even more once the referendum is out of the way. I accept that we are where we are.
I will take the Tory spokesman first.
Stewart Stevenson says that there will be no support. I do not accept that in any way, shape or form. I have had meetings with Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice, neither of whom said anything of the sort that there would be no support after 2020.
I know that my opposite number on the Tory benches is an honest and straightforward man and I am pleased to hear him say that, but I can only repeat what George Eustice tweeted on 4 January. I accept that putting something in 140 characters can sometimes eliminate meaning, but the words that he used were:
“No more ‘subsidies’ post 2020”.
In a spirit of collaboration, I invite Peter Chapman to communicate further with his political colleagues and establish whether the meaning has been eliminated by the words that were used.
We have all been quoting from various sources—that is what we politicians inevitably do—and the NFUS has properly been quoted as an important player in the policy area. In her blog following the Prime Minister’s speech, Clare Slipper said:
“NFU Scotland wants barrier and tariff-free trade as well as the freedom to set our own appropriate rules for farming.”
I do not find it terribly difficult to agree with the objectives that the Prime Minister set out in her speech, by the way, because they are probably the objectives that we would all think are proper in the current circumstance. The difficulty lies in the confidence that we may or may not have in our ability to achieve agreement with 27 other countries on the delivery of something that supports those objectives. In my six minutes—it is rather less than that now—I do not have time to explore what that means, but we must have better relationships in Europe and I genuinely hope that the UK Government draws on all the devolved ministers who have an interest in the matter to be part of a collegiate team who individually go and engage with different countries throughout Europe.
As a minister, I attended more than 20 EU councils of one sort or another. In that environment, I used to have responsibility for particular countries as a UK representative. That is a good model going forward and it happened under the Labour Government and the Conservative Government. Therefore, I know that it can work and it needs to work again if we are to get the kind of result that we want.
Fundamentally for Scotland, the money that comes from the EU is significant. It is significant for farming, of course, but the LEADER programme has been an enormous help to people in my constituency. It recently gave £64,000 to Macduff scout group, £4,000 to the North East Scotland Preservation Trust for work in Portsoy, £9,500 to the Portsoy Players and £90,000 to Scottish Enterprise for a development project in the Banff area. I am sure that other members will make references to their local circumstances. It is important that we are able to continue to support our rural areas, because it is not simply a matter of rurality. The quality of life in rural areas is important to attracting professional support that will often work in urban areas. Therefore, there is a benefit to supporting rural areas that is translated into a benefit in urban areas as well.
It is not clear to us that the Prime Minister has the same priorities for the rural economy as we are expressing across the political divide in the chamber. When she talked about the disbenefits of not achieving a result between the UK and the 27 EU countries, she was talking about the disadvantages for the EU members. However, there are of course substantial disadvantages for the UK and, in particular, Scotland. I wish her well, but I have relatively limited optimism.
Come to a close, please, Mr Stevenson.
Wales is doing well. The Welsh are on the same page as we are.
Mr Stevenson, you must come to a close.
I hope that we will all be able to support the motion as amended by Labour and the Liberals. I hope that the Tories will do that too.16:09
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests.
I will take interventions, especially from members who refused to take interventions from me if they feel that they want to intervene. However, they should let me get a little way into what I am going to say before they do so.
Before I look forward, I want to reflect a wee bit on the past so that we can understand where we want to be post-2020. Those who were involved in farming or agricultural policy in 1992 will remember the excesses of that time. There were lots of unwanted mountains—mountains of butter, mountains of beef and mountains of cheese, to name but a few.
Mountains of Edward.
That was a predictable intervention that I am glad I allowed the member; I will not allow him back in later.
There were lakes of wine and lakes of milk. None of us saw them, but we knew that they existed in the EC.
I am pleased to say that the unwanted mountains are a thing of the past. That came about because of the MacSharry reforms, which were needed because the common agricultural policy had been built purely to deal with food deficits, and it boosted production beyond needs. To put it into context, in 1991 we sat on 3.7 billion ecus of goods. That was too much, and it was beyond even what we in Europe could shift to the rest of the world.
Let us look at some other interesting points at that stage. Fifty per cent of all the European Community’s farmers were over 55, and it was accepted by all that the CAP budget, which was based on intervention, was out of control. Not enough work was done to improve the environment, and farming lacked new entrants. Rural development had been limited to the primary farming sector, and policies had been driven by a lack of understanding of interdependence between countries. Farms with the necessary capacity needed to become more competitive, and support for farmers had been driven to inflating food prices, which remained artificially high.
Those details were taken from a Commission of the European Communities report dated 1 February 1991. Now, 26 years later, with massive subsidies having been paid to farmers, many of those comments are equally valid.
Will the member take a brief intervention?
I have already taken one comment from Stewart Stevenson. I will take comments from other members in a moment.
I want to mention two other facts that seem to slide by many commentators.
First, I have looked back to 1992 and referenced back to today. Although there have always been winners and losers, the level of farm payments to farmers has always been on a downward direction of travel. Secondly, whatever scheme the EU has introduced, an effort has always been made to make it fit all—I stress all—of Europe. Set-aside and the three-crop rule are but two examples. Therefore, the past was not always perfect.
To look to the future, I find the Government’s motion a bit depressing. Not every glass is half empty; some glasses can be half full. That is certainly reflected in what Scottish fishermen believe. It is not all doom and gloom. We can design a system that looks to the needs of the UK in the same way that the current system looks to the needs of the EU. By agreeing—this is critical—a UK framework and ensuring that control of the exact details and implementation in Scotland is retained by the Scottish Parliament, as it is now, we can be assured that, with careful negotiation, the Government will get the best deal. For members who might find that a difficult concept to understand, I am suggesting working together as part of a team with negotiations, consensual agreement and a light touch. I think that we can do that.
What of the future? Let me tell members what I think it must be. I will give three brief examples, if I may. The system must be simple to administer, cut red tape and ditch complex computer systems. Things must be received by those that the scheme targets, and the system must deliver public good while protecting the environment.
Let me be clear. Before I am accused of wanting to cut basic support payments, I say that I do not want to do that. Farmers and the rural economy need support.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will, as no one else has intervened.
I thought that the member might. Does he agree—he might well do so—that there are also social objectives associated with supporting rural economies that were perhaps very strong, particularly in the early days of CAP? We have to get them right and get the right balance, but there are also social objectives beyond simply farming.
You have less than a minute left, Mr Mountain.
I absolutely believe that rural support is not just for farmers; it is for achieving things for the countryside and for the country as a whole. I probably know as well as any other member how important support is to the rural economy.
I do not have all the answers, but I believe that, together, we can work them out. All stakeholders in Scotland must get together and work with the cabinet secretary to decide what Scotland needs. We must then engage with the UK Government. At my recent meetings with Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice, they made it clear that that is exactly what they are waiting for.
You must close, please.
As I have said previously in the chamber, farmers are can-do people who respond to what they see in front of them. I welcome the opportunity to take up the offer that the cabinet secretary made at the beginning of the debate and to work with him to take forward rural subsidies and support for Scotland.16:16
Presiding Officer, I will try to take less than six minutes, in line with your request.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this afternoon’s debate on funding for rural development in Scotland and to offer a perspective on the issue as an Ayrshire MSP.
According to Scotland’s Rural College’s very detailed recent publication, “Rural Scotland in Focus”, rural areas make up about 98 per cent of the landmass of Scotland, they are home to more than a million members of Scotland’s population and they have a third of its registered small and medium-sized enterprises, and about 50,000 businesses in total. The publication offers us an important perspective on the rural economy. It includes many contributions from farmers and small business owners, and I commend it to colleagues.
Ayrshire and the south-west of Scotland—in particular, Dumfries and Galloway—play a huge part in the agricultural economic landscape of rural Scotland, with 80 per cent of Scotland’s dairy herd and nearly 800 specialist dairy farms being located in that wonderful part of our country, so it is important that the potential consequences of the changes that are certain to come in rural development funding and their disproportionate impact on the south-west of Scotland are fully considered and debated.
I am grateful for the briefings that we have received from NFU Scotland over the past couple of days; we received one of them just before this week’s announcement by the Prime Minister and the other just after it. They provide a useful and focused summary of the main issues of concern. In particular, they describe the potential “decimation” of Scottish agriculture that will occur if a future funding arrangement post-Brexit does not mirror the current arrangements whereby 16 per cent of the UK’s total CAP funding comes to Scotland. Under a possible Barnett funding arrangement, that could shrink to just 8 or 9 per cent.
The UK Government must give a clear commitment to maintaining that support at its current level and remove what is perhaps one of the greatest concerns for our farmers. Given that 85 per cent of Scotland’s land is designated as less favoured, with the converse being true in England, NFU Scotland also argues that a devolved agricultural policy solution for Scotland is likely to be necessary. None of that needs to wait until the outcome of negotiations with the EU. All that it would take would be for the UK Government to give those commitments now.
The speeches of UK ministers before the EU vote were full of promises that farmers would get as much, or perhaps even more, support than they get now, but now we hear that there will be no more subsidies after 2020. Only this morning, we got no assurances that farm payments will not be cut after 2020.
Food and drink producers in Ayrshire and Arran are renowned for quality, and their products are in demand throughout Europe and right around the world. We have exceptional beef, lamb, pork and game; world-class fish and shellfish; the Ayrshire tattie, which the cabinet secretary mentioned; award-winning Dunlop cheese; wonderful ice creams and handmade chocolates; craft beers and distinctive whiskies; Mossgiel milk; and Brownings’ now famous steak and Scotch pies, which won another world award only last week.
All of that contributes to Scotland’s reputation as a world-class producer and exporter of quality food and drink, and food and drink account for about 30 per cent of Scotland’s total exports; the equivalent figure for the UK is about 7 per cent. Our food and drink industry has a turnover of about £14 billion and it employs more than 100,000 people. The sector is crucial to Scotland, and food and drink represent our biggest export to the EU, worth about £2 billion. Unless the UK Government can agree a deal with the EU within the two years following the pressing of the Brexit button—which many say is unlikely—the whole sector could be facing a disastrous period during which tariffs are reimposed and access to the wider market, even beyond Europe, is restricted or, at worst, closed off. What a scandalous and unnecessary situation for Ayrshire and other Scottish food producers to be facing.
One very important area of concern—and not just for the rural economy—is whether the UK is also intending to walk away from the European digital single market. While the Tories are planning their escape from the single market, it surely makes no sense to walk away from the further integration of digital services across Europe. The digital single market is worth about €415 billion to the whole European economy, and it will offer €11 billion in savings for consumers shopping online. Are we to walk away from that, too?
In June this year, when data roaming charges for mobile phone users in Europe are finally flattened out, are the Tories going to bring them back triumphantly for millions of people in the UK who will still go on holiday to Europe after Brexit? I can see that going down like a lead balloon.
Living and working in the rural economy was never easy, but the unnecessary and uncertain future that is being imposed on many of our Scottish farmers and food and drink producers is surely one of the most unnecessary acts of political folly that we have ever seen. No matter how the Brexiteers try to dress this up as a golden opportunity, the harsh reality is that the timescales here are nigh on impossible and Scotland’s key agriculture and food and drink sectors face the grim prospect of the return of tariffs and restricted market access.
As usual, the Scottish Government will do everything in its power to protect our producers from the damage to come. However, if the signs are not good, I have no doubt that the Scottish people will exercise their right to steer a different course, which offers them a better and more secure future.16:22
Funding for rural development and agriculture recognises the vital role that is played by land managers and rural communities in protecting, preserving and enhancing the natural environment that is so vital to our identity and livelihoods. That is why it is vital that we maintain rural development funding during this constitutionally uncertain time. Repatriation of powers from Europe to Scotland and devolution of additional powers, as is called for in today’s motion, will go some way towards protecting Scotland from the hard Brexit that was announced by the Prime Minister this week.
The starting point in building the progressive future that our rural communities need has to be a commission that asks this fundamental question: What are we trying to deliver from farming and what are the tools that we need to achieve that? The commission would need to be broad, cross-sectoral and independent. Its work could not be delivered by a lone part-time industry secondment here, or even a sectoral champion there. I am, therefore, thankful that the Scottish Parliament has just approved such a body with the status and remit to deliver: the Scottish land commission. There has never been a more important time for the commission to come into being and focus on the question. Its independence, expertise on delivery of public interest and connection with vulnerable agricultural communities makes it uniquely placed to lead consideration of the question by marshalling fairly all those who have a stake in our farming future.
There is a lot of reform to consider. For example in the current round, the SRDP is being delivered through 14 different funding schemes, which are administered by five different Government departments and agencies. It can be a complex and bewildering process, especially for new entrants and small family-run farms. Although the farm advisory scheme should go some way towards addressing that problem, more improvements can be made.
For example, there are growing calls to establish an agency that not only sets out the vision and values that we have for a future Scottish agricultural sector, but takes on the task of administering rural payments and support in a joined-up manner. A Scottish food and farming agency could take the form of a non-departmental Government body and could bring together farmers, land managers, environmental non-governmental organisations, researchers and representatives of rural communities to ensure that our vision of a good food nation is delivered. The creation of a national agency would not necessarily mean greater centralisation of rural development policy and funding. Rather, it could be used to facilitate greater participation in rural development through local decision-making panels and regional distribution of specific funds. I will give an example of that.
The LEADER programme has been one of the major success stories of the SRDP. It is due to deliver over £80 million of funding during the current CAP phase through the local action group model, which supports local rural communities to identify the challenges that they face and develop grass-roots solutions. Stewart Stevenson alluded to the fact that, in my region, a diverse range of projects have been funded by LEADER since 2007, including Fife Rural Skills Partnership and the Balquhidder Community Broadband Community Interest Company. Although those projects address very different aspects of rural life, both have provided direct employment for local people and are addressing the need for the skills and infrastructure that have helped people to find employment, set up businesses and contribute to thriving local rural economies.
Other aspects of current SRDP funding would benefit greatly from the local decision making that a national agency could facilitate. For example, rural enterprises could collectively establish their own training schemes through the knowledge transfer and innovation fund, and they could provide training close to home that addresses specific needs in their areas. As Claudia Beamish said, regional farmers co-operatives could get support from their local decision-making board to submit a competitive and viable bid for public procurement. Co-operative models still play a central role in delivery of rural and farming policy in other parts of Europe, including in France, which has adopted a world-leading agroecology model for farming policy. That should be a key method in the delivery of a future rural development policy that understands and meets the needs of our remote and rural communities.
I turn to subsidies. Although we remain committed to keeping Scotland in the European Union, we are not naive about the failings of the CAP, so we urge the Government during this time of constitutional crisis to continue to engage in the debate that is taking place in Europe on the future of the CAP. In particular, the principle of direct payments according to land area that is contained in pillar 1 has directly contributed to consolidation of farms into ever-larger units, and it has pushed the price of land up beyond the reach of many people across Scotland. Since area-based direct payments were introduced in 2004, land prices across the UK have tripled and the UK Government has persistently refused to introduce measures—as is permitted by the EU—to taper payments for larger farms. The winners under that system are clearly not rural communities, but the richest landowners in our society. The Queen received more than £500,000 in single farm payments last year. Unless the system undergoes radical reform, the principle of direct area-based payments will not be something that we can support in any future subsidies system.
The job of protecting Scotland’s rural interests starts with building a progressive vision of our land and the communities that need to thrive on it. I believe that the Scottish land commission is the right body to marshal that vision.16:27
At the tail end of last year, I took part in the debate on the impact that leaving the European Union would have on the rural economy. In that debate, I focused primarily on the importance of funding, because during the EU referendum debate I was particularly frustrated by what I saw as the lack of focus on the extent to which EU funding underpins many different services and diverse projects—local and national—that are vital to our economy and society. I therefore welcome the Government’s motion, because although we now know, or have a better idea of, what the Westminster Government’s negotiating position will be, for better or worse—depending on where we sit in the chamber—we need to continue to fight for fair funding for our rural economy, as well as for devolution of additional powers, so that we can best protect the interests of all of rural Scotland.
I will start by setting out the context and outlining exactly what is at stake during this period of negotiations, by looking at my constituency. Aberdeenshire Council has published a very interesting report that went to its policy and resources committee today, about its EU referendum position. The report helpfully illustrates that information and clearly outlines what Aberdeenshire needs from negotiations with the EU. I urge north-east MSPs in particular who have not had a look at that report to do so. It outlines that Aberdeenshire is Scotland’s foremost fishing area because the region accounts for 56.4 per cent of fish landed in Scotland by value and, with Aberdeen, provides 31 per cent of Scotland’s regular fisheries employment. Moreover, since 2010 the quantity of fish landings in the north-east has increased by 23 per cent, and total employment by 5.4 per cent.
In agriculture, Aberdeenshire has 26 per cent of the national arable land total, despite having only 9 per cent of land overall. The forestry, fishing and agriculture sectors between them employ about 6,000 people. Those sectors, which will receive about £4 billion of EU funds, are absolutely vital to our rural and wider economy. The continuation of EU funding is crucial to their continued viability.
As has already been highlighted by a few other members, it is not just those sectors that benefit—directly—from rural development funding; our communities and community groups do, too, through schemes such as LEADER. In my constituency, that funding amounted to £2.8 million for south Aberdeenshire for the current funding period, and £2.7 million for Angus. Those figures exclude the extra monies that tend to be levered in on the back of such funding. Those funds have had a huge impact and continue to have a growing impact in our communities through helping a huge variety of different projects.
There is one example that I am particularly keen to highlight to members today. It is not quite in my constituency—I hope that Graeme Dey does not mind my going into his territory of Angus South. This is the point where we go from farming, fishing and forestry to rock. By “rock”, I do not mean the geological variety, but the kind that comes with lightning bolts, guitars, drums and loud vocals. I am referring to a project in Kirriemuir with DD8 Music, which is a community organisation whose aim is to work with young people. Through LEADER funding, the group was able to find premises that it turned into a recording studio. That has provided the group with a base and a completely new and exciting facility, from which it has been able to build as an organisation.
DD8 Music now organises one of the main festivals in the north-east, which I hope members have all heard of: Bonfest. “What is Bonfest?” I hear members cry. Bonfest is a celebration of Bon Scott, the legendary AC/DC vocalist, who was from Kirriemuir in Angus. It attracts rockers and fans—I am a huge fan—from all over the world. Last year the event attracted 5,000 visitors, with an economic impact of £403,000. I extend a warm invitation to the cabinet secretary and any other interested members to come to Bonfest this year—it takes place from 28 to 30 April.
Angus LEADER is considering other innovative ways of working, including by using Angus Council’s Crowdfunder platform, crowdfund Angus, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the UK. It is the brainchild of the business manager for funding, policy and projects at Angus Council, Shelley Hague. The crowdfunding project was nationally recognised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities with a gold award at last year’s COSLA awards, and was further recognised at UK level when it gained a nomination at the Guardian public service awards in London. There are 15 projects, which have so far levered in more than £400,000.
LEADER is considering ways in which it can work hand in hand with other organisations, with participatory budgeting and wider community empowerment, to truly transform our rural communities. For such work and projects to continue, we need to know that the funding is in place for that to happen, and the policies behind it need to be right. If the nature of the policy or the funding is to change, those involved in all the sectors that I have mentioned today need to be involved—farmers, fisherman and the people who help to design and deliver rural development projects on the ground.
We need to retain and protect the specific financial support that is vital to the pillars of our rural community that I have outlined. I am proud that we have a Government that is continuing to fight Scotland’s corner in this area and that will continue to try and get the best deal for our farmers, our fisherman and all the people in our rural communities.
We come to closing speeches. Time is very tight, so you have no more than six minutes, please, Mr Rumbles.16:34
It has been a very good debate. The nine contributions to the open debate were particularly good, so I will concentrate on them and respond to some points that were made. The debate started a bit rockily with Emma Harper attacking the UK Government and Finlay Carson attacking the Scottish Government. I thought that we were going to go further down that route, but I am glad to say that we did not.
I gently say to Emma Harper and Gail Ross that it is helpful if members take interventions, because it creates a better debate; otherwise, we just get a series of statements from members. Gail Ross made an important point when she said that 35 per cent of the funding for the University of the Highlands and Islands comes from the EU, and that she was not griping about that but describing a reality, with real issues around it. Claudia Beamish wanted to focus on the opportunities that any new system would give to aiding our environment, which is an entirely legitimate approach to take.
I like Stewart Stevenson’s contributions to debates, as I know that many other members do, but I think that he was rather unfair to Peter Chapman. I was even about to intervene on him on that point, because, as important as Peter Chapman is to Parliament, it is not fair to hold him personally responsible for guaranteeing that the UK Government will deliver to Scottish agriculture the equivalent of the 16.4 per cent share of the UK CAP subsidy from the EU. I thought that Stewart Stevenson was a little hard on Peter Chapman on that point.
I am very grateful for Mike Rumbles’ support for my position.
We north-easterners stick together.
Edward Mountain gave a very good speech, but after asking members to take interventions, he refused one from Stewart Stevenson. However, he did take another one. He talked about mountains of butter, cheese and so on and pointed out that the past was not always as rosy as it is painted, which was an important point to make. He said that all stakeholders need to get together, which is the very point that I am trying to make through my amendment. I hope that the Conservatives will feel able to support it.
Willie Coffey also talked about Scotland’s 16.4 per cent share of the UK CAP payments and said that, under Barnett, we might get only 8 per cent. That is a legitimate and important issue to iron out. Mark Ruskell talked about the importance of the Scottish land commission. Mairi Evans also made a good contribution, although I am not au fait with what she said is being done at Kirriemuir.
To an extent, the debate has been about whether we will receive more or less funding for agriculture than we currently receive through CAP payments. Although I believe that that is an important issue, it is putting the cart before the horse. I certainly believe, as do my fellow Liberal Democrats, that it is essential that we focus on getting right the agreed principles for any future moneys so that the Scottish Government can allocate them appropriately and properly when it gets those funds, at whatever level they come through. If we just talk about whether the money is or is not enough and plead special cases rather than coming together across the chamber for the good of the Scottish rural economy to agree the principles on which the funding will be delivered, we will get it wrong and cause real divisions out there in the rural economy. I genuinely feel that it is important to get the principles right, otherwise people will defend their own patch.
I will not take up the whole of my allocation, because I know that time is short. I have made the points that I wanted to make.
Much appreciated, Mr Rumbles—thank you. I call Rhoda Grant—up to six minutes, please.16:38
I am glad that we have had this debate, because time is tight for many of the decisions concerned and they need to be made sooner rather than later in order to give comfort and security to our rural communities.
I am a little disappointed that members cannot unite tonight around my amendment and Mike Rumbles’s amendment, because I think that they set a more positive tone. I urge Conservative colleagues to reconsider their position on those amendments. However, we are united around the view that we need to support our rural communities in farming, fishing and the many other rural activities that members have talked about that need support to ensure that our rural communities thrive.
Fergus Ewing opened the debate and rehearsed some of the challenges, as did some SNP members. We are very aware of the challenges, but in our mind that means that there is a greater need for putting aside our differences and working more closely for the good of our rural communities. We know that the issue of the movement of labour will cause challenges for farms. We have heard about a points system in that regard, but that will not work for low-skilled, migrant farm workers. While we need to protect their working conditions, which are often poor, we also need to make sure that they are able to continue, because our farming communities are as dependent on them as they are on the work that they do across Scotland and, indeed, in the rest of the UK and Europe.
We need access to the single market: it is really important for our farmers and producers that that happens. I was interested to hear about the tattie and, indeed, with the exchange between Fergus Ewing and Stewart Stevenson, I could see a save the Scottish tattie campaign starting. I hope that it will not come to that, and perhaps I make that comment a bit too flippantly, because it is really important that we protect those suppliers who have markets beyond Scotland and the UK—and not only for our benefit. That is where we have to sell that to the rest of the EU, because it is not only we who benefit from that trade: the rest of Europe benefits from receiving our high-quality produce.
Financial support was mentioned. Gail Ross talked about UHI, and others talked about financial support for farming and fishing and, indeed, rural communities. It is important that we reiterate the need for that support.
Fergus Ewing talked about agreeing with us on repatriating powers, which was very welcome. To be honest, I think that most people in this Parliament would agree to that. However, he also talked about how we then distribute funding for farming and rural communities throughout the UK. I made it clear in my speech that we need a much fairer distribution, because, with our geographical disadvantage compared with the rest of the UK, we would not be agin having a level playing field across the UK, where farmers receive similar amounts, and perhaps even fighting for a bit more because our disadvantage is greater. At the same time, that will require us to work very closely with the UK Government—perhaps ceding some powers—so we need to be careful what we are asking for and how we go about achieving those aims. We need wider discussions on those things.
Peter Chapman used his speech to talk about the horrendous issues with CAP. Everybody agrees that that has been a huge problem for our rural communities, but perhaps this was not the time for it. We will have those debates again, and I am sad to say that I think that there will probably be more problems than there have already been before that issue is resolved. We can discuss those problems and, indeed, hold the Government to account on that, at that time. Peter Chapman also talked about red tape. He is right, but we have to remember that a lot of that red tape did not come from the EU but from our own Governments gold-plating domestic policy.
Mike Rumbles’s amendment, which we have said we will support, is good. He talked about how wide that commission had been, and about the work of the NFUS, on which we totally agree. Its briefings are coming in—I was going to say daily, but it is more often than that—and it has already started thinking about those things. It needs to be involved, as do the NGOs, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, consumers and producers.
That is where I would have a slight disagreement with Mark Ruskell, who talked about the land commission doing that. I think that the commission has enough to do in dealing with the matters, such as farm prices, that he spoke about in the debate. The system of land ownership that we have in Scotland is way wrong and we need to focus on that; that is what the land commission needs to do, while we need another commission to look at the way forward, with a wider base of stakeholders.
My colleague Claudia Beamish rightly talked about all the environmental issues; I was depending on her to do that, because I only touched on them. She spoke about farming, organic farming, forestry and, indeed, co-ops, and how pillar 2 funding helps co-ops and community groups from brewers to chocolatiers and the like—and, indeed, LEADER funding, which is important to many of our communities.
I hope that this debate has sent a clear message to colleagues in the UK Parliament. We need to be part of future negotiations on trade deals and the parameters that those will set for our food producers from rural communities. We need to be clear that the new structures do not cause further poverty to their producers and consumers. We recognise the challenges going forward, but we also need to make the best of them in order to protect those whom we represent.
I call Maurice Golden. You have up to seven minutes, please, Mr Golden.16:44
It has been an engaging debate with some interesting speeches. Fergus Ewing started things off by talking about fruitful cross-party discussions—not with us but with other parties. He followed that up with a new year’s resolution to work across the chamber. I feel that it is appropriate to point out that just 8 per cent of people successfully achieve their resolutions, although I look forward to seeing the cabinet secretary at Bonfest, as was suggested in a slightly bizarre comment from Mairi Evans. The cabinet secretary then spoke about a repatriation of powers and indulged in some quantum theorising over possible futures—that point was taken up by Emma Harper.
The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said:
“it’s vital that we start planning now, for life beyond 2020.”
She has also said that the UK Government is
“committed to supporting British farming in the short and the long term”.
We welcome those words and recognise that leaving the EU presents us with the opportunity to design a rural development system that is fit for purpose and which will cut red tape and bureaucracy. We would prefer to work with the UK Government to ensure that we have a system that not only works for Scotland but works better for Scotland than the current system does.
Rhoda Grant made some interesting points, particularly around food production and food poverty. However, on Labour’s amendment, it is important to note that the Scotland Act 1998 was drafted while we were a member of the EU; therefore, to suggest that further powers can be devolved in line with the Scotland Act 1998 is misleading. In addition, the priority should be on getting the best deal for the UK and getting powers repatriated. We can then consult on what powers should go where. Stakeholders such as the NFUS are not clear about what powers should be devolved, and squabbling between the devolved Administration and Westminster will just distract from the important job of getting the best deal for the whole of the UK.
I will express no dissatisfaction if the UK gets a good deal. However, I encourage the member to consider whether, in seeking a deal of a particular character, there is intrinsic value in that deal reflecting the particular needs of Scotland—and, for that matter, the needs of Wales and Northern Ireland—as well. It is not just about the UK listening to the devolved Administrations; it is about its acting on concerns that may be raised—perhaps privately, in which case we may not hear about them. It is about genuinely changing what is being done, and not waiting until the deal is done but ensuring that the devolved Administrations contribute to the deal.
I agree with the member that we have to recognise concerns, and I believe that the UK Government will do that in a positive manner.
I like the idea in Mike Rumbles’s amendment of establishing an independent stakeholder group to provide more certainty across the sector. His speech, in which he highlighted the need for a more simplified system, was also welcome.
Gail Ross spoke about the impact of EU funding in her constituency. I recognise those concerns, but it is worth noting that the UK contributes tens of billions of pounds a year to the EU and around £8 billion does not come back.
We also heard mention of unwanted mountains—I am not referring to my colleague Edward Mountain.
Mark Ruskell made a thoughtful speech, but we would find it difficult to support the creation of new agency powers for the Scottish land commission.
I will focus the majority of my closing remarks on the opportunity that regenerative agriculture presents for Scotland. However, before I do that, I have to point out that it is disappointing that we are debating Brexit again. The SNP is no longer content with Brexit Tuesdays but is shoehorning the subject into other debates as well. The SNP Government’s focus should be on matters of importance to the people of Scotland that are within the competence of the Parliament. That is why I welcomed the speeches of both Peter Chapman and Finlay Carson, who highlighted the CAP payments fiasco—a situation that is still not fully resolved.
Claudia Beamish spoke passionately about organic farming and I agree with much of what she said, but I would go one step further, certainly in relation to regenerative agriculture, which offers many opportunities for Scottish farmers. It can be broadly defined as a combination of practices including permaculture, organic, no till, holistic grazing, and keyline land preparation. It will help to shift us towards an agricultural model that helps the environment by improving the soil and encouraging biodiversity. That transition would also see economic benefits based on a reduction in fertiliser and pesticide use alongside an overall reduction in agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Those regenerative practices will not fit the business model of every farm, but they should be encouraged. The benefits of those practices include the removal of greenhouse gas emissions by acting as a carbon sink; decreased water usage; and giving farmers better control over their cost base as the inputs needed for a farm are generated by the farm itself.
What do we need to do to embrace that change? We must educate farmers who are not familiar with regenerative practices and who may be risk averse or resistant to them by making a strong business case. We must develop new skills and we must heighten consumer awareness of regenerative practices.
A good example of those practices is the 0.4 per cent or four per 1,000 initiative that is being driven by the French Government. The Parliament must show vision for our agricultural sector and look to maximise innovative opportunities. I urge members to support the amendment to the motion in the name of Peter Chapman.16:51
I thoroughly enjoyed the debate and I was delighted to receive an invitation from Mairi Evans to the Bonfest. I confess that I was previously ignorant of it, but after her contribution I understand that it showcases popular music of the post-Frank Sinatra era. [Laughter.]
The debate included a great many contributions and I thank all members for them. I will briefly reply to some points and then move on. I am sorry that I cannot reply to them all, but if members wish me to reply to any particular points, please let me know and I will work with them as per my new year resolution.
Mr Chapman pointed out the delays in CAP payments. We will discuss that at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meeting next week under the convenership of Mr Mountain. Resolving that has been a top priority for me and remains so. I make that undertaking to members. It uses up, quite correctly, an enormous amount of time and effort. I am pleased, of course, that we have had some success on the payments—99.9 per cent of payments by value were made by 15 October 2016, in respect of the pillar 1 payments. The loan scheme has injected £267 million into the rural economy and I think has been appreciated by farmers. However, that is not enough. As I have said before, I will not be satisfied until the whole system is back on track. I thought that it would be sensible to start off by repeating that undertaking.
I agree with much that Rhoda Grant said about the importance of protecting rural communities, especially in the Highlands and Islands, which she represents. Mr Rumbles made a very positive contribution and I am pleased to have had fruitful discussions with the Liberal Democrats prior to the debate about the setting up of a group. We need to continue close engagement with stakeholders and consider all the options and we will therefore heed the call in the Lib Dem amendment, which we will support,
“to establish an independent group”.
We will also support the Labour amendment. I do hope, as Mr Rumbles exhorted our colleagues on the Conservative benches, that we can reach a unanimous agreement tonight, but we shall see.
It is clear that public funding for rural development is critical. We all agree that it drives our rural economy and that it protects and enhances our natural environment. We had excellent examples from Gail Ross about Erasmus, from Stewart Stevenson, Mairi Evans and Mark Ruskell about LEADER, and from Claudia Beamish about the contribution towards organics and soil improvement.
All those points were very well made but the debate went wider than that. Mr Coffey talked about the EU’s contribution to broadband and connectivity, which is so important now and is another extremely pressing matter for me. Many members, including Mairi Evans, pointed out the contribution to society beyond agriculture. To be fair, it was, I think, either Mr Chapman or Mr Mountain who acknowledged that, too.
I think therefore that there is a consonance of objectives, but serious doubts about funding remain. Mr Rumbles is correct that we need to marshal a set of principles around which we can coalesce, but we also need clarity about the future of funding. Both go hand in hand and are required—we cannot go for one or the other.
In my defence and in defence of the Scottish Government, I should point out that the vision for Scottish agriculture, which was launched by my predecessor Richard Lochhead, went a long way toward setting out those principles. In accordance with my new year resolution, therefore, I undertake to write to spokesmen with a copy of that document, which I think sets out very useful principles and might form the basis for further discussions with party spokespeople. I am more than happy to discuss these important matters in the spirit of co-operation that I have suggested.
As I said, there is a consonance of objectives. We have been concentrating on pursuing opportunities, although I thought that I heard a slightly churlish suggestion that we were not doing so. I can assure all members that, for my part, I have been absolutely determined to grasp all opportunities available in rural Scotland. That is why I and my colleagues, including Mr Russell, Ms Cunningham and Mr Stewart, have led various summits and meetings. We have brought people together to discuss timber in the south and north of Scotland, shellfish, aquaculture and, on Monday, food and farming. We have Ms Cunningham bringing together NGOs in respect of the environment and me bringing rural development parties together to talk about rural environment; and very shortly, we will have a summit on food and drink and manufacturing. The whole purpose of that activity is to galvanise effort and ensure that we grasp rural development opportunities and work with all stakeholders in that respect. I am happy to work with all members and grab all opportunities that are available to us.
I think that the concerns raised in this debate are threefold: future funding; access to markets; and immigration and labour policy. It is absolutely correct that we pursue first of all unresolved matters and issues before we clear the way for negotiations with the UK on the future of funding to replace CAP. As I have identified, the three issues in question are convergence funding, the sea fish levy and the red meat levy.
To be fair, the UK Government has acknowledged that those issues exist and require to be resolved. It was said that I should get round the table with Ms Leadsom and Mr Eustice; I have done so, but the trouble was, I am sad to say, that there was not very much on the table. However, I am meeting them next Thursday—the day after Burns night—and I will be pleased to discuss this matter again with Andrea Leadsom and Mr Eustice. We will be putting proposals on the table for discussion, setting out some of the principles and describing some of the circumstances that we have applied.
The key question is: what will replace the EU funding on which our rural community has depended and, in many ways, thrived over the past decades? We have heard contributions in that respect from members from each party in the chamber, including the Conservatives. What will replace that funding?
Mr Eustice, with whom I have a workmanlike relationship, made it very clear when he said on 26 May last year that leaving the European Union would pay
“an £18bn a year Brexit dividend”,
which would allow the UK
“to spend £2bn on farming and the environment.”
That was before the referendum. What he said was:
“The truth of the matter is if we left the EU there would be an £18bn a year ... dividend, so could we find the money to spend £2bn a year on farming and the environment? Of course”
“Would we? Without a shadow of a doubt.”
We should hold him to that pledge and promise.
When, representing the Scottish Government, I meet him next Thursday, I hope that I will be able to say that I have enjoyed cross-party support from colleagues in the Labour Party, the Green Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It is never too late for the Scottish Conservatives to come on board.