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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 28, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 28 November 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, St Andrew’s Day, Portfolio Question Time, Women in Agriculture Task Force (Final Report), Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


Women in Agriculture Task Force (Final Report)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

I remind members that business is follow-on—it is not like a train timetable. You have to be ready for business being shortened or elongated, and you should always pay attention to what is happening. That is advice for all members.

The next item of business is a statement by Fergus Ewing on the final report of the women in agriculture task force.

14:19  

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing)

I am delighted to lay before Parliament the final report of the women in agriculture task force, which was established by the First Minister in June 2017. I will set out some of its key findings, but before I do that, a few observations and thanks are in order.

It has been my absolute privilege to co-chair the women in agriculture task force, although I cannot claim to have been its driving force. That role has been undertaken with characteristic enthusiasm and skill by Joyce Campbell. I thank her and all the members of the task force for giving so generously of their time, skills, knowledge and experience.

It would be fair to say that some members of the task force have been on their own journeys of discovery. They arrived with ideas and views that have been challenged and changed along the way. That is, for me, a sure sign that the task force has achieved its objectives. The debate has been robust at times, and the work has been rigorous in testing ideas and assessing their merits and practical application. I thank Government officials who have applied themselves fully to supporting the task force and its work, and I thank all the businesses, organisations and individuals who were involved, including the women in agriculture group, for their work and input.

There is no doubt that women are absolutely key to Scottish agriculture, undertaking, as they do, a range of roles as owners, tenants and workers on farms and crofts. They are increasingly involved in the supply chain that provides goods and services that surround agriculture and food production, and they are employed in key stakeholder organisations. However, there is still a breakthrough to be made in terms of women occupying visible leadership roles in equal numbers to men across the industry.

As the research report, “Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector”, which was published in June 2017 states, a range of barriers are at work—not the least of which are the fundamental and deep-rooted conscious bias and unconscious bias in how organisations operate, are structured and act. That is why the Government is funding pilot activity with a range of organisations to effect change to that.

The task force also debated and considered quotas for women in positions of leadership in the industry. We concluded that the starting point for change should be to create a suite of practical measures that the industry can engage with voluntarily. That does not mean that the Government will not act in the future if change continues to be slow, but that the status quo is no longer acceptable. The need for everyone to embrace and facilitate change is a core conclusion that runs throughout the task force’s report.

There is certainly more for the Government to do, which is why we will take the lead in piloting the equality charter for Scottish agriculture. That will set out key ways that businesses and organisations of any size can work towards greater equality, and support positive change that benefits their business. We will test it and review it by 2022, and we expect every organisation that participates in Government-led groups to evidence compliance with the charter by the end of that year.

As well as creating the right environment to enable women to participate equitably, we need to ensure that more women in agriculture get the support that they need to build their capacity and skills in order to succeed. The Government has already agreed to create a women in agriculture development programme that is accessible and delivers training and mentoring to support women to build their confidence, enhance their business skills and develop their leadership abilities. We have also committed funding for the pilots of three specific independent courses, in the programme.

I advise Parliament that we have appointed Sheila Campbell-Lloyd of Inner Works Coaching to deliver the “Be your best self” training pilot. It will be open to all women in agriculture to help them to build more confidence, explore new possibilities and opportunities, and make new connections. I hope very much that the development programme will provide one of the quick wins that will make a real difference for women in agriculture.

There is no doubt that some of the other recommendations will take longer to effect. In the coming months, the Government will engage with key bodies including the Law Society of Scotland, Scotland’s Rural College, the Agriculture Industries Confederation and the Health and Safety Executive to develop shared approaches to implementing the recommendations on succession and on health and safety. As part of our work on future policy on farming and food production, we will explore and consider how to deliver the recommendations on new entrants. It is clear that the Scottish land-matching service can play a role in that.

There is no doubt that cultural change on such a scale requires time; the report recognises that. However, we are already starting to see an impact from the range of activity that is being driven by women in agriculture, which is encouraging many organisations and businesses to change. Let me be absolutely clear: change must come. Doing nothing is not an option.

Scottish agriculture is the beating heart of rural Scotland. It is the food engine for both Scotland and the global export market. However, it is also the last male stronghold in the country. Make no mistake—Scottish agriculture is full of women and girls who are skilled and able, but not all of them have the opportunities that they deserve and are capable of taking up. Inequality is entrenched and embedded. That simply cannot be allowed to continue.

This Government wants a fairer rural Scotland, not just because that is the right thing, but in order to allow the rural economy and communities to thrive. Scotland needs an agricultural industry that is sustainable, profitable and able to make the most of its resources to be competitive. It also needs to be resilient and inclusive. It is neither acceptable nor business-savvy for agencies, organisations and businesses that operate in Scottish agriculture today to be effectively male only. If we can help them to be better and more equitable, we should do so. Those agencies, organisations and businesses also need to hear clearly that men-only boards and governance structures must be consigned to the past.

Scottish agriculture simply cannot afford to leave women behind, but changing a centuries-old culture will involve significant work. Crucially, it will require that everyone who has a stake and an interest in the future of agriculture in Scotland work together.

Together, we can do it, but alone, we will fail. I hope that Parliament will lend its support to that work, and that it will play its part in making change and equality happen for women in agriculture.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement. The report is a very welcome and important piece of work. I thank the members of the task force for their efforts in getting this far.

I was pleased to be at the launch of the strategy document last night at Ingliston—in particular to listen to co-chair Joyce Campbell’s excellent speech—and to be able to speak to many of the women who did the hard work of making that task force a success. Many of them have already made their mark in the industry: we need more of them.

There is a great and pressing need to change the culture in farming circles and to recognise better, and harness, the huge benefits that women can bring to our industry. However, we all know that changing cultures takes a long time.

I am pleased that the task force has rejected the idea of quotas for women in leadership positions in our industry. I think that assisting women with their training needs is a better way forward, and I believe that the suite of training that is proposed under the women in agriculture development programme is an excellent initiative.

It is proposed that much of the work will be funded by the Scottish Government in partnership with the applicants and the industry. Will the cabinet secretary give us some indication of the levels of funding that the Government is considering for delivery of that important programme?

Fergus Ewing

I thank Mr Chapman for his welcome for the women in agriculture task force report. As he said, he was at the launch yesterday evening and heard co-chair Joyce Campbell make an excellent speech. It was terrific that we and other MSPs were able to thank personally the many members of the task force who were there.

I am also pleased that Mr Chapman recognises that the training element of the recommendations is important. In summary, the training will look to enhance and develop people’s skills as individuals, to assist with their leadership roles and to help to develop necessary business skills that can directly play a part in enhancing their contributions to farms as businesses. The training will be useful in all those respects.

The commitment that we made in the programme for government is £200,000 for 2019-20 and £300,000 per annum for 2020 to 2024. In Government terms, the funding is relatively modest, but I think that we will get a substantial result from it. We will closely monitor how the programmes work and the response, and we will get feedback from the people who participate in the courses in order that we can ensure that the courses are delivering the goods. I appreciate Mr Chapman’s general approach to the subject.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement, and I place on record my appreciation of all the members of the women in agriculture task force for their work and their very welcome and comprehensive report.

There are many practical recommendations in the report, but it ultimately points to the need for fundamental cultural change. We too often hear the excuse that women cannot be found to take leadership positions in the sector, although little is done to break down the barriers that they face or to tackle the conscious or unconscious bias that prevents the best person from taking those roles. That is not only blatant discrimination; it means that the industry foregoes an enormous talent pool and is poorer for it.

On the report’s specific recommendations, I note that it highlights that

“Supporting new entrants is an important way to bring more women and a greater gender balance”

into the sector. However, the cabinet secretary will be aware that three new entrants schemes have been closed since 2018. Are there any plans to reopen them?

The cabinet secretary will also be aware that there remains in the sector a pay gap of around 12.5 per cent. What is the Government doing to close that?

Fergus Ewing

I agree with Mr Smyth that cultural change is necessary. There are recommendations that are designed specifically to assist women to achieve their enormous potential, but culture change will require men to think differently. I think that that is recognised. As a bloke who made the statement, I am highly conscious of that.

To answer Mr Smyth’s question, we recently launched the matching and mentoring scheme at a farm in central Scotland. A farmer who wished to withdraw from being a full-time farmer was able to meet a young couple who are new entrants. We have the assistance of Ian Davidson, who will guide the mentoring aspect. That is not an easy thing to do, of course, but that is a very practical approach.

The report’s recommendations on new entrants are in paragraph 7. It recommends that we

“promote and encourage innovative routes to access land and capital, to overcome recognised barriers for women new entrants”

and that we

“address the skills gap facing some women new entrants to agriculture in the areas of business skills and confidence.”

It is plain that Mr Smyth’s questions really relate to the wider question of support for new entrants. The schemes that we had in Scotland were the only ones in the United Kingdom, and they had some success. However, moving on from that, we recognise that we have to tackle the problem of succession and encourage new entrants to come into the system with their skills. We will certainly do that in the years to come.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

After decision time yesterday, we debated a motion on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. In the evening at Ingliston, we learned from a co-chair of the task force, Joyce Campbell, about the threats, intimidation and bullying that have been directed at her and other members of the task force from members of the agricultural community—both male and female. Is it not time that some people joined the 21st century and recognised that things have to change for the benefit of the future of agriculture in Scotland? What can the Government do to assist in that?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You are talking about wider things, but I think that the issue is connected.

Fergus Ewing

I believe that it is. Maureen Watt was present at the reception at Ingliston house last night, at which Joyce Campbell said that she had experienced such behaviour. It is completely unacceptable that women in agriculture face harassment, intimidation and bullying. One of the things that we are doing to tackle that is funding a training pilot for up to 10 businesses and organisations to address unconscious bias. The first training session has already taken place with Tayforth Machinery Ring. Other organisations that have already signed up are Dingwall & Highland Marts, United Auctions, Scottish Land & Estates, HBS Ring and W&A Geddes. I am pleased that, before the publication of the report today, there has already been interest and an agreement that training will be delivered.

It will take some time to effect societal change. It will not happen overnight, but the task force is determined that it will happen and we are taking positive, practical steps there anent.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I pay tribute to all women working in agriculture, including my mother, who has kept my father, a farmer, on the straight and narrow. I do not think he would be here today without her; nor would my brother, his successor. She makes sure that my father has the cattle passports and that he has enough money to buy the cows. We should pay tribute to all women in agriculture, which we are doing today.

As a former agronomist, and a working mother, I sympathise greatly with some of the task force report’s sentiments and recommendations. Page 17 highlights that the picture is “unclear” when it comes to rural childcare provision, with 54 per cent of respondents identifying a lack of childcare as limiting their potential in agriculture. Although I appreciate that this cuts across cabinet secretaries’ portfolios, as do recommendations in other parts of the report, does the cabinet secretary agree that delays to the roll-out of 1,140 hours of free childcare will have a pronounced effect on the ambitions of women hoping to secure a career in agriculture?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Once again, I think that there is a connection with encouraging women into agriculture.

Fergus Ewing

Rachael Hamilton is right that adequate childcare is a key facet, as is support for those who look after others such as elderly parents who may require care, or people with a disability. That is part of the overall picture, and that is why section 5 of the report includes the recommendation that we must

“increase the availability and access to formal and informal childcare in rural areas, to better enable women in the Scottish agricultural industry to engage in training, networking and to develop business opportunities”.

It also states:

“The Scottish Government and Local Authorities must consider how childcare services can be more closely tailored to suit demand in rural areas and costed accordingly.”

Agricultural households need childcare outwith standard working hours, in the evenings and early mornings, and that is a further challenge that is not necessarily present in an urban environment. Many farms are also remotely located and so accessing childcare is a practical issue. I do not underestimate the scale of such challenges, but the report recognises that we need to improve in this key area. I know that my colleagues who have direct responsibility for childcare are sighted on the contents of the report, and we will work together to ensure that they are implemented properly.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I attended the report’s launch last night. I, too, thank Joyce Campbell and all the members of the task force for their fabulous work. I also thank the cabinet secretary, of course.

As is outlined on page 20 of the report, one of the key opportunities and challenges for the future is to encourage more young women into the industry as new entrants. Will the cabinet secretary therefore outline how, apart from the mentoring scheme, the Government proposes to enable that to happen?

Fergus Ewing

I have already touched on that in my answer to Mr Smyth’s question. There is an urgent need to take such steps. The report recognises that the succession process itself is sometimes a challenge to enabling new entrants, partly because of the need to take legal advice. However, it is for each farmer to address the issue of succession at a reasonable early date and to plan ahead, which was very much a theme in the report.

It is also recommended that we address the skills gap that some women who are new entrants to agriculture face. That means enabling them to have practical access to training courses and programmes—both those set out in the report and the wider programmes that are available through Scotland’s Rural College, Lantra Scotland and other providers.

There is a whole series of ways in which we need to encourage new entrants—especially female entrants—into agriculture, and the Government fully intends to work on them all.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

How do we challenge a system in which the best person for the job always seems to be a man? Although the training opportunities that are being introduced for women are welcome, I am concerned that the timescale for reviewing the impact of the charter goes up to 2027, which is eight years away. If participation in formal Scottish Government agricultural stakeholder groups is the lever for delivering compliance with the equality charter, what percentage of the Scottish farming sector will be involved? What is the level of engagement with formal stakeholder groups?

Fergus Ewing

This autumn, the Scottish Government will start to pilot the equality charter for Scottish agriculture. The pilot will run until the end of 2021, which will enable the charter to be fully tested and will ensure that it works for all types and sizes of agricultural businesses and organisations. The charter will support businesses and organisations to become more supportive and inclusive, and we believe that that will benefit farms and farming enormously. Further increasing the role that women are playing will lead to greater efficiencies and greater business success.

Although we have set out 2027 as a long-stop date, we will not wait until then to ensure that the work is successful. I believe that it will be successful long before then. We will ensure that the charter is fully explained to all stakeholders, as Claire Baker said, and we will work with them to deliver it. I am immensely optimistic and positive about the equality charter for Scottish agriculture.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

The Government’s report “Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector”, which was published in 2017, said that the

“passing on”

of

“large farms intact to one son is the single biggest barrier to women’s entry into agriculture.”

Will the Government act on the long-standing recommendation to update the law of succession to give all children, including daughters, an equal right to inherit? Will it remove that top barrier to women’s participation in agriculture?

Fergus Ewing

The task force had lively discussions about that topic. It was recognised that family discussions about succession are often avoided simply because they might involve conflict. These can be inherently sensitive issues. The task force’s report says that, although it is

“perceived that drawing up a will is expensive ... this need not be the case.”

The practicality of preparing a will is often the most basic and sensible thing that can be done, so that the intentions in relation to succession are absolutely clear.

The task force took the view that we need to bring about cultural change. That underlies the fundamental issue that Mr Ruskell identified, as stated in the research from 2017. The culture must change. That is the primary area that we will seek to address in order to bring about change.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

On page 13, the report says that any industry training provider

“in receipt of public funding should be required ... to make their training accessible and inclusive”

in order to tackle unconscious bias. That is absolutely right. However, in the very next paragraph, the report says that a

“Scottish Government programme should be put in place to financially incentivise the provision of women-only ... courses”.

Will the compartmentalisation of women be the best way of changing the undoubtedly male-oriented culture in the industry?

Fergus Ewing

The task force’s view was that, in some instances, women-only courses would be the most efficacious, which is why the report contains that recommendation. I respectfully disagree that that, in itself, will prevent the achievement of bringing about cultural change. Cultural change is necessary in relation to males, by and large, in order to address prejudice, chauvinism and views that belong in previous centuries. Having women-only courses would not be inimical to, and would not prevent or hinder, the achievement of the overall aim, but I understand the point that Mr Rumbles makes.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I apologise for asking a question about succession that is similar to Mark Ruskell’s. One of the key recommendations of the “Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector” research, which the First Minister launched in June 2017, addressed issues of succession, yet the task force has not taken that much further forward. Can the cabinet secretary further explain the thinking behind that?

Fergus Ewing

The task force took the view that the existing culture among some people—for example, the view that men should be the heirs to a business—is the real cultural issue that needs to change, together with the current lack of succession planning by families on crofts, smallholdings and farms. The recommendations therefore focus on asking the industry to engage in awareness raising and providing the right advice and support to farmers, crofters and smallholders. Lawyers have a role to play, and one of the actions for Government will be to engage with the Law Society of Scotland, and others, to explore how best to go about raising awareness and providing appropriate advice and information.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I, too, welcome the report. I declare an interest: I am a partner in a farming business, which my wife is running ably in my absence.

I welcome the acknowledgement that there is a need for a growing, vibrant, forward-thinking, representative and inclusive agricultural industry in Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree that one of the biggest barriers to that is lack of profitability, which is one of the many things that we also need to address?

Fergus Ewing

I am sure that Mr Mountain’s business is now in good hands. [Laughter.] I think that he walked into that one. Seriously, Mr Mountain makes a fair point: of course we want businesses—whether they be farms, crofts or anything else—to be successful, and that means making a profit. We are absolutely focused on that; hardly a day goes by without my engaging with farmers about how to take up and put into practice some of the marvellous innovations that are coming forward, particularly from the younger cohort of farmers. We provide Government support for that where it is required—although it is not always required.

In the long term, I very much want to see farmers getting a fair share of the market benefits of beef and other red meat, for example. That is a very live issue at the moment; I am acutely conscious that it is one of the issues that we need to tackle.

The report should not be viewed as a challenge or a nuisance. For farms where there is a female involved—whether it be a wife, partner, sister or mother—this is an opportunity for them to make an even greater contribution and it will help them to achieve more, thereby increasing the profitability of the business in the by-going.

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

How do the task force’s recommendations on childcare relate to the Scottish Government’s groundbreaking commitment to provide 1,140 hours of childcare? Will it consider how those issues impact on its policies when it comes to encouraging new entrants?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Allan is, of course, correct—that is the aspiration. It is there for the practical purpose of enabling women to achieve their potential across all areas of life and business in Scottish society. It is a particularly acute challenge in agriculture, for the reasons that I sought to provide in response to Rachael Hamilton’s question.

I am very pleased about the welcome that the excellent work that Joyce Campbell and her team have done has received, and we will certainly be keen to take forward the recommendations on childcare as swiftly as we can.