27 September 2012

S4M-04263 Common Agricultural Policy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-04263, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the common agricultural policy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
I start by drawing members’ attention to my ownership of a registered agricultural holding. It is of a mere 3 acres and it is used intermittently by a farming neighbour for his sheep. I derive no income or grant as a result of my owning it.

David Stewart: Shame.

Stewart Stevenson: It is a shame, but there we are.

I thank members for their kind words. I noted Jim Hume’s and David Stewart’s remarks, and I particularly value Graeme Pearson’s description of me as having “style and commitment”, although it runs second to what Bill Aitken said of me in October 2006. Some humour is so good that it is written down and preserved. Bill was getting frustrated with me and he said that Stewart Stevenson is a very special person as he can trace his ancestry all the way back to his mother. [Laughter.] If there are any more of these humorous insults, they too will get into my memoirs.

A number of members throughout the chamber mentioned the broader impact of CAP reform and indeed of agriculture. CAP reform is not simply a narrow sectional interest. It is of substantial interest to many of my farming constituents and to farmers across Scotland, but there is also a substantial economic multiplier associated with farming. There is a supply chain for equipment, labour, advice services, fertiliser, abattoirs, markets, veterinary services and so much more. The whole of Scotland depends on the environment of which our farmers are the custodians.

The visible countryside is little to do with nature and almost entirely to do with active, intelligent land management, and the common agricultural policy of the European Union underpins land managers’ ability to do their job. However, it is often seen as running counter to good land management, which has been informed in local, specific circumstances by long experience.

Jim Hume’s amendment captures something important. He might not have realised that it could be interpreted in the way in which I am about to interpret it. It

“urges Scottish ministers to engage fully in negotiations to secure a sufficient transition period and a good deal for Scotland under a new CAP”.

All Scottish ministers who operate in Europe have substantial engagement. Indeed, I have done a wee sum during the debate and worked out that, from May last year until the end of my period as a minister, I spoke to ministers in 17 of the 27 European Union member states. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment would exceed that if he did a similar sum, and that is true across the board.

Just to correct Claire Baker, there are 28 countries involved in the CAP negotiations and not 27—although only 27 will vote—because Croatia, which will join the European Union in the next year, is already sitting at the table. Would that the 29th place was occupied by Scotland. That would increase the number of votes and influence that the British isles as a whole have over the process, and it would lead to better outcomes for everyone.

In his amendment, Jim Hume captures perfectly that Scotland should be at the top table and should be fully engaged in the negotiations. Of course, after the first election of a sovereign Scottish Government in 2016, we will be fully engaged in the corridors of power and able to vote as part of the decision making.

The SCVO has made an interesting comment that supports that point. It said that farming is about

“social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development.”

The debate is wide ranging.

Of course, the CAP has been with us for some 50 years. In 1962, we had the Cuban missile crisis and we thought that we were on the brink of nuclear war. That is when the CAP started. At that time, the then European Economic Community had only six countries. The body is now a different animal in a different economic, social and climatic environment.

Climate change has not been adequately woven into the negotiations so far. The European Union has an opportunity to step up even to the modest objective that it has set itself of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. That is not good enough, and we want the EU to go to 30 per cent. Farming and revision of the CAP could provide a key way in which to make significant differences. For example, we could focus more on forestry. We have said little about it in the debate, but it provides a huge way of sequestering carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. We could also do more about peatlands, which are one of the biggest sinks for carbon dioxide across Europe.

Dave Stewart mentioned the Brahan seer, who was condemned to death on Chanonry Point. The Brahan seer made a prediction on the subject:

“The large farmers will be like sportful birds ... There’s a blessing in handsome honesty”.

Perhaps we should look at the medium and small farmers and not quite so much at the large farmers.

I very much welcome the debate and I look forward to supporting the Government at 5 o’clock.


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