13 March 2013

S4M-05898 Common Agricultural Policy Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05898, in the name of Tavish Scott, on common agricultural policy reform.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Just for safety, I declare that I have a registered farm holding of three acres. I get no income from it; my neighbour keeps some sheep on it.

Perhaps, like others, Alex Fergusson should read more and more often: the 28th member of the European Union will, of course, be Croatia very shortly. The Croatians have been attending various council meetings for something like a year.

The debate is important and I congratulate the Liberals on securing time for it. If anything, it illustrates that the time allocated is not sufficient to cover all the issues in sufficient detail. However, it is better than not talking about the matter at all: it is better to discuss the subject without deciding than to decide the subject without discussing.

Our focus is on appropriate support for farmers and for the communities of which they are part. A rather unhelpful part of the debate in Europe, to which the UK in particular but not alone has contributed, has concerned the cost of supporting farming communities throughout the EU. The reality is that—I know that members across the chamber will agree—significant benefits derive from supporting our farmers and the communities in which they are embedded.

The Scottish Government has undertaken significant consultation and has a programme of significant engagement. The key point is that we are very different. That is simply a matter of geography, not a matter of politics. Therefore, we need different solutions—we need a different approach.

One thing that emerged from the consultation is broad support for the principle of greening. Of course, the principle of greening is one thing. After all, farmers, by their nature, are engaged in green issues, understand them and depend on the quality of the environment in which they operate. When I was Minister for Environment and Climate Change, it was a delight to visit a climate change demonstrator farm to see some of the real hands-on action that is taking place. However, there is a danger that inappropriate use of greening can damage the interests of some of our farmers, so the matter needs to be treated with great caution.

Almost every speaker has said that Scotland is different. I hope that what I have said reinforces that point. Clare Baker said that 85 per cent or thereabouts of our land is classified as less-favoured area. That is quite different from elsewhere in these islands. It is precisely because we are different—rem acu tetigisti, or touching the point—that we need our cabinet secretary not simply to be part of the UK delegation but to be able to participate directly in the debates in the environment council and elsewhere. We get to influence, but we do not get to contribute to the decisions.

The difficult issue of capping payments seemed to have some support in the consultation. As there is a mix of very large and very small farming businesses in the north-east, I will watch that subject with great interest indeed.

There is absolute certainty on the current EU rules. If we were independent, we would have more under the existing rules than we do at the moment.

I will track this reform with considerable interest.


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