19 January 2017

S5M-03463 Rural Development (Funding)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): 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.

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

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”

Mike Rumbles: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson
: 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. 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.

Peter Chapman: 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.

Stewart Stevenson
: 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.

Wales is doing well. The Welsh are on the same page as we are. 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.


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