10 January 2019

S5M-15279 Future Rural Policy and Support

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15279, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on future rural policy and support in Scotland.

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

First of all, I declare my joint ownership of a very small registered agricultural holding, from which my wife and I derive no income whatever.

Like, I suspect, the whole chamber, I want to agree with Donald Cameron’s comment that we should demand that our farmers be properly supported. Of course, this debate is about the question, “What is proper support?”

I always like to look at what the motions and amendments before us are doing. The first and most obvious thing to note is that the first seven words that the Conservative amendment would delete from the Government motion are:

“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.

That tells us straight away that the Conservatives are opposed to farming having the amount of funding that it currently gets from the EU. It therefore ill behoves Peter Chapman or anyone else on the Conservative benches to talk about funding, lack of vision or kicking cans down the road, given that the stark reality is that the Conservatives are opposed to farmers having all the funding that they currently have under the scheme. They will have to account to farmers for that.

Peter Chapman: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I have not quite finished dealing with the amendment.

The amendment ends:

“and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that it has sufficient legislative powers”.

If it has “sufficient legislative powers”, the Government will legislate, but the Tories are clearly suggesting that we do not have “sufficient legislative powers” and therefore cannot legislate.

I know that the motion that is before us is in the name of an advocate. I have had many informed and interesting discussions with him, and I suspect that he just didnae read what somebody put in front of him, because it makes no sense to imply that we do not have sufficient legislative powers unless the Conservatives are suggesting that, as we have suggested, powers are being taken away.

Donald Cameron: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will take the intervention from Donald Cameron, but I will come back to Peter Chapman.

Donald Cameron: The point that is being made in the last sentence of the amendment is that, if we are not part of the UK Agriculture Bill, we will not have the belt-and-braces approach that the NFUS has said will provide clarity now. That is the lack of legislative power that we are talking about. Why does the SNP Government not agree with the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Administration and believe that it, too, should be in the bill?

Stewart Stevenson: I understand the point that is being made in the debate, but I have to go back to the words that are on the page, which are fundamentally different. I will now take Mr Chapman.

Peter Chapman: I want to respond Mr Stevenson’s claim that we do not want agriculture to be fully funded in Scotland. Of course we want agriculture to be fully funded, and we support the convergence money coming fully back to Scotland. That has always been our position. It has never changed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): Mr Stevenson, we are very short of time and we have no spare time at all. Please stick to your six minutes.

Stewart Stevenson
: I was conscious of that when I accepted the interventions, Presiding Officer, but I wanted to be fair to the Conservatives, because probably nobody else will be.

The bottom line is that the Conservative amendment would delete the words:

“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.

Let us move on from that, because enough has been said about that subject.

I think that we all accept that farming is an important part of our economy, especially our rural economy. At Christmas, I was delighted to see that everything on the table had come from locations that were no more than 50 miles from my home. I hope that that was the case for others, but that will not be the case if we do not get the kind of environment that is important.

I will pick up on one or two points that I suspect that others will not pick up on.

The report of the National Council of Rural Advisers contains some wider recommendations beyond support from Government. Action point 4B in that report says:

“Ensure equitable access to finance for rural communities and businesses, including a simplified grant system.”

That is great. However, when I picked up the Scottish Rural Action report that I got from the stand yesterday, I saw that it focuses on the closures of branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is a bank that is publicly owned by the Government down south. If we take banks out of communities, it will be a heck of a lot more difficult to follow that recommendation. The issue is not just about funding farmers; it is about the total infrastructure that we have.

Action point 8B of the report of the National Council of Rural Advisers talks about micro-enterprises and ways of encouraging women and young people into the sector. I support that very much.

The bottom line that the Conservatives at Westminster in particular have to think about is this: what is the effect of creating barriers between Scotland—and the UK, for that matter—and one of our biggest markets, which is the EU? The NFUS and other farmers unions have called for frictionless trade. If we are not in the single market, we do not have frictionless trade, and, as the ministerial statement that we heard before this debate highlighted, if we do not have free movement of people, there will be problems for more than just the strawberry farms in Fife—as well as the raspberry farms in Fife, one of which I worked on donkey’s years ago. That issue goes to the heart of the problem that confronts us. Yes, the issue is about support to farmers, but it is also about the total system, and things are not looking terribly good.


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