06 March 2019

S5M-16123 Supporting Scottish Agriculture

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16123, in the name of Donald Cameron, on supporting Scottish agriculture.

... ... ...

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

I will respond to a couple of issues that have come up in the debate. I share John Scott’s concern about the Tayside beavers. There are now 550 of them, descended from what we must remind ourselves were illegally released, or perhaps escaped, beavers. The Government is picking up the tab for someone else’s illegal activity and I wish that we did not need to do that.

I want to pursue Mark Ruskell’s point on climate change. To a certain extent, John Scott and I will make common cause on the issue. Mark Ruskell asked for a net zero farming sector. Moving the whole of our environment to net zero could damage the climate change agenda. It would be perfectly easy to move the human race to net zero emissions: remove all humans from the surface of the planet and it would be achieved overnight. Of course, that is not what we will do, but people who ask for net zero in farming are making a similar suggestion.

Mark Ruskell
: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Forgive me, but I do not have time. I am watching the clock.

The point is that we want to have net zero as measured across all our sectors, but not in every sector. We should spend the pounds that will get us to net zero where they will be most effective.

We must remember that farmers do not get enough credit for the efforts that they are making. For example, the work that is done in forestry is not attributed to the farming sector. There are now days when all of our electricity comes from wind farms. Where are the wind farms? By and large, they are on agricultural farms, but, in the numbers that we have, not a single part of the climate change benefit is attributed to farmers.

The bottom line is that we need to spend the money on climate change mitigation and reduction in the most cost-effective way. If putting the money into farming will lead to the greatest reduction in emissions for every pound spent, we should do that. However, if, as is more likely, greater reductions will come from putting the money into insulating houses and decarbonising our transport sector, that is where we should put it.

If, for doctrinaire reasons, we decide to put it into farming, where it may not give us the greatest bang for our buck, we would damage our ability to reach net zero overall. We need to be very cautious about those—forgive me, Mr Ruskell—simplistic views of a complex issue.

Mark Ruskell rose—

Stewart Stevenson
: I have one minute to go, so forgive me, Mr Ruskell—we will have a chat afterwards. [Laughter.]

I come back to the core issue of farming and support for it, which is at the heart of the motion that we are debating. I found Mr Cameron’s, and indeed Mr Mountain’s, remarks baffling, considering what the NFUS briefing to us says.

“It is the view of NFUS that ‘Stability and Simplicity’ ”

—the Government document—

“effectively captured the recommendations from various expert groups appointed by ... Government in recent years.”

It is saying that “Stability and Simplicity” has been a pretty good thing. It is not giving uncritical and absolute support, and I would never expect that from farmers. It also says:

“It is the view of NFUS that if the ‘Steps to Change’ approach were to be adopted,”

much of what

“is required by way of future support for Scottish agriculture could be delivered with greater efficiency—in terms of funding, process and outcomes.”

The farmers have got the message; they know where we need to go and I look forward to continuing to engage with farmers in my constituency and across Scotland on the many occasions that present themselves. Indeed, I hope that at this year’s Turriff show I will once again sit next to Mr Gove. I hope that he will be able to account for what the UK Government will have done in the period from 29 March—but I am not holding my breath.


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