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Meeting date: Thursday, April 28, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 April 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Global Intergenerational Week 2022, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Census 2022, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Affairs and Islands

The next item of business is portfolio question time, and the portfolio this afternoon is rural affairs and islands. As ever, if any member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or place an R in the chat function during the relevant question. I make the usual plea for succinct questions and answers whenever possible.

Animals Abroad Bill

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is regarding the impact on Scotland of recent reports that the United Kingdom Government’s Animals Abroad Bill is no longer likely to be introduced. (S6O-01006)

The Scottish Government is deeply concerned to hear of reports that the proposed Animals Abroad Bill might not be introduced.

In principle, Scottish ministers are supportive of proposals in the bill, which, if introduced, will address important animal welfare and conservation issues simultaneously across UK Administrations—subject, of course, to the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament in areas of devolved competence.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, on 11 April 2022 to express my concerns and to request information on the current intentions in respect of the bill. I am currently waiting on a response from him.

The bill was supposed to include bans on the trade in hunting trophies that threaten the conservation status of species abroad and on the domestic sale and advertising of experiences overseas that are cruel to animals, such as elephant rides.

Will the cabinet secretary join me in expressing revulsion at the practice of trophy hunting and other practices that perpetrate animal cruelty? Does she agree that the weekend pursuits of a handful of Tory peers should not decide the approach to the rights and welfare of animals?

I join the member in condemning some of the objectionable practices that the bill so importantly seeks to address. The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to the highest possible standards of animal welfare. In our programme for government, we promised to work alongside UK Administrations on legislation to control the import and sale of products that raise ethical concerns. The bill would have brought in the necessary requirements simultaneously across the UK to address those conservation and animal welfare concerns. The UK Government even tabled those proposals as demonstrating UK leadership at an international level. However, it has sadly failed to deliver those important safeguards and has not only let down the people of Scotland but failed to prioritise the welfare of animals in this country as well as abroad.

Livestock Registration Agency

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on establishing a Scottish agency to create a fully functional, all-species data system for the registration of all livestock births, deaths and movements within Scotland. (S6O-01007)

The final element of the Scottish multispecies database system for the recording of cattle births, deaths and movements went live on 4 October 2021. The system was built and is operated by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society under the name of ScotEID. I would like to acknowledge and thank the cattle sector as a whole for its support during the development of that service.

Since the go-live date, 10,000 keepers have signed up for the ScotMoves+ platform and have electronically registered more than 282,000 calves, recorded 914,000 cattle movements, and notified more than 477,000 deaths at abattoirs.

Those figures highlight an important achievement in the delivery of improved traceability for disease prevention and control, as well as opportunities for enhancing efficiency and provenance in the livestock sector.

Given the importance of traceability and provenance to food safety, what difference will the agency make and what advantages does it offer farmers and crofters?

In addition to the enhanced livestock traceability and protection of the food chain, the ScotEID system provides benefits to Scottish cattle keepers, such as the bovine viral diarrhoea eradication programme, the ScotMoves+ system for within business movement recording, and the Scotch potential eligibility cattle checker, which provides evidence that animals have been born, raised and slaughtered in Scotland.

The system will enable the introduction of the electronic identification of cattle, the creation of an online holding register and the removal of cattle passports. Electronic identification, combined with the ScotEID systems, will enable real-time data transfer and sharing through the production chain from farm to farm, as well as feedback from abattoir to farm. All those components are key to improving economic and environmental efficiency in the livestock sector, and they will support trade within and outwith the United Kingdom.

Food and Drink Supply Chain

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to support the food and drink supply chain in order to increase the percentage of Scottish products in the food and drink that it is responsible for supplying to local authorities, national health service boards and other public bodies. (S6O-01008)

Public procurement is an important tool that can be used to transform food production and supply, strengthen local economies and tackle climate change. We continue to support the Food for Life programme, which has been funded by the Scottish Government since 2012. It now operates across 18 local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, and ensures that more children in Scotland than ever before have access to fresh, local and sustainable food on their dinner plates.

Our local food strategy consultation had a focus on harnessing the buying power of public sector procurement to encourage better access for local food producers. Feedback from the consultation will be used to inform next steps in that area and will be published in late spring this year.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, through supporting and enhancing the public procurement process to ensure that the maximum level of food in our public services is locally produced in the UK and especially in Scotland, the Scottish Government has a major tool with which to tackle food insecurity and better health outcomes, especially in our younger population? Does she agree that, over and above that, doing so could make a major contribution to reducing food miles and, therefore, achieving better environmental outcomes?

I agree with what Brian Whittle has said, which is why the next steps following our consultation on the draft local food strategy will be critical. It is important to recognise what we have seen through the Food for Life programme, which has been really successful.

As Brian Whittle has said, there are many benefits to local procurement—not only health benefits but a strong economic incentive. Some of the independent research that has been conducted on the Food for Life programme has shown that, for every £1 that is spent on it, the social and economic return is more than £4. There are many added benefits from the programme, and it is powerful in tackling some of the severe issues that we see, which is why we are intent on rolling it out to, eventually, encompass all local authorities.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is unfortunate that Brian Whittle’s United Kingdom Government colleagues have negotiated disastrous trade deals that have completely undercut Scotland’s lamb, beef and pork markets and, potentially, made way for cheaper, lower-quality products to be imported? His concern for the food and drink supply chain might be more usefully directed towards those who are actively undermining it.

I absolutely share the concerns that Alasdair Allan has expressed, particularly on the trade deals that have been negotiated by the UK Government. We know that the deals will undercut Scotland’s high-quality red-meat sector—there is no doubt about that—with both the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand trade deals facilitating, in essence, the mass import of cheaper and, in many cases, lower-standard food into the UK market.

The Scottish Government has consistently called on the UK Government to ensure that imports of agrifood arising from free trade agreements are produced to equivalent standards to those in Scotland, but, unfortunately, those protections have not been built in. I have written to the UK Government on a number of occasions to express my significant concern with its approach to agriculture in trade deals and, right across Government, my colleagues have done the same.

Pig Farming Industry

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to support the pig farming industry in response to reported rises in the cost of feed, electricity, diesel, labour and haulage. (S6O-01009)

Rising farm input costs are significantly impacting all sectors of Scottish agriculture. We have set up the food security and supply task force jointly with industry to monitor, identify and respond to any potential disruption to food security and supply.

Responding to recent market disruption in the pig sector, we provided an initial £715,000 to producers through the pig producers hardship support scheme and extended that with a further £680,000-worth of support. We have also assisted the sector with a private storage aid scheme for pig meat from November 2021 to 31 March this year.

The cabinet secretary will recall that we recently met Jamie Wylie, the NFU Scotland lead on pigs. At that meeting, he raised issues that are reserved to the United Kingdom Government, such as the need for proper border controls to monitor pork imports and for a relaxation of the English language requirements for overseas butchers who are looking to come to work in our processing sector. What discussions has the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs held with the Scottish Government about those matters and their impact on Scotland?

First, I thank the member for contacting me about the issue and for extending the invitation to meet Jamie Wylie at his farm. It was during that visit that the severity of the issues that pig sector is facing really hit home. They include the significant rises in all input costs as well as the ever-changing date for implementing border controls on imports. Visa requirements were also raised as a significant issue.

On visa requirements for overseas butchers, we are clear that the current immigration system is not responsive enough to labour market requirements. I have personally raised that point with the UK Government on a number of occasions, and I know that the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, together with his Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, wrote to the UK immigration minister in February to call for immediate changes to the immigration system so that we can address the on-going labour shortages across the UK.

I also want to touch on border controls, which were also raised during our meeting. We engage regularly with the UK Government on those issues, and we expect to be doing more of that in the coming weeks in light of today’s announcement that there is to be a further delay to the implementation of import controls on European Union goods of at least another 18 months. Delays not only put our exporting businesses in Scotland at a competitive disadvantage but present a real biosecurity risk, which will be of significant concern to our pig industry as well as the wider food and drink sector.

Rural Jobs (Nature Restoration)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support the creation of new rural jobs, including in nature restoration. (S6O-01010)

Scotland’s national strategy for economic transformation contains bold and ambitious actions to deliver economic prosperity for all Scotland’s people and places. We are committed to delivering good, secure and well-paid green jobs. Through the future and climate emergency skills action plans, and our continuing work via the action plan for nature-based skills, we are investing to ensure that people of all ages in our rural communities have the right skills to meet our current and future needs.

According to modelling by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, nature restoration projects such as woodland creation, peatland restoration, and deer management could create almost 8,000 new jobs across Scotland, mostly in rural areas. On a local level, I welcome the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s new five-year draft plan to regenerate its native woodlands. How will the Cairngorms national park plan contribute to the creation of green jobs within the park?

I thank the member for the question and for her excitement about the green jobs that we will be creating in rural areas.

The Cairngorms national park partnership plan sets out a bold vision to restore nature in the park while tackling the climate emergency and building a wellbeing economy that works for all the people of the Cairngorms. That is driving investment and creating green jobs within the park. Initiatives contained in the plan include encouraging contractors to diversify into the programme of peatland restoration in the Cairngorms, which is expected to support seven new posts in the immediate future, and the heritage horizons programme, which is led by the park authority and which is expected to create 11 new jobs in woodland expansion and climate mitigation work.

Given the great potential for nature recovery in Galloway, and the support of all parties and more than 30 candidates in the forthcoming local elections, how will the minister ensure that the process for the designation of national parks adequately reflects the huge amount of work that has already been done so effectively to make the case for Galloway to be Scotland’s third national park?

I am very aware of how proud Galloway is of its natural heritage and how keen its people are to see Galloway become the next national park. Of course, many other parts of Scotland would also like to see a new national park or, as it says in the Bute house agreement, at least one new national park created.

Very shortly, we will bring forward the plans for the process to create that park and start the consultation on where it should be. I am very proud that the member has asked this question today.

How is the annual nature restoration fund delivering benefits for Scotland’s species, woodlands, rivers and seas, as well as improving the health and wellbeing of local communities?

At the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—we announced a new £55 million multiyear commitment to the nature restoration fund, as part of a wider Scottish Government commitment to the investment of an additional £500 million in our natural economy over the course of the parliamentary session. This year, we are investing £13.5 million in nature restoration.

The fund is now supporting land-scale, multiyear, multipartner projects that will deliver transformative change to drive forward nature recovery across Scotland, including in the Cairngorms national park, which I have visited to see some of the schemes, and to create the security that is needed to support new green jobs, which will reinvigorate local communities and reinforce Scotland’s green recovery. The fund is focused on outcomes that will address the main drivers of the decline in biodiversity: overexploitation of the natural environment; habitat loss and fragmentation; and invasive non-native species, especially their effect on rural biodiversity.

Food Security and Supply

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding food security and supply. (S6O-01011)

The Scottish Government has held and continues to hold numerous discussions with UK Government departments on a variety of topics relating to food resilience.

I wrote to George Eustice and the other devolved Administrations on 4 April to request an urgent four-nations summit on the impact of rising fuel prices, which we know are putting significant strain on the food and drink industry right across the supply chain. In a meeting with the secretary of state on 20 April, he agreed to the request to hold a summit, and we had a short initial meeting last night. At that meeting, I raised a number of issues that key food and drink sectors, including seafood and agriculture, face as a consequence of rising fuel prices.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and for joining me last week on a visit to Dundee Cold Stores, where we heard about the additional strain that rising energy costs are putting on such businesses. It is expected that those rising costs will result in higher food prices and make it more difficult for the company to compete with European food producers. Therefore, I am pleased to hear about the cabinet secretary’s positive engagement with the UK Government on that matter.

The president of NFU Scotland, Martin Kennedy, has stated that, without proper support,

“we will be looking at food security concerns that we haven’t seen since World War Two.”

He urged shoppers to “vote with their feet” and support local produce to avert future food shortages.

What assurances can the cabinet secretary provide that the Scottish Government will continue to work with farmers and the wider food supply industry to ensure that they are provided with the necessary support and that the UK Government does not shirk its responsibilities in that regard?

I assure the member that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we have security of food supply and to tackle and mitigate the effects of the significant challenges that are being experienced across the food and drink sector. I thank him for inviting me to visit Dundee Cold Stores last week. I was struck by the truly astonishing increases in energy prices that the company faces. That is happening across the piece and business are struggling—there are no two ways about it.

The powers that relate to energy markets remain reserved. The Scottish ministers have repeatedly called on the UK Government to urgently take further tangible action to support households, such as reducing VAT, considering targeted support for people on low incomes and holding four-nations discussions in an effort to develop an effective response to the increases in energy bills. The situation is frustrating when we see other countries taking action. For example, France has limited energy price rises to 4 per cent and, in Germany, rebates of €300 have been offered.

We continue to engage with the UK Government, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets and energy suppliers to look at ways of alleviating the impacts of the high energy bills that people across the country are faced with. I reiterate that we are using all the powers and resources that are available to us to support people in Scotland and protect them from the cost of living crisis.

The Scottish National Party Government can use the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament to act now to provide farmers with urgent help.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, Scott Walker of the NFUS agreed with my suggestion that a moratorium on large-scale forestry could be put in place to prevent the further removal of productive agricultural land. Can the cabinet secretary tell me and my party what the Government’s position is on implementing such a moratorium, rolling out track 1 of the test programme and temporarily suspending the ecological focus area component of the greening requirement?

This Government absolutely supports food production and we recognise how vital our food security is. That is why we established the task force. I will not pre-empt the work that will come out of that, because we will have to consider our recommendations. The task force has met three times, so far, and is due to meet again. Recommendations will come out as a result of that.

There is a need to accelerate, where possible, the actions that we can take to help build resilience within our agriculture sector. The member mentioned the roll-out of our track 1 programme, which will start imminently. We will roll out carbon audits and soil testing. All those measures are vital in helping to build resilience in our food system and we are not wasting any time in implementing them.

Net Zero (Role of Agriculture)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that the agriculture sector plays a leading role in delivering a net zero Scotland. (S6O-01012)

The vision for agriculture outlines our aim to transform how we support farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. This summer, we will consult to inform the introduction of an agriculture bill to deliver on the vision. We are taking early action: the £51 million national test programme will build on a range of support, including grants, advice and research, to support our farmers and crofters to learn how their work impacts on climate and nature.

The Scottish, United Kingdom and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive jointly announced plans to establish the UK emissions trading scheme—UKETS—from January 2021. The consultation on a UK emissions trading scheme is currently open. Does the Scottish Government agree that it is essential that our farming communities have effective carbon calculators, are recognised for their role in carbon sequestration and are able to participate in carbon trading markets?

As the member indicated, the consultation on that is currently open. I encourage all of those with an interest to take part in it. We will, of course, consider the responses carefully.

Question 8 has been withdrawn, so that concludes portfolio questions. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.