by a Newsnet reporter
Opening the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment committee’s debate on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy today (Wednesday), SNP MSP and committee convener Rob Gibson emphasised the need for Scotland to have direct input in CAP reform negotiations.
In his speech Mr Gibson will criticise UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman for her attempts to drastically cut direct payments for farmers, and called into question her ability to represent the needs and wishes of the Scottish farming sector.
Mr Gibson also raised concerns over the distribution of money saved through ‘capping’ direct payments to farmers, which he said should be re-invested into growing the Scottish food and drink industry.
Scotland currently receives the lowest CAP funding in Europe, despite Scottish food exports breaking the £1bn mark last year. The Scottish Government is on course to grow the industry from £10 billion to £12.5 billion by 2017.
Last year, a report by the Scottish Parliament concluded that it is ‘totally unacceptable’ that Scotland’s average share of rural development funding is lower than any other EU member state, despite the ‘huge challenges’ of farming ‘rugged and often remote terrain’.
The CAP is the biggest single element in the funds made available by the EU. The UK government receives 9% of the funds annually. 45% of the EU’s budget is spent upon agriculture, totalling some €50 billion annually (approximately £42 billion), of which the UK receives around €4.5 billion.
In 2011 the three devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wrote to Caroline Spelman, Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, requesting that the UK’s negotiating position on the future of the CAP must be determined through detailed discussion and agreement with the devolved administrations. In all three, rural affairs and food production are devolved matters. Despite this, Scotland remains without a direct voice or direct influence at EU level.
Mr Gibson said:
“It is clear from my committee’s considerations that there are many areas where the specific needs of Scottish agriculture have not been taken into account by DEFRA. Any future reforms to CAP must be flexible to deliver the best deal for Scotland’s diverse agriculture sector, however at present I have little confidence in the UK Government’ ability to secure such reforms.
“Scotland needs a seat at the table in Europe. Food and drink production is one of the great success stories of this SNP Government, and at the last election Scottish farmers overwhelmingly put their trust in Richard Lochhead. Scotland has had control over rural affairs and the environment since 1999 – it has never been more necessary for Scotland to have a direct say on these matters in Europe.
“As CAP reform talks are on-going, it is not too late for the UK Government to let Scottish Ministers in to represent our farmers and their specific needs. I am afraid that, as long as our very real concerns are filtered through a UK Secretary of State hell-bent on a Tory agenda rather than directly represented by people acting in Scotland’s interests Scotland will remain the poor UK relation in CAP discussions.”