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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-03324: Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland)

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Date lodged: 29 September 2016

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that large landowners do not exploit the current system of CAP payments to accrue excessive farming subsidies, and how it proposes to address this issue after 2020, when the current system ends.

Answered by: Fergus Ewing 27 October 2016

The Scottish Government has ensured that farmers who are actively farming receive the support they need to produce food and provide other public benefits. At the same time, we have taken a number of steps under the recent CAP reforms to address the issue of landowners exploiting the system to accrue excessive farming subsidies. It is worth recalling that the minimum activity clause in the current CAP regulations came about because of Scottish Government action, hence why it is called the “Scottish clause”.

For example, the minimum activity clause requires farmers to demonstrate activity on poor quality land where they either have to keep some livestock or carry out an environmental audit. In addition, with the introduction of payment regions linked to land quality, payment entitlements can only be claimed in the region they were allocated so that farmers cannot claim high value entitlements on poor quality land. A windfall tax prevents farmers from trying to cash in by consolidating their high value entitlements on a smaller area of land and, in 2018, we will apply a cap on basic payments at 600,000.

There was more the Scottish Government would have liked to do, for example we intended to limit eligibility to payment entitlements to the area of land held in 2013 or 2015 whichever was the lowest. This was to address concerns about landowners terminating leases and taking land back in hand to maximise their own allocation of payment entitlements. However, this was disallowed by the European Commission who argued it was incompatible with our proposal to widen access to New Entrants - another key priority.

The Scottish Government pushed for and is using flexibilities in the Regulations to ensure our CAP package is targeted to reward genuinely active farmers and, through a suite of measures, helps address Scotland’s slipper farming issue.

This Government is working hard to protect all of Scotland’s interests which is why we continue to explore all options to maintain our relationship with the EU, membership of the single market and freedom of movement. The recently published Vision for Agriculture provides the core themes and aspirations we have for our farming sector.