26 September 2018

Statement: Common Agricultural Policy

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I declare that I have a small registered agricultural holding.

I sat next to Michael Gove at the Turriff show, and he promised me that the Scottish Government would be consulted on the UK Agriculture Bill and that the convergence review would go ahead.

Does the cabinet secretary have any information on who in the Conservative UK Government is blocking the very honourable promises that Mr Gove made to me and to the rest of us?

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing): I am reminded of an old saying: just because we are sitting side by side does not mean that he is on our side.

I have sat opposite Mr Gove at numerous meetings and called on him to implement his publicly made pledge—a pledge that was welcomed by the Conservatives; indeed, they claimed credit for it. However, he has not delivered yet. There is substantial support from stakeholders, including the NFUS, tenant farmers and the Scottish Crofting Federation, for the review; I believe that they continue to support it.

The review must look back at what happened about our claim for £160 million, which our farmers and crofters should have received—they have been denied £14,000 per head. It is essential to allocate Scotland’s future share of funding, if Brexit goes ahead.

Next year, when we compare the amounts paid per hectare to farmers all over the European Union—we will include Scotland and the UK in that for the time being—we will see that the amount paid to Scottish farmers will be the lowest, not just in the UK, but in every single one of those 29 countries. Therefore, the review is essential. It is time that the Tories in London started to implement their promises, not break them.

13 September 2018

(S5F-02580) Roadside Mobile Connectivity

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding reports that an estimated 1,000 miles of roads in Scotland have no mobile phone signal. (S5F-02580)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): Mobile telecommunications are a reserved matter and it is therefore the responsibility of the UK Government to improve coverage. It is worth pointing out that the UK Government’s failed mobile infrastructure project promised 84 masts to cover not-spots but managed to deliver a grand total of three. However, at his recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michael Matheson raised the issue of roadside mobile connectivity. We have particularly pressed for progress to be made on the Home Office’s emergency services mobile communications programme, which has been beset by delays. We await confirmation of the proposed approach to delivery.

Because we cannot wait for Westminster to deliver decent mobile connectivity in rural Scotland, we have created our own mobile infrastructure plan, committing £25 million to improving 4G coverage. We recently awarded a contract for the programme and the supplier is working towards delivery of the initial 16 sites in remote parts of Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the £25 million that the Scottish Government has put into improving mobile telephony in Scotland. However, as we know, the UK Government has little understanding of and less interest in Scotland, so is it now time for responsibility for mobile telephony and the associated funding to be completely devolved?

The First Minister: Yes, absolutely. A pattern that sometimes emerges when matters are reserved—we have just been talking about welfare—is that, when the UK Government does not get its act together and fails to deliver, the Scottish Government has to step in and do Westminster’s job for it. That has been true with aspects of welfare and it is now true for mobile connectivity. It is about time that we cut out the middle man in all this and devolved these powers to Scotland so that we can get on with it ourselves.

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