Agriculture Bill ‘kicked down the road’ over independence debate

Tories say opting to debate independence over the Agriculture Bill is a 'kick in the teeth' to rural communities.

Agriculture Bill ‘kicked down the road’ as Holyrood to instead hold independence debate, say Tories Scottish Government

Scottish ministers have been accused of delivering a “kick in the teeth” to rural communities by opting to debate independence over upcoming agriculture legislation.

The Scottish Conservatives said farmers will want to know the contents of the Agriculture Bill after the consultation closed in December.

Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon previously said the Bill will be introduced to Parliament “this year”, but did not clarify when.

It is expected to include aims to achieve a 31% reduction in agriculture emissions by 2032 and could include financial support for rural development and modernising tenant farming.

But on Tuesday, the Scottish Government will use its parliamentary time to lead a Holyrood debate on plans for a written constitution in the event of Scottish independence.

Rachael Hamilton, rural affairs spokeswoman for the Tories, said ministers are using the final week of the parliamentary term on “misguided priorities”.

She said: “Nothing better illustrates Humza Yousaf’s misguided priorities than wasting a chunk of the final week of the parliamentary term on an independence debate.

“It’s yet another kick in the teeth to rural Scotland that this divisive and self-indulgent debate should take precedence, yet farmers remain in the dark as the Agriculture Bill is kicked down the road again.

“The consultation on this Bill opened last August and closed in early December, yet shamefully farmers still don’t know the contents of legislation that will hugely affect their livelihoods.”

She added: “Three months into the job, Humza Yousaf has realised that the only way he can quell the infighting in his scandal-ridden, warring party is to double down on the one issue they all agree on: trying to break up the UK.

“As a result, the real priorities of the Scottish people – the global cost of living crisis, NHS waiting times, and our rural way of live – are cast aside while he devotes all his energies to the SNP’s obsession.”

Rural Affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “The UK Government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit has severely impacted on our rural businesses and communities. EU exit has exposed the UK as a failing economic model – it is one strong reasons why I believe – this government believes – Scotland should have the right to choose a different future, one within the EU.

“In the meantime we are working hard to seek a different approach for post 2025, with a multi-year funding settlement that respects the devolution settlement and fully replaces EU funds. Even with no clarity whatsoever about future funding from Westminster, we need to get on and design and deliver a replacement rural support scheme for Scotland.

“Last week at the Royal Highland Show I announced new conditions for farming support payments that will be introduced from 2025, to help more of Scotland’s farmers and crofters cut emissions and help tackle climate change. Unlike in England, there will be no cliff edges in support in order to provide stability for the sector. I am committed to maintaining direct payments and supporting our nation’s producers through a just transition.

“The Agriculture Bill is on track to be introduced to parliament this year, in line with our previous commitments. Last week we published the responses to our consultation on the new Bill, and there was broad support for all our proposals. These responses are immensely valuable and provide tremendous insight into how best to realise our Vision for Agriculture in a way that works for our rural communities.”

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