Separate Scottish legislation to allow payments to farmers and crofters to continue after Brexit will be introduced at Holyrood in “more than sufficient time”, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has pledged.
He was unable to tell MSPs when the Scottish Government would bring forward its own agriculture Bill, but he stressed there would be sufficient time for the Parliament to scrutinise the proposals.
He also insisted Holyrood, and not Westminster, is the “best place to legislate for rural Scotland’s needs and interests”.
That was despite the Tories claiming Scottish farmers’ interests would be “best-served” by the framework being established as part of the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill.
Conservative Donald Cameron told the Scottish Parliament this was the “clear preference” of the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS).
He said: “It is a matter of great regret that the SNP appear to be more concerned with putting nationalism ahead of the interests of Scotland’s farmers by refusing to engage and take up the offer of a Scottish schedule in the Bill.
“We continue to believe that the interests of Scottish farmers would be best-served by Scotland being part of this (UK) Bill, just as Wales and Northern Ireland will be, to provide a framework for support payments to be made.
“The clear preference of the NFUS is to have a Scottish schedule in the UK Bill, as they say in ‘order to offer certainty and stability sooner rather than later’.”
But Mr Ewing claimed this would be “inappropriate” amid a dispute on “fundamental issues” between Edinburgh and London.
He said the Scottish Government is having to fight “a rear-guard action to keep Scotland’s powers over farming and food production”, accusing Westminster of arguing these should be reserved.
“It is this Parliament’s job and role to develop, consider and pass the legislation that rural Scotland needs to underpin policy in the future,” Mr Ewing insisted.
“This Parliament is best placed to legislate for rural Scotland’s needs and interests, not least because our legislative process is more transparent and thoughtful.”
Labour’s Rhoda Grant said her party’s preference “would also be for a Scottish agricultural Bill to protect the devolved settlement”.