SCOTGOV has confirmed its intention to bring forward a separate Scottish Agriculture Bill, rather than accept the inclusion of a Scottish schedule in the UK Agricultural Bill currently under construction in Westminster.

Cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing announced the move during Thursday's debate on rural policy in the Scottish Parliament, where he stated that adding Scotland to Defra's legislation would be ‘inappropriate, as substantive issues over powers remain unresolved’.

The Scottish Government have not yet given a timeline for when its stand alone bill will be brought forward, saying only that the timetable would be determined once Holyrood's legislative programme was confirmed.

Mr Ewing stated: “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. This parliament is best placed to legislate for Scotland’s rural needs and interests. The purpose of the bill is to provide the fundamental framework for continuance of payments to be made but also to allow changes in future policy post-Brexit, should that occur.

“Our legislative process is more transparent and more thoughtful; it ensures stakeholders and communities are fully engaged," added Mr Ewing. "This parliament can and does hold government to account."

In an emotional appeal to the chamber, Mr Ewing stressed his commitment to fight for the best outcome for Scottish farming: “In Scotland we are proud of what our farmers and crofters achieve. They produce great food and provide environmental stewardship that creates the landscape we all enjoy and so many people come here to visit. They are the heart of our rural communities.

“It is impossible to imagine rural Scotland without farming continuing for generations and centuries to come, as it has played an essential part in the history of Scotland, in generations and centuries past. It is my privilege to champion their interests and I will do everything within my power to continue to do so,” he concluded.

NFU Scotland’s director of policy, Jonnie Hall, welcomed the news: “The Scottish Government announcement that it intends not to take powers via a Schedule in the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill, but will utilise a Scottish Agricultural Bill ends uncertainty in this area and must act as a launchpad for Scottish Ministers to develop and deliver a new fully-funded Scottish agricultural policy beyond the CAP that fits the needs of Scotland’s unique agricultural profile.

“Our understanding is that a Scottish bill will provide an appropriate legislative vehicle for Scottish Government to make payments in the 2020 payment year and for Scotland to subsequently develop and implement a new, ‘non-CAP’ agricultural policy beyond a transition period."

However, the Scottish Conservatives accused the Scottish Government of failing to protect the interests of Scottish farmers, and alleged that a Scottish Agricultural Bill would primarily serve to further the 'nationalist agenda'.

Shadow secretary for the rural economy, Donal Cameron MSP, commented: “We continue to believe that the interests of Scottish farmers will be best served by Scotland being part of the UK Agricultural Bill, just as Wales and NI will be, to provide a framework for payments to be made. 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.

“Such a schedule will not restrain our ability to create a bespoke Scottish system via later Scottish legislation," said Mr Cameron. "In terms of wider aspects of the UK bill, whilst I think many of the principles ideas articulated by Michael Gove in relation to agriculture in England deserve consideration, such as on public money for public goods, we on these benches are committed to a definitive Scottish support system which addresses the unique nature of farming here in Scotland."