Lochhead’s CAP challenge

Richard LOCHHEAD, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs, has been challenged to spell out Scottish Government thinking on the implementation of reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy.

MEP George Lyon issued the challenge at the annual meeting in Carlisle of the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, saying nothing had been done by the Scottish Government since the publication of Brian Pack’s inquiry more than two years ago.

“The Welsh Assembly has already launched a consultation on how the likely changes should be implemented but there has been nothing but silence from the Scottish Government,” Lyons said.

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“We don’t know, for example, how many regions there are likely to be in Scotland and we don’t know the timetable for moving from the historic basis of calculating single farm payment to an area-based system.

“Will it be done in one year, as Brian Pack has suggested, or over several years? It is crucial that we get answers to these questions as soon as possible.”

Lyon added that the likely outcome of the final round of negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of Farm Ministers and the European Commission, due to start in two weeks, was now well known and there was a strong expectation that agreement would be reached during the Irish presidency of the EU which finishes at the end of June.

“If agreement is reached for the new CAP to start in 2015, that will give us 18 months to work out all the details and develop the programmes for implementation. That work should be starting now,” he said.

The Welsh Assembly launched a CAP reform consultation early last month and the deputy minister for agriculture in Wales, Alun Davies, described the consultation as one of the most important ever for Welsh agriculture.

“CAP payments make up 80 to 90 per cent of farm incomes in Wales,” Davies stated. “The consultation is designed to work out how we should best invest future funding in Wales.”

However, Lyon’s assertion that UK environment secretary Owen Paterson would effectively represent Scottish interests in CAP negotiations was less enthusiastically received by the auctioneers.

Paterson wants to end “coupled” payments – linked to production and central to what the Scottish Government is seeking to secure from the negotiations to bolster Scotland’s beef and sheep sectors.

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we do not yet know what the UK budget allocation will be or how it will be split between the administrations, it would be simply guesswork to set out now what future single farm payments may be.

“Indeed, Mr Lyon and his colleagues in the European Parliament are yet to vote through the new CAP budget.

“That’s why we are focused on lobbying hard for the fairest possible deal for Scotland while working closely with stakeholders to find the best solutions to meet their needs.

“To that end, we will determine the way ahead jointly through a conference planned for mid-April.”