(Title Image: ITV Wales)
In a topical question this afternoon, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) asked the Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) to clarify comments she made to Farmers Guardian, in which she said that direct payments to farmers would end regardless of the results of a consultation with the industry.
The Secretary confirmed basic/direct payments would end and she intended to replace the Common Agricultural Policy “in its entirety”. However, no changes to direct payments would take place “without further consultation”.
“Well, I have the article here. You’ve just told us that you will consider responses, but here you say:
‘Asked whether she would consider maintaining some form of direct payment if the vast majority of respondents to the consultation requested it, she said: “No”.’
Now, only last week you were trying to rewrite history about what Sue Hayman had said in comments about payments in England, and today you’re trying to maybe rewrite a little history here in terms of what you said as well.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM
In response, the Secretary said she has made it clear that basic payments would end and would be replaced by an economic resilience scheme and a public good scheme. She repeatedly mentioned a lunch at the Royal Welsh Show where this was discussed and in which Llyr was in attendance.
The host of that lunch was the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) and he seemed to have a different interpretation of how well things were received.
“Now, what I believe came across loud and clear at the event was that farmers across Wales are concerned that the Welsh Government is not listening to them, and this consultation is seen as a smokescreen for the Welsh Government to plough ahead and end direct payments regardless of the will of the agricultural sector or the businesses in the supply chain that would also be affected indirectly by these proposals.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM
The Cabinet Secretary told him that representatives of the two main farming unions – the NFU and FUW – found “no surprises” in the Welsh Government post-Brexit proposals and even backed calls for radical reforms. The Common Agricultural Policy, in her view, didn’t protect farmers from volatility in the market and made them over-reliant on direct payments.
As for the short to medium term:
“In relation to taking things step by step….I’ve made it very clear that no decisions have been taken and neither will they be until we have all the consultation responses in. I’ve made it very clear there will be further consultation next spring. There will be no changes to payments at all. No schemes will be designed without a proper impact assessment. No old schemes will be removed before the new schemes are ready. So, I’ve committed to basic payment schemes for 2018-19, and then we’ll be looking at this in 2020.”
– Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths