FOLLOWING a debate in the House of Commons, the attitude of Welsh politicians in the UK Parliament was thrown into sharp focus by comments made by both Conservative minister Guto Bebb and Wrexham’s Labour MP Ian Lucas.
It was Mr Lucas’ remarks which attracted the most notable reaction by Welsh politicians in the first instance.
He asked Mr Bebb: “Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union offers a golden opportunity to assess the level of subsidy paid to farming in Wales to see whether that money can be more effectively and efficiently spent in other areas?”
The inference to be drawn from the question was crystal clear and was pounced upon by Plaid Cymru.
CALL FOR COMMITMENT ON AGRICULTURE
Carmarthenshire’s Jonathan Edwards MP, who was sitting in front of Ian Lucas MP in the Commons, called for Labour to urgently clarify whether it will cut financial support for Welsh farmers.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Simon Thomas, said: “Ahead of the Referendum, the people of Wales were promised that no funding would be lost by leaving the European Union. Since then, Plaid Cymru has made it our duty to fight to protect the funding that Wales receives, but Labour seems to view it as a chance for a smash and grab on Wales’ funding.
“We know that 80% of Welsh farms are dependent on European funding to support their businesses, but Labour has shown complete disregard for the interests of the people of Wales and its agriculture sector.
“Labour really has let the mask slip. Whilst Plaid Cymru is focusing on protecting the interests of Welsh communities, Labour is plotting to cut their funding.”
Mr Edwards said: “Labour’s blatant and worrying attack on Welsh agriculture is yet another sign that the Labour party simply does not understand the Welsh agriculture sector or the challenges faced by our rural communities.
“The Welsh family farm is not only a core component of the Welsh agricultural sector and the Welsh economy, but is the main channel through which we as a nation can achieve food and environmental security.
“This expression of contempt for our agricultural sector is utterly unjustified. Welsh farmers face tremendous financial challenges in selling their produce and Labour should be focusing their efforts on facilitating Welsh agricultural exports, rather than marking them as a target for austerity and cuts.
“The Labour MP’s constituency partner, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths, urgently needs to answer whether her constituency’s partner’s question reflects official Labour Party policy.”
FARMERS ARE ‘WEALTHY LANDOWNERS’
The Labour MP was unrepentant about his remarks and has gone on to further criticise the Welsh farming community, stated that Welsh farmers are ‘wealthy landowners’.
The Herald invited the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs to respond to her Westminster colleague’s remarks.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government told us: “The First Minister made it clear to the Prime Minister earlier this week he is seeking assurances that Welsh farmers do not lose out financially as a result of Brexit. This means every penny currently received from the EU being replaced by the UK Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs also reiterated this to the UK Government’s Farming Minister.
“As we prepare to withdraw from the European Union, we must use the opportunity over the coming years to assess the specific needs of the farming industry in Wales and identify how we can forge distinctly Welsh policies that will enable Welsh farming to prosper in a post-Brexit world.”
‘NOT A PENNY LESS’
Welsh Liberal Democrat William Powell told The Herald: “In the economic conditions that we now face as a country, pressure on the public purse will be all the more acute. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are supporting the ‘Not a Penny Less’ campaign in terms of farm support, and this has proved popular on our stand at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.
“However, it is more important than ever for farmers to engage in the public debate, so that there is a better understanding of the vital contribution that they make as custodians of the land, in terms both of maintaining biodiversity, but also to the whole tourist sector, which we know is such a critical part of the wider rural economy.
“However, more important than anything for Welsh farming is securing long -term access to the European Single Market for our quality farm exports – and making that an essential element in the permanent post Referendum settlement. And with Andrea Leadsom MP’s comments about hill farmers ‘looking after the butterflies ’, betraying an evident lack of understanding and empathy for Welsh farming, it is vital that Wales retains a robust and distinct farming policy. Welsh Liberal Democrats will be fighting for this in the time to come.”
LABOUR INSULTS RURAL COMMUNITIES
Andrew RT Davies was trenchant in his criticism both of Mr Lucas and Lesley Griffiths: “These comments once again highlight Labour’s attitude towards rural communities, and it is remarkable that their MPs are actively lobbying to give less money to farmers.
“It follows comments from Leslie Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary who insulted Welsh farmers by suggesting that they don’t make good business owners. Now they want to take their money away.
“During the campaign, senior UK government ministers gave guarantees that Welsh farmers would not be worse off after the UK leaves the EU, and I will continue to work with those colleagues to ensure that those promises are delivered.”
THE LESS CERTAIN MR BEBB
However, an examination of Guto Bebb’s responses to Commons questions on Wales’ farming sector reveals a less certain picture.
The Undersecretary of State was questioned repeatedly on the impact of Brexit on the funding provided to Welsh farmers.
In response to Ian Lucas’s question, rather than giving a ringing ‘no’ and committing the UK Government to maintaining funding levels, Mr Bebb said (emphases added): “We need to look at the way in which Government spend money. IF there is to be a funding mechanism in the future for Welsh agriculture, it MUST BE LOOKED at in the totality of Government spending.”
That is some way short of promises made by senior UK Government ministers that Wales’ farmers would not be worse off.
And to further underline how conditional UK Government’s support is, responding to a question from Liz Saville-Roberts, Plaid’s MP for Dwyfor Meiryonnydd, the limited reassurance given was an ‘assurance to the farming unions that the current funding situation is in place until 2018’.
That echoed a previous response to Mark Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigion, in which the conditionality of UK Government support for Welsh agriculture was again underlined: “… The ongoing support for Welsh farming will be subject to agreements involving this Government, the way in which we exit the European Union and the decisions taken by the future Prime Minister.”
That is, again, a long way short of Andrew RT Davies’s reference to a promise that Welsh farmers would not be worse off.
The reluctance to commit to a definitive answer is striking, bearing in mind that in the same questions to the Welsh Office, Mr Bebb stated that: “The farming sector is the economic backbone of the Welsh rural economy. The total income from farming in Wales is estimated at more than £175 million, but more important is the contribution that Welsh agriculture makes to our rural communities.”
He also remarked that: “More than 60,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the agriculture sector, and it would be short-sighted in the extreme for any Government to turn their back on a sector that puts Wales on the international map.”
‘FARMING IS WALES’ BEDROCK’
Speaking at the Royal Welsh Show last week, Glyn Roberts, President of the FUW, made a series of emphatic observations on the importance of Wales’s agricultural sector: “There are almost as many people engaged in the milk industry in Pembrokeshire as there are people making a living in our Welsh steel industry. Yet there is a clear imbalance in political focus for supporting these two very important industries – an imbalance which also extends to all our agricultural sectors.”
He added that his aspiration and, indeed, the intention of the Farmers’ Union of Wales is to change this.
“We want to see the value and importance of the rural economy truly recognised, and to build a visible and valued Rural Powerhouse – not something that attracts industrial focus in a small geographic area, like the north-east Wales ‘powerhouse’ built around foreign manufacturing; what is needed is recognition of the fact that 80% of our land mass is rural; that more than a third of Wales’ population live in rural areas; and that farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear.”
Minister kicks access issue into long grass
THE SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT of Natural Resources Consultation process has finally concluded, but there’s no sign of progress, according to Rebecca Williams, Director of CLA Cymru.
Saying that the time has come to make decisions, Ms Williams said: “How we manage our natural resources, must form part of our vision for a vibrant, sustainable, competitive rural economy delivering against a range of public goods.
Responding to the Welsh Government Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM’s statement summarising the responses to the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation, Rebecca Williams, Director CLA Cymru, said: “We have a unique opportunity to define the future of land management in Wales. Our government processes really must deliver better and faster results. We need to find answers to the vital questions in land management about how the Welsh Government’s Five Core Principles be delivered as a working plan.”
“Last year’s SMNR consultation addressed a very broad range of issues many of which were complex, others seemed disjointed from the main theme. This was an unwieldy and demanding exercise both for organisations and for individuals. The process was protracted, the outcome has been delayed. The substantial number of responses may be encouraging to the Government, but it does also bear witness to the level of concern about the potential vital impact the proposals may have on rural business and the countryside community. There is no doubt that greater subtlety and engagement is required in stakeholder-management.”
While there were over 19,000 responses to the consultation, over 16,000 of those were focussed on one issue – access to land. Of those 16,000 responses, only around 450 answered the questions posed by the consultation and there was a massive number of responses from individuals and campaign groups in favour of widening access to the countryside.
The Welsh Government has, however, shied away from specific legislation to provide greater rights for ramblers, canoeists, cyclists, and other groups in favour of achieving more access to Wales’ countryside.
In a written statement delivered to the Assembly on June 19, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn said: “There were strong but differing views on how best to reform access legislation. We therefore believe that now is not the right time for substantive reform. But we are committed to exploring selected aspects of change where there was greater consensus, including on some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We will continue to facilitate further discussions through established groups such as the National Access Forum.”
Those remarks have been met with disappointment from Ramblers Cymru, the charitable organisation and campaign group that fights for walkers’ access to land.
Angela Charlton, Director of Ramblers Cymru told The Herald: “‘As Wales’ walking charity working to protect and expand the places people love to walk, Ramblers Cymru is disappointed that a year after this consultation was held, we are no clearer about Welsh Government’s ultimate vision for improving access to the Welsh outdoors.”
Ms Charlton drew attention to consultations not producing positive results in terms of policy or legislation, continuing: “We have had 2 major consultations on these issues in the last 3 years, and now face further consultation on as yet undefined changes.
“Through our campaign over 2,500 people took the time to support our call for increased and improved access and protection of our paths, and it is frustrating that we seem no closer to seeing the changes needed. We are however, pleased to continue engaging with Welsh Government to ensure Wales is a world class country for walking and will continue putting proposals forward to help achieve this.”
While the NFU noted the strength of the responses regarding access to land, NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “The consultation contained a number of proposals that were extremely worrying to farmers including granting higher access rights which would have enabled cycling and horse riding on footpaths as well as extending and amending the list of restrictions on CRoW land. We, therefore, welcome the announcement from the Environment Minister that now is not the right time for substantive reform.”
John Davies continued: “We note, however, the Welsh Government is committed to exploring aspects of change where the consultation process showed greater consensus including some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We await information on what these specific areas will be and would highlight that, given 80% of the land area of Wales is agricultural land, farmers are key providers of the landscape and countryside upon which many access and recreational activities depend. Any reforms must consider the safety of access users and should not result in increased costs, burden and liabilities being placed on farmers in Wales.
“We are pleased that the consultation process revealed consensus in the area of keeping dogs on fixed length leads in the vicinity of livestock, which was a generally accepted proposal. The worrying of livestock by dogs is a key concern to our members and we would hope this is an area that can be progressed in the near future.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: ” The FUW welcome the news that the Welsh Government have decided now is not the right time for a substantive review to reform access legislation.
“Wales has approximately 16,200 miles of footpaths, 3,100 miles of bridle-paths, and 1,200 miles of byways, and since 1998 the area of land accessible by right to the public has increased threefold. The evidence makes it clear people are not using what is already there, so any changes should focus on increasing responsible use of existing access.”
‘Be seen on farm’: FUW
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has launched new reflective armbands as part of its commitment to promote farm safety.
The new armbands can be worn by all family members to help them to be seen better in the dark and will be available from all FUW stands during the show season.
FUW Marketing Manager Meryl Roberts said: “If we are seen we are much safer and these armbands are a practical addition to any farm outfit. Of course, it won’t fix all of the problems but it might just help a little, given that most farm clothes are dark and farming doesn’t stop just because the sun has gone down.
“The armbands are functional and can be worn in all types of weather. And above all, they support our commitment as a Union to promote farm safety in any way we can. Being seen is the first step to keeping safe after all, so get in touch with your local FUW office to get your free armband today or come see us at your local county show!”
Passionate young farmers wanted!
A GROUP of enthusiastic young farmers, who are making a real difference within farming and have great stories to tell, are being sought to join the NFU in one of the most popular historic civic pageants in the world.
The NFU has launched a competition to find eight young farmers who will land starring roles representing British farming in the 2018 Lord Mayor’s show and take the Back British Farming message to the streets of the City of London.
The 803rd parade takes place on Saturday, November 10, and is featured in a live BBC broadcast. The NFU will be joined by Massey Ferguson to support the Worshipful Company of Farmers in this year’s show. The entry will incorporate a tractor, combine harvester and food with the participants providing the heart and soul of the exhibit.
As an additional prize this year, Massey Ferguson is inviting one of the young farmers on a special trip to Beauvais in Northern France as a guest to tour the factory and enjoy an overnight stay.
NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “It’s always great fun having the young farmers with us at the Lord Mayor’s Show as it provides the perfect platform to engage with the watching crowds and let them know about farming’s role in producing their food and looking after the iconic British countryside.
“We are hoping this competition, with the added incentive of a trip to the Massey Ferguson factory in France, will help showcase another group of young farmers who’re all enthusiastic and passionate about what they do – producing the nation’s food.”
NFU Cymru member, Tom Rees, who was part of the young farmer group last year, said: “For me, participating in the Lord Mayor’s Show as the NFU Cymru representative was a once in a lifetime experience – a particular highlight was seeing the enthusiasm the British public had for British farmers – it was fantastic to see everyone fully support the campaign and message we were promoting.
“It’s so important that we, as the future generation of farmers, open a dialogue with the public about the provenance of their food and the Lord Mayor’s Show is an excellent way to do so.
“If you are a young farmer who is passionate about the future of our industry then I would encourage you to apply and get your voice heard.”
The NFU is asking for nominations for young farmers, aged 18-30, who have made an outstanding contribution to the farming sector and who are passionate about the industry. Please include as much information as possible on why you think your nominee deserves to represent British farming and the wider farming industry at this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show.
Nominations close on Sunday 19 August and a shortlist of finalists will be drawn up for 31 August by a panel of farming experts
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