Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the environment, food and rural affairs at Westminster, has been challenged to deliver a fair and sustainable Common Agricultural Policy for the whole of the UK after he said he was vehemently opposed to recoupling farm subsidies.
Scotland’s farming leaders had been hoping to take advantage of rules included in the current reform package which would allow up to 15 per cent of the country’s CAP payments to be coupled to protect livestock production in vulnerable areas.
But Paterson said he disliked coupling and criticised member states who argued for more scope to use them.
“I want to make it clear to everyone, I don’t like coupled payments,” he said to delegates at the English NFU annual conference in Birmingham. “I don’t think there is any public support to subsidise unwanted food products.”
The detail of the policy at EU and UK level was still to be finalised, he added.
Paterson’s comments appeared to contradict farm minister David Heath who spoke to the NFU Scotland conference last month, suggesting that the UK government may be prepared to allow Scotland to use some of the unused UK allocation to bolster its proportion of coupled payments.
NFUS president Nigel Miller, who was attending the meeting in Birmingham, said Heath’s comments had been a potential breakthrough, and any signs of a U-turn at Westminster were worrying.
“We are concerned we won’t get flexibility and there seems to be tension between what’s coming from the Secretary of state and the minister,” he said.