UK FARMING minister Jim Paice today faces the Scottish Parliament rural affairs committee, where he will claim that the only area of significant difference between Scotland and England on the future of the common agricultural policy relates to the size of the budget.
Speaking to The Scotsman ahead of his appearance, Paice said he believed the time was ripe to reduce the amount of subsidies going into agriculture. Not only were commodity prices higher than they had ever been, thus allowing farmers to get more money directly out of the market, but wider economic problems also pointed to reducing the CAP budget.
There should be a significant reduction in the money that currently goes into single farm payments, he stated as there are now “rising opportunities from the market”. This was true for beef, sheep and cereals he added.
He declined to define his use of the word significant, but said that those who believed the current support budget could remain even without adding in inflation had to “get real”.
He acknowledged that many EU farm ministers were publically supporting the status quo on the budget. But these views were different from their own finance ministers struggling to balance budgets.
In comparison, he claimed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was in line with the Treasury in calling for a reduction in expenditure.
And the message for the Scottish Government, which wants to retain present levels of support, was that funding came from the UK so it was right that the UK decided.
Elsewhere on the CAP proposals, he said the UK would be fighting the current environmental policy suggestions, saying they were too rigid and prescriptive and did not provide the flexibility needed to cope. “This is one case where one size does not fit all.”
England has introduced agri-environmental schemes that Paice would like to see as their “greening” policies instead of the 7 per cent of land removed as “environmental focus areas” which is proposed by the European agricultural commissioner.
Scotland has no such equivalent, mainly because the level of cash in the so called second pillar or non productive part of EU support to this country is one of the lowest of all EU states.
On the proposal to limit the top amount of subsidy any individual or organisation could receive, Paice believed the proposals were wrong and would also increase complexity and encourage the setting up of schemes to avoid any penalty.