Scots farmers abandon hope of Westminster foot-and-mouth pay-out

SCOTTISH farmers have given up negotiating with UK ministers over compensation for the foot-and-mouth crisis, as the rift between Westminster and the Scottish Government over welfare pay-outs deepened.

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) said the door was now "firmly slammed" at Westminster and it was going back to crisis talks with the Scottish Government.

After a disappointing two-day trip to Westminster, James Withers, the NFUS deputy president, said:

"Our options are far fewer now. We will only launch legal action, though, once all avenues have been exhausted."

During a debate on the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the Commons, it was suggested that Scottish farmers should seek to cover their losses from the Scottish Government's "1 billion surplus".

Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West, told MPs that Scots farmers unions should be asking the "Scottish Executive" for compensation cash.

And he asked: "Does it not seem either astonishingly naive or deliberately misleading [for] [SNP] members opposite to be saying it is all Westminster's responsibility, when the Scottish Executive has only recently been given 1 billion of unspent money for previous years?"

The remarks were dismissed by Mr Withers of the NFUS as a "complete distraction", and he insisted farmers were too busy fighting for survival to engage in a political agenda.

Mr Davidson's statement had been made during an intervention. But other MPs were furious that no Scottish MPs were called during the three-hour foot-and-mouth debate.

Angus MacNeil, an SNP MP and crofter, said:

"This debate was simply not representative of Scotland - not one Scottish MP was called to speak, in effect cutting Scotland out. The attitude of the government is disgraceful."

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, was heckled by opposition MPs when he said there was "not a shred of truth in the allegation" that 8 million had been offered, then withdrawn, to Scots farmers after Gordon Brown called off a general election. Mr Benn insisted it was the responsibility of the Scottish Government to provide aid.

During the debate, a Tory motion condemning the government's "negligent" approach to biosecurity at the Pirbright laboratory site was defeated. A government amendment pledging to work with the farming industry to resume market activity as soon as possible was carried without a vote.

Mr Benn faced criticism after a two-hour meeting last night with farmers and Scots MPs ended in deadlock.

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem spokesman for Scotland, who led the delegation, said: "This meeting confirmed my fears that DEFRA does not wish to compensate Scotland's farmers as they are legally and morally obliged to do."

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