Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach has been criticised by his Conservative Party counterpart for going to Bulgaria and Romania in the middle of the single farm payment crisis.
Lord Bach left for the official visit on Monday morning and returned yesterday (7 April).
His absence meant that he missed the weekly SFP stakeholder briefing on Wednesday morning (5 April).
Tory shadow agriculture spokesman Jim Paice said:
“The thousands of farmers who are desperately struggling to make ends meet will be dismayed that he has forgone a key meeting on the Single Payment Scheme to hobnob with Romanian and Bulgarian agriculture ministers.
“This is typical of the complacency that got us into this mess and does not inspire confidence that Lord Bach has either the commitment or ability to resolve it.”
But a DEFRA spokesman said:
“Lord Bach continued to be in daily contact with the acting chief executive and officials from the RPA, monitoring the situation on the single payment scheme.
“However it is important to note that it is the acting chief executive of the agency who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the RPA, including getting payments to farmers as soon as legally possible.”
The spokesman said Lord Bach had taken part in the long-planned visit to build links with agriculture and environment ministers in Bulgaria and Romania in the run up to them joining the EU.
He also suggested that Lord Bach had used the visit to promote UK policies on sustainable agriculture.