Twenty-four Scottish farmers wrongly convicted of breaching cattle identification and movement rules are to have their convictions quashed after a government blunder.
Scottish rural development minister Ross Finnie has admitted in a written parliamentary answer to Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson that the convictions have now been deemed unsafe and farmers will have their fines repaid.
Mr Stevenson described the episode as “a real Whitehall farce on the part of the London government”.
“Farmers have to contend with a huge amount of red tape as it is and instances such as these just go to prove that even the government does not know which regulations it is imposing on the agriculture industry,” he said.
The decision follows a similar situation in England and Wales (News, 14 July) where it was established that the European legislation responsible for convicting farmers for the breach of cattle movement and identification regulations was repealed and not replaced in 2000.
The problem was initially identified this March during a court case involving a Flintshire farmer. The Scottish convictions between August 2000 and June 2006 involve farmers in the Greenock, Ayr, Campbeltown, Falkirk, Peterhead, Stranraer, Stirling, Kilmarnock, Lanark, Kirkcaldy, Dumfries and Jedburgh sheriff court areas.
A spokesman for NFU Scotland said the union was pressing for the fines imposed, which ranged from £50 to £2500, to be returned with interest.
NFUS has asked SEERAD to consider that over the six year period during which the regulations were deemed “unsafe”, many farmers faced subsidy penalties for not complying with cattle ID regulations.
“Those who faced a penalty between 2000 and 2002 are penalised permanently because that was the reference period for the single farm payment. In other words, a penalty at that time means they face a penalty on their single farm payment every year from now on,” a spokesman said.
“Nine of these overturned Scottish convictions were during the single farm payment reference period and there are many more farmers who faced a government subsidy penalty, if not a court penalty.”