25 February 2000

Assembly clashaverted

THE Ministry of Agriculture has avoided another clash with the Welsh Assembly by agreeing to prepare and present to Brussels the assemblys case for waiving dairy hygiene charges in Wales.

MAFF lawyers told Welsh farm secretary Christine Gwyther that her plan to spend £180,000 a year paying the £94/farm inspection charge will almost certainly fall foul of European rules restricting state aid. Nonetheless, MAFF has agreed to put forward the proposal even though it has refused to consider spending £1m to cover hygiene charges which are paid by English farmers.

The move will anger English farmers. But it has forestalled another argument between the assemblys agriculture committee and MAFF. Similar confrontations over proposed calf and cull ewe processing schemes for Wales contributed to the resignation of Welsh First Secretary Alun Michael earlier this month.

Welsh farm leaders welcomed MAFFs change of heart. But they acknowledge privately that the plan will be rejected. &#42