A deal has been struck to allow members of the Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs committee to decide future payments to farmers in less favoured areas.

Party leaders have agreed that the committee members can re-prioritise spending on different parts of the Environment, Planning and Countryside portfolio in 2007/08, including reinstating planned cuts in Tir Mynydd support payments.

But this will mean reduced spending elsewhere, possibly on the Tir Cynnal entry level agri-environment scheme, processing and development grants or advisory services.

The deal helped the Labour administration, which has no overall majority, get its £14.4bn budget passed a day before the Christmas recess. This was possible when Plaid Cymru agreed its 11 members would abstain from the vote.

Disappointed

But farm unions were disappointed that March 2007 Tir Mynydd payments, from the 2006 budget, will be cut by £12m, or 40%.

“This allocation was at the discretion of the minister Carwyn Jones and not part of the deal brokered on the new budget,” said Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister.

“A few days before the vote the minister appeared to be ready to go back on the party leaders’ agreement to allow the committee to restore the Tir Mynydd budget. Without Plaid’s intervention and resolve, a good deal for Welsh farmers would have been lost.”

Glyn Davies, committee chairman, admitted that any spending formula it came up with for supporting hill farmers would not be pain-free. “Opposition parties have shown their commitment to upland farming, but the rules for drafting the new Wales Rural Development Plan means the axe is going to fall somewhere,” Mr Davies claimed.

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