15 October 1999

Welsh vegetarian Gwyther faces vote of no confidence

By Robert Davies

CHRISTINE Gwyther, the Welsh Assemblys vegetarian farm minister, faces her second vote of no confidence next Tuesday.

All opposition parties backed the move for a censure motion after she admitted that the EU was "very unlikely" to approve the £750,000 calf processing scheme voted for by the Assembly.

This time the motion is expected to be passed by 31 votes to 27, but if it is, the embattled Labour member for Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South insists she will not resign.

In a long statement to the plenary session that agreed the censure motion, Ms Gwyther accused opposition members of "selective amnesia" about her warnings that many hurdles would have to be jumped to secure a Wales only scheme. She and the Labour Party had not misled the assembly about the chances of success, and she did not think that anyone could have done more to get the scheme through.

Those wishing to make political capital needed to remember another inconvenient fact, Ross Finnie, the Scottish farm minister, had failed to get approval for a cull ewe scheme.

"We need to keep a sober objective view on what the calf scheme would have done to help," Ms Gwyther told members. "It was designed to enable dairy calves with no market value to be disposed of humanely.

"Those who now try to pretend that the absence of the scheme will make a material difference to the economic future of dairy farming in Wales are living in a land of make believe."

She said the £0.75m set aside for the scheme would be made available to support processing and marketing initiatives. Farmers and processing companies were challenged to come forward with good ideas.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid Cymrus agriculture spokesman claimed that Ms Gwyther and her Party had never suggested that there were major difficulties to get the scheme on its feet.

He said: "For three weeks we were led to believe that the scheme was proceeding. We were misled as an assembly and as an agricultural committee."

As farmers weekly went to press on Wednesday the Labour administration in Cardiff was still insisting that the Welsh Cabinet stood or fell together. But individual members were suggesting that Bridgend AM Carwyn Jones, was the likely replacement for the beleaguered Ms Gwyther.

While the Farmers Union of Wales continued to insist that she was not the right person for the job, Hugh Richards, president of the NFU Wales-Cymru, said changing the farm minister would not solve Welsh farmings problems.