21 July 2000

Questions on


HOPES that farming would benefit from the creation of the National Assembly for Wales a year ago have not been realised.

Failed attempts to introduce calf and ewe destruction schemes, the overruling of a decision to make Wales a GM crop free country, and concern about match funding to use EU structural funding for rural projects, have made farmers question the assemblys value.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, who chairs the all-party agriculture and rural development committee, acknowledges that many who supported the establishment of the assembly have been disappointed by its performance, but he argues that criticism is often based on misconception.

He says: "The committee can debate issues and make recommendations, but the assemblys limited executive powers over agriculture still rests with the Labour cabinet in Cardiff. This, like the one in London, has no basic understanding of rural issues, and no empathy with country people.

"I cannot go off to Brussels and say this is what the committee wants, nobody would talk to me. But while we have not been able to provide the answers farmers wanted, we have managed to air the issues. In Wales agriculture is now at the centre of political debate, rather than at the periphery as at Westminster."

Mr Thomas, who is also Plaid Cymrus agriculture spokesman, claims he and other opposition members of the committee will fight for a better deal for Welsh farmers. While their direct powers are limited he insists that much can be achieved by open debate, and by challenging the policies of the administrations in Cardiff and London and the advice given by civil servants.

His own family connections with farming in south-west Wales are strong, and his continuing work as a non-conformist church minister has shown him the devastating effect of the farming crisis on rural communities. But he warns farmers that change is inevitable as the EU switches emphasis from food production to environmental sustainability.

"Change will create winners and losers. We have to try to ensure that there are as few losers as possible and help farmers adapt."

Chair of the Welsh Assemblys all-Party agriculture committee, Rhodri Glyn Thomas is fighting for a better deal for principality farmers.

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