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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK

UK Politics

What devolution means for ewe

The plight of hill farmers has highlighted how

The crisis over farming is being seen as the first test of devolution.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been under pressure to formulate a UK-wide scheme to cull tens of thousands of surplus ewes and calves which farmers say they cannot sell.

[ image: Nick Brown: Under pressure to create a state-aid package]
Nick Brown: Under pressure to create a state-aid package
.But if this does not happen, there is a question over whether the recently established Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales could grant aid to their own troubled hill farmers.

Before the meeting between Mr Brown and his counterparts in Scotland and Wales, the regional ministers had threatened to "go it alone" to help their own farmers.

Farming policy for the UK is formulated in London at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

But devolution has given the regional assemblies the power to develop their own policies, to a greater or lesser extent.

Yet it would appear that if the devolved assemblies can break away from London, it is harder for them to escape the controls set down by Brussels.

The regional assemblies must abide to the regulations and guidelines set down by the European Commission on agriculture, 90% of which apply to grants and subsidies.


Soon after the assembly was established, there were calls for the beef-on-the-bone ban to be scrapped in Wales.

[ image: The assembly is considering lifting the beef on the bone ban]
The assembly is considering lifting the beef on the bone ban
In principle, the national assembly would have the power to do this as it can make its own secondary legislation.

The assembly's agriculture and rural affairs committee has been hearing evidence on the issue although it has yet to rule on the ban.

A spokesman for the assembly said the body would always attempt to follow the policies set down by Mr Brown.

But he added: "In theory and, with consideration to the assembly's purse-strings and European Union guidelines, the assembly could press ahead with its own policies.

"The assembly is on a limited budget, and the question would be who would you rob to pay Paul."


Although there are some areas where the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food take the lead across the UK, agriculture in Scotland was completely devolved following the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

That means that the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament could form different policy to that which affects farmers in England.

The Parliament also has tax varying powers and can create primary legislation as long as it only applies to Scotland.

The agriculture department in Scotland has already taken the lead on several policies of its own.

It is pushing ahead with an export drive to promote Scottish beef in France and Germany.

Northern Ireland

[ image: The assembly will eventually take control of agriculture]
The assembly will eventually take control of agriculture
The Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland is a mirror image of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London.

Should a power-sharing executive be established in Northern Ireland, responsibility for farming would be passed to an assembly.

But the department, which is responsible to the secretary of state, has been forming its own policies for several years already.

For example, it established a pig welfare system last year, unique within the UK.

Northern Ireland also developed a computerised "tracking system" for beef cattle during the 1980s which allowed beef exports to resume from the province to the European Union before they began again from the rest of the UK.

A spokesman for the department said: "It before devolution it made sense to have different policies on some aspects of the industry.

"We have a high level of poor upland and we don't have the proportion of flat farmland found in England.

"The topography of Northern Ireland is very similar to that in Scotland and Wales and so we do face similar problems."

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