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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK

UK: Scotland

Ministers opt for UK sheep crisis plan

Some farmers want the Scottish Executive to pay for a cull

Scotland's Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie is to seek support for a UK-wide aid package in response to the collapse of prices in the sheep market.

But the Scottish Executive has endorsed the principle of its own aid package and Mr Finnie has warned the EU against trying to block any move by Scotland to go it alone.

BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor reports
He told the parliament's Rural Affairs Committee that it would be "pretty bloody" if the EU ruled out the package and made plain he was ready for a fight.

Mr Finnie is due to meet Westminster Agriculture Minister Nick Brown and his Welsh counterpart Christine Gwyther on Wednesday to discuss a Treasury-funded co-ordinated UK approach to the crisis.

If this fails to win agreement, the Scottish Executive could introduce its own package. But this would need EU approval and could be blocked under unfair competition rules.

[ image: Farmers are appealing for help]
Farmers are appealing for help
A comparable aid package in Ireland is now being challenged by Brussels and the money may have to be paid back.

Farmers leaders, who also gave evidence to the committee, welcomed the government's willingness to act.

Scottish NFU President Jim Walker demanded the creation of a task force to tackle the problem.

He said the issue was a test of the political credibility of the Scottish Parliament.

Jim Walker: "We are looking for parity with our European colleagues"
"Agriculture is a devolved issue since the Scottish Parliament's inception in May.

"There is a crisis in the rural areas of Scotland and they have pledged their support and we expect them to deliver on these pledges," he added.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has said he is considering a sheep cull in England among a range of measures to help the troubled industry.

He said a cull was one of the proposals under consideration, but was not a "solution in itself", to help farmers.

"It certainly has some merit as a short term measure but the cost is clearly one of the considerations that has got to be looked at," Mr Brown added.

Wales 'sympathetic'

The Welsh Assembly has said it is sympathetic to a cull. But at a meeting last month with Ms Gwyther, Mr Brown ruled out direct government action.

He raised the stakes in the row over plummeting lamb prices by suggesting farmers were partly to blame for their plight.

Placing responsibility for the crisis squarely with farmers, Mr Brown said the market had been oversupplied for two years and there was now no "easy solution".

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