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Williams: Fighting for the interests of farmers in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"First, I declare an interest because I am a practising farmer.

The issue that we are debating is important. I agree with the motion, but it needs additional strands to make it more structured and more inclusive for all farmers, both established and new.

All farmers would agree that we should take a minimalist approach with regard to the cross-compliance controls, to which you referred and showed which part will be applied.

I hope that reducing the six main support schemes to one will assist in cutting down the amount of form filling and bureaucracy associated with previous schemes.

This needs to be closely monitored to ensure that all is working well, as planned. Regular meetings and contact with farmers and their unions need to be convened, with feedback used for future planning.

I am pleased to see that the Minister has listened to the farming communities and unions in Wales, and agrees that the single farm payment will be beneficial to the vast majority of people living and farming in Wales.

My only concern relates to the new and young farmers who are starting out—they need special consideration, as the single farm payment will not work for them.

Therefore, I hope that you, Minister, will support this amendment in good faith and recognise the importance of supporting people who are entering the farming industry for the first time.

The single farm payment will replace the existing, direct, main support schemes, for example, the arable area payment scheme, the suckler cow premium scheme, and so on.

It will also include associated payments like the less-favoured area supplement on sheep. If implemented properly, and on time, this will make life much easier for farming communities in Wales.

I hope that the changes will give farmers greater control over their affairs and cut unnecessary red tape.

I hope that the Government will provide sufficient support for environmentally sustainable farming in Wales, which will increase the rapid development of such farming, which in turn will provide consumers with excellent, high-quality products.

This should enable farmers to make decisions in response to the market, not in response to the rules or incentives of a subsidy scheme. I look forward to the promotion and encouragement of sustainable farming.

While we have welcomed the statements made by the Welsh Assembly Government on the operation of the single farm payment in Wales, there is some concern that WAG will struggle to meet an ambitious implementation programme.

Almost 12 months have passed since the reform was agreed in Luxembourg, and the implementing regulations are not yet available in their final form—they have not been published in the official journal.

We are working to a timetable in which farmers should be paid their single farm payment in December 2005, but little of the detailed work on individual entitlement and, more particularly, on the national reserve and the appeals process has been done.

Cash-flow is obviously crucial to all farm businesses, and a huge amount of work will be required over the next 18 months to ensure timely payments. We would, therefore, hope that sufficient resources are made available to ensure that these targets are met.

I am a politician who likes to speak his mind. I am the first to stand up and criticise when the Government is doing wrong, but I am also the first to stand up and commend good work.

The amended motion would certainly send out a strong signal to the farming communities throughout the principality that we in the National Assembly want to support farmers and the excellent work that they do for the people of Wales and, indeed, the United Kingdom.

I have spoken to members of the farming community and they are pleased with the proposals. The only negative comments that I have heard relate to the implementation of the scheme.

Minister, you will remember the horrendous problems farmers that endured under your predecessor, especially with regard to late payments and the infamous computer problems. That must not happen again.

Farmers have said that the scheme will be a significant boost to agriculture, the countryside and the rural economy.

We, as an Assembly, must ensure that the scheme works properly and on time for the people of Wales. If this is successful, it will have a positive impact on our daily lives.

I urge all Members, from all political spectrums, to support the motion and the amendments."

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