The Scottish Government has rejected a suggestion from Defra Secretary Michael Gove that it ‘misunderstood’ a key part of the Agriculture Bill.
Last week, Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing said the legislation ran ‘roughshod over the devolution settlement’ because a section on compliance with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would prevent Scotland from making coupled payments or administering the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS).
In response, Scotland Secretary David Mundell penned a ‘myth-buster’ which declared there was ‘nothing in the Agriculture Bill which will stop existing Scottish Government policies’.
He also claimed the Scottish Parliament did not have the legal right to act in this area.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian about the matter at the Berkshire Show last weekend, Mr Gove said: “I disagree with Fergus on this, but I think it is just a misunderstanding.
“We have worked productively to iron out areas of misunderstanding or potential divergence in the past and I am committed, as I know he is, to getting the best possible deal for Scotland’s farmers.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman denied there was any confusion, saying: “The Agriculture Bill gives the Secretary of State wide powers to decide how farm support payments everywhere in the UK will be classified in relation to international trade rules and to set limits on how much can be paid out by each administration.
“These are unilateral powers for the UK Government, despite agriculture being a devolved area. This is unacceptable.”
The Welsh Government has also complained about the WTO section of the Bill, suggesting keeping the powers at Westminster would have a ‘significant effect’ on devolved competence.
Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has called for a ‘better process’ to be introduced for managing compliance with WTO rules.