Scots cry foul over foot and mouth u-turn

The UK government has been accused of playing "political football" over foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) compensation

, after it was revealed plans for £8.1m worth of compensation for Scotland and £6.5m for Wales were dropped just before Hilary Benn made his announcement to the House of Commons on Monday. Benn announced a £12.5m package which will benefit only English farmers.

The Scottish National Party (NFU) leaked the first draft of Benn's statement, which reads: "I have agreed with the chief secretary to the treasury that Scotland should receive £8.1m and Wales £6.5m to assist them in countering the impacts of foot-and-mouth on their livestock farmers."

Before the document was leaked, both the Scottish government and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland (NFUS) angrily claimed that the UK government should foot the bill for any compensation, with the NFUS arguing Defra had a moral responsibility to compensate Scottish farms for a crisis that resulted from breaches at a UK research facility. But Defra refused, and said the Scottish and Welsh would arrange their own compensation schemes.

SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond MSP MP, suggested the change to Benn's statement was linked to Gordon Brown's decision not to call a general election. He said: "Why, on Friday, when the election seemed certain to be announced, was anything possible, but by Monday, when the election had been ruled out, was the commitment expunged?

"What changed between Friday and Monday?

"Scottish farmers will be furious at this disgraceful and disturbing attempt by Defra to renege on their responsibilities. I have written to the prime minister demanding an explanation."

NFUS president Jim McLaren said: "This raises serious questions for the UK government. We have been calling on it to accept its moral responsibility to pay compensation to farmers suffering a crisis which is not of their making. It would appear the UK government had accepted that principle, but at some point over the weekend or on Monday changed its mind. We want to know why this u-turn came about. Without the facts, people will only draw conclusions that this is linked to the decision not to call a general election.

"We have been trying since Monday, without success, to ascertain why no money has been forthcoming for Scotland. It would appear a decision was taken not to use treasury money, which Scotland has a call on, but rather use Defra money, which it does not.

"We are facing a crisis on Scotland's livestock farms. Frankly, even if £8.1m had been forthcoming, it doesn't scratch the surface of the problem. The losses faced by the sheep industry come to at least £50m.

"It is time the UK government lived up to its responsibility and farmers will be livid if it emerges that the UK government has been using the financial and welfare catastrophe facing farm businesses as a political football."