Farmer’s gold plating case could challenge basis of UK devolution – Farmers Weekly
The whole basis of devolved government in the UK may come under threat in a European Court test case, that has been brought by Mark Hovarth a Suffolk farmer.
Mr Hovarth is fighting the gold-plating of EU regulations which he said had resulted in English farmers being far more heavily regulated than those in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. The test case surrounds the way in which the government has implemented the Single Payment Scheme and in particular cross-compliance.
Mr Hovarth was staggered by the difference between the piles of paper he had printed off from the DERFA website for the regulations for the various UK regions. The pile for the English regulations were so much thicker than for the other UK countries. The cross-compliance regulations covering public rights of way for England required the maintenance of footpaths as “features of the landscape”. Farmers elsewhere don’t have to. A question of equality under EU law.
Mr Justice Crane from the London High Court agreed that the case raised vital questions of European law and he referred the discrimination issue for resolution by the European Court of Justice.
Mr Crane said “this could affect a large number of farmers and although I have not been provided with any figures, significant sums of money”
“Would it be permissible for it to create different regulations for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? The answer is clearly no!”
Mr Hovarth’s council Maurice Sheridan said the main issue was “does community law trump devolution”. The UK is classed as a “single member state” and “cannot arrange its affairs, so as to permit for, discrimination”.
GAEC 8 and Horvath
Cross-compliance and Public Rights of Way-GAEC 8
On the 16th July 2009 the European Court of Justice in the case of Horvath v Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Case C-428/07) has held that the devolved administrations in the UK are entitled to implement Community obligations in different ways.
As Alexander Hall in the MFG News sums it up – “Local Authorities and user groups will breath a collective sigh of relief as Mr Horvath lost the battle on both counts. The ECJ upheld the inclusion of GAEC 8 in its current form. Farmers will have to continue to comply. It is ironic that, as many farmers will agree, clearance of crop from cross-field arable PROW actually encourages the “encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land” as weeds rise from the cleared path, contrary to one of the primary aims of the European Regulations. Of course, the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the enforcement of GAEC 8 – disputes regarding the existence and location of PROW, the validity and weight of evidence of non-compliance, whether a PROW is “visible” or not and the unfair impacts of potential double penalties – will continue.”
Extract of Letter from Council of the Welsh Highland Shepherds
“Farmers have worked extremely hard to pay for what used to be their Private Property”