HC Deb 29 April 1993 vol 223 cc1144-5
15. Mr. Tyler

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what submissions the Minister has received about the integrated administration and control system form.

Mr. Gummer

We have received a number of representations about the integrated administration and control system documentation and I have heard a great number in the many meetings that I have conducted personally and many have been made at meetings with other Ministers around the country.

Mr. Tyler

Following that answer and previous answers, what steps is the Ministry prepared to take to introduce an independent arbitration and appeal system to ensure that any farmer who makes a genuine mistake—who is not being fraudulent in any way—is not penalised? Previous answers show that the Minister appears to be the only person in the country, apart from his candidate in Newbury, who thinks that the integrated administration and control system will make life easier for farmers.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman employs his usual party political speech, and we all know what it is worth. The hon. Gentleman is a member of a party which is absolutely uncritical of the European Community and which is federalist to the core. For him to dare to speak in such terms shows him up for what he is. He is much more interested in party politics than in farmers. Farmers know that and that is why increasing numbers of them have thrown aside the pretensions of the Liberal party to care about the countryside.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

While I appreciate that the IACS form is the foundation for future set-aside payments, does my right hon. Friend agree that many farmers, especially in my constituency, have found it difficult and unnecessarily bureaucratic, especially as it sometimes involves ordnance surveys of farms? Such a survey is costing a farmer in my constituency £1,700. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Ministry's response to the filling out of the forms is reasonable and that penalties are not unnecessarily imposed on farmers who make mistakes when completing the form?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend says that a farmer in his constituency had to spend £1,700 on maps. I hope that my hon. Friend will find out how much that farmer will get annually as a result of filling in the form. It will run into many thousands of pounds. The forms are not unnecessarily bureaucratic. They will not need to be repeated next year because we shall do a computer print-out on which people can insert new details. We will ensure that the flexibility that is available is used to its utmost. However, we have to meet the perfectly reasonable argument, which the Opposition spokesman again raised, that as far as possible the system must cut fraud.

Mr. Olner

Surely the Minister is aware of the grave concern of many farmers, especially in my constituency, about the complexity of these forms. How many people have asked the Minister to extend the 15 May deadline, which is proving almost impossible for many farmers in my constituency to meet? They are concerned that they are not working on the same playing field as their European counterparts.

Mr. Gummer

They cannot have that concern because almost every country in Europe has to meet the 15 May deadline and will do so. The exception is France which has set a 30 April deadline. There is absolute parity between the countries of Europe. Secondly, in the last two meetings that I conducted, one in Okehampton and the other in Wincanton, no farmer asked me for an extension of the deadline. They all recognised that it was necessary to make sure that Italian, Spanish, Greek and French farmers filled in the form, and that only by doing that did they get the money. The form is necessary not only to stop fraud, but to ensure a level playing field throughout Europe. I shall use as much flexibility as possible, consistent with stopping fraud, because I want every farmer to get every penny to which he is entitled.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his flexibility on the mapping arrangements, may I draw to his attention the fact that in Wales 70 per cent. of the forms that have so far been checked, and even those that have been completed with maps, have errors? Therefore, many farmers are interested in discovering the degree of flexibility that will be shown in considering claims. I echo the pleas of my hon. Friends by urging the Minister to deal with the applications as flexibly as possible.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend need have no worry about that. I am absolutely committed to using the maximum flexibility that is available consistent with stopping fraud. The Welsh example underlines the fact that in most areas of England and Wales the area officers have done their best to make sure that as much help as possible is given for filling in the forms. The area officers are trying to be helpful to farmers by making sure that they miss nothing.