HC Deb 25 March 1993 vol 221 cc1220-1
1. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he will be taking to reduce bureaucracy involved in the beef special premium.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

We are operating the new beef special premium scheme as simply and as flexibly as we can, within the framework laid down by the European Community rules and remembering the need to make sure that public money is fully accounted for.

Mr. Pickthall

Does the Minister agree with Mr. Richard Cowan, the head of the Ministry's beef division, that no sane person could have devised the beef special premium scheme? Does he agree that the introduction of the CID passports will create immense problems for farmers, particularly in relation to the larger cattle markets? Does he further agree that in conjunction with the integrated administration and control scheme—IACS—bureaucracy, which will come in too late for farmers, they will have too little time to complete the forms, so many of them may be brought close to despair? Will he further agree that if he can take decisive steps to ameliorate this nonsense, he will have done something tangible to put alongside the vaunted campaign by the President of the Board of Trade to reduce over-regulation and red tape?

Mr. Gummer

I am extremely enthusiastic about getting rid of over-regulation and red tape. That is why I introduced a Bill to abolish the milk marketing boards and to take powers to abolish the Potato Marketing Board. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman was here voting against both those deregulation measures two days ago.

The beef arrangements are not what I should like, because there are two payments of premium, not one. One would facilitate a simpler system, but, because of this system, we have to have what we propose, and it will be as simple as we can make it.

Under the IACS scheme we will pay out large sums of money to the public. Farmers will have six weeks to fill in the forms, which are as simple as we can make them. They have been carefully written—I have taken great care over them. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that farmers will be pleased with the results, which will be much better than those in many other countries.

Mr. Marland

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to the extra office work that this involves, it will also involve farmers in a considerable amount of extra work handling cattle—they have to be handled on several more occasions, to check their tags and the documentation? My right hon. Friend will not be aware, but he may be interested to know, that my next-door neighbour has 200 cattle—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] I have asked a question. It took three men almost half a day to sort those cattle out. Is it really impossible to go back to the old system?

Mr. Gummer

I am sorry, but it is impossible; otherwise, my hon. Friend's neighbour would not be able to get the money that he deserves, and it is likely that the money would go to people who should not get it. If my hon. Friend's neighbour fails to get the money that he wants, deserves and needs, the first person to whom he will complain will be my hon. Friend. I am insistent that he should not be put to that trouble as well.

Mr. Tyler

May I press the Minister a little more on the timing of the integrated administration and control scheme forms? He said just now that farmers would have six weeks to fill them in. Can he guarantee that the forms will be in farmers' hands by 1 April, All Fools' day? Can he tell us, if he cannot give that guarantee and six weeks cannot therefore be used for the purpose, whether he will postpone the deadline?

Mr. Gummer

There will be no question of a delay, because we are trying to stop fraud throughout the Community. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are always pressing on that matter, and I entirely support that. We will meet the deadline. The forms will be out to farmers by 2 April—I chose that date as being a little more elegant than the one the hon. Gentleman would like—and that will give people six weeks to fill in the forms.

We have continually reminded farmers that they will need to have certain maps beforehand. Press releases have again been issued this week reminding people of the need to do that. The Ordnance Survey has done its best to provide those facilities and, as long as people get in touch with it before 17 April, they will have the full one-stop shop arrangements from the Ordnance Survey. My fellow Ministers and I will be available to help them in that respect. We will do everything that we can to ensure that Britain does better than anyone else.

Mr. Marlow

We all sympathise very deeply with the difficulty in which my right hon. Friend finds himself. However, if the scheme runs into the sand, as some people believe is likely, could my right hon. Friend send a party to Italy to see how they do it there, because I am sure that they will have it fixed up quite nicely?

Mr. Gummer

If my hon. Friend had supported the Government in the Lobbies last night and on previous nights, we should be in a position to deal with such matters much more effectively. If my hon. Friend would put his vote where his mouth is, that would be much more helpful.