HC Deb 22 April 2004 vol 420 cc425-6
5. Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD)

What discussions she has had on her proposals for single farm payments in respect of farmers in severely disadvantaged areas. [167007]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with, and received representations from, a wide range of interests on this subject. As a result, and as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality noted earlier, she made a written statement to the House this morning. It changes the boundaries for the single farm payment from two regions—severely disadvantaged areas and non-SDA—to moorland within SDAs, the rest of SDAs, and non-SDA. That change has the support of all the main interested organisations, including the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association, the National Beef Association, the National Sheep Association, the Tenant Farmers Association, the dairy producers, and organisations such as the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Association of National Park Authorities.

Matthew Green

For once, I want to congratulate the Government on listening to farming organisations. I am grateful that they have taken a rational and sensible decision in this matter. I also congratulate the farming organisations that have managed to get together to speak with one voice for the industry. In particular, the NFU in my area did a wonderful job in keeping SDA farmers closely informed and aware of developments.

I turn the Minister's attention to the final paragraph of the Secretary of State's written statement. It states: I have therefore asked my officials to consider how the next round of rural development programming (from 2007 onwards) can better reflect the needs of upland communities".

That is potentially more—

Hon. Members

Get on with it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not going to allow long supplementary questions.

Mr. Bradshaw

I think that the hon. Gentleman may be referring to the concerns of some moorland farmers who may lose out as a result of the adjustment made today. He is absolutely right to draw attention to that, and to the Government's very serious response to those problems. He is right that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has outlined a number of ways in which the Government will address some of the problems that poorer hill farmers might face in due course.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab)

I very much welcome the Secretary of State's announcement this morning and the fact that she has listened to the consensus view of the farming industry. However, there is another consensus: the whole sector wants those payments to be made in 2005. Many of us have real concerns about the Rural Payments Agency, which is undergoing a big programme of change at present. Is the Minister confident that payments will be made on time next year?

Mr. Bradshaw

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is a challenging time scale, but we are confident that we can meet it and every effort will be made to ensure that we do so.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)

Why will farmers in Parwich in my constituency be paid at two different levels?

Mr. Bradshaw

That is the inevitable consequence of having area-based payments and three different regions. If the hon. Gentleman has a better idea, perhaps he would let us have it.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Corn)

Although we welcome the announcement today, have not the four weeks that the Government have spent considering the industry's proposal further reduced the time available to set up the new arrangements" I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). There is real concern that the Rural Payments Agency will be unable to cope. Does the Minister understand that those concerns have been heightened by the delays this year, which have meant that some IACS—integrated administration and control scheme—forms have only just arrived, giving farmers only three weeks to complete and submit them in order to meet the deadline?

Mr. Bradshaw

As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), we are confident that the payments will be made in time. Over the next two weeks. the Government will write to every farmer and farming business in the country to explain how we have decided to implement CAP reform. The payments will be made, starting next year, as the Government proposed.