§ Mr. Welsh
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) what are the reasons for the delay in the payment of sheep annual premiums to farmers; and if he will consider paying compensation in cases where there has been unnecessary delay and inconvenience;
(2) what recent representations he has received on the delay in making sheep annual premiums to farmers; and if he will make a statement.
§ Sir Hector Monro
The Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department is in the process of changing over to a new computer system designed to cope with the increased complexity of the agricultural subsidy schemes following reform of the common agricultural policy. The changeover has not gone as smoothly as I would have wished, causing delays in the issue of payments under the 1994 sheep annual premium scheme. The Department is doing its utmost to overcome the problems and get the payments out as soon as possible. Next year, the processing of SAP claims should be quicker.
I fully recognise the importance of these advance SAP payments to producers and very much regret the delay. However, there is no obligation under the EC regulations governing the scheme to make advance payments of premium so the question of compensation does not arise.
I have received representations about the delay in making payments from the hon. Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and from the National Farmers Union of Scotland. In addition, officials of the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department have received representations from some SAP claimants.
§ Sir Hector Monro
By 18 November, my Department had issued advance payments on 9,335 claims, totalling over £25 million under the 1994 scheme.
Commission regulations 1640/94 and 1765/94 authorised member states to make first and second advance payments under the 1994 scheme based on an estimated amount of premium. Payments of both advances together began in Scotland in the week beginning 24 October 1994. Final payments under the 1994 scheme will not be made until next spring after the final rate is announced by the Commission.