HC Deb 15 December 2003 vol 415 cc628-9W
Andrew George:

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what sanctions apply to (a) farmers and (b) her Department in circumstances where an incorrect assessment has been made of areas planted for (i) wheat and (ii) other arable crops in the annual (A) June return and (B) IACS system. [143666]

Alun Michael:

The June census is a UK survey designed to provide information for statistical purposes and to support policy decisions. In England it is carried out under the Agricultural Statistics Act 1979 which requires farmers to provide the information requested. Any mistakes are normally simply corrected and we are not aware of any sanctions ever being applied in such issues. Defra seeks to produce the best estimates it can at particular points in the year. By the nature of the information, some figures will be provisional and subject to revision. The Department will republish if a mistake that significantly affects the results is found.

The IACS rules are part of the EU legislation governing the operation of the Common Agricultural Policy. In respect of arable area payments, they treat wheat and other arable crops in the same way. Where farmers claim arable area payments for less than their planted area there is no sanction. Where they overclaim by a small margin the claim is merely corrected. For larger overclaims the IACS system prescribes a scale of sanctions, which at the extreme can lead to the loss of all payment for the current year and to an equivalent sum being recovered from the claims made over the following three years. No automatic sanctions apply to Defra in such cases, but the European Commission has power to apply ad hoc financial penalties to member states who are found not to have sufficiently robust systems for inspecting claims and applying the prescribed sanctions.

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