CAP Delivery Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:30 am, 17th December 2015

What recent assessment she has made of the value for money of the CAP delivery programme.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The National Audit Office recently completed an early review of the common agricultural policy delivery programme. Despite difficulties, the programme is on course to realise a positive net present value of £197.7 million over the next eight years. The CAP has been the most complex ever, but despite that the core of the system is working. The Rural Payments Agency has already paid over 40% of farmers their basic payment scheme payment for this year and we are on course to pay the vast majority by the end of January.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Opposition Whip (Commons)

The National Farmers Union reports that many flood-hit farmers in the north-west have received a double whammy, having been informed by the Rural Payments Agency that they will not receive their payments until February at the earliest. All the Secretary of State could say on Tuesday was that the Government are seeing what they can do. Perhaps the Minister can now outline exactly what they are doing to ensure that those farmers receive payments before Christmas.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are very conscious of the plight of farmers in Cumbria. In respect of those with common land, although we had previously said that we would have difficulty paying them before February owing to the complexity of that system, we have identified the 600 affected farms in Cumbria and we will be prioritising them.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

A merry Christmas and a happy new year, Mr Speaker, to you and your staff.

Last week the NFU Scotland confirmed that most farms in Scotland rely on the CAP payments to survive. Without ducking the issue, will the Minister confirm that in the event of Britain leaving the EU, the UK Government will guarantee the same level of payments to farms so that they can survive?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would simply say that in terms of the current year’s BPS, it is a matter for the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish farmers get their payments on time. We all have a debate to look forward to about Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I understood that I had only one question.

If Britain votes to leave the European Union, will the UK Government guarantee the same level of CAP payments to Scottish farmers? Will the Minister please answer this time?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government’s position is very clear: we want to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union and see some powers come back to the UK. We will put that to the British public in a referendum and they will decide. Should the UK decide to leave the European Union, at that point the Government would obviously set a national agricultural policy.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

DEFRA’s mismanagement of the CAP delivery programme saw very senior managers embroiled in childish squabbling. This flagship IT project then spiralled £60 million over budget. It was so useless that farmers were forced to switch back to pen and paper. With the NAO predicting millions in penalties as a result, why did the Minister not intervene to save farmers and taxpayers from this IT disaster?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I simply point out that we did intervene. We acted in March, once we realised there was going to be difficulty, to ensure that all farmers could get their applications in on time on a paper-based system, and we have worked very hard since then to ensure that we enter it on the core of the system, which has worked well.