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.
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.
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.
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?
I call Mr Alan Brown. Does the hon. Gentleman want to ask a second question? Am I mistaken in that surmise?
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.
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?
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.