We have delivered significant improvements to the basic payments scheme in England this year, with 99.7% of the 2018 payments now complete. I am, however, acutely aware that we have much more to do to deliver the stewardship schemes to the same high standards.
My constituency borders rural communities in Cheshire and Shropshire, and I know there is immense concern in the farming community on this point. In view of the pretty damning report in 2017 from the Public Accounts Committee and the fact that a third of all UK farmers are now aged 65 or over, will the Government act and do something urgently?
The hon. Lady makes a valid point and I do not underestimate the importance of getting this right. That is one of the reasons why we took responsibility for these stewardship schemes away from Natural England and gave it to the Rural Payments Agency, which is performing much better. But we do need to do better, not least because, if we want to incentivise more farmers to participate in these schemes, we need to make sure that we keep our part of the bargain and give them the money they deserve.
Not only is it a problem with stewardship schemes that existing farmers are not getting paid, but many farmers are deciding not to go into those stewardship schemes. The whole of our new agricultural policy will be going in that direction, so it is vital that the Minister now sorts it out. You have had some time—not the Minister personally—and it is time the Department sorted it out.
Point taken. On my own farm I have just planted wild bird seed and a big area of nectar plants, so I will report to the House when my payments come through, although I have insisted to officials that I should be in the last decile of payments—I do not want them to accelerate my payments. I will be one of the last to get paid, so I will keep a careful eye on this matter.
As I mentioned, many of the public goods we are to deliver will result in better soil quality. We also need to have a debate on the role of livestock on mixed farms because many of the farms I have visited recently on which soil quality is improving are farms that use manures and slurry to improve the soil—we no longer have that in many of the big intensive agricultural areas.