Agri-Environment Payments

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

What steps he is taking to tackle late agri-environment payments.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yesterday, the Rural Payments Agency announced that it will make payments next month to all those who have been waiting on the historical revenue payments, and therefore every farmer who has been taking part in environmental and countryside stewardship schemes, which deliver important benefits for our environment, will receive the money that they deserve.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, because many farmers in my constituency have regularly complained to me about the delays in countryside stewardship scheme payments. Will he expand on that answer for those who, in some instances, have had to wait more than 600 days for payments?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Hertfordshire farmers and indeed for workers across the English countryside. He is absolutely right: past performance has not been good enough. That is why I am so pleased that the RPA’s chief executive, Paul Caldwell, will make sure that all back payments are cleared next month.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Last Thursday, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Sue Hayman, and I visited Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services. We met farmers who had not been paid for 18 months, so payments in July would be welcome. Will they get interest on the late payments?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady is a superb advocate for the farmers of upper Teesdale, County Durham and England, and it is not too late for her to cross the House. She makes a fair point, and I will look into it.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Further to the question from my hon. Friend Bim Afolami, as we leave the European Union we will build up more and more environmentally friendly agricultural policy, so stewardship schemes will be more important than ever. There has been a loss of faith in them, and I am worried about the future programme, because farmers really do not like the complexity and have waited far too long for their payments.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a fair point; the schemes have been bedevilled by unnecessary complexity in the past. It is critical that as we leave the European Union and have new environmental land-management schemes, they are both simpler and more effective in supporting farmers in the wonderful work that they do.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I know that, as always, you are my biggest fan, Mr Speaker.

I hear what the Secretary of State says, but one reason for the current collapse in the take-up of environmental agri-ecology schemes is the slowness and lateness of payments, which is bedevilling the pilots for the environmental land-management schemes. Will the Secretary of State assure me that those pilots will now get under way?