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Incorporation of EU legislation governing the CAP direct payment schemes

Part of Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 28th January 2020.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:45 pm, 28th January 2020

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which links to something I said earlier about the removal of the perpetual legal jeopardy that Whitehall has been subjected to while we have been an EU member. The issue, particularly in the CAP, is that there is a system of fines relating to what is called disallowance risk. The UK typically pays around £100 million a year in disallowance risk fines, often for very trivial errors such as a supposed lack of accuracy on maps, with a requirement that we map fields to four decimal points of accuracy, and issues about how things are recorded—even though they may be recorded, it may not be in the form that the EU auditors require. Some EU audits retro- spectively make things up, so we never know how an auditor will interpret the regulations in front of us. That means that officials who work very hard in DEFRA to make sense of these complex regulations will often take a view, have legal advice and interpret a regulation in a particular way. Subsequently, auditors will come along with a different view and that creates a disallowance risk. It is a very difficult situation to have a constant sense of legal jeopardy, which leads to risk aversion and people being very cautious and sometimes quite draconian in how they deal with farmers. That has been a constant problem with the existing scheme.