Rural Payments Agency

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:03 pm on 30th March 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Shadow Minister (Food & Rural Affairs), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 3:03 pm, 30th March 2006

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for securing this short debate this afternoon. Like other noble Lords, I take no joy in our being back for the second day in your Lordships' House this week to debate the Rural Payments Agency. The Minister smiled when we said it, but it is meant genuinely. We would all much rather have seen a smooth transition from the old system to the new single payment system. All of us regret the circumstances that farmers find themselves in through no fault of their own. Frustration, anger, deep anxiety and stress are being borne by many—with, to date, inadequate answers to the questions that they raise.

In his introduction, my noble friend Lord King asked where we are going, since many family farms are under severe stress. He raised the issue of tenant farmers, and their obvious regard to having to pay rents that are due within the next couple of days. The question of bank overdrafts was raised; I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Desai—to whose contributions I always listen with great care—that many of them are already up to their limit. That is the problem. On the key target that my noble friend mentioned concerning the Rural Payments Agency, it was said that 96 per cent of the bulk would be paid. Warnings were given when that dynamic hybrid model was chosen with a very tight delivery date.

I should remind the House of our family's farming interest and of my involvement with several rural organisations such as the RSIN, the RABI, the NFU, the CLA, the Countryside Alliance and the National Trust—to name but a few. They are constantly fielding questions from distraught farmers. My noble friend Lord Inglewood is disappointed not to be taking part in the debate. Since he has such a direct interest, regardless of the intrinsic merits of the current system, he felt that it would not be right or appropriate for him to take part. I am glad—oh! The Minister says, "What about others?". If none of us was speaking, how would he know what was actually going on out there?