Parliament in Perspective 07/02/2014

Flooding has been prevalent in parliamentary debate, with respect for the Secretary of State’s response ebbing and flowing in equal measure, but issues surrounding the pilot badger culls continue to come to the fore. So, too, does implementation of the CAP and the MacDonald Report, writes Catherine Paice.

Andrew George (LibDem, St Ives) pressed the Government on the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the pilot badger culls. The Under Secretary of State, George Eustice (Con, Cambourne & Redruth), explained that a full programme of observations and post-mortems was completed during the original six weeks of the culls in accordance with the protocols agreed with the Independent Expert Panel (IEP). The completion of the IEP’s report was, said Mr Eustice, “a matter for them”.

However, after “careful consideration”, it was decided that continuing observations into the extension period and beyond the associated 120 post-mortems would “add little to the statistical robustness of the data” gathered during the original cull. A post-mortem “capability” was nevertheless maintained during the extension, to support potential investigations. Roger Godsiff (Lab, Birmingham Hall Green) asked about the timing of DEFRA plans to publish the full costs of the pilot badger culls. Mr Eustice refrained from answering this, but insisted that the costs were spread between the police, DEFRA and the farming industry itself. He emphasised that DEFRA’s costs – comprising hair trapping fieldwork, detailed laboratory post-mortems and night-time field observations – would not be repeated in any subsequent years.

August 2013 saw DEFRA publish a plan to include “earned recognition” in inspection regimes, as the Macdonald Report on the implementation of farming regulation had recommended. DEFRA’s report indicates that 14 out of 31 on-farm inspection regimes already give farmers and food processors the opportunity to earn recognition. In effect, farmers who play by the rules can receive fewer inspections. This is particularly the case for pig and poultry farmers. DEFRA, Mr Eustice said in a written response to Huw Iranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore), was committed to improving on this. A new report is due in March.

Maria Eagle (Lab, Garston & Halewood and Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) sought details on Pillar 2 allocation. The total budget for rural development in England over the next CAP period to 2020 would be at least £3.5 billion, she was told. Over £3bn (87%) would be spent on improving the environment, while around £450 million (13%) would be spent on growth-focused schemes. Of this, £177m (5%) had been allocated to Local Enterprise Partnership areas via the Growth Programme for rural growth projects, £140m (4%) will be targeted at farming and forestry competitiveness, and £140m (4%) would be spent on local projects with a focus on jobs and growth.

Later this year the rural development programme will be submitted to the European Commission. It will set out in more detail how the funding will be broken down between priorities and years.

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