Parliament 19th June 2015

Farmers had to submit their BP5 (Basic Payment Scheme) form to the Rural Payments Agency by Monday to avoid penalties. After what must have been one of the most shambolic years for farmers trying to register, let alone claim, we are not yet out of the woods. There is no record of how many used the drop-in centres, but more than 500 appointments were made at the 50 centres, and 81,000 ‘customers’ used them to register.

DEFRA Shadow Secretary of State Maria Eagle (Lab, Garston and Halewood) wondered what assessment had been made of the time taken for the mapping part of the RPA’s computer to work properly; and whether it would still need to be totally replaced.

Under Secretary of State George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth) had been busy out and about during the first weeks of the new parliament – pictured at an Open Farm Day in Kent, the Three Counties Show in Worcestershire and the Royal Cornwall Show, within a single week. “Ensuring successful delivery of the Basic Payments Scheme in 2015 is our priority and the core of the Rural Payments System is working well,” he insisted in a written reply. But “we are also looking carefully at how best to develop the system, including the mapping functionality, in order to support delivery of the Basic Payment Scheme in future years.” Comforted?

Ms Eagle pressed on. What penalties will DEFRA incur under the CAP regime for late applications, she asked? Mr Eustice reminded her that because of the complexity of the new 2015 CAP the European Commission had offered all Member States the option to extend the deadline for BPS applications from 15th May to 15th June. DEFRA will not incur penalties for choosing to extend the application deadline – but only to 15th June. And will this lead to a delay in the paying out of claims? The RPA will be making full payments “as early as possible in the payment window,” Mr Eustice said. That means payments should start in December and the “vast majority” will be made by the end of January – much the same as in recent years.

DEFRA has to cut its budget by £83 million this year. It is planning to remain “within its budgetary control totals,” Mr Eustice stated, and is “developing options” on how to deliver the savings. These include tight budgeting to try to create an underspend; further efficiency savings and more asset sales.

Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West) wanted to know how effective the Hunting Act of 2004 had been. Rory Stewart (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Con, Penrith and the Border) replied that between 2005 and 2014, a total of 590 individuals were prosecuted under the Act. Of these, 378 were found guilty.

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