Paice criticises Government over CAP reform stance

FORMER Farming Minister Sir Jim Paice has accused the Government of reverting to its ‘ludicrous old position’ on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.

In comments that will sit uncomfortably with Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, Sir Jim, who was sacked from his post in September, spells out clearly why he has believed for over 20 years that direct support for farmers ‘will and should end eventually’.

But he suggests Mr Paterson is going too far, too fast with his repeated calls for direct payments to be removed and for all CAP funding to be focussed on environmental payments.  

“The Coalition Government inherited a policy that all direct support should stop immediately, a ludicrous position to adopt; it is unachievable and cuts the UK out of serious debate at the Council of Ministers,” Sir Jim said in an article for Endeavour Public Affairs.

“It would also destroy a large part of UK agriculture if it had no time to adapt. Despite Treasury pressure, for the last two years Ministers have been arguing more realistically for a programme to phase out direct payments. 

“It got us back into the debate but recent rhetoric suggests the Government is reverting to the old position.”

Sir Jim stresses that achieving the sort of reform the UK is pursuing is difficult, recalling that in the last reform process Prime Minister Tony Blair ‘made great play’ of wanting to cut CAP spending ‘only to be stitched up by Jaques Chirac’. Mr Chirac secured a cut to the ‘best bit of the CAP’  - Pillar Two  rural development funding, primarily for the environment.

He said it was ‘critical’ that David Cameron does not allow cuts to Pillar Two as the UK ‘gets a poor share of it anyway’. She stressed that Defra already has an ongoing commitment ‘in the order of £2 billion’ for existing stewardship schemes even if no more are started. 

He predicted that the Treasury’ will see it differently and will welcome any cut’, at least until Defra asks for funding to continue the stewardship schemes. 

“The reality is Although Natural England have started going slow on new approvals, it would be unacceptable for all sides for no new schemes at all to be started.  Nonetheless, the challenge for DEFRA to keep the schemes going for new approvals through the next seven years is daunting,” he said.

He said he therefore welcomed moves by Mr Paterson to agree that a farmer who is in an agri-environment scheme automatically complies with whatever comes out of the ‘greening’ proposals. 

“This would mean that funding for the entry level scheme would be shifted to pillar one and make a huge difference to the funding challenge.  Not all farmers will like it but it is the least worst option,” Sir Jim said.

He warned that ‘whatever happens our stewardship schemes are under pressure’ with many farmers likely to quit schemes especially if they lose money through participation, especially on the back of today’s high arable prices.

Sir Jim stressed, however, that a ‘long term plan to phase out direct payments across the whole EU and switch some of the funding into pillar two remains the best, though most unlikely, outcome of CAP reform’.

He warned that, as it is, the EUis heading for an uneven implementation of the policy, with a reduction in payments for some Member States, an increase in others and ‘nothing to help the industry face up to the challenge of feeding an increasing global population which demands more and better food’.

“In seven years time the debate will be the same, a sterile argument about propping up small farmers and the need to keep direct payments which will inevitably decline further,” he said.

He called for ‘clear and strong leadership’ to grasp the opportunity the present reform presents.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We want British farming to take advantage of the huge future opportunities to grow and have always called for a long-term transition to production not relying on direct subsidies.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • Don't forget this Coalition government did not just inherit this policy from the previous administration, it was also the previous Conservative governments policy.
    British Agriculture cannot compete against the rest of Europe, however efficient it is, if it is deliberately disadvantaged through changes to the SFP. It is bad enough with sterling stronger against the Euro making imports cheaper and exports dearer.

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  • quote... It is bad enough with sterling stronger against the Euro making imports cheaper and exports dearer.unquote.
    Please don't keep going on about this!
    Charity begins at home and if we believed in this, we would not be in such a mess as we are in now!

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  • But UK processors who are processing UK milk for example have to compete with cheap er imports of finished product when the market is distorted.

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  • 1. Government does not take good advice on the range of problems and economic factors, which are complicated by strong currency, devolution, EU politics, and unjustified hostility towards the countryside. Problems are compounded by both a lack of practical knowledge and genuine communication skills. Confusion is fed by increasing amounts of poor quality research, and a raft of unsound lobbying organisations, many who obtain money by misleading, or deceiving, public and Parliament. Doubling of overall Government expenditure in 8 years, without real benefits, is hugely deflationary. The current size and ambitions of Government, as in the EU, are not sustainable. In removing support for the production of food, Government is set to waste larger sums on un-costed environmental management schemes, which ignore best practice, and have an uncertain future.

    2 Our taxpayers have contributed each year as much as £15bn per annum to EU farmers, whilst production subsidies in Britain of some £2.2bn have been removed. Subsidised agricultural production exists all around the World, amounting to some £200bn. However trade agreements sanctioned by Government encourage cheap subsidised products to be dumped in Britain.

    3 There is no realistic long term Strategic Planning and Incentives (not compulsion) for the efficient home production of food, adding value in processing that food, facilitating competitive exports, and raising standards of food, disease, and energy security. There is an influential, misguided belief, that agriculture is a side show, and should go the same way as the fishing industry. Those dealing with Government feel betrayed by lack of progress, and conflicting messages. In consequence, the good management and sound stewardship of countryside, especially in the uplands, is not achievable under current plans. Master craftsmen are ignored.

    4 Government and the Office of Fair Trading are having difficulty in defining and implementing fair trade. They are allowing efficient businesses to put out of business by unfair competition, the buying power of cartels and monopolies, and mafia styled activities. Food miles and fuel costs are ignored. Good farmers, with the crucial skills to pass on to future generations, require a safety net and support, not closure. Action now is a national priority. The absence of a level playing field ensures that nobody wins, be it Home Food Production, Third World Fair Deals, or the Tax Payer.
    5 Lack of Competitiveness through the expense of unnecessary Government Red Tape.

    6 British Agriculture has been hugely disadvantaged by some £30bn over 20 years by the political failure to pass on the EU Payments Rebate, which was negotiated on their behalf to compensate for currency losses, one reason why British farmers are at the bottom of the earnings league table.

    7. The artificially High Pound and relative High Cost of Money has set a dangerous precedent for future economic stability. Most supply side industries and tourism have suffered permanent damage as a consequence, and we are also left with an Unsustainable Trade Deficit.

    8 50% of our Food Processing Capacity and Technology has been lost. This situation has to be reversed, encouraged by Government, in order that real value is added to efficient food production, as has been implemented in New Zealand. Adding value need not increase cost.

    9 Agriculture in other countries also benefit from a range of Discretionary Payments, incentives, and benefits, beyond production subsidies. Relatively low levels of Discretionary Payments are available in Britain, but they tend to be diverted unfairly to areas not needing priority support.

    10. The illusion that we can somehow blame the EU and CAP for the collapse of our farming industry was dispelled by EU Minister Hans Fischler, who stated that, as in the case of other European Governments under CAP, we can treat our farmers as fairly as they do. Any blame therefore rests fair and square on our own successive Governments. Britain can have its own superb Agricultural Industry - without severance of the ability to give good advice to the EU.

    The above view of the issues was prepared by Edmund Marriage for the Conservative Rural Action Group in 2006 for circulation to MP's. As the RSPB, Defra and Natural England are still allowed to dominate Government policy making on Agriculture and Countryside management, running rings round ministers, there is little hope for progress. The above blogged comments accurately record the current horror story for British farmers. Large contributions to pillar one are essential for upland and lowland farming survival because of the overall economic neglect imposed by politicians and environmental cases. Environmental management payments are not producing results nationally and are therefore wasted needlessly. Farmland and upland bird populations continue to decline to extinction. The worst management neglect is demonstrated by the RSPB particularly in upland areas, where Labours upland clearances of cattle and sheep have taken wildlife along with them. The reality is that current research demonstrates between 80 and 90% losses from predation for our most vulnerable species. Successful wildlife management requires the three legged stool, of all year round habitat provision, food and water supplies, and predator control. Failure in any one of these three, results in disaster. Human disturbance of wildlife represents another a growing environmental threat.

    Support British Wildlife Management now for the radical changes needed to bring back best practice wildlife management, and a thriving farming industry in the uplands and lowlands. NFU, CLA, CA etc. wake up to what political ignorance and contempt has done and is doing to wreck this great country.

    Edmund Marriage

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