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.”