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Single Farm Payments

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2007

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to resolve the payment of outstanding single farm payments to cross-border farmers. (146371)

I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my predecessor, to whom I pay tribute, have held regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on matters affecting Wales, including farming. I understand that of the 518 cross-border claims under the 2006 scheme, all but 25 have been processed for full or part payment.

May I be the first person on the Conservative Benches to congratulate the Minister on his elevation? In view of the Secretary of State’s multi-tasking, I expect that he will have a heavier load than usual. I am grateful for his answer. Will he please ensure full co-operation between the National Assembly for Wales agriculture department and the Rural Payments Agency for farmers whose farms straddle both sides of the border? My constituent Mrs. Christine Jones of Llanfairwaterdine did not receive her 2005 payment in full until the end of last month.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those kind words of introduction to the Dispatch Box and I am sure that I will greatly enjoy the role. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did outstandingly well when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have no doubt that he will be equally good in command of the Department for Work and Pensions. On the substance of the question, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be close co-ordination between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rural Payments Agency and the Welsh Assembly Government. Just to bring the House up to date and to be clear, in Wales, for 2006, 315 of the 323 farmers on the Welsh side of the border have been full or part paid, and, in England, 178 out of 195 have been full or part paid. We will make sure that we work closely together to ensure that everybody receives their payment.

May I say, llongyfarchiadau i’r gweinidog newydd? The real scandal of the single payment is that it costs the average family in Wales £450 a year in farm tax. Is not the problem that the single payment is almost a payment for life for farmers, even if they stop farming altogether? One farmer in Wales recently left farming and sold his single payment allocation to a speculator. Should we not stop that scandal and make sure that the single payments, which are rip-offs for the taxpayer, are phased out?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words of llongyfarchiadau, which for the purpose of the translators is “congratulations” in Welsh. Diolch yn fawr iawn—thank you. I can confirm that the complete amount paid for the single farm payments is, for 2006 alone, more than £219 million. We are on track and on target with that. Although I cannot wholly disagree with his comments, I assure him that we will work to make sure that the farming community and the wider rural economy in Wales is protected for the future and safeguarded.