Payment reductions have been made in respect of some 7,748 claims under the 2008 single payment scheme. That represents 7.3 per cent. of the claimant population of 106,500.
I thank the Minister for that response. The minimum penalty for non-compliance is now 3 per cent. of the total single farm payment for any farmer. One of the most common triggers for a penalty is failure to notify animal movements within three days. That three-day limit is imposed by DEFRA, yet the EU regulation allows up to seven days. Why is the UK gold-plating the European regulations to the disadvantage of our farmers? Why cannot DEFRA allow the EU norm of seven days for notification of animal movements?
As the hon. Gentleman indicates, penalties are imposed for a variety of different reasons. These rules are laid down primarily by EU legislation, and the Rural Payments Agency does not have real discretion in applying them. We have recently made some improvements to the scheme relating to the removal of set-aside and the 10-month rule, and we will obviously continue to do what we can to make the system as beneficial to British farmers as we can.
Ministers have announced that 80 per cent. of payments under the single payment scheme have been made to farmers, but given that we have estimated overpayments of more than £20 million and underpayments of more than £38 million in the scheme last year, what guarantees can the Minister give farmers that 2009 payments will be accurate?
It is a little churlish of the shadow Secretary of State not to welcome the once again improved performance of the Rural Payments Agency. It has been improving year on year, and this year it managed to pay out £1.3 billion, which is almost twice as much as last year, two weeks earlier than last year to four times as many farmers. From our point of view, that should be complimented and lauded.