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Farming Industry (Red Tape)

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 9 January 2014

We are committed to freeing farmers from red tape to help them to seize economic opportunities. We are reducing paperwork burdens and making guidance clearer and simpler. Farmers who play by the rules now receive fewer inspections. For example, 740 members of the Environment Agency’s pig and poultry scheme are inspected once every three years, rather than annually. I expect to make an announcement shortly on further opportunities for cutting red tape as a result of the agriculture red tape challenge.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but for many farmers in my constituency overly complex livestock identification and movement controls remain a burden on their businesses. What plans does the Minister have to simplify this regime?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Considerable progress has already been made on livestock identification and the complex rules governing animal movements. We introduced electronic reporting for pigs in 2011, and we will do the same for sheep from the spring. We have negotiated changes to the EU sheep tagging rules for the historic flock, generating savings of up to £11 million for sheep farmers. We will also implement the recommendations made by the farming regulation taskforce to simplify how we define livestock holdings in England to avoid confusion around the rules, and we will phase out cattle tracing links and sole occupancy authorities to further streamline the regime.

Will the Minister confirm that one matter that is not red tape is the establishment of a food crime unit? Will he indicate when he intends to do that and how he will discuss the matter with the devolved Administrations, particularly that in Wales?

The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the interim report by Professor Elliott. We will look at all his recommendations and respond to the final report when it is published later this year.

Farmers in Cumbria and elsewhere have their hands tied by excessive restrictions, such as the six-day movement rule. Given that the Government agreed in full to the recommendations of the Macdonald report two years ago, when will farmers in this country see them put into practice?

It is difficult to remove the six-day movement rule because it was a key measure that was brought in to combat the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth. We are clear that we want to get rid of unnecessary regulation, but we do not want to do anything that would compromise animal health or safety. I am willing to talk to the hon. Gentleman about this particular point. It has been raised with me by farmers. However, it is not a simple matter because we do not want to jeopardise animal health.

Wholly disproportionate financial penalties for minor and often unavoidable regulatory infringements, such as lost ear tags, have been a characteristic of the common agricultural policy in recent years. What guarantee can the Minister give that the new regime will distinguish between wilful disregard of the rules and the unintentional and inconsequential infringements that are currently being penalised?

These issues are a devolved matter. We are looking at the rules in England. The hon. Lady is right, although the EU regulations do emphasise the need for proportionality in the application of sanctions. The regulations are being reviewed. We are making the case to the European Commission that there should be changes to the rules from the beginning of 2015 so that the sanctions are more proportionate. The negotiations are ongoing.