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House of Commons Hansard
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12 June 2014
Volume 582
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6. What his priorities are for further CAP reform. [904173]

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I wanted to see the last round of CAP reform continue on the trajectory set by MacSharry and Fischler, so frankly, the end result was disappointing. Future reform should be driven by my departmental priorities of growing the rural economy and improving the environment, while providing value for money for taxpayers.

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Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, the former president of the National Farmers Union, who led the industry through very turbulent times some 13 years ago and also played a significant role in a previous CAP reform round? In doing so, can he say whether Britain will meet the Commission’s deadline of 1 August for submitting our greening proposals arising from the latest CAP round, and whether cash crops will be included in the UK submission?

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I very much join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, who only a few months ago came to see me to promote the British apple industry and was still playing a most constructive part. I also pay tribute to the role the right hon. Gentleman played when he was the senior Minister in charge at the end of the MacSharry period, when some serious reforms, from which we are currently benefiting, were pushed through. It is disappointing that that trajectory has not been continued. It is absolutely our intention to report to the Commission on time, on 1 August. I made a written statement earlier this week and I made further announcements on greening at the cereals conference yesterday.

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I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, a former constituent and a very good friend to the farming industry. Mindful of my historic interest in this field, which is on the register, does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that the Commons Act 2006 register is woefully inaccurate and out of date, which means that those eligible for claims will be unable to make them, and that we will not have the paperless claims the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was promised when taking evidence?

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I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for her question. She is right to raise some of the technical issues that have been thrown up. It is very much our intention that the reform should be introduced in a manner that makes it as easy as possible for applicants to understand, and as easy as possible for the Rural Payments Agency to pay out, and we are pleased to see a significant number of applications by the digital method.

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The Secretary of State will be aware of the disappointment, certainly in environmental quarters, that the full 15% modulation was not taken up by the Government for England—although the record for Scotland and Northern Ireland is as open to criticism in that respect. When it comes to any future reform, does he accept that taxpayers cannot accept large amounts of their money going to subsidise wealthy farmers? That needs to be changed, so will he give that commitment today?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I remind him that we have agreed to go for a 12% modulation, and then review the position, having established what type of schemes are relevant, and possibly go on to 15%. We will spend £3.5 billion on improving the environment through our pillar 2 schemes. I am completely clear that I would like to continue the trajectory set in train by MacSharry and Fischler, whereby decisions pertaining to what crops are grown and what animals are raised should be left to the market, but there is a very real role for taxpayers’ money to be spent compensating landowners and farmers for the environmental work in respect of which there is no obvious market mechanism.

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I would like to pay tribute to Sir Ben Gill and to draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does the Secretary of State agree that any further CAP reform has to focus on the simple issue of using farm land to produce food because we have to tackle the important issue of food security, which is looming more and more and is ever-present in our society?

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My hon. Friend is spot on. There are 1 billion people hungry in today’s world and we are heading for a further increase in population of 2 billion. We should be aware that there is no unlimited cheap, safe food beyond our shores—it was the position of the last Government that there was—so we as a Government absolutely want to see domestic food production increase. We already have a huge task: 30% of the food eaten in this country is imported, but could be produced here.