7. What recent assessment she has made of the effect on the farming community of delays in payments by the Rural Payments Agency. (904827)
All farmers in England have received their full payment or a bridging payment of half their expected claim. Overall, 90% of eligible farmers have received full payment.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am pretty sure that colleagues with rural constituencies will have numerous examples, as I do, of problems with Rural Payments Agency delays. I wish to raise the particular case of my constituent, Mrs Musson, who has been left in severe financial difficulties this year due to her payment being delayed, and has had extraordinary difficulty contacting the RPA, as far too many farmers do. The response I had from the RPA was that the payment would come “in due course” and that my constituent should call the agency for hardship assistance, yet that is precisely what she has been unable to do. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me and my constituents that farmers will not be left in such dire straits in the future, that the relevant help will be more easily available and that the RPA will be more easily contactable?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his question. All eligible farmers should have received a bridging payment by the end of April, and if this is an ongoing issue for his constituent I would be happy to assist directly. This has been the first year of implementation of the new common agricultural policy system. All payments need to be made within the payment window between December and June, and all payments will be made within that window. I appreciate that farmers are struggling with cash flow because of this year’s low commodity prices, which is why we have put in place bridging payments for those final few farmers who have not yet received payments. All that data are now on the system, so 2016 will be much more straightforward and we should be able to pay farmers much earlier in the payment window.
I thank the Secretary of State for listening to the concerns of farmers in my constituency about basic payments. In order to move forward, can she reassure us of three things: first, that these problems have been heard across the piece; secondly, that solutions such as a dedicated phone line are being considered and sought; and, thirdly, that as we move into the 2016 registration period, the system really will be fit for purpose?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and I would be happy to assist any constituents who have outstanding issues. We have paid more than 90% of farmers, and the payment window ends at the end of June, so all full payments will have been made by then. The data are now on the system, so next year will be much more straightforward. I add that both Wales and Scotland have made fewer full payments than England, and that we are on track to do what needs to be done by the end of June.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) will know, the farming community of Lincolnshire will be gathering together on 22 and 23 June for the Lincolnshire show. If my right hon. Friend is not doing anything on those particular days and can find time to come to Lincolnshire, I could introduce her to a group of farmers who oppose our membership of the EU. Can she find time in her diary for that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I could not possibly imagine what anyone might be doing on 23 June. What I would say, on behalf of all farmers, is that the EU and the single market have brought about massive benefits for food and farming. For example, 97% of lamb exports and 92% of beef exports go to the European Union. There would be a real risk to the future livelihood of those industries if we were to leave and were not able to export our fine products to those European countries any more.