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Agri-Environment Payments

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 20 June 2019

Yesterday, the Rural Payments Agency announced that it will make payments next month to all those who have been waiting on the historical revenue payments, and therefore every farmer who has been taking part in environmental and countryside stewardship schemes, which deliver important benefits for our environment, will receive the money that they deserve.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, because many farmers in my constituency have regularly complained to me about the delays in countryside stewardship scheme payments. Will he expand on that answer for those who, in some instances, have had to wait more than 600 days for payments?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Hertfordshire farmers and indeed for workers across the English countryside. He is absolutely right: past performance has not been good enough. That is why I am so pleased that the RPA’s chief executive, Paul Caldwell, will make sure that all back payments are cleared next month.

I hope the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) realises that he has just been canvassed.

Last Thursday, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), and I visited Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services. We met farmers who had not been paid for 18 months, so payments in July would be welcome. Will they get interest on the late payments?

The hon. Lady is a superb advocate for the farmers of upper Teesdale, County Durham and England, and it is not too late for her to cross the House. She makes a fair point, and I will look into it.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), as we leave the European Union we will build up more and more environmentally friendly agricultural policy, so stewardship schemes will be more important than ever. There has been a loss of faith in them, and I am worried about the future programme, because farmers really do not like the complexity and have waited far too long for their payments.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point; the schemes have been bedevilled by unnecessary complexity in the past. It is critical that as we leave the European Union and have new environmental land management schemes, they are both simpler and more effective in supporting farmers in the wonderful work that they do.

In calling Dr David Drew, I remind Members and inform others that the hon. Gentleman has a doctorate in rural economy.

I know that, as always, you are my biggest fan, Mr Speaker.

I hear what the Secretary of State says, but one reason for the current collapse in the take-up of environmental agri-ecology schemes is the slowness and lateness of payments, which is bedevilling the pilots for the environmental land management schemes. Will the Secretary of State assure me that those pilots will now get under way?