Parliamentary sketch – Still Making Hay While the Sun Shines
The Government claims that it cannot stop rich landowners, big business or Royalty from claiming millions in farm subsidies because it would be “very easy to get around any rules” simply by pretending that their large holdings were made up of many smaller ones!
As many know, I have campaigned for the Government to introduce a cap to stop the largest and wealthiest landowners who don’t need the money from claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds – and in some cases more than a £million – of tax payer funded handouts through the farm support system.
I recently asked the Prime Minister for the Government to be consistent. If it’s okay to introduce “a reasonable” cap on “very high claims for tax payer funded welfare benefits” then – as I put it to the PM – if “we are all in it together”, the Government should introduce a reasonable cap on very high claims for tax payer funded handouts to large and wealthy landowners, as is proposed by other countries in Europe.
This week, the Agriculture Minister, David Heath, explained that the Government would introduce a cap on payments but says it cannot because large landowners and agri-businesses would “get around” the rules.
The Government gives out about £3 billion a year in grants to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy. Europe has proposed a cap of €300,000 on payments.
I don’t know any landowners in West Cornwall who receive payments above that level. So I don’t think any farmers in this area would be affected by such a cap.
I welcomed the Agriculture Minister’s more supportive response to my question than I received from his Conservative predecessor. But I am afraid his explanation that these wealthy landowners and agri-businesses would find “it very easy to get around any rules…by simply disaggregating big holdings” doesn’t wash with me.
If we resisted the introduction of any new rule or law simply because we feared that the unscrupulous would find it “very easy to get around”, then there are many other laws and tax rules which we would never have introduced – from road traffic rules which save lives to litter rules and removal of tax incentives for second home owners, for example.
If the numbers in receipt of single farm payment over €300,000 is in the hundreds then any alteration in the aggregation of their claim after the introduction of a new cap on payments would look very conspicuous indeed. Wealthy landowners who are shown to have divvied up their holding to try to “get around the rules” could then be subject to a “name and shame” sanction many (though perhaps not all!) would find an uncomfortable experience!
The bottom line is that if a Government believes that it can introduce a reasonable cap on very high claims for welfare benefits then they should find ways of introducing a cap on very high claims for tax payer funded handouts to the largest and wealthiest landowners in the country.
Andrew George MP
13th August 2013