DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett has refused to indicate when farmers in England can expect to be paid their single farm payment and defended junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach, who the Tory Party has said should quit over the issue.

Mrs Beckett was repeatedly asked for assurances on the timing of payments during a urgent question session in the House of Commons on Monday (27 March).

But although the minister claimed steps had been sanctioned in the past few days in order to speed up payments, she refused to be drawn on how long it would take to get the payments out.

The minister said she was not “giving guarantees that she can’t substantiate” and “nothing would be worse” for farmers than giving them information that was less than reliable.

Challenged by Tory Shadow minister Jim Paice, who demanded the resignation of junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach, Mrs Beckett also defended the role she and her fellow ministers have played in the SFP situation.

Ministers had been reliant on the advice given to them by the RPA and the agency had given every assurance that the Single Payment Scheme could be introduced on time and the payments made as indicated, she said.

“I reject any charge that there was complacency on the part of ministers.”

Mrs Beckett said the government had not ruled out the possibility of interim payments, but was reluctant if it jeopardised the timetable for getting full payments out.

But she dismissed the idea that producers should be paid interest, arguing that that the EU deadline for payments is 30 Jun.

* More detail of the debate will follow on FWi on Tuesday (27 March).