9 June 1995

Call for inquiry into payments

MPs demanded a special MAFF inquiry on Wednesday into farmers who receive large environmental payments for doing nothing.

Members of the Commons agriculture select committee pressed MAFFs top official Richard Packer to instigate an inquiry into large "windfall" sums given to some farmers and landowners in environmentally sensitive areas.

Workingtons Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours said other farmers were worried about the knock-on effects of the payments on local land market prices.

"Have you considered the knock-on consequences?" he asked MAFFs permanent secretary. In the ESAs farmers and landowners were receiving more money than they had had in their lives, said Mr Campbell-Savours. As a result they were buying land they could not otherwise afford.

In his constituency, payments of tens of thousands of £s and even of £90,000 and £100,000 were being made to farmers and landowners for doing what they had historically done.

It was right that farmers and landowners who could not afford to do the work or who had to change their farming practices should be helped. Everyone in the Lake District wanted farmers to be supported but he was interested in those being paid for doing little.

When Mr Packer said the matter would be looked at during MAFFs regular, routine evaluation of payments in the ESAs Mr Campbell-Savours repeatedly pressed him for a special inquiry.

Mr Packer said he would expect the select committees report on MAFF would point out if public money was being spent with no great public gain. "Why doesnt your department carry out the inquiry?" Mr Campbell-Savours insisted. &#42

Peter Bullen