15 November 2000
Farms ‘suffocated’ by red tape

By Alistair Driver

GOVERNMENT advisers have told ministers that farmers are being suffocated by red tape and plans for a pesticide tax should be shelved.

Abolishing pesticide tax plans is one of 21 recommendations to reduce the impact of red tape in a report by the Better Regulation task force.

The Better Regulation task force, chaired by Lord Haskins, believes that a pesticide tax would come at a time when farmers can least afford it.

“We see it more as a means of raising money for the Treasury than improving the environment,” he told Farmers Weekly.

The document, Environmental Regulations and Farmers, was released on Wednesday (15 November) after being commissioned by Tony Blair.

It will be welcomed by farmers who have been trying to persuade the government to introduce voluntary controls on pesticides rather than impose a tax.

The governments pre-Budget statement, released last week, said proposals for voluntary pesticide controls had “failed to meet a number of concerns”.

That comment, buried in the statement prepared by Chancellor Gordon Brown, prompted fears that pesticides will be taxed after the spring Budget.

But Lord Haskins believes that the government should at least give a voluntary code a chance before ministers consider introducing legislation.

Lord Haskins also urged government departments and farming organisations to be more effective when lobbying Brussels on behalf of farmers.

“British farmers have been disadvantaged by the failure of the people lobbying on their behalf to respond quickly to proposed EU directives,” he said.

Lord Haskins was especially critical of the way farm leaders handled recent proposals for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control payments.

“They were caught on the hop,” he said. “Initially they did not even realise that the regulations affected farmers.”

A more co-ordinated approach to environmental legislation should be fostered between farm and environmental ministers, the report urges.

Furthermore, it advises Britain not to implement European Union directives ahead of other member states or embellish them with additional requirements.

Lord Haskins is also keen to see fewer on-farm inspections.

The relevant authorities should try harder to co-ordinate their farm visits with a view to saving time and money, recommends the report.

All farmers should get better advice from government agencies and have access to the internet by 2005, it says.