28 October 1999
Minister admits mistake over IACS

by Isabel Davies

A CORNISH farmer has saved thousands of pounds after MAFF admitted it had misinterpreted European legislation regarding the application of IACS rules.

Clive Keam, of Tregarrick Farm, Luxulyan, was told by MAFF officials he would have to pay back £7000 in subsidy payments following changes to his area measurements.

Mr Keams problems started MAFF inspectors found some of his field measurements were incorrect.

He was told he had been overclaiming on some fields by a total of 0.8ha (2acres) but underclaiming on others by a total of 1.2 ha (3 acres).

Following the inspection, MAFF told Mr Keam he was no longer eligible for extensification premiums and would have to repay the money.

On complaining to his regional office, Mr Keam was told that overpayments had to be reclaimed by MAFF but that underpayments could not be rectified.

“They told me that the underclaiming cannot be backdated,” he said.

Adamant that this was unjust, Mr Keam enlisted the help of Colin Breed, his local MP who was recently appointed as agricultural spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.

After taking up the matter with European farm commissioner Franz Fischler, Mr Breed was told the British government had misinterpreted Commission legislation.

This has now been confirmed by junior farm minister Joyce Quin who said Mr Keam no longer owes any money to MAFF.

Mr Breed is now urging farmers who might be in similar positions to contact their local MPs.

“I am not satisfied to leave this at the happy ending, he said. “I am concerned that many other farmers have been affected by this Government error.”

After his success, Mr Keam is also urging other farmers to fight their cases with MAFF.

But he remains concerned that producers dont have a level playing field when it comes to dealing with the ministry.

“We make the smallest of mistakes and they penalise us,” he said. “They can make as many mistakes as possible.”

Mr Keam is not alone in his thinking. The Hill Farming Initiative is lobbying for an independent system of appeal to cover all areas where MAFF has sole jurisdiction.