EU Farm Subsidies Uncovered
Royals must reveal EU subsidies
David Hencke and Rob Evans
The Guardian, Friday 7th January 2005
The Queen, Prince Charles, big landowners and the Coop Group are to be obliged
to declare millions of pounds of EU farm subsidies they receive every year in
the most radical move taken by ministers since the Freedom of Information Act
came into force on January 1.
The decision was announced within hours of the government receiving a request
from the Guardian to disclose details of the £3.4 billion annual subsidies.
The "open government" initiative is backed by two former ministers, a prominent
Labour peer and British and European think-tanks.
It is understood that the Queen and Prince Charles qualify for the biggest
payments because of their large land holdings farmed by tenants in the duchies
of Lancaster and Cornwall.
Scotland's largest claimant is believed to be the Duke of Buccleuch, said to be
Britain's largest private landowner.
Last year, Oxfam estimated that seven of Britain's richest men collectively earn
more than £2 million a year in payouts from the EU. The group estimated that one
of the richest, the Duke of Westminster, receives £326,000 in subsidies a year,
while another, the Duke of Marlborough, attracts £369,000 for his arable farm on
the Blenheim estate, Oxfordshire.
The Cooperative Group is one of the largest claimants because it has more than
100 farms covering 85,000 acres.
Lord Whitty, the farming minister, announced the move at the annual National
Farmers' Union (NFU) farming conference in Oxford. He told farmers that he
wanted the change to come into force in April when a simplified system, known as
single payments, is introduced.
"I have personally always been uncomfortable that individual payments of subsidy
to farmers under the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) were not subject to public
disclosure as they are for example in Denmark."
"Four days ago the Freedom of Information Act came into force. Whilst there may
have been some partial justification for non-disclosure of production-related
subsidy, there will be none under the FOI in relation to single payment. Not all
decisions have yet been reached on this, but I will certainly be recommending
that in relation to future payments all single payment details should be subject
He also indicated that his ministry would not fight the Guardian's request,
telling delegates: "FOI applies retrospectively and it is possible that the
[information] commissioner [Richard Thomas] or the courts will deem historic
information also to be disclosable."
Lord Whitty's announcement was welcomed by Nick Brown, the former agriculture
minister: "This is a great victory for the Guardian. When I was a minister I had
a struggle to be allowed to see the individual figures, let alone be able to
publish them. They will reveal that some 80 percent of the subsidy goes to 20
percent of the farmers. Some of the biggest sums are well in excess of £1
million a year."
Michael Wills, the former minister in charge of freedom of information, said:
"This shows that the benefits of having a Freedom of Information Act are
beginning to work."
Lord Haskins, the Labour peer and chairman of Northern Foods, said: "Its very
good news that this information will become public. It is public money and
nobody should be ashamed of receiving it."
© The Guardian 2005 www.guardian.co.uk