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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 to disclosure."

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