Monday, January 28, 2019

Vested Interests?

Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies.

An analysis by the Guardian and the environmental group Friends of the Earth identified 48 parliamentarians who claimed £5.7m in farming subsidies under the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available.

The largest single payment – £473,000 – was paid to a Sussex farming firm run by the 18th Duke of Norfolk, a large landowner whose estate dates from the middle ages.

Conservative MP Richard Drax, descendant of a 19th-century slave-owner and current resident of the family ancestral seat of Charborough House in Dorset, owns a farm that received £411,000.
Matt Ridley, the fifth Viscount Ridley, runs two firms which received £316,000. The Blagdon estate in Northumberland has been owned by his family since 1700. The hereditary peer was forced to resign as chairman of the Northern Rock bank in 2007 after presiding over its financial collapse.

The EU subsidies have been criticised for many years for rewarding large landowners, who receive the biggest payments. The top 10% of recipients receive almost 50% of total payments, which in the UK amount to £3bn per year.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, is proposing to change the system. Campaigners have raised questions over whether politicians will be swayed by their financial interests and seek to influence the bill. Guy Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, questioned whether the politicians would have their own financial interests or the public interest uppermost in their minds when they came to vote on reforming the subsidy system.

 The minister responsible for piloting the bill through the House of Lords is junior environment minister, Lord Gardiner of Kimble. He is a partner in a family farm, CM Robarts & Son, which received £49,000 in EU agricultural subsidies in 2017. Three other members of the government have farming interests. Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the chief whip in the Lords, has a shareholding in a firm that grows cereals, crops and vegetables which had an EU subsidy of £159,000 in 2017.  Conservative MP for Sherwood, Mark Spencer, a government whip, is a partner in a Nottinghamshire farm which received an EU subsidy of £14,000 in 2017. A farming firm owned by junior education minister Lord Agnew received a subsidy of £212,000 in 2017.

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