Revealed: the rich landowners making hay on EU subsidies

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The system of allocating vast EU subsidies to wealthy landowners was criticised yesterday as deeply flawed for failing to benefit farmers in need.

The system of allocating vast EU subsidies to wealthy landowners was criticised yesterday as deeply flawed for failing to benefit farmers in need.

New figures revealed that estates owned by Britain's wealthiest men were among those to have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in subsidies.

The extent of the subsidies came to light in figures released by the government's Rural Payments Agency under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Duke of Westminster's estate received £448,000 under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) between 2003 and 2004, while the Duke of Marlborough received £511,000 and the Duke of Bedford £366,000 in the same period.

Oxfam called for "radical overhaul" of the system which it described as flawed for failing to close the gap between struggling farmers and the wealthiest landowners in Britain.

Phil Bloomer, Head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair Campaign, said: "These figures confirm what we already suspected: the EU's agricultural subsidy scheme is skewed in favour of the richest landowners and biggest companies.

"While these people rake in millions, poor farmers at home and abroad are going under. This information shows just how rotten our agricultural trade system is and paves the way for urgent and radical reform.

"We want the EU to change agricultural trade rules in a way that benefits the poorest farmers both at home and abroad. The immediate elimination of export subsidies and a radical overhaul of the sugar regime, would be a good place to start."

The figures also revealed that the Prince of Wales' Duchy of Cornwall estate received nearly £135,000 in subsidies for 2003-2004.

A Clarence House spoke- sman said the Prince would not have received the money: "The Duchy of Cornwall does not receive single payment subsidies as they are paid directly to the tenants."

The National Farmers' Union insisted the information related to a system which has now been abolished and replaced by a system based on a new set of criteria.

NFU president Tim Bennett said: "Now in 2005 farmers receive support for helping to manage the countryside.

"All payments from now on are subject to tough environmental conditions. The public get real value for money. Farmers will receive £1.7bn, which equates to only 0.14 per cent of total public spending, in return for managing 75 per cent of land in England.

"The subsidy 'rich list' that no doubt will be reproduced by the media do not reflect the reality for many farmers," he said. "The average net annual earnings for farmers in the years for this information was only £13,000. The total is a fraction of total public spending of £1,200bn."

The NFU next week launches an environmental campaign including a survey showing 74 per cent of people support giving farmers public money for managing the countryside.

THE BIG BENEFICIARIES

Subsidies in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy for 2003-2004:

* Estate owned by Duke of Westminster: £448,000

* Estate owned by Duke of Marlborough: £511,000

* Estate owned by Duke of Bedford: £366,000

* Estate owned by Earl of Plymouth: £459,000

* Estate of Marquess of Cholmondeley: £306,000

* The Prince of Wales' Duchy of Cornwall estate: nearly £135,000

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