'Fat cats' benefit from EU farming subsidies

Colin Brown,Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 09 February 2008 01:00 GMT

The Queen and one of the richest men in London, the Duke of Westminster, are among the biggest winners from this year's payment of farm subsidies.

The Duke, who owns most of Mayfair and also Grosvenor Farms Limited, was paid £562,786, while the Duke of Marlborough, a member of the Churchill family, was paid £452,944 in subsidy for the Blenheim Farm Partnership based in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

One of the largest payments went to the Mormon Church, which has become one of the biggest foreign landowners in English farming following a payment of £1.59m from the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Queen's Sandringham Farms were paid £408,970 in subsidies. Half of the land is let to tenants and the rest is turned over to two studs for her racehorses, forestry and fruit farms which produce apples and juice for the Windsor farm shop.

Labour MPs protested that the money was being paid to so-called "fat cats" who did not need financial support – at the expense of poorer farmers in the Third World who were facing unfair competition from the EU.

The single farm payment scheme was introduced in 2005 as the first stage in a radical reform programme to overhaul the CAP, which takes up 40 per cent of the £76bn EU budget.

But long-term reform is likely to be shelved until 2013 because of strong opposition by the farming lobby in the UK and Germany to capping payments according to size. There have been claims that the Queen and the communists, who want to protect small farms, have united in opposition to cuts in subsidies.

The EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is proposing to reduce subsides above €100,000 (£75,0000) by 10 per cent; above €200,000 by 20 per cent; and above €300,000 by 45 per cent. The Commission is also planning to scrap the compulsory practice of "set-aside", whereby farmers have to leave 10 per cent of their land idle, which was introduced in 1988

Figures had to be forced out of the Government in early 2005 under Freedom of Information legislation. Farmers angrily protested when the payments were delayed by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) but figures were recently released for the end of 2005 by the RPA. They list other farms earning more than £210,000 in subsidies, including the Thurlow Estate owned by the family trust of Lord Vestey, who died last year aged 75. The trust he set up was paid £858,134.

The biggest subsidy went to the Co-op group, which manages 16 estates with a turnover of about £21m. The Co-op owns Britain's biggest commercial farm group, Farmcare Limited, and was paid £2.4m.

The Labour MP Harry Cohen said: "The CAP costs a family of four nearly £11 a week and it is going to fat-cat landowners for no useful purpose. The sooner this system is reformed the better. It is a shocking scandal."

Landed (and loaded)

* The Queen

Owns Sandringham Farms: Half let to tenants; two studs for racehorses. Produces apples for the Windsor farm shop. Paid £408,970 in subsidies

* Mormon Church

Owners of Agreserves Limited, a farm conglomerate. Paid £1.59m

* Duke of Westminster

Owns most of Mayfair, also Grosvenor Farms and Blenheim Farm Partnership. Paid £562,786

* Lord Vestey family trust

Owns Thurlow Estate Farms. Paid £858,134

* Co-op group

Britain's biggest commercial farm group; manages 16 estates with a £21m turnover. Paid £2.4m

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