But why do farmers need government dispensation before they can use machinery in this way? Perhaps it is bad for the land to do it. But farmland has owners, so why can't we assume that they will not damage their asset unless they have good reason, such as saving a crop?This question has now been raised in the Lords. Yesterday's Hansard records the following exchange:
And then other peers joined in to support the former speaker.
Baroness Boothroyd asked Her Majesty’s Government:
How many British farmers have been prosecuted under European Union rules for using a combine harvester on wet land.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): None, my Lords. Breaching cross-compliance would result not in a prosecution but normally in a reduction in payment. As part of the EU’s direct payment to farmers, member states must set cross-compliance conditions aimed at preventing soil damage through the inappropriate use of agricultural machinery. No farmers have been found in breach of the relevant English standard. To enable farmers to complete their harvest, my department granted a derogation.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there have been no prosecutions, but does not the Minister hold the view that British farmers are the best judges of whether or not to use heavy machinery on their wet fields? Surely they know better than Brussels bureaucrats how to protect their soil quality for future harvests. When can we expect this ludicrous EU rule to be abandoned so that British farmers can use their common sense?
The Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler put his finger on part of the problem when he asked:
But wouldn't it be better not to have to derogate from such legislation in the first place?
will the Minister confirm that other member states have negotiated a more complete and comprehensive derogation? What steps could our Government take to make this a much less rigorous and much more flexible system than the one that it seems is being imposed on British farmers at the moment?