Farmer takes Government to High Court

A SUFFOLK farmer will today launch a High Court battle against Government minister Margaret Beckett claiming she is putting English farmers at a disadvantage.

By Richard Smith

A SUFFOLK farmer will today launch a High Court battle against Government minister Margaret Beckett claiming she is putting English farmers at a disadvantage.

Mark Horvath, from Worlingworth, is angry that Mrs Beckett is including footpaths in cross-compliance regulations imposed on farmers under a new payment support regime.

Mr Horvath will argue that English farmers will be doubly penalised if they fall foul of rights of way regulations because not only will they be fined but they will also lose a percentage of their support payment.


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He claims it is unfair that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), of which Mrs Beckett is Secretary of State, is only asking English farmers to conform with the footpath requirement and it does not apply to farmers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Horvath said yesterday: ''The European regulation requires each member state to set 'only minimum conditions' for its farmers.

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“In Mrs Beckett we have a UK Secretary of State who regularly makes regulations that not only put us at a competitive disadvantage against other member states' farmers but also against those in the other UK regions for which she is responsible to the EU.

“When there are EU regulations applied to the UK, then the UK as a member state must uniformly apply them across the UK, rather than just enforce them in England. English farmers should not be doubly penalised.”

Under the cross-compliance regulations farmers must “keep all visible rights of way open, unobstructed to their full width and on their legal line”.

Mr Horvath is supported by a legal team acting free of charge. Richard Barker, of Barker Gotelee solicitiors, at Martlesham Heath, said: ''The EU single payment scheme regulations are addressed to the member states, not their regions, and it is the member state, here Mrs Beckett who represents the UK in the EU Council of Farm Ministers, who is responsible for ensuring their proper application across the whole of the UK.''

Defra, in written evidence before the hearing, argues that because of devolution, England, and each of the UK's devolved regions, can have different cross-compliance conditions.

A Defra spokesperson said yesterday: ''It is not possible to comment on this individual case. Extensive public consultation was undertaken over the measures to be included in cross compliance regulations.

“As a result, Ministers decided to include public footpaths to ensure farmers maintain any rights of way on their land, therefore safeguarding public access. These cross-compliance requirements therefore do no more than require farmers to meet their pre-existing legal requirements to maintain rights of way.”

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