Examination of witness (Questions 1 -
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY
1. Mr Curry, I welcome you to the Committee.
You have appeared before us from time to time wearing another
hat. Today we invite you to wear a different hat as Chairman of
the IACS and Inspections working Group which reported to MAFF
just over a year ago. Recently, you provided an upbeat progress
report on implementation, except for the failure to remove the
concept of producer groups in relation to the sheep annual premium
scheme. That is rather like the "Schleswig Holstein"
question: I used to know what it meant but have forgotten. However,
for this purpose I do not believe that I need to know. Given that
MAFF does not seem to have found it too difficult to follow your
recommendations, do you think that you were sufficiently radical?
(Mr Curry) We certainly set out to be radical. When
we met for the first time I made it clear that we would leave
no stone unturned and take a serious look at the issue of burdensome
regulations. Therefore, we certainly wished to be radical. I believe
that we went as far as we could in our radical approach. However,
one is constrained by many of the EU support systems in terms
of just how radical one can be. However, we set out to achieve
as much as possible.
2. What do you mean by "radical" in
(Mr Curry) Bearing in mind the remit, which was to
look at IACS and farm inspections, we interpreted it as including
all support systems for main enterprises on farms; that is, livestock
and the systems included within IACS. We set out to find out whether
there could be a better way to apply those schemes and monitor
their enforcement. Therefore, we were content to look at all aspects
and, if necessary, turn them over. We did not challenge the schemes
themselves because clearly they were not within the remit.
3. Had you been trying to design the system
from scratch, were there areas in which you felt that you might
well have made recommendations which would have led to quite a
fundamentally different system from that which exists? To illustrate
what I mean, might you have recommended that, say, in relation
to inspections in the meat processing sector we should move to
the HACCP (hazard analysis at critical control points) system,
as opposed to the physical presence of a veterinarian on the line?
(Mr Curry) Wearing my other hat, I worked very closely
with the Pooley Group and its report which looked specifically
at abattoirs, meat processing plants and the controls and enforcement
in place there. I advised Pooley from the outset that there was
a serious opportunity to introduce a hazard-based system in those
plants; indeed, the group came to that conclusion. One was quite
prepared to take that approach. However, one found that the systems
of support in place in the livestock sector, particularly beef,
had evolved over a long period of time. One support system was
introduced and a few years later another one was introduced. One
has suckler cow premium schemes, beef special premium schemes
and ultimately an extensification scheme. These were introduced
over a period of time. Each individual scheme had its own rules,
enforcement of those rules and method of application, and one
would not have started from that point if one had begun with a
clean sheet of paper. We tried to go back as far as we could to
find common ground between the schemes and opportunities to rationalise
the way in which they were being enforced.
4. Basically, did you seek to make the present
structure work better rather than devise an alternative strategy?
(Mr Curry) Yes. We did not believe that it was within
our remit to devise an alternative support structure. That would
have meant a complete renegotiation of the beef support systems
in Brussels which we did not believe fell within the group's remit.
5. When do you plan to make another review of
progress of implementation?
(Mr Curry) At the end of the current year.
6. Have you chosen that date unilaterally?
(Mr Curry) We held a review meeting in December, one
year after submission of the report, to monitor progress against
the recommendations. I plan to do the same thing in December 2001.
I have indicated to the Permanent Secretary that, assuming progress
is well advanced at the end of 2001, it may not be necessary to
have another meeting. The Committee will have read that we set
certain timescales against some of the recommendations. Two years
was as far as we went, and hopefully two years after submission
of the report those timescales will have been met.
7. If one reflects on the work of the Better
Regulation Task Force on environmental regulation, its conclusion
on the comparison with European regulation of a similar kind is
rather less favourable than yours. The main criticisms were: first,
a less proactive approach by British regulators in attempting
to define the appropriate level of regulation in the first place;
secondly, the inclusion of additional features and the implementation
of regulation much earlier than other Member States. Have you
reflected on that document and compared it with yours?
(Mr Curry) Yes, I have. A number of the recommendations
which come from the group chaired by Lord Haskins confirm our
own and are similar to ours. We did not consider environmental
schemes and controls. At our first meeting we debated the extent
of our remit and decided that the environmental area - there are
various environmental schemes, and it is a fairly complex area
- ought to be subject to a separate study and we did not have
time to delve deeply into it. Had we done so we might well have
arrived at the same conclusion as Lord Haskins. However, that
is an area that we have not studied.
8. Your answer appears to be that there may
be a cultural difference between the way in which we deal with
the environmental regulation of farming and the way in which we
choose to regulate other aspects?
(Mr Curry) There may well be. I am not qualified to
express a view on the environmental schemes and whether we are
over-zealous in our interpretation of European environmental regulations
or go ahead of other Member States in enforcing them. From our
limited study of the implementation of IACS and other farm support
systems in other Member States, we found that all were driven
by the need to comply with and meet European auditor requirements.
We also found that enforcement and the fear of disallowance led
every Member State to apply the regulations as rigorously as possible.
All farmers in every Member State believe that their government
are over-zealous in implementing European rules.
9. Does that imply that your group might have
focused more time on whether preparatory work should have been
done on the regulatory environment itself by the British Government
to ensure that it was appropriate? As I believe you said in response
to the Chairman, you accepted the basic regulatory framework as
it was and asked how it was being applied. One argument would
be that that was an opportunity to ask whether the regulatory
framework was appropriate to the task and whether the group could
have an influence in improving quality while being consistent
with the overall objective.
(Mr Curry) I do not want you to misinterpret what
I said in answer to the Chairman. We did not accept that the regulatory
framework built around every support system was not up for review.
What we did not challenge was the support system itself. We accepted
that the beef special premium, the suckler cow premium and various
support systems would continue. We reviewed and challenged the
way that those systems were put in place, how they were implemented
and the regulatory framework which was built around them.
10. Do you accept that your study on the international
comparisons was fairly limited?
(Mr Curry) Yes, it was very limited.
11. You visited the Netherlands and popped over
the border into the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, the physical
scrutiny was limited?
(Mr Curry) Yes.
12. You looked at the forms that other Member
(Mr Curry) Yes.
13. That would have produced a fairly incomplete
(Mr Curry) It was not a comprehensive review of how
Member States implemented regulations; it was a quick look-see.
14. Do you believe that such a study should
(Mr Curry) I think that it would be helpful for a
15. Yet that was not one of your recommendations?
(Mr Curry) We felt that we had sufficient anecdotal
evidence, together with the forms that we surveyed from admittedly
limited knowledge, to arrive at the conclusions that we did. I
do not believe that a more detailed study would have led to substantially
different conclusions in the group. It quickly became apparent
that there were three key issues: first, a reduction in the number
of forms; secondly, a reduction in the number of farm inspections;
and, thirdly, the establishment of some appeal mechanism. If one
strips away everything else one nails it down to those three issues.
I do not believe that a trip round Europe would have resulted
in any different conclusion.
16. Is that not the typically UK-centric view
that we have some issues to resolve which we shall do in our own
way but have little to learn from the application of similar constraints
by our European colleagues, because almost certainly they do it
in a more sloppy, inefficient way?
(Mr Curry) Had we followed what I believe to be the
prevailing UK view we would have come to the conclusion that the
British Government was more rigorous than any other in their implementation
of EU regulations. That is certainly the prevailing view in the
agricultural industry. From our admittedly limited interrogation
of other Member States and information available to us, we did
not confirm that view.
17. I recognise the view that you express, but
the alternative interpretation is that other EU states have a
more intuitive and lighter touch in implementing the basic framework
that is given to them by the European Union. We are not more rigorous
but more heavy-handed. That is an alternative perspective where
perhaps we have something to learn from how others choose to implement
what is to be done, rather than take the rather patronising view
that we are rigorous about it and others are sloppy?
(Mr Curry) Certainly, we found that the approach in
Ireland to IACS was simpler. The form-filling was much simpler
than ours. We found that the Netherlands had already embarked
on a computerised national cattle register in the early 1990s
and were much further advanced in the data they held and their
ability to help their industry through form-filling. There are
individual examples where Member States have made greater progress
in reducing the regulatory burden.
18. Those were the only two countries you visited
and you found two examples?
(Mr Curry) Yes, but we had forms and other information
provided by other Member States. The recommendations reflect the
fact that we want to see a reduction in form-filling. We do not
deny that there are examples of where that can be improved.
19. You highlighted the Irish example. It has
also been drawn to our attention that the sheer scale of form-filling
in Ireland appears to be dramatically less than ours. Did you
not feel that that implied the need for further study of how they
arrived at that process, or did you accept the view, which was
no doubt given to you by MAFF officials, that the Irish are pretty
sloppy about the whole process and risk being disallowed on some
of these claims?
(Mr Curry) If one looks at the disallowance record
of each Member State