Examination of Witnesses (Questions
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
BENDER CB, MR
160. I wish that what you said to me was a comfort
but I do not think it is. Whilst I accept that there are other
very good reasons why a farmer may have different trading names,
I cannot believe that it is a sensible use of your resources to
do what you have just described, which was how many thousand parcels?
(Mr McNeill) 1.7 million parcels of land will be on
the land register. That is currently handled by map systems, as
we discussed earlier, fields being identified.
161. Yes, but what you are saying is that for
1.7 million parcels of land you would then have to cross-register
(Mr McNeill) No, sorry, perhaps I was not making myself
clear. What we are saying is by doing that and creating a land
register, if a farmer in a number of names was to apply for CAP
payments, CAP subsidy, we would be able to identify that there
was a multiple application and that would enable us to prevent
fraud. I have tried to explain the two sides of the equation.
One is that we want to have a single business identifier. That
may not be possible, as you have identified, for legitimate reasonsthe
land moves from one part of the family to another, etc.but
what we need to do is make sure that where we have a number of
parts of the family or a limited company involved we can still
cross-reference that to identify that they are talking about a
particular piece of land or a grouping of fields and that way
we can avoid multiple applications for grants. That is part of
the development of the new systems.
162. I have listened to what you say but I do
not feel comforted by it.
(Mr McNeill) We have provided the Committee with a
diagram, etc., and a booklet which does go into some detail as
to how this might come about.
163. Let me pursue the issue of the fires in
the barns. The question has been properly raised, I think it was
by Mr Rendel, was there no way of determining what was actually
in the barn. Can I just ask, and it may be I have missed this,
I understood Mr Bowden had made an insurance claim for the barn
but did he make an insurance claim for the contents of the barn?
(Mr MacKinnon) I feel sure that he did but I cannot
actually give you a categoric answer. I am pretty sure that the
claims he made against the insurance company did include the lost
crop. The crop in his barn under the flax scheme would belong
to the contractor with whom he contracted. Some of the recent
discussion has talked about Mr Bowden as claimant but under the
flax scheme, of course, he was not the claimant, he was the grower,
the claimant was the processor who had a contract with Mr Bowden
to take all the flax from the fields he was growing in.
164. A contract that Mr Bowden would subsequently
default on because he had no flax to provide and, therefore, presumably
there would be some form of damages under that contract.
(Mr MacKinnon) That would be a contractual matter,
165. And, therefore, he would have suffered
the loss which he was able to claim from the insurance company.
(Mr MacKinnon) That is my understanding, yes.
166. In answer to Mr Rendel's question, why
has nobody actually tracked back what the loss adjustor who investigated
the loss from the barn found when he was investigating that case?
(Mr MacKinnon) There was no need under the flax scheme
arrangements to do that for 1994-5-6 because there was no requirement
for processing to actually take place in those years. Subsequently
it became a requirement that the flax should be processed and
we would have had great difficulty with that claim because clearly
no flax was processed following the barn fire. In those years
the issue was one, after that time, for the insurance company.
I cannot tell you what investigations they carried out.
167. I am not sure whether we are at cross-purposes
or not. I understood that you had said that nobody knew for sure
what was in the barn. That was in response to an earlier question.
My question to you is this: why did you not find out by seeing
what the loss adjustor had determined was in the barn when investigating
(Mr MacKinnon) I think my answer to that must be that
we were satisfied that the crop which had been grown was flax.
Indeed, the court took the same view ultimately in accepting not
guilty pleas about falsifying claims for flax.
168. Okay. In paragraph 3.10 it states "It
would have been difficult to identify the crops being grown or
harvested . . ." because of this special Viking strain that
Mr Bowden claimed to be growing. I believe you said to the Committee
earlier that there were two visits, one in September 1994 after
the sowing and one in April 1995 after the harvesting but also
after it had been lost in the fireallegedly. Can I ask
why would your department send an inspector at a time of year
when they knew that it was very difficult to tell the difference
between Viking flax and linseed? You know what the growing cycle
is. Until I read this report I could not have told you what flax
or linseed looked like to save my life. Why on earth would you
send an inspector at a time when you know it is going to be difficult
to identify? Why did you not send your inspectors at a time when
you knew that it would be quite conclusive?
(Mr MacKinnon) We do our inspections for a number
of things. It is not sufficient, for instance, for a grower simply
to scatter seed on the land, so we might go and do a post-harvest
check, do a stubble count to make sure that the population of
plants in the field was consistent with proper agronomic practice.
We do a sowing declaration stage inspection to make sure that
he has sown the fields that he has said. I think our problem here
was our inspector was going along expecting to see plants of the
flax/linseed family and knowing that there was a flax claim would
have accepted that what he was seeing was flax.
169. Sorry, forgive me, are you telling me that
when your inspectors went there, they did not know that what they
were going to see was Viking flax? You are not telling me that
because in the report it says, quite clearly, that they were going
to do a field inspection of some of the ten per cent of all flax
scheme applicants, so they knew.
(Mr MacKinnon) They knew they were going to see Viking
170. They knew they were?
(Mr MacKinnon) Yes.
171. So they knew that they were going to see
Viking flax at a time of year when it was virtually impossible,
without actually doing a laboratory test, to determine whether
it was Viking flax or linseed.
(Mr MacKinnon) I am not sure whether a lab test would
have been necessary.
172. We will get on to the lab test, just answer
(Mr MacKinnon) As far as I know all I have is the
inspector's report of that visit when he says that he saw flax
growing in the field.
173. Mr MacKinnon, it is not the inspector I
want to nail here, it is you. You were responsible for this, for
God's sake. You were the official in charge sending these guys
out into the field. What the hell were you doing sending them
out into the field at a time when you of all people knew that
they could not tell the difference between what they were looking
at and something else?
(Mr MacKinnon) I am not saying that the inspector
could not tell the difference. There are similarities, clearly.
The inspector said that he was satisfied that there was flax in
174. Yes, the inspector did say that but you
have, in an agreed report, told usand I quoteit
would have been difficult to identify the crops being grown or
(Mr MacKinnon) I think that is in the awareness that
there was, indeed, a linseed claim under the AAPS scheme. Now
we know that, we did not know that at the time and that is the
problem and we said we got wrong. We should have done cross checks
with the IACS schemes. Had we known there was an AAPS claim there
then clearly this would be a different issue.
175. I am running out of time. Can I just ask
what system of specimen taking and lab inspection of crops is
now incorporated into your process of inspection, notification,
verification and payment?
(Mr MacKinnon) I am afraid I cannot answer that. I
think we would have to give you a note on that.
176. But it is your system.
(Mr MacKinnon) It is one of a great number of systems
that I have. I have 50 or 60 schemes from the old Intervention
Board and another 10 from the old Ministry of Agriculture, so
there are some 70 schemes for which I am responsible.
Mr Osborne: Chairman, I should put on record
that I was the special advisor at the Ministry of Agriculture
from 1995 to 1997, although special advisors did not occupy the
seventh level of hell in those days. Nevertheless, it does cover
a period covered in the report
Mr Steinberg: So you were to blame!
177. I recognise some of the faces there. To
follow up what Mr Gardiner was saying, if you turn to the front
cover of this report, is that linseed or flax, Mr Bender?
(Mr Bender) I cannot answer that. I am not an expert
and I would not claim to be.
178. Mr MacKinnon?
(Mr MacKinnon) I do not know either.
179. Mr McNeill?
(Mr McNeill) No.
Chairman: Does anybody in the room know?
12 Ev 28, Appendix 1. Back