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Mr. Edwards: My right hon. Friend mentions the Housing Corporation. He will know, as a Welsh Member of Parliament and a former First Minister, that there is no equivalent body in WalesTai Cymru ended when the Assembly was establishedand I am not aware of any equivalent initiative, certainly not in the rural area of Wales that I represent.
My hon. Friend is well aware that I am not replying on devolved issues. Such matters are the Assembly's responsibility, as is the issue that he raises in
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relation to his constituentsMr. and Mrs. Spracklingmissing the sheep premium application date in 2000. He kindly gave me notice of that question. They applied to the National Assembly to have the year 2000 disregarded, but they have been told that the application cannot be reconsidered. As I say, that is a matter for the National Assembly, rather than for DEFRA, but I understand that the case did not meet the criteria of either exceptional circumstances or force majeuretwo principles that I am now very used to when dealing with applications and appeals in England. The European rules under which we work in providing support to farmers include some strict requirements that must be met.
I believe that it is also the case that issues such as the introduction of a retirement scheme would come within the ambit of the National Assembly for Wales as devolved matters, as they would be the Welsh equivalents of those elements that are contained in the England rural development programme, but I will confirm that to my hon. Friend in writing because I was not able to check that point during the debate.
As my hon. Friend rightly said, the representatives of tenant farmers have lobbied strongly for an early retirement scheme under the England rural development programme. We are not convinced that such a scheme would be good value for moneypresumably, an equivalent judgment is being made in Walesbut we are aware of the problem that tenant farmers face in finding accommodation. We are committed to ensuring that more affordable homes are provided.
It is true to say that the sweeping changes of CAP reform will affect agriculture entirely, as well as the wider rural community, but a time of change is also a time of opportunity, and we want to make sure that tenant farmers are able to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by CAP reform.
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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made it clear in her speech to the annual general meeting of the National Farmers Union earlier in the year that we understand tenant farmers' worries that they might find themselves disadvantaged as a result of the implementation of the single payment. Therefore, in all our decisions on CAP reform, we have been careful to examine the effects on both tenant farmers and landlords. We have made it clear that CAP reform should not be allowed to distort the balance of advantage in favour of either landlords or tenants.
Many tenants are concerned about what will happen to the allocations of single payment entitlement at the end of tenancy. The Tenancy Reform Industry Group has been helpful in providing a guidance note both for landlords and tenants that gives advice on the issue. That has been well received. As the implementation of CAP reform progresses, the Government will monitor closely the impact on landlord and tenant relationships. We will keep in close touch with the representatives of tenant farmers, who do an excellent job in lobbying on behalf of their members.
More specifically, DEFRA has invited tenders for specific research that will examine the impact of CAP reform on the diversification activities of tenant farmers, as well as looking at the wider impact of CAP reform on the landlord-tenant relationship. That research will be carried out in two parts during 2005 and 2006, and those involved will report to the Government at the end of 2006.
To conclude, protecting the interests of tenant farmers has been a key issue in the Government's agriculture agenda. We value the diversity that tenant farmers bring to farming. We have acted through the industry group to try to correct some of the anomalies that disadvantage tenant farmers, and our aim is ensure that the sector maintains and enhances its place in the agricultural community.