FOI begins to work - more news on £3.4bn annual EU farm subsidies

The Queen, Prince Charles, main UK landowners and the Co-op will have to declare millions of pounds of EU farm subsidies that they receive every year "in the most radical move taken by ministers since the Freedom of Information Act came into force on January 1", according to the Guardian.

Lord Whitty, the farming minister, announced the move at a conference in Oxford. He stated: "Four days ago the Freedom of Information Act came into force. Whilst there may have been some partial justification for non-disclosure of production-related subsidy, there will be none under FOI in relation to single payment [...] FOI applies retrospectively and it is possible that the commissioner or the courts will deem historic information also to be disclosable."

Last year, Oxfam estimated that more than £2m a year in payouts from the EU is collectively earned by seven of Britain's richest men. One of the wealthiest, the Duke of Westminster, receives £326,000 in subsidies a year, while the Duke of Marlborough, receives £369,000 for his arable farm on the Blenheim estate, Oxfordshire. The Queen and Prince Charles appear to receive the largest payments because of their large land holdings farmed by tenants in the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. The Co-operative Society is also one of the largest claimants, owning more than 100 farms covering 85,000 acres.

Nick Brown, the former agriculture minister, commented: "When I was a minister I had a struggle to be allowed to see the individual figures, let alone be able to publish them. They will reveal that some 80% of the subsidy goes to 20% of the farmers."

Michael Wills, the former minister in charge of freedom of information, said: "This shows that the benefits of having a Freedom of Information Act are beginning to work."

EU farm subsidies uncovered: Royals must declare sums under freedom of information (The Guardian, 7 January 2005)

[see also the blog item for 6 January - "The public has a right to know farmers' EU subsidies"]