I propose to take Questions Nos. 439 and 440 together.
In the context of delivering the Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme and other area based schemes, my Department is required to carry out an annual round of inspections covering both the eligibility of the land declared to draw down payments and also cross compliance aspects, to ensure compliance with EU regulatory requirements in the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare.
Land eligibility checks must be carried out on at least 5% of applicants. These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes. Currently, around two-thirds of these inspections are carried out in the first instance without the need for a farm visit, as the information needed is acquired using the technique of remote sensing via satellite. When the available images do not permit a satisfactory verification of the land use or area of a parcel(s) applied for by an applicant, perhaps due to cloud cover, it is an EU requirement that a ground inspection must take place. These inspections are generally limited to verifying the area of the particular parcel(s) where the position is unclear from the imagery available (unless 80% or more of the area was unclear). The results obtained are used, in combination with the clear satellite imagery, to finalise the eligibility inspection of the entire areas declared.
As regards the timing of inspections, the annual inspection cycle can only commence following completion of a structured risk analysis selection process which includes the analysis and evaluation of data from the previous year’s inspections. Eligibility inspections, as such, can only commence following the initial stages of processing of the current year’s Single Payment Scheme applications. All eligibility inspections must take place before any payments can issue to any farmers in the country in a given year. It is a regulatory requirement that Cross Compliance inspections must take place throughout the calendar year to take account of specific requirements at individual Statutory Management Requirement level.
Provided the purpose of the control is not jeopardised, relevant EU Regulations enable my Department to give up to 14 days notice for land eligibility inspections. This also applies for cross compliance inspections involving Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs), other than those related to animal identification and registration, feed, food and animal welfare. For checks involving animal identification and registration, the maximum advance notice permitted under EU regulations is 48 hours, provided the purpose of the inspection is not jeopardised. For SMRs dealing with feed, food and animal welfare, no advance notice is permitted under governing EU Regulations.
As a general rule and following requests from the farming organisations, my Department tries to integrate inspections, including all of the cross compliance inspection elements, with a view to avoiding more than one visit to a farm; this, however, has implications for the degree of flexibility available to my Department to give advance notice. Nonetheless, in respect of those elements of an integrated inspection for which advance notice is possible, the farmer can request deferral of those particular elements to a separate inspection.