‘If accountability is to mean anything then all those responsible for the RPA failure should consider their positions,’ the Defra Select Committee has stated.

The report, issued today, calls last year’s implementation of the Rural Payments Scheme to farmers, intended as a replacement of CAP funding, a ‘catastrophe’ and calls for then Secretary of State Margaret Beckett and senior officials at Defra to account for the lack of payment, and the subsequent fines incurred from Europe.

Defra was tasked with paying farmers subsidies as agreed at European Union level, and payments came late, costing farmers £21m in interest, and incurring fines of up £461m to the EU and on fixing the errors created by what the report says was an over-complicated system.

‘A culture where ministers and senior officials can preside over failure of this magnitude and not be held personally accountable creates a serious risk of further failures in public service delivery,’ the report concludes, using extremely strong language for a committee of this nature.

Meanwhile the Countryside Alliance is concerned that Defra is cutting funding to rural bodies to pay the fines, which will further damage rural areas. Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Marine Fisheries Agency alone will lose a total of nearly £40m in funding.

Simon Hart of the CA said: ‘It is simply not acceptable that the countryside is being made to pay twice for the incompetence of Defra. David Miliband must urgently raise the cost of his predecessor’s incompetence with the Treasury. Gordon Brown cannot allow the countryside alone to pay for the price of this fiasco.’