Cattle Disposal Scheme

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 13 May 1996.

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Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South 6:32, 13 May 1996

I have to announce that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 6:55, 13 May 1996

I beg to move, That this House expresses its concern at the continuing delay and confusion arising from the Government's cattle disposal scheme. On Wednesday, it will be eight weeks since a bombshell was dropped in the House by two Ministers. During that period, a great industry has been devastated and that has already cost thousands of jobs, brought businesses to the brink of bankruptcy and driven many innocent people to despair. The long-term implications for the rural economy have still to be assessed.

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have consistently refused to indulge in recriminations about the original bovine spongiform encephalopathy outbreak. It will take time to investigate the full saga—why the outbreak happened in the UK on the scale that it did, why it has continued so long and who may have been responsible for the way in which the disease spread. Time is not on our side. Every day that goes by, with the beef sector still virtually paralysed, not only costs large sums of money but makes full recovery even less likely.

Before I deal with the scheme in detail, I shall dispose of one illusion. No doubt, Euro-sceptic Members will use the debate on Wednesday and Thursday to rail against other EU member states—especially the German and French Governments, now Conservative, with whom the Prime Minister claims to have a special relationship. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use that relationship to good effect when President Chirac visits Britain.

The cattle disposal scheme is not a product of the export ban. True, the sabre rattling of some Conservative Back Benchers has not helped Ministers to make rapid progress with solutions. While that was done by the usual suspects on the Tory right wing, perhaps it did not matter much, but, a few days ago, in the middle of sensitive talks, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, no less, started demanding that the Government's allies should be "bludgeoned" into submission. Ministers clearly found that less easy to dismiss. No doubt they had to explain that the organisation in question is just an anachronistic club, that its chairman is of minimal importance, and that the word "bludgeon" is just an old Yorkshire expression for inviting somebody to take a more responsible view.

Tonight's debate is about a home-grown crisis facing the entire British beef industry. Of course the export ban is irrational. We must have it lifted and get rid of it, because no scientific basis for it remains. However, that ban is not responsible for the devastation that concerns us in this debate.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. He referred in his opening sentence to a bombshell being dropped on the industry in the House. He will recall the Minister's response to the statement by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) in the House last Thursday, when he said that the Secretary of State for Health had precipitated the crisis. In the Western Morning News of 27 March, Mr. Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for Somerset and North Devon, said: If the Government had set out to cause mass panic they could not have gone about it in a more destructive fashion. Are the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Huddersfield and the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament suggesting that our colleagues should have kept silent about the research which regrettably gave rise to this problem?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

Of course not. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will make an equally long speech if he catches the Chair's eye later, but as my speech develops he will get his answer.

The Government have accepted that the cattle disposal scheme is in their hands—it is their responsibility. In response to my private notice question last Tuesday, the Minister of State—he is in his place now—said: I am driving the scheme and I accept full responsibility for it."—[Official Report, 7 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 20.] So the buck stops with the Minister, not with Brussels. Indeed, he slapped down the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who suggested later that the problem was the fault of "the Europeans". The Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and the Prime Minister all made similar statements later last week about the Government's responsibility—and they were right.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

In the exchange to which the hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to refer, I made the point that the beef ban was completely illegal and in defiance of all scientific opinion. How, therefore, can the hon. Gentleman have the effrontery to stand up and say what he has said when his party—the self-confessed federast party—would give away our remaining veto?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am sorry that I gave way; that was a ludicrous waste of the House's time. My point was simply the same as the Minister's: the cattle disposal scheme does not depend on the export ban being removed or vice versa. It is a separate issue that must be dealt with properly by Ministers. I know that they will attempt to do that during this evening's debate.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I met the Minister on Thursday. The best that he could offer Wales was marrying up some renderers with one abattoir in north Wales and one in south Wales—for the whole country. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the scheme just is not a starter in Wales at this stage?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I do agree—I shall come to that very issue. I return to my point that Ministers have frankly accepted responsibility for the scheme. Indeed, they can do no other because everyone knows that they are responsible for what has gone wrong. A poll in The Guardian on Friday showed that only 18 per cent. of the public blame the European Union for the beef crisis, while 45 per cent. blame the Government.

The scheme was dreamt up, designed and built in Whitehall. Anyone who suggests that it has been imported from the continent is trying to distract attention, to pass the buck, or to fight private battles.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I shall give way later to the hon. Gentleman if he will be patient.

The House will know—I expect the hon. Gentleman knows—that there is now a shrewd suspicion among some of the victims of this calamity that some Conservative Members—only a minority, I am glad to say—are engaged in a fierce civil war over Europe in their party and want the ban to continue for as long as possible so that they can say that it is the fault of the Europeans. The Minister gave vent to frustration at their antics after the talks in Italy last week, and he was quite right. The president of the National Farmers Union was similarly scathing, warning that extra delays might occur as a result of their antics.

After nearly eight weeks, the disposal scheme is still characterised by dither and delay. If any hon. Member has not been briefed by his or her constituents over the weekend, let me read a brief extract from the editorial in this week's Farmers Weekly. Under the headline Chaos Reigns as MAFF Makes a Hash of its BSE Slaughter Scheme", the editorial reads: Producers with cattle over 30 months old must be wondering what on earth the Government is playing at. Only a scriptwriter for a Whitehall farce could derive any satisfaction from its handling of the scheme to remove older cattle from the food chain. [Interruption.] It continues: According to the NFU, it could take a year before the back-log is cleared. Many of the 100,000 cattle stuck on farms will be prime animals in late-maturing, grass-fed herds, caught up in this fiasco because, like cull cows, they are deemed unfit for human consumption…Beef producers are left waiting for compensation. So far, almost two months into this crisis, they have received nothing. [Interruption.] It says: The calf slaughter scheme does not apply to them and intervention has proved almost worthless. Those with cattle on farms are left wondering how to minimise their losses. They must know soon whether top-up compensation is to be paid after the first four weeks and at what rate. Their state of confusion is inexcusable".

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Given some of the sedentary interventions suggesting that my hon. Friend is out of date, would he agree with Mr. John Jones of Welshpool Livestock Auctioneers who has commented from today's livestock mart that the situation remains utterly chaotic because MAFF and the Welsh Office have licensed so few abattoirs?

Is my hon. Friend further aware that marts such as the huge and important Welshpool mart cannot place the beasts which they need to place in abattoirs? Mr. John Jones tells me that he has managed to find space for 35 of 2,000 candidates for slaughter from his mart alone. Will my hon. Friend join me in begging Ministers to increase the number of abattoirs licensed for the cull?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for making that point, to which I shall come directly. If any Conservative Member has not been listening to abattoir managers and farmers during the past few days, he should get on the telephone this evening and find out what they are saying. I have talked to farmers as far apart as Lewes in Sussex, Dartmouth in Devon, Boston in Lincolnshire and Widnes in Cheshire. They describe the situation as a shambles—precisely what the Welsh Farmers Union said. The renderers are saying that the scheme will grind to a halt almost immediately; and the Scots are so desperate that they have turned to the Prime Minister and asked him to intervene—as if that were going to help.

With the help of the NFU and discussions with many others, I have been able to identify six principal concerns. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) rightly said, the reduction in the number of collection centres is a disaster. Last Tuesday, the Minister told me: Some 104 livestock markets and some 72 abattoirs have been approved as collection centres. He wanted, he said, to ensure a proper geographical coverage of collection centres—both slaughterhouses and livestock markets."—[Official Report, 7 May 1996; Vol. 277, c.20.] He said that about 200 had applied to join the scheme. There followed pressure from both sides of the House to the effect that that was not enough. I recall the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) making that very point.

Later in the week, we heard that the Minister was prepared to be flexible. More centres would be added—perhaps as many as 100. At the weekend, however, the renderers appeared to have the Government over a barrel, despite the Minister's promises last week that he had them under control. As a result, only 21 in the whole of England and Wales are to be licensed for the foreseeable future. Although MAFF has approved 96 abattoirs and 186 livestock markets to operate the scheme, the renderers are refusing to play ball. As the NFU said: The Government have consistently refused to establish a proper administrative framework for the scheme in England and Wales. In the absence of such a framework, renderers have indicated that, in England and Wales, they will deal with 21 abattoirs. These will meet their current maximum throughput of 18,000 carcases a week. This figure will rise to some 25,000 carcases a week only after several weeks. If these were the only cattle to be entered into the scheme, it would take up to a year to eliminate the backlog on farms which, across the United Kingdom as a whole, is estimated to be over 300,000. Each week a further 12,000 cull cows will join this backlog. In the meantime, businesses are being ruined. I want to quote one specific case from one of the many letters that I have received. This one comes from Skegness and District Meat Traders Ltd. The group was on the Minister's schedule, sent to every Member of the House on 2 May—a designated and approved collection centre. The traders write: We applied and were passed and accepted by the Intervention Board as suitable to take part in the scheme. All arrangements with the Meat Hygiene Service, the Meat and Livestock Commission, local rendering plant, local hide collection had been confirmed. 100 cattle from local farms were booked in to come to us from 7 am on Saturday.We had agreed to slaughter on 3 days per week to try and take the pressure off local farmers in our area, many with severe cash flow problems due to delays in the whole situation…We understand from information given to us in the last hour that the nearest abattoir is at Shrewsbury, only two in the whole Midlands area &We at this moment are destroyed, we don't know what to do, please, please help us!

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Other marts on the list approved by the Government were unable to start the scheme because they were under the impression that they had to have a registration number after being inspected by the state veterinary service. When one of the marts in my constituency telephoned the intervention board, it spoke to a 15-year-old schoolchild on work experience who was unable to say whether it could start the scheme without state veterinary inspections.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

Such experiences have taken place all over the country in the past few days. I have had abattoirs ringing me today in desperation because they cannot get clear advice from the Ministry, the intervention board, or any other authority.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

The hon. Gentleman is being very selective and he is out of date. He is not the only one who has been making telephone calls to find out what has been going on, because I have done exactly the same. I spoke to Gloucester market this morning and I was told that the situation is now working very smoothly. Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way, but that is why I said that the hon. Gentleman is out of date. I stand by that. He quoted from a Farmers Weekly which is a week old and the article he read out must have been written at least 10 days ago. The situation is now moving ahead smoothly and the scheme is working.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

The hon. Gentleman is talking through his hat. He clearly does not read Farmers Weekly. I quoted Friday's edition—10 May—and I checked today about the information given. It is absolutely accurate. It may be that there is one place where the scheme is now in operation. If that is in Gloucester, good luck to Gloucester, but all over the country that is not the case.

Another of the statements that I have received today from a vet says: animals will have to travel much greater distances into large, factory abattoirs—remember these include some of the weakest and infirm of all cattle, the cow at the end of her working life. I will come to the issue of casualty stock in a minute, because the animal welfare implications are causing considerable concern.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I will not give way. If the hon. Gentleman cares to pick up the phone and to talk to the National Farmers Union, he will find that his information is incorrect. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. We do not need the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) waving his hands and interfering in the debate from a sedentary position.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am sure that you will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the frustration and anger that many of us feel that our constituents have been put into an impossible situation. Mishandling of the crisis is causing real human misery, as well as animal misery.

The issue of the distortion between live weight and dead weight caused concern to many hon. Members from both sides of the House last week and is certainly not resolved. The regulation authorising the scheme, approved by the Beef Management Committee on 12 April, envisaged that animals would be brought into the scheme only at live weight centres, that is, at auction markets. That would have distorted the normal patterns of trade in older cattle, because some 50 per cent. are normally sold dead weight and it would have caused especial difficulty to those farmers who normally sell dead weight.

It was not until 26 April that the committee allowed dead weight purchase. It rejected the proposal, made by the slaughterers and by the NFU on behalf of farmers, to use an accurate conversion coefficient. Accordingly, the scheme encourages farmers to enter their steers and heifers into the scheme at the abattoirs instead of the normal marketing channels. Naturally, that is making the present blockage in the abattoirs even worse because everyone is trying to clamber in there as fast as possible. Last week, hon. Members warned the Government that that would happen, and nothing has been done to correct the distortion.

On the issue of valuation for compensation, beef farmers are facing huge losses. This morning, one south Devon specialist producer told me that he anticipates that his total loss will be in the region of £100,000 as a result of the crisis and the way that it has been handled.

Steers and heifers are, of course, considerably more valuable than cull cows. The EU-approved compensation rate is adequate to cover most of the losses sustained by the holders of cull cows, but it is far below the costs of production of steers and heifers. Hon. Members from both sides know that and they have been pressing the Government as we have.

The Government attempted to resolve the problem by agreeing to pay a 26p a kilogram live weight top-up. That supplement was first to be paid for the first four weeks, then during May, then until 10 June and finally on all steers and heifers on farms on 20 March whenever they are taken into the scheme. That is slow progress but, as the House will recognise, very confusing.

Meanwhile, a group of producers from the south-west has taken the initiative. The producers went to Brussels, they met the Commission and they sought a more flexible, realistic and fair compensation package. In brief, they wanted a full-price support scheme for suckler cows, with compensation for all cattle known to come from herds that have been hit by BSE, which they said would be essential to solve the problem. The reaction of the Commission is important. It said that the producers' ideas were well worth examining, but it told the farmers that they had to discuss the matter with MAFF. The matter is entirely in the hands of the United Kingdom's Ministers and not in the hands of the Commission. As one of the farmers who helped to put together the submission said to me today, I solely blame the Minister of Agriculture for his lack of understanding and speed to solve this crisis. I will gladly provide details of that statement to the Minister.

The 30-month deadline caused consternation, not only in the House but in all parts of the industry. Who first floated the idea of the 30-month deadline? Strictly speaking, it was not the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which merely referred to it as a handy threshold, with some scientific basis, for deciding when deboning and destruction of offal should become compulsory. The idea that 30 months should be an indiscriminate deadline for any meat to prevent it from entering the human or animal feed chain seems to have come from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food himself.

I refer the House to an important article in The Daily Telegraph by Christopher Booker and Richard North, who pointed the finger of blame in the Minister's direction. In interviews in the immediate aftermath of the first statement, the Minister referred to the possibility of a 30-month deadline, and to the possibility of culling "millions of cattle". Nobody had raised that issue until the Minister himself did. That overreaction, or overkill, did not start in Brussels, Bonn or Paris. It started in Whitehall, and hon. Members will agree with that.

At long last, after weeks of pressure, from us and from many others, the Government are examining the practicalities of what is called a "mature beef assurance scheme". Good. Exemptions are clearly essential for herds and breeds that can be demonstrated to be at low risk—Dexters is an obvious example, but there are many others. Otherwise, not only will perfectly healthy cattle be slaughtered—that raises legal as well as moral issues—but the scientific rationale for the whole of the Government's scheme will be killed off too.

Why are we still waiting? Why was the issue not addressed six weeks ago, in informal discussions with the Commission and the industry? When I visited Brussels and met Commissioner Fischler's team exactly three weeks ago, I was staggered to find that it had received no proposals, ideas or details at all from MAFF on that vital aspect of the problem. Even though such a scheme might not have achieved a partial relaxation of the export ban immediately, would it not have been wise to consult on exemptions? The Commission seems very receptive to the case for the later-maturing, naturally reared and fed prime beef, including those on organic farms. Why did our Ministers not push open that door and get the Commission's support early on? To come back now with the mature assurance scheme will be much more difficult.

In the meantime, the many delays in progressing the scheme have caused especial difficulty for those farmers who would normally have marketed their 30-month-old cattle in late March, April or early May. Those farmers are facing not only shortfalls in cash flow, but the cost of feeding their animals. I know that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has made that point in the House before.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a serious welfare issue for the cattle that should have been slaughtered in the last week of March. There is no market for them. They are over 30 months of age and the market has gone because of the European Union's ban. May I help the hon. Gentleman with where the 30-month ban came from? If he reads today's National Farmers Union briefing, he will find that it came from the farming community.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

That is not true. I met the president of the National Farmers Union after the scheme had already been floated by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—he did so on television—in the previous three days. The hon. Gentleman is not correct on that point. I accept his support, however, and I am grateful to him. It is—

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall


As the delays lengthened and the prospects of a rapid reduction in the backlog of cattle receded, the NFU became more and more determined to secure urgent priority for entry of animals into the scheme.

Delays in starting the scheme have led to huge problems in dealing with casualty stock. All scheme abattoirs must be required to take such stock to minimise animal welfare difficulties. In some major livestock areas of Britain—the highlands of Scotland, mid-Wales and the west country, for example—the combination of large numbers of cattle and small numbers of approved slaughter facilities is causing consternation. The south-west region of the NFU briefed me today. It told me that only three abattoirs are operating within the whole of its area. It commented: Although all abattoirs in the scheme will be required to make arrangements to deal with casualty stock, the lack of abattoirs in the scheme at the current time will mean excessively long journeys for some casualty animals and we will continue to lobby the renderers to take these animals from the local abattoirs which currently specialise in casualties. Good for the NFU, but what is the Ministry doing? How can it mitigate the extra costs and avoid the risk of do-it-yourself slaughter, when farmers who are already in dire straits are faced with extra burdens?

In endorsing many of the issues to which I have referred, the Sussex farmers, whom I met near Lewes on Thursday, are especially frustrated with the calf slaughter scheme. Other farmers from Somerset to Sunderland have raised the same anxieties. The time scale is impossible. The intervention board is asking for precise notice of numbers three days in advance. The farmer can give notice only three days after birth. Delivery must take place within seven to 10 days. The window of opportunity is just too narrow. Real difficulties are arising in what is already a fraught situation. There appears to be no logical reason not to introduce an extension to at least 14 days. Surely that would be more reasonable.

In supporting that view, Messrs Snells, the wholesale butchers at Chard, Somerset, say that most abattoirs are killing calves at specific times on two days a week. This makes the ten day rule even harder. The company comments that the two-hour limit for calves to arrive at the abattoir to be inspected is very tight, especially when a large consignment arrives.

The net sum that the farmer receives can be as little as £50, once all the others in the chain have taken their cut. Many producers are simply holding on to their Holstein calves. Where will they end up?

I have had time only to touch on the catalogue of problems from which the beef industry is reeling on the 55th day after the original BSE announcement. I could have provided more detail about the fate of the cattle head deboners. Their business was abolished overnight by the Minister's new regulations. No compensation was payable. It is difficult to think of any other industry that could be driven out of business by the failure of Government policy and have no redress. It is surely scant comfort for the deboners to be told, as Messrs Touchmead of Amesbury was advised by its Member of Parliament, that it should diversify.

There is the absurd fiasco that stems from proving the age of young heifers. Calling in the dentist proved to be a ludicrously inefficient option. A proper registration scheme seems to be a long way off. Vets are naturally reluctant to act as the Government's policemen, especially without even being consulted. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us whether the vets have now been consulted.

Another factor is the power of supermarkets. They seem to be dictating what happens. Their activities deserve careful scrutiny. I understand that they threatened to undermine the best laid plans of Ministers by insisting that abattoirs do not process both cull cattle and beef for human consumption. That may be reasonable in some areas, but in other more remote areas there will be great difficulties. I see one or two Conservative Members nodding in agreement. The Minister failed completely to respond when my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) put the matter to him on Thursday.

The chairman of the south-west region of the NFU wrote during the weekend to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He stated: We are drifting daily into a very serious situation. Apart from the financial problems being experienced by our members there are the practical problems of feed and welfare. The uncertainties of it all are causing immense despair and there is of course huge long term damage being caused, not only to farming businesses, but to all allied trades as well. There is not a farmer, a market manager, an abattoir owner or anyone else in the beef industry who will share the complacency that is set out in the Government's amendment. If Conservative Members had listened to their constituents during the past seven horrendous weeks, they, too, would find it impossible to hail the "progress" to which the amendment refers. Far from the Ministry driving the scheme, it seems to have been hijacked by the renderers and the supermarkets.

The purpose of the Minister's scheme is to hasten the eradication of BSE from the national herd, and by so doing to re-establish consumer confidence at home and abroad. My colleagues and I fully share that objective. Indeed, the objective is not in dispute. So far, however, it has been a dismal failure. No doubt the Ministry had a contingency plan, even if it did not have one before November 1995. Surely such a scheme must then have been initiated. Any responsible Government would surely have put a contingency plan in place immediately. If the Government did that, what was the plan? Was it what we now see? If so, why have things taken so long? Those whose livelihoods hang in the balance because of the debacle, given the dither and delay that have taken place over 55 days, are losing their patience.

I shall end with a quotation from a statement drafted by two Cornish farmers' wives. It was signed by 450 others from throughout the west country. They describe themselves as the farming community who are made to bear the brunt of political blunders. They refer to the irreparable damage to our industry"— that is the livestock industry, as the innocent victim of misdemeanours. They ask whether the cattle feed producers will be prosecuted. They comment: After all, according to the scientists, this is where BSE originated, unknown to the farmer. These producers added the likes of sheep remains and offal etc. to cattle feed after the Government lifted regulations regarding the contents. After 55 days of chaos and confusion, all those questions cannot remain unanswered any longer.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 7:27, 13 May 1996

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's commitment to restoring consumer confidence in the UK beef industry by introducing a slaughter scheme for cattle over the age of 30 months; notes the progress made in the 30-month scheme; recognises the dependence of the scheme on co-operation between farmers, auctioneers, slaughterers and renderers and welcomes the steps taken to foster such co-operation to ensure that the maximum slaughter rates are achieved. I welcome the opportunity to answer the questions posed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who has come to the House to debate the 30-month cull without knowing who proposed it. It is clear that he has not even had the courtesy to read the briefing sent to every hon. Member by the National Farmers Union.

The announcement on 20 March by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee that the most likely explanation of some recent cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy before 1989 had an immediate and devastating impact on many people, including thousands of farmers throughout the country. I fully appreciate what a painful and frustrating time they, their friends and their family have had recently. None of us can be insensitive to the difficulties that so many farmers have experienced.

I welcome the debate because it provides an opportunity for me to set out clearly the issues that I have had to confront. The House is made up of reasonable people, and I believe that, having heard what I have to say, it will conclude that all has been, and is being, done at all possible speed to ensure that the 30-month cull scheme works efficiently and effectively and that farmers will be able to move relevant stock from their fields as speedily as possible. They rightly and understandably want to be paid compensation as soon as possible, and I want them to receive it as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall spent the first five minutes of his speech trying to ascribe responsibility for the scheme. I could have saved him that five minutes. I accept full responsibility for ensuring the success of the scheme, which is why, each day, I convene and chair a meeting of all the relevant interests—farmers, those who work in abattoirs, renderers, members of the retail industry, vets and others. Many people are involved, and we must appreciate the number of complexities involved in this unprecedented scheme.

It is worth briefly recalling the time scale. In statements issued on 20 and 24 March, SEAC recommended—among other things—that the carcases of cattle aged over 30 months be deboned in licensed plants under the supervision of the Meat Hygiene Service. That is where the reference to 30 months first appeared. That recommendation gave a particular and immediate significance to the 30-month limit.

At once, retailers, keen to help restore confidence in British beef, wanted to be able to confirm to customers that they were selling only young beef, and that there was no possibility of older beef being on their shelves. Almost immediately, retailers told meat merchants and farmers that they were no longer willing to accept beef from animals aged 30 months and over. At a meeting on 25 March, retailer and farmer representatives decided to ask the Government to buy cattle aged 30 months and over to ensure that their meat and offal were removed from the human and animal food chain. That day, they came to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and me, and we readily agreed to seek to implement the measure, in co-operation with retailers, farmers and others, as part of the moves to help restore confidence in British beef here and overseas.

If the hon. Member for North Cornwall feels at all confused about the origin of the scheme, he need only read the brief sent by the NFU to all Members of Parliament. It states: Taken together … a substantial proportion of our market had disappeared because the retailers, processors and caterers had informed the NFU that they were no longer willing to accept beef from carcases of cattle aged 30 months and over. The NFU reacted to these … events by requesting the UK Government to purchase cattle aged 30 months and older and to ensure that their meat and offals were removed from the human and animal food chain. That request was made to us on 25 March. We had obtained all the necessary clearances and agreed to it by 28 March, and by 3 April we had secured the Council of Ministers' agreement to Community funding of the costs of buying cattle into the scheme. I hope that no one will believe that any of the negotiations with Community colleagues have been particularly easy. At that meeting on 3 April, compensation payments were set at 1 ecu per kg for cattle purchased live—approximately 86p per kg—and double that rate for dead weight. That decision was to prove significant later.

In its briefing, the NFU rightly described our response to it and the retailers as "rapid and welcome" but, obviously, it took a little time to negotiate the details of such a complex scheme—its complexity was unprecedented, here and elsewhere in Europe—with Community colleagues. The basic regulation, however, was adopted on 12 April—again, very rapidly.

I note that the Opposition Benches seem to be emptying. No Labour Back Benchers have been present throughout the debate, and the Liberal Democrats now seem to be filing out of the Chamber. I hope, however, that Conservative Members who are concerned about these matters will pay attention to the chronology. It was necessary to seek amendments to the basic regulations twice, on both occasions to meet concerns expressed by the NFU, the Country Landowners Association and other farming interests. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) intervened from a sedentary position earlier to say that we had not listened. We have listened carefully. We have sought to meet the legitimate concerns of farming and other interests, and throughout the process I have tried to respond to those understandable concerns.

The first issue on which we sought, and succeeded in obtaining, the Community's agreement was the provision of a nationally funded supplement to be payable on steers and heifers. Steers and heifers aged over 30 months are considerably more valuable than cull cows that have reached the end of their milking lives. While the original compensation rates agreed by the Community were adequate to cover losses being sustained by owners of cull cows, it was felt that they did not fairly meet the costs of rearing steers and heifers. That is why we agreed, and made clear, that there would be a top-up payment of not less than 25p per kg live weight for the first four weeks of the scheme, after which a review would take place.

I have decided that the review should take place on 15 June. Because it is possible—indeed probable—that not all steers and heifers aged more than 30 months on 30 March will have been slaughtered by then, I have agreed that those animals will attract, and continue to attract, the top-up payment of 25p whenever they come to be slaughtered. In other words, any farmer who has heifers and steers on his farm that were there and more than 30 months old on 20 March will receive a 25p top-up payment whenever his cattle are slaughtered. I hope that that goes some way towards allaying the concerns of farmers who, understandably, were particularly anxious to get their cattle through the scheme while they thought the 25p top-up rate was available.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned that other NFU members wanted another scheme. If that is the case, they certainly have not put it to me through the union. If they had, I would have considered it. I think that there is a general recognition by the NFU, the CLA and other farming interests that the 25p top-up is very fair, especially if it applies to every heifer and steer that was on farms on the relevant date of 20 March and it is available whenever such a beast is slaughtered.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

If the scheme that the Minister has described is to work, the cull must not merely be announced, but take place. Why will he not announce today a substantial increase in the number of available abattoirs—including those in Wales—so that it can take place? Will the industry receive a response to the legitimate concerns that it has raised repeatedly with the Minister in meetings, including a meeting involving John Jones of Welshpool Livestock Auctioneers, to whom I referred earlier?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman—and, indeed, every Member of Parliament from an English or Welsh constituency—received a letter from me today explaining the position. The letters were sent first class on Friday, and I made certain that every hon. Member would receive a copy. I trust that the hon. and learned Gentleman read in the letter about the logistical difficulties caused by the finite nature of rendering capacity—which I shall explain in a moment—and about the position in Wales, which I set out in terms.

There are no renderers in Wales, and I cannot create any by means of some divine intervention. Because, under the scheme, every beast must be rendered in its entirety, it must be matched with rendering capacity in England. That is why I made it clear in the letter that I sent the hon. and learned Gentleman and every other colleague that, under the scheme, I had designated three abattoirs specifically to take cattle from Wales: Anglesey, Abergavenny and Shrewsbury. If the hon. and learned Gentleman adds up the take—on the back of the "Dear Colleague" letter, the abattoirs and their throughput are set out—he will find that, together, those three abattoirs will take 25 per cent. of the initial kill. The Welsh herd is 16.5 per cent. of the national total so, rather than doing less well, the Welsh community is doing slightly better than average in the first few weeks.

The second amendment of the scheme that was necessary was not achieved until 5 pm on 26 April—again at the request of the NFU and the CLA—when the European Community agreed that there should be a dead weight option on the scheme.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

We are now having a good deal of success in Scotland. A significant number of beasts have gone to the slaughterhouse—the number is now in the thousands rather than in the hundreds—but may I take my hon. Friend back a short while to heifers, which are at a full stop? No one is taking heifers at the moment. May we have a simpler method of arriving at the heifer age than the four teeth, because they must be got away soon? No one, however, seems to know quite how we are to do it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

There are two points there. First, we hope and intend to have an identification scheme for all heifers by next month. Secondly, the CLA, the NFU and all farming interests that have made representations to me—I think that this has been agreed by everyone—have said that, given the problems of people who have heifers and steers, under the scheme, priority in the first instance should be given to clean beef.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

My hon. Friend is right in all that he has said to the House and I am most grateful for his work in trying to resolve the extremely difficult problem of matching rendering capacity to the requirement for slaughter through abattoirs, but the fact is that there is just not enough rendering capacity. The need, however, to bring forward more cattle for early slaughter is extremely great. Will he consider using all available cold storage facilities so that we can have cattle in a large number of abattoirs and so that we can target a bigger number than the 25,000 per week that he is talking about slaughtering?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Absolutely. Again, as I hope every colleague will have read, in the letter that I sent them on Friday I set that out in terms. Of course we have a finite rendering capacity. I cannot do anything to change that. What I can do is increase the rate of slaughter by bringing on more cold storage and, having rendered only those parts of each animal that need immediately to be rendered, store the rest for it to be rendered later. At present, I estimate that, under the scheme, the throughput in England and Wales is some 18,000 beasts a week. I hope that, in the next few weeks—I enclosed a bar chart showing every hon. Member how I saw the progress of the scheme—we will increase that figure to 22,000 beasts a week and start to make some real dent in the backlog, as well as keep up to date with the immediate scheme.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is astonishing that, not even an hour into this debate in Liberal party time, two senior Liberal party spokesmen, not having read the NFU brief and not knowing whether there are any renderers in Wales, have been shown to have done so little homework? It is a disgraceful performance by the Liberal party. Does my hon. Friend agree that that lack of homework undermines everything that they have been saying?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

What is disappointing is this. Everyone recognises that these are unprecedented circumstances that have been created by no one in the House and by no one in particular in the farming community or elsewhere. SEAC made proper recommendations, which we have sought to act on and to which, as I have described, the market has responded. Since then, we have all been seeking to work co-operatively. If the NFU and the CLA came to hon. Members and said, "We believe that the Minister of State has grossly failed"—or, indeed, failed at all—"in his duties," it would be right to have such a debate in the House, but in my meetings with the NFU, the CLA and other interest groups, I have persistently said, "Is there any issue that you wish me to consider that you feel I have not fully considered and taken action on?" I am confident that there is no issue that I have been asked to take forward by the various interests that I have not taken forward.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I should like to make some progress.

Farmers and, I think, everyone else involved in the beef industry were anxious that, so far as possible, the 30-month cull programme should not disrupt existing patterns of business. Although many farmers continue to take their cattle to their livestock markets to sell, in recent years, there has been an increasing trend towards selling cattle dead weight—selling them direct to the abattoir. The NFU and the CLA were anxious that those traditional marketing patterns should be continued and we recognise that many producers prefer cattle to be marketed direct from farm to abattoir.

That is why, at the request of farming unions and of abattoir owners, we pressed the European Commission for changes in the regulations to enable such direct sales to continue. Again, those were not easy negotiations. I think that it is fair to say that there was a fair deal of suspicion, and considerable reticence, on the part of some Community colleagues about allowing the scheme to continue with a dead weight option, as they believed that it would become even more flexible and potentially more expensive.

Ideally, it would have been possible to secure agreement to a set of conversion coefficients from dead weight to live weight which would vary according to the type of beast—for example, one coefficient for cows, another for steers and another for heifers. There were two constraints. Importantly, the conclusions that have already been reached, and which I have mentioned, by the Council of Agriculture Ministers at their meeting on 3 April, in which a conversion coefficient from dead weight to live weight of two is clearly implied, combined with the reluctance of officials elsewhere in Europe to make the scheme even more flexible, meant that, within the politics of the possible, a coefficient of 2:1 was the best achievable in all the circumstances.

I do not think that there is any disagreement that that coefficient is slightly ungenerous for cull cows, but it has the advantage that it offers a better return than would otherwise be available on steers and heifers. It therefore serves to boost the returns of the specialist beef farmers. As that group was especially concerned that it had been disadvantaged by the earlier compensation measures, that potentially extra money has been welcomed by farmers unions.

I appreciate that concerns have been expressed, especially by people representing the livestock marts, that the coefficient will tend to encourage producers of steers and heifers to make use of the dead weight option rather than sell their cattle through live auction marts, but as I said, a significant number of clean cattle have been going dead weight recently. For cull cows, the coefficient is likely to favour sale through auction marts. When I have discussed this issue, at some length, with the leaders of the NFU and the CLA, that has certainly been their collective view.

Once the backlog of cattle on farms is reduced, the majority of cattle slaughtered under the scheme will be cull cows, so the coefficients that we have are to the advantage of specialist beef producers, who will receive more for their cattle, and the owners of cull cows. I am sure that, under the scheme, live markets will continue to play an important role, and I say that as the hon. Member for Banbury—the centre of my constituency has the largest cattle market in Europe.

Incidentally, I am glad that the people who represent the abattoirs nationally have agreed to protocols with the livestock markets to ensure the full participation of designated licensed markets as collection points under the scheme. Under the agreed protocol, abattoirs will give an allocation to livestock marts of 30-month scheme animals on the basis of the proportion of business that they were taking from livestock marts before 20 March. In that way, both the livestock marts and the abattoirs hope that the livestock marts will be able to play a valuable role in acting as collection centres and to be confident that they will then have abattoir and rendering facilities available to them. I congratulate both the livestock marts and the abattoirs on their constructive approach on the matter.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister seems to be aware of the problem, but is perhaps underestimating its seriousness. If on a 700 kg animal there is a £200 premium for treating it as dead weight, specialist beef farmers will be drawn into using the abattoir directly, thereby putting the local mart, upon which they depend in good times, out of business. Other beef farmers will find it impractical to take that option, and will be at a financial loss.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I know that none of the farm interests would wish to have the dead weight option or the dead weight coefficients taken away. If Liberal Democrat Members went out into the highways and byways saying that they would take this money away from farmers, they would receive a dusty response. It is recognised that there are swings and roundabouts. I suspect that more business will go live weight through cull cows to the livestock marts because the coefficients make it to farmers' advantage to do it that way. There will be considerable benefits to clean beef producers of going to abattoirs and to the owners of cull cows of going to the livestock mart. The fact that abattoirs and livestock marts have agreed a basis on which cattle can be called forward from livestock marts that are collection centres to be dealt with by the abattoirs is good news.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend has said a number of times that he cannot be expected to conjure rendering facilities out of thin air. Perhaps he can speak about a particular problem that has been put to me by the NFU. It concerns casualty animals. Does he feel able to say to the United Kingdom Renderers Association that it is artificially restricting its activity to 20 abattoirs and that one of the consequences is that it is virtually impossible to dispose of casualty animals humanely? That is a well-founded point and, although it is not the Minister's fault, he may be able to do something about it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I certainly intend to speak about casualty stock. The hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned six points, and I intend to deal with all of them. One concerned casualty animals. I hope to be able to reassure my hon. Friend that we have in place proper provision for casualty stock. I shall continue to tell every abattoir in the scheme—not just the 21 that are in it at the moment, but the larger number which I hope will come into it—that a precondition of being in the scheme is that they must take a commonsense approach to casualty animals that are in need of emergency slaughter. I shall deal with that in greater detail.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Member for North Cornwall is brave if he thinks that he can come between me and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I thank my hon. Friend and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for having the good sense to choose Lancaster as one of the centres. It has a popular auction and many live weight cattle are brought to it. We are delighted about that, but there is a slight problem in that, like others, we are rather short of abattoir space. Would it be possible to open in the near future the abattoirs at Clitheroe and Oldham, which we have at the top of the list? That would give our market an enormous boost.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Sir M. Lennox-Boyd) wrote to me today making a similar point. I want to get more abattoirs on stream as soon as possible, but to do that I have to be able to bring on stream more cold storage capacity. I hope to do that in the next two or three weeks. There is a finite number of renderers, and more abattoirs without cold storage facilities would force the renderers to use their limited amount of transport to visit more abattoirs. That would be less efficient and lead to a smaller throughput.

I hope that all hon. Members appreciate that the scheme will be in place for some months and that we must get it right. It is important to proceed in good order. As we introduce more cold storage facilities, we can use more abattoirs. There are some excellent facilities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) has an excellent abattoir in his constituency, and I hope to bring it on stream in the near future. Cold storage will enable us to store parts of beasts that do not need to be rendered immediately. I want to clear the backlog as speedily as possible.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale

My hon. Friend will appreciate that there are many interventions because this is a complicated scheme. He is to be congratulated because what he is trying to do is unprecedented. I should like to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said. In the north-east, there are five slaughterers on the list of 21, and in the north-west there are two. I do not want to engage in beggar-my-neighbour tactics, but I think that my hon. Friend will agree that his reasoning, which I am sure is well thought out, should be explained either now or in the winding-up speech so that no one in the north-west feels that he is being disadvantaged. The figures need clarification, and I am sure that my hon. Friend can give it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I certainly do not intend any part of the country to become disadvantaged. As the scheme develops, in parts of the country where there is a need for greater slaughter capacity more speedily, we shall bring on more abattoirs. I want to ensure that the scheme gives confidence to consumers and retailers that only young beef is entering the UK market. I also want to ensure that farmers are confident that they will be paid speedily and that all hon. Members are confident that the scheme is running efficiently.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall make some more progress and then give way to my hon. Friend.

We sought amendments to the original regulations at the behest of farming interests to get a top-up premium for heifers and steers and a dead weight option. It was not until late on 26 April that it was possible to obtain final agreement to the various provisions of the scheme that had been requested on behalf of farmers. Our success in getting agreement for a top-up payment for steers and heifers and a dead weight option has been greatly appreciated by the industry. The following weekend, immediately after the Friday when we secured agreement to the dead weight option, officials in MAFF and the intervention board worked throughout the weekend to ensure that abattoirs and livestock marts that might tentatively have become collection centres had all the necessary information as speedily as possible. That was got to them on 30 April, and the first animals under the scheme were slaughtered on 3 May.

As some of my hon. Friends have said, this is an unprecedented scheme—the largest and most complicated slaughter programme that has ever been introduced in this country. After all the regulations had been agreed, a number of legitimate sectoral and industry concerns had to be met. It is important for everyone to recognise that every animal slaughtered under the scheme has to be rendered prior to disposal. It is not possible simply to slaughter and store a whole carcase. Waste material amounting to 30 to 40 per cent. of every animal has to be immediately rendered.

The UK has a finite rendering capacity. Prior to 20 March, huge amounts of animals that are now having to be rendered would have gone into the human food chain. It is impossible simply to introduce further rendering capacity overnight. I cannot suddenly find that capacity: it would take several months. In addition to rendering for the 30-month cull scheme, renderers continue to have to render offal from animals under the age of 30 months for the retail industry. I do not think there is any dispute about the accuracy of the renderers' estimation. There was a suggestion earlier that, in some way, the renderers were holding people to ransom. That was an unworthy suggestion. Judging by the groups that I have met, there is no doubt that the maximum rendering capacity that is available for the scheme is some 18,000 animals a week in England and Wales, and approximately 25,000 a week throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall reach the target of 18,000 animals this week and in subsequent weeks until we start to introduce cold storage. As I said in my letter to hon. Members, I hope to increase that capacity in the coming weeks.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

I intervene because I know that, every time I have been to see my hon. Friend about matters concerning my farmers, he has been extremely adept at finding a way through for them. Needless to say, South Dorset farmers are very concerned. They have had their dead weight scheme and a local abattoir has been designated—S. J. Norman and Sons at Bridport. Unfortunately, now that the abattoir is telling them that they can send in their cattle, they have been told that the renderers will not come and service them, so they cannot take their cattle in. I raise that point only because I know that my hon. Friend will have an instant answer. If he does not, I am perfectly happy to start up the barbecue in my garden. If no one wants to come and eat, it will of course get burnt, but if they do, we will give it away.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I fully understand that. The abattoir at Bridport is excellent and, as I said, I hope to be able to bring it into the scheme in the very near future. What happened was that the abattoirs, the renderers and the trade associations representing the abattoirs and renderers had discussions to seek to ensure that the maximum rendering capacity would be used now and in the foreseeable future.

Renderers have only finite transport facilities; there is a huge logistical issue. It made much more sense if a limited number of renderers were connected to the finite number of abattoirs in the first instance, and that is what has happened. I sent out details of that to hon. Members, in letters which I hope they received today. As I have told the House—I keep on about it because I think that it is fair that everyone should understand it—I am very keen to bring on extra abattoir capacity, including Bridport, just as soon as humanly possible, and just as soon as I can get cold storage facilities, which I reckon will be in the next two or three weeks.

I believe that it is very important that we increase the kill rate under the scheme as quickly as possible so that we can clear the backlog and farmers can be paid.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

I draw the Minister's attention to the situation in south-west Wales—the county of Dyfed—where we have a very large dairy herd with many cull cows waiting to be processed. Two abattoirs have been designated for this purpose—Dewi James Cardigan and Oriel Jones Llanybydder—yet no animals have been processed through them. Can the Minister give me any good news about when he feels animals can begin to move from that very important region through those slaughterhouses?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I had hoped that I had dealt with that point, but let me deal with it again. I have given directions that one of the abattoirs—ABP Shrewsbury, which is teamed up with the renderers at Widnes and is slaughtering five days, at 580 cattle a day, or 2,900 a week—should be dedicated to taking cattle from Wales. I made that clear in the letter that I sent every hon. Member on Friday. At Abergavenny, there will be five days' slaughtering, at 150 cattle a day, which is 750 a week. In addition, Welsh Country Foods, at Anglesea, is slaughtering cattle for north Wales. If we take the total of those three, it comes to 25 per cent. of the immediate kill in England and Wales for the next two or three weeks.

I am told that the Welsh herd makes up about 16.5 per cent. of the English and Welsh herd. I think and I hope, therefore, that colleagues in Wales will feel that, in the context of the initial stages of this programme, Wales is not being treated unfairly. As in the rest of the United Kingdom, I very much hope that it will be possible to bring on extra slaughter capacity in Wales in the very near future—in the next two to three weeks, and as soon as we can get more cold storage facilities.

None of us can increase that rendering capacity simply by wishing or willing it. The capacity is finite. It is important that everyone appreciates that. I think that everyone—farmers, those involved in the beef industry, hon. Members and our constituents—is anxious that the scheme should start to run at its maximum capacity as speedily as possible.

Given the limitations of the transport facilities immediately available to renderers, it was agreed that it was sensible to link up individual renderers with individual abattoirs to ensure maximum throughput to the renderers in the scheme. That has happened, and I hope that, this week, slaughtering and rendering will take place at the maximum capacity.

This is a new scheme, and I do not doubt that, on day one or two, there may well be one or two places where slaughtering does not take place as speedily as it might. A couple of abattoirs have told me that their throughput today was slower than it might have been because they had to do a large number of television interviews. As the scheme gets up and going, however, I hope that the maximum rendering capacity will be met.

I want to do more, of course, which is why I am recommissioning cold storage facilities, but they will take two to three weeks to be recommissioned and to come back on line. It must also be remembered that, even when we have further cold storage facilities, it is not possible just to slaughter and store. Part of every animal that is slaughtered has to be rendered, so I am working closely with the intervention board, abattoirs and renderers to sort out the logistical issues associated with bringing into the scheme a further large number of abattoirs, but ensuring that the animals are taken away as soon as possible after they are slaughtered and with the appropriate parts taken away to a scheme renderer.

I have circulated to every hon. Member in England and Wales a chart that demonstrates how I believe the throughput might look, with the processing in England and Wales reaching about 22,000 by the beginning of July. That will involve our storing a considerable volume of stock, which will have to be rendered at some time in the future.

I know that some concern has been expressed by some abattoirs that feel they have been struck off the list of approved abattoirs. I hope that I have made it clear to the House that that is not the case. Everyone recognises—I recognise—that it would be sensible to involve more abattoirs, but there is no point in more abattoirs becoming involved until we can, in the next two to three weeks, increase substantially the flexibility of the renderers by using cold storage facilities for a product that does not need to be rendered immediately. That will enable us to increase the throughput under the scheme substantially.

My best estimate, once we have cleared the backlog, is that the scheme will involve about 15,000 animals being processed a week, including cull cows and clean beef in England and Wales, although I anticipate that the impact of the 30-month scheme will change the husbandry of many beef producers. It is likely that, as farmers find that they can get a better price for any stock under 30 months, less clean beef will come into the scheme. I hope that the House will recognise that, in England and Wales—where weekly throughput needs to be 15,000, and 22,000 will be achieved in the not-too-distant future—it should be possible to clear the backlog in a reasonable time. I hope that it will be possible to go beyond 22,000. If it is, we shall certainly seek to do so.

It is clear that it will not be possible to cull every animal tomorrow or this week, and I know that farmers appreciate that fact. The NFU, the CLA and everyone else involved has indicated that they think it would be sensible, at the outset, to give priority to clean beef, although proper regard has to be had for casualty stock, of which I shall say a little more in a moment.

There had been requests for MAFF to work out some prioritisation scheme. I am sure that the House will appreciate that, once the backlog is cleared, the available rendering and slaughter capacity will be greater than the throughput needed under the scheme, so once the backlog is cleared, farmers should have no difficulty getting their cattle culled almost immediately, provided that they give the collection centres proper notice. We are considering a comparatively short-term issue of sorting out whose cattle will be slaughtered when the cattle in the immediate backlog are dealt with.

My instinct, and I suspect the instincts of a large number of hon. Members, is that any scheme of prioritisation devised by officials is, with the very best will in the world, likely to be more bureaucratic, more inflexible and to involve greater delays. When I asked the NFU what sort of system of prioritisation it would recommend, it said that it would have to have regard to the number of animals on the farm, the viability of the farm, the profitability of the farm and many other criteria.

I do not think that it takes much imagination to recognise that such an approach will be incredibly time consuming and that it will involve every farmer with substantial extra paperwork at a time when they could do without any more intrusions into their businesses. Such paperwork would then have to be processed, decisions would have to be taken and farmers would have to be informed. It does not take long to recognise that it would be far better for livestock marts, abattoirs and farmers to work out together how to get the maximum sensible throughput. Although some forbearance on the part of a number of farmers will be required during the first few weeks, I am sure that co-operation at local level is far better than some centrally planned bureaucracy seeking to ascertain when every cow is killed at every abattoir.

Let me make it clear that I am chairing a committee that involves the chairmen, chief executives and equivalent of all the interests involved in the scheme—the NFU, the CLA, livestock marts, renderers, abattoir owners, vets, the retail industry and so on. At present, we meet daily, and we will continue to meet regularly. If there appear to be any problems in particular parts of the country, or if any particular abattoirs or other players in the scheme appear not to be complying with the spirit of the scheme, they will find me on their doorstep, wanting an explanation. Let me also make it clear that there are considerable controls throughout the process to ensure that there can be no scintilla of a risk that any meat from the 30-month cull scheme can ever re-enter the food chain.

The House will know that animals will have to be slaughtered on separate days and that the meat is immediately stained and taken away—which means that it is rendered immediately or stored prior to subsequent rendering. If there is any suggestion or suspicion that any collection centre and/or abattoir is not complying fully and strictly with the controls, I have made it clear that it will be suspended immediately.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Will the Minister consider a problem that was raised with me today? He keeps talking about the rendering problem and the need to deal with 21,000 animals but, as so many animals will be kept longer on the farm, they will be of above average weight. The Minister should therefore be thinking in terms of tonnes for processing rather than the number of beasts. He is likely to find that the situation is worse than he is describing.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

There is no doubt that, in the first few weeks of the scheme, we shall be taking a large number of heifers and steers, or clean beef. There is no mystery, and I do not think that anyone involved in the scheme failed to recognise that fact. It is for that reason that the NFU, the CLA and everyone else involved indicated that they hoped that collection centres and livestock marts, and abattoirs in their slaughter programmes, would give priority in the early stages to clean beef.

I was asked what was being done about animals in need of special emergency slaughter. I take very seriously the need to maintain animal welfare and consumer confidence. Animal welfare is very important. As I said, I have made it clear to all abattoirs in the scheme that they must take a commonsense approach to dealing with animals in need of special emergency slaughter, or slaughter that would take place on the farm. If I find that any abattoir is not participating in the scheme on that basis, it will be suspended from the scheme.

In addition, it also seems sensible to commission a network of incinerators across the country to deal with casualty animals, those which need special emergency slaughter and those which have been killed on the farm. I shall ensure that, tomorrow, all the regional veterinary officers have a list of 10 incinerators which we estimate are capable of taking casualty fallen animals in that way.

Some people may ask why we are not using the incinerators to deal with more of the cull at the outset. The answer is simply that the incineration capacity is finite, but it will help to deal with casualty animals. Another question, which I have considered with the NFU, the CLA and other interested bodies, is why we do not use small specialist abattoirs to deal just with casualty stock. The answer is that it is important to have efficient and effective controls under the scheme. None of us wants there to be any suggestion that the wrong meat is going back into the food chain. The scheme has to be policed rigorously.

Everyone I met agreed that the best way forward was to ensure that the abattoirs, of which an increasing number will be involved in the scheme, are prepared to take casualty stock and that, in addition, the animals that cannot be taken to abattoirs, but which have to be killed on the farm, can be taken to an incinerator which is designated as a collection point and able to pay the farmers involved. This scheme is regarded by all those involved as the best that could be devised in the circumstances.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Will the Minister clarify the compensation arrangements for animals that die or are killed on the farm? Will the compensation arrangements be the same? We would not want injured animals being dragged alive to collection centres in order to meet the compensation criteria.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I had hoped that I had made that clear. The compensation arrangements will be exactly the same, which is why I shall be designating incinerators as collection centres. Incinerators will be paid, and we estimate that it is perfectly possible, to within exactly the same tolerances as might be found at livestock marts, to weigh the lorries. I am sure that the scheme will have the full co-operation of the veterinary profession which, like my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and others, expressed understandable concern. I met representatives of the profession today and they believe that the scheme can work.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

My hon. Friend has concentrated mainly on the needs of the farming community, which I quite understand, but he and I know that we are dealing with tens of thousands of live animals. As a result of the illegal actions of the European Union and the hysterical response of some major traders such as McDonald's, we are facing what my hon. Friend has described as the largest slaughter programme this country has ever known. What specific measures will be implemented throughout this enormous but wholly unnecessary slaughter to ensure that the welfare of the animals is not disregarded?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

As I said, the welfare of the animals is paramount. The same very strict safeguards apply in this process as elsewhere. The slaughter of every animal will take place in licensed, designated abattoirs in the presence of the state veterinary service, which has the highest professional standards. The service is committed to maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare in the country, and—

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Indeed, in the world. If I find a scintilla of a suggestion that any abattoir is failing to meet animal welfare standards, or any other standards, it will be suspended from the scheme.

I shall conclude by making two detailed points so that I am confident that I have replied to every criticism that has been made. The first relates to exemption for specialist herds. We are working on that. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), issued a consultation paper on specialist herds on 3 May. It was issued after she had had extensive meetings with farmers and others involved in the industry to ensure that it commanded their support. After the consultation period, we shall negotiate with Community colleagues to ensure that there are exemptions for that beef of more than 30 months.

We must not forget, however, that the genesis of the scheme rests not with us or with Brussels, but with market forces, retailers and others saying that, in the light of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's recommendations, they no longer felt confident about taking meat from animals of more than 30 months. However, we hope that the exemption scheme will succeed in protecting Dexter cattle and others.

Secondly, the calf processing aid scheme is a Community scheme which has never been used before. It is being taken off the shelf, never having been practised before. It is important that we have got it up and running, but changes need to be made to it. We shall have to negotiate those changes with Community colleagues. For example, it seems sensible to try to increase the 10-day limit to a 21-day limit.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explain what the Government have been doing. I very much hope that, having heard my explanation of the way in which we are approaching various policy issues, the House will feel confident that the scheme is being taken forward with all due diligence and speed. We are always conscious of the many farmers who wish to receive compensation as speedily as possible, and I am determined that they shall do so.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives 8:18, 13 May 1996

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) for introducing the debate. Undoubtedly, as he said, and as I am sure all my hon. Friends who speak in the debate will agree, very real hardship is being inflicted on the farming community. Like every other hon. Member who has the privilege to represent a farming community constituency, I have received many representations and letters from desperately worried farmers.

I am also genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for dealing fully and at great length with the points of criticism. If I have a criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall—I should like to call him that—in this debate, it is that he gave the impression, or was in danger of doing so, that, somehow, matters could be dealt with swiftly, easily and without difficulty. Indeed, the impression was that all the means of solving the problem were in the hands of my hon. Friend the Minister. Oh, that that were the case. It was not.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall was so right to stress that the scheme was at the behest particularly of the National Farmers Union, as my hon. Friend the Minister stated very clearly in his letter. We all knew at the outset of the operation that there would be horrendous complications. Wherever one looked, one could see yet more ramifications of and difficulties arising from the process. Of course, not all the problems could have been foreseen. Some of them were foreseen—we knew at the outset that there would be problems with disposal.

I suppose that most hon. Members—I certainly speak for myself—had no idea of the state of the rendering industry. Frankly, one has always taken it for granted. It just happened that not many of us in the House were experts on the rendering industry. Clearly, as my hon. Friend the Minister rightly stressed, the difficulty and cause of frustration in the past few weeks has been the limitations on the rendering industry and the way in which it has chosen to go about handling the situation.

I pay tribute to the NFU, which has been in the front line of the crisis in handling all the calls from individual farmers. Like other hon. Members who represent constituencies in the south-west, I have received a briefing paper from the NFU in the south-west. It says unfairly that the Government must take charge of the situation", as if my hon. Friend the Minister had absolute powers. It calls on my hon. Friend to Ensure that every farmer has an equal opportunity of submitting animals to the scheme; andEnsure that priority is given to clean beef and infirm cows. It says: The Government must either take responsibilities themselves or appoint an outside body to allocate animals from farms to the abattoir/auctioneers and from the abattoirs to the renderers". I am sure that my hon. Friend just does not have those powers. I suspect that those powers would be available only in time of war, and I doubt even then.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Does my hon. Friend accept that—I have received this information only in the past 24 hours—there is a bit of a cartel forming between the big abattoirs and the renderers? The big abattoirs are saying to the renderers that if the renderers take cattle from any other abattoir, they will not do business with the renderer again when the scheme is over.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Being a man of diplomacy, I might not put that quite as bluntly as my hon. Friend, but I have heard that suggestion. I have also heard another worrying suggestion, on which my hon. Friend the Minister might comment. An auctioneer in my constituency told me at the weekend that people were being assured at market by representatives of certain firms, "Yes, we will ensure that your animals are taken. We can get rid of them; we can dispose of them, but you will have to pay over the odds because we have links with the renderers." If that is true, it is terrible.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—indeed, I raised the point in the House on Tuesday—that because of the way in which the scheme operates, there is a danger, if we are not careful, that small and medium-sized abattoirs will be forced out of business altogether and slaughtering capacity will be concentrated in the hands of the large abattoirs—the big boys. That is to be guarded against.

If I can have the attention of the hon. Member for North Cornwall for a second, I think that he would agree that it is unfair to put all the blame, as some have tried to do, on the Government or my hon. Friend the Minister. Many of the difficulties are outside my hon. Friend's control.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Before I give way, I must say that I could not help but notice that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) laughed at what I just said. I find it serious and absolutely disgraceful that not a single Back-Bench Labour Member has attended this debate.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for some of the points that I have made. Are not his constituents, as are mine, concerned that the Government appeared to be not in any way prepared? Of course we do not blame the Minister for everything, but we are entitled to expect that a responsible Government should have foreseen some of the difficulties, particularly in relation to the renderers. There was no contingency plan in place, even after the dress rehearsal of the problem in November. I am sure that he would agree—he put the question to the Minister last week—that we were given no indication that the problem had arisen until 50 days into the crisis.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

The hon. Gentleman has a marvellous crystal ball into which he can look, which tells him all the difficulties. I repeat what I said earlier. I think that it was very difficult to foresee all the difficulties. Perhaps one could have foreseen some. My hon. Friend the Minister responded to my pleas to have, for example, Helston in Penzance added to the list of markets, and I was delighted about that. Then, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall fairly acknowledged, the renderers said that they would deal only with certain abattoirs. I want Madron Meat added to the list of abattoirs. I doubt whether my hon. Friend the Minister has the powers to take control in the way in which some people seem to suggest he should. So many of the matters are outside his control, which is at the root of much of the problem.

I return to the effect that the crisis is having on all the constituents of those of us who represent farming communities, especially farmers who are virtually dependent on beef production. Others are probably being cushioned. We know that lamb and pork prices in the market have increased. Indeed, the deal for dairy farmers is pretty good because they can probably keep a cow a little longer than otherwise would have been the case.

The crux of the problem is beef producers who have to feed their animals. So many farmers have told me that they will be using up silage to feed the animals because, even though they are out to grass, the grass is coming on slowly due to the dry weather. Those farmers will be dependent on compensation, which is why it is absolutely essential that the backlog is dealt with and the cheques are sent out.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point about the problem and the cost of feeding. Does he agree that it would be helpful—some farmers have made such representation—if we could get agreement from the European Commission for earlier access to set-aside grazing than September, especially since we have had such a long winter and the grass has not grown?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I would support any move that lessens the impact on farmers—there is no doubt that they are in a serious situation. The Government are doing the right thing. Clearly, we must get the cold stores signed up as quickly as possible and we must try to deal with the backlog.

I am sure that the hon. Member for North Cornwall will not give credence to the widespread myth that this crisis came about because the Government lifted regulations. He knows that that is not true, but in his closing remarks he said that someone else had said it. It behoves all of us to be responsible in this situation. It is up to all of us to kick the Minister and to kick the Government to do more to resolve the serious crisis for agriculture and for the rural economy.

The Government have to do more to keep farmers informed of what is happening. I believe that frustration and anger have built up because farmers believe that they are not being kept in the picture about all the difficulties that have arisen. I hope that the debate will go some way to telling people the true position. The farming industry has been remarkably patient about this, but patience is running out—people are desperate, frustrated and angry. It is up to all of us not to inflame the situation and not to play party politics, but to do what we can to help.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham 8:30, 13 May 1996

I join my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The debate has given my hon. Friend the Minister the opportunity to lay out the way that Government believe the scheme should work—and he did so skilfully and clearly. The contributions of Liberal Members showed how ignorant they are of the problems that the Government have had to face in setting up the scheme. If the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) will forgive me, his speech was half an hour of whines and complaints. He did not make one constructive comment nor did he offer a single proposal.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

If the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to precisely the same concerns over the last weekend and the past seven weeks, he is not fulfilling his duty to his constituents.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

I have listened to my constituents at great length, as I represent one of the largest beef farming constituencies in the country. Tonight, we have heard half an hour of whines and complaints from the Liberal party, but not one positive suggestion as to how the scheme could be improved. As usual, when it comes to rural matters, Labour Members have been absent during the debate.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I have listened to a number of jibes against the Labour party in this regard. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is a Liberal Democrat Opposition day. There will be a two-day debate on this and related issues this week. There will be a major vote on Thursday night and the Labour party will be out in force. If the hon. Gentleman shares our concerns about this and other issues, he is more than welcome to join us in that vote on Thursday night.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

I shall certainly be present for the debate, but I doubt that I will find myself in the same Lobby as the hon. Gentleman. The Labour party claims that it represents rural interests. I hope farmers get the Message as to the exact amount of interest Labour members are showing in this matter tonight. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will note that many Government Members are present in the House—they were here at the beginning of the debate and they are still here. They have found the debate to be worth while and they have shown an interest in being here. No doubt, they will also be here on Wednesday and Thursday.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the role of the Labour party throughout the entire proceedings has been nothing but to stoke up concern and to throw fat on a small fire to cause as much confusion as possible in the country? In a perverse way, the Labour party is trying to attract attention to itself.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

I agree with my hon. Friend—that is exactly how the Labour party operates. The hon. Member for North Cornwall tried to make villains of two groups.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman should make his speech.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

Liberal Members wasted half an hour with their endless complaints. The hon. Member for North Cornwall sought to make villains of two groups: the renderers and the supermarkets. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has explained the position of renderers—they are there, they have a limited capacity and they cannot conjure more rendering facilities out of the air. Does the hon. Member for North Cornwall want moth balled rendering factories? He said that the Government should have seen this coming. What was my hon. Friend the Minister supposed to do? Was he meant to construct rendering establishments around the country on the basis that they might be needed one day? That is stupid.

The supermarkets are not the villains in this situation either. They are there to serve beef to their customers. If they can sell beef—they are increasingly selling beef to their customers because they say that all their beef is less than 30 months old—that is sensible. The supermarkets are a vital segment of the industry. It is right that my hon. Friend the Minister takes full regard of their views when he sets up the scheme.

My hon. Friend the Minister was right in choosing an industry scheme rather than a scheme laid down by the Government. Those who are aware of the agriculture and meat industry in this country know that every farmer is unique, that every livestock auction mart is unique and that every abattoir is unique, and that they all have ideas as to how the scheme should work. It is right that my hon. Friend sits down with them on a daily basis and gets them to set up the scheme and for the Government to put in the orders to make it work. I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing that.

I congratulate the National Farmers Union, which has been a great help, and the Country Landowners Association. I thank other organisations, such as the Meat and Livestock Commission, for their contributions. An unsung hero in the debate tonight is the intervention board. It has copped an awful lot of flak. It was trying to put into the detailed scheme something that it had never attempted to do before. I appreciate that it must have had a difficult time setting up the scheme. The board deserves our thanks and the thanks of the farming industry for all that it has done.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister has added auction marts in my constituency to the list. In particular, I refer to Hexham mart, which is excellent. The important thing about livestock marts is that they are very much a friend and adviser to the farmer, particularly to hill farmers. A lot of farmers live isolated and lonely existences and they find it difficult to keep on top of issues and complications such as we have seen over the BSE issue. The mart is essential to help farmers in remote areas to understand the problems that they face.

Difficulties will arise, and I am sure that they will be drawn to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned abattoirs making threats to individuals. Another problem is the appearance of dealers emerging around the north of England. They say to farmers, "We will take your beasts off you at the live weight price." Apparently, they are reaching an agreement with the abattoirs to sell the beasts at the dead weight price and they are splitting the difference. I do not know whether these rumours are true. If they are true, my hon. Friend should investigate them.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

My hon. Friend has mentioned the important role of cattle marts in this country, particularly in his constituency. Does he believe that there is a discrimination against cattle marts in respect of the live weight and dead weight criteria? Does he believe that some abattoirs are inviting farmers to deal directly with them rather than go through the collection points and cattle marts?

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

This is the market ruling, and I believe that in this case my hon. Friend the Minister is trying to achieve a balance between the interests of the livestock mart, of the abattoir and of the farmer. Abattoirs have traditionally and increasingly dealt directly with farmers, so it would be wrong to tell all those farmers that they must go via a livestock mart. However, those farmers with cull cows will obviously be encouraged to go through livestock marts and I suspect that many others will want to, because they will want the livestock mart to organise the transport of their cattle to the abattoir. Those with very few beasts will find it easier to deal with an auction mart—because the beasts can be collected into sensibly sized loads and taken to the abattoir on time—than to deal directly with the abattoir. The scheme will give the abattoir and the livestock mart something, and I hope that it will work.

It is early days yet, but my hon. Friend the Minister will need to start looking to the future. At the moment he has his head down, concentrating on today's problems, but, as we overcome those problems, new problems will arise. There is the prospect of a substantial fall in demand for beef throughout Europe. That will need to be tackled, because otherwise there will be surplus capacity of beef in Europe in the next few years.

Interestingly, the British have been almost the most robust about the beef issue. Our beef consumption fell initially to 60 per cent., but it is now back to 80 to 85 per cent. The Germans, whom some of my hon. Friends like to demonise in this regard, have suffered extremely badly in the sense that, after the first scare of BSE, only 30 per cent. of German beef eaters were still eating beef, and the percentage has only just crawled up to 50 per cent. The Danes, however, are also robust, and scarcely gave up eating any beef throughout the crisis.

Throughout Europe, beef production is scheduled to increase in the next few years, and if beef consumption fell by 20 per cent. and did not recover because of BSE—I fear it is on the cards—we are likely to produce a surplus of about 2 million tonnes of beef in the next few years, which will have to be dealt with by Europe.

Once the immediate crisis is under control, British farmers must carefully consider the future of the beef industry—and, dare I say it, the dairy industry, which will be the next problem on my hon. Friend's agenda.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark 8:41, 13 May 1996

I pay a warm tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his team. Since this crisis hit the country about seven weeks ago, they have worked tirelessly, night and day, to try to resolve the problem in Europe and in this country. No one could have worked harder.

I wish to place that on the record. I do so especially because, during my few remarks, I shall suggest that one or two things might have been done better. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has gone a long way toward resolving the uncertainty, difficulties and anxieties that our constituents have felt and that we, representing them, have felt for them.

We must accept that, as has been said, we cannot find rendering capacity if it is not there. Yet there has been deep uncertainty in the farming community about how the cattle disposal scheme will work for farmers as individuals.

The crisis has been with us for seven weeks. I had a meeting with senior representatives of the farming industry in my constituency on Friday, and they were still uncertain about how the cattle disposal scheme would work out for them in our county. The letter sent on Friday by my hon. Friend the Minister to them and to us should help, but it would be wrong if we gave the impression that the problems were over and farmers need have no further worries.

From the outset of the proposals, it has been the National Farmers Union's position, which I tend to share, that a better administrative framework or organisation is needed. Farmers need somewhere from which to obtain information and advice. Without accepting the point made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about the 15-year-old child at the end of the telephone—

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

I am sorry. Without accepting that point, made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-uponTweed (Mr. Beith), I do say that the fact that it happened, although it may not be typical of what is happening throughout the country, shows that the system has not worked as well as it might have done, had someone taken on the organisation of the whole scheme. Farmers tell me that there is no one whom they can go to or ring up with reliability to find out what their position is.

I make that suggestion to my hon. Friend the Minister. He said that he did not want a dirigiste scheme, but something better needed to be done in the past few days.

We should shed a tear for some of the abattoirs that learnt last week that they would no longer be among those listed to be involved in the culling scheme. Two owners of abattoirs visited me on Friday. They had filled in all the forms; they had been inspected. They were told, as of last Friday, that they would be slaughtering 900 cattle a week.

I should say, in parentheses, that one of the problems that farmers in north Nottinghamshire have had—and especially the two abattoir owners, who are also farmers—has been that the letter that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told the House on 1 May was being sent to all farmers did not reach them until Friday 10 May. That was the same day on which those two abattoir owners learnt by fax from one of their suppliers that they would no longer be in the scheme. They had had 10 days of uncertainty, and as soon as they received the information, they were told, by an outside source, that they were no longer on the list. I express concern on their behalf at how that happened.

I also express concern at the fact that the list has been reduced to 21. Every abattoir in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire has been removed from the list. There never was one in Leicestershire. There is no abattoir in the entire east midlands—nothing from Harrogate to Shrewsbury.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

This is important language. It is not a question of anyone being removed from the list. Those abattoirs are still designated collection centres, and I have no doubt that, in the very near future, they will be slaughtering under the scheme. As I hope I have explained to the House, to maximise the slaughtering and rendering capacity, it has been possible to use only 21 slaughterhouses at present, but the number will be increased, and I have no doubt that the abattoirs that my hon. Friend mentions will be involved in the scheme as it develops in the next two or three weeks.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

That will be very reassuring; I am grateful to my hon. Friend. However, distances are a problem to the people in north Nottinghamshire and the east midlands.

There are other unacceptable consequences of the list being shortened. First, farmers now have to transport their beast much further, at their own expense, than, until Friday, they had believed that they would have to. Secondly, the beast must endure significantly longer journeys, and no farmer or welfarist likes to think that that is being done unnecessarily.

There seems to have been no strategic geographic consideration of where the chosen abattoirs are to be. The entire east midlands does not have one, yet elsewhere there are clusters of several within an approximately 50-mile radius. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider more closely, if he can, where the abattoirs that have been chosen are situated.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I support my hon. Friend in his remarks. The very large abattoir at Crewe has failed to make the appropriate arrangements with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It offered to slaughter:200 cattle a day and its employees were prepared to work seven days a week. The Ministry reduced the number initially to 100 and then to 50, at which stage it was pointless for the abattoir to become involved as it was doing that sort of business already with casualty cattle. My hon. Friend makes a very good point: it is important that those abattoirs come on stream if the scheme is to go ahead as quickly as possible.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

I shall comment on the way in which the situation has changed unacceptably for farmers, abattoirs and others who received other information initially. My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

I return to a point with which my hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt, but about which I remain uncertain. The system is unfair to producers who have always sold their stock live weight. Producers cannot support the live weight system. For example, a Charollais steer at 650 kg live weight is worth £718.90 and the same steer is worth £862.68 dead weight. That £143.78 shortfall is grossly unfair to the producer and to the auctioneer, who may be having a difficult time, with considerably reduced throughput and much reduced margins of profitability.

The slaughter scheme should not force live weight producers into the hands of the dead weight sector. Live weight markets provide an excellent service, with guaranteed payments on the day of sale. The slaughter sector is not as reliable, with eight or more abattoirs going bankrupt in recent years, owing millions of pounds to producers and to auctioneers. The auctioneers tell me that they do not want to be in the driving seat, but they want a fair system: their clients and their farmer customers should have a real choice in these difficult times. Without that choice, many more markets will shut, causing a dead weight monopoly in many areas. I am sure that no one wants that. Markets are the life-blood of many rural communities; people come to the towns to attend the markets. The market in Newark has the second largest livestock cattle throughput in the country—I make that point to my hon. Friend, because he told us about the cattle market in Banbury. I urge the Government to re-examine the unfairness of the present proposals regarding live weight and dead weight compensation rates, and I urge the Minister to make a change.

The system has changed for the farmer and for the producer in recent weeks, as instanced by the National Farmers Union in its briefing. Initially, the 25p per kilogram live weight top-up was to be paid for the first four weeks of the scheme. That is fair enough—if it had begun. Then it was to be paid during May, but it changed again and was to be paid until 10 June. The top-up will now be paid on all steers and heifers on farms aged more than 30 months as at 20 March. There may be grounds for making those changes, but they have caused great uncertainty within communities that have already suffered badly.

I shall not speak for too long as my colleagues want to contribute to the debate. However, I must refer to another issue in the NFU brief: the financial consequences for farmers. The delays in getting the scheme off the ground—that is what we are debating tonight: not whether Europe is at fault or whether my right hon. and learned Friend could have done things differently—have cost the farmers dear in feeding their animals and servicing their bank loans. Some farmers who deal only in beef have received no income for the past seven weeks. I have referred in the House to a farmer constituent who has a throughput of 5,000 beef cattle a year: he has not sold one animal in seven weeks. Unless the sequence begins to move, the delays will lengthen.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State's comments in the House today and in the letter that was sent to our farming constituents last week will lead to a reduction in the backlog. Some 300,000 animals are awaiting disposal, and that number increases by 12,000 per week. Added to that are the 12,000 cows that would usually be culled every week. They are logjammed as well. I do not blame anyone for that situation: I simply seek to illustrate the extent of the problem that our constituents and the country face.

In conclusion, on behalf of the farming community—particularly beef producers—I ask that any future plans and dates be firm and well thought out. They should not be abandoned arbitrarily in any circumstances. Someone must take the scheme by the scruff of the neck and administer it; someone must organise the co-ordinated withdrawal of cattle from the farms. Farmers are sensible people: many of them elect Conservative Members.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

Yes, they are very sensible to do so. They must know where they stand. In responding to the debate this evening, my hon. Friend has done much to give them the reassurance that they seek.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:57, 13 May 1996

There could have been no more cogent explanation than that by the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) of the fact that there is concern, delay, difficulty and confusion arising from the administration of the scheme. That is precisely the motion that we have put before the House. It is nothing extreme—merely a statement that there is a great deal of concern and anxiety in the farming world, which has been hit so badly by the crisis, about the difficulties attendant on the scheme. The hon. Gentleman illustrated them in a practical and sensible way, and the Minister will need to take note of what he said.

The experience has been similar in my constituency. Two weeks ago, the impression was given that only Darlington and Carlisle would serve as mart centres for collection for the county of Northumberland. They are both a great distance from that county, which produces 8.5 per cent. of the national beef herd. That is not bad for one county. Representations have been made by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), about the marts in our constituencies. I made representations about Acklington, Wooler and Belford and marts were then added to the list.

It was the beginning of a series of difficulties in a scheme for which farmers had already been waiting for some time. When the new marts were added, further confusion arose as to whether they could begin operation as collection centres before they had been registered through the state veterinary inspection scheme and given a registration number. Two of the marts in my constituency—those at Wooler and Belford—were firmly of the impression that they could not begin operation until they had received a registration number. They and the local vets contacted the intervention board seeking clarification. On Friday, one of the marts found that the only person whom they could contact in the intervention board was a gallant 15-year-old trying to fill the breach—resembling the little Dutch boy putting his finger in the dyke—such was the chaos in the intervention board.

Today, my office spent the entire afternoon trying to get the intervention board to clear up the matter. Eventually, it became clear that registration was not required and the marts could start operating as collection centres immediately. However, somebody with authority should have made that clear to them and they should have obtained that information at the crucial stage. The fact that they were not able to do so further added to the delays and the problems.

We have also faced difficulties resulting from the reduction in supposedly available abattoir capacity, because the renderers are not prepared or able to service anything like the number of abattoirs that were supposed to be available.

The Minister of State said little tonight about the use of cold storage. We want clear assurances that there will be no delay in bringing that cold storage into use and in taking practical steps to ensure that the necessary rendering can take place of carcases that are left in cold storage for a period. Action must be taken and the process set in train without delay.

The hon. Members for Newark and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), among others, referred to the concern and anxiety about live versus dead weight disposal. I quoted an example showing that the premium on a 700 kg clean beast could be about £200.

Hon. Members have quoted the National Farmers Union brief, but they have been anxious to quote one part of it, and not the rest. The NFU makes it clear that at the Beef Management Committee meeting on 26 April … the Management Committee rejected the proposals made by the slaughterers and ourselves of using an accurate conversion coefficient for steers and heifers (0.6 as opposed to 0.5 for cows). Accordingly, the scheme encourages farmers to enter all their steers and heifers into the scheme at abattoirs instead of using their normal marketing channels. That is potentially extremely disruptive, not so much to the large marts at Banbury, in the Minister's constituency, but to the smaller rural marts, which are a key feature of agricultural life in the beef-producing areas, as many of them operate at a much tighter margin than the very large marts to which reference has been made.

It also affects the hauliers profoundly if their regular business is conducted into and out of a particular mart. They may not get business from a farmer who takes his own animals directly to the abattoir. There are also animal welfare problems. If animals are not moved in reasonable quantities, as they would be from the mart to the abattoir, vehicles will be carrying relatively few animals. It is much more difficult to give animals a safe and comfortable journey if there are not many of them in the vehicle than if the vehicle is fully loaded, because there is movement of animals as the vehicle travels along.

What one would hope to achieve in getting the process right is that the normal balance of business between live weight and dead weight is not disrupted in such a way that, when something like normal conditions return, we shall no longer have the facilities that are so important to the rural areas. Nobody is trying to push the balance between live and dead weight in one direction or the other, but the arrangements will do precisely that. It could be extremely damaging and detrimental to beef-producing areas. Hauliers are already going out of business. Marts could go out of business and they will not be replaced.

The NFU brief fully bears out the concerns that have been expressed. It continues: The NFU is dismayed that a combination of delays in decision-making and an underestimate by the Government, in the face of repeated warnings from the NFU, of the practical difficulties involved in establishing fair arrangements for the collection, slaughter and disposal of tens of thousands of cattle a week has caused such a significant delay to the opening of the scheme. It goes on to refer to the large and growing backlog of cattle on farms and the particular problems resulting from the fact that only 21 abattoirs are currently operating the scheme.

It will not do just to say that the crisis is unprecedented and nobody knows how to handle such schemes. In the old days, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was well accustomed to handling crises of one variety or another. That went right through the war and the post-war years, but in those days the Ministry had an infrastructure of offices designed to administer fairly complex systems. MAFF coped in the past with foot-and-mouth disease and all sorts of other crises. The Ministry is no stranger to putting together arrangements in a hurry, to deal with a crisis that could cause severe damage to the farming industry. It is reasonable to assess performance, even in circumstances as difficult as the present circumstances.

There has been more delay and less information available than there ought to have been, and decisions that are likely to have a disruptive effect have been taken—all that, when the scheme is intended to help the farming industry out of a desperate situation. Ministers must take account of the representations made by hon. Members in all parts of the House tonight, to ensure that the running of the scheme is radically and rapidly improved, so that it brings genuine assistance to a difficult situation in the farming industry.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West 9:05, 13 May 1996

Gloucestershire has a problem with debates such as this, in respect of the participation of hon. Members representing Gloucestershire constituencies. Two of my hon. Friends are ineligible to speak. I put this on record, for the interest of the local press. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is a Whip, so is unable to speak in these matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is parliamentary private secretary to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, so is not allowed to speak in these matters either. However, I had a brief conversation with my two hon. Friends beforehand and—although they have not heard what I am going to say—they join with some of the remarks that I shall make. I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is leaving the Chamber, because he was to feature in my remarks later.

I want to mention the Labour party's role in the matter, because it has been absolutely shocking. I said earlier in an intervention that there has been much fanning of the flames, to create concern and anxiety among the citizens of this country. The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), for example, asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he acknowledged that public confidence on this issue is hanging by a thread", and to confirm that SEAC members who are parents or grandparents are not giving beef to their children or grandchildren".—[Official Report, 20 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 376–77.] The hon. Lady had no idea whether or not SEAC members were doing so. That was simply a way of seeking to cause confusion and anxiety among people who had been perfectly happy eating beef beforehand.

There have been no speeches from the Labour Benches.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

Not until now. Perhaps I have provoked Labour's Front-Bench spokesman to say a few words, but there have been no speeches or interruptions from Labour Members. That is a disgraceful performance.

I realise that I am walking on eggshells, but I believe that the press owe all of us something. The press are keen enough to write the bad news about the difficulties faced by the citizens of this country but when the Government are going diligently about their business, seeking to reassure the farmers of this country that something is being done to right a dreadful situation, where are the press? I do not know whether we are allowed to acknowledge the Press Gallery—I know that we are not allowed to acknowledge the Strangers Gallery. The Press Gallery is bereft of reporters.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

On the day on which I had the honour to sponsor an exhibition Upstairs to mark the 128th anniversary of the coverage of the House by the Press Association, will my hon. Friend take it from me that the Press Association, as always, is represented in the Press Gallery?

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

I realised that I was walking on eggshells, but I did not expect my hon. Friend to put me down in the way that he has.

I was astonished that the hon. Member for North Cornwall had not read the National Farmers Union brief, but obviously the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party did so. On 26 March, the right hon. Gentleman said in Prime Minister's Question Time: This morning, the National Farmers Union, which is presumably not hysterical, backed by the entire food industry, which is presumably not hysterical either, has called for older cows to be taken out of the human food chain."—[Official Report, 26 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 832.] So it is utter nonsense to suggest that the scheme was dreamt up by the Conservative Government. I am very sorry, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman came to the debate so ill prepared. What is more, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) did not even know that there were no renderers in Wales. Is theirs a serious political party, or is it some kind of joke? We really do expect better.

Wrestling with BSE takes place in a changing scene. I congratulate Ministers on the actions that they have taken thus far in an extremely difficult situation. They have kept Members of Parliament well informed, and they have had to respond quickly as matters have progressed from day to day. It does the Liberal Democrat party no good to quote a week-old article in Farmers Weekly. Things have changed a great deal in the past week.

I, too, have made telephone calls to Gloucester market and other interested parties in Gloucestershire. I have been assured by the market this afternoon that the business of gathering cattle is now going smoothly. The slaughterhouse in my constituency commenced slaughtering last week. Of course these operations take a while to get going, but when I spoke to the slaughterer today I was told that the work is going well. The slaughterhouse is experiencing little difficulty sorting out the wretched problem of removing these cows from the herd.

If delays have occurred, that is perfectly understandable; 70 per cent. of the funding for the scheme is coming from Europe, so obviously approaches had to be made to our European partners for their backing.

I also learned today that the supermarkets are not sure whether cattle that are to be rendered can be slaughtered on the same premises as cattle going into the food chain. Discussions on that are therefore taking place; they too will take time to sort out.

In Gloucestershire, clean beef is being given priority because there is a premium on it. My first constructive point for the Minister this evening is to ask whether there is a chance of extending the premium for clean beef over a longer period, so that other cattle can be slaughtered before the clean cattle. As hon. Members have pointed out, many cattle need to be taken out on welfare grounds.

I am delighted also that cold storage is to be used to speed up the slaughter. It is costing farmers thousands of pounds to feed these cattle and they want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Another affected group, of course, are those who were carrying large stocks of beef before the crisis broke, when the Labour party did so much to scare everyone off eating meat. Many exporters have millions of pounds' worth of stock floating on the high seas and are wondering what to do about it. Will there be any compensation for them?

I am sorry that I do not have time to speak at length this evening, but I believe that we should start to take reprisals against Europe if nothing happens later this week. We should also lay down certain conditions for imports. All meat imported to this country must have specified offal removed, as happens here. All imported meat must be tested for drugs and other illegal substances. And all such meat must have been subjected to the same veterinary inspections at the place of slaughter as we conduct. Lastly, we cannot accept imported meat from animals fed on mammalian compound.

As I say, I am sorry not to be able to speak for longer, but as the Whip is telling me to sit down, I will.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 9:13, 13 May 1996

The Labour party, and myself on occasions, have been accused of many things, but to be accused by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) of being responsible for the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis so that we could attract attention to ourselves is going a bit far. I can tell the hon. Member and others that the Labour party, in 1989, called for ingredients to appear on feed bags; the Labour party, in 1989, called for a proper system of cattle registration so that cattle could be traced back to their holdings; and the Labour party queried the standards of feed renderers and raised the problems of cross-contamination, which—as we have now seen—has been happening for some years and, at least, since 1988 when the ban came in. We in the Labour party do not need anyone to lecture us about the role that we have played in rural areas. We have defended the interests of the farming community and the beef sector since the problem first started. As we know from surveys and opinion polls, the public clearly hold the Government responsible for the crisis. The Labour party does not feature at all in the list of people whom the public hold responsible for the problem, and nor should it.

As I pointed out to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who was not here earlier, there will be a two-day debate on the subject on Wednesday and Thursday. The Labour party will be out in force on that occasion. It is a great shame that the Government are not prepared to accept an amendment so that we could have a genuine debate and we could see from the vote who stands up for the farmers. On the issues of the common agricultural policy and BSE, there will be a vote and we will see who will stand up for the farmers by voting against the motion on Thursday. Hon. Members will have the opportunity to stand up for the farming community, and we will see what happens.

To say that the implementation of the scheme has been in some difficulties is an understatement. The implementation has been described in words such as "shambles" and even the kindest organisations have expressed their dismay about the way in which the scheme has been implemented. In the Labour party, we recognise that the scheme is huge and that there will be problems in implementation. We do not deny or underestimate that, but the Government must recognise the widespread concern about the operation of the scheme and the six weeks it has taken to introduce. Perhaps the Minister might be able to tell us whether any contingency plans were ever drawn up to deal with the problem, which we now face, of potential links, and the implications for human health, between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or whether everything has been put in place since the original statement six weeks ago.

The time scale is the key issue. I must disagree with some Conservative Members who said that the problems happened a week ago. That is not the case. Today's Eastern Daily Press quotes a farmer as saying: There is no longer a single approved outlet to handle these cull cattle in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire". That farmer, Mr. Brigham, who farms near Dereham, is also quoted, interestingly, as saying: It really does not inspire confidence. It is no wonder that the rest of Europe is looking at this shambles and that our partners question our ability to handle the crisis". I shall return to the issue of credibility, but those quotations demonstrate the problems in the east of the country.

There are also problems in other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) has written to us today to express concern at what is happening in his part of the world.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

He was not able to come here tonight, so I am taking his point up. I hope that the hon. Lady is not trying to trivialise or make a point out of a very serious problem for farmers in Cumbria. My hon. Friend told us that his local slaughterhouse appeared to be on the approved list and it was told to take animals. However, on Saturday 11 May, it was told that the animals it had in store would be removed for rendering by arrangement with the intervention board. The slaughterhouse had come to an arrangement with a renderer in Lancaster and it was also told to continue the work until Tuesday 14 May, when the matter would be reviewed.

The problem is that there is now no collection centre for animals more than 30 months old in Cumbria, even though that slaughterhouse had a casualty animal licence. The collection centre in Ulverston is also concerned that animals collected will have to be transported considerable distances due to the lack of an abattoir in that area. Indeed, the number of slaughterhouses has been reduced because of what appears to be the influence of the rendering industry. The Government must tackle the issue. Concern has been expressed by the farming press, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the British Veterinary Association.

The BVA puts its finger on the issue in the title above its comments, which is "Practice versus Theory". It reports that confusion is rife, with farmers, hauliers, markets and abattoirs all complaining that they do not know what is supposed to be happening. It adds that reports of animals being transported incredibly long distances before slaughter, although anecdotal, must be taken seriously. Indeed, they must, given the problems that have not yet been successfully resolved.

The option of live weight and dead weight concerns many auctioneers. The Opposition believe that the option should be available to farmers. The issue rests with the calculation of compensation, and it is one to which the Government should return to re-examine it. Instead of saying that dead weight should not be an option, the problem of compensation, if there is one, should be reviewed.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the advice that the National Farmers Union has issued by fax today to all its members with fax machines? It has been issued also to cattle markets. The representatives of two cattle markets have expressed considerable sadness to me today that the NFU should encourage traditional farmers who go to a cattle market to take their cattle direct to an abattoir, thus cutting out the cattle market which, in many areas, is a vital part of the rural economy.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I accept the hon. Gentleman's genuine concerns. I think that he will accept, however, that many producers have always had a direct relationship with slaughterhouses. The dead weight option was rightly reintroduced by the Government, although at a late stage. There were welfare implications for many animals. The dead weight option means that it is possible to get more animals straight to the slaughterhouses, thus reducing delay. I think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is more concerned about compensation arrangements, which I am sure the Government could reconsider.

The Government should give some thought to beef animals that are generally not marketed until they are over 30 months of age. The Government have said that these animals are under consideration against the background of the European Union. Has any progress been made on exemptions, which would reduce the great pressure that now exists?

Can anything be done to increase rendering capacity? I understand that a business cannot suddenly switch on extra capacity. It will not be able to find the necessary capital, especially if demand will decline or is in decline. It has been made clear, however, that the scheme will run for a considerable time. Renderers, because of the gearing of the scheme, receive much financial advantage. Have the Government discussed with the renderers whether it would be possible to introduce extra capacity within their businesses?

There could be a problem with incineration capacity in dealing with rendered products. Does that mean that some rendered products will go into landfill sites? Is the Minister able to give a categorical assurance that all rendered products will be incinerated?

Beef has been exported and, because of the worldwide ban, it will have to be imported back into the United Kingdom. I do not know whether the Minister knows—I am sure that she has had representations from beef exporters—that South Africa currently has 27,000 tonnes of British beef. That 27,000 tonnes will have to be brought back to the United Kingdom, at the insistence of the South African Government, because of storage problems. How will all that beef—and, indeed, other consignments that are coming back from abroad—be disposed of? Will it be rendered, incinerated or put on the market? The Minister must be aware that some of it will be from animals aged over 30 months, and that putting it on the market would cause difficulties: it would be in breach of the Minister's own rule.

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but I should like clarification of how that beef will be dealt with. It is a real problem for the sector of the beef industry that we are discussing. I appreciate that the problem is caused by a worldwide ban, and I am keen for beef exporters to receive some support. British beef exporters deserve all the support that they can get, and the sector will receive no compensation from the package.

Will the Minister also give some consideration to bull beef producers, whose animals tend to be ready for market at 24 months? It is almost exclusively an export market, and is particularly important in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland. Will the Minister consider including that category in the 30-month compensation scheme, at the very least until the export ban is lifted? Because there is no market for such beef in the United Kingdom, the producers are likely simply to retain the cattle until they reach the age of 30 months and then put them into the 30-month scheme; but they will have to find six months' worth of feed, which they would not have to find in normal circumstances.

It is a pity that some of the suggestions that we made some years ago, which I mentioned in my introductory remarks, were not accepted at the time. I know that action is now being taken, and I believe that the Government are trying to rectify the position by introducing measures to help the consumer and restore consumer confidence, but I must disagree with the hon. Member for St. Ives—who generally speaks thoughtfully about issues such as this—on the question of the Government's responsibility.

The Government introduced the scheme, and they are responsible for it. We have heard tonight that some of the problems are being caused by the rendering sector, but surely the Minister and the Government must have some influence on the operation of that sector, which is insisting on working with only 21 slaughterhouses. Ultimately, they control the purse strings. Ministers cannot escape their responsibility; I suspect that the hon. Member for St. Ives would not disagree with that.

Mr. Brigham said that it would be difficult to persuade the European Union to lift the ban if it appeared that the Government could not implement their own scheme. The Labour party, certainly, feels that credibility is involved here. The Government's credibility has been severely damaged, and it is important to the beef sector—and, indeed, to our economy and exports—for it to be restored as quickly as possible. I hope that Ministers will take account of what has been said today, and ensure that it is acted on—that compensation is paid to farmers as soon as possible, that the problems of delay are resolved as soon as possible and that more capacity is provided as soon as possible, particularly cold-store capacity. That would restore the Government's credibility, and would certainly restore faith in the British beef industry.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 9:28, 13 May 1996

We have had an extremely good debate. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) should recognise that we are discussing a substantive motion with a substantive amendment, and that a substantive vote can take place at the end of the debate.

The Minister of State, who spoke for 51 minutes, made a good fist of a difficult situation. He gave many detailed answers and explained a number of issues in response to questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I commend him for that, but he must still accept that outstanding concerns, some of which were expressed by Conservative Members, remain. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) wasted a certain amount of his speech with gratuitous attacks, but identified one or two important problems.

In replying to the debate, will the Parliamentary Secretary, to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food answer the question that one or two people have raised about whether supermarkets are discriminating against abattoirs? Numerous abattoirs do not wish to be included in the scheme for fear of being tainted with the idea that they are not acceptable for prime beef slaughtering. If that is the case, it is important that we know that it is the case and that the Government take a grip on the position.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) raised a number of points. He stressed in particular the difficulties that farmers are facing with the high cost of additional feed and the delay in waiting to get their cattle to market, which, for some of them, could be considerably longer yet. In an intervention on the hon. Gentleman—again, I would appreciate it if the Minister dealt with this—I asked whether representations could be made to allow, on a one-off only basis, early access to set-aside land in mid-July instead of in September to take account of the fact not only that we have a problem, but that we have it after a long winter, when there was even less grass than usual for the time of year.

The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) was his usual frank and disarming self in dealing with the position in an honest way. He identified the concern about the delay, the continuing shortage of abattoirs in his constituency and the problem of the lack of rendering capacity or of some other means of enabling the process to continue.

The hon. Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Marland) again could not resist a few gratuitous attacks, but his comment about the 30-month rule missed the point and his comments quoting my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) did not prove the hon. Gentleman's point. It does not matter, because we are stuck with the position, but the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was suggesting one weekend that the entire British cattle herd might have to be slaughtered. Faced with that or a cull of 30-month-old cattle, which would you choose, Mr. Deputy Speaker? There was also a recognition—numerous people told my colleagues and me this when we visited Brussels—that, if urgent action had been taken at the beginning to put a scheme in place, progress towards a lifting of the ban might already have been made.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe made the only speech from the Labour Benches. It was odd that he had to refer to a letter from one of his hon. Friends when there was plenty of opportunity for a Labour Back-Bench Member to make a speech, but, throughout the debate, not one Labour Back-Bench Member was present. That reflects the arrogance of the Labour party, which is interested in who is moving the motion rather than the substantive issues that it deals with. I give credit to Conservative Members, who have made speeches on behalf of their constituents and whose questions were answered by the Minister. That seems to be the right and constructive response.

I was unable to attend a large part of my Scottish party's conference a few weeks ago in Aberdeen, a week after the ban was imposed, because I was accompanying the noble Lord Lindsay, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for agriculture, in my constituency in Aberdeenshire. We were seeing for ourselves the scale of the problem. Both of us were shocked by what we saw and by its implications. We visited one farmer who said, "I have 120 head of cattle, which will be going to market in the next two weeks and for which I have already run out of feed. What is going to happen?" That farmer is still facing that problem and still feeding those cattle. No progress has been made towards resolving the problem.

The noble Lord Lindsay and I then visited Donald Russell, a meat company in my constituency. Literally 10 minutes before we arrived, it paid off its entire work force of 34 people because it had no market. That company has developed the top end of the British export market for prime Scottish beef. It had a £10 million turnover and 98 per cent. of its products—80 per cent. of which were beef—were exported. Now that company has no market and no business. It is desperate, and, so far, no measure has come near to giving it any chance of surviving and getting back into the market when the ban is lifted.

Any suggestion that the lifting of the ban is not the most urgent priority is simply unacceptable. We need to get measures agreed, in place and working so that we can persuade our partners to lift the ban as early as possible. That is what we must deliver and it is why people are so concerned about the delay.

I shall give the basic statistics for Scotland. Last year, £120 million-worth of Scottish beef was exported and the industry sustained 21,500 jobs. It is unacceptable, when 21 per cent. of Scotland's beef production is exported, to be told that, in the long run, the export ban might be lifted. It is vital that it is lifted at the earliest opportunity.

I had a letter from a farmer from outside my constituency who has specialised in the export of young bulls, especially to Italy. As he says, it was his choice to concentrate on that market, but now he has been excluded from it and from all compensation measures because he was selling cattle to the Italian market for slaughter at 12 months—a sector for which no assistance is given. He estimates that he will lose between £100,000 and £125,000 this year. There is no help in sight and that is a desperate plight for any farmer.

We must deal with the problem of BSE, and those who pretend that it has come from somewhere else should consider the basic facts. There have been more than 162,500 cases of BSE in the United Kingdom compared with 324 cases in the rest of the world.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

What about non-declaration?

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Minister would not support the hon. Lady's contention. She cannot possibly claim that the difference is somehow due to non-declaration and she would be unwise to suggest that there have been no undeclared cases in the United Kingdom. We all know the reality. In the context of Britain and Germany, there may have been some undeclared cases, but there have been 162,500 cases in the United Kingdom and four in Germany. It is not surprising, after a 55 per cent. drop in the home market for German beef, a 40 per cent. drop in France and a 30 per cent. drop in Italy, that there is some concern in those countries. If hon. Members represented constituencies in those countries, they would certainly be calling for action to protect their farmers.

We must deal with the problem and we must persuade people that our measures will lead to the ultimate eradication of BSE in the beef herd. That is the way to get back our own confidence and international confidence and to return to the market with what has been recognised as the best quality beef that people can buy. We can produce it, but we must eradicate this problem, and anybody who diverts his attention from that is not helping British agriculture or British beef production.

I am surprised that, throughout the debate, no hon. Member mentioned the additional, selective slaughter programme. There is no doubt that that must be agreed also if we are to get a final agreement package. Perhaps it might have been better if that had been agreed before we embarked on the major 30-month slaughter programme which is creating such enormous capacity problems. However, we need to get that in place.

A couple of weeks ago, my hon. Friends and I visited the Commission in Brussels to try to establish its view of the situation. The opening position was quite clear: we want to get this ban lifted as early as possible; but for that to be done, we have to have clear proposals on the table that we can recommend to the Council of Ministers; and we have not had them. That was two weeks ago.

On the morning we arrived, the officials received what was described as a "non-paper" from the British Government, with a few "suggestions and ideas". That turned out to be the document that was presented at the Council of Ministers and almost immediately rejected as an apparent British offer on selective culling. When I subsequently saw the document, it did not convince me that it presented a detailed, realistic and thought-through policy. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how it would have convinced our partners.

I can confirm that the Commission officials to whom we spoke said that they believed that it would be possible to agree a slaughter policy that was effectively targeting the most at-risk cattle, and that the numbers would not be dramatically different from those that we were talking about. An agreement could be struck. We desperately need that agreement to get the ban lifted. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us in her reply what stage we are at with that agreed policy.

The prime concern in this debate, which has been mentioned in the speeches of hon. Members from both sides of the House, is the situation relating to the 30-month cull and the removal of the older cattle from the food chain. The simple nub of the problem has clearly been acknowledged: blockage and obstruction in the rendering capacity is causing the main problem. Today, I spoke to my contacts in the Scottish industry, and they said that they could slaughter the required amount, but they cannot get them in for rendering.

One small mart in my constituency, Huntley mart, was hoping to get 150 cattle away tomorrow for slaughter, but it has had to cut back that number to 60 and is not sure whether it can manage even those. The right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said that we are making progress in Scotland. We are, but it is still a long way short of getting rid of the backlog.

It was pointed out to me that the capacity that was being considered was such that we were still not even building up to a slaughter rate that would achieve a net reduction in the backlog on farms, and that capacity would continue to build up for several weeks before we started to make any real reduction or inroads.

I intervened on the Minister's speech to make a specific point, which I do not think he fully appreciated—I do not blame him for that. The point, which was made to me, is that, because cattle have been kept and fed on farms for extra weeks and months, they have put on extra fat. It is therefore more appropriate to talk not about how many beasts can be processed through the rendering but about the tonnage. The problem is that the Minister may be miscalculating on those figures to his disadvantage. I say that as a constructive issue that must be dealt with so that we can find the capacity.

If we cannot conduct the rendering process, it seems to be clear that we shall need to increase incineration capacity and storage capacity. Until we can get up to a full slaughtering level that is clearly reducing the backlog on farms, we shall satisfy neither our home producers nor those in Europe who need to be persuaded that we have this issue under control. I think that that is fundamentally why there is so much concern in the country.

The Minister made it clear that his view was that this is a very difficult situation, that it is much more complicated than anything that Ministries have had to deal with before and that we really should understand that he is working extraordinarily well with his officials to get this far. I am sure that the situation is difficult—I am not suggesting that it is not nor belittling it. It is very difficult being a farmer out there, or a meat producer who is trying to sell processed meat without any cash flow, outlook or movement in the market. Most people are saying that seven weeks is too long.

How much longer before we can see a real shift in the market? Effectively, farmers are being told that they have to put their cattle in a raffle. If they are lucky and their number comes up in it, the cattle be designated to go to slaughter. Some of them are now being told that their raffle will not be drawn for six and a half weeks from today. They will not even enter the raffle for another six and a half weeks because all the allocated space has already been taken up by what went in in the first week.

The Minister must understand that farmers are saying such things. When market managers and abattoir managers are having to cope with such comments, it is no wonder that people feel extremely stressed and distressed and inevitably see that there is a need for firm action.

It was interesting that one or two Conservative Members said that what was needed was someone to take control of the situation. It was not quite clear what they had in mind but, to judge from the Conservatives' record, I suppose that it would be a firm of management consultants or something similar. Ultimately, however, the Government must take control—they are in the hot seat. If they need to bring in extra help from outside they should do so, from whatever source is necessary.

It is not unreasonable for farmers, meat producers, abattoir owners, haulage contractors and everyone in the beef trade to say that, whether or not it is the Government's fault, they ultimately require the Government to deliver the goods that will get them out of this mess. People in the industry want the scheme to be working so that they can see the backlog being reduced, and they want it agreed with our European colleagues that what we are doing is enough to persuade them that the ban should be lifted at the earliest opportunity. That being the case, I draw the Minister's attention to two comments.

First, the Minister of State mentioned the Country Landowners Association, which has given the Government credit for measures that have been put in place but still expresses frustration about the situation. In particular, it says: The CLA has supported the Government in seeking the removal of the EU ban but not at any price. The UK's effort to persuade other member state Governments, apart from the legal challenge in the European Court of Justice, must be based on explanation of the comprehensive and effective range of measures adopted within the UK. That is now urgent.

Secondly, this is not simply special constituency pleading although, as I represent Gordon in Aberdeenshire, I probably represent the biggest concentration of beef producers, from primary to end product. We have set up a north-east Scotland red meat industry task force which represents all parts of the industry. On Friday, the organisation sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the first page of which states that it had already written to him on 1 May and to Lord Lindsay on 12 April and was disappointed not to have received a reply to either of those letters.

The organisation said specifically that, given the importance of ensuring that the system is not abused, it is generally recognised that we have to be extremely firm and must prosecute anyone found guilty of abusing it. It would like to know who will be policing the rendering plants which, it feels, are not subject to the same tight inspections as abattoirs. It is also concerned about people who have fallen through the compensation net—I have mentioned a few of them already—and for whom no measures have been introduced but who, week by week, are getting closer to bankruptcy and liquidation. They are the very people—at the top end of the market—whom we shall need to lead Britain back into the export market when the ban is lifted, but they will not be there if we do not give them adequate support now.

We are speaking on behalf of tens of thousands of people in the industry throughout Scotland, England and Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland. We want the Government to get the culling and slaughtering scheme fully operational and for it to be fully agreed with our European partners, and the sooner the better. In those circumstances, despite the Minister making a good fist of a difficult situation, the Government amendment to the motion is not good enough. People are not satisfied with the progress made so far—they should not be, and nor should the Government.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 9:47, 13 May 1996

This subject concerns many hon. Members, especially those of us who represent farming communities because we are aware of the seriousness of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy/Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease crisis which has hit not only the farming industry but allied industries.

It is a matter of regret, however, that the subject should come again to the Floor of the House in the form of the Liberal Democrat motion. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) began his address by saying that the Liberal Democrats had refused to indulge in recriminations but went on to give a long list of recriminations. That is not uncharacteristic because it has been the tenor of his party's behaviour on this subject to speak in the Chamber in a statesmanlike way in a spirit of co-operation and to recognise the seriousness of the issue to the industry but, whenever its members had the opportunity to get in front of a microphone, to behave quite differently.

On the very day that the announcement was made, I took part in a BBC South-West television interview with the hon. Member for North Cornwall, who was down the line in the south-west. He questioned the very fact that the Government had made the announcement in the House. If we had hidden it from the House or the country, he would have been the first on his feet to complain about it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am just about to quote the hon. Member for North Cornwall, so the hon. Gentleman can decide whether it is true. In the Financial Times on 25 March—the hon. Gentleman can check it—the hon. Member for North Cornwall said: Ministers must now really state in unequivocal terms which beef products are entirely safe and which may carry some risk, however remote. That is hardly the judgment of somebody who had accepted what SEAC had said. He was putting question marks over the safety of products. In the Western Morning News on 23 March, he said: Farmers are very very angry because Ministers have allowed confusion to reign by talking about the risk of beef instead of identifying that it was bovine products. Bovine products and beef were not a risk. The SEAC recommendations were very clear. Quite what the hon. Gentleman thought that he was doing in stirring the pot in that way, I do not know. It is very strange.

Only recently, the hon. Member for North Cornwall said that the delay in the 30-month scheme was due to lack of staff in the Meat Hygiene Service, which is totally untrue. Even though my hon. Friend the Minister of State explained the matter very clearly, the hon. Gentleman said in the House today that the 30-month scheme was not wanted by the industry and that the Government had dreamed it up to present to the country.

In his speech, the hon. Gentleman even quoted the Booker column of Sunday 12 May, to which he added his support. It described the 30-month scheme as "illegal", a "crackpot scheme" and a plan for which there is not the slightest rational justification". Frankly, if that is the view of the hon. Gentleman and his party of the 30-month scheme, what they have said for the past three hours has hardly been worth listening to.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

Obviously, I cannot answer all those stupid remarks in one quick intervention, but I can suggest how stupid they are by saying that the hon. Lady has not even cited the right article. I was referring to The Daily Telegraph, not The Sunday Telegraph. She has got the wrong quotation.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

If they are stupid remarks, they are also the hon. Gentleman's words—QED.

There have been some more serious speeches in this debate, especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who is well respected and, as a Cornish Member of Parliament, knows the farming community. He summed up the complexity of the scheme and endorsed the points that my hon. Friend the Minister made, when he outlined clearly the way in which the scheme has developed.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives not only described the scheme' s complexity but said that one of the reasons why there was some delay was that we listened to what the farming community wanted. We adjusted the scheme, added the extra money for the clean beef scheme and added the dead weight scheme at the specific request of the farming community. Obviously, such things could not be decided on the day that the proposal was announced. We had to go through the usual channels, talk to Brussels and get it agreed in such forums as the Beef Management Committee before we could assure the House that we would be able to run the scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives also talked about keeping farmers informed. We appreciate the need to keep individual farmers informed. My hon. Friend the Minister has already described the steps that we have taken to inform farmers—personally, by direct mailing—and slaughterhouses and livestock markets. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and other hon. Members who have raised this issue that the Government are conscious of the need for information as things have changed quite quickly. We shall continue to ensure that we inform people of any changes as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) raised the importance of the livestock markets and the role of the supermarkets in this matter. Very early in the crisis, the supermarkets said that they would continue to sell British beef. I pay tribute to them—unlike others who decided not to sell British beef—as they have been robust in promoting it. Supermarkets said that they would sell beef that was less than two and a half years old, which is why they have been supportive of the 30-month scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) referred to the difficulties that people in his constituency have experienced. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State: while we can share the frustration of, for example, the abattoirs that are listed but that are not yet fully operational, it is a matter of the rendering capacity being able to meet what the slaughterhouse industry can deliver and a matter of it being able to process it.

That is why my hon. Friend the Minister told hon. Members that we will progress, as quickly as possible, with a scheme for cold storage so that more animals can come through the abattoirs and be slaughtered and so that the farmers can receive their cheques as quickly as possible. We hope to put that into place soon. Many of the abattoirs that hon. Members have mentioned will be able to move the animals through and that will speed up the process.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

Will the Minister also look at the possibility of using the Government's influence with the intervention board? Some of the figures from the recent tranches of intervention have been quite disappointing in terms of the amount of beef that has been taken out of the United Kingdom market.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As hon. Members will know, we have negotiated opening more boxes with Europe—in fact, we are happy to look at that again. The hon. Gentleman will understand that this is a Europe-wide scheme and in the bids that go forward on a fortnightly basis the United Kingdom has not always done well—ironically, bids from other countries sometimes do a little better. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are aware of that and we will keep an eye on it. It is important, and a number of hon. Members have mentioned the difficulty with young bulls.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Marland) outlined the positive side of what is being done. He gave a good summary of the weakness of the argument of the Liberal Democrats this evening. Many of the measures that have already been announced and those that are coming forward show that this issue will not be with us for a short period of time. As hon. Members know, we are looking at the long term. For example, we hope to introduce the mature beef scheme as quickly as possible.

We are currently consulting in this regard, and the consultation period is only two weeks. I had two meetings with industry representatives prior to the consultation document being issued. We hope that the mature beef scheme—which will affect animals that are more than two and a half years old—will be the forerunner for a wider scheme. It would be impossible to launch a scheme that is too wide to begin with; it will need to be narrow. I hope to get it up and running by June.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

If we are to reassure the public and Europe—which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned several times this evening—it is important that we have in place a scheme where we can certify herds and put in place documentation tags and other systems that will ensure that no one can point the finger and say that there are weaknesses in it. If the hon. Gentleman wants us to take a scheme off the shelf and introduce it next week, we could do it, but it would not be in the interests of the industry.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Lady must acknowledge that the specialist herd is a small proportion. I refer to the selective slaughter agreement. We should get an agreement on it so that we can get the ban lifted from all beef.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I was very interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman and his friends said in Brussels. The selective slaughter policy is primarily a selective scheme to take out those cohorts of animals that have been fed infected feed at the same time on the same farm as animals that have suffered from BSE. The hon. Gentleman denigrated that policy and dismissed it, and he criticised the Government when that proposal was first presented to Brussels, scathingly calling it a "non-paper".

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that any more slaughter of any kind must pass the test of being approved by the industry in this country and by the Members of the House before it is presented to Brussels. That is the scheme that is on the table in Brussels. At the moment, our European partners have said no; they want more herds and animals killed. If the hon. Gentleman is supporting that, he had better say how many more animals he wants killed.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 62, Noes 124.

Division No. 126][10.00 pm
Ainger, NickJones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Alton, DavidJones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Barnes, HarryKeen, Alan
Beith, Rt Hon A JKilfoyle, Peter
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Llwyd, Elfyn
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Lynne, Ms Liz
Callaghan, JimMaclennan, Robert
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Maddock, Diana
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Chidgey, DavidMoonie, Dr Lewis
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Morley, Elliot
Coffey, AnnMudie, George
Cummings, JohnNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnPike, Peter L
Dafis, CynogRaynsford, Nick
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)Rendel, David
Dewar, DonaldSalmond, Alex
Dixon, DonSkinner, Dennis
Dobson, FrankSpearing, Nigel
Eastham, KenSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Etherington, BillStrang, Dr. Gavin
Evans, John (St Helens N)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Ewing, Mrs MargaretTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Foster, Rt Hon DerekTipping, Paddy
Godman, Dr Norman ATyler, Paul
Golding, Mrs LlinWallace, James
Harvey, NickWelsh, Andrew
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Wigley, Dafydd
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Don Foster.
Janner, Greville
Alexander, RichardClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Amess, DavidCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelCouchman, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Ashby, DavidDevlin, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Dover, Den
Baldry, TonyElletson, Harold
Bates, MichaelEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Boswell, TimEvennett, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Fabricant, Michael
Bowis, JohnFenner, Dame Peggy
Brandreth, GylesFishburn, Dudley
Brazier, JulianForman, Nigel
Bright, Sir GrahamFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Browning, Mrs AngelaFrench, Douglas
Budgen, NicholasGallie, Phil
Burns, SimonGillan, Cheryl
Burt, AlistairGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butcher, JohnGorman, Mrs Teresa
Butler, PeterGorst, Sir John
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Carrington, MatthewGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Carttiss, MichaelGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Chapman, Sir SydneyHarris, David
Churchill, MrHawkins, Nick
Clappison. JamesHeald, Oliver
Hendry, CharlesRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineShaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon TomSkeet, Sir Trevor
Kirkhope, TimothySmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knapman, RogerSpencer, Sir Derek
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Spink, Dr Robert
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)Stephen, Michael
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Stem, Michael
Lang, Rt Hon IanStreeter, Gary
Lawrence, Sir IvanSweeney, Walter
Legg, BarryTemple-Morris, Peter
Lidington, DavidThomason, Roy
Luff, PeterThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasThornton, Sir Malcolm
MacKay, AndrewTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Maitland, Lady OlgaTredinnick, David
Malone, GeraldTwinn, Dr Ian
Marland, PaulViggers, Peter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Walden, George
Merchant, PiersWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Waller, Gary
Nelson, AnthonyWells, Bowen
Neubert, Sir MichaelWhitney, Ray
Nicholls, PatrickWhittingdale, John
Oppenheim, PhillipWiddecombe, Ann
Ottaway, RichardWilkinson, John
Paice, JamesWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWolfson, Mark
Pickles, Eric
Porter, David (Waveney)Tellers for the Noes:
Rathbone, TimMr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.
Redwood, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to restoring consumer confidence in the UK beef industry by introducing a slaughter scheme for cattle over the age of 30 months; notes the progress made in the 30-month scheme; recognises the dependence of the scheme on co-operation between farmers, auctioneers, slaughterers and renderers and welcomes the steps taken to foster such co-operation to ensure that the maximum slaughter rates are achieved.