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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 6:43 pm, 25th June 1996

The hon. Gentleman thinks that we know nothing at all. Although it was reduced three years ago, it has not gone down any further and I see no reason why it should not be increased in view of present circumstances. We should try to ensure that support is in place in time for the suckler calf sales in September and October, as they are the absolute livelihood of many hill farmers in Scotland.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make certain that farmers are given clear instructions week by week as to how they can make the best use of the disposal system. I have certainly run into some snags in my constituency. Some slaughterhouses are not being used and others have no quota for casualty animals. No slaughterhouses in south-west Scotland take casualty cattle. One must look at the humane aspect of how far to transport injured cattle, as I explained to my noble Friend Lord Lindsay who is responsible for such matters.

My hon. Friend should also clarify the continuing discussions and arguments in respect of the dentition test. We have set out the rules specifying four teeth for the 30-month disposal system or two teeth for normal sales and there have been problems relating to heifers.

My constituency borders England, and my farmers send cattle to Longtown and Carlisle. Last week, when we changed the premium support level for heifers and steer, there were difficulties when the auction mart and the slaughterhouse told farmers, "Sorry chaps, even if there are four teeth, unless you have a cattle birth record document, you will lose part of the subsidy." That has been proved wrong by the weekly newsletter, the NFU press release and a ministerial statement. We must get over those hiccups as soon as possible.

It is important that we look forward, be clear and concise in our policy and explain it explicitly, particularly to dairy farmers who will have major problems with their herds in August, September and October as we approach the selective cull, which will have the greatest effect on the dairy herd. We must accelerate the process as soon as possible in close discussion with the National Farmers Union. We shall then begin to see a change in attitude that will return confidence not only to farmers, but—equally importantly—to the food chain. That would help the farmers, the slaughterhouses—some of them are doing reasonably well, but others are not in the scheme—the processors and the exporters who have been so important in Scotland where prime Scotch beef has been of such economic value.

Everyone has a part to play, but we must be tough on those who are out of step and those who try to beat the system. We hear about too many people trying to get round the system which has been set up for the good of everybody.

As I said earlier, it is no use looking back with hindsight. We have to look forward. The Government have done a good job in difficult circumstances and I hope that, as a result of that success, our export markets will be open before the end of the year and farming will return to a profitable future for consumers, the environment and the industry.