Orders of the Day — Accelerated Slaughter Programme

– in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 24 July 1996.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. McLoughlin.]

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 4:41, 24 July 1996

This will be a short debate, and I know that many hon. Members have points that they wish to make. Therefore, I shall keep my remarks brief, and focus on the issues of most immediate importance.

I shall deal first with the selective cull. As hon. Members know, the agreement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister secured at the Florence Council provides the framework for the step-by-step lifting of the European Union ban on exports of United Kingdom beef and beef products. Decisions on each step will be taken on the basis of scientific and objective criteria. The agreement was a great success, and provides a solid way forward. The framework also provides for the introduction by the United Kingdom of a programme for accelerating the decline of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

As I have stated frequently, the Government are committed to a policy of eradicating BSE— it is a high policy objective. We are pursuing that objective successfully. I am glad to report that the number of confirmed cases is in sharp decline. To date, there have been about 160,000 confirmed cases. The peak was in 1992, when we had about 36,500 confirmed cases. By 1995, that had fallen to about 14,000 confirmed cases. This year, leaving aside any question of a cull, we expect about 8,000 confirmed cases. That figure will fall to about 2,800 confirmed cases by 1998. As the House will see, we are steadily eradicating BSE from our national herd.

On 3 July, we issued a consultation document on our selective slaughter programme which is designed to increase the rate of decline still further. The aim of the programme is to identify, slaughter and destroy those animals that, on objective grounds, can reasonably be regarded as most likely to have been exposed to the risk of infection, and thus to develop BSE.

There has been much talk— in the House and elsewhere— about the cull of hundreds of thousands of animals and about whole-herd slaughter. Neither is true. The programme will be carefully targeted, focusing on certain individual animals born in 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92 and 1992–93. As hon. Members know, for animals born in 1989–90, the slaughter will be voluntary.

There have been many responses to our consultation document. In addition, my hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Agriculture, with Ministers in other Agriculture Departments, have held many meetings with farmers throughout the country to hear local views at first hand. Many views have been expressed to us on such details as what we mean by a cohort, the definition of a herd and the right to make representations against the requirement to slaughter.

All those responses are still being considered. I am determined that our final conclusions should reflect as many of the concerns as possible. It is our intention that, in carrying out this policy— which I recognise is a difficult one for many people— we should be as sensitive as we can to the individual problems of every farm.

In this respect, I should say that I am especially aware of the anxieties of dairy farmers about the possible implications for milk quota management. I am pleased to announce that, last night, I was able to secure an important concession from Commissioner Fischler at the Agriculture Council. Subject to certain conditions, United Kingdom farmers who are affected by our programme will be able to lease out surplus milk quota after the end of the calendar year. That should provide welcome flexibility for those concerned.

Taking into account all the relevant considerations, I have concluded that, although it is right that the House should now have the opportunity to debate the programme, it would not be right for me to sign the orders. I did, however, think that it would help hon. Members if they could read copies of the present drafts of the orders, which are now available in the Vote Office. Before signing them, Ministers will take into account the responses to our consultation paper, the views expressed in the House, and any other relevant material.

Photo of Mr Donald Thompson Mr Donald Thompson , Calder Valley

I appreciate that my right hon. and learned Friend made a long statement earlier and that he is discussing the important matter of mass slaughter, but, before we get to that mass slaughter, we must deal with the fact that all sorts of farmers throughout this country are facing delays in getting their cattle slaughtered in ones and twos.

They seem to hint that, were they to deal with dealers rather than directly with slaughterhouses, there would be some accelerated progress. My right hon. and learned Friend will have read that I have said the same thing in the House before. Will he encourage his civil servants and his Ministers to ensure that we get the tidying-up process before we enter into the great programme that he is proposing?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I am conscious of the concerns that have been expressed— for example, by my hon. Friend. I am glad that the slaughter policy under the 30-month rule is proceeding effectively— in many ways, thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We have slaughtered around 280,000 beasts thus far under the 30-month rule. It is difficult to be wholly certain when we will eliminate the backlog, but I hope that that will happen around the middle of October. I certainly understand that it would be desirable either to complete, or at least nearly to complete, the backlog before embarking on the selective cull.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

As the Minister rightly says, the accelerated slaughter scheme is not welcomed by the producers, who are entering into it reluctantly— it is causing them stress and disturbance. Beef producers in Scotland have made it clear to me that they are willing to go along with the scheme, albeit reluctantly, on the clear understanding that the beef ban will be lifted. The Minister has constantly said that the framework is there for lifting the ban.

I have looked carefully, but I cannot find any guarantee or clear indication that the ban will be lifted if we go ahead with the scheme. Will the Minister spell out how it was made clear in the agreement reached in the Council of Ministers that, if the scheme goes ahead, the ban will be lifted?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The framework agreement works as follows: the British Government must fulfil certain obligations, most notably, putting in place the legislation on the selective cull, but also putting in place the requirements regarding the recall of feed and measures involving the identification and traceability of beasts. I shall come to those points later.

When we believe that we have concluded that process, we shall present the Commission with a paper setting out what we have done. The Commission will doubtless wish to verify that we have done that which we have said we have done. We shall then look to the Commission to bring forward proposals for the step-by-step lifting of the ban. The framework identifies a number of steps that we think should be taken before the ban is entirely lifted. I think that the first steps that are likely to be taken involve certified herds— a point that I shall touch on.

For those purposes, the most important thing in the framework agreement, which has been signed up to by all the Heads of State, is a recognition that the Commission and its various instruments, such as the Standing Veterinary Committee, should proceed on scientific and objective criteria, not with regard to any other considerations, as some people might feel that they have hitherto done.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

Would this be an appropriate time to ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend will be saying something about the position of cattle that have been sold under the age of 30 months where there has been a substantial loss on the transaction? Is my right hon. and learned Friend attracted to the proposition that the £ 29.6 million provided by Europe should be applied entirely to help that sector? Can he say something about whether there might be matching funding to provide genuine compensation for the difference in respect of market values?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but perhaps he will forgive me if I respond to it in the course of my speech, as I have something specific to say on it.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

On the subject of clearing the backlog, there has been some discussion about bringing into play some cold storage, so that animals that have been slaughtered can be stored in a cold store until the rendering capacity is available to treat the carcases. What is the current position on that?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

We have plans to bring on stream additional cold storage facilities. It is that fact which, at least in part, enables me to say that I hope that we shall clear the backlog by around the middle of October. It is important to have additional storage capacity, because we must render some parts of all beasts that are killed under the slaughter scheme.

I have already told the House— I hope that it is helpful to hon. Members— that copies of the draft orders are in the Vote Office. There are some further points that I think hon. Members would like to know. Ministers are likely to sign the relevant orders during the next few weeks— that is not absolutely certain, but likely. That would allow us to start the process of tracing animals in the way set out in the consultation paper and, where appropriate, to apply restriction orders.

There are also a number of questions to which the farming community is anxious to have answers— most notably, compensation. The Government have recognised the need for fair compensation, going beyond our practice for disease control measures.

There will not always be a ready market in the older animals that are slaughtered. Consequently, farmers will have to go out and replace an animal that is slaughtered with a younger animal, which is likely to be more expensive. We have also to take into account taxpayers' interests, however, and it would not be right for farmers to benefit by improving the quality of their herds at taxpayers' expense. Thus, we must strike a balance.

We have decided that, in the case of female animals, we will pay compensation at a value of 90 per cent. of the cost of a younger animal— in other words, 90 per cent. of replacement value— or market value, whichever is higher.

We have also recognised the need for additional compensation for farmers whose herds are most affected. Hon. Members will see our detailed proposals on this matter in paragraph 13 of the consultation document.

I recognise also that, within the farming community, there is grave anxiety about the prospect of a compulsory slaughter of healthy animals. Therefore, I repeat the assurance that I gave the House on 18 July: there will be no compulsory slaughter under this scheme unless the House has had an opportunity to debate the relevant order.

That assurance is subject to one qualification. Separate legislation applies in Northern Ireland, and farming organisations there strongly favour an early cull. Therefore, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may proceed with slaughter in Northern Ireland in advance of any debate in the autumn. However, we will not proceed to a compulsory slaughter in Great Britain on that basis.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

My right hon. and learned Friend has set out the Government's position as stated in the consultation document. As he will be aware, both the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union took issue with increased compensation for farmers whose herds have been more affected. I should be grateful if he would amplify on that matter, rather than making his rather bald statement about securing a balance. Why does he feel that that balance is correct?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

There are two elements in the compensation. First, there is compensation for the beef itself. On that, I reiterate what I have said already: compensation for female animals will reflect 90 per cent. of replacement value or market value, whichever is highest. The justification for a 90 per cent. rather than a 100 per cent. replacement value is that, inevitably, farmers will replace an older beast— as, by definition, it will be— with a younger beast. There is a degree of betterment to that.

It is perfectly fair for my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Sir C. Shepherd) to say, "This obligation has been cast on the farmer by the Government." However, we have tried to deal with the concerns both of taxpayers and of the farming community, by saying that 90 per cent. of replacement value or market value, whichever is highest, will take account of the balance that must be struck.

The second element in the compensation relates to the disruption that is caused. When one takes out cattle from a herd, one inevitably disrupts a farmer's business. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford will see, in paragraph 13 of the consultation paper, the measures by which we deal with that matter. In very broad terms, they are as follows. If 10 per cent. of a herd is culled, there will be a 10 per cent. supplement on the value of an individual beast. The supplement will increase in a linear progression, so that there will be a 25 per cent. supplement if 40 per cent. of a herd is culled. I should say that the supplement is subject to a cap, which is explained in paragraph 13 of the consultation document.

It might be helpful if I give the House some information on several related matters. Under the over-30-month scheme, we have now slaughtered rather more than 270,000 beasts, and we are, as I have said, on course for clearing the backlog by mid-October. We would wish to complete, or nearly complete, this process before embarking on the mandatory selective cull.

I attach considerable importance to making speedy progress on our schemes for herds, or animals, which can properly be said never to have been exposed to the risk of developing BSE.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I must make a little progress; I shall then certainly give way to my hon. Friend.

We are making excellent progress on the concept of the certified herd. We have discussed the scheme with the Commission, which has raised no objections. We hope to start the process of certifying herds by mid-August. This will provide an exception to the 30-month rule so far as the UK domestic market is concerned, and I would hope to be able to press for an early relaxation of the ban on beef exports in respect of the certified herds.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

I greatly welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the passporting scheme. Does he agree that it must be a high priority, as it is the key to providing a watertight guarantee to consumers at home, in Europe and elsewhere?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Easy identification of animals and their traceability are key elements in restoring the confidence of consumers and our EU partners. The UK has in fact for a number of years had a system which identifies each animal individually, and enables us to trace it back to its herd of origin, but we are improving and reinforcing that system.

Every bovine animal born in Great Britain after 1 July has to have a cattle passport recording all its movements. We are moving as rapidly as we can to a fully computer-based movement recording system. These are the types of development that my hon. Friend would urge on us.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

The Minister is talking about clearing the backlog by mid-October. A number of my constituents— farmers and cattle dealers— have mentioned the fact that dealers are not considered as collection centres. Slaughterhouses are informing these dealers that they cannot take the beasts they have, or their customers' beasts— the farmers' beasts— because slaughterhouses have to take 75 per cent. of their throughput from collection centres.

Farmers are being told by auctioneers with whom they have never traded that they— the auctioneers— must refuse to take their beasts into their collection centres. Will the Minister explain why he has stipulated that slaughterhouses must take 75 per cent. of their throughput from collection centres?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

It reflects the pattern of the previous trade, but we are trying to secure a higher throughput through the live marts in order to bring about a slight skew in the system. Some discussions are taking place, especially with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, to try to ensure that live marts are getting a higher proportion of the clean cattle than is currently the case.

I deal now with the question of feed. As the House will know, our view is that ruminant protein in cattle rations is the historic, and by far the most important, cause of BSE. Acting on feed is therefore the key to eradicating BSE. I will not repeat again the various measures that we have taken since 1988 to control the feed given to UK farm animals. I would, however, remind the House of the steps that we are taking this month— at Government expense— to collect and dispose of any supplies of meat and bonemeal still on farms or in feedmills.

From 1 August, it will be an offence to possess such material. I assure the House that we shall be vigorous in our enforcement of this very important provision. The provisions now in place should prevent any risk of ruminants being fed cattle rations that contain any mammalian protein.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

On a point of information, what is the position on the continent in terms of animal feed? The general population has learned an awful lesson about the feeding of animal protein to cattle and sheep which are herbivores. Is that still the practice in other European countries?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The hon. Gentleman is right. The regimes of some countries on the mainland of Europe have been much less satisfactory as regards the use of mammalian protein being fed to farm animals than has been the case here for many years. However, controls have been tightened, and the Commissioner himself intends to make new proposals in that regard. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, it is important that the requirement is EU-wide in its application.

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) asked about support. We have introduced a range of measures to safeguard the future of the key links in the chain. My hon. Friend will remember that the Agriculture Council in June agreed a range of EU assistance worth about £ 110 million for beef farmers. Of that, about £ 29 million, or 34 mecu, was available as a discretionary spend. I am announcing by written answer today how we propose to spend this.

In substance, we will be using the £ 29 million to pay a headage payment in respect of cattle sold for slaughter between 20 March and 30 June— provided, of course, that the necessary documents can be produced. We have thereby gone a long way towards meeting the wishes of the farming community and its representatives, so as to ensure that the money gets quickly into the pockets of those who have suffered most.

To make it plain, £ 29 million of the £ 110 million will be used as I have just described, and the balance will be loaded on to the premium. However, it is not our intention to introduce national aids.

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

I sympathise with the Minister's losing his voice. Although his announcement will be some consolation and help to producers who sold at a significant loss earlier this year, what can he say to those who produce suckler calves on the hills and who are contemplating the autumn calf sales with great anxiety, because they cannot afford the fodder to keep those animals throughout the winter months?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The real honest answer is that consumer confidence has to be built up. The market price is the only way to bring about permanent financial assistance or resources to the sector of the farming community that we are debating. We do not have it in mind to introduce a further top-up scheme; nor are there currently any proposals for such a scheme.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

No, I cannot give way. I must make progress.

I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, essentially, the solution lies in the market. We need to ensure that market confidence is restored.

On many occasions since 20 March, the House has had an opportunity to discuss BSE and how we can best respond to the grave difficulties that we all face. It is for that reason— the fact that we have been here before— that I have not thought it necessary to go into overmuch detail, but have focused on those matters which are of most immediate concern.

In closing, I should like to pay tribute to the good sense and patience of the fanning community and of those who represent it. I have been deeply impressed by the courage and dignity with which those engaged in agriculture and in related industries have met these quite exceptional and most challenging of times. They have our support.

Indeed, I believe that only a Conservative Government would have had the will to commit such vast resources to the assistance of British agriculture. We have thereby given powerful and conclusive evidence of the importance that we attach to this vital sector of the British economy.

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

Before my right hon. and learned Friend sits down, will he give way?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I rather thought that the Minister had already sat down.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I was making my final observation, and I give way to my hon. Friend

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

My right hon. and learned Friend is most kind. I know that he mentioned the cold storage scheme, but unfortunately I had to attend to an urgent matter outside.

Let me briefly draw to his attention a point about the north-west and Lancaster in particular. Although it is a small market, there is a great backlog of 2,700 cattle awaiting slaughter. That figure will increase dramatically in the autumn, and there could well be animal welfare problems. That makes it so important that an adequate cold storage scheme is provided in the north-west. I should say to my right hon. Friend that there is a belief—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry, but interventions should be brief, and this is an one-and-a-half-hour debate.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs has been to Preston to discuss exactly the point that my hon. Friend has raised. Our objective is to ensure that the 30-month scheme operates as effectively as possible. There are rather more than 40 abattoirs operating in England and Wales.

It is important to match abattoirs to Tenderers to make the scheme as effective as possible, but the cold storage facilities are also important, and I hope that bringing together all the additional facilities will enable us to clear the backlog by about the middle of October. Meanwhile, I shall certainly take account of the point that my hon. Friend has just raised.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 5:10, 24 July 1996

It seems appropriate that we should debate BSE on the day that the House rises. The matter has rightly preoccupied hon. Members for many months, and it has been the subject of several debates.

The House will be all too aware of the Government's appalling record on BSE since the disease was officially identified in 1986. It is a record of delay in regulating to protect human and animal health from the BSE agent and of dreadful under-enforcement of those regulations.

By May 1989, the Labour party had realised that it was vital to ban cattle offal from human food, to compensate farmers fully for slaughtered BSE cattle, and to ban the export of meat and bonemeal for cattle feed. Six years ago, in 1990, we called for a tagging system for all calves to be introduced in Great Britain. We knew that traceability would be the key to tackling the problem. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for South Shields (Dr. Clark) are on record calling for action, much of which was belatedly taken by the Government.

Had the Conservative Government listened to Labour, the difficulties faced by the beef industry now would be on a far smaller scale.

There is now great resentment— and a lack of confidence among consumers and the beef industry— at the Government's handling of the crisis that followed the statements made on 20 March that BSE was the most likely explanation for an apparently new strain of CJD.

The House will remember that on that day the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated: I do not believe that this information should damage consumer confidence and thus the beef market."— [Official Report, 20 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 387.] The Government had no strategy to cope with the crisis, and our rural areas are paying a heavy price for that misjudgment.

As bits of policy have emerged since the statements of 20 March, they have been dogged by chaos and confusion. Nowhere was that more apparent— nothing had more impact on the industry— than in the introduction of the 30-month slaughter scheme. Only last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster admitted on radio that there were still problems with the scheme. At least one Conservative Member has drawn attention to the aspects of the implementation of the scheme that are a matter of great concern to the industry.

There is continued dissatisfaction with the selection of abattoirs involved in the scheme, and in my view it is certainly time to review the level of payments made to slaughterhouses participating in the scheme. There is a general feeling in the industry that the rate paid for slaughtering an animal under the 30-month scheme is exceptionally and unjustifiably high.

On 16 April, the Minister promised that there would be exceptions to the 30-month rule for those herds— especially organic and specialist herds— with no risk of BSE. No such scheme is yet in operation. The Minister addressed the selective slaughter scheme, which is the main item before the House today.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

We have heard this before from the hon. Gentleman. Before he leaves the section of his speech in which he criticises what is happening in the slaughterhouses, will he tell the House what his party proposes and how Labour would sort out the problem? It is not good enough for him to echo the Irishman and say, "I would not start from here if I were trying to find a way forward." It would be interesting to hear what the Labour party would do.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is tremendous dissent in the slaughterhouse industry. We recognise that there is overcapacity and that it has created problems. There is a feeling in many of the slaughterhouses and abattoirs not involved in the scheme that those participating in the scheme are achieving high profits and that the scheme is giving them an unfair competitive advantage in a difficult market.

No matter how we embarked on the scheme— we should recall that the Government proposed the 30-month slaughter scheme, albeit in response to the views of the industry; it was not imposed by Europe— it was always going to be a huge logistical operation.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

No. Others are waiting to speak, including the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King).

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am encouraged by hon. Members on both sides of the House not to give way, so I shall move on fairly quickly.

It is obviously a matter of regret that the orders have not been signed, but hon. Members should have the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

The House will remember that, at first, the selective slaughter scheme was to involve 40,000 cattle. That was the figure that the Minister first mentioned to the House. It was then increased to 80,000. Now, up to 147,000 cattle will be killed under the scheme. After great difficulty, that was agreed with the other member states of the European Union. We are concerned that what we have in return is not adequate. We have no timetable, and no guarantee from our European counterparts of any future agreement on the proposed lifting of the overall ban on the export of our beef and beef products.

The Minister will be aware that there is great concern throughout the industry. Did he agree with the Prime Minister when he said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 4 July that the selective slaughter policy was necessary, "to ensure public health"? I doubt that that can really be the Government's position.

Does the Minister share the Prime Minister's assessment that, by October, we shall be ready for the lifting of the ban on certified herds, young animals and embryos, and that, by November, all the conditions should be met to allow all meat that can be sold in the United Kingdom to be exported?

I remind the House that the agreement that was reached with Europe obliged the Government to get the necessary legislation and administrative provisions into force by 1 August. We are clearly in no position to achieve that.

The farming industry is right to advise the Minister that the cost of replacing an animal slaughtered under the scheme will be greater than its market value. The Minister has provided us with information on compensation. It is fair to say that he has now reached an understanding with the industry in respect of the compensation being offered. There are some considerations as to how we calculate the size of the herd, but hon. Members will recognise that, if we are to implement such a scheme, there must be fair compensation. Indeed, it will be a traumatic time for many producers and dairies. Many of them will be unaware of what lies ahead. Such uncertainty is of great concern to the industry.

I would like to raise a number of points, but time is short. Many of us are repeatedly approached about incineration. What additional incineration facilities are being provided? A huge volume of meat and bonemeal, which is created by Tenderers after the animals are slaughtered, has to be incinerated. The operation is huge, and we need some assurance that the Government are pressing ahead with it because it causes great controversy in many parts of the country.

It is of deep regret— I make no apology for repeating it— that two thirds of BSE cases being reported are in cattle that were born after the ruminant feed ban was put in place. We know that that ban was not effective. I still believe that there is a very powerful argument for an investigation into whether we can identify the main sources of that contaminated ruminant protein. Where were the cases occurring? Where was the specified bovine offal not being properly kept out? Where were compounders— I think by accident— continuing to supply contaminated ruminant protein? To what extent was there cross-contamination through the use of the same equipment for pig and poultry meal?

I appreciate the Minister's advising the House on how the Government intend to allocate the special additional aid that the EU has given to individual countries. I welcome his decision in this area. There was a feeling in the industry that the Government would allocate it to the beef special premium scheme. It is obviously fairer that the money should go to producers who have lost most and been hit hardest— those who have been selling beef for consumption since the crisis broke on 20 March.

We have a long way to go on this issue. There is a great deal to be learnt, but I am sure that hon. Members share the objective that we must support the industry and all its ancillary aspects as best we can. Of course we do not have an open purse; of course there is a limit lo the amount of money that any Government can spend on the matter, but above all we must see our way forward and re-establish our reputation as a country that has some of the healthiest livestock in the world and high quality beef and beef products.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Before I call the next hon. Member, I should point out that this is a very short debate and I should be grateful if those who are called would speak very briefly.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 5:22, 24 July 1996

I welcome the decision of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister to take part in this debate. I very much appreciate his gesture, given the difficulty that he has with his voice. I believe that the whole House welcomes it; it underlines the importance of this topic to many of our constituencies. I assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I shall try to keep my remarks to the minimum, having regard to the many hon. Members who want to take part in the debate.

The situation that we are considering has some echoes for me, since the 1968 foot and mouth disease originated in my constituency. For many months, I felt that I lived with that topic, excluding all others. One very strong recollection that I have from that occasion was the fashion that developed for saying that the traditional slaughter policy for foot and mouth disease was being overtaken by the magnitude of the disease and that we should be much more sympathetic towards a vaccination policy. The clamour— certainly a representation— was resisted by Mr. Fred Peart, who, as Agriculture Minister, earned my genuine respect. He was a streetwise politician.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I see that his son and heir is present. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman represents quite the same robust views on the issues of our time.

Mr. Peart fought his battles with the Treasury, but above all, broadly speaking, he was the master of his own Department. He did not have to go across to Brussels every five or 20 minutes to seek guidance, secure permission, and so on. I am not in any sense being disrespectful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, who has done an extremely good job in these difficult circumstances. Let the House be under no illusion, however, that the world is very different when a Minister must operate within a collective framework rather than carry out departmental policies as could be done in the time of foot and mouth disease.

We are confronted today not by the assertion of the traditional means of countering a disease but by a departure from the traditional means of countering BSE. I agree that the disease is relatively modern, has the most horrifying consequences, and is deeply worrying to the farming industry that wants to preserve a worldwide reputation for animal hygiene. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said, although there were difficulties in the early days, which have been well documented, the incidence of BSE fell by 61 per cent. between 1992 and 1995, and that fall is continuing. We are all entitled to ask what should be added to that policy to make it more cost-effective. It is not as though we are bewildered at being confronted by a disease; just the opposite.

What is so important about the accelerated programme and the orders that might be laid in its support is, first, the extent to which we are envisaging the slaughter of cattle that have no visible symptoms of BSE; secondly the slaughter cannot be easily identified as directly assisting the reduction of BSE; and, thirdly, a substantial element of the programme is— presumably— related to the restoration of consumer confidence. All those propositions need to be much more explicit and much more thoroughly argued to secure the House's assent. That is why I think that it would be valuable to return to the subject in the autumn when we know rather more about the factors and the significance attached to them.

Every hon. Member is naturally anxious that our rural communities should be compensated for the losses incurred over BSE, and it is natural that our first thought is of the farming community. The difficulties go much wider. Shropshire county council and the Shropshire training and enterprise council produced a paper on what was thought to be the cost to the community. I advised them to submit it to the Treasury, because it seemed very prudent. We are considering substantial costs. Let there be no doubt whatever that they impact on total public spending and any assumptions of tax reductions. That is why we will want to consider the working of the scheme again to ensure that the financial costs are limited wherever possible. We should reconsider the scale of the slaughter that is so far envisaged where it is questionable that it will have any impact on the reduction, and the rate of reduction, in BSE.

I turn now to parliamentary control over policy. I am very pleased that we are having this debate, that it is on a one-line Whip and that it is low key. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) that we are all concerned about seeking to support the agriculture industry. We all want to ensure that its interests are secured in equitable terms— and not only in our national community. We also want them to be reasonably effectively represented in the European Union. To that extent, the House must consider how best to make its representations.

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will be sensitive to anxieties on this point. Criticising the present arrangements does not amount to xenophobia; it simply means, given our history of animal health and welfare, that we are not prepared to throw all that aside and adopt a system that we would never have adopted had we been left to make our own dispositions in reaction to events earlier this year.

This is a challenge to the maturity of the political judgment and political effect of national parliaments in relation to Community decisions. If we do not start getting it right now, we shall be doing no service to our friendship with Europe.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen 5:29, 24 July 1996

Following one of the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Biffen), I might point out that one of the features that I find most unsatisfactory in this programme is the fact that it is incredibly inefficient. Perhaps 98 per cent. of the animals that will be slaughtered do not have BSE. I listened intently to the Minister's opening remarks to hear how these cohorts of animals were to be selected for slaughter under the programme. I heard nothing about that— except that they will be animals from herds that have included cows with BSE. What about a herd of 50 cows in which just one has had BSE? How many of them will be slaughtered? We await the details.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) pointed out, the numbers have grown time and again— from tens of thousands, to 40,000, to 120,000. Now, there are even fears of 200,000 having to be slaughtered. It is rather like losing badly at Monopoly or poker. What is more, the numbers have always seemed arbitrary, and there is no enthusiasm on the part of farmers for the programme.

One of the greatest disappointments of recent times in the BSE story is the fact that no live test for BSE has been developed. We pressed for research into one many years ago. During a recent recess, I spent four or five hours going through the literature that I have accumulated on the development of a test for BSE in live animals. I then wrote a detailed letter to the Ministry of Agriculture— three pages in all— summarising some of the progress and inviting comments. I know that MAFF is hugely overburdened these days, but I did expect better than the six or seven-line reply that included no detailed comment on the research that I had quoted.

The Minister may say that this is unfair, but I detect a certain indifference in MAFF to developing a test for BSE in live animals, even though ultimately that will be the only effective, efficient way of eradicating it. I should like to think that, if the Labour party was in charge of agriculture over the next five or six months, we would launch an intensive effort to develop such a test, so that it would be ready by, at the very latest, December. Based on my knowledge of the subject, I feel sure that such an intensive effort would lead to a test for BSE in live animals by the end of the year.

The global total of animals to be slaughtered during the next 12 months will be 1 million, comprising the 15,000 a week barren cows, the extra numbers under this new programme, and the slaughter of cattle aged more than 30 months— yet only about 10,000 are certified as having BSE. One hundred times as many cows as need to be are being slaughtered. Hence the urgency of finding a test for BSE in live animals.

I was reassured by the Minister's remarks about compensation for farmers in terms of replacement values and market values. The terms seem fair and reasonable. I am pleased also to hear that the £ 29.5 million from the EC is to be topped up by the Government—

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The £ 29 million is not to be topped up. I explained that we were going to use the money to make payments in respect of cattle sold between 20 March and 30 June— but we are not topping it up.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

In that case I am deeply disappointed. The money is being aimed at the right target, but I can see the force of the representations made to me to the effect that the beef market since 20 March has suffered such a devastating blow that the Government should have provided as much money as the EC is providing.

I want to say something about the fees being paid to abattoirs by the Government. I have been sent a letter— I do not know whether it was circulated to all hon. Members or just to those interested in agriculture— by Sam Morphet, chairman of the Bermans Group of Abattoir Operators. He is severely critical of the selection of abattoirs. There are 256 slaughterhouses in Britain, 41 of which have been allocated work under this scheme— but 19 of them have been allocated 82 per cent. of the work, and they are the largest abattoirs. That is completely unfair.

I find one paragraph of Mr. Morphet's letter staggering: payment for the slaughter of cattle under the scheme is being set at the extraordinarily high rate of £ 107.50 per beast (£ 87.50 plus the value of the hide which is at least £ 20). To put this into context a reasonable commercial rate for the job is around £ 30 including the value of the hide. I hope that the Minister will, this afternoon, explain to the House and to the people of this country— they are footing the bill— why abattoirs are being paid three times the going rate.

I should like, finally, to mention the environmental implications of the slaughter programme. We hear stories from time to time of severe difficulties encountered in the slaughtering of 1 million head of cattle. First, there is an acute shortage across Britain of rendering capacity. Indeed, in Wales there is not a single rendering plant. I hear, too, that Canterbury Mills plant in Ashford, Kent may be operating in an unsatisfactory way. A few weeks ago, there were stories of aqueous effluent from the plant being poured on to adjacent land, with the consequent danger of prions contaminating that land. The material may even have contaminated water supplies, and it is no coincidence that there is a cluster of CJD cases in that area. That rendering plant has been in operation for many years, and we cannot be so casual in disposal.

Some 800,000 cattle are to be rendered down to meat and bonemeal, but we have no way of disposing of it. It cannot be used in animal feed, and it must be stored. It may end up being dumped as landfill— a solution that I find most unsatisfactory. It would be far better if the material were incinerated, but although there is a problem with incineration capacity, that is the only environmentally acceptable solution. I hope that MAFF will show urgency in that regard. If this is to be an on-going programme for the next five or six years— if 800,000 cattle a year are to be slaughtered— we need to develop incineration capacity so that we can destroy the material and make certain no harm is done to the environment.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 5:40, 24 July 1996

In the south-west recently the Prime Minister referred to this crisis as the most difficult problem that he had faced in his 17 years in Parliament, and few who represent rural constituencies would disagree with him. We meet at an acutely worrying time for many farmers, and I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Biffen) said about the spirit in which this debate must be approached and the way in which the Government have set it up. This initial debate on the Adjournment will be followed by another opportunity to consider the matter when we return.

I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) that this has been a massive organisational challenge. I have criticised the time that it has taken to get the cull of cattle aged over 30 months under way. Clearly there continue to be problems and there will be more, so vast is the extent of the cull. But my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister should be congratulated on the compensation that he has achieved for farmers, which is fair. The scheme has taken time, as no one has ever managed to complete a quick chat with the Treasury. I recognise also that we are dealing with substantial sums of public money that have a significant impact on the economy. The offer of 90 per cent. of replacement costs is fair, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on what I recognise will not have been an easy discussion.

Having said that, I must join my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire in expressing the gravest concerns and some reservations about the policy. I am glad that we are not voting on it tonight, because I am not sure that I would be able to support it. The purpose of the measure— as stated in the consultation document— is to accelerate the decline in the number of BSE cases in the United Kingdom. But my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister confirmed in his speech that BSE is in sharp decline in any case. What will we achieve and what will it cost us to accelerate something that is in sharp decline?

The purpose is not simply to get an export ban lifted from Europe, but to restore confidence in British beef. Perhaps the return of McDonalds to purchasing on the British market and the success of the Meat and Livestock Commission's campaign to eat more mince— I had mince in the House last night, and extremely good it was— may achieve more for British beef than the lifting of the export ban to Europe. I am not sure how big that export market will be, but it may be significant as an indication of confidence.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister may remember that when the measures were first announced some months ago, I said that the lifting of the ban in Europe was desirable, but not at any price. If colleagues consult Hansard they will find that phrase. We need to consider this carefully. If the purpose of this very distressing and expensive scheme is mainly to achieve the lifting of the export ban on live cattle to Europe, what confidence can we have that that will be the consequence?

There is distressing news about gelatine and tallow— matters that I thought had been settled. I understand that there is now fresh uncertainty, and that the ban on those products has not yet been lifted. Clearly it would be most unsatisfactory if we were to proceed with the scheme, only to find that we had not achieved our objectives. Practically every day in the newspapers, the scientific journals and the media, we hear of a new scientist who has found a new way of identifying the disease. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) referred to the importance of what he regards as the Holy Grail in this matter, the live test.

I do not know what will come forward in the three months between now and October— and three months in the life of this terrible saga is a long time. It is extremely wise of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister to continue to approach the matter in the way he has. He has tabled a draft order that establishes what the arrangements will be. There was uncertainty in some of the circulars that we received— including, I believe, from the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association— that the draft orders might change the terms of compensation. It would be helpful if my right hon. and learned Friend or the Minister could reassure those concerned that those are the terms of compensation if the cull goes ahead.

Farmers need to know where they will stand, but I believe that it would be right to hold our counsel and take all possible steps to firm up as clearly as we can just how good the undertakings from Europe are. If the framework is there and if the steps are achieved, we need to know that the ban will be lifted. We can then approach this difficult and challenging issue in that knowledge. But at present, I must say clearly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister that I am not confident that I shall be voting in support of such a scheme in October.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 5:48, 24 July 1996

I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), as I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues share many of his misgivings. This is a very short debate, and the draft orders were available to us only shortly before it began. It is regrettable that we have such little time to consider and debate the orders. If the Under-Secretary cannot respond to my specific questions during the winding-up speech, I hope we will have the benefit of written answers.

First, can we be given the latest date for the start of the accelerated slaughter scheme? From what the Minister said, it sounds as if that is directly dependent on the completion of the removal of the backlog of the 30-month cattle disposal scheme. If so, a considerable acceleration of that scheme is needed. As has been said in previous debates, and again tonight, there is a considerable backlog which in some regions is more dramatic than others. In particular, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's firm promise on sourcing through auction marts is not being met.

The regional discrepancies are huge. In the south-west, for example, 80 per cent. of farmers have animals that have been in the queue since the beginning of the crisis in March. That area has 26 per cent. of the total number of cattle over 30 months but has been allocated only 19 per cent. of abattoir capacity for the cull. We must adjust that balance quickly.

Similarly, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has given assurances about allocation to smaller abattoirs, some of which are on the brink of bankruptcy. From Plymouth to Cumbria, I know of abattoirs that have not been brought into the scheme despite meeting the five criteria. They are being driven out of business by the carve-up, which is sanctioned by the Ministry and the intervention board but imposed by the cartel of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers and the United Kingdom Renderers Association. That must be sorted out in the next few weeks if there is to be success by October.

We must get value for the taxpayer's money. Is it not extraordinary that the Intervention Board's original instinct, which was to ensure competitive tendering from the abattoirs competing for the business, was overruled? The excuse for not using it given by Ministers in answer to my questions was that there was an emergency.

Eighteen weeks on, is it still an emergency that cannot permit competitive tendering? To correct the bias of the past will require positive discrimination in the next few weeks. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that he expects by next week to be able to sort out some of the problems. Can the Minister of Agriculture guarantee that that will happen?

The Minister of Agriculture has made clear his chosen method to assist beef producers caught in the impossible market conditions of the past 18 weeks. We accept as a good basis for further action the £ 29.4 million that he said will be available to farmers who have suffered from the sale of young cattle at reduced prices. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), he made it clear that anything that happens in the autumn in relation to store cattle will have to depend on the recovery of confidence in the market. No hon. Member who represents farming communities is convinced that there will be a recovery as fast as that. I hope that the Minister will at least accept that if matters do not improve, he will take steps to redeem that situation.

On the accelerated slaughter scheme, is there now a firm commitment to the replacement value to which the Minister of Agriculture referred? If that proves inadequate, or if the consultation that is starting only today proves that 90 per cent. is not sufficient, can we be guaranteed that at least that figure will not be reduced? If there is to be a change, the percentage should be increased. What account will be taken of the considerable costs of disruption and dislocation for closed herds that do not buy cattle in? Those are difficult matters. The figures given by the Minister are not a realistic assessment of the true cost.

Similarly, if we find that milk quotas get out of kilter, can we be guaranteed that there will be flexibility in the coming months so that that does not produce yet more burdens on a hard-pressed sector of the industry? The criteria for identifying cohorts were mentioned. Can we be sure that the draft order will not be altered in the coming weeks so that farmers can know where they stand until October?

The Minister of Agriculture has to some extent spelled out the logic of his special arrangements for suckler and closed herds, but the draft is unrealistic if it is thought that a 50 per cent. addition is sufficient to meet the needs of such herds. The draft order refers in some detail to the problem of herds that have a large number of followers, which applies especially to closed herds. Against all previous practice they are being included in herd size which dramatically distorts the figure for compensation. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that. Otherwise, as the National Farmers Union said, it will look like sharp practice that criteria different from those of any previous scheme are being used.

The right hon. Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Biffen) and for Bridgwater referred to the hoops that still must be gone through in Europe. If there are modifications to the scheme, as may well be necessary before October, will the whole scheme have to go back to the Standing Veterinary Committee? As we know, it does not approach the issues purely on scientific grounds. It is composed of representatives of the 15 member state Governments. The Prime Minister complained about the way in which it has acted in the past. If the scheme is held up or modified yet again in the autumn, there will be further delays.

On his return from the Florence summit, the Prime Minister boasted to the House that his objectives had been met and that the ban on the export of beef derivatives would go. As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater said, it has not gone. The Prime Minister also said that there would be an agreed timetable for the removal of the comprehensive, worldwide export ban on beef. He emphasised that the time scale was in the hands of the British Government. On 24 June, the Prime Minister told us that he expected that, by the end of October, the export position for British beef would be restored to that which existed before 27 March.

Last Thursday, I put questions to the Minister of Agriculture on that very point. He answered: The framework agreement is quite plain: it provides for a progressive lifting of the ban, in circumstances that are to be judged by the scientific and objective criteria that are spelt out. We are meeting our obligations and I expect the others to meet their obligations."— [Official Report, 18 July 1996; Vol. 281, c. 1291.] Last Friday, the Prime Minister admitted to farmers in Cornwall that his timetable for lifting the export ban was "pretty speculative" and added: if we could meet that timetable, 1 would be very pleased but I think it will take longer. Hon. Members would like to know who we should believe, and what was the purpose of the non-co-operation tactics in the forums of Europe that have left us in a worse state than hen we began.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West 5:56, 24 July 1996

I am glad that the orders for the accelerated cull have not been signed because I hope that we may find that we do not need to indulge in it. It is sensible to pause for longer reflection and consult again those involved in the trade. There is no doubt that the cull is regarded with serious trepidation by the agriculture industry. I spent some time in the cattle sheds at the royal show. Farmers were horrified that their healthy cattle were faced with the possibility of slaughter. There seems to be no scientific justification for the cull, as other hon. Members have said. More importantly, there is no guarantee that the ban on exports will be lifted because of the cull.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) about restoring confidence in British beef. I am pleased to tell the House that McDonalds told the Conservative agriculture committee that it is becoming more confident about the possibility of reinstating British beef in its restaurants. It is important to move with considerable caution in the House because the remarks that are made here have a considerable effect outside the House. I shall never forgive the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) when BSE was first debated for her incautious remarks, which had a devastating effect on the British beef industry. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) is taking a more constructive view, for which I compliment him.

We must move cautiously because of our experience of such matters. We all remember the problems of salmonella in chickens and the millions of chickens that were slaughtered to little advantage as a result of the scares and the sometimes bogus, ill-informed scientific findings that suggested that there needed to be a slaughter.

We have heard today about BSE in sheep. I have read in the newspapers that the difficulty is that Mr. Fischler's judgment is being called into question because he says that he did not mean to imply that farm sheep could get BSE. The Community is overreacting to his comments. I wonder whether by Christmas some ill-informed scientist will be saying that there is a possibility of turkeys getting BSE.

It is questionable whether the cull will be needed. I am glad that we have paused. Most importantly, we must ensure that all members of the European Community live by the same regulations. It is outrageous that BSE has been so under-reported in France and Holland. I am pleased that the French now recognise that fact. We want no more duplicity and cover-ups in Europe, planned silence by EU officials and campaigns of misinformation. One source stated: Officials were instructed to show a cool attitude towards BSE in Europe in case it caused an unfavourable reaction in the markets.BSE must be tackled on a Europeanwide basis, building on scientific advice. I remind our European partners that at the end of the day, the truth always comes out. Seeking to cover up the truth in their own countries in the past have given them extremely red faces today.

6 pm

Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones , Ynys Môn

The Minister said that £ 29 million compensation will be made available to beef producers, but I am disappointed that sum will not be topped up. Although we are debating the BSE crisis as it affects dairy and beef herds, we should concentrate our long-term efforts on making sure that the clean beef industry recovers sufficiently. If it is necessary to prop up the industry in the short term, that would be to the greater advantage of Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. I am pleased that compensation is to be paid quickly, so that it will benefit the incomes of farmers who have suffered considerably from the effects of the crisis. I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to close his mind to further assistance later this year.

Doubts have been expressed by hon. Members in all parts of the House— and I add the voice of my own party— about the need for the accelerated slaughter programme. There are concerns about the way in which the issue was handled by the Council of Ministers but now that the programme has been accepted as part of the framework, we must make sure that it runs as smoothly as possible. I welcome the increase in compensation, even though it will not represent the full replacement value for which the farming organisations have been pressing. I urge the Minister to ensure that when the measure finally comes before the House, the compensation will be not less than the sum that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has announced. I trust that he will listen carefully to the representations that the farming unions will be making for increasing the compensations upwards from 90 per cent.

I urge the Minister to reconsider consequential loss and the direct loss of income that many farmers will inevitably face. The animals caught by the ASP will often be at the top of their productive lives. Their replacements may not be as productive in their early years— the yield per cow will be down, with a consequent loss of income. I ask the Minister to consider including in the compensation programme farmers having herds in which less than 10 per cent. of animals will be affected, of which there may be a considerable number.

I am grateful to hon. Members in all parts of the House for allowing as many hon. Members as possible to contribute to the debate, to reflect points of view from all parts of the UK. The BSE crisis has had a considerable impact on farming communities in Wales. We want fair compensation, consistent with the demands on the public purse. I want compensation payments to take into account the replacement cost of the animal and the consequential loss of income to the farmer. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to further representations between now and the time that the measure is finally approved by the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that a large number of hon. Members still want to speak. Would it be in order to put the motion that the House do now adjourn, so that hon. Members who do not wish to adjourn may vote on it?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I do not think that would be desirable. We should hear from the Minister.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 6:04, 24 July 1996

The accelerated slaughter programme is a matter of enormous concern, which is why we have consulted extensively with the farming industry and were pleased to have the opportunity to debate the matter today. We will give full consideration to the points made by hon. Members. The purpose of making available but not signing the orders is that we will be able to return to them after the summer recess. We will welcome over the coming weeks and months comments and responses from the industry and hon. Members on the specific details put before the House today.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow

Will my hon. Friend have some regard for the morality of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of cattle for no good reason? I ask that against the background of the slaughter of 3.75 million head of poultry in recent years as the result of the salmonella crisis. Every day of every week, millions of fish are being cast back dead into the sea— also for no good reason.

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

My colleagues and I have spent the past three weeks meeting farmers throughout the country, to listen to their concerns. In identifying which animals would form part of a cohort, we are specifically considering those that might be incubating BSE. There will be detailed discussions between vets and farmers, because the purpose of the scheme is to make sure that we identify as closely as possible animals that may be incubating BSE.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and others may find it helpful if I reiterate exactly what is meant by a cohort. We wish to identify animals that were fed at the same time as calves of animals that have been positively diagnosed as having BSE and which have been subsequently destroyed. Our intention is to identify, through records and discussions with farmers, animals that could have been part of the group that consumed infected feed.

We are not in a number-crunching game but are trying to identify BSE incubation, to reduce more rapidly the number of animals that are presenting as BSE cases. The incidence of the disease is in decline. We expect just over 8,000 cases of BSE this year, without any slaughtering. We estimate the figure to be in the region of 5,000 next year and 2,800 the year after.

We must try to reassure the public here and abroad of our ability to reduce the number of BSE cases as quickly as possible, and of our determination to address BSE— which has admittedly been on a huge scale in this country compared with others.

We have heard some helpful speeches tonight by hon. Members who have taken a close interest in the subject. We are sensitive to the fact that, for many farmers, the destruction of animals is an emotional thing. It is not only about finance and compensation. There is a lot of emotion attached to it. Often, a herd represents many years of hard work. For that reason, we are not seeking to muscle through a policy without taking into account the views of the industry and the House.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has made it clear that, in announcing the levels of compensation today, we seek not only to give what we believe to be a fair level of compensation, bearing in mind that we do so on behalf of the taxpayer, but to take into account the disruption that will be caused especially on farms which have a larger number of affected animals than others. That has been made clear in the representations that have been made to us.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) mentioned specifically the numbers—

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 22, Noes 188.

Division No. 212][6.10 pm
Alton, DavidKennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)
Ashdown, PaddyMaddock, Mrs Diana
Beith, A JNicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Rendel, David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Skinner, Dennis
Chidgey, DavidSteel, Sir David
Davies, Chris (Littleborough)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Flynn, PaulTyler, Paul
Foster, Don (Bath)Wigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir RussellTellers for the Ayes:
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys MÔn)Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Ms Liz Lynne.
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Bendall, Vivian
Alexander, RichardBeresford, Sir Paul
Alison, Michael (Selby)Biffen, John
Arbuthnot, JamesBooth, Hartley
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Boswell, Tim
Ashby, DavidBottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Atkins, RobertBowis, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Boyson, Sir Rhodes
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Brandreth, Gyles
Bates, MichaelBrooke, Peter
Bellingham, HenryBrown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs AngelaLait, Mrs Jacqui
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lamont, Norman
Burt, AlistairLawrence, Sir Ivan
Butler, PeterLegg, Barry
Butterfill, JohnLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Carrington, MatthewLidington, David
Cash, WilliamLuff, Peter
Chapman, Sir SydneyLyell, Sir Nicholas
Clappison, JamesMacGregor, John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)MacKay, Andrew
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMcLoughlin, Patrick
Coe, SebastianMadel, Sir David
Congdon, DavidMaitland, Lady Olga
Conway, DerekMalone, Gerald
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)Marland, Paul
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Marlow, Tony
Cope, Sir JohnMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Couchman, JamesMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Deva, Nirj JosephMerchant, Piers
Devlin, TimMills, Iain
Dicks, TerryMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dover, DenMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Duncan, AlanMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Duncan Smith, IainNelson, Anthony
Dunn, BobNeubert, Sir Michael
Dykes, HughNewton, Tony
Eggar, TimNicholls, Patrick
Elletson, HaroldNicholson, David (Taunton)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Norris, Steve
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Page, Richard
Fabricant, MichaelPaice, James
Fenner, Dame PeggyPawsey, James
Forman, NigelPickles, Eric
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Porter, David (Waveney)
Forth, EricPortillo, Michael
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Rathbone, Tim
Freeman, RogerRobathan, Andrew
French, DouglasRobertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Gale, RogerRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeRowe, Andrew
Gill, ChristopherRumbold, Dame Angela
Gillan, Mrs CherylShaw, David (Dover)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Gorst, Sir JohnShephard, Gillian
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Shersby, Sir Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Gummer, JohnSmith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Hannam, Sir JohnSpeed, Sir Keith
Hargreaves, AndrewSpencer, Sir Derek
Haselhurst, Sir AlanSpink, Dr Robert
Hawkins, NickSproat, Iain
Hawksley, WarrenSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Hayes, JerryStanley, Sir John
Heald, OliverStephen, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidStreeter, Gary
Hendry, CharlesSweeney, Walter
Higgins, Sir TerenceSykes, John
Hogg, Douglas (Grantham)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Horam, JohnTaylor, John D (Strangf'd)
Hordern, Sir PeterTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Howard, MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Thomason, Roy
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Hunter, AndrewThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hurd, DouglasTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Tracey, Richard
King, TomTrend, Michael
Kirkhope, TimothyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Walden, George
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Knox, Sir DavidWaller, Gary
Kynoch, GeorgeWard, John
Waterson, NigelWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Watts, JohnWolfson, Mark
Whitney, RayWood, Timothy
Whittingdale, JohnYeo, Tim
Widdecombe, Miss AnnYoung, Sir George
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Wilkinson, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Willetts, DavidMr. Richard Ottaway and Mr. Bowen Wells.
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after one and half hours after the motion was made, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Order [19 July].