Disposal of Fallen Stock

Part of New Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 27th February 2001.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:45 pm, 27th February 2001

Time is getting on and many of the points that I would have made have been made already, so I shall be relatively brief, but I should like to repeat some earlier comments. It is absolutely crazy in the eyes of many people who live in the country that we are debating hunting today, when we are looking at probably the worst crisis that the nation has faced since 1967, with foot and mouth disease. I was about 11 when the last crisis happened, and it was absolutely horrific.

Farmers in my area are absolutely worried stiff. People have stopped travelling around. I cancelled meetings at the weekend. Foot and mouth is the one subject that we should be discussing, but instead we are debating hunting. That is absolutely extraordinary, and the public must think that we are simply mad. We are also mad, given the Government's extraordinary hypocrisy.

I was rung on Saturday afternoon by a man who was desperate; he had 17 carcases in the back of his lorry but was banned from moving them under emergency regulations, so I contacted the private office of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I should be grateful to the Minister if he would listen, rather than talking to his Whip, because this is relevant and he might like to talk to his colleague at MAFF.

I am pleased to say that those in the office were very efficient; they sent a fax to my constituent and gave him a special licence to move those carcases. It is worth quoting paragraph 3 of the licence, because it states: A carcase to which this licence applies may be moved from the premises on which it is to a rendering plant, a knacker's yard or a hunt kennel. So the private office—the inner sanctum—of the Minister at the heart of the operation, whom the Government tell us is beavering away on the national crisis, is giving out special licences with the specific instructions that 17 decomposing carcases should, if necessary, be taken to a hunt kennel. That represents the grossest hypocrisy, given that today we are debating the abolition of the free service provided by hunts.

I should like to stress the fact that the service is free to farmers in hunting areas, and it is humane. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who has temporarily left his seat, mentioned that fact. Hunt servants come out immediately as soon as a healthy cow falls down in the yard and breaks her leg. One phone call and the kennel huntsman comes around and puts the animal down humanely. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is in a complete muddle. He is bleating on about diseased animals, but the vast majority of those casualties are healthy animals that suffer from accidents.