Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1177

have just lost a Division on a motion in the name of a Minister. Will Government Front Benchers be tabling a motion to rescind the decision of the House?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be well aware that this is a matter for the House. It has been consistently so over many years; the precedent is well known. The House has made its decision.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that the House would benefit from prolonged discussion of the matter. Neither the business of the House nor how right hon. and hon. Members vote is a matter of order for the Chair. There is nothing further that I can add on the issue.

Mr. Butterfill: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have been debating extensively a Government motion, yet it is clear that the Government did not vote for it. Is that not an abuse of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have already ruled that how right hon. and hon. Members vote is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not extraordinary that the proposer of the motion neither spoke, moved or voted on it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Miller: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The will of the House has been expressed. In the light of the particular circumstances in which we have found ourselves, would it be appropriate, through you, to invite the House of Commons Commission to make fresh proposals on how the job should be fulfilled?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a question on which I can rule. Tonight's proceedings will be studied and I have no doubt appropriate action will be forthcoming.

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1178


Liane Singleton

11.58 pm

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth): I should like to present a petition, on which there are 8,000 signatures, on behalf of Mr. Gordon and Mrs. Jaqueline Singleton, which states:

To lie upon the Table.

Television Licences

11.59 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): On behalf of the Lowestoft branch of the Suffolk Pensioners Association, whose members believe that the cost of a television licence is high in relation to the value of the state pension, I wish to present a petition bearing 2,000 signatures. The petition was started before the Government announcement of free television licences for the over-75s. The original demand, for half-price television licences for all pensioners, has been modified. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1179

Cattle Welfare (East Anglia)

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

12 midnight

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): The subject of this debate is of importance to my constituents and to the whole of East Anglia. The over-30-months slaughter scheme was introduced to cull cattle and so to deal with the BSE problem and to take those cattle out of the human food chain. Since then, in a renewal of contracts, the Intervention Board has caused East Anglia to lose all its slaughterhouse facilities under the scheme. The net results are longer journeys for cattle within East Anglia and a considerable financial burden placed on East Anglia's farmers.

In many ways, tonight's debate is a continuation of one that was held before Christmas in Westminster Hall, which was about problems in the west country. However, the problem in East Anglia is quite different. East Anglia is unique in that there is almost no infrastructure for cattle distribution. Of 170 markets in the country, there are now only two in East Anglia that are capable of dealing with such a large geographical area. In previous debates, Ministers have been keen to stress the network of markets that would be available to deal with the problem, but that argument obviously does not apply in East Anglia, with its limited facilities.

On 20 January, I presented a petition of 1,450 signatures protesting against the decision to remove the right of Cheale Meats to perform a necessary service. It is interesting to note that the petition was signed not by members of the general public, but by farmers from all over East Anglia. Given the number of dairy farmers in the region, the number of signatures represents almost all of them. Farmers are rightly upset by the loss of facilities. They are even more concerned by rumours circulating that the casualty slaughtering facility in Cambridge is to be lost, leaving East Anglia without both an OTMS slaughterhouse and a casualty slaughterhouse.

In a written reply, the Minister told me that there were relatively few cattle in East Anglia, which is why the region was lumped in with south-east England. However, it is clear that the Intervention Board put geography second in its consideration of the matters within its remit. A look at a map clearly shows how difficult the issue of journey times is in East Anglia. In another written reply, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told me:

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Is my hon. Friend aware that the situation that he describes is mirrored in Devon, where there is no slaughterhouse left operating under the over-30-months scheme? Does he agree that the Agriculture Minister would be better employed addressing that problem, considering issuing a challenge under

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1180

article 30, and introducing honesty in labelling, instead of wringing his hands and pretending that he cannot do anything?

Mr. Pickles: I intervened in my hon. Friend's debate, and I was struck by the gravity of the situation in the west country. I know that my hon. Friend is pursuing the matter vigorously.

Some journey times will be reduced--16 per cent.--but 84 per cent. of farmers in East Anglia will face longer journey times when they take their cows to be slaughtered. That means extra effort for them and extra stress and discomfort for animals at the end of their natural lifespan. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who has been extremely helpful, said recently, it is a matter of humanity rather than of cost.

We have figures showing that if a farmer takes his cow from Yarmouth directly to the designated abattoir in Chesterfield, that is a journey of 157 miles. If he takes the cow from Stevenage to Colchester, then on to an abattoir in Kent, that is 165 miles. The journey from Cambridge is 201 miles and from King's Lynn 181 miles.

In the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), the Minister said:

However, it is clear that journeys of well over 160 miles will be commonplace in East Anglia.

It is not surprising that Mr. Barney Kay, the livestock adviser to the National Farmers Union's East Anglia region, commented:

That is, perhaps, a nice way of putting it. For many cows, it will be a frightening, painful and confusing experience. It will be the first--and last--journey of their life. They were born on the farm and they are part of a herd.

In all my dealings with farmers, I have been struck by how deeply worried they are about their animals' welfare. I have received many letters on the subject, but let one letter speak for them all. It is from Mrs. Helen Hall of The Orchards, who is a farmer in my constituency. She writes that she has a small suckler herd of red poll cattle. She wants their last journey to be as unstressful as possible. She said:

That point should be borne in mind.

The Intervention Board's disposal of public money does not inspire confidence. It has awarded contracts to organisations that were not running abattoirs. It awarded a contract to a slaughterhouse in Kent, which, in the words of the Eastern Daily Press is

The Scottish Farmer reported that it awarded contracts to a company in Kilmarnock that was in deep financial trouble. The Intervention Board did not even undertake a basic credit check before awarding the contract.

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1181

In a written reply on 24 January, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), said that while a credit check was undertaken on those companies with which the Intervention Board had no dealings,

Is that the way in which the Government go about awarding contracts? I could not believe it, so I sought answers from various Departments to ascertain whether it was the Government's practice not to undertake a credit check on companies. I am pleased to say that the circumstances that we are considering seem to be exceptional.

Today, I received a reply from the Treasury. I asked the Chancellor whether the credit rating of companies that tendered for services provided by the Treasury was checked before contracts were awarded. The reply stated:

The Treasury carries out a credit check on companies if it has any worries about them even after the contract has been awarded.

The Intervention Board's actions are truly astonishing. I have a report on the credit rating of a company--not the Scottish company--that I shall not name because I do not want to add to its financial troubles. Its condition was described as poor; it showed "significant levels of risk". The report recommended that

Yet the Intervention Board did not bother to carry out the most basic checks. The board's financial checking speaks volumes about the way in which they undertake the whole process.

The Intervention Board makes a spurious claim that £5 million has been saved by the process. That figure can be reached only by comparing the old contract price with the new contract price. If one examines the new tendering procedures in which all the companies bid, the figure of £5 million begins to evaporate. We are considering a significant transfer of costs. If all East Anglian farmers decide to send their cattle along the Intervention Board's preferred routes, through the two markets, an extra £1 million will be added to the cost of their haulage.

Let us consider welfare, and the extra time that will be involved in transportation. Eight hours is the permitted time, and extensions are available. If we assume a minimum turn-around time of two and a half hours for identification, live weighing and reloading, travel to Stevenage will mean a total of eight hours, travel to Cambridge will mean nearly nine hours and travel to Aylesbury will mean eight and a half hours.

Next Section

IndexHome Page