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Sir Patrick Cormack: I am delighted that an agriculture spokesman is present. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will happily produce one ourselves the moment a Minister enters the Chamber. Opposition Members are slightly different, of course, in that we have a genuine understanding of the plight of the countryside and of what the countryside is all about.
If we do not receive an adequate response to our basic call for compensation, the Government will have covered themselves in dishonour and obloquy, and will be remembered and castigated in the countryside for generations.
Mr. Rendel: In many respects, I have considerable sympathy with the principles behind the new clause and amendments. I sympathise with the case for a scheme to deal with fallen stock, given that the Bill would remove the methods currently available to some farms. I also sympathise with the call for compensation. I believe, however, that the way in which the new clause and amendments address those issues leaves much to be desired.
Even now, the collecting of fallen stock by hunts leads to what is, in a sense, an unfair relation between one farm and another. Some farms can dispose of fallen stock rather more cheaply than others. If hunting is abolished, that will no longer exist.
There is, of course, a case for saying that the finances of farming will be affected. We ought to ensure that there is a cheap way in which farms can dispose of fallen stock, or else introduce another form of compensation scheme so that farmers' incomes do not drop unnecessarily. Providing only for areas that are currently lucky enough to contain hunts that can collect their fallen stock comparatively cheaply, however, would simply continue the current unfairness.
I think that there is a good case for compensating those whom the Bill puts out of jobs. It is true that there are precedents in both directions. Presumably the question of redundancy payments would arise: not much compensation might be necessary. In any event, the amendments involved do not just cover those who would be put out of jobs. Amendment No. 36 in particular clearly refers to compensation for loss of stock as a result of, for example, foxes taking stock after the abolition of hunting. Amendment No. 40 is slightly less clear in this respect, but I assume that its reference to losses would also mean compensation for farmers who lost stock when a fox got into the henhouse. I do not think there is much of a case for that: after all, henhouses are attacked by foxes now, regardless of whether hunting takes place in the areas concerned.
There are strong arguments for the proposition that, if hunting is abolished, the fox population is likely to fall. I believe that farmers will take it upon themselves to reduce the fox population by, for example, shooting more foxes. Clear arguments have been advanced by the pro-hunting lobby that one reason why the fox population is high is that hunting exists. If that is a valid argument--I believe it to be so to some extent--once hunting has been abolished, there should be less reason for people to be compensated as a result of foxes taking stock. Therefore, I do not see that there is a good argument for that.
Indeed, it will be impossible to say whether a particular attack by a fox on a henhouse would or would not have taken place had hunting still been in existence. Who can say which foxes would have been hunted and killed had hunting not been abolished? That aspect of the two compensation schemes rules them out, too.
That is the figure that I put to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), but I accept that that might be an exaggeration. I think that the case is interesting enough without having to resort to extrapolation. I shall try to share what information I have. The costs involved are an interesting fact, especially today, when the farming community is reeling from the impact of further costs imposed on it by the foot and mouth epidemic.
The national survey of hunts has found that, in the past 12 months, hunts collected 48,000 animals. The average price difference for collection by other means is £50 per beast, which means that the cost of collecting cows and horses alone would impose an additional burden of £2,400,000 per annum on farmers. That is a considerable sum.
The Cobham report calculated that 179 hunts handled 352,000 carcases in 1995, an average of 2,035 carcases per hunt. When the work of the harrier and beagle packs that also collected fallen stock was taken into account, it came to the figure of 415,000. The national survey of hunts records that 200 of the packs surveyed currently provide a fallen stock service. Those hunts handled a total of 366,000 carcases in the previous 12 months at an average cost to each hunt of £18,000 per annum.
The question is complicated by the fact that the hunts make some charge. In recent years, many of them have not been able to provide a completely free service. Some of them charge £20 for cows and horses, £10 per 50 kg of pig, £5 for each sheep and nothing for calves. One will see from those figures and facts that it is quite a complicated story.
I take on board the interesting point made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel). If one is devising a compensation scheme, one will have to have some cognisance of the fact that the service is not available in all parts of the country. Presumably, when they produce such an amendment, Opposition spokesmen are prepared to negotiate on the issue. If the Minister comes back with good arguments about why the amendment may not be fair in all the circumstances, the Opposition will be prepared to withdraw it. I accept that he is a Home Office Minister, not an Agriculture Minister, but presumably the relevant information can be passed to him. It is incumbent on him to share with the House exactly what is going on in the countryside, how many of the carcases are being collected and what total cost would fall on the farming community.
I am happy to take back the figure that I gave earlier. I was trying to work it out as an ordinary Back Bencher, but the Minister will have much more accurate information. I wish that he could share it with the House.
Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point. I must accept that, if hunting is abolished and the fallen stock service vanishes, the type of area that I represent, a very arable area, could probably take the measure on board, leaving aside for the moment the other problems that agriculture is facing. We are not a livestock area. I accept the point that, for hon. Members representing livestock areas, the impact of the end of the fallen stock service may be much more severe. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newbury, who is a fair man, would accept that point and that, in certain parts of the country, the measure could have a serious effect on farmers who rely on that service.
I hope that the Minister will be able to share with the House exactly how the service can be replaced. The argument has been made several times, but it must be emphasised: surely, at this time of all times, whatever our views on hunting, we do not want to impose a further cost on farmers. When the farming community is going through a particularly sensitive and traumatic time, it would be unfair for the House of Commons and for Ministers to send out the message that they are ignoring the problem; that it is just a minor one that could be swept under the carpet. The Minister must come back with a sensible response. He must not simply dismiss our arguments, but accept that the collection of fallen stock is a valuable service and that, should it disappear, something must be done to replace it.
There has been a lot of argument about the number of jobs that will be affected. Those who support the Bill argue that the number of jobs that will be lost as a result of it is much less than the number alleged by the Countryside Alliance, but Burns accepts that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs depend on hunting. Obviously, an additional number of part-time employees may lose their jobs. That brings the full-time equivalent jobs lost to anything up to 13,600. That is a very large number.
I accept that, when Ministers are dealing with such a debate, they must tread carefully because the one thing that worries them more than anything else is arguments about compensation. The figures are potentially enormous and the Government do not want to be stuck on that particular needle. I understand where the Government are coming from, but they must understand that the people involved often earn very small salaries--that point has been made many times. A lot of them may earn about £10,000 a year. They may have jobs that are difficult to relate to any other activity. For them, the loss of hunting will be a devastating blow.
The proposed ban on hunting is different from many other bans. Certainly, it is unfair to equate it with the abolition in the 19th century of cock fighting or bear baiting. Those were minor activities carried out by groups of people who were simply interested in viewing animals being torn apart. Those activities did not offer full-time equivalent jobs to up to 16,000 people. They were not
The fur farming compensation scheme is also very different from other previous proposed compensation schemes, such as those for BSE and natural disasters, and perhaps including the foot and mouth disaster that we have been talking about this week. Those are natural disasters. The Government do not will BSE or foot and mouth on the nation; they have to try to cope with those difficult problems.
Ministers can create strictly constrained compensation schemes, and they are very anxious not to open the floodgates to wider compensation schemes. However, in all fairness, when Parliament deliberately takes a decision to abolish, for example, fur farming, hunting or--as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said--self-loading rifles, is there not an obligation on Parliament to pay compensation?