Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gummer: No one will take the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) seriously given that he cannot tell the difference between a forelock and a fetlock.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My right hon. Friend is entirely right. The hon. Member for Pendle clearly does not understand the industry and, indeed, the countryside--which he purports to represent--with any great depth of knowledge or feeling for those who work there. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) says, from a sedentary position, "Bitter and twisted." That is his description, not mine.

Serious issues surrounding the disposal of stock have been touched on tangentially in the debate. One is how the fallen stock will be dealt with. I intervened on my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) to ask what will happen to fallen stock. There is legislation preventing the burying of stock, and I

27 Feb 2001 : Column 770

sincerely hope that it will not be contravened. However, some of the livestock farmers on the top of the Cotswolds in my constituency are hanging on by a thread. Every day, extra costs are likely to be imposed on them by the foot and mouth crisis. The Government, insensitively, are talking about compulsory insurance costs. Disposal will be yet another cost, and it may be that, to remain in business, a livestock farmer will find it necessary to contravene a regulation and bury his livestock.

Mention has also been made of animals being left to rot in the field. Many farmers are facing bankruptcy. That is not an exaggeration; a parliamentary answer indicates that 41,000 people have lost their jobs in the agricultural industry in the past two years. There is clear evidence that many farmers are going out of business. If they are going out of business, they may well be forced to leave animals to rot in the fields or the buildings where they have fallen. That would be very detrimental for the country. If the Minister proposes to ban hunting and, therefore, to put a stop to the disposal of fallen stock by the hunts, he has to come up with some clear answers.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend would receive great reinforcement for his argument from page 63 of the Burns report, which contemplates precisely what he suggests--namely, that fallen stock will either be burnt or buried, with potential risks to the environment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving the House a helpful reminder of a paragraph of which I was, of course, aware. If the Minister needs further reminders, he might recall that, when the landfill tax was introduced--making it more difficult to dispose of rubbish by landfill--the incidence of illegal fly tipping greatly increased. If that argument does not persuade the Minister that my suggestion about what is likely to happen in the countryside will be borne out, he should think carefully.

Amendment No. 40 deals with compensation. It has already been made clear that compensation has been awarded in other cases. When we discussed the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, the Government were perfectly prepared to compensate fur farmers for the loss of business--and rightly so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) pointed out, under section 5(1) of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, the Minister is required to provide compensation for fur farmers who go out of business.

If the Government are going to put out of employment the 6,000 to 8,000 people whom Burns estimates will be directly affected if hunts are put out of business, it would be wholly immoral not to compensate them. The Government are only too keen to compensate the car industry when its workers are put out of their jobs. Why is it that, through sheer prejudice, they do not even consider compensation for people who will lose their jobs under this Bill?

Increasingly, huge numbers of the urban population are becoming aware of the current suffering of the rural population. The Government must think carefully about compensation. To introduce a Bill with no provision for compensation will cause large waves of sympathy for people in the countryside.

Mr. Soames: As my hon. Friend is a farmer who also represents an important farming constituency, does he

27 Feb 2001 : Column 771

agree that many farmers can no longer afford proper veterinary care--to their great sadness and the bad luck of their animals? Without the hunts, there is no chance that they could afford services to dispose of their fallen stock.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is right. He, too, understands the agriculture industry better than most Members of the House. For example, if a farmer has calves that are worth less than the auctioneer's selling fee of £1, he cannot afford to call out a vet at a call-out fee of at least £25 before the cost of drugs. Such circumstances cause severe difficulty. Currently, hunts provide a subsidised service at a realistic cost.

No doubt the Minister will tell us what alternative arrangements are to be set up, but those arrangements will have to be paid for at an economic cost. That is likely to increase considerably the current costs of dealing with fallen stock. The bureaucracy and inspection involved in any Government scheme are likely hugely to increase its cost. My hon. Friend makes a good point. An animal welfare problem is already brewing in the countryside. If no cheap method is available to dispose of fallen stock, the problem will increase substantially.

7.15 pm

The Minister and other hon. Members have talked about the moral aspects, but there is also a strong legal case. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) recognised that when he had to take extremely difficult decisions on BSE compensation. Sadly, that incident cost the taxpayers well over £3 billion. We never want it to be repeated. I hope that the present foot and mouth epidemic will not grow too much, but I suspect that it will and that the Government will find that they have to compensate a large number of people whose stock has been slaughtered. If that is right in those circumstances, surely it is right to compensate people who lose their jobs as a result of a ban on hunting.

As I pointed out earlier, the Lithgow v. United Kingdom case in 1986--8 EHHR 329--clarified the conditions under which compensation had to be paid. The Government should follow the dictum without having to be told to do so by the European Court, even if the convention is to be incorporated in our own law: it rightly states that it is only acceptable to deprive people of their possessions or livelihood when that is strictly in the public interest. There could, of course, be a severe argument as to whether it is strictly in the public interest to ban hunting. The Lithgow judgment states that deprivation of the use or peaceful enjoyment of possessions without compensation is justified only in exceptional circumstances. I am not a lawyer but I cannot for the life of me see that the prejudice shown by the Labour Government and their Back Benchers in banning hunting could possibly be construed as being in accordance with the requirement that such things should be done only in exceptional circumstances. These are not exceptional circumstances; this is a measure that merely meets a prejudice.

The Government must think carefully. They are about to undergo a severe test with the electorate. No doubt, the electorate will make their views known--especially in

27 Feb 2001 : Column 772

rural areas. People in those areas will listen carefully to this debate. The Minister would do himself a great deal of justice if he reconsidered. The issue is one of conscience, not of spite or prejudice--as the hon. Member for Pendle would have us believe. It is one thing for the Government to impose a ban on hunting, even though that is wholly reprehensible; it is something wholly different--a prejudice that is without precedent--to impose such a ban without compensation. I urge the Minister to think again.

Mr. Baker: As many Members know, I support a ban on hunting and want it to be implemented as soon as possible. Indeed, my criticism of the Government--of late--has been that they have so delayed the introduction of the Bill that it is unlikely to reach the statute book before the end of this Parliament. We are thus, to some degree, wasting our time in debates on the matter in this place and elsewhere.

I preface my remarks with that statement of my belief because I have some support for the principles espoused today by hon. Members on both sides of the House. With respect to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the argument is not one of Government versus Opposition. The matter is subject to a free vote. Members from all parties speak from different perspectives.

It is not helpful to those of us who want to argue about compensation and about the impact of fallen stock on the farming industry to present the matter as a Labour-Tory argument. If it is, the Tories will lose--the number of Members demonstrates that. If we can go back to arguing about principles, there is a chance that those of us who hold the same views might make some progress.

I have some sympathy with new clause 1. It is about farming; it is not about hunting, bingo or anything else. I do not criticise the Government for the fact that no Agriculture Ministers are in the Chamber. With due respect, they have rather a lot to do at present. I should be extremely disappointed if they had to sit in this place for hours discussing a measure on hunting instead of trying to deal with foot and mouth disease, which greatly affects the farming industry in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. I am pleased that they are not in the Chamber.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and his colleagues must, however, acknowledge that there is an impact on farming that should be discussed with their colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Whether or not we are in favour of hunting, surely we must all agree that the removal of current provisions that allow for hunt kennels to deal with fallen stock will have an adverse effect on farmers. That is the fact of the matter, and I, as someone who wants to ban hunting, recognise that.

The farming community is up against the wall at the moment and having a torrid time as a consequence of foot and mouth disease, the legacy of BSE and the drop in farm-gate prices across a range of products, so I do not want to burden it with any more costs now. In fact, if the Minister puts no other scheme in place, the closure of hunt kennels will add to farming costs, but that is not an argument for keeping hunting. My opposition to hunting is based on moral and animal welfare grounds, but we must ensure that the farming community does not suffer as a consequence of any decision by Parliament to ban hunting.

27 Feb 2001 : Column 773

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) that it is invidious and odd to include in new clause 1 the words

Perhaps those words were included because the new clause would not have been acceptable without them. Nevertheless, fallen stock are an issue for the whole farming industry. I am worried, from an environmental perspective, about fallen stock being allowed to rot in the fields or, indeed, being buried, which may affect watercourses. That is not the best way to deal with fallen stock.

Surely, during the past few years, we have learned to be a little careful about how we deal with animal health. We cannot be cavalier any more; we have caused ourselves major problems because of our treatment of animals. We must ensure that the best system is in place, and leaving fallen stock to market forces, which appears to be the solution on offer, is not a sensible way forward.

If we were to tell a farmer--no matter how angelic he may be--that he is in a difficult position and his balance sheet is very bad, but we will give him no help at all so he must deal with fallen stock in the cheapest way possible, it would be a recipe for disaster. That is a farming point for the Home Office Minister, but he must address it in his response, otherwise many of us will have great sympathy for new clause 1. Perhaps its wording is not quite right, but the Minister must say, "Yes, we recognise that there is a problem, and we will do something about it." He has not yet done so.

Next Section

IndexHome Page