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Mr. Paterson: The hon. Gentleman is trying to be clever, and trying to make a muddle out of a desperately serious problem in an area such as mine. He is laughing about it. The man is separate from the hunt service and he collects animals. These animals were destined for another destination, but they were temporarily frozen in his yard.

As other hon. Members have said, there are parallels to the hunt service, but the key point is that it handles large volumes of material. However, it cannot take it all, because of the muddle that the Government have made of the calf scheme. Therefore, the physical problem that the Government are landing themselves with is enormous. The Minister is looking confused, but who is going to dispose of the 2,500 calves that each of those three hunts in my area deals with? Who will do that when the ban goes through?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a serious point and we are trying to understand it. I am listening carefully, but I am looking a little bemused because I still do not understand the relevance of the carcases to the point that he wishes to make. I encourage him to calm down the rhetoric. If he makes his point, I shall try to answer it.

Mr. Paterson: I shall try in very simple terms to explain that there is a free hunt service and that, in my patch, three separate hunts have taken 2,500 calves each. Because there is such a volume of material, other people also provide a service. In this case, a knackerman had 17 carcases that he had taken from different farms. Because of the emergency regulations, which he was

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obeying, they were temporarily frozen, on his van, and he was concerned that they were beginning to heat up and decompose. He telephoned me and I obtained the licence from the Minister's colleague in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There are two separate services, but the point I am making is that the hunt service has reached its capacity now.

Mr. Garnier: Is not the short point that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave an emergency licence to the knackerman to move these dead animals to the hunt?

Mr. Paterson indicated dissent.

Mr. Garnier: Oh, haven't I been helpful? I was under the impression that the MAFF licence enabled the knackerman to move the animals directly to the hunt in breach of the banning order. If my hon. Friend has confused me, perhaps he could explain the matter again.

Mr. Paterson: I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend is in a muddle as well. The simple fact is that such a volume of material has to be disposed of that it is not just the hunts that take it away. The hunts are at capacity, and there are other methods. In this case, the knackerman had collected the carcases and was going to take them to a renderer, but he was temporarily stopped. The key point is that, if the Bill is enacted, there will be no service, and the hunts provide an extremely humane, free and efficient service. It will require an enormous state effort to replace it.

I am amazed that the Minister still looks bewildered, but it is a huge physical problem. In areas such as mine with a large livestock population, many animals, sadly, have accidents and have to be disposed of. I am absolutely staggered that the Minister is still in a muddle. He really must talk to his colleagues in MAFF.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am familiar with the role of the hunt. Certainly, my hunt takes fallen stock and often deals with it very efficiently; it provides a service to local farmers. I am very familiar with that process, and I am also reasonably familiar with the restrictions that are being applied. I think that I have grasped the hon. Gentleman's point. Is he saying that if the hunt service disappears, that will remove a proportion of the capacity to deal with fallen stock?

I was trying to figure out the point about the carcases, but I am not sure that they are entirely relevant. The hon. Gentleman is making a separate point with which I shall try to deal. I was perplexed--everyone, including those on the Opposition Front Bench, was perplexed--because we could not figure out the role of the carcases. I think that they are a separate matter, and I hope that I have been helpful in trying to clarify the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Paterson: My point is the hypocrisy of a Government who from their inner sanctum recommend that people use the services of the hunt kennels and two days later push through a Bill that will ban that service. I hope that the Minister has taken that point on board,

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but I shall write to him with the figures for Shropshire. They are enormous and it is the volume of material that we should consider.

Mr. O'Brien: If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a serious point of detail on this issue, I shall happily engage in correspondence with him. I will be as helpful as I can.

Mr. Paterson: I am grateful for that offer.

I shall quickly deal with the issue of compensation. Again, there will be a disproportionate effect in rural areas. The Burns report talked about several thousand job losses. That may not sound very many to Labour Members representing urban constituencies, but a small saddler whom I know employs seven people and 75 per cent. of his turnover is devoted to hunting. That firm will close. I know a small family feed merchant that supplies the hunting community. It employs only three people, but it will close completely. That is 100 per cent. devastating for those businesses and those people. The disproportionate effect of the ban has not been considered by Labour Members.

Even employers of significant numbers of people will be affected. A feed merchant who shifts 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes of hay and straw a year employs 12 people, and half those jobs will be lost. That is appalling for the people involved. Labour Members have not taken into account the fact that there will be no public gain from a ban; they merely feel that the toffs may have taken a hit. Such ludicrous prejudice will damage hard-working, sensible and law-abiding people, whom the Minister earlier called burglars. That was outrageous.

Mrs. Golding: The Minister did not.

Mr. Paterson: If the Minister would like to withdraw the comment about burglars, I would be very grateful.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that he has completely traduced what I said. I was intervening on the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) who stated the general principle that people should always be compensated if the law were to remove their livelihood. I gave the very bad example of burglars, which I withdrew during the course of the debate. I in no way wish to compare hunters with burglars. That was never my intention. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I sought to do that, he is traducing me. People who hunt in my constituency--many of whom I know well--are good and decent, and I would not put them in that category. My point was entirely different.

Mr. Paterson: The Minister makes a fulsome apology, which I accept wholeheartedly, and I am sorry if I upset him.

Mr. Michael: It is the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) who should apologise.

Mr. Paterson: No; Labour Members are being churlish.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend has got the Minister to agree to consider fallen stock. Will he ask for

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an assurance that the loss of livelihood will be taken into account by the Government before the Bill is enacted--if it ever is?

Mr. Paterson: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. It is not acceptable in a pluralist society to penalise a minority--in this case, by removing the livelihood of law-abiding people without providing compensation--to satisfy the prejudice of a majority.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: New clause 1 and amendment No. 40 relate to the disposal of fallen stock, and to compensation, which is also addressed in amendment No. 36. I take those important matters seriously. However, before I address the specifics, I shall deal with foot and mouth disease. I sympathise fully with the farming community--as I am sure every hon. Member does--following the recent outbreak. No doubt the whole House hopes that it will be contained quickly.

I represent a largely rural constituency and I am well aware of the anxieties felt by the farming community. Thankfully, there have been no reports of foot and mouth disease in my constituency today, but there is much fear and concern among farmers and other constituents.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am glad that the Minister can report that, but it is not the case in my constituency. Many people cannot understand why their Parliament has to discuss this measure today when there is a crisis in the countryside.

Mr. O'Brien: One or two other hon. Members made that point more aggressively, and I shall deal with it in a moment.

Foot and mouth disease poses a serious threat to livestock farmers throughout the country. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food informed the House yesterday of the steps that he and his officials have taken to control the disease so that we minimise the disruption and damage that it is capable of causing to the agricultural industry and to rural communities in general.

Some quarters have suggested that we should not enact the Bill when our farmers are facing what could be a grave crisis. Let me repeat that I have every sympathy for our livestock farmers and fully understand their anxieties. I completely support the measures that my right hon. Friend has put in place, which will be debated at greater length tomorrow. However, that does not mean that we should not proceed with the Bill. The issue of hunting with dogs needs to be resolved. The number of private Members' Bills and the amount of parliamentary time that has been devoted to it in the past 20 years bear witness to that fact. The Bill finally gives us the opportunity to deal with the issue. The question of what Parliament will do has been hanging over rural communities for a long time and people want it resolved.

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