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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My figures for Ceredigion, which were produced by the Department for Education and Employment, show that 1,581 people were unemployed in May 1997. In May 2000, however, that figure had fallen to 1,158, which shows that there had been a drop of 400 people.
Mr. Thomas: My figures, which come from the unemployment unit, are obviously different from those of the Under-Secretary. Clearly, we will have to exchange statistics.
I was about to conclude by saying that the slack in the work force in Ceredigion has increased by 200 people since the Government took office in 1997. I think that that might be correct even according to the Under-Secretary's figures. As I said, the slack consists of people who could take up jobs and want to do so, but are not yet employed.
The Government still have a great deal of work to do in west Wales and in Wales as a whole. They are likely to be returned to power after the election--not in Wales, but in the United Kingdom. They have a huge job to do and I hope that they will do it with a little more enthusiasm, rather than with the reluctance of their first three years in office.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Having represented Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnor, Llanelli, Swansea and Carmarthen in the European Parliament for five years, I am well aware of some of the problems that have been mentioned. Before I speak about those problems, I commend to hon. Members some of the practices of the European Parliament. First, Members can obtain refreshment in the debating chamber during debates. I suspect that that would have been welcomed by the hon. Members who are now present, many of whom will now be thoroughly dehydrated. Secondly, we knew in which order we were to speak in respect of our parties, and how long we could speak for. If a Member spoke for longer than the allotted time, the excess was taken from his or her party, which affected the subsequent speakers. That
I should like to join the hon. Members who have spoken about Cledwyn Hughes, who was a man of great generosity. When I first stood for Parliament in 1970, in a constituency that was held by the Tories with a majority of 25,000, not many people even from my own party were prepared to help a struggling candidate, but Cledwyn Hughes was one of those who were. For candidates who were standing for the first time, Cledwyn was a great help and inspiration, and I shall sorely miss him.
As the community that I represented was based half on farming and half on steel, I am well aware of the residual problems of the farmers of Wales. One of my brothers-in-law is a small farmer on Anglesey and is currently extremely worried. My other brother-in-law was a vet in Ceredigion and has recently retired. I spoke to him last night, and I am glad to say that he has never seen a case of foot and mouth disease.
Those of us who have seen against the night sky the funeral pyres of the cattle, sheep and pigs that have been burnt throughout the country during the past few days have been horrified. Many of us have asked whether such measures are necessary, and whether there is an alternative. I am told that outbreaks of foot and mouth disease occurred almost annually in the 19th century and the early 20th century, without anybody batting an eyelid. Of course people do not die of foot and mouth disease, and most animals recover from it. We are told, however, that it is an economic disease.
Modern farming is so intensive and dependent on the drive for higher productivity and lower costs, and most modern farms are run on such tight budgets, that they will not allow an animal with the equivalent of a bad cold to recover, and they cannot delay the date when it is sent for slaughter. It appears that modern farming cannot tolerate the inconvenience caused by temporarily sick animals that produce less milk and meat. I suggest that that is an appalling reflection on what we expect of our farmers.
The last time I heard the figures, there were 70 cases of foot and mouth in the country as a whole, although fortunately only three have so far occurred in Wales. Whatever the source of the current outbreak, the mass transporting of animals across Britain and over national borders from farms to centralised abattoirs has spread the disease further and faster. In the past few years, Britain's network of small local abattoirs, which some of my hon. Friends have mentioned, has almost been closed down. As a result, animals are being carried far greater distances to slaughter than ever before. That means that infectious animal diseases are much more likely to be spread throughout the country. Long journeys to slaughter make it almost impossible to confine the disease to the area from which it came, which contrasts with the days when animals were sent to a nearby abattoir.
Animal welfare groups have long argued that the practice of sending animals on long-distance journeys should be ended, as well as the live animal export trade. The UK exports about a million sheep and lambs a year to continental abattoirs. Many of them go as far as Italy and Greece. Such long journeys not only inflict huge
Last year, I introduced a private Member's Bill on the welfare of broiler chickens. It failed. It was talked out and the Government did not support it, which was a mistake. I am ashamed that I knew so little about broiler chickens until I gained a place in the ballot, but 800 million broiler chickens are reared for meat in the United Kingdom each year, and most are kept in massive windowless sheds that are so overcrowded that the floors cannot be seen.
The packed conditions mean that it is impossible to inspect the birds properly. Consequently, millions are diseased or injured, and die without receiving treatment. Growth-promoting antibiotics and rich diets are used to ensure that chickens reach their slaughter weight in only 41 days--twice as fast as 30 years ago. Chickens' hearts and lungs cannot keep pace with such growth, and each year several million die of heart disease before they are six weeks old.
Broilers used for breeding are put on severely restricted feeding regimes. That means that they are starved, because farmers do not want them to reach the weight of the other broilers and thereby suffer the same health problems and early death associated with reaching such weights so quickly. However, they still suffer the same health problems and early death.
Poor conditions also pose serious risks to human health. A couple of years ago, a report revealed that one in three broilers was infected with salmonella, and that 44 per cent. were contaminated with a similar disease. An article published by The Observer suggested that the potentially deadly strain of salmonella may have been released into the food chain by the poultry industry. Much more research has been conducted on the same subject.
Farming does not need another food scare. In the wake of BSE and genetically modified foods, consumers have shown that they are sophisticated and will not buy what they regard as unsafe food. The then deputy president of the NFU said:
Ann Clwyd: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not heard that a few weeks ago, Which? considered chickens for sale in supermarkets and found that a high proportion were infected with salmonella. Most people would like to know that their purchases are safe and that they will not be infected with salmonella. The sort of production that I described is not conducive to that. The arguments for more natural methods of food production have been reopened, unfortunately through an outbreak of foot and mouth. As hon. Members have said, the Prime Minister has promised to work out a basis for sustainable agriculture for the long term.
One farmer wrote in The Independent on Sunday yesterday:
The more you can help to reduce the intensive farming that the supermarkets encourage the better."
Compassion in World Farming claims that such systems impose great stress on animals. That leads to their immune systems becoming vulnerable to disease. Foot and mouth disease is the second infectious outbreak to hit Britain's farming industry in months, following the outbreak of swine fever last year. That must call farming methods and husbandry into question again. In crowded conditions, animals cannot live naturally. They are therefore highly stressed and more vulnerable to disease.
We need to move to systems that are safer and more humane. Yes, customers might have to pay a little more for their food, but we could have a better farming system so long as the supermarkets played the game too. The EU spends £25 billion a year on the common agricultural policy. Part of that money should be used to help farmers move from industrialised systems to a more humane and responsible policy that also conserves and manages the countryside.
There have been arguments about the drastic policy of slaughter and about vaccination. The professor of microbiology at Cardiff university, Professor Julian Wimpenny, said in a letter to The Guardian:
I shall finish with a quote from the NFU, which arrived today: