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Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I shall endeavour to be brief, but I want to make a couple of points on behalf of the farmers of east Kent. The area is not recognised on the maps that one sees on television as being heavily affected by foot and mouth disease, but of course as in any other agricultural area, the knock-on effect is dramatic.
I want to talk about animal welfare on behalf of farmers because there seems to be a mood abroad that farmers do not care. The press have indicated that some of my local farmers are weeping for their bank balances, and one farmer this morning described that quite simply as "offensive crap". He is right to use exactly those words. Farmers care enormously for the welfare of their animals. They care because, as that farmer said, if one has built up a flock of Merinos over three generations and that flock is slaughtered, one is likely to cry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to a field of lambs that the RSPCA ordered to be shot. The cameras do not go into those fields; they are not allowed to. The pictures that the public see on television are not the worst images, although piles of dead animals and palls of smoke are bad enough. The dying lambs; the ewes out in the cold; the pigs crammed into sheds unable to move; the cattle that cannot be moved--those are what ordinary people do not see in newspaper photographs or on television.
This morning, a farmer told me about his flock of sheep on waterlogged pasture, with no edible grass. He has only a fortnight's supply of feed and once that is gone, he will be cleaned out and those animals will starve. I am told that sheep are already starving on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. There is no veterinary care either; even if there was, the farmers cannot afford it. The impact of all of that on farmers who care for their animals is simply terrifying; the impact on the animals themselves is just as bad.
I resented it when the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box this afternoon that thousands of sheep went to the abattoirs every week, and that just a fraction of the national herd was involved, so it did not matter. Of course it does. The knock-on effect extends beyond the animals that are culled and has an impact on every farm and every animal across the land. In the main, those animals cannot be moved into fresh pasture or shelter for lambing; they cannot be moved to feed in areas where there is no feed. The knock-on effect on those who supply wheat feed is just as bad because they cannot get their food to areas where the animals need it.
I am angry for those people because a farmer and his wife with dead animals in their pasture are like every man and every woman with their dead dog or dead cat lying unburied on their lawn for days. That is what the Prime Minister is ignoring. The Minister of Agriculture is a decent, honourable and caring man, and his speech was very beguiling indeed. However, the bottom line is that we need not logistics but troops to do the job--the culling and burying. We do not need vets to do that. The BVA and the farmers want that done, and they want it done now.
I want my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to listen. My farmers' criticism of him and of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition--not the Government--was not that we had called for a postponement of local elections in Cumbria and Devon, but that we had not done that nation wide. There is no recognition that this is a nationwide problem; it is about not just Cumbria and Devon, but every farm in the land. Do the Government seriously believe that they can go ahead and send out canvassers because advertising has already been booked and 3 May is in the diary, holding the countryside and the rural economy in contempt, when Ministers should be doing the job that they were elected to do and sort out the crisis? If they do, they will pay a terrible price. The farmers are paying a terrible price now, and it behoves all of us to recognise that.
Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) mentioned the need to look at strategy, and to consider whether it is right and whether it is working. I want to say a few things about both the short-term and long-term situation for my farmers.
In Pembrokeshire, we have two main industries, agriculture and tourism, both of which have been hit heavily in the past few weeks. We have been fortunate in not being directly affected; ours is still a clean area. However, we have had a couple of blips and worrying incidents, when everyone held their breath. Basically, we export livestock, including cattle, to other areas, where they are fattened up; and we have therefore kept clear of foot and mouth disease.
My farmers, with whom I have been regular contact since the outbreak started, wanted me, first, to tell the Minister how grateful they are that he is listening to what they have to say, and is being open about the advice that he is getting. That is a major concern for my farmers, especially bearing in mind the historical record. However, I shall not go into that now, because farmers also tell me that they are desperate that the issue should not become
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in praising the role of Ben Gill, who has shown great courage in his approach to the problem. He, too, is looking to both the long term and the short term, even when it has been difficult for some of his members to cope with that.
Although we must keep the problem clear of party political issues, we cannot ignore a couple of small points arising from past decisions. First, there is a shortage of vets because of the decimation over 10 years of the state veterinary service. Secondly--and this relates to my Pembrokeshire farmers--another problem arose from the restrictions imposed after the BSE crisis.
Mrs. Lawrence: I am terribly sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that raising regulations that had to be introduced because of BSE is a cheap political point. Those regulations are having a major impact on livestock farmers in my area. The over-30-months scheme, for example, is having an impact, along with movement restrictions. My farmers in Pembrokeshire are responsible people and could, if they wished, fatten their livestock on waste vegetable matter, as happens in other areas. They choose not to because they are responsible people who keep their animals on grass until the last minute and send them to market before the 30-month limit. As a result of the foot and mouth outbreak coming on top of the BSE restrictions, they must face the fact that they simply get the sum, under the OTMS, for cattle for which they would normally get market value.
Since the end of February, I have argued in the House that affected farmers should be classed as eligible for direct, rather than consequential, compensation. As a result of the regulations, their cattle are as condemned, just as they would be if they had FMD. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) chooses to ignore that fact.
Several concerns that I expressed in our debate on 5 March have now been addressed. I spoke about small-scale movement of livestock within holdings, so I was pleased to hear about provision for further movement and for licensing longer journeys in clean areas. That provision will be helpful in my constituency.
My local branch of the National Farmers Union has spoken to me about the role of the Army. It recently said, "Jackie, tell the Minister that we are desperately concerned. We want everybody to pull together, including
I should like to make a quick point about the broader scene with regard to farming business and the wider rural economy. A couple of weeks ago, I rang the Samaritans in my area to find out how much more their services were being used. Clearly, some people are desperate about facing the future with so much uncertainty. I was told that not only in Pembrokeshire, but in the area represented by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and in Carmarthenshire, a shortage of funding means that the Samaritans in those areas can offer a counselling service only during certain hours of the day. For the rest of the time, the service has to be switched to Swansea, an urban centre that is some 70 miles away. I ask local authorities throughout Wales and the United Kingdom to consider giving stronger support to organisations such as the Samaritans, as they are very useful in helping people to cope with difficult circumstances. They are especially important in respect of farming, as so many farmers lead extremely isolated existences.
I have already mentioned the OTMS. Farmers have told me that a 28-day movement restriction is needed for animals that have just been purchased at market. It has been suggested that they should stay in one settlement before being moved again, so that any disease can manifest itself within those 28 days. I was sent an article from Farming News by Mr. William George, a livestock farmer in Camrose in my constituency. He pointed out the final paragraph of the article, which states:
It would mean more red tape and checks, but could have made isolating this terrible FMD outbreak much easier."
We have also read in the newspapers recently about farmers who have been responsible enough to take out insurance to cover them for of foot and mouth losses and whose policies have come up for renewal during the outbreak. Apparently, many farmers have been refused renewal by the insurance companies, which are happy to take money when there is no FMD, but whose attitude changes the minute that it appears on the scene. They are behaving immorally by not fulfilling their commitments to allow farmers to renew their policies. Will the Government please consider introducing a proper, Government-based insurance scheme that will cover all farmers in respect of any such problems in future?
My farmers also continually express concerns about imports. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would look into illegal imports and consider what action needs to be taken on them. He also gave an assurance that he would look into regulation regarding pig swill. It is an absolute scandal that £5,000 is the maximum fine for someone who is shown to have broken the rules by feeding unsterilised pig swill, when, if feeding unsterilised swill is shown to be the cause of the disease, it will have cost the British economy £9 billion.
I have spoken for only nine minutes, but I am aware that other hon. Members want to raise constituency issues. I should like to speak about one further concern among my farmers in Pembrokeshire. They are decent, honest people who are trying to make a living from the land. They have been most anxious about reports published recently in the national media about movements arising from so-called sheep leasing, allegedly used to beat quotas; there have also been reports of some farmers moving animals closer to sources of infection. Of course, anxieties have also been expressed about illegal movements in general. My farmers are anxious for the Government to take quick and efficient action if there proves to be any substance to those allegations. They fear that unless such action is taken, illegal activities could wrongly influence people's attitudes towards them, as they are honest, decent people.