Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 280-296)|
9 SEPTEMBER 2004
Q280 Paddy Tipping: You paint a picture
and you are saying visitors should not come into the countryside.
We will have a discussion about that at another time. Could you
tell me your view about the power that will go to the National
Assembly in Wales? This is a Bill that covers England and Wales.
You mentioned the changes in area payments earlier on. There has
been a big discussion about differential payments on various parts
of farms because along the English/Welsh borders there is quite
a lot of overlap.
Mr Somerfield: That is a nightmare.
Q281 Paddy Tipping: It is a nightmare
because the National Assembly can set one set of regulations and
the UK Parliament another. Have you worries about this?
Mr Somerfield: I have indeed,
yes. On the one hand, I pushed for historical payments for Wales
because I thought that was the right way forward but, of course,
we had not foreseen the extent of this cross-boundary problem.
It is stopping some people buying land on the other side of the
border because they will be losing so much in area payments. You
are quite right that it is a tremendous problem. How it will be
resolved, I do not know. I do my best with the National Assembly
but it is not always easy.
Q282 Mr Mitchell: What sort of problems
do you envisage? Would you rather be dealt with by the National
Assembly or by the UK Parliament?
Mr Somerfield: As an Englishman
in Wales. although of 40 years standing, I was very much against
the National Assembly because I thought power would inevitably
come from Westminster.
Q283 Mr Mitchell: But, now that you have
it, who is going to deal with these issues?
Mr Somerfield: The National Assembly
is there and it has to deal with them now. We have got it. We
are stuck with it. It has got to be made to deal with this. I
presume there will have to be some liaison between the National
Assembly and Westminster over this border definition. It is history
repeating itself, is it not?
Q284 Paddy Tipping: You cannot have different
regulations for different parts of the farm?
Mr Somerfield: I do not know what
the solution to that is and whether certain areas could resolve
this between the Assembly and Westminster. It looks like being
a big ongoing problem.
Q285 Paddy Tipping: You have painted
a very dim view of this Bill. Broadly, do you support the Bill?
Mr Somerfield: Yes, of course,
I do. We all support animal welfare, do we not? I think there
is some unfortunate wording in this entry thing. What one must
realise, and what I would like to get across to this Committee,
is that we have a plethora of experts attending us all the time.
They come in droves and they come in twos. For example, we have
a large ancient monument outside the farm, an Iron Age fort. There
are four bodies monitoring that: CADW, the Welsh Ancient Monuments
group, CCW, the Countryside Council of Wales, the National Assembly
and the Brecon Beacons National Park and no one body speaks to
the other. Four lots of people come round and I have to spend
two and a half hours of my valuable time with each. I have said
to them, "Look, guys, either hire a minibus and all come
at once or decide which one you want me to deal with because I
cannot deal with four of you".
Q286 Paddy Tipping: You could charge
Mr Somerfield: Yes. It is quite
Q287 Joan Ruddock: You are providing
us with an amusing picture of life in Wales. I am a Welsh woman
from that part of the world and I quite understand what you are
saying. I wonder if this Bill is really going to make a difference.
You describe the types of farming you have and the high standards
you set. What do you envisage actually happening? Do you see tangible
improvements and what might those be? You say that you are concerned
about unintended consequences for livestock farmers. What do you
think those might be?
Mr Somerfield: They might be misjudgements
on the part of inspectors. Some of this seems rather like a job
creation scheme for local government. It follows a similar theme
because we had the same thing with Access for Wales. As I said
previously, we have a terrible shortage of large animal vets and
qualified people who know anything about agriculture. Trading
standards people do their best but you cannot expect anybody to
acquire a lifetime's experience in a few weeks of training. The
problems might arise through misunderstandings, particularly on
the definition of cruelty. I could give you so many examples.
I will not labour you with them all but I will tell you about
one. The RSPCA rushed out to a farm the other day. A woman had
come from Swansea to live in the countryside and she commuted
every day from Llangadog to Carmarthen on the A40, which is about
25 miles, and she had reported a farmer keeping cattle on concrete
with no food or water and they were there in the morning and they
were there in the evening. Of course, she went to work at 8.30
and came back home at 5.30! My next door neighbour has a very
well kept donkey. As you know, donkeys do sharp inhalations of
breath before they bray. Several times he has been reported for
having a donkey with extreme breathing difficulties. If that donkey
ever does have real breathing difficulties he will be in real
Q288 Joan Ruddock: Presumably the RSPCA
no doubt felt obliged to go and check up on the first case that
you described, but when they established the facts, there was
Mr Somerfield: Oh, no, but it
is making work for the RSPCA. The problem was resolved. I have
found personally, both in the livestock markets and at home, that
the RSPCA have been very helpful and supportive but I do not think,
and I have discussed this Bill with the RSPCA, that they want
to become a police force.
Q289 Mr Mitchell: You yourself expressed
reservations about a national voluntary body being regarded as
the appropriate national authority. Why is that?
Mr Somerfield: It is because of
a lack of bodies on the ground and a lack of qualified people.
The RSPCA will admit themselves that they have not got the people
with agricultural knowledge on the ground. That is my reservation
on that point.
Q290 Joan Ruddock: Presumably you have
local government inspectors, though, as everyone else does?
Mr Somerfield: Yes, but they have
one vet and so many other junior officials, and some of them are
at least 17, coming out with clipboards. The industry is up to
here with monitoring. There are family farms trying to
get the work done; they have so much work to do and all this takes
a lot of time and it is extremely bothering. You could be treating
a lot of sheep or calving cows or making hay or whatever in the
time you spend dealing with these people.
Q291 Alan Simpson: I want to pursue the
point about inspection regimes. I am assuming that you accept
we cannot have an effective animal welfare Bill without an effective
inspection regime and you cannot have an effective inspection
regime if you do not have effective access. I can understand some
of your aspirations but I was puzzled that you seem to be suggesting
that in farming there should be a more restricted right of access
than exists in criminal law or for factory inspections. I do not
quite see why you say that.
Mr Somerfield: I think the access
should be by dialogue and reasonable conversation and if that
fails, then get in the police or the RSPCA; 99 times out of 100
Q292 Alan Simpson: Let me try and take
this through into the context of normal factory inspections or
inspections by trading standards. If the inspectors turn up, there
is a dialogue about accessing the facilities. If those people
have nothing that bothers them, the inspection goes ahead. It
does not have to be pre-notified. In fact, it is not pre-notified.
The question about conflict would arise only if it was at an inconvenient
time and there were other problems that just made it impossible,
or it was in the middle of a foot and mouth outbreak or whatever,
or there was something wrong. In that context, prior notification
is a nonsense. To me, the suggestion that you seem to be making
is that for a justice of the peace to be persuaded that a relevant
offence is being committed requires a higher standard than exists
in the criminal law. At the moment, all that is happens is that
if the police attend they are required to show that they have
reasonable grounds for believing that an offence may be being
committed, not that it is being committed. I just do not understand
how you would presume that in farming there should be a tougher
test for the issuing of a warrant than applies in criminal law.
Mr Somerfield: I am not exactly
saying that. I am saying that the standards are invariably higher.
We are being monitored anyway by numerous authorities. We have
the Farm Assured scheme; the National Assembly inspector comes
round checking our ear tags; sheep are being counted and all sorts
of things. Supposing I had a problem on my farm and the RSPCA
came to me and said, "We believe you have a cow that is dying
in the cubicles; can we go and see it?" I would be foolish
if I did not say yes, would I not? I think dialogue works all
the time. I do not know of any cases where enforcement has been
Q293 Alan Simpson: You are saying that
if someone said no and they did have something to hide, you would
then require a higher standard of proof before a warrant was issued
than applies in criminal law. I do not, for the moment, understand
how you could justify that.
Mr Somerfield: You could be right.
Perhaps we cannot. I take your point. In practice, it works out
all right but you have to have it written down, do you not? You
are making a very good point there. We are not asking for special
remission from anything. One problem we have is that there are
a lot of incomers. The farm next door to me has just been bought
by a VAT chief inspector and his wife who is a criminal law solicitor.
I am obliging them by grazing their ground for them, and I am
not charging them VAT either! These are people who do not want
to farm; they just want space around them. There are many people
coming in. I quote the case of a geologist who came in and he
had four sheep. I offered to dip them for him. He said, "I
do not like these nasty chemicals". Neither do I but one
has to dip sheep. His ewes ended up covered in maggots and the
vet charged him £200 to deal with them, so he learned the
hard way. They did survive, I am glad to say. That is the sort
of thing which is giving farming a bad name. I do not know how
we overcome that unless these people are allied to a farmer, which
they normally inevitably are, who knows what he is doing.
Q294 Mr Mitchell: You mention a problem
that operates in your own farming of sheep on the hills, which
I suppose know their territory but could appear to be abandoned.
You want the Bill to define abandoned animal in another way. How
would you tackle that problem because it is an interesting and
important one? It is the same in the Lake District and in parts
of Yorkshire as well?
Mr Somerfield: Yes, indeed, and
of course all sheep are now required to be tagged, so the owner
should be traceable. I take it that a sheep without a tag or without
an ear mark, which is the traditional way of marking hill sheep,
is considered abandoned. That is the only fair way to assess the
Q295 Mr Mitchell: So it would be a simple
Mr Somerfield: Yes, ear marks
or tags. I think ear marks are dying out now but they were the
ultimate because tags can be torn out. We have a huge issue over
double tagging now, as you are probably aware.
Q296 Mr Mitchell: Are they likely to
survive up there?
Mr Somerfield: Yes. Wales is so
varied. A mile down the road from me people are keeping Suffolks.
If those Suffolks came up to my farm in winter, they would be
dead in a weekthey would die of disappointmentwhereas
my Welsh ewes are thriving. This is what people do not understand.
Mr Mitchell: Mr Somerfield, we are very
grateful to you for your evidence. I think we should do a Peter
Mayle with An Englishman in Welsh Farming and write a book
on it. Thank you very much indeed.