|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I welcome the opportunity to discuss the fallen livestock scheme introduced this year, given the experiences that I had in my constituency during lambing earlier this year. Sheep carcases that had been unburied for many days were being collected in odd corners of farms. Desperate farmers were waiting for the collector to arrive. Farmers who let converted farm buildings for holidays purposes, as they were advised to do, had to cope with badly decomposing carcasses being collected as they were waiting for holidaymakers to arrive.
Farmers throughout my constituency told me about collectors being unwilling or at least unhappy to collect carcasses because they were so badly decomposed. That was the experience of farmers throughout north-west Wales. Other hon. Members might recount such experiences from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The new European Union regulations have effectively banned the previously acceptable practice of on-farm burial. There might have been problems in other parts of the UK, as I said, but they are acute in Gwynedd in north-west Wales.
My main worry concerns the problems that have arisen from the implementation of the scheme for the farming community in my country. My Caernarfon constituency is rural and has traditional family farms. They are the backbone of the rural community and provide a living for farming families, and employment for rural trades and industries. In Caernarfon, rural life is the backbone of the Welsh language and our culture. It is highly significant not only in local, but in national terms. Family farms in my constituency are concerned mainly with livestock rearing and sheep and cattle farming. There is little arable farming, as a result of which the impact of the regulations has been particularly marked throughout the livestock sector.
Historically, the livestock sector in Wales has been under great pressure. The number of holdings has reduced over a long time. We have not been immune to the amalgamations that have occurred elsewhere, with the consequent problem for young people who are trying to enter the industry with fewer holdings being available for them. Indeed, the figures that were published on 22 June by the National Assembly for Wales show that, between 1994 and 2004, there was a marked decrease, perhaps not in the number of active farmers, but in the number of holdings. Dairy holdings were down by 1,705 throughout Wales and beef holdings were down by 913. Sheep holdings declined by 1,843.
Indeed, over the past 10 years, holdings with sheep have decreased from more than 17,000 to just more than 15,000. That has put an historic pressure on the livestock industry in my constituency, which has been compounded by the effects of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, foot and mouth and the long-term effects of scrapie. Given that, the new problems associated with fallen stock are particularly burdensome.
The Minister might say that the scheme is working well elsewhere and is bedding in. However, the Farmers Union of Wales, the National Farmers Union Cymru
29 Jun 2005 : Column 443WH
and many individuals farmers have said there are severe problems. NFU Cymru told me that, during the lambing period, its office received many complaints every day, and the numbers were in double figures. It arranged regular meetings with the National Fallen Stock Company's director for Wales to good effect; I am happy to recognise that. NFU Cymru put its complaints directly to the company.
Only this morning, I had a positive meeting with Mr. Michael Seals of the National Fallen Stock Company, who assured me that, in general, progress is being made. I am happy to accept that. He told me that so far there have been 120,000 successful collections. That is fine, but there have been problems, and it is significant that half the 600 complaints that have been received in the UK come from my part of Wales.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problems that the National Fallen Stock Company says it is overcoming are of the Government's own making? We on the Isle of Wight are fortunate to have negotiated a derogation from the provisions of the EU directive, something common to many parts of the EU. Does he think that the directive was necessary in the first place, or does it merely add burdens to farmers' businesses?
Hywel Williams : I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the subject that he raises will be the burden of my remarks later. As for my constituency, I do not think that anyone has ever alleged that problems for animal or human health arose from the previous practice of burying on-farm. That, at least, is the opinion locally, and as far as I can see there has been no proof to the contrary.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): As the water table is significantly lower in the United Kingdom than in parts of mainland Europe, is it not the case that there has never been a threat to biosecurity arising from on-farm burial? Given the picture that the hon. Gentleman painted of carcases rotting and awaiting collection, it seems that we now have the worst of all possible worlds, with much less biosecurity and significantly greater costs.
Hywel Williams : Again, I can only agree. We all recall the precautions taken with empty lorries going into farms for collection during the foot and mouth disease crisis, yet now half full or almost full lorries of decaying carcases are being taken from one farm to another. Clearly, there are concerns about biosecurity, but who knows whether they are well founded in every case?
Some 600 complaints were made across the UK, and half of them came from my part of north-west Wales. If the scheme is working so well across the UKit very well might bewhy is it not working so well in my constituency and others in the old county of Gwynedd, where it is clearly not working?
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments. One place where the scheme is working quite well is Monmouthshire, although I appreciate that his constituency has
29 Jun 2005 : Column 444WH
experienced problems. It is working well in Monmouthshire partly because we have two huntsthe Monmouthshire and the Curre and Llangibbywhich are doing a great deal to solve many of the problems. Does he agree that the Government's short-sighted attempt to stamp out hunting and to destroy the hunts is having an impact not only on the countryside, but on the ability of organisations to deal with fallen stock?
Hywel Williams : My attitude, and that of my party, to hunting is well known. As it happens, the Eryri hunt operates in my constituency, but it gets its feed from elsewhere, so that is not a particular issue. In some respects, sheep carcases are hardly worth taking away for such purposes. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman as far as his constituency is concerned, and that was a properly made point.
As I said, there are particular significant features of farming in north-west Wales. It is large-scale sheep farming country. In the past, we have not required the services of fallen stock collectors. Fallen animals were buried on the farm, of course, and as far as I have been able to discover, that has never been a threat to human or animal health.
The lack of collection has never been a problem before, so was the historic and wholly unreasonable lack of a substantial collection service infrastructure taken into consideration when the Minister thought about the scheme for north-west Wales? We have a structural problem. Was that taken into account before the scheme was introduced? If not, why not?
The demand for the collection of fallen stock in my constituency is also variable: it lasts for about two months in the year, during lambing in the spring when there is a high peak of demand. At other times there is low demand. Evidently, during the high demand peak for those two months the collectors have found problems. That seems to be a classical structural problem rather than the fault of the individual collecting company or the National Fallen Stock Company. That is the nature of the demand: there is a high peak for two months. Was that considered before the regulations were applied? If so, what was the result? If those considerations were not taken into account, why not?
Another feature of the problem is the relatively high cost of the collection of single animals. That has led to some farmers waiting until several animals have died to reduce the relative cost. That is particularly significant because we are talking about sheep farming country.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): My hon. Friend hits on an important point. It is not so much that the individual farmers are waiting until they have several fallen stock, but that they are having to club together with other farmers in the locality until they have a decent load to be taken away. In that regard, as he knows, I represent a neighbouring constituency, in
29 Jun 2005 : Column 445WH
which farmers wait five weeks with the animals rotting on their farmyards. We are talking about biosecurity, and, heavens above, that is the last thing that anybody wants.
Hywel Williams : Again, I agree with my hon. Friend. I know that the National Fallen Stock Company is aiming to increase the number of collection points for a number of members from the current position, which might alleviate some of the problem, but although I cannot name names, sheep carcases are left on the hills occasionally, because we have an efficient collection service called foxes, which sort the problem out for us.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Would the hon. Gentleman also agree that in terms of biodiversity, having some carrion about the mountains and hills is important for red kites? The reintroduction of that species in Wales, which was down to the last three or four in Great Britain, is a huge success story.
Any reasonable person putting these factors together would conclude that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Welsh Assembly Government did not adequately consider the particular features of livestock farming in north-west Walesin my constituency, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and elsewherebefore the scheme was introduced. However, there was and is a way out, which is a temporary or permanent derogation from the regulations for my part of Wales and perhaps elsewhere, and the re-establishing of the previous, entirely safe, practice of on-farm burial. I understand that that course is taken in other European countries in similar circumstances. Has DEFRA considered how other countries have dealt with the problem? Have they adopted such practices in any way?
I understand that a derogation might be possible on the basis of remoteness. Was a derogation sought for north-west Wales and other areas where the introduction of the scheme has been problematic? If a derogation was not sought, why not? We heard that the Isle of Wight has one, as do other parts of the UK. What about north-west Wales and elsewhere? There is a derogation for the highlands and islands of Scotland, the Isles of Scilly and the island of Lundy, with its huge farming industry.
I do not know how familiar the Minister is with north-west Wales, but much of my constituency can only be described as remotethankfully remote, some might say. The nearest collector is in Wrexham, more than 100 miles away from many parts of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend. Travelling 20 miles along wide, straight roads elsewherefor example, in the south of Englandis a wholly different proposition from carting fallen stock along the narrow, meandering lanes of a thin peninsula for 20 miles. How is remoteness for these purposes defined and are such local considerations given proper attention? Is it "remoteness" as defined by DEFRA or as defined by the European Union and interpreted by DEFRA?
29 Jun 2005 : Column 446WH
"'remote areas' will be interpreted as the Scilly Isles and Lundy Island in England and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This is because the definition of remote areas in the EU Regulation is 'where the animal population is so small and where facilities are so far away that the arrangements necessary for collection and disposal would be unacceptably onerous compared to local disposal'".
That explains the definition to some extent. Remoteness from collection facilities and a small animal population might be one thing, but it does not cover the circumstances in my constituency, where we have a large animal population but remote collection points.
There is a further question about whether other European countries apply the regulation in such a fashion. Significantly, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
"No such assessment has been made. It is for individual Member States to inform the Commission of the areas that they wish to categorise as being remote".[Official Report, 28 March 2003; Vol. 402, c. 458W.]
If DEFRA was not looking to other parts of Europe, what consultation was undertaken with farming interests in north-west Wales? Was there proper consultation, as there was in Scotland? I have a copy of a letter from Pentland house. Its title is "Implementation in Scotland of the EU animal by-products regulation". Did DEFRA carry out a consultation with the Welsh farming unions and other farming interests?
Some would say that, given that there is no way in which farmers can conform to the requirements of the regulation because of how the scheme is set up, they are being driven to break the law. I accept that the regulations are being implemented with a light touch, but that is the quandary into which farmers are being put, through no fault of their own. Some have said that this mess can only create a wholly unwarranted image of Welsh livestock production, given that Wales produces some of the finest red meat in the world and the problem detracts from that.
What will the Minister do to ensure that the great work that Welsh farming interests and their partners for example, in the Welsh Development Agencyhave done for many years is not undermined by the thoughtless and insensitive application of the regulations in north-west Wales?
Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. I intend to call the wind-up speeches at 3.30 pm. A number of hon. Members have said that they wish to take part in the debate. If contributions are curtailed, we should be able to accommodate everybody.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 447WH
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing the debate. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister because I may miss a few minutes of his concluding remarks, as I have to be somewhere else.
Given what the hon. Gentleman said in his introduction, I accept that there are problems with the scheme. I hope that the Minister is now alerted to those and will feel duty-bound at least to play a part in trying to overcome them. I will confine my remarks to my understanding of what is happening. I am grateful to the NFU for its briefingother hon. Members will also have received a copysaying that the scheme, which had a difficult birth, is working erratically across the country. That suggests that we need to pay attention to the regions where it is not working.
On the decision to ban on-farm burial, I pride myself on being somewhat sceptical about the European Union, and I would normally rail against any interference from outside. However, on this occasion, I think that the EU has done us a favour because on-farm burial was a problem and it would remain a problem were it to continue. If we are serious about tackling animal disease, we should have done something about it before the ban.
David T.C. Davies : Is it not the case that on-farm burial may well have been a problem in areas of Belgium and the Netherlands, but it certainly was not a problem in the highland sheep farming areas of north Wales, or in many other parts of Wales, where, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) said, it has been going on for centuries? Is it not also the case that the only reason why the ban was brought in across the EU was because there were powerful lobbying interests within the European Commission which did not want farmers in other parts of the EU, including Wales, to achieve a competitive advantage?
Mr. Drew : I do not agree. I take the stance that we do not take animal disease seriously enough. If there is evidence about the consequences of on-farm burial, we should heed it. As we all know, unless people are particularly knowledgeable, materials can get into the streams that pass beneath our wonderful landscape. We are fools to ourselves if we ignore that.
Mr. Llwyd : I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in rural matters and in agriculture. Surely he appreciates that farmers know the volatile nature of watercourses and what not to do near them. Does he know of any research pointing to evidence that there could be a health risk to humans or animals as a result of on-farm burial away from watercourses?
Mr. Drew : I would just look at our experience during the foot and mouth episode, when we used on-farm burial. With the benefit of hindsight, many of us would say that some of the methods used then were none too clever and will come back to haunt us. However, I agree that there is not enough research. We do not take animal disease seriously enough, and taking it more seriously will involve conducting research. However, it is better to take the preventive route than to look at some of the
29 Jun 2005 : Column 448WH
implications of what would happen if and when we find that the problem is growing. What has happened has happened, and I do not think that anyone will suggest that we should reverse this ban and consider alternative methods.
Mr. Drew : Well, the hon. Gentleman will need to look at the research on that. However, the most suitable way of dealing with the problem is to get fallen stock to the renderer via the current method.
I was involved in some of the early meetings on the current method and I had doubts because some farmers were sceptical about whether the scheme would get up and running, which it took a long time to do. However, the National Fallen Stock Company is now up and running. It is not working well in every region, but where it is working wellI am sure that the Minister will have a view on where that iswe should get behind it, support it, and make sure that it continues to work well.
Mr. Andrew Turner : First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the on-farm burials that took place so catastrophically at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak were undertaken not by farmers but by DEFRA. Secondly, does he find it surprisingI am sorry to say that I do notthat the Government's reaction to on-farm burials is to adopt the precautionary principle, but their reaction in the case of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is to say, "Oh, don't worry. There has been no research," or, "We do not agree with the research and think that the vaccine is okay"? Is not that because the Government are in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry?
Mr. Drew : The analogy with MMR is bizarre. I have a great deal of time for the hon. Gentleman, but his efforts to draw that simplistic link leave me speechless. I shall pass on quickly, as I cannot see the link.
We must understand that the only way to make the scheme work in those places where it is not working is for farmers, the Government, renderers, knackers yards and so on to work together to make it work. Perhaps hunt kennels would want to play a part. I have never been against that. They have a specific role to play in those parts of the country where they have collected dead stock. Working together should be the first consideration, and it may involve, dare I say it, the Treasury helping DEFRA out. Two tranches of £10 milliona not inconsiderable amounthave been put aside to help make the scheme work, but it must work as a partnership. The state cannot be the only funder. Some of us argued in the early days that the state had to be the substantial funder to get the scheme off the ground and to make it work, but it now must be seen as a genuine partnership.
We must consider carefully the biosecurity issues arising from lorries taking dead stock some distance to renderers plants. I would hope that such movements could be kept as local as possible. There are also problems with setting up a suitably equipped rendering plant. Again, the more local things are, the better. A careful reading of the animal by-products regulations seems to imply that. I urge a light-touch regulatory
29 Jun 2005 : Column 449WH
approach until the scheme is working properly so that we do not end up with ridiculous prosecutions of people who clearly have not had the means to dispose of animals. It is not that that has not happened. All the different agencies must ensure that the regions in which the scheme is not working properly are given the help that they need.
The lesson to be learned is that it is necessary to put in place the means for complying with a ban before introducing the ban. The European Union is not terribly good at thatit is good at putting forward ideas. Perhaps other parts of the EU that have dealt with the problem experience a degree of schadenfreude when they see that our problems are not being resolved as quickly as we might like. It would be interesting to hear about the pan-European situation. Those of us who are a bit less keen on Europe sometimes genuinely fear that other countries have been less stringent in introducing the ban. It does not help us to treat animal disease more seriously in this country if other parts of Europe do not adhere to the ban and use proper disposal methods. Sadly, because of the trade in animals, it is always possible for disease to spread. I would like the Minister to confirm that we should pay attention to those regions in which the fallen stock disposal scheme is not working properly.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this most important debate, which is quite fitting, because, as I am sure Members will know, the all-party group on beef and lamb has a meeting today in the Houses of Parliament. I encourage colleagues to go along to it.
It is clear that concern about the current scheme is widespread. We have had contributions from Wales and from across England. I was intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about not wanting to scrap the scheme. I hope that he agrees that at the very least it should be completely reviewed. I hope that the Minister will announce today that that will happen, not only as a result of comments made in this place, but because of representations that my constituents have made to his office over a long period and those made by others, including the NFU.
We have heard today that many farmers have had to wait long periods before their stock has been collected. I was going to mention that several farmers in my constituency in Shropshire had to wait about two weeks, so I was horrified to hear that in some areas the wait can be five weeks. I even overheard someone say that it can be up to eight weeks. The issue of biosecurity needs to be addressed when in the best case people wait a week and in the worst they wait up to eight weeks.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 450WH
Sometimes there is nobody to collect the fallen stock. That particularly relates to intensive livestock farming of poultry and pigs. Farmers in my constituency have to travel out of the constituency and make a round trip of about 40 miles to take their stock to a slaughterhouse. Whether we are talking about somebody coming to collect the stock or about farmers going to another area many miles away and delivering it, there is an ongoing issue of biosecurity. Time is money when it comes to farming, and additional travel costs are involved. The environmental aspect of additional travel for farmers must be considered.
I hope that the Government will consider comments that I have received over the past few days from farmers in my constituency. They do not necessarily represent the view of the Conservative Front-Bench team, but they are views that have been expressed to me. I give that caveat. They are not necessarily my personal views. I hope that the Minister will ponder them and give a response.
The comments relate to the issue of extending derogation or exemptions for other parts of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friends and other Members have touched on that today. Is the situation not discrimination against Shropshire when there is derogation in the highlands and islands of Scotland? For example, a farmer in my constituency farms sheep above 700 ft, which is well above the water table. There may be an argument for the Government at least to consider examining the issue and assessing whether exemptions could be applied above a certain level.
If we could get that far, perhaps we could progress to a wider debate about further exemptions in different counties throughout England. Let us have a debate about what criteria may feed into any exemptions and about what grounds there may be for further derogation in different parts of the United Kingdom.
Farmers are being encouraged, where possible, to have their own incinerators. A local farmer rang me yesterday and told me that he had just purchased his own incinerator, but that it cost £7,000. That was the smallest incinerator he could purchase. I wonder whether the Government would consider tax breaks or grants for farmers who are prepared to take on that responsibility. Should they not be encouraged to increase biosecurity, which, by definition, they do if they incinerate stock on their own land? Should they not be encouraged to help the environment by incinerating stock on their own land? If we agree that they should, the Government should provide an incentivea carrot.
If farmers were so encouraged by the Government, they could move towards co-operatives, which in Europeit has been mentioned many times todayis the preferred model of farming in many countries. It is also a model that the Government are trying to encourage, so I hope that the Minister will encourage my constituents who are involved in rural industries to form co-operatives to use incinerators at joint cost. I hope that, with a grant, tax breaks, exemptions or rebates, farmers who are unable to purchase the smallest incinerator at £7,000 could be encouraged to come together. That may not be suitable for farms that are many miles apart, but for neighbouring farms there may be an argument for encouraging such co-operatives.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 451WH
The other issue that has been brought to my attention is that of how incineration is carried out. Many farmers are concerned about fuel costs and the temperatures that DEFRA requires stock to be incinerated at. I hope that there will be a review of those temperatures. If there is a review, I hope that it will be linked to the cost of incineration because, as the Minister knows, the required temperatures are high, which requires more fuel. Double the temperature requires double the cost. Our hard-pressed rural communities and farmers need more, not less, help with additional costs.
I hope that, as a result of this important debate, the Minister will give a commitment to review the fallen stock scheme and an indication that the Government will at least investigate some of the remedial measures that farmers have suggested to me on the telephone and in my mailbag.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I remind hon. Members of my entry in the Register of Members' Interests showing that I am a partner in a livestock farming business and a member of the National Fallen Stock Company.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing the debate. The subject is particularly important and, in rural areas, was one of the key issues during the general election campaign. The problems with dead stock collection in north Wales were particularly difficult during at least one period. Although the effectiveness and efficiency of the National Fallen Stock Company have improved, a number of issues should be considered and hon. Members have done that.
David T.C. Davies : I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman say that and I fully agree with him. Does he agree that it is high time we stopped the practice of allowing regulations from Europe to be foisted on us by an unelectable and unaccountable elite?
The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) said that this was a European practice that had become a European regulation. That is certainly the case. In a number of the countries that were mentioned, it was obviously unacceptable to bury stock on the farm not only because of water levels, hydrology and such issues but because those are heavily populated countries that use intensive livestock practices. It is obviously inappropriate to bury stock on a farm in those circumstances.
Of course, what triggered the issue was the outbreak of BSE. There was concern that the prion that causes spongiform encephalopathies could in some way enter either the human or the animal food chain. Indeed, before the regulation was made on 24 and 25 June 1999,
29 Jun 2005 : Column 452WH
the scientific steering committee produced an opinion on the risks of non-conventional transmissible agents. One of the key sentences to come out of that opinion was:
"The many scientific unknowns and uncertainties relating to TSEs and their inactivation by processing, justifies to consider that actually, suspected or potentially TSE-infected animals, materials and/or products derived therefrom carry a definite risk".
Therefore, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who has left the debate, said, the regulation was based on the principle of precaution and not on definite scientific knowledge. As time goes on, our knowledge of the infective agent increases. Our knowledge of how it may get into water courses and how it may go on into the animal or human food chain also increases. It seems that it is time for the Minister to stand up for British farming and farmers for once and say, "We must consider the regulation again to see whether it carries any substance at all." We are in the middle of the national fallen stock scheme, which may or may not work. The question is: should farmers be burdened with the scheme at all?
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Notwithstanding what my hon. Friend said about derogation and the need for exemptions, he mentioned the implications for farm incomes. Does he agree that, while the National Fallen Stock Company's 50 per cent. discount is welcome as far as it goes, there is growing concern about what will happen to the £20 million budget once that runs out? Concerns have been articulated by the NFU and others that the full financial burden of the collection scheme will fall on the industry, in which incomes have reached critically low levels.
Mr. Williams : I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Farming incomes, particularly in livestock and particularly in Wales and other remote regions, are very low. It is sometimes said that farmers do not even make the equivalent of the minimum wage that the Government have set.
Mark Pritchard : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that of greater concern is the existence of a subsidy that is not being passed on to farmers but is benefiting the National Fallen Stock Company and its service providers? That is now of greater concern than the matter raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams).
Mr. Williams : Both my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) and the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) make good points. Some time ago, I did some research by tabling questions to DEFRA about what collection companies were charging before the scheme came into practice and what they are charging now. The cost to farmers does not seem hugely different, so we may ask where the money from DEFRA is going.
The Minister has a duty to use his influence to reconsider the regulation on the basis of whether it is necessary, because that is the great feeling developing in
29 Jun 2005 : Column 453WH
the countryside. Perhaps we could have a licensing system to ensure that the site picked by the farmer was appropriate and was not near any watercourses.
Several points have been made about derogations. According to the information that I received, the derogation did not extend to the Isle of Wight, but I am pleased to hear the hon. Member for Isle of Wight say that it now does.
The question of remoteness is one thing to consider, but another is the nature of the agricultural enterprises. Nobody would say that in intensive pig areas and intensive chicken areas on-farm burials should take place where there is little land available, but in areas where extensive agriculture takes place, is it such a problem? Is there a problem at all? The Minister should reconsider the criteria for derogation, and he should add in other factors that have not been taken into account.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this important debate. In so describing the debate, it is noteworthy that the only person who has appeared in the Chamber on behalf of the Labour Back Benches is the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). He is knowledgeable about these matters, and it is pleasing to see him here. It shows, however, that the debate may not be a priority in other parts of the House.
We are led to believe that the animal by-products regulation came about not because of a scientific threat, but because of a lack of scientific information about how persistent the prions that cause BSE and scrapie are in the soil. The hon. Gentleman drew the Minister's attention to the fact that the collection system is not working well everywhere. He quite fairly put it that way. I would put it slightly differently. We are a long way down the road now, and the fact that there are remote areas within Wales could have been foreseen.
Whatever definition we use, whether it be the DEFRA definition or the EU definition, common sense determines that there are remote areas in Wales. Much of Wales is designated "less favoured" because it is remote, because the country has highlands and because of the nature of the industry in those areas. I commend an idea to the Minister. He might like to consider the operation of the scheme in all less-favoured areas, starting with north-west Wales, which I have the honour to represent together with my hon. Friend, where the scheme is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
That is true and quite different from the agreed 48 hours for collection that was promised to the farming community. Anyone could live with that, but it has not happened in large parts of Wales and certainly not, as I have stressed, in north-west Wales.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I should declare that I have an interest in a farming partnership in my constituency. I echo the hon. Gentleman's comments about collection times in remote rural areas. My constituency borders that of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams). During the election, I stood across the valley looking into his beautiful constituency and discussed with farmers during the lambing period the unacceptable amount of time that it was taking to collect fallen stock, as well as to collect stillborn lambs. The biosecurity risks are far greater as a result of the regulation than they were when burial was permitted.
I draw the Minister's attention to a particular problem that happens in another part of my constituency where intensive poultry production takes place. Poultry carcases decay much faster than those of larger mammals. The process begins after 24 hours and after 48 hours the liquefaction begins. At such a point, it becomes possible for carcases to enter the water course if they are in an appropriate place
Mr. Llwyd : That was a lengthy but very useful intervention. One of the key problems across the UK is that there is obviously insufficient collection coverage for farmers. They face huge delays and, as I mentioned in my brief intervention, farmers in my constituency wait five weeks despite the fact that they ring people throughout the valley to try to get a decent loadto put it crudelyfor the collectors to collect.
My hon. Friend rightly said that it is 100 miles from Wrexham to the west of Wales. The situation is totally unacceptable. One has to consider whether the proper and responsible issue of biosecurity is best served by taking carcases across the whole of north Wales to dispose of them. There have been recent isolated reports of lorries that have not been sufficiently cleaned, or perhaps improperly sealed, allowing the escape of fluids. That is contrary to regulations and, as such, I would imagine it is a matter for prosecution by the proper authorities.
Alternative methods have been referred to, such as farm incineration and so on. Of course these are all to the good but there are cost implications. Tax breaks are an excellent idea, and there is also the matter of biodigesters. The Welsh Assembly Government have investigated biodigesters, and have been trying to make inroads into the idea. Both farming unions have been helping the cause of Welsh farming in that regard and within the past few days the Welsh Assembly reported that the European Commission has found that biodigesters are unacceptable as a disposal method because it is not satisfied that the prions are degraded by the method.
In the light of that concern, the Assembly returned to the Commission, advising that the prions could be emptied out periodically by vacuum tanker and then
29 Jun 2005 : Column 455WH
incinerated or rendered. The Assembly is now awaiting a formal response from the Commission. I do not speak as a EuroscepticI have never been one and I never will bebut I understand that the whole of Italy has been exempted. I may be wrong, and if I am no doubt the Minister will correct me. I am advised that large parts of Italy have exempted themselves from that regulation. Perhaps he will tell us how much of Italy has been exempted.
Despite the fact that there is a subsidy, there is concern about what will happen in the next 24 months. The collection companies are saying that their costs are increasing and the subsidy will be gone in 24 months. That is a worrying fact for farmers in Wales and throughout the UK. The question of peaks and troughs has been mentioned, but attention will have to be paid to the peak periods when exceptional pressure will fall on the collectors by virtue of the very nature of agriculture. I hope that there will be further research to identify where peak collection is necessary and to consider the corollary of those areas where there is weak collection and the disposal infrastructure is not up to the task in hand.
I echo what other hon. Members said: we should call for a derogation. I have heard the arguments from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), who is very knowledgeable about the subject. At the end of the day, there may well be no scientific basis for the ban and that may be revealed. However, knowing the European Commission as I do, that will not happen tomorrow, the day after or perhaps even during the next decade. I stress that I am not a Eurosceptic, but I am something of a realistperhaps I am a Eurorealist.
On the question of permitting burial in remote areas in Wales, I stress that, as has been mentioned, the farming community is intelligent. Well before the regulations that came in 10 or 12 years ago, it learned that we do not put fuel tanks next to streams and understands that we do not put slurry in a stream. Equally, and importantly, it realises that we do not bury animals next to a stream or in proximity to one. That is as plain as can be. I hope that the Minister will accept that, in calling for a derogation, nobody is calling for the wholesale desecration of any part of Wales or the UK as a whole. I am confident, as I always have been, that the farming community will act responsibly. I live in its midst and know how the industry works. I know the regard that the community has for the landscape and for animal and, crucially, human health.
My hon. Friend mentioned the definition of "remote". With great respect to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), I find it difficult to think of Shropshire as remote. It is probably remote from somewhere, but I am not sure where. Being more serious, my understanding is that there is a UK DEFRA definition of "remote" and an EU European definition. What are the definitions and which is applied to the question of whether there can be a derogation? My hon. Friend says that there are lots of sheep and cattle in north-west Wales, but they are relatively sparse in many parts.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 456WH
Will the Minister consider enabling a derogation application to proceed? He knows that the Minister in the National Assembly, Carwyn Jones, is in favour of that and is making efforts to secure it for parts of Wales. I ask him to consider the issue carefully. If there is some confusion between one definition and t'other, perhaps that needs to be addressed.
I return to my initial point: I hope that other factors will be taken into account. There is the classical ideaif not the definitionof remoteness and also of sparsity and the nature of farming in the uplands. I return to the idea of there being lots of areasmy area includedthat are less favoured traditionally for the purposes of agriculture.
This has been a useful debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on raising the subject. I appreciate that this is one of those rare occasions on which there isvirtuallyunanimity throughout the Chamber. That occasionally arises when there is a true crisis and, believe you me, Mr. Gale, this is a crisis.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): I appreciate that the time available to me is brief. I want to target the question of remoteness, which has been mentioned. Geographical remoteness should be considered in terms of the capacity of the renderers to serve the areas that they are supposed to serve. I represent a famous agricultural constituency in north Wales. It cannot be said in geographical terms to be remote, because it has a four-lane highway passing straight through it, but I was told only this morning by a farming constituent of mine that he had had to wait some two months for one carcase to be removed earlier this spring.
The capacity of the renderer to cope with the volume of carcases that need to be removed is insufficient. In assessing the definition of remoteness, perhaps the Minister will consider whether it should not simply be a geographical consideration, but also a consideration of the capacity of the local renderer to deal with the agricultural community that he serves.
I could make many more points, but time is against me. The most important point is that significant biosecurity and public health issues need to be addressed. When we hear, as we did earlier this year, that several thousand carcases are waiting to be incinerated at the local renderers, we know that there is a significant public health problem and the Minister should address it urgently.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): This has been a useful and interesting debate. There is considerable unanimity on the matter across the House, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on bringing it before us.
Fallen stock has been a cause of concern for a little while in Cornwall. Four weeks is fairly normal and eight weeks is not unusual for farmers to wait for animals to be collected. There are real problems of implementation and, as has been said, small family farms seem to be suffering particularly, because they often have rather small numbers of animals to be collected.
The Minister will undoubtedly say that the scheme has not been going for longI accept that, although it was introduced somewhat later than all of us expected,
29 Jun 2005 : Column 457WH
and later than the Government announcedbut it has been long enough to recognise some of the issues, which are now being exposed and must be addressed. I am not certain how much longer we want to allow for bedding in before we accept that the issues must be addressed.
To deal briefly with issues such as on-farm burials, water tables and biosecurity, it was right following the disasters of BSE and foot and mouth to follow a precautionary principle, as I think all hon. Members present would agree. We needed to take care and ensure that the general public had confidence in the agricultural industry. However, that does not mean that when new evidence comes along, reassessments and new risk-assessments cannot be made against research done since that precautionary principle was adopted. There is a case for saying that we understand some of these things somewhat better, so a reassessment should be made.
I also agree that farmers are careful with burying their stock, as they were for many years before the new regulations were introduced. Even where there are derogations, farmers always take great care in deciding where to bury any of their fallen stock.
Demand is clearly variable, which is part of the problem with collections. When demand is low and we need to collect a larger number of animals to make the operation sensible economically, timing goes out and farmers wait longer; when there is higher demand, time scales tend to diminish. Sparsity is just as much a part of that problem as remoteness. Remoteness from abattoirs affects the ability to keep costs sensible, but the sparsity of farms and animals is also a problem. Farmers generally co-operate if they can. If they know that they have fallen stock, they try to club together with neighbours to get animals collected as quickly as possible. That is in their best interests. I know farmers who have been on the telephone day after day, trying to get a collection sorted out.
I am not certain whether we can increase derogations. There is a possibility, but perhaps clearer criteria are needed on that. However, I have no doubt that there are farmers who feel very guilty about having to break the law, in the sense that they believeprobably quite rightlythat, in terms of biosecurity, burying an animal is far better than leaving it to be collected five, six, seven or eight weeks later.
I am not certain whether the regulations were imposed on us with some sort of gold-plating, or whether they were forced on us because of some potential competitive advantage. I think that sometimes such measures are a result of an obsession with uniformity. The whole idea of subsidiarity seems not to have been taken on board at all. Sometimes, we get the feeling from the European Union that we must get uniformity, even though quite clearly there are different circumstances in different parts of Europe. Of course, even if the regulations were foisted on us, our Ministers were part of the decision-making process. I am sure that our Minister was there when the decision was made, agreeing that the regulations would be introduced in this country. Therefore, it is very much the Government who are in the dock.
I was taken with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard); he made some useful points about examining the scheme and about helping farmers with the purchase of incinerators.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 458WH
We should look into the co-operative side of the issue. Perhaps the Government can help the matter along in some way, through grants or some sort of tax break. Perhaps they could encourage the process, so as to provide support in those areas where things are difficult because of the relatively small numbers involved and because the farmers are too far from abattoirs and collection points.
As for whether the legislation is a regulation too far, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) suggested, I am not sure. We do need proper assessment, but there is a need to look again at how the regulation works in this country, and at whether our farmers should be burdened with it at all. Also, there are concerns, certainly in Cornwall, about the continuation of the 50 per cent. discount scheme and what will happen in a little while, when charging might well rocket.
To sum up, does the Minister agree with the great majority of us here that DEFRA should undertake a review, even at this stage? We do not need to wait any longer for bedding in. DEFRA should review the scheme and ask how it has worked so far. It could consider new scientific evidence and determine the real need. Could we consider at least a partial return to on-farm burials? If so, could they be authorised in some way, perhaps by extending derogations under certain clear criteria of remoteness, sparsity and so on? However, if DEFRA says that collection has to continue, there must be a much better organised, better funded collection scheme, and more of the innovative thinking discussed today.
What is the network of available abattoirs like? I suspect that it will not be drastically increased or improved in coming years. What about seasonal demands? How will we address seasonality? How are the costs working out, and how will they be allocated in future? It would be sensible to review all those matters, and to look at where the Government's role might be in providing a little additional support for some of the new initiatives.
We are looking to the Government to recognise that there are real problems in many areas with the scheme, which has been implemented for quite some while. Those problems should be addressed. They need to be considered in a full review, and then action should be taken. Farmers need to know where they are. Are we to continue with the scheme and, if so, will the problems be sorted out? Or will the Government consider some changes to the scheme, such as increasing derogations, so that farmers have a clear idea of the situation? At present, many farmers are extremely worried about how they will deal with fallen stock in future.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I heartily congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing the debate, which concerns what is a huge problem across the country. As hon. Members have said, the problem is patchy, but I know that it is especially appalling in Wales and, despite what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, particularly bad in Shropshire.
Regretfully, I have to say that I hold the record on this issue in that, last week, I met Mr. Ifor Lloyd from Nantmawr, who had to wait seven and a half weeks for
29 Jun 2005 : Column 459WH
10 ewes and a bag of lambs to be collected. However, they were not collected and, in the end, his son had to put them on a tipper trailer and take the rotting carcasses about 20 miles to Cluttons in Wrexham. It gives me no pleasure to say that we win the stakes for the longest collection time.
As has been pointed out, this is a family farm, which has grandchildren and visitors on it. It is not an isolated case. As Members representing Welsh constituencies and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) have said, the problem occurs throughout the country, and the blame must with lie with several directives.
I must declare an interest. I used to be in the leather trade, and for 25 years I was a tanner. I was in the business of disposing of the by-product of the meat and livestock industry. That used to be called the fifth quarter: the hides, the bones, the meat and the offal were disposed of commercially in an environmentally friendly manner. Now, thanks to a succession of directives, there is a huge mess, which is symptomatic of our new system of government. The animal by-products regulation 2001, waste incineration directive 2000, the framework directive on waste, the 1999 landfill of waste directive from the Council of the European Union, the groundwater directive and the manual handling of loads directive are contradictory.
I put it to the House that it is no longer possible to farm legally. It is ridiculous that we are putting some of the most law-abiding, hard-working people in the country in such a position because we do not make law in a transparent manner in this place, where all interests can express their views and the law can be scrutinised thoroughly. If we get it wrong, the law can be amended; if we get it really wrong, as we have in this example, it can be repealed.
I commend to the Minister my private Member's Bill, the European Communities Act 1972 (Disapplication) Bill, which is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). It would allow us to override European legislation if we thought it to concern a matter of interest here. As has been said, it is ridiculous to say that one size fits all in many areas. That is especially not the case in relation to water tables. It is perfectly sensible not to bury stock in low countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium, or in the Rhineland, but in north Wales, where the collection point cited by the hon. Member for Caernarfon is 5 miles from my house and 100 miles from his, it is ridiculous to impose such a regulation.
Despite heroic attempts and large sums of Government money being spent to prove a connection, will the Minister explain what evidence says that there is any danger from burying sheep? There has been a real push to blame the sheep industry in this matter, but I have yet to see any scientific evidence. Does he have any? If he does, why does he not show interest in digesters, to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred? I received a good letter from Mr. Huw Thomas of NFU Cymru, which suggests that bio-digesters, which are sealed, could contain all the bacteria and that, if there was any dangerous material, it could be sucked up by what, colloquially, are called sludge gulpers and taken away for incineration.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 460WH
Let us consider those who are handling this material. As we have heard, a company called Cluttons is involved. It is situated 5 miles from Shropshire, 6 from Cheshire and 100 from the hon. Member for Caernarfon. It used to take in 80,000 sheep in a season. Last week, I met Sam Clutton, the director of the company, who made the point that knackering is a salvage operation. He belongs to the Licensed Animal Slaughterers and Salvage Association, whose members sell skins and hides, as well as the meat for dog meat and the bones and offal for meal. Tallow is burnt.
Mr. Clutton said that every bit of the dead animal had a value, but now it is all cost and we know that we are not protecting the environment as well as we were before. In brutal terms, if the Government and the Commission have had any discussions on these matters, and if the Commission had any sort of clue about what goes on in places such as north Wales, Shropshire and Cornwall, they would have looked at the numbers. They did not work out the logistics of a problem involving 80,000 sheep, about 2,000 cattle and sending small vehicles across from Wrexham all the way to Caernarfon. They did not take into account the problem of bulking-up or that of getting staff. Such material is pretty unattractive to handle.
My next question to the Minister is about what work is being done to look at Dolavs. "Dolav" is an Israeli word to describe large plastic fruit boxes that can be sealed. There is a chance that we could restore the practice of bulking up. We need to get Cluttons to re-establish its base in Bangor, and Dolavs might be a solution. I am trying to be constructive. Those bins can be handled by people and they are not off-putting. If material begins to break down within them, the smell can be contained. Above all, they can be stacked and piled. Will the Minister answer that question? Work needs to be done urgently. If we are not to go down the digester route, we would like to know why. Will the Government consider Dolavs?
There are other worries: not only is a very small number of people now involved in this exercise, but it is ludicrous that we have only one operation for the whole of north Wales, and right on the periphery. That operation is struggling to get staff and wondering whether it is worth investing for the future. What are the Minister's predictions for this scheme? Some 50,000 members were being sought from across the UK, but I understand that there are only about 30,000 and that a taper is planned on the investmentor subsidy, if we want to call it thatfrom the Government. What measures are being taken to ensure that the scheme is viable and that companies such as Cluttons invest in new trucks and new bulking-up areas?
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) touched on the question of hunts. In March 2005, 143 of the 360 recognised fallen stock disposal outlets were hunt kennels. According to Produce Studies Ltd., which contributed to the Burns inquiry, hunt kennels subsidised the collection service to the tune of £3,370,000 in 2000 and they took in 500,000 carcases in 2003. One of the directives that I mentioned introduced a change to the temperature at which incinerators burn off. I am afraid that most hunts are now going to drop out, because the £15,000 for an afterburner that takes the exhaust gases up to 850° C for
29 Jun 2005 : Column 461WH
two seconds, as required, represents a huge cost. For example, Wynnstay hunt kennels, which collects from within my constituency, used to take in 2,000 calves a season and several hundred cattle, but it has run its operation right down to the minimum.
Again, what the kennels did was environmentally sustainable, but where I live we are seeing a huge increase in the number of ravens and buzzards, because, as we know perfectly well, the stock is being left out there. Farmers may well be signed up to the scheme, but I think the majority of the material is being left out.
It is possible that I contributed to the re-election of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams). I went to Brecon and met the members of the Farmers Union of Wales and some of his other NFU friends. They made the very good case that, in certain areas, one simply cannot get at animals when they die. Mr. Morris mentioned a case of a beast that injured itself and died near a railway. People could not get any machinery near it and the public authority said, "You can break the law and bury that beast there."
Mr. Morris also made the telling comment that his brother works at the council and is not allowed to lift anything weighing more than 25 kg. A Bobcat has to be brought in to lift a paving slab, for example, but he is expected to lift carcasses weighing well over 25 kga big lamb could weigh 40 kg and a big, wet ewe in winter 100 kg. I ask the Minister for his comments on the manual handling directive, which relates to that issue.
Further problems are coming along. A directive is to decree that tallow is waste. At the moment, 265,000 tonnes of tallow are produced a year and 100,000 tonnes are produced as fuel. That will now have to be dumped. Mr. Paul Foxcroft, of Prosper De Mulder, which is a big rendering company, said:
He says that the estimated cost to farming and animal by-products industries will be £30 million a year. Is he right? What measures is the Minister taking to ascertain the impact on the rendering industry? What will be the real cost to farmers?
There is a further nightmare down the road. The derogation on meat products in supermarket packaging that are past their sell-by date is up this year. That will be a further cost on the rendering industry, because rendering meat products that are still in their packagingsandwiches, for examplewill no longer be allowed. The big supermarkets have got away with the derogation until this year, but what will happen at the end of this year and what impact will it have on fallen stock?
I leave the last word to Mr. Peredur Hughes, president of NFU Wales, who said that the current position is "totally, totally unacceptable." He also said, "None of us wanted to see this legislation. We have been burying sheep for years, and we bury pets, dogs, horses and humans."
I leave the Minister with a final thought: 530,000 humans die every year and we bury 126,000 of them. Many of them die of diseases that are considerably nastier than diseases in sheep. Why are those people allowed to be buried when sheep are not?
29 Jun 2005 : Column 462WH
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate. I shall try to respond to as many of his points as possible in the limited time left to me. If I fail to respond to everything, I will write to him and to other hon. Members on their specific points.
I shall deal directly with the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman about the situation in north Wales, but it may be helpful to put the debate into context and say a little about the setting up of the national fallen stock scheme last November.
Despite its teething problems, we now have a voluntary scheme with 30,000 members, and it works effectively throughout most of the UK. At the last count, there had been 100,000 collections, complaints had been received on less than 1 per cent. of those collections and a survey of members had illustrated a 90 per cent. approval rating for the service provided.
Mr. Bradshaw : I was prefacing my detailed remarks in response to the debate with an outline of the background to the fallen stock scheme. I stress that the scheme was set up jointly by the Government and the industry with the help of £20 million of public subsidy over three years. Farming interests have a majority on the board and, for DEFRA, that is an important model for our future animal health and welfare strategy.
Before we were interrupted, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who is no longer here, suggested from a sedentary position that I was not living on the same planet as him. However, the scheme has the full support of the major farming unions and livestock organisations in the UK. When the proposals were implemented, the president of the National Farmers Union, Tim Bennett, stated:
Let me turn to some of the specific difficulties raised by hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Caernarfon. I want to make it absolutely clear that neither I nor the National Fallen Stock Company consider the service provided earlier this year in north Wales as satisfactory. The situation arose from two factors. First, there was an upsurge in demand during the lambing season in sheep-producing areas for fallen stock collection servicesnot a surprise, one might think, but one must remember that in the past most such stock was buried. Therefore, the expected demand this year was unclear.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 463WH
The second factor was that in parts of north Wales there was only one fallen stock collector covering the main sheep-producing areas, again due to the fact that historically there has been limited demand for such a service. That collector did his best to gear up to deal with the extra demand but found that he was overwhelmed during the peak period. We must learn from that experience, and I believe that the National Fallen Stock Company has learned how to avoid the same problems next year.
Mr. Bradshaw : No, I am sorry, but I will not give way. I have been left eight minutes in total to respond to a debate in which many points have been made. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to be more generous in giving way, he should leave me more time.
I am pleased that the farming unions in Wales and the collection industry have met National Fallen Stock Company personnel to discuss potential solutions, and some interesting ideas are already emerging. I am also pleased that the hon. Member for Caernarfon said that he had had a constructive meeting with the chairman of the company, Michael Seals, and I urge other Members who have described problems in their areas to get in contact with the company, if they have not already done so. They may find that there is a solution to their problems too.
On the proposed solutions for north Wales, first, there is considerable interest in introducing bulk collection arrangements. Bulk containers have the potential to improve biosecurity, make collection times less critical and improve logistics for the collector as more sheep can be collected each day. Secondly, the collector in north Wales is considering opening an intermediate collection premises in the area so that he is not dependent on taking all stock collected back to his main operation in Wrexham each day. The talks are ongoing. I do not want to prejudge their outcome, but the willingness of all sides to find a solution augurs well for next year. With demand for such services now evident, we can look forward to more competition being introduced in due course.
I turn to the more general criticisms and suggestions made by hon. Members. The first was on the question of derogations. I tell hon. Members that the issue was considered closely and with great care at the time that the regulations came into force. I am aware of no evidence that the regulations are being implemented in different ways in other parts of Europe. I will look into the case that was made about Italy. I am told by officials that some of the Mediterranean islands might have applied for derogations based on the remote criteria. The criterion was read out by the hon. Gentleman. I say to hon. Members that the only regions in the UK that are likely to qualify for it are the ones that already have done sothe highlands and islands of Scotland.
Mr. Bradshaw : The Isle of Wight has not qualified for a derogation. I put that on the record. The hon. Member
29 Jun 2005 : Column 464WH
for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) may be labouring under a misapprehension. The Isle of Wight is enjoying exactly the same approach as is the north of Waleslight-touch implementation of the regulations. We have made it clear that, because of the problems particular to those areas, we are being understanding about farmers' ability to comply with the regulations.
There are other interesting potential solutions to the Isle of Wight situation, which I will not go into great length, as the hon. Member for New Forest, West is not here. They may be of interest to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), as he mentioned the potential for farmers to set up co-operatives on incineration. That is already happening in Cumbria. It has the potential to attract public funding and help, although probably not for individual farmers who are doing what the hon. Gentleman's constituent did. It sounds to me as though that constituent spent a lot on an incinerator when it might have been better value, and cheaper in the long run, for him to join the fallen stock scheme. There are possibilities in that direction. That is one of the options being pursued to tackle the problem in the Isle of Wight.
I will deal with the other issue raised by hon. Members. I am afraid that it is not realistic to think that there is likely to be a reversal or review of the regulation. Hon. Members will be aware of the origins of the regulation. It came from the definite scientific advice that there was a risk that had to be taken into account, albeit an uncertain risk. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who is no longer in his place, was absolutely right. The likelihood that scientists will reverse that advice and say that we can be more lax about biosecurity and other measures to protect both animal and human health is not high.
If Members are aware of new scientific evidence that will support them in making such a case, they should by all means provide it to me. I am not aware of any. I ask all the time whether any is available, as is my responsibility as a Minister.
Mark Pritchard : I am intrigued by the Minister's comments about biosecurity. Today I heard comments throughout Wales and England arguing for a review of the scheme to protect biosecurity. He is arguing against a review of the scheme to protect biosecurity.
Mr. Bradshaw : The hon. Gentleman is right: if carcases are left lying around for long periods the scheme is not working. He has a valid point. I am making the point that the ban on land burials of animals is not going to be reversed unless new and convincing scientific evidence comes forward. That evidence is not available. I challenge any hon. Member to provide, if they have it, the evidence that is likely to change the scientists' minds.
Mr. Bradshaw : I say to the hon. Gentleman that it was his Government that gave the country BSE because it ignored the scientific evidence. Is he suggesting that, were he in my place, he would ignore the advice of
29 Jun 2005 : Column 465WH
scientists, risk both animal and human health and risk inflicting a disaster on our farming community similar to that inflicted by his Government?
Mr. Bradshaw : No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman is advocating that we do exactly the same thing that his Government did. That was what gave us the problem in the first place. A little humility and rationality from the hon. Gentleman is in order.
I am pleased to say that there are solutions that will help us to address the serious problem in north Wales. If hon. Members still have concerns about how the scheme is being implemented in their areas, I urge them to contact Michael Seals. They can do that easily immediately after this debate.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|