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22 Jan 2008 : Column 409WH—continued

It was following the magistrates court hearing for that offence, on 13 September 2005, that Mr. Hogg was released on bail with a condition that he must not contact or communicate, directly or indirectly, with the Burrows family. Mr. Burrows Snr. became concerned
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that Mr. Hogg was breaching those bail conditions and seeking him out, as my hon. Friend has so graphically outlined. As my hon. Friend is aware, he contacted the police. On the first occasion, Mr. Burrows Snr. telephoned the police and discussed his concern with an operator. I understand that the tape recording of that call shows that he simply wanted a record of the incident. On the second occasion, which was also on the evening of 13 September, Mr. Burrows contacted the police and asked to be seen at home. As my hon. Friend suggested, in the event, that did not happen.

Mr. Burrows went to Batley police station the next morning—14 September—to express his concern about the events of the previous night. The help desk officer made some checks and concluded—my hon. Friend suggests that he was wrong—that Mr. Hogg had not breached the terms of his bail. Advised of that, Mr. Burrows left the police station and expressed concern at the perceived lack of action. My hon. Friend knows about and has explained subsequent events. Mr. Hogg went to the Burrows family place of business, fatally stabbed David and injured both Darrell Burrows and Clive Hoyland.

In addition to the murder investigation, West Yorkshire police were required, under the Police Reform Act 2002, to refer the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, because the death followed contact with the police—my hon. Friend said that contact was made seven times. It was referred on 16 September 2005. Mr. Hoyland made a complaint to West Yorkshire police on 19 October 2005 about the events that led to his nephew’s death. As my hon. Friend is aware, the IPCC decided that a managed investigation should take place. It might be helpful if I explain what that means. Managed investigations are conducted by the police under the direction and control of the IPCC when an incident, complaint or allegation of misconduct is of such significance, and if it will probably be of such public concern, that it needs to be under IPCC direction and control, but does not need a full independent investigation.

Mike Wood: I am not asking the Minister to comment on specific cases, but does he think it appropriate that the supervising IPCC investigator was not only an ex-police officer, but that he had only recently been a senior officer in the police force that was under investigation?

Mr. McNulty: I think that it can be appropriate, but I accept the thrust of my hon. Friend’s point. Clearly, the family would have seen a potential conflict of interest, and their sensitivities might have been better accounted for. I do not think that such an arrangement is inappropriate, but I understand that it might have been difficult for people given how they might have perceived the situation.

As my hon. Friend said, the investigation was carried out by a detective sergeant from West Yorkshire professional standards under the supervision of a detective chief inspector from the same department. The senior investigator, who managed the investigation, had previously served with West Yorkshire police, as my hon. Friend said. Decisions to assign IPCC investigators are made by a regional director in conjunction with the IPCC commissioner and are based on the seriousness of an incident and the level of expertise and resources that are
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required to investigate a matter fully, but I take my hon. Friend’s point. The incident was considered to be serious enough to be allocated to the most senior and experienced IPCC investigator available. That is part of the balance that must be struck when choosing an individual to conduct an investigation. I think that the person chosen was appropriate, despite his background as a serving West Yorkshire officer.

I understand that no concerns were raised about the senior investigator throughout the lengthy period of the investigation, and that the Burrows family and my hon. Friend have said that they have no reason to dispute his integrity or the quality of his investigation. One of the Burrows family is a former police officer and was aware from the outset of the career history of the senior investigator, for whom he had worked directly some years previously. I understand that he confirmed that he had every confidence in the senior investigator. Indeed, the Burrows family and my hon. Friend have met the senior investigator and the IPCC commissioner to discuss their concerns.

My hon. Friend is aware that the investigation did not find that the conduct of any officer led directly or indirectly to David’s tragic murder. However, it recommended that a number of officers should receive words of advice or disciplinary sanctions in relation to the matter. As I said, the IPCC instructed West Yorkshire police to implement those disciplinary sanctions on 6 December 2006. That brought the process that emerged after the appalling tragedy of David’s murder to an end.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments—he is more concerned to learn lessons than about the individual circumstances of the case or the consequences for the police officers or anyone else who was involved. Like the Canning Town incident, we should ensure that such events are not repeated. That is why I will arrange to forward Hansard and any other materials that my hon. Friend wishes to pass to me not only to the CPS and chief constable of West Yorkshire for their consideration, but to the commissioner of the IPCC to seek its assurances, which I will pass on to my hon. Friend. We need to ensure that if there are lessons to learn from this tragedy—I am sure that there are—they are learnt and fed back in to the police, CPS and IPCC, not only in West Yorkshire but throughout the country. If we cannot learn lessons of substance from such tragedies, we would be in a sorry position, so I shall certainly do that and let my hon. Friend know of any outcome from West Yorkshire CPS, the IPCC or the West Yorkshire chief constable.

Again, in the strangest way, given the nature of the tragedy, I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing the matter to the attention of both me and the House.

12.56 pm

Sitting suspended.

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1 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue. I offer commiserations to the Minister, because I am aware that this is the second time in a fortnight that he has had to come to Westminster Hall to talk about slurry.

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am receiving more letters on this subject than on international climate change.

Mr. Heath: I am not surprised. I, for my part, have not received a great dearth of letters from constituents affected. I am glad that those are getting through to the Minister, and hopefully the points that they raise will be understood and acted upon. Many farmers, and others interested in agriculture, have concerns about the effect of the proposed regulations and the result for many farms.

It would be invidious to read out every letter that I have received on this matter. However, I should mention that I spent a very useful hour or so, on the weekend before last, discussing the matter with one of my constituents, Mr. Phippen, of Court farm in Buckland, and a few of his colleagues from other farms whom he brought with him. I have also received very helpful letters from people such as Mr. Wellstead of Withy farm in Charlton Mackrell, Mr. Churchouse of Manor farm in Castle Cary, and Mr. Howe from Pen Sellwood. They all raised various points about the regulations that need to be addressed.

Those points fall into a number of categories: first, the rationale behind the proposals; secondly, the practical consequences, and thirdly, the cost of complying for working farms. The Minister will be aware that, in my constituency, dairy farming is the primary agricultural sector. We like to think that Somerset has some of the best dairy land in the country. Despite the predations of recent years, I still have a large number of dairy farmers in my constituency, who are very concerned about the consequences of the regulations for their farm businesses. I must also mention the pig sector, even though it is not so prevalent, because I used to breed pigs. As he knows, the pig sector has regular economic ups and downs, which will not be helped by the regulations.

I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the formula, which has been widely circulated among dairy farmers, for working out the consequences for their own farms. I have some figures provided by Mr. Griffin of New Barn farm on Godminster lane in Bruton, who has worked out the consequences for his farm. He milks 150 cows on 100 hectares of prime Somerset grassland; he will require 22 weeks of slurry storage capacity and will have a whole-farm manure-loading limit of 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare. Those 150 dairy cows provide an average yield of 8,000 litres and produce 99 kg of nitrogen per animal per year. He also has 20 heifers less than 12-months-old producing 28 kg per animal per year. The total amount of nitrogen produced by those animals is 12,440 kg per hectare. However, when calculated against a loading limit of 170 kg, his 100 hectares of land available for spreading allows for a total permitted
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manure capacity for the farm of 10,200 kg per hectare, which means that he is 2,240 kg per hectare over his limit.

Mr. Woolas: That is very useful information from Mr. Griffin. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat the figure on the cap?

Mr. Heath: The total capacity is 10,200 kg per hectare, which is why we are left with the excess total of 2,240 kg. I do not want to over-state those particular figures, but they do illustrate the problem. What options are open to Mr. Griffin if he is to comply with the regulations? He could reduce the size of his herd by about 25 cows, but that is an unappetising prospect for any dairy farmer, given the lost milk revenue, which he estimates at £55,000; he could buy more land, but again that would be expensive and possibly impractical, or he could export his manure to another farm, although I cannot imagine that neighbouring farms will be desperate for excess manure given the overall situation. If the proposals are passed, they will pose a real conundrum on the running costs of such businesses.

I would accept quite a lot of control if I felt that it was having a lasting and beneficial effect on the environment. However, it is extremely difficult to believe that the proposals will result in benefits in any way commensurate with the cost to the industry, and some would argue that they will result in little benefit at all. I have always felt that, in years gone by, the principal cause of nitrate leachate in our watercourses was the overuse of commercial nitrate fertiliser. However, it is no longer overused, and, arguably, as a consequence, levels of nitrate in our watercourses have reduced markedly in some areas of the country. I realise that those figures are disputed, and I do not have access to all those available, but certainly in some parts of the country it is clear that there is either stasis or a reduction in nitrate levels. Certainly there is nothing to suggest that this very expensive and overburdensome regulation will have a desirable effect in anyway commensurate with the cost.

It could be argued that the practical consequences of what farmers will be required to do in order to meet the regulations will have a detrimental effect on the environment. Slurry is a natural product that provides the nutrients that the soil needs for growth. If it is not available, substitutes, such as artificial fertiliser, will be used, which I believe to be of more concern for the environment than the spreading of slurry. I find it difficult to understand the justification for the regulations. Will the Minister expand on that? Furthermore, why is it not possible to undesignate nitrate vulnerable zones? That is completely illogical. If the risk has passed, owing to action taken, and there is no longer a problem, processes should be in place for undesignating particular areas.

The closed periods for spreading will present practical difficulties for many working farmers. What determines when it is appropriate to spread slurry? Rainfall is a major factor: one does not want to go out and spread slurry when it is pouring down with rain, as it is in Somerset at the moment—we are under monsoon conditions. Let that be an illustration, because when would have been the best time to spread slurry in the
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fields in Somerset? Back in November and December it was unseasonably dry and we had a real opportunity then, but under the proposals it would have been the closed season. The open season for spreading would have started in mid-January. Ever since the date from which spreading would have been allowed, it has been teeming down with rain. Any farmer that spreads under those conditions would be doing no good to their land, it would all run off into the rivers—exactly where we do not want it—and it would be rank bad husbandry. Any farmer left with a need to spread slurry on land would not be able to do so, sensibly and reasonably, during the current spreading season.

The difficulty is that if there is a long period of wet weather, which there tends to be nowadays at certain times of the year—not the same times as we used to have them, presumably because of climate change—as soon as there is a dry day, every farmer in the area will need to spread the maximum amount of slurry to meet requirements, without having any choice in the matter. Again, that will be bad farming practice, probably over-dressing the fields in that brief period, and there will be a synchronicity that has not been properly assessed in its environmental effects. Every farmer will be spreading slurry on the same day, and apart from creating the most awful smell across Somerset and a large part of the western counties of Britain, which will not do a great deal for our tourist industry, it will presumably have a cumulative effect of run-off into watercourses. Again, there will be an unlooked-for anti-environmental disbenefit rather than a benefit.

Another weather problem is temperature. The proposals make no reference to it, but farmers take note of it in deciding when to spread nitrate—slurry or artificial fertiliser. A difference in temperature results in a difference in take-up by the growing crop or grass. Unnecessarily reducing the days available for spreading to days when the temperature is not optimum will again produce an agronomical and environmental disbenefit. That cannot be the purpose of the proposals.

Mrs. Caroline Gent of Brottens Lodge in Doulting wrote to me about the matter. I do not think that she farms, but she is concerned about the matter. She raised the issue of organics. The proposals show no understanding of organic farming and the particular constraints of organic farmers, yet the Government say that they want to promote that sector. The proposals will have a hugely detrimental effect on it.

Tenant farmers must be considered. Where will the capital come from for slurry storage for tenant farmers, who do not own their farms? Why should their landlords put in the necessary capital investment for something that will be of no benefit whatever to them? If tenant farmers cannot get that capital investment, how will they survive?

I was not going to mention cover crops, as they were dealt with in the debate the other day. They are not a particularly strong problem in my area, but, as the Minister knows, they are elsewhere. There certainly seems to be an inconsistent approach, which brings us back to ground cover and the environmental benefits that we want.

We know that Ireland, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands have sought derogations. I am not clear about the Government’s position on that; perhaps the Minister can explain it.

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Capital grants will not be available for investment in slurry stores, yet they will require huge capital investment. It is paradoxical and unhelpful that that coincides with the abolition of the agricultural buildings allowance. Many farmers in my part of the world look across the Bristol channel and say, “Why is it different in Wales? Why is it different in Scotland? Why do they have different regimes, which will give farmers in those areas a competitive advantage over English farmers in Somerset?” I noticed that in the debate the other day, there was a reference in Hansard to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) talking about “deferential rates”. I think that it was intended to be “differential rates”, but I like the idea that we are deferring to the Welsh and Scots in the provision of grants.

There is the general matter of red tape. The compliance regulations pile yet more bureaucracy on farmers who could do without it. I had a real cri de coeur from my constituent Mr. Walford, of Upton Bridge farm in Long Sutton. I shall send his letter on, as it refers mainly to a different matter—it appears that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is telling him that he cannot shoot pigeons, contrary to any law that I am aware of. He started his letter:

which he then does in the course of the letter. He is right to do so.

I wish to give the Minister ample time to respond. I examined carefully his response to the debate two weeks ago, and it seemed that he was not entirely closing the door to further discussion and progress on some matters. He indicated that he was not entirely committed to the date of 6 April, for instance, which we had assumed was the date intended for implementation. There are so many question marks about the proposals, and so many implications for working farmers in the cost of slurry storage and the changes to working practices, that we need at least a postponement for further consideration and for the Minister to take account of the representations that he will have received from not only the industry but colleagues in the House, who have raised the matter with him many times. I hope that that will give him the opportunity to make changes. My preference would be to take away the proposal and accept that it is not necessary for achieving the Government’s objectives, but if he does think that it is necessary, he can improve the design of the regulations and make them much more friendly to our farmers. They have had a difficult few years—he knows that, and I know that. I do not want to make it even worse and lose yet more of our dairy farmers in Somerset.

1.18 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Miss Begg. The traditional but heartfelt congratulations are due to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on raising this important issue again. He referred to the debate in this Chamber on 8 January, and this debate gives me the opportunity to give further reflections.

I recognise the great importance of the matter to the agricultural sector and thank his constituents Mr. Phippen, Mr. Wellstead, Mr. Churchouse, Mr. Howe, Mr. Griffin
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and Mrs. Gent. I apologise if I have missed out any of them. I often find Adjournment debates that are based on the experience of constituents the most enlightening.

In my defence, I wish to state firmly for the record that the directive in discussion is a 1991 directive. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) was the Minister at the time and signed up to it. I do not wish to hide behind that, just to point it out in the interests of fairness. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, having mentioned his constituents by name, will respond to them with that information—perhaps with a copy of the debate.

My time is limited and I always think it best to answer the questions that have been raised, so may I say that the Government are committed to seeking a derogation from the prescribed limit? We are working on the submission, and I confirm my remarks in the previous debate about the date for implementation. I thank the hon. Gentleman again, but emphasise that the proposals before us are part of a consultation. It has obviously closed, and his debate is timely, as it raises several important issues behind the situation.

The principle of the polluter pays is one to which the hon. Gentleman and I adhere, and we are considering the practical implementation of the policy. Without rehearsing all the arguments to justify the directive, I shall put on record the general policy that agriculture is a significant contributor to the pollutants nitrate, ammonium, ammonia, nitrous oxide, methane, phosphorus and pathogens, some of which are greenhouse gases. For example, agriculture contributes about 60 per cent. of the nitrates, 25 per cent. of the phosphorus and between 25 and 50 per cent. of the pathogens that enter rivers in England, so those pollutants are of widespread concern to those of us—the hon. Gentleman is one—who care about the environment.

Less prominent in the debate is the cost to the water industry, which is also in DEFRA’s remit, and indeed in my ministerial portfolio. The cost for treating water to meet the drinking water requirements on nitrates during the period 2005 to 2010 is estimated to be £288 million in capital expenditure and £6 million in operating expenditure. I make that point to demonstrate to the House that there is a cost equation. My attitude is to focus on how best to implement the directive, and to consider the arguments that are put forward.

The nitrates directive is subject to enforcement by the European Commission, which is the third side of the triangle. In recognition of the need to minimise the environmental impacts to which I referred, we have developed a range of policies that cover the on-farm management of slurries. Some of those policies involve advice and support, others regulatory controls. An example of an important regulatory measure controlling the on-farm use of slurry is the directive itself, which requires that we establish an action programme within areas that we have identified as nitrate-vulnerable zones. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was possible to de-designate, a question on which we have consulted, and his views will be taken into account when the Government respond to the consultation.

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