Last Thursday I made a statement to the House about the effects of the severe weather. It confirmed the latest move that we have applied in England in our programme of support for English farmers. We have made up to £250,000 available to reimburse farmers for the cost of removing sheep killed in the snow. The funds will go towards the very specific problem of removing animals that have died on-farm as a direct result of the March snowfall. I have seen some comment and some suggestion that that is not enough. It is enough, according to our best information from the National Farmers

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Union—the representatives of the farmers. We have relied on the information that they have given us in order to meet the immediate needs.

Ms Ritchie: Could the Minister find out whether it would be possible to get permission from the European Union to use any unspent rural development moneys to help regenerate uphill sheep farmers and their farms?

Mr Heath: I think the situation will be different for each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, so I hesitate to give the hon. Lady an answer that might mislead her about the position in Northern Ireland. We are currently negotiating pillar two payments. We are not in a position to know what the future funding arrangements will be there. In negotiating the CAP, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are very aware that the needs of upland farmers must be met because, as we have already indicated, that is an extremely vulnerable sector of the agricultural industry.

Dr McCrea: The Minister has been very generous in taking interventions. Are any other finances available from Europe that can help the regions in the midst of a crisis like the present one?

Mr Heath: We have investigated that, and the honest answer is that there probably are not at present, because we are talking about total sums that are below the threshold level for the crisis payments. We have a further difficulty in the United Kingdom: the rebate arrangements come into play, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to avail ourselves of specific funding streams from the European Union in any case. In this instance I do not believe there is any immediate funding that we could draw on which would alleviate the situation.

To return to the scheme that I announced, the amount that I indicated reflects the very latest information on stock losses identified by the National Farmers Union. We are working closely with the NFU, the National Fallen Stock Company and other industry representatives to finalise the arrangements for funding and ensure that that goes to farmers in the worst affected areas and those who have suffered the greatest losses.

Details of the scheme and how to apply will be made public as soon as possible. Farmers should retain receipts and other documentary evidence, so that the collection of fallen stock can be verified once the scheme is under way. I hope that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland will make her constituents aware of that. It is certainly not my intention to limit payments to those who have registered with or used the National Fallen Stock Company, but I want to find the most efficient mechanism for

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distributing public funds so that they get to the people who need them as quickly as possible.

Funding has been made available in Northern Ireland and Scotland to meet the costs of fallen stock collection services for farmers affected by the severe weather. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire said, the Welsh Government have taken a number of steps to help farmers, including making a donation to farming charities to assist them in supporting farming families.

I am pleased that a robust programme of support has been made available. However, I emphasise that many individual farmers will face a huge bill to replace their lost animals. We have to make that point to people who do not understand this matter. There is not only the cost of recovering and looking after rescued animals, including the extra feed costs, but the loss of a significant part this year’s lamb crop. Because of the loss of hefted ewes, a number of the surviving lambs will also have to be retained. There is therefore a cumulative effect on farmers.

It is right that we have focused on what is happening immediately on the ground in north-west England and the Welsh hills, but we also need to look towards the longer term, as has been said. In May, the Secretary of State will therefore host a summit of farming sector representatives, farming charities and banks. The meeting will highlight the financial impact that the exceptional weather—not just this event, but across the board—is having on some farm businesses. We will see what more can be done to support farmers who are struggling financially.

This is an exceptional circumstance, and I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to discuss it this evening. I make no apologies for the number of interventions that I have taken from hon. Members, because this matter is crucial to the communities that they represent and I wanted them to have replies. Farmers are by no means out of the woods yet. DEFRA officials and Ministers will remain in close contact with farmers’ organisations and those who are helping to deal with the problems on the ground. I thank them all for their tremendous efforts to deal with this huge problem. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and other hon. Members for giving us the opportunity to discuss a matter that we should be discussing. I hope that the things that we have done have lightened the load of those who have been seriously affected by this disastrous situation.

Question put and agreed to.

6.48 pm

House adjourned.