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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend makes a most telling point when he emphasises the fact that such talk can cost lives and livelihoods. The unguarded accusations and allegations made within the political system and the media, but in many other places as well, are totally uncalled for. If only those who sought to comment or suggest that they had expert comment to make had confined themselves to the conclusions reached by the experts on SEAC, I do not believe the scare would have been so damaging.
The wider question raised by my noble friend is how generally we seek to deal with such food scares, given that there probably will be other similar--not, it is to be hoped, of similar proportions--situations which cast doubt over something which we all otherwise trust. The Government will certainly be looking at that and would welcome advice and suggestions from other parties.
I can confirm to my noble friends that the cull cow programme or the residual beef programme, which simply seeks to keep out of the human food chain the meat arising from carcasses of animals that are over 30 months old, is the main disposal programme. Therefore, the selective cull about which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke is simply an option which we are looking at and we are not committed to it in any way at all. I welcome my noble friend's reassurance that the six-month rule on top-up should be sufficient. There will possibly be some specific cases in which people will feel unjustly treated by that, but we have taken advice from the Scottish agricultural colleges, ADAS and others in order to ensure that it is principally a fair system.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, from this side of the House I congratulate the Minister on the expertise and courtesy that he has shown in dealing with questions on this very difficult subject. In doing so, perhaps I may revert to a question that has already been asked by my noble friend in regard to the nature of the proceedings which are contemplated.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the initial comments made by the noble Lord. We realise that in the normal course of events the European Court of Justice action could take up to two years. We would seek an interim judgment before that time. However, I suspect that never have so many government lawyers and legal advisers applied their minds to one single subject so much as they are to the European ban that is so unjustified. Therefore, any other avenues which promise a speedier conclusion will indeed be pursued.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I speak for many in this House when I thank my noble friend the Minister for the considered Statement. At long last, there is an injection of science into the situation. My profession has been monitoring the situation very carefully and is very glad of the Statement on BSE and what is proposed, having heard the Minister in the other place.
However, there are one or two issues to raise, without pre-empting the debate tomorrow. We are glad that compensation is to be paid for the culling of more ancient animals. But it seems to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut to slaughter something in the order of 15,000 animals per week when in fact the number of cases of BSE will now be about 200 and in two year's time about 60 per week. We particularly welcome the logical approach to the beef herd, where breeds of various kinds are not the appropriate breeds to have a 30 month cut-off point. I am sure that the quality assurance scheme will be most welcome to many beef breeders, as will the animal passport scheme. We welcome the Statement, and hope that we shall have further information later.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend's considerable expertise in the veterinary field and trust that he will make a contribution to the debate tomorrow so that we can hear more of his wisdom. He welcomed the injection of science. The whole saga started off on the basis of science and was blown off course by some rather idle comment. Rather than welcoming the injection of science, I hope that he welcomes the return to a more scientific foundation.
Let me say to my noble friend and to the British Veterinary Association--that they lament the fact that we have to slaughter 15,000 cattle a week but that they are muddled. With the residual beef programme or the cull cow programme we are taking those cattle which anyway are coming to market to be slaughtered in the normal course of their working life and excluding them from the food chain. So, no animal under the cull cow programme will be slaughtered before that point in time at which it would have been slaughtered in normal farming practices.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Nitrate Directive requires us to identify those areas where agriculture has produced a nitrate problem and to introduce controls on practices undertaken by farmers within them. In this country, unlike some of our European neighbours, we have taken a targeted approach in identifying such areas. The resulting nitrate vulnerable zones occupy only about 5 per cent. of the land in England and Wales.
Manures which are applied in excessive quantities, or at certain times of the year, will contribute to the pollution of our water resources. That, in a nutshell, is why the Nitrate Directive requires the introduction of controls on the spreading of organic manures within nitrate vulnerable zones.
These controls will restrict the amount of manure which farmers may apply to land within the nitrate vulnerable zones and in some cases will set closed periods during which some manures may not be spread at all. In order to comply with these restrictions, livestock farmers, particularly those with slurry-based systems, will normally have to store their farm waste and those with insufficient land of their own may have to find additional land on which to spread their waste. But it is important to keep the scale of the effect in perspective. Of the 8,000 or so farmers in the nitrate vulnerable zones, about a quarter have livestock; and, of those, I estimate that fewer than 700 will be faced with additional storage-related costs of one sort or another. But the actual impact will vary considerably depending upon the nature and circumstances of each business. For example, some farmers may have to expand their existing storage facilities, while others, such as those with slurry-based dairy or pig units on light soils with little or no storage capacity, will have to instal new facilities. On the other hand, a farmer with a beef herd relying on grass silage or hay for feed, and having to spread farmyard manure from its winter housing, is unlikely to be faced with any additional costs as a result of these measures.
Some livestock farmers in the nitrate vulnerable zones will be faced with the need to make capital investments in order to meet their obligations under the Nitrate Directive. In recognition of that need, the scheme will focus assistance on a range of storage facilities for slurry and other manures. Fixed handling and disposal facilities, which form an essential part of farm waste systems, are also to be eligible for grant.
Under previous grant schemes, facilities which separate clean and dirty water, or, in other words, rainwater from fouled water, have not been eligible for grant. However, by diverting rainwater and preventing it mixing with the farmyard effluent, items such as guttering and drainage systems can be highly effective in reducing the amount of storage that would otherwise be needed; and if the amount of slurry stored is reduced,
Those noble Lords who have had the pleasure of falling into a slurry lagoon will be familiar with its potency. We will of course provide grant aid for ancillary safety features such as fencing around slurry lagoons. However, farmers themselves will be responsible for ensuring that their investments abide by the control of pollution regulations and have the prior consent of the Environment Agency in addition to meeting the necessary health and safety legislation. I can assure the House that investments which do not meet those standards will not be eligible for grant.
In respect of the main features of the scheme, our aim has been to ensure that it is as simple as possible to administer for both farmers and the Government and that grants are available to all who need them. For that reason the scheme is similar in many ways to its predecessor, the farm and conservation grant scheme, notably in the rate of grant which remains at 25 per cent. and the expenditure limit of £85,000 per business. While many will no doubt complain that that is not enough, it is the most that can be afforded given the current constraints on public expenditure and will be welcome help to those who need it. I would add that smaller farmers will benefit from the expenditure ceiling, as there will no longer be a separate, lower expenditure limit determined by the amount of labour on the farm.
The scheme will be open to all farmers with at least some agricultural land in a zone providing the investment is necessary to help them comply with the directive's measures. As with the previous grant scheme, there will be no need for farmers to obtain prior approval from the Ministry or from the Welsh Office. In order to help farmers decide what is most appropriate for their circumstances we are also making available free ADAS technical advice on the implications of the proposed measures and on the waste facilities needed to comply with them. I hope that farmers will wish to take advantage of that advice, and of the assistance offered by this scheme, and plan their investments well in advance of the introduction of the measures.
I hope that this House will agree that the scheme represents real assistance to farmers in nitrate vulnerable zones and that it demonstrates the Government's commitment to balancing the needs of an efficient agricultural industry with the need to protect water resources. I beg to move.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the scheme. I must say that with the fisheries, BSE, and now this scheme, we cannot complain about a lack of variety in the agricultural brief. The scheme relates to nitrate vulnerable zones. If the Minister has fallen into a slurry lagoon, he is lucky to be here at all. I understand that it is almost universally fatal to do so.
Clearly, any grant aid in this area is welcome. But the Minister will be aware that, for example, the NFU is not impressed by either the percentage of aid--25 per cent.--or the maximum expenditure limit of £85,000. I had intended to ask the Minister to indicate the rationale behind the 25 per cent. and £85,000. I am sure that it was carefully worked out. However, he gave the answer when he said that it is all that can be afforded within the constraints on public expenditure. It would be helpful to know whether there are any other reasons for the figures other than pressure from the Treasury.
Perhaps the Minister can say also why the grant aid does not extend to farm vehicles which are needed for transport of the slurry. The Minister mentioned that but, as I understand it, grant aid does not apply to farm vehicles.
If I understand correctly, the annual budget of £800,000 for the scheme implies gross expenditure by farmers of £3.2 million at a 25 per cent. grant rate. I believe the Minister said that the department estimates that 700 farmers are likely to benefit. If that is correct, it would seem a substantial expenditure. Perhaps the Minister can explain the position and what the average amount of grant is likely to be. It looks as though it will be in the order of £10,000 per farm, if my mental arithmetic is correct.
We should not forget that the Government removed grants for improving or installing farm-waste facilities from the farm and conservation grant scheme. Obviously the scheme before us today only restores grant aid to the 7,500 farmers in the nitrate vulnerable zones, of whom the Minister says only around 700 are likely to benefit. How many farmers therefore are outside the scope of the scheme? In other words, what is the potential pollution problem that the scheme does not address outside the nitrate vulnerable zones?
On the question of free ADAS advice, I should declare an interest as president of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants. There have been long discussions with the department over the business of free ADAS advice and certainly individual consultants who are able to provide the advice feel unfairly treated when ADAS is offering it free. They feel it is unfair competition. I thought the Minister would like to know that.
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