HC Deb 20 June 1996 vol 279 cc990-2
6. Mr. Llwyd

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest weekly figure for the number of animals slaughtered under the 30-month scheme in England and Wales; and if he will make a statement. [32367]

Mr. Baldry

Just under 20,000 animals were slaughtered in England and Wales under the 30-month scheme in the week ending 16 June.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is he aware that, this time last year, a 600 kg live-weight beef animal would have realised about £786? Even with the 25p per kilogram top-up payment, there is now a loss of more than £90 per animal. With this week's cut in the premium to a measly 15p per kilogram, the loss will be about £158 per animal.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise how important that sort of animal is to a small mixed farm? Will he explain his remarks earlier this week, when he said that it was now clear that the market had developed in such a way that the premium could not be justified? He seemed to be saying that somehow the market had made up for the premium, which is arrant nonsense. Will he please explain?

Mr. Baldry

Let us all be quite clear about the purpose of the top-up: it is for clean beef, steers and heifers, which we would have expected to come into the human food chain. As of 20 March, it was clear that some farmers would not have them ready to enter the food chain. The advice of the Meat and Livestock Commission and others was that there was an incentive for farmers to hold back those cattle to be slaughtered under the 30-month scheme rather than putting them into the human food chain. That is a crazy situation.

We took factual and accurate advice from the Meat and Livestock Commission, and the 15p top-up premium as from 16 June reflects the market price. It also reflects the fact that it is now more advantageous for farmers to sell their cattle into the human food chain than to sell them into the 30-month scheme. That must be right.

It is also fair and proper to ensure that anyone who has cattle under the scheme as of 16 June, who may not have been able to get them into the slaughter programme, will have the benefit of the top-up from whenever those cattle are slaughtered. In fact, we are talking about cattle that were well over 30 months on 20 March.

Sir John Cope

Does not the progress made from the over-30-months cull to the agreement on eradication and now the possibility of agreement on a framework document show that my right hon. Friends were entirely right to use the veto in the Community and thereby to bring beef to the top of the agenda? They have brought us to a position where we are now very close to an agreement that we can all back.

Mr. Baldry

Yes. Having, along with other ministerial colleagues over the past few weeks, spoken to many fellow Agriculture Ministers and other Ministers elsewhere in the European Community, I am convinced that if we had not pursued the policy of non-co-operation, we would not have made such positive progress in seeking to lift the export ban on UK beef.

Mr. Salmond

But have not the Minister and his colleagues achieved an armistice in the beef war by agreeing to a level of eradication and slaughter that the Minister of Agriculture previously said that he would not agree to? Is not the House entitled to understand, therefore, that the past month of posturing has been at best irrelevant and at worst positively damaging? Is it not reasonable to expect to see a white flag of surrender over Downing street this afternoon?

Mr. Baldry

With respect, all that is disingenuous twaddle. No one looks for the lifting of the export ban more keenly than beef producers in Scotland, and I cannot believe that any beef producer in Scotland will look with any respect at the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Sir Jim Spicer

Does my hon. Friend accept that behind the words "an accelerated programme" lies devastation for many of our dairy herds? Does he accept that those of us who come from dairy-producing areas welcome today what my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said—that there will be increased compensation for animals that have to be slaughtered under the scheme? Will my hon. Friend confirm that there will be compensation not just for the loss of the animal, but for lost production from that animal? Can my hon. Friend assure us that there will be compassion and common sense in the way in which the programme is operated?

Mr. Baldry

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend on all those points. This morning, I again met the deputy president of the National Farmers Union—the president is abroad—and the president of the Country Landowners Association to start the process of discussion on the details of compensation between the Government and the farming industry, including from next week the farming industry in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We shall, of course, listen carefully to what the farming industry says about compensation. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has made clear, compensation will be at significantly higher rates than under the over-30-months scheme.

We shall, of course, listen carefully to what the industry says about the various elements of compensation, not least the representations that it makes to us about consequential loss. In those discussions and negotiations, we shall discuss the practicalities of the scheme, such as how pregnant cows will be dealt with. There will be as much understanding as possible about the impact on the livelihood of individual farmers.