HC Deb 04 June 1998 vol 313 cc489-91
5. Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

If he will make a statement on the progress of the selective beef cull. [42725]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

The selective cull is progressing very well. We have now slaughtered over 71,000 animals in the United Kingdom. The cull of animals in Northern Ireland is already complete.

Mrs. Mahon

That progress is good news, but does my hon. Friend agree that nothing better illustrates the 18 years of Tory misrule than the BSE scandal, and that, although the Tories have now walked away from it, the rest of the country will pay a heavy price for it in future?

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend is right. The cost to the taxpayer of the selective cull—that is, of the 71,000 animals slaughtered so far—is more than £100 million. We have also slaughtered 2.25 million cattle under the over-30-months scheme, and 1.25 million calves under the calf processing aid scheme, otherwise known as the Herod scheme—all healthy animals—in addition to the 172,000 cattle identified as having BSE. It is a financial disaster.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Given the serious and sad nature of the scheme, does the Minister agree that it has been effectively carried out? Will he pay tribute to the work that is being done under the scheme, and will he also send a message of good will to the world congress of the Sussex Cattle Society, which opens next week at the Ardingly showground? Does he agree that Sussex cattle, like all the other native breeds, have a heroic place in British agriculture?

Mr. Rooker

Yes, I am happy to do that. I am also happy to pay tribute to the work involved in the selective cull. It is extremely difficult and complex, as some Opposition Members will appreciate, simply because we are dealing with animals which, by definition, are several years old and will never enter the food chain—any of those that are not found, that is. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, farm records were not as good as they are now, but we estimate that we are on course for finishing the selective cull this autumn.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Will the Minister tell the House when he expects the National Audit Office report of its investigation into the costs of the cull to be published? Did he hear, on the "Today" programme just before the Whit recess, the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), admit that, without going out to tender, excess sums of public money had been spent on the cull, and that the large rendering companies and some large abattoirs had profited at the expense of farmers and small abattoirs? Can he confirm that that is the case, and can he tell us when the NAO report will be available?

Mr. Rooker

Not only can I not confirm any of that, I cannot even comment on it. None of the papers that the NAO has looked at are available to my right hon. Friend or me; they date from the previous Administration. I do not know when the NAO will publish its report; that is not a matter on which it would consult the Government. However, we all await the report with great interest.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

I welcome the fact that the cull is now complete in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister accept the thanks and appreciation of the farmers of Northern Ireland now that the beef ban has been lifted there? May I add that we also greatly appreciate the £2 million that has been given to help with marketing, to get the beef back into the foreign countries? Thank you very much.

Mr. Rooker

I am happy to say, for once in a while, thank you for a thank you.