HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1079-80
2. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD)

When she expects to introduce a national collection scheme to assist livestock farmers in disposing of fallen stock. [174400]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

It is expected that an industry-led scheme backed by Government funding will be introduced in the autumn of this year.

Mr. Rendel

Obviously, the scheme should have been introduced before the regulation was introduced last July. We were promised then that it would be introduced by the new year. Is it not deeply depressing that we still have no definite date for the scheme—merely "the autumn of this year"? Will the Minister guarantee that any farmer who does not have an abattoir within easy reach of his or her farm will not be prosecuted if they do their best to dispose safely of their fallen stock on their own farm premises?

Mr. Bradshaw

Farmers are expected to comply with the regulation, although local authorities, which are responsible for enforcement, have been told to implement it with a light touch before the scheme is up and running. I share the hon. Gentleman's regrets about the length of time that it has taken, but this is quite a complex matter. It involves trying to get agreement across all the livestock and other sectors involved. We have now achieved that. It is an industry-run scheme, it has buy-in from the industry and those who run it are confident that it will be launched this autumn.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con)

Does the Minister recognise that any future ban on hunting with hounds would reduce the options available to farmers? Will he acknowledge that in 2003, 143 hunt kennels processed 500,000 carcases, free to local farmers? There will be further problems if that is not recognised and if there is a ban. Will he also tell the House whether the EU—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Bradshaw

If the hon. Lady checks, she will find that the vast majority of hunt kennels charge for the service—they do not provide a free service. We acknowledge that hunt kennels play a role, but it is small in terms of the amount of stock they collect and dispose of, and it is sensible for them to develop this service as an alternative source of income. Those on the board who administer the scheme, and representatives of the collection and disposal industry, assure me that a hunting ban would have absolutely no effect on their ability to dispose of fallen stock. There is plenty of capacity available within the industry.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

The Minister says glibly that any ban on hunting would have no effect whatever on the fallen stock company that was set up this week. Why, then, did he announce that 146 of the registered collection centres will be hunt kennels, and that about 80 per cent. of the countryside of England will not be serviced by anybody apart from hunt kennels? Will he not pay some tribute to the valuable service that they have given to the countryside over many years? Will he acknowledge that whether or not hunts charge for collection—most of them do not— they collected 600,000 carcases last year, at a cost of £3.5 million? What would he do if hunting were to be banned?

Mr. Bradshaw

The hon. Gentleman was not listening to my answer. I quoted the chairman of the board of the National Fallen Stock Company, who assured me that a ban on hunting would have no impact whatever on the industry's capacity to dispose of fallen stock.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD)

Will the Minister reassure the House that farmers in remoter rural areas will not be disadvantaged by excessive charges for the collection of their fallen stock compared with those in areas closer to collection centres? Given the Government's evidently maňana attitude to a regulation that should have been acted on more than a year ago, do they believe that it is an effective and worthwhile scheme that is making a significant impact on the biosecurity of livestock farms?

Mr. Bradshaw

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we gold-plate all EU regulations, although perhaps that is the new Liberal Democrat approach to these matters. I take on board his concern about livestock farmers in remoter rural areas. I am aware, for example, of the concerns of the sheep industry in the remoter parts of Wales, although the National Sheep Association supports this scheme. One of the advantages of the new scheme is that it is a pay-as-you-go scheme, so it is likely to drive down prices. We already know that at least one collector in Wales has said that he will reduce his prices once the scheme is up and running.