§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the response made to a PNQ in another place by my right honourable friend Michael Meacher. The Statement relates to the work of the Rural Task Force and reads as follows:
"It became clear quite soon after the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease began that the disease and the restrictions that were introduced to control its spread would have implications for the rural economy going well beyond the agricultural sector. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister therefore asked me to set up the Rural Task Force with the remit,'To consider the implications of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease for the rural economy, both immediately and in the longer term, and to report to the Prime Minister on appropriate measures'.29 "The task force includes all the government departments involved, the devolved administrations and experienced members from the private and voluntary sectors, including the rural business and tourist sectors, farmers and representatives of rural communities. It first met on 14th March. There have been four further meetings so far and the next meeting will take place on Wednesday. I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication that the members of the task force have put in and for the practical common sense they have shown in discussing the issues.
"The task force's work covers both short-term measures to alleviate the hardship that so many businesses and people are facing and measures to aid the speediest possible return to normality. I remind the House of the measures that have already been announced, starting with measures to assist businesses to weather the immediate problems.
"First, I have announced a number of measures to provide relief from business rates. They include increased government funding (from 75 per cent to 95 per cent) to enable local authorities to offer hardship rate relief to businesses in rural areas, targeted at businesses below £12,000 rateable value, and offering reductions of up to £1,290 over a three-month period.
"A further measure is the deferment by three months of the deadline for business rate appeals in rural areas. Rural businesses will also be helped by the Government's legislation to extend 50 per cent mandatory rate relief to all food shops in small rural settlements. This legislation will also provide a transitional five-year 50 per cent mandatory rate relief for new enterprises on former agricultural land.
"At the same time, recent regulations have extended 50 per cent rate relief to sole village pubs and garages with a rateable value of less than £9,000. We have also arranged that where a rural local authority agrees to defer rates payments, my department will in turn defer the payments which the authority is due to make to the national rate pool.
"Finally on rates, the Valuation Office Agency will consider applications on businesses for a reduction m their rateable value to take account of the impacts of foot and mouth disease.
"Secondly, the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise are taking a sympathetic approach to requests for deferral or extended time to pay tax and national insurance contributions, particularly for rural businesses in agriculture, transport, tourism and related retail businesses.
"Thirdly, the major banks have made it clear that they will look on a case-by-case basis at mechanisms such as extended lines of credit, capital payment holidays and other measures.
"Fourthly, we have extended the types of businesses that can apply for loans up to £250,000 under the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme.
30 "Fifthly, I announced a further £15 million for regional development agencies to help rural businesses in the worst hit areas.
"Sixthly, to help those people who have lost work because of foot and mouth, the Benefits Agency has announced that it will provide quick assessments of applications for jobseeker's allowance from such applicants; and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has announced a skills boost package to ease the impact of foot and mouth disease on jobs.
"Finally, the Government have pledged to match public donations to rural charities to help to address cases of severe hardship and to provide support for organisations which respond to rural stress. The scheme is being administered by the Countryside Agency and will apply to personal donations, including the generous donations of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Westminster.
"Everyone agrees, I believe, that the key to recovering from the serious economic effects of the disease is to get back to normality as soon as possible. That is why the task force has put of lot of effort into ensuring that the message is that most of the country can be safely visited. The work of the task force has led to a number of advertisements under the auspices of both the Government and other key organisations to explain the position to the general public and to encourage people to enjoy the many facilities that are open. The Countryside Agency will also be making grants of £3.8 million available to help local authorities to open their footpaths.
"Further advertising by tourist organisations is being promoted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced additional support of £6 million for the English Tourism Council and the British Tourist Authority to get the message across that Britain is open for business.
"This adds up to a total package for immediate practical help to the rural economy of over £200 million. This is not the end of the story. There is a great deal more to do, especially to consider longer-term measures to help to get the rural economy moving when the disease has been dealt with. I look forward to further meetings of the Rural Task Force to progress this important work".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating a Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place in answer to a Private Notice Question. There is a danger that one begins to regard this crisis as a chronic state. As the Question relates to the Rural Task Force, it is worth noting en passant that some two years ago the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster established a rural affairs committee of the Cabinet, which I believe has met once. That committee 31 was supposed to promote the interests of rural affairs across the whole spectrum of government. That committee appears to be, at least in its performance, as dead as some of the animals that have had to be slaughtered as a result of foot and mouth disease. One hopes that as a mark 2 the Rural Task Force will be a more effective body.
The Minister has repeated the announcements made about a month ago as a result of the initial work of the Rural Task Force. What is happening on the ground? Do we know what applications are being made to Customs and Excise for VAT deferral? Have instructions been given by the Government to Customs and Excise as to how it is to handle applications? What is the assessed benefit of this particular relief to the rural community? The noble Lord gave the total, but it would be interesting to know how it is made up.
The same questions apply to rate relief. Pubs and garages in small communities will benefit. Are applications being made to local authorities? If so, do the Government have any idea of the likely benefit? More specifically, can the Minister state in which years these reliefs will apply? Will they apply in 2000–01, in 2001–02, or in both years? Is it to be a continuing form of relief?
We know that the banks have agreed to treat their arrangements with rural clients sympathetically, and that is very welcome. However, one cannot avoid the slightly cynical reaction that, if a business is heading into real difficulties, the banks will stand back and let some other creditor take the requisite action, if that is needed.
What about the tourist industry in the wider sense in rural areas, which is suffering very greatly? The reliefs so far announced are very specific, and, as an initial touch, rightly so. I have no problem with that. But many small country hotels, even boarding houses and restaurants, have undertaken investment in recent years to meet the growing trend for people to spend weekends away from home. In this regard the tourism that we are talking about is not the international industry which causes us so much pain and pleasure in the streets of London but the people in the Midlands or those who want to escape the pressures of the South East and visit the Lake District. In that regard, people who have undertaken new investment in this particular field in recent years must feel that their work and the jobs of those they employ are now at risk.
This crisis goes far wider than simply the impact on the rural community. The British Hospitality Association reports today that half of London hotels estimate that they have lost 10 per cent of their business in the past month; 14 per cent estimate that they have lost 25 per cent, and forward bookings are down by 30 per cent. That is very serious. Fast food restaurants report that in March business was 16.5 per cent down. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the absolute priority must be to overcome foot and mouth disease and remove its wretched effect from our countryside.
32 As to the environmental effects, perhaps the Government have not paid sufficient attention to the Northumberland report on the 1967–68 outbreak. That report clearly recommended that diffuse disposal of carcasses was the preferred option, by which it meant that there should be burial on farm wherever it was possible. If one could not do that, the burning of carcasses on farm was the second best option. At least that has the benefit of spreading pollution, if there is any, in small doses. But there have been so many mass pyres and burials that can concentrate air pollution or the possibilities of leaching that one wonders what is going on. Who was responsible for finding these sites? Was it the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which took the initial action? Perish the thought, was it the armed services which we are debating for the rest of today; or was it the Environment Agency? As the Environment Agency has responsibility for vetting the environmental effects of these sites, perhaps it should have been given the task of finding them in the first place.
Whatever one says about the priorities, it is absolutely clear that the problem will not go away as long as foot and mouth disease continues. That must be the absolute priority.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We welcome the measures which the Statement repeats.
The Minister states that the key to recovery,is to get back to normality as soon as possible".That is fairly depressing because normality was unsatisfactory. If by "normality" the noble Lord means "disease free", that is correct: we hope to be in a disease-free situation. The issue was debated at Question Time. The state of the rural economy is dire. The task force must recognise that the foot and mouth disease has magnified and speeded up the existing economic and agricultural problems. I hope that the Government will speed up their response.
For example, the Statement refers to legislation with regard to mandatory rate relief. I believe that it has begun its passage through the House of Commons. Could this legislation be speeded up? Could the size of business given rate relief be considered? The Government propose a rateable value of up to £9,000. For many rural businesses, those will be the barely viable ones. Surely the task is to keep viable the healthy businesses—the sole pub or garage—which serve a wide geographic area.
The items listed by the Minister in the Statement as "secondly", "thirdly" and "fifthly" would barely count in my book as measures. The Government should take a firmer line with the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. They should not ask them simply to take a sympathetic approach but to alter their performance indicators and targets in order to do so. Those services may be sympathetic to begin with but as the year wears on—we have no idea how long the crisis will last—they may become considerably less so under pressure to collect their revenues.
33 The same consideration applies to the banks. The Government should publish the criteria which demonstrate to the public the sympathetic line that the banks are taking with regard to extended credit and large loans, or small loans on small businesses. We have rightly encouraged businesses to diversify and expand. Those in the forefront of innovation and effort are the worst hit. They have increased borrowing to expand and diversify but their incomes have fallen. I ask the Government to give a true picture of what is happening with regard to the banks.
It is not enough for the Benefits Agency to say that it will provide quick assessments for applicants for jobseeker's allowance who are now out of work. As the latest Countryside Agency report demonstrates, in rural areas many casual and part-time workers are now out of work. We need to know the figures month by month and the way the Benefits Agency deals with them.
We welcome the Government's pledge to match public donations to rural charities. However, while people are grateful for charity money when in need, they want the opportunity to return to work. The Government should consider all the measures debated at length on the rural White Paper, and those produced by the Performance and Innovation Unit in its report on rural economies. They must be speeded up. The rural areas do not want to wait another three years for some of those measures to take effect.
I realise that the Minister is unlikely to comment on unofficial speculation that the Prime Minister will create a department of rural affairs. The Liberal Democrats have been pushing for that for a long time. I am somewhat surprised that the Conservative Benches mention that the rural committee has met only once. That is depressing; but in all their years in government, the Conservatives never provided any measure for joined-up government in rural areas. That will need to be rectified.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will concede that it is possible to have joined-up government without establishing a specific committee. That is what joined-up government really means.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will agree, as many in his party now do, that we need a department of rural affairs with its own minister, not simply a committee. I hope that we can look forward to the next government providing that department forthwith.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I thank both Front Bench spokespeople for their comments.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about the number of applications for relief to Customs and Excise and the tax authorities, and for rate relief and benefits. The figures are not yet in. There is clearly some movement on those fronts but it will be some time before we can make a fuller assessment. It needs 34 to be made clear to everyone who may potentially benefit that such facilities are available and, as the noble Baroness indicated, that the process is in place to ensure that such applications are dealt with rapidly.
The noble Lord referred to the problems for the tourist industry. Indeed, there have been a number of somewhat depressing assertions on the effect on tourism. I believe that the Government have made a major effort to try to turn round, both internationally and domestically, the impression that Britain is closed for tourism. That has clearly had some effect, even over the Easter weekend. But as more footpaths and attractions become open, and as the message becomes clearer, I believe that some of the shortfall in forward bookings will be made up. Nevertheless, I recognise that the smaller, remoter end of the tourist business has been most dramatically affected by the crisis, together with the agricultural sector and those who directly supply that sector.
On the environmental effects, some knowledge has moved on since the Northumberland report with regard to prioritising the disposal of culled beasts. As has been pointed out, no option is risk free. It is a question of effectively managing the system and minimising the risk to human health and the environment. The hierarchy of the Environment Agency's approach is rendering through incineration in purpose-designed and authorised facilities, licensed landfill, on-site burning, and, lastly, burial.
Clearly, in some circumstances all of those options will not be available. It is for those on the ground to decide which disposal sites are appropriate in particular circumstances, taking account of all the expert advice received and, of course, the legal and environmental requirements.
One of the problems of burial on site is the effect on the water table. That is a particular problem in Devon where the water table is high. That is one of the reasons that there is a delay in the disposal of carcasses there.
The noble Lord asked who was in charge of identifying sites. In relation to landfill sites, the Environment Agency has identified suitable sites. We have largely overcome the problems that there were at the beginning. Landfill disposal of carcasses is carried out according to the best practice document agreed between the Environment Agency, MAFF and the Environmental Services Association. It is pursued by all organisations involved in the logistics of disposal of the carcasses, including the welcome help from the Armed Forces. So there is co-ordination there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the state of the rural economy prior to foot and mouth disease. As I indicated in response to her earlier questions, there clearly were agricultural problems in parts of the rural economy, and particularly those most dependent on some sectors of agriculture. But there are also boom areas in the rural economy, both in terms of the tourist industry and diversification of business within rural areas. We should not be too pessimistic about the ability of the rural economy to come through this crisis. We need to provide businesses, and particularly small businesses, rapidly 35 with some relief. I do not dissent from the conclusion of the noble Baroness that we need to speed up the process of delivering relief. That is being addressed by the Government, including the provision of the legislative backing which will be before your Lordships shortly.
The noble Baroness mentioned specifically the provision of loans, both through the banking system and through the small business loans guarantee scheme. We believe that in the immediate circumstances the loans guarantee scheme extension will provide some welcome relief to smaller businesses. The noble Baroness raised the question of why—the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, also referred to this matter—this provision refers only to businesses with a rateable value below £9,000. We have to prioritise. The prioritisation is to those small businesses which are most vulnerable and where rates constitute a high proportion of their total outgoings. We have therefore prioritised on that matter.
There is no implication that the Government can stave off entirely the effects of foot and mouth disease on rural businesses and communities. We are providing relief, deferral and assistance in a number of different ways. But the Government are not able to provide a system, and should not be in the position of being an insurer of last resort and of providing replacement income to the rural economy.
Finally, in response to the point about the department dealing with rural affairs, at this point I usually get a harsh note from the Box saying that this is a matter for the Prime Minister; and, indeed, it is. But as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, "Nothing is that simple". He covered the tax authorities, the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, the DTI, my own department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. All departments have an interest in this issue, as does the nation as a whole. Whatever the structure of machinery of government, it is everyone's problem. It is not just a rural problem and not just a problem for the department dealing with rural affairs, but one which affects the economy as a whole. The Government are giving the matter priority. The Rural Task Force is addressing this issue with vigour. I hope that is recognised around the House.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, can the Minister comment on the fact that this business would all be over had the recommendations of the Northumberland committee on ring vaccination taken place? The vaccination has increased in power, in effectiveness and has been used in Korea, in the Maghrib, in Macedonia, in Albania and in Taiwan with enormous effect. The Minister says that the Government are not an insurer of last resort. However, if by the Government's own incompetent actions the outbreak has lasted longer than it should have, which according to most of the scientific evidence it undoubtedly has, then surely they are liable for the damage done?
36 Furthermore, why are they trumpeting £200 million worth of relief for the countryside when the damage is estimated at between £12,000 to £20,000 million? That is a factor of 1 per cent relief. I hope that the Government take that matter dearly to heart and listen to what I have said. I may be in a minority of one, even on my own side, on the issue of vaccination. At least I was proposing that to the Ministry of Countryside Affairs when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was Leader of the House.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I always welcome the noble Earl's consistency in these matters, even if he is in a minority of close to one on the issue of vaccination. My recollection is that in previous debates when my noble friend Lady Hayman has dealt with the matter, the burden of advice from the Opposition Benches was definitely against vaccination, as indeed has been the burden of advice throughout from the National Farmers Union and from most scientific and veterinary sources.
Vaccination has always been an option, but as a supplement and not as an alternative to culling. In relation to cattle in certain circumstances it is an option. It is not judged to be the appropriate response in terms of the advocacy of firebreak vaccination and it would be impractical in dealing with sheep. In certain areas vaccination could have taken place as a supplement but it would not have avoided either the spread of the disease or the number of cattle and sheep that have had to be destroyed; nor would it have speeded up the process of eradication of the disease.
§ Baroness Mallalieu
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister because some of what I shall say relates perhaps more to his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Does the noble Lord appreciate that what was despair in the countryside is, through frustration, rapidly turning to serious anger against not just the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Environment Agency but also MAFF? The anger is directed in two ways: first, so far as concerns some of the agricultural aspects to which he has just referred, the way in which carcasses are not being dealt with and are being left on farms for up to three weeks; and, secondly, the mass and unnecessary slaughter of many animals which are not dangerous contacts but simply happen to be at the far end of a farm which may have as little as a one-field boundary with an outbreak of the disease.
There is the slaughter of animals where the authorities have no way of dealing with the carcasses after they have been culled. That is causing an environment in some areas which is, frankly, unfit for people to live in. That is according to advice from the Environment Agency. While people have every sympathy with the difficulties of balancing the competing claims of burial and burning and transporting, particularly diseased carcasses sometimes through uninfected areas, patience has now worn to a point where people are about to break the law and take matters into their own hands. Friends of mine who have lost cattle have produced their own machines and have their own dry fields on their farms. They have 37 offered to bury their animals but have been told that they will be prosecuted if they do so. The animals are still lying there now, 10 days later.
I turn now to matters that are my noble friend's direct province. Relief from payments that a business cannot make is no help. Many small shops, pubs, hotels and guest houses have faced this crisis with no "rainy day" money. They are dismayed that money that has been given to the rural development agencies to help small businesses is being earmarked for more reports, more studies, more focus groups and more plans when what is needed is direct help to essential local services to keep them going. Can my noble friend give us some hope that money that is given to the regional development agencies may also in certain circumstances be used to give direct help to essential local services so that when tourists return to these areas, which I am sure they will within, I hope, a matter of weeks rather than months, there is something for them to find in terms of places to stay, places to eat and drink, and places to buy things? Unless that money, or some money, goes to those businesses now, they will not be there and the regeneration of the rural economy will be made virtually impossible.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, with regard to the first part of what my noble friend said, I recognise that there is a significant degree of frustration in parts of the countryside. However, I hope that her remarks about people taking the law into their own hands—there were murmurs of what I took to be approval for those remarks—do not reflect the view of the House. Everyone wants to achieve as rapid a solution to these problems as possible. That means the slaughtering of the animals as rapidly as possible. That has taken place. In some cases there was then a delay in the disposal of the carcasses. The authorities are now virtually on top of that problem in the vast bulk of the countryside. As was reported yesterday, in Cumbria there is a delay of only one day in the disposal of carcasses. There is a continuing problem in Devon because of the lack of appropriate sites in terms of the water table level. The biggest problem remains in Devon. However, both in terms of the speed with which animals are slaughtered and the speed with which they are disposed of, we have got over the worst of the problem in the bulk of the country.
My noble friend asked about relief. We believe that the best way of providing relief is to avoid the immediate pressures on those businesses. The Rural Task Force is looking at ways in which we can provide more sustained support for rural businesses as we come out of the crisis. That will include consideration of direct help in particular circumstances, both via agencies such as the RDAs and other bodies. But there is no way in which the Government can guarantee that they will restore or even make a significant contribution to the income that is lost across the range of rural industries as a result of the crisis. That is not the Government's role. The Government's role must be to try to sustain in the best way possible a revival of the rural economy once the crisis is over. However, in order for us to reach that point, our main attention has 38 to be on the eradication of the disease itself. Resources, money and administrative effort are primarily directed to that end.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, the Yorkshire Dales are now in the grip of this terrible situation. Healthy animals on farms adjoining infected farms are being destroyed. Those infected farms are not set out on the Internet. Does the Minister agree that the problem of this terrible slaughter is far greater than many people realise? Throughout the country there is a growing revulsion at the killings and it is affecting tourism. What can be done about that?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, there may be revulsion at the killings, but it is our strong advice and view that without the culling process we will not stop the disease affecting yet more areas of the country. It is already clear that the spread of the disease has been rapidly slowed down as a result of the culling process. I appreciate that there have been particular problems and that there has been a negative reaction on the part of some of the public. But not to have engaged in this process would have been the height of irresponsibility.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that many other people will share the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the complacent reiteration of the phrase "return to normality" is deeply depressing? Does the noble Lord really think that it is any good for the rural economy to return to the status quo immediately before the outbreak of the disease? Does he not also recognise that many people will have been deeply puzzled by his statement, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that only some parts of the rural economy are suffering from the ill-effects on agriculture? Does he not recognise that without agriculture there will be no rural economy as tourists will not visit countryside that is desolate because the farms just cannot operate?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I accept only in part what the noble Viscount has said. Clearly, there is a major role for agriculture in sustaining the attractiveness of rural areas in general. However, only a minority—a very small minority—of employment in rural areas is provided by agriculture and only a relatively small proportion of GDP is provided by agriculture. In addition to that, the supply industries and many others have a relationship with the health and prosperity of agriculture and they have indeed suffered. In many parts of the country that was palpable as a problem prior to foot and mouth striking and making the situation much worse. But there were also areas where there was great hope for the rural economy, both in terms of its tourist attractions and in terms of the way in which farming and other traditional industries were diversifying across the rural scene and providing jobs and new prosperity for our rural areas. That has to be recognised. The enhancement of that as well as the revival of agriculture will be an important part of bringing the rural economy back to normality. When I use that phrase I am not saying that normality is 39 likely to be restored within a matter of months; it may take some considerable time. Nevertheless, all sectors, not simply agriculture, will have a part to play in that.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the statements made by the Chief Scientific Officer and by Ministers that we are almost over the hump? That is far from true. The situation in the countryside is absolutely desperate, as was implied earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Sheep are being slaughtered in enormous numbers. There is not a sheep alive within 50 miles of me. They have all been slaughtered. That was the right policy but it was started far too late. If it had not been for the Army, God knows where we would now be. It is high time that the Government stopped tinkering with this matter and really began to understand the kind of money that is required. My local authority reckons that it has already spent £90 million on trying to help. Will the Government provide such sums to local authorities in Cumbria, Devon and the Midlands and to Dumfries and Galloway through the Scottish Executive? I do not think that the Government have any idea of what the situation is like in the countryside at the present time.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I think that the Government are well aware not only of the devastation caused by this disease, but also of the significant expenditure of resources being made by public authorities, as well as the impact on the private sector. Clearly, the Government will need to look at the position of those local authorities which have been most susceptible to the pressures referred to by the noble Lord. I believe that the response of the Government has not been too slow, as the noble Lord has suggested, but that decisive action has been taken at appropriate points and that the spread of the disease has been slowed down very effectively and, it is hoped, will now be stopped. In achieving that, not only have we had the support of the majority of farmers, but also the close involvement of public authorities, expert advisers and, indeed, the important contribution made by the Armed Forces in delivering the programme.
We recognise that we need to keep farmers and rural communities with us and that the effort to explain why these steps have to be taken, and thus involve people in the process, has formed an important part of our policy. For that reason, it is important that we do not exaggerate the degree of frustration with or level of attack on government authorities that has taken place. By and large, a level of understanding has been demonstrated, along with a high degree of co-operation between public authorities and local communities.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, although one would not expect Thatcherite principles of market economy to be applied to agriculture which has always been a special case, is it not remarkable nevertheless that many of the voices so raised around the House 40 now depart so far from those principles to say that this industry should be supported in every way possible in order that everyone's income is maintained?
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, perhaps I may put the question. I do not need to go through the entire list of industries in this country which have suffered great problems of closure and loss of income. I would say that, over the years, this has not generally been the position as regards agriculture, given the £3.5 billion a year coming from the CAP, and the £1.5 billion from import levies, along with many other forms of support that might be called "market externalities". When this crisis is over, a review of the future of agriculture and the countryside should be conducted.
Does my noble friend agree that we should recognise that the Government, in their Statement today and in other Statements, are maintaining a high degree of market intervention? Does he further agree that frustration has been expressed in part over the culling policy, but that that policy is now proving successful—The Times publishes a chart each day showing the reduction in the number of new cases in relation to the epidemiological forecast?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I certainly agree with the last point made by my noble friend. I have made the same point twice in the course of my remarks; namely, that the spread of the disease has now been restricted. Provided that that continues, we can look forward to the time when this disease will have been beaten.
As regards my noble friend's earlier points, it is true that the agricultural sector has received substantial support over the years and that other industries which have been faced with structural change and other pressures—including rural industries such as coal mining—regrettably did not receive the same degree of support. Nevertheless we all recognise that agriculture is a special case. It is important to understand that farmers are being compensated not for their loss of income but for their loss of assets in relation to the beasts that have had to be culled. That distinction must be drawn between agriculture and the rest of industry.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has made the position clear as regards the position of farmers and their incomes. Speaking as a farmer's wife, all we seek is a fair price for the products that we produce. Whichever way that is met, that is all that is necessary.
Will the noble Lord answer the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, regarding who is responsible for selecting the sites for the funeral pyres and the burial of animals? The Minister said that his department was responsible for the landfill sites, but he has not said who is responsible for the other sites. We have seen horrendous sights: bonfires; dismemberments; half-burnt animals swinging in the air on the end of cranes; and animals being disinterred 41 from burial sites. These events have taken place because of the incorrect selection of sites. How many more times will this happen?
My Lords, I indicated earlier in my remarks that certain sites may have been wrongly identified. Furthermore, the Environment Agency and other bodies have to ensure that the environmental impact resulting from the use of such sites at the levels originally proposed does not have undesirable effects on water quality or air quality either immediately or in the medium term. For that reason, some restrictions have been imposed on the use of such sites. We are confident that we have now identified sites which are appropriate, both for landfill and for mass burning. We shall use those sites, not necessarily as intensively as might originally have been thought, but in a manner that will not generate public health problems or have long-term effects on drinking water standards.