HL Deb 07 March 2001 vol 623 cc204-6

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to compensate those whose livelihoods are under threat from the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease and who fall outside the scope of the current compensation scheme.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the Government pay compensation on all animals slaughtered in order to control and eradicate foot and mouth disease. It is the long-standing policy of successive governments not to offer compensation for consequential losses associated with animal disease outbreaks.

In recognition of the effects on the livestock industry of the current outbreak of FMD, last week the Government announced £156 million in agrimonetary compensation for dairy, beef and sheep farmers and are bringing forward £20 million from the financial year 2002–03 for the pig industry restructuring scheme, giving a total of £43 million for pig farmers. The Government will of course keep the situation under review.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, unless the compensation scheme is widened, the fundamental review of agriculture which was promised by the Prime Minister last week will not be able to take effect? There will be a huge exodus of small family livestock farmers and hauliers and more small abattoirs will go out of business because their incomes have substantially decreased, in some cases to nothing, while their costs have substantially increased.

Does the Minister also accept that the next few months will be critical? While the agrimonetary compensation is welcome, it was due in any event for other reasons. Does the Minister agree that widening the scheme is essential?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly points out that the agrimonetary compensation is not specifically for those who have suffered loss as a consequence of FMD. When one calculates the amount of consequential loss and the sectors into which it is has gone, one can see that it is enormous and almost limitless. We have already seen a wide range of claims for compensation from those involved in, for example, tourism and sports fixtures in addition to those involved in farming, abattoirs and the retail industry, which might not be popular with many Members of your Lordships' House.

The most important steps we can take are to make maximum use of the available non-state-aid mechanisms—and we have done that for the pig sector and through agrimonetary compensation; to get the disease under control; and to return working in the livestock industry to normal operation.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I want to address an area in which the livestock industry of this country is world famous; namely, the export of pedigree animals throughout the world. Although it is helpful that the immediate value of such animals is of concern to livestock farmers, it takes many years to build up the pedigree flocks and herds and it takes many years to replace them. Do the Government have plans to help those involved in pedigree livestock to rebuild if their stocks are decimated by FMD; for example, by offering long-term loans at low interest rates?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I understand the financial and emotional consequences of losing specialist herds which have taken people years and generations to build up. I said in my original Answer that we would keep the situation under review and of course specific cases will be made for specific areas of compensation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, pointed out. However, it would be wrong to hold out hope that there will be across-the-board compensation for every kind of consequential loss arising from these circumstances.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the signs erected by MAFF closing public rights of way and fields in which sheep and cattle are grazing are being pulled down by the public? Will she try to educate them through television and radio programmes?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, from the beginning of the outbreak, Ministers, vets and those in local authorities responsible for the closures of rights of way have urged the public, most of whom have behaved responsibly, to avoid contact with livestock and any possible spreading of the disease. Occasionally, individuals behave irresponsibly. We can provide a great deal of education, but in some cases it will be necessary to prosecute.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following this appalling epidemic, the one positive outcome has been the outstanding way in which the relevant agencies have co-operated? I refer to MAFF, the NFU, veterinary services and people from abroad who have come to lend their support. It has been an appalling situation but people have dealt with it in the best possible way.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I agree that the vast majority or organisations and individuals have behaved in a highly responsible fashion. I add my tribute in particular to the Chief Veterinary Officer and his staff, who have behaved with the utmost professionalism. Last week we cancelled all leave for the state veterinary service, which was not necessary—we did not have to make them come in because at was difficult to stop them coming in.