HL Deb 30 March 2004 vol 659 cc1165-7

2.45 p.m.

Lord Plumb asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposed national scheme for the collection of fallen stock will be sufficiently funded to ensure its successful introduction.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, yes. We have announced that we will make substantial funding available to assist with the introduction of the scheme. However, the viability of the scheme will also depend on the level of uptake from livestock farmers.

Lord Plumb

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that it is almost a year since the scheme was announced in your Lordships' House? At that time farmers were told that they would no longer be allowed to bury stock on their farms after 1 May. Does she agree that since then the confusion has been confirmed? Since that first announcement, three delays have occurred. In announcing the latest delay, it was stated that it was hoped that the scheme would now start in the autumn. Does the Minister further agree that if Defra misses the next date the scheme will be fundamentally undermined and farmers will not sign up to it, particularly the 50 per cent of them who have so far supported the scheme?

Can the Minister confirm that the issue of state aid will be fully addressed and that a full tendering operation will have taken place with the collection and disposal operators so as to provide, ultimately, the most effective scheme and a reliable service for dealing with the casualties? How will those funds be allocated to approved renderers, hunt kennels and incineration facilities?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the first thing I need to make clear is that this is not solely a matter for Defra. It is normal government policy that an industry should shoulder the costs of its own problems of the removal of waste as a by-product of the industry. On this occasion, the Government are working closely with the industry and are putting in funding, a fact which the noble Lord was gracious enough to recognise. The delay in the starting date is a matter for the board, which has looked at it in detail, as will be the revision of the initial proposals, which it is now considering. This will include matters raised by the noble Lord, such as the allocation of resources. The Government and the industry are determined to make the scheme effective and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, will share that ambition.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, can the Minister indicate what proportion of the funding for the collection of fallen stock will come from the Government and what proportion from the farming community? When the first three years of government funding runs out, what charges are likely to be levied? Will farmers be paying 100 per cent of the cost of collection at that time?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord recognises that the Government will still be here in three years' time. The allocation of resources represents three-year government funding to help to start up the scheme. It will begin as an assessment of approximately one-third of the costs of the first year, diminishing over the three-year period. At the end of the three-year period, the level of charges for individual livestock producers will be a matter for the board, which is addressing the issue urgently at the moment. At the end of the three years, the industry will be expected to bear the costs of disposal.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, what will be the position with fallen equines, which are not classified as agricultural stock?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the scheme relates to those animals and livestock used in the food production chain. It therefore does not specifically relate to horses. I know of the interest of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, in the welfare of horses. It is a matter we are addressing separately in the light of certain other developments.

Earl Peel

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the scheme will work on a national level and that there will be no parts of England which it will not cover? Furthermore, if I may go back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, can the noble Baroness confirm that all animals that are used for food production will be included in the scheme?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, all animals used for food production are included in the scheme. It is a UK-wide scheme; the board is charged with the task of seeking to meet the needs of the industry across the whole of the UK.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has on several occasions asked the enforcement authority, which I think is the DTI, to enforce the ban that has existed on burying fallen stock since last May with, to quote him, "a light touch". I am not quite sure what enforcing the law with a light touch means. Can the Minister tell us what advice farmers are given if they ring up Defra and say they have fallen stock and the only way they can see to dispose of it is to bury it?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, initially, the contact would be made with the local authority organisers of regulatory control. The advice given is that where farmers can reasonably demonstrate that they have very great difficulty in disposing of fallen stock—after all, many outlets already exist for such disposal—they should not pursue aggressively those who have acted in good faith and sought to implement these measures. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will share my view that the sooner we deal with this the better, because ultimately the measures are intended to avoid polluting the environment and spreading diseases.