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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will my hon. and learned Friend remind the House that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it plain that he did not think it proper for him to attend on this place?
Mr. Garnier: Irrespective of what that Minister said yesterday, and rather than rely on the efforts of the two junior Ministers, it might have been more appropriate for one of his deputies to be with us, at least to assist in our debates.
Amendment No. 36 stands in the names of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and I leave it to one of them to speak to it. Amendment No. 40, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), deals with compensation.
I shall briefly discuss the new clause, which would require the Secretary of State to put in place an alternative scheme for the collection and disposal of farmers' fallen stock in the absence of the hunts that currently carry out that service. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know, a further agricultural benefit to farmers, in addition to that of pest control, is provided by hunting with dogs.
Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend complains about my use of the word "dogs". He will understand, however, that I use that generic term to make our debates more understandable to Labour Members. I hope that he also understands that I include hounds within it. As the Chairman said in Committee, no doubt he will have an opportunity to dilate on that particular semantic discussion.
The collection from farms of fallen stock--that is, unsaleable dead farm animals--or the humane killing and collection of injured or sick animals, known as casualty stock, is an extremely important service. Those of us who represent farming constituencies--and, indeed, others who do not, but who have some knowledge of the rural economy--will appreciate that, nature being what it is, farm animals die. They die in abattoirs, obviously, because they are moved through abattoirs to get into the human food chain, but, sadly, they also die on farms. Were it not for the activities of many hunts in England and Wales--the jurisdiction that the Bill will cover--and in Scotland and, I dare say, Northern Ireland, the farming economy would be under even more strain.
Mr. Garnier: The point is well made. Indeed, a number of Agriculture Ministers have acknowledged, both in the House and outside, the role played by hunts in the collection of fallen stock. Despite his views on hunting, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has acknowledged candidly the value of that role.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) mentioned the outbreak of foot and mouth, and said that the hunt provided a valuable service in collecting fallen stock. The new clause refers to
Mr. Garnier: It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman intervened in the way he did, at the time when he did. If he had visited a hunt kennels, he would understand that not all casualty stock is eaten by hounds. If an animal was diseased, and if the meat of that dead animal is likely to infect the hounds, no sensible keeper of hounds will feed it to them. The collection of diseased and dead animals from farmland, however, is vital to the proper maintenance of the rural economy. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, he should have found it out by now.
The Cobham report, commissioned in 1997 and entitled "Countryside sports: their economic, social and conservation significance", reported that 179 hunts handled 352,000 carcases in 1995--an average of more than 2,000 carcases per hunt. The report estimated that, when the work of the harrier and beagle packs was taken into account, the total number of carcases handled annually by all packs, including foxhounds, deerhounds and harriers, was more than 400,000.
Other reliable survey information demonstrated the economic value of the work done by hunts in clearing fallen stock; and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) pointed out, Agriculture Ministers have been the first to admit that their work is valuable. When he was an Agriculture Minister, the Minister
Mr. Garnier: My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. In my constituency and, to a lesser extent but a still significant one, in his, livestock farmers are the main source of farming activity. Their average incomes are about £7,000 or £8,000. One cannot run a family on that sort of money. The cost of fallen stock is met by farmers in some cases, but if that additional burden had generally to be paid for by farmers, because the service provided by hunts was removed by the Bill, no doubt unwittingly by its proposers, it would add yet further to the economic burdens suffered by our farming constituents.
It is not a party political point. There are Labour Members who represent farming areas and they surely must have spoken to their farmers and heard about their economic difficulties. To have placed upon them yet one further burden as a consequence of the removal of the collection of fallen stock would, as a matter of common sense, be a terrible blow.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, although it may be illegal, in practice, what will happen is that farmers will simply dig a hole to dispose of those animals? That will be very bad for the environment, but it will be an inevitable consequence of the Bill, even though that practice may be illegal.
Mr. Garnier: I sincerely hope that, if the Bill goes through without new clause 1, farmers will not do that--I am sure that no responsible farmer will do so. There would be an environmental risk, particularly if farmers dug pits near rivers or other water courses. The likelihood is that, should that happen, the water courses would be contaminated, to the danger of the entire rural environment in that area.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is not the value of the service provided by hunts illustrated by the fact that the National Trust is, apparently, still using the service, even though it has banned hunting of deer on its land?
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Can my hon. and learned Friend give some estimate as to the total cost? According to the Cobham report, about 415,000 carcases are involved. I am told that the cost of removing a cow and a horse can be up to £20 each and a pig £10 per 50 kg. If we are talking about 415,000 carcases, the average cost to agriculture could be anything up to £80 million a year. We are talking about very large sums.