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Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. He and I differ on whether it is moral to hunt with hounds, but that is irrelevant as the argument that he puts forward is sound. Will he help the House by telling us his views on the alternative to hunt kennels taking fallen stock? How does he believe we should deal with the matter?

Mr. Baker: I have considerable sympathy with new clause 1, which has been tabled by four Conservative Members, but with the caveat referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury which I have just endorsed. New clause 1 seems to be an adequate way to deal with fallen stock. We must find a way to allow farmers to deal with fallen stock safely, without threatening animal health or the environment, and in a way that they are likely to endorse. That is our objective.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Would the hon. Gentleman care to speculate on what method might be employed? After all, the hunts offer a subsidised service. If the same service is to be provided elsewhere, someone must pay for it. Will he suggest who might pay for it?

Mr. Baker: Other methods are currently used. Although hunt kennels deal with many animals, other animals are dealt with differently. I refer the hon. Gentleman to new clause 1, tabled by his colleagues, which mentions the

I am not particularly bothered about how it is dealt with, provided that the method is safe and that there is no disincentive to farmers to follow the recommended course of action.

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I shall deal with a second point--compensation--because I am keen to give the Minister a chance to reply, at length, I hope, to the points that have been made. I ask him to give us a statement of his principle. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) made the case for not giving compensation when the House legislates. He asked why compensation should be paid when the House passed many measures that impact on various people. That is a perfectly respectable philosophical position to adopt, but it is equally respectable to say that when we take away people's livelihoods, compensation should be paid as of right. However, it is indefensible to say that we will pay compensation in certain circumstances, but not in others. That is what the Minister has suggested.

I ask the Minister not to deal with handguns or bingo, or whatever, but to address the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000. As a Member of Parliament, I am genuinely troubled that a compensation scheme was introduced for an activity that was legal, that involved people's livelihoods and that the House rightly chose to ban because of the impact on the animals involved.

There is a close parallel with the Bill. I genuinely fail to understand why it is right to compensate fur farmers for their loss of livelihood, but not those who are employed in hunting in any way. I do not understand how that position can be adopted. I hope that the Government did not do so because there were few mink farmers so it did not cost much to compensate them, but many people are involved in hunt kennels, so it would cost a lot to compensate them. That would be a Treasury argument, and I hope such arguments are not being deployed to deal with moral problems. I ask the Minister to make a clear statement on the Government's policy on compensation. When and why is compensation paid? How can he justify including no such proposal in the Bill, when the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 included generous provisions.

I, too, am not a lawyer, but I ask the Minister to respond to the points made on legal advice, as that may help to illuminate the debate. What advice has he been given by Home Office lawyers on the likelihood of a successful challenge to the Bill if the Government are not prepared to include compensation?

Mr. Paterson: Time is getting on and many of the points that I would have made have been made already, so I shall be relatively brief, but I should like to repeat some earlier comments. It is absolutely crazy in the eyes of many people who live in the country that we are debating hunting today, when we are looking at probably the worst crisis that the nation has faced since 1967, with foot and mouth disease. I was about 11 when the last crisis happened, and it was absolutely horrific.

Farmers in my area are absolutely worried stiff. People have stopped travelling around. I cancelled meetings at the weekend. Foot and mouth is the one subject that we should be discussing, but instead we are debating hunting. That is absolutely extraordinary, and the public must think that we are simply mad. We are also mad, given the Government's extraordinary hypocrisy.

I was rung on Saturday afternoon by a man who was desperate; he had 17 carcases in the back of his lorry but was banned from moving them under emergency regulations, so I contacted the private office of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I should be grateful to the Minister if he would listen, rather than talking to his Whip, because this is relevant and he might like to talk to his colleague at MAFF.

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I am pleased to say that those in the office were very efficient; they sent a fax to my constituent and gave him a special licence to move those carcases. It is worth quoting paragraph 3 of the licence, because it states:

So the private office--the inner sanctum--of the Minister at the heart of the operation, whom the Government tell us is beavering away on the national crisis, is giving out special licences with the specific instructions that 17 decomposing carcases should, if necessary, be taken to a hunt kennel. That represents the grossest hypocrisy, given that today we are debating the abolition of the free service provided by hunts.

I should like to stress the fact that the service is free to farmers in hunting areas, and it is humane. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who has temporarily left his seat, mentioned that fact. Hunt servants come out immediately as soon as a healthy cow falls down in the yard and breaks her leg. One phone call and the kennel huntsman comes around and puts the animal down humanely. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is in a complete muddle. He is bleating on about diseased animals, but the vast majority of those casualties are healthy animals that suffer from accidents.

Mr. Gordon Prentice rose--

Mr. Paterson: I should be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, and I shall try to improve his knowledge.

Mr. Prentice: The hon. Gentleman mentions that his constituents had 17 decomposing carcases in his vehicle. What were the circumstances that led to his constituent having so many decomposing carcases in his vehicle?

Mr. Paterson: That question is extraordinary. We have a national crisis with foot and mouth, and the movement of all beasts has been stopped, except by those who have a special licence. That is why my constituent rang me.

Mr. Prentice: But decomposing?

Mr. Paterson: Within hours, carcases begin to decompose. That is what the hon. Gentleman does not understand. The vast majority of casualties on farms are healthy, and he has not taken that point on board. They are not diseased, and the hunt comes in if an animal has an accident. It is put down swiftly and humanely. [Interruption.] The animals have not got foot and mouth; they are healthy animals. The hon. Gentleman should listen.

7.30 pm

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): The hon. Gentleman should make himself clear.

Mr. Paterson: I am making myself clear. I am talking about healthy animals that have suffered an accident on a farm and are put down in a humane manner. Someone has to dispose of the bodies. At the moment the animal is killed; it then has to be taken away and disposed of.

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The hunts provide a free service so that there is no health problem for farm animals or any human beings in the area.

This is a massive problem. Because the Government have made such a muddle of the beef export regime that is being reinstated, live calf exports are not allowed. An area such as mine has a large dairy population and large numbers of bull calves have to be put down on the farm.

Mr. Öpik: I think that I understand the confusion of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). For the sake of the record, it might help if the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) could explain that the 17 carcases were not diseased. If he knows the reason, it might help if he explained why the animals died.

Mr. Paterson: The man who collected the carcases is totally separate from the hunt service and he had them on his premises. Because of the emergency regulations, he was not allowed to move them although he would normally have done so.

The key issue is the volume and the disproportionate impact in rural areas. In my patch, the Wynnstay hunt has disposed of 2,500 calves, the North Shropshire hunt of 2,500 and the South Shropshire hunt of 3,000. Those are very large volumes of material.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To set the record straight, is the hon. Gentleman now telling the House that the 17 decomposing carcases were being held in a knacker's yard and that the knackerman wanted to move them to the hunt kennels? Is that what he is saying?

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