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6 Nov 2002 : Column 355—continued

Mr. Simon Thomas: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who has just given some very good examples that are particularly pertinent to upland Wales, which experiences the anomalies and some of the perverse incentives in the present system that work against what many Labour Members have talked about tonight.

On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I want to make it clear at the outset that we find the amendment to be particularly awful in its drafting. Nevertheless, it has given us a useful opportunity to debate this vital issue and the way in which it is affecting farmers, particularly those in Wales and England, but not so much those in Scotland. It gives us an opportunity to raise a very basic principle about how we will cope in the future not only with the spread of foot and mouth, but its introduction into the United Kingdom.

Plaid Cymru strongly supports the principle of movement control. We must know what is happening to the movement of agricultural animals in this country. We must know where the animal is, where it has been and its intervening journey. However, there has been much talk in the debate about movement restrictions, and I should like to draw a distinction.

The term Xrestrictions" suggests a predetermination of the cost-benefit analysis that will be done on the 20-day rule. It suggests that people already accept that farming must be restricted in that way. An alternative should be considered and certainly thoroughly analysed whereby animal movements are controlled using the detailed information that we have on those animals. The case has been made powerfully that, certainly after the foot and mouth outbreak in the north of England, it was not just the movement of animals that created difficulties, but the fact that people did not know where those animals had been, how they had been kept and the way that biosecurity measures had been applied to them.

I accept that things must be very different in future, but we have to go with the grain of farming practice, as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said. There has been a lot of talk this evening and outside the House about movements and restrictions that simply do not go with the grain of farming practice and therefore will not work because people will not want to follow them, or because they will go out of business if they do follow them.

We must remember that the two inquiry reports that have been much mentioned in the debate said that the 20-day rule should apply until the cost-benefit analysis has been carried out. In response to a question that I asked during today's statement, the Secretary of State

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made it clear that that cost-benefit analysis would include alternatives to the 20-day rule. I welcome that, and I hope that that will be clear.

What are the principles in applying any sort of movement control? First, we must prevent disease in the first place. Secondly, we must deal with the spread of disease if it were ever to occur. The main priority for preventing disease is, of course, stopping it coming into the country in the first place. We have heard some messages of doom and gloom and been told that we cannot stop disease or illegal imports, but the fact is that the Government have not been doing enough on illegal meat imports. Only now is there a realisation of the need to take co-ordinated action. That must be the main priority.

Of course if disease comes into the country, we must consider how to stop or at least limit its spread. Plainly, we must therefore consider not only the 20-day rule, but the whole question of biosecurity. That is the key. Good biosecurity being practised on all farms at all times will limit the spread of any disease, whatever it is. Some diseases are more virulent than others. The problem in the west Wales dairy industry at the moment is TB, not blue tongue or foot and mouth.

Any restriction, control or measure that we place on farming has to be proportionate to its ability to meet it practically and financially. The income of each upland farmer in Wales was about #4,200 last year, so they do not have much scope to invest in any system or to bear its costs.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) is very keen to remind everyone of the massive subsidy—#10 a week—that every family pays to each farmer, but that money does not go into farmers' pockets. Their pockets were not stuffed full of those tenners in Llanrwst, and he knows it. The money goes into the wasteful, awful common agricultural policy. Farmers do not want to be part of that any more than we do, but that is the price that we pay for cheap food—the second or third cheapest food in the developed world.

The fact is that the consumer does not really pay the price of their food; they pay in a round about way. Not only do they pay when they go into the supermarket or shop and pay 40p, 37p, or whatever, for a pint of milk; they pay subsidy as well. So we in this country pay for our food twice if not three times over. If we want a better relationship between farmers and consumers and to make this aspect of the Bill work better, the price of biosecurity on food has to be included at the consumer end. It is not just the farmers who bear the weight; the consumer has to face the real cost of food production as well.

Paul Flynn : Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report by the Consumers Association stating that a basket of food was bought in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand and that it was discovered that the price in New Zealand was half the price here? Farmers in New Zealand have not had any subsidy for the past 16 years.

Mr. Thomas : If there is so much waste in the CAP, food prices will decline, but I was making the point—the hon. Gentleman has to accept this—that the consumer

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does not just pay for food when he or she goes into a supermarket; they pay through their taxes for the CAP as well, and reforming the CAP is the key.

Mr. Peter Atkinson : The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) mentions New Zealand, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that in New Zealand the grass grows 12 months a year, so cattle can stay out all year and do not need to be fed inside. Of course that makes New Zealand products much cheaper.

Mr. Thomas : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that aspect of farming, which the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon also mentioned.

If we are to encourage farmers to go more directly to market, which is part of the answer to dealing with foot and mouth, by cutting away all the wasteful journey times, we have to ensure that farmers are able to market more directly by moving livestock. We cannot take livestock movements out of the market. Some of the dealers may be slightly less than above board, but they generally meet the requirements of the market.

The largest abattoir just outside my constituency—it is in that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price)—Oriel Jones in Llanybydder, meets the demands of the supermarkets. The input into that abattoir is more than the local market can bear, so dealers must feed that abattoir. That is part of a wider question, but it is wrong to place on farmers the whole pressure of biosecurity under the 20-day rule. My concern is that farmers may bear all that pressure, but we should consider the wider context of how to ensure that the whole of the farming industry is safe, clean and free from disease.

Mr. Wiggin : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only are farmers expected to bear the costs, but, given the implications of some of the comments made by Labour Members, they are to blame for the entire foot and mouth outbreak? It simply cannot be the case that the disease was imported by the farming community in the first place.

Mr. Thomas : I certainly reject any suggestion that farming was to blame for the disease entering the country in the first place, but legitimate farming practices, approved by the Government and previous Governments for many years, may have exacerbated the disease. There is a lesson to be learned, but nevertheless they were legitimate practices.

I well remember the astonishment when the Government announced that X million journeys were made by animals during two or three weeks and everyone took a breath as they thought that that practice was illegal and that a scandal had been found. Did they not know that that happened all the time and that it was a natural part of farming practice? As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said, farmers in Wales have moved livestock around not just for years, decades or centuries, but for millennia. In Wales, the drovers' roads, some of which we still travel on to get to the House, follow the path taken from my constituency to London. Cattle, geese, pigs and sheep were moved around the country. That is nothing new, and it is a vital part of farming. As the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) said, the environment and climate in Wales are not suitable for year-round farming.

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8 pm

I hope that the Minister will accept that some movement of animals is part of sustainable farming practice. If we want to ensure that artificial fertilisers, pesticides and feed are not used—and we must remember the feedstocks that are used in America, the other place where food is cheapest—we must support sustainable farming. An element of animal movement is part of that.

Paul Flynn : Animal movements take place in Uruguay, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, but the disease did not spread in those countries as it did here. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that excessive and unnecessary animal movements take place in this country, and that only the 20-day rule will eliminate them?

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