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Lord Elliott of Morpeth: My Lords, I intervene not to deal with the matter of fallen stock—with which my noble friend Lady Byford dealt well, and about which I have a great deal of sympathy as a countryman—but to thank the Minister for introducing the code and express a full appreciation of it.

A long time ago, in another place, I was chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture. In that capacity, I presided over a full inquiry into intensive methods of food production. That is not a pleasant memory. I still remember certain parts of that inquiry with dismay. Some of my noble friends have today suggested that some of the interim legislation may have been unnecessary. I disagree. We have come a long way since that distressing experience. I warmly welcome the code of recommendations.

I shall comment on only two aspects. The code includes suggestions on handling of cattle—on tolerance, patience, pressure and noise. I can fully recall the terror of animals born and reared in the peace of the countryside suddenly knowing the turmoil of a cattle market.

A long time ago, as an officer of a National Farmers Union county branch, I was partly responsible for an attempt to introduce a fatstock marketing board. That would have meant animals for slaughter going straight from farm to slaughter point. Unfortunately, commercial arguments defeated that idea, but I welcome paragraph 14 on page seven, on handling. I also welcome recommendations on accommodation made on pages 17 to 19.

Having felt deeply about animal welfare ever since I presided over that inquiry years ago, I hope that the recommendations in the code will be fully appreciated by the industry. I hope that they will also be fully noted and implemented. I warmly welcome the code.

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12.30 p.m.

Lord Plumb: My Lords, I fully support the comments of my noble friend Lady Byford and the questions that she posed. She need make no apology for taking 15 minutes to pose those questions and make those points, because they are all extremely relevant to the situation as seen by stock owners throughout the country.

As your Lordships may know, I have spent a major part of my life concerned with the welfare of farmers and farming families. I was born into a family of stock keepers—dairymen, beef keepers, pig keepers and keepers of sheep and poultry. I was therefore brought up fully accepting the five freedoms listed in the preface to the code of recommendations, but no stock man in this country worth his or her salt needs telling in 150 paragraphs that without good management and appropriate welfare, stock will suffer and so will the business.

Stock owners could add a sixth freedom to the five listed: freedom from inspectors who may arrive at feeding or milking time, causing mental suffering to both stock and stock men. I have experience of such occasions and of appalling ignorance by some inspectors who call at certain times, interfering with the general management of the stock.

I am of course aware that, as my noble friend said, consultation on the code has taken place over a considerable time—certainly for more than a year. It is difficult to believe that anyone feels that he must necessarily approve all the recommendations or to understand why we are being asked to rubber-stamp them now, when change takes place at all times. Their enforcement is inconceivable and reprehensible.

However, in parts, the report is so elementary that, frankly, a 10 year-old could have written it. It does not bring us up to date with modern techniques and modern farming. It repeats some codes to which we have become accustomed. I am sure that other noble Lords will mention the issue of fallen stock. I make no apology for raising it or returning to various points.

What scientific basis is there for accepting a change in the rules for disposing of fallen stock? The way in which fallen stock is disposed of has been in place since time immemorial. In the 1960s I served on the foot and mouth inquiry. We made it absolutely clear from scientific evidence that we had then—I see no reason to change—that burial was far safer than burning. Therefore, in practical terms, why change? If there is some science behind that recommendation, can we be assured that it has been reviewed by other scientists with knowledge equal to or better than some of the scientists involved in recommending such drastic and costly change—change, incidentally that is bound to impinge on the cost of living for every man, woman and child who is a consumer?

Assuming that there is some scientific support for the recommendations, has a full risk assessment been made of the potential of the present system to spread disease, either directly from the disposal chamber or

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from the associated ground water? If there were reported problems from that route, were any steps taken to correct the matter? If so, what were they?

In the unfortunate event of the proposed rules being enacted, what steps will be taken to prevent fluid, possibly from diseased carcasses that are already in a collection vehicle, contaminating country lanes and main highways? More particularly, what steps will be taken to prevent disease from carcasses contaminating farm premises when a collection vehicle has arrived and is parked on the farmyard or must cross land, perhaps SSSI land, to collect a carcass? Milk collection has been a factor in the possible spread of disease. Yet lorries picking up fallen stock will have to pass to collect carcasses. I remind the Government that we supported them when they talked of the need for vigilance and heightened awareness of bio-security.

As I understand it, it is proposed that all fallen stock on the farm will be subject to the change, and a consequence of that law is that it will include even sheep. We are dealing with cattle now, but let us not forget that any sick animal will crawl away as far as it can across the holding, common or wherever it is to die. That is one of the problems affecting the collection of animals.

Mercifully, BSE did not reach anything like the epidemic proportions that some forecast. There was concern that it might even spread to sheep. The level of BSE in the population is already declining to an extremely low figure, presumably as a consequence of action already taken. So, given the seriously flawed prediction and the sharply declining incidence, what logic is there in taking those wildly expensive and disruptive steps to further curtail a condition that by all available yardsticks already appears well under control?

Many of the recommendations, therefore, are contrary to the restriction of the spread of disease. Quite rightly, we still have rules in place for foot and mouth disease and many others. I am not opposed to recommendations that ensure stock are kept healthy and so on. But some proposals, particularly on fallen stock, are unworkable and contrary to the Animal Health Act.

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, I, too, wish to discuss the issue that my noble friends Lord Plumb and Lady Byford raised about fallen stock. I am grateful to her for putting forward the views and asking the questions that she did. I think it right to do so, because the matter is now of very urgent concern to farmers. So far as I can see, from farmers' point of view, there has been no progress since the code was last debated in this House. Norfolk farmers, including former constituents, have expressed to me concerns about the matter. I know that we are talking about cattle, but the issue was discussed at a very recent large meeting of pig farmers. There was great concern, not to say desperation, among farmers about what they could do in the next four weeks. The points that they raised are also relevant to other stock. I wish to raise three of them.

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The first relates to renderers and knackers. Margaret Beckett in another place and others repeated the point that there is sufficient national capacity, but that is not the issue for many farmers. What matters to them is the capacity available to them within a reasonable distance. In Norfolk, certainly, there is now very little capacity for renderers and knackers. The point that my noble friend Lord Plumb makes about bio-security is highly relevant. For example, pig farmers are very concerned that, unless they can be assured that vehicles coming on farm are absolutely OK as regards cleanliness and bio-security, there will be a resurgence of classical swine fever, which did such harm to the pig industry not long ago, foot and mouth disease and so on. Pig farmers have not been reassured about that concern.

Incineration is an available option. Farmers who had incineration facilities before December last year have until December 2004 to continue with that process. But the problem is that the many, many farmers who do not have it on their farms and who have buried do not know what to do about incineration. In another place, Elliott Morley promised detailed guidance within two weeks of the end of February. Yesterday, in another place, when Margaret Beckett was asked when the detailed guidance was coming, she replied:


    "it was my impression that is going out—".

At that point, David Lidington intervened to ask whether that would happen within two weeks, and she replied:


    "The hon. Gentleman says within two weeks, but it was certainly my impression that it is going out in the next few days or week".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/03; col. 1060.]

So Margaret Beckett was not clear when the guidance that had been promised for some time would reach farmers. They cannot make decisions about incineration unless they know what that detailed guidance says.

Worse still, earlier in another place yesterday, on information and guidance about on-farm incineration, she said:


    "I believe that some information and guidance is already on the DEFRA website".

Well, not everyone has the Internet available, and, anyway, it is not the detailed guidance. She continued:


    "We are certainly mindful of the fact that . . . there is substantial availability of such incineration capacity, but it has to meet the required standards"—

this is the relevant point,


    "and we will work with the industry to ensure that that is the case during the next few months".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/03; col. 1059.]

Yet all farmers must take decisions by the end of this month. That seems entirely unreasonable.

The third point relates to funding. The Government said that some of the 30 million available under the BSE schemes and the TSE surveillance scheme would be made available to help with incineration. But, at present, farmers do not know what the implications of

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that will be. Certainly, farmers whose stock is not covered by the schemes are extremely unclear whether or not there is any funding.

I make those brief points because they seem to add up to a situation in which it is completely unreasonable to ask farmers to make decisions in the next three weeks without knowing on what basis they are making them. Farmers want to abide by the law; they certainly do not want to break it, and they are very concerned about the possibility of doing so at the end of this month. That is why I believe that the Government should be pressing within the Commission for a temporary suspension until those issues can be sorted out. I plead that, on practical grounds, the Government consider the matter very seriously.


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