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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): To put some value on the service, a New Forest pony might fetch--if one is lucky--£5 at the Beaulieu road market. However, to remove a dead pony that has been knocked over, as so many are every week by motor vehicles, to a knacker would cost in excess of £70. That is a measure of the loss to the commoners of the New Forest that we would be looking to this legislation to replace.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is right to bring the detail before the House. If one wants more general information, one will find it in the Burns report on page 62, where it states that something like 336,000 carcases are disposed of by hounds. Dealing with such a number would be a significant cost to agriculture.
Just outside my constituency is Ashdown forest, as my right hon. and learned Friend will know, in which there is a splendid and very healthy population of deer. Unfortunately, the deer are often run over. It is the hunt that collects those deer and, if necessary, puts them down and takes them away. If the hunt do not undertake that task, whom does he envisage doing so? Would it be Wealden district council, which presumably does not have a team of knackermen on standby? Who would do that extremely important work for the community?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend shows the importance of Report stage, which is being truncated. The House has naturally focused on the responsibilities of hunts for the disposal of fallen stock, but my hon. Friend has reminded us about deer on the roads. If there be no hunts, the cost will fall on district councils, and thus on the council tax payer. That is another example of the Government's not thinking through the problems that they are obliged to face.
Amendment No. 40 deals with compensation. I am perfectly prepared to accept that there have long been differences of opinion on compensation. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) made a fair point against me. When I was Minister of Agriculture I did not provide a compensation scheme for head deboners. However, I provided extensive compensation schemes for the farming industry. I did not provide such a scheme for
I was uneasy about that decision at the time, but I made it. On reflection, I think that it was probably wrong for a number of reasons--at least I would not make such a decision now. To start off with, the argument has moved on, partly as a result of law. The incorporation in domestic law of the European convention on human rights, in particular the obligation to pay compensation when people's property rights are interfered with, has changed the discussion in this area; the debate has moved on.
Then there are the precedents, some of which operated at the time and some of which have been brought into operation since then. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 provided for compensation in respect of the owners of the firearms confiscated, although it did not extend to consequential loss. The same was true in respect of handguns. The scheme for fur farmers is more generous, and if it is properly implemented will probably extend to consequential loss. The precedents are changing in favour of compensation.
I am bound to say also that in the end it is a matter of principle, which makes me uneasy with the decision that I took with regard to head deboners. The plain truth is that we are proposing--in my view, wholly wrongly--to take away people's livelihoods. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) reminded us of saddlers. The Burns report identifies many other occupations of people whose activities are related to hunting. We will deprive them of their livelihoods. We will take away the employment of the people who work directly for the hunts, whether as kennel-men or kennel-maids or in the stables, and also of those who service the hunting industry. For what reason? The honest answer is that we are destroying people's livelihoods to indulge the prejudices and views of certain people in the House.
There should be a cost attached to that. If we are really going to do such a frightful and odious thing, by God we should pay for it. I do not see why honest, law-abiding citizens, who for generations past have earned their living in a way that they deem wholly respectable--and so do I--should lose their jobs without compensation. That is a scandal. I hope that this matter will be pushed to a Division, because I want to see Labour MPs voting against compensation. By doing so, they will declare their true colours. I view their position on this matter with contempt.
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): I do not want to encourage the debate to be any more bad-tempered than it has become. [Interruption.] I am surprised that hon. Members are allowed to call each other pea-brained, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said, if one is pot-bellied one gets away with making such allegations in the House.
My experience as a member of the Select Committee on Agriculture, limited though it is, tells me that Conservative Members should be a little more sanguine about the BSE saga, given the consequences for many in agriculture about which they now complain and which lie at their door due to their incompetent handling of the crisis. [Interruption.] Given the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle referred to, and the outbreak of classical swine fever, which is still relatively--[Interruption.]
Given the great concern of farmers in East Anglia about the outbreak of classical swine fever and the present immense concerns about animal disease and the foot and mouth outbreak, the House and the Minister should reflect on what should happen to diseased animals in future. New clause 1 would introduce a regulated scheme under the control of the Secretary of State for the safe disposal of sick and dead animals.
Surely one of the lessons that we should learn from the past few years is that we must take greater care when dealing with sick animals. If we had a scheme that required animals to be checked by a vet, would not some of the recent outbreaks have been detected earlier than they were? We have the bones of a good scheme, but I am not sure that it is ideal as currently phrased. It should not be limited to animals that would hitherto have been collected. I believe that there is an argument for a national scheme for the disposal of diseased and fallen stock.
Mr. Baker: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree with me that this debate is not about what our views might be on hunting but about the safe disposal of stock? It is about farming and preventing further bills for the farming community.
Dr. Turner: That is precisely the point that I was trying carefully to make. There is a danger that the new clause will be seen as part of some other argument and debate. The House would do well to consider it in the broader context of the impact of animal disease.
Dr. Turner: I note that the new clause tabled by Conservative Members states that the charges should meet the cost of the scheme. This issue should be debated, because such a scheme is clearly in the national interest. Measures that would enable speedier detection of the problems to which I have referred could contribute to the safety of our agriculture industry.
Dr. Turner: I am less certain of that than is my hon. Friend. Given that the scheme could be widely drawn, there is no reason why there should not be alternatives and there would be good arguments for tightening up on notification before disposing of fallen stock. I hope that the Minister will carefully explain why it would not be sensible to consider the new clause more carefully, subject to amendments made elsewhere.
Those who argue the case for compensation are in great danger of over-gilding the lily. Many decisions made in Parliament on the rules and regulations under which people have to operate routinely put those people to expense. Indeed, we sometimes put people out of work, but we do so because we have good reason. Pest control has been mentioned. The pesticide and pharmaceutical industries exist in such an environment that should a perceived danger--let alone an actual one--become apparent, the House would think it responsible to act without discussing what compensation should be given to companies that would have to replace their manufacturing processes and that had invested heavily in research funding.