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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, perhaps I can assist the noble Baroness. We undertake to take on board the additional costs associated with the extra veterinary supervision necessary for abattoirs involved in the licence to slaughter scheme. I should not deceive anyone into thinking that that will mean that abattoirs will function at normal speed because there are additional difficulties. But the additional veterinary costs incurred as a result of the greater involvement of the Meat Hygiene Service will be met by the Government.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her intervention. It will help at a time when many abattoirs will have to work slower than they normally would and additional charges kick into force.
Government policy has also left some of our farmers largely unprotected from the market place. They broke up the milk marque and presided over a fall of one third of the prices paid to farmers for liquid milk. They agreed the milk quotas at the last CAP reform, which took place last year, that have given Ireland a surplus to sell to us while our farmers have rights to supply only 85 per cent of our market. They have refused to ensure that labelling restricts the "British" marking to fresh and processed food grown and packed in this country.
We have supported government policy on the foot and mouth outbreak. We agree that the virus must be eliminated. We agree that the only way to achieve that is to slaughter and then burn or render all affected herds or flocks. However, we do not agree with the ever growing delays in the disposal of carcasses. In that respect, I am grateful to the Minister for her indication
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, perhaps I can interrupt my noble friend. As the 1967 outbreak came in on Argentinean boned meat, and it is thought that this outbreak arose from a sandwich or something in swill, how is the risk less in dead cattle? I ask that purely in a spirit of true inquiry; I am not trying to catch anybody out. If the risk is so much reduced, as the Minister says, how did it arrive in the bone of an Argentine leg of lamb in 1967 and, as we believe, in swill in this case?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the answer to the noble Earl is the difference between "low" risk and "no" risk. I caution him about talking about ham sandwiches. There was a great deal of talk about ham sandwiches in relation to the outbreak of classical swine fever.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said we must get to the bottom of this. I have to tell her that I cannot guarantee that we will. Noble Lords who have experience in veterinary and medical matters will know that sometimes the source cannot be isolated, particularly if it has been eaten and the animal that ate it has been disposed of.
We are talking of comparative risk. Live animals exhale the virus. Once they are dead, they no longer breathe out the virus. In addition, the pH levels change during decomposition, and during decomposition therefore the risk of disease is limited and reduces very quickly. The dead animals will not go into the food chain; they should not go into the animal food chain legally anyway. To spread the disease an infected dose has to be ingested and those animals will not be going into the food chain. I have learnt a lot about this matter in the past few days though my explanation may not be that which the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, would make. But all that comes together to mean that, unpleasant though corpses of animals may be--these are not necessarily animals with disease; they are dangerous contacts--the risk of the disease spreading thereby is minimal compared with that present with live animals.
Not only do we need to enforce the regulations as quickly as possible, but we also need to demonstrate to our farmers nation-wide that we are doing so. They and their families are retreating into isolation, threatened by a vision--for some, sadly a reality--of silent fields with nothing in them except grass growing with nothing to graze on it.
Since last Thursday when I raised the PNQ, the number of outbreaks has sadly risen to 199. That inevitably means a vast increase in the number of beasts which will be killed and therefore need to be disposed of. At this time farmers are having to make workers redundant. Will the Government consider meeting some of the costs of paying the redundancy charges made necessary by the slaughter policy? It would only be a short-term intervention.
Also, will the Government guarantee to consider the effect of consequential loss--a point on which the Minister touched earlier--particularly to those whose animals have had to be kept past their prime value date? Eventually, when those animals go to market, they will be worth less than they would have been worth had they been marketed at the correct time. Will the Government consider what can be done in relation to the extra costs involved in providing that extra feed?
Finally, will the Government consider introducing a scheme for the longer term when this outbreak is over? When farmers restock, which cannot be for six months after the disease has been totally cleared, the new stock will be all of one age. Normally on a farm, stock is coming through at different stages. For many farmers, the restocking may mean that they will receive no income for up to a year. Have the Government considered that?
Last Sunday church bells throughout England tolled at midday for five minutes, their peals bearing a message of solidarity and comfort to many who are struggling at this time. Also, were it not for the foot and mouth problems, I--and I suspect many other noble Lords--would have been participating in the countryside march this coming Sunday. The fact that it has been postponed does not mean that it is not relevant or necessary. I can only hope that your Lordships' contributions today will persuade the Government that the current situation in the countryside, even without this dreadful disease, is dire.
I hope that our discussions today will reflect on both. The Government are dealing well with the outbreak and they have our support. But action must be taken. Legislation already passed is weakening our structure. Legislation and directives to come from Europe will only add to the burdens. The facts are there to be examined. The statistics are available for all to see. The situation the farming community and the countryside have been experiencing over the past two to three years cannot continue; it is dire.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for granting this debate in response to the Motion tabled last week by the Liberal Democrat Benches. I am glad that the Government have given the Minister time to update your Lordships' House on the progress that has been made so far.
I agree that in the short term this is a countryside issue. But medium and long term it should be thought of as a national issue. Now, with the sad news today that there is an outbreak in France, it has become an international issue.
No one who compares the maps of the 1967 outbreak with the maps of the present one can fail to be struck by how then one area was affected and now it is dozens of areas, connected by a web of animal transportation. Farmers have to make money where they can in an unforgiving system that has as much to do with shipping animals around as it does with raising them. The system is about subsidies and chasing a pound of profit here and there at the cost of animal welfare and animal health.
Over the years we have strongly argued that successive governments need to address the infrastructure that supports livestock production, small abattoirs and retail marketing structures. I refer noble Lords to the publication of my honourable friend, Colin Breed, called Checking out the Supermarkets. It contained a number of points which I am sure will be repeated today.
This devastating blow follows BSE, the drop in world food prices and the effect of currency fluctuations on an industry that has no slack to bear them. The Government of course must deal with this crisis, but they need to take a longer view. It is always difficult at a time of crisis to do that, but it is essential if we are not to lurch from one rural crisis to another. I shall start first with the long view and then come back to the immediate action.
A fundamental difficulty is that neither the current international trade rules nor the CAP reflect the close relationship between agriculture and the environment, and the social context of the countries in which that agriculture operates. That negative effect is magnified in smaller countries like ours, where agriculture does not just have an effect on landscape, biodiversity and social structure; it is the very landscape and a major part of the social structure.
In today's increasingly mobile population, the farming families give rural areas their continuity. Sometimes people criticise the fact that parish councils in rural areas are dominated by farmers but without farming's contribution to those councils they would struggle to exist at all. Farmers provide the stability.
Unlike the Conservative Front Bench, I do not believe that blaming the EU is the solution to many of the problems. Globalisation is here to stay and the Conservatives made little or no effort to reform EU rules and the CAP. World Trade Organisation rules recognise nothing beyond the market price of a commodity. Those rules were written for the prairies
Furthermore, I wonder whether he explained that the body which sets global food standards should take a view of world well-being and set its standards in accordance. For as long as it sets its standards to benefit corporate interests representing their own products, it will never address the real issues which beset us, our farmers, our European neighbours' farmers and, crucially, those of the developing world.
Would it alter the world's economy if small-scale farmers were encouraged and if rural economies which depend on those small farmers were strengthened? The World Bank spends millions of dollars coping with the poverty of shanty-town life caused by mass migration from rural areas to cities in the developing world. Millions of small farmers go out of business and millions of dollars of profits go to the world's biggest commodity dealers.
I shall return to Britain. Unless the Government take a firm and decisive lead in developing a long-term strategy to cope with foot and mouth disease, the crisis could lead to a mass migration, too. But I believe that in the case of Britain it will be from the cities to the countryside. As rural areas cease to use land for food production--and no one could blame farmers for getting out now and no one should expect the younger generation to see farming as a bright future--so landscapes risk becoming undermanaged scrub. And then the house-building lobby really will have a field day. Those in rural areas will be desperate for cash and they will begin to agree to the kind of massive greenfield development dear to the hearts of those in the construction industry. The regeneration of cities, on which, like us, this Government lay much store, will become an impossibility as private property money migrates wholesale to the shires.
I believe that in the short-term the Government are committed to saving what there is, but I want to offer a different view on how to go about it. Some regions of England and Wales are much more badly affected by the crisis than others--notably the western half of the country, with the exception of Northumberland. Those areas depend on a combination of livestock farming and tourism and are clearly much worse off than arable areas or areas where farming forms a much smaller part of the regional economy.
The Government should take a region-by-region approach. In regions where foot and mouth is a devastating crisis, they should treat it accordingly. There is actually a state of emergency in my area. However, there is little debate around whether the situation is an emergency. The fact is that in some regions it is, but in regions such as the south east it is not. Some of the discrepancies in the media about whether there is a crisis reflects that division. The Government need to recognise that and to begin a
We were pleased when the Government recently regionalised MAFF by appointing directors in the regional government offices. That could be a good foundation for urgently revising, in the light of the crisis, the way in which MAFF, Government Offices and the RDA put together a crisis containment plan and then a crisis recovery plan. It is likely that that will involve the Government in using contingency money. However, where rural businesses such as tourism are supporting an industry of £16 billion a year nationally, should not the £3.8 billion contingency fund be spent on markets, specialist food producers and all the dependent organisations referred to by the Minister? Is that not a reasonable use of such a fund and is that not what it is for?
On 1st March, the Countryside Agency estimated a £2 billion loss to the rural economy. Will the Minister say what the Government's present estimate is? Perhaps that is not a fair question to ask at this time, but this is the kind of event which should make a government consider using a contingency fund.
The issue of consequential payment is most important. If we are to be left with a livestock farming industry on which we can build, farmers must know the basis on which they can make decisions after the crisis is over. Farmers are facing vastly increased costs of feed and they are facing lambing losses already. They are also facing extra costs due to the logistical problems referred to by the Conservative Front Bench. Even those who receive compensation for slaughtered animals face the question of whether they can survive the next few months. Those who followed advice and diversified, borrowing money to convert their premises to provide bed and breakfast accommodation and farm attractions, are now doubly hit by increased borrowings and no visitors. Regionally, local authorities want to act, too. Could they be empowered to look at business rate relief for a start?
Today nationally, too, there are questions which need urgent answers. Other noble Lords addressed the issue of dead animals left in piles and the related health risks, so I shall not deal with that. Advice from the Farm Business Advisory Service is also likely to be crucial. But MAFF's policy of first-come-first-served even before the crisis was not best serving those farmers who were most struggling. The experience in my region shows that often the farmers most in need of advice were not seeking it while the larger farmers with more time to spare and experience of obtaining additional grants were often at the front of the queue. Will the Minister consider revising that first-come-first-served policy?
Having allowed for regional differences and allowed the regions to get on with their recovery plans, the Government need greatly to accelerate the ideas in the Rural White Paper implementation plan. Under further reform of the CAP, the lead is to be taken by MAFF, but I believe that it should be taken by the
The end of this month saw the target in the implementation plan for the Government to set up an industry/government task force to investigate inputs in farming and efficiencies in sectors of the food chain, starting with the milk and dairy sector. Is that likely to be delayed as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic? Is it still on target? If not, what is the revised target? Crucially, will the Minister introduce a code of practice to put relations between supermarkets and suppliers on a clearer basis? That was to be established by 31st March.
The Minister might agree with me that the equation between cheap food and the foot and mouth epidemic has been greatly over-simplified. The fact is that prices for meat and dairy products were held down and the nation saved money. Consumers saved money--they even bought less lamb and fewer fresh vegetables--but it was at the expense of our farmers. And how did consumers spend their savings? We spent much more on soft drinks, alcohol and confectionery--a real growth area in consumption according to the National Food Survey of 5th March this year. It showed alcohol enjoying a growth of 13 per cent, soft drinks a growth of 12 per cent and confectionery a growth of 20 per cent.
This crisis is about consumers wanting cheap food, but ignoring the cost of that cheapness. I refer to the environmental costs of transporting apples from the other side of the world while our own growers go out of business, or shipping in fertiliser, applying it heavily and then finding that the damage it does to our fresh water eco-system must be paid for. For years governments have ignored the other invisible costs which have been encouraged by supermarket price wars.
Even now, I believe that there is a mistaken impression that the choice is either cheap, low grade food or expensive produce. It ignores the players in the food chain that make food unreasonably expensive: the storage and distribution network, packaging companies and so on. I believe that the medium-term message for the Government is to ensure that our agricultural industry has access to the kind of processing which enables it to have a more direct input into the marketing of its own fresh produce.
The landscape to which the Minister referred is precious, and it created the rich biodiversity which was so diminished as small farmers and extensive farming methods were sacrificed, first with mass production in the 1950s and 1960s and then by the CAP. We have debated this issue a number of times, and I shall not rehearse the arguments. The maze of grants that a farmer must negotiate to protect the landscape is now extreme. I believe that the time has come to simplify this so that we have a unified system of the kind that our colleagues in Wales now enjoy.
I believe that in the long term we must put quality and healthy food at the heart of our community planning and regeneration. Thousands of children start the day with a fizzy drink and chocolate bar and learn less well. Teenagers have a diet of lager and McDonalds, and the office worker grabs a bowl of chips at lunch time, a couple of beers after work and a frozen microwave pasta meal at night. They are likely to become an NHS expense in a matter of years. Unless we value our food we will not care how it is produced. The promotion of British produce and a quality diet is the job of government. It can be done within an EU framework, and other EU countries are ahead of us in this regard. It is done by culture and example--by the Prime Minister celebrating top food producers, chefs and farmers, in the same way as he celebrates pop stars and footballers.
This debate is really about the state of Britain and its real attitude to sustainability, and it is a debate about the fabric of the nation. Of course, this is a matter of great concern to MAFF and to farmers, but the debate is about whether the use of some of the best growing conditions in the world is important, whether a country like the UK with wonderful natural resources should use them to produce for its own needs food, timber and energy crops, or whether it is content to be a nation of global parasites that squanders its resources while talking about sustainability.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for sparing the time to come and tell us so fully what is happening at the moment. I know that other noble Lords will deal with the wider aspects of the topic which is the subject of this Motion. I shall confine myself to the foot and mouth disease and what I believe to be the important aspects at the moment.
I declare an interest, in that my husband and I farm sheep, goats and cattle in Worcestershire. We are currently in an infected area. As a result, our goats cheese-making business is at a standstill. All the farmers' markets upon which we depend are closed.
Hundreds of questions require answers. The Minister will be relieved to hear that I believe that most of them can wait until the reviews are conducted, as they must be. Now is not the time to demand bans on certain practices or to ask for more legislation, unless of course the current situation will be improved by them. Now we must be constructive if we are to prevent the further spread of foot and mouth disease.
For laws to work the reasons for enacting them must be well understood by those who are their main targets as well as by the general population. Certain newspapers--the Guardian, Observer and Independent come immediately to mind--seem to trivialise the awful effects of foot and mouth disease upon the animals and heap scorn upon all farmers, regardless of their stockmanship. They are not helping those who so far may not be directly affected to recognise the reasons for the movement restrictions, animal and human.
During the worst of the BSE epidemic the public was bombarded with pictures of Daisy the cow staggering about in a farmyard. I know that television crews would not be allowed anywhere near a farm where there was an outbreak of foot and mouth, but I ask the noble Baroness whether it is possible for a MAFF vet to film some of the sick animals, particularly cattle, which appear to suffer most. The other day I heard of one vet who opened the mouth of a beast and its tongue fell out. The film could then be released to the media for publication.
Humans understand the pain inflicted by a tiny mouth ulcer. Would they not understand the suffering endured by a steer with a mouth full of sloughing lesions? Humans understand the pain inflicted by a blister on the foot. Equally, would they not understand the pain endured by a cow, sheep or pig with blisters all over its feet? It will not be until the public realise just how dreadfully this disease affects our farm animals that they will obey the law. It will also encourage people who know of unscrupulous individuals who flout the law to report miscreants to the authorities.
Misinformation does not rest solely at the door of some parts of the media. A vet with a small practice in the heart of an infected area in Devon telephoned me last night. She shared my rage at the statement made by the noble Baroness's right honourable friend the Minister on Sunday when he was questioned about the delays in removing slaughtered animals to the rendering plant and the methods used for the removal. If the vet and I understood it correctly--the noble Baroness has tried to explain it but I remain unclear--he said that the virus ceased to be infectious once an animal had died because the acidity associated with decay in the meat would kill it. If that is the case, how did the original infection of the pigs occur? What about birds feeding on the dead animals that have been lying in fields for several days and passing the virus on to other farms? Why are we being asked to drive vehicles through disinfectant and told that we must change our clothes and wash ourselves before handling our stock if the virus is not infectious?
Richard Haddock has also spoken to me. He farms in the South West and represents many farmers in the region. He has told me exactly what has been happening on some farms in Devon. Despite the assurances given by the Minister tonight, what is happening on the farms is not consistent with those assurances.
I have enormous sympathy for the Minister and all the staff who have been working on this awful task. We know that the State Veterinary Service is overstretched, even with the assistance of overseas vets who have volunteered their services. I recognise that many of them must be tired of being told that the delays involved in slaughtering the animals infected and the removal of the carcasses are unacceptable. I have had described to me the suffering of infected cattle and am left in no doubt that all animals found with lesions should be dispatched immediately to relieve them of their suffering. There are plenty of slaughtermen who are unable to work at present. Could they not be contracted to relieve the present
Last week in this House we heard requests for military assistance. I was pleased to hear on the news this morning that the Ministry of Defence has been asked to provide marksmen and sharpshooters to dispatch animals in difficult terrain. As the noble Baroness is aware, I have frequently asked that military sharpshooters be used humanely to destroy feral sheep that become a reservoir for sheep scab. Hitherto that has always been refused, but this situation is different. Military assistance is urgently required now. What progress is being made on that matter?
After an extremely wet winter the ground upon which the carcasses are lying will not bear the weight of heavy vehicles. Lorries become stuck, plough up fields and are unable to get out with the carcasses once they are loaded. This is an appalling situation for the people who have to suffer it. The Army has metal rolling roads for use in just these conditions. It seems that we can send our troops to the four corners of the world but cannot use them at home. What is the problem? Why were they not called out to help at a much earlier stage?
I understand that the Prosper de Mulder Group has a rendering plant in Exeter and that it has vehicles and lifting tackle designed specifically to deal with animal carcasses that may be infected. Why cannot this plant be pressed into service? It would mean that carcasses no longer have to be carried from the South West to Widnes and would allay the fears of the farmers in areas as yet unaffected.
It has been pointed out to me that the result of the difference between the circumstances experienced by affected farmers and the spin put out by MAFF has been the farming community's loss of confidence in officials and Ministers, particularly in the South West. I have been asked whether someone who has the respect and trust of the farming community--I am pleased to see that the noble Lord is back in his place--such as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, could be appointed to talk with the farmers and tell them the truth about the position. Perhaps the Minister will consider that request?
Last Thursday, I asked the Minister about the position regarding cheese-makers. The position is still far from clear. LACOTS advised environmental health officers that no cheese made from unpasteurised milk can be sold from an infected area, despite the reassurance given by the Minister. If the Dairy Products Hygiene Regulations 1995 were fully implemented, my local environmental health officer believes that he would have the power to prevent shopkeepers in infected areas selling cheese made from unpasteurised milk if they cut up the cheese on their premises.
I am grateful to the Minister for the message from her office to the effect that MAFF vets will be contacting Dr Fred Brown today. He is a brilliant Lancashireman who has spent a lifetime studying foot and mouth disease. He was in the UK during the 1967 and 1981 outbreaks. In fact, he predicted that one day foot and mouth disease would arrive on the Isle of Wight from a factory that was making vaccine in France. That is exactly what happened. I am sure that he will be able to assist.
I am realistic. I accept that the animals that I have reared and which have served me well may have to die. I find it very hard to accept that the man who is at the bottom of all the outbreaks in our area--a dealer who owns land in a large number of different locations, and who cares little for the long-term health and viability of the animals he buys and sells--is reported to be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of the compensation he will receive. No amount of money would ever compensate my husband and me, or the many good stockmen and women, for the loss of the animals in which we have invested our lives.
My husband and I do other things. We shall survive. My concern is for those for whom farming has been their only means of earning a living. Unlike many of those affected by the 1967 outbreak, these people no longer have a nice bank balance to cushion them for the six months or so before they are allowed to restock. I ask the Minister whether they will be expected to support their families from the compensation for their slaughtered stock, or, if they need to claim social security benefits, that capital sum will be disregarded for benefits purposes so that they can start again at the appropriate time. Tourism is not the answer; these people have to have stock on their farms.
These are very anxious times, particularly for the stock farming community. We could do without the cryptic comments of ignorant journalists from the Observer, the Guardian and the Independent. While there are, and always have been, some individuals who ruthlessly exploit and neglect their animals, most stockmen and women are being torn apart by the disaster, whether or not they have actually had to deal with an outbreak.
This is a virulent and horrible disease. I know from personal experience just how troubling it is to be constantly wondering whether the animals--the breeding of which one has put so much of one's life into and which are a major part of one's daily routine--will have to die an unpleasant and
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, perhaps I may also say how grateful we are for the debate. I pay tribute to the Minister for the tone and content of her opening speech. Noble Lords will be very grateful for the sensitive way in which our debate was opened today. This will be a refrain echoed by practically every speaker in the debate, but, from these Benches, we want to express our very deep sympathy with all those who are caught up in this dreadful outbreak of foot and mouth disease--the vast numbers of people, not simply farmers and their families, but all those in associated industries and activities and those who are suffering because of the closure of the countryside.
We particularly think of those whose animals have been destroyed; who have had to watch that happening; and who now have to live with silent empty farmyards and the prospect of many months before they can begin to rebuild their lives, if they ever can. Those who wait and wonder in isolation, uncertainty and fear are experiencing levels of anxiety and despair which it is hard to imagine for anyone not caught up in it.
Noble Lords have already spoken about the half a million pregnant ewes and the desperate problems of their lambing, many in places far from where they should be. I understand that the Government have recognised that problem and, as far as is possible, the movement restrictions will be relaxed.
I want to say a little about the churches' response to this dreadful crisis. I shall then ask one or two questions. Perhaps I may read your Lordships a letter which appeared last week in the Church Times. It said:
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a call to prayer. That is being answered in all our churches. One or two people have said that there should be a national day of prayer. If, during the debate, any noble Lords want to echo that request, I shall of course pass it on to the most reverend Primate.
We are extremely grateful to the Rural Stress Network. By a strange coincidence I was present at the launch in Herefordshire of that network two days after the first foot and mouth case was discovered. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of people asking for help. Its help is much valued and appreciated.
There is a fund which has been set up by the churches called the Addington ARC Fund. ARC stands for the Arthur Rank Centre, the churches' ecumenical centre at Stoneleigh Park, the home of the Royal Show. That fund is intended to help families in distress, more widely even than the relaxed rules of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. The RABI is mainly for household expenses for farmers, but its rules have been relaxed to pay for certain other farm expenses. However, the ARC Fund can be used to help those in desperate straits who are not, strictly speaking, farmers; and there are many of them. I commend that fund. I want the House to know that it exists and that money is pouring into it.
I welcome in principle the way in which the Government have responded to the crisis. Their initial quick and decisive response was widely welcomed. But I fear that there has been less satisfaction and support latterly. There have been many horror stories of serious delays in the identification, slaughter and disposal of infected animals. I echo the plea that has been made for the quick dispatch of animals on the authority of experienced vets by appropriately qualified slaughtermen. I do not see why that cannot happen much more quickly than is the case at the moment.
There are stories about unsafe lorries--unsealed or inadequately sealed lorries--taking animals very long distances to the rendering plant at Widnes; and there were delays in bringing that plant on stream. Other incineration facilities are not being used. I urge the Government to be much more flexible in the way in which they dispose of dead animals. I am quite sure that slaughter is the right policy. Some people have argued that we should go to vaccination. I am
I want to touch for a moment on what has been said in some of the newspapers--I echo what has been said about the unhelpful attitude of some of the newspapers--about the present policy being driven by economic considerations. Quite clearly, the word "economic" in this context has a pejorative connotation. In other words, because we are doing it for economic reasons, that must be wrong and must be part of the great farm network of greed, as some people would like to postulate.
What do people think farming is for? Do they think that it is an animal welfare activity carried out by dewy-eyed sentimentalists? Most farmers care very much about animal welfare and are very good at delivering it. But farming is a business and its economic health is essential for its survival. The export of the products of our livestock industry has been and will remain vital to the flourishing of farming, especially in the hills, in the North and in the West. To say that this policy is driven by economic considerations is simply to say that this is a wise and necessary policy.
There have been accusations of profiteering. Some noble Lords may have seen the leading article last week in the Farmers Weekly, which latched on to the fact that farmers are being charged unreasonable prices for slaughtering where they are able to move their animals and that the prices being offered for the meat are very low whereas the prices in retail outlets are very high. The article asks whether there are not unscrupulous individuals in the abattoir and retailing trades. It continues:
Much has already been said in the debate about compensation. I should like to echo that. Even if farmers whose animals are destroyed receive 100 per cent, what do they live on before they can spend that money to begin to restock? What about those people who have no compensation at all, whose cash-flow has dried up after three or four terrible years? The figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, about the payments out of the RABI fund show how they leapt in 1998 and have continued to increase ever since then.
I have been told by local farmers that they are having considerable difficulties in getting the information they need. We come back to the question of communication. They say that the website is not updated often enough and that it is not carrying the local information that they need. They are finding it difficult to know where to turn for licences to move stock over short distances. That may or may not be the case, but the feeling and experience is that this is not being well handled at the moment. I hope that the Government will take that point on board.
In what new directions do we want to see farming going? I echo much of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Last night, there was a presentation in the Jubilee Room by the LEAF organisation--Linking Environment And Farming. The presentation extolled the virtues of integrated farm management. The Minister in the other place, Mr Elliot Morley, was present. He said that MAFF fully supported the initiative. It seems to be something which needs the strong support and encouragement of the Government--more profitable, more environmentally sensitive, but not necessarily organic farming, that delivers a better product with greater skill, greater discrimination and greater intelligence on the part of the farmers.
There are still many young people who would like to go into farming if only they could. They are the people with the discrimination and the intelligence. They are the people who understand the environment and the market. Many of their elders do not. Those are the people we want to see coming into farming. The Government should do all they possibly can to encourage them and change their policy of not offering any grants to young people coming into farming.
I turn to local abattoirs. Someone in the diocese told me the other day that I had acquired the status of the patron saint of small abattoirs. I can assure your Lordships that that is a degree of sanctity to which I do not begin to aspire. But I nevertheless plead the cause of small abattoirs and perhaps of the re-opening of those which closed when they could not sustain the Meat Hygiene Service charges which were in force but could perhaps if those charges were properly reduced. Many farmers are amazed about what is going on in livestock trading. They say, "We had no idea. Thousands of animals were travelling hundreds of miles backwards and forwards across the country. What is this about?" People who have lived all their lives in farming simply did not know that it was happening.
How can we restrain this ludicrous trade? How can we create sustainable local farming networks? How can we do more to make sure that we reduce food miles and educate people to buy the food which is produced on their doorstep? I hope and pray that we can do more in that direction. Are these livestock networks necessary? I think not. Quite clearly, it is not possible to say that intensive farming and the closure of abattoirs are responsible for the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, but those are both aspects of farming
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who is in some respects a neighbour of mine. I now declare my interest. I have a home in Radnorshire, which is an infected area; I own 33 acres of upland grassland, which I let out to a neighbouring farmer; I am a vice-president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales; and I am president of the Radnor branch of CPRW. I am glad to follow the right reverend Prelate as he is the president of the CPRE in Herefordshire.
There are two different agendas to this debate. The first is the general one about the countryside. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was very eloquent when, as she said, she moved on to her speech about the countryside. That is also true of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. There is another much more pressing agenda, which was dealt with in most moving terms by the noble Countess, Lady Mar. It is the present problem of foot and mouth disease. I propose to concentrate on that.
Radnor is a small county in mid-Wales. It is part of the enlarged county of Powys. It consists for the most part of upland grassland. It is sheep farming and walking country and thrives on a successful farming industry and successful tourism. Perhaps I may describe to noble Lords what is happening at the moment, because it is dire.
The current situation is as follows. Farmers are confined to their own premises. The postman does not come into the farm. He must stop at the hay or straw piled on the path and he cannot get through. Rubbish is not collected because it needs to be set out close to a main road. The towns of Llandrindod Wells, Builth Wells and Prestatyn are almost dead. Once-a-week shopping takes place in the local supermarkets. The small shops on Middleton Street in Llandrindod Wells and on High Street in Builth Wells have no clientele. The newsagents, small butchers and so forth are all suffering. Tourism has fallen to zero. Mid-Wales is a great centre for tourism, in particular around Easter. However, now people are having to close down bed-and-breakfast houses and lay off staff working in hotels. Restaurants--those that we have--and pubs are starting to feel the effects of this crisis.
The local communities are being extremely co-operative, apart from one or two people who walk their dogs. They are told by the farmers to get off the land. That is quite right and, on the whole, things are working well. However, what does not work well is, first, the information--here I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford--coming through to farmers about the current conditions. Most people in mid-Wales do not own computers; small farmers do not have access to the MAFF website. I have such access, but to be honest, I do not find it satisfactory.
I spoke to my neighbour this morning. She told me that, since the beginning of this crisis, she--the wife of a farmer--had not received one communication from MAFF. That is my first complaint, if I may so put it to my noble friend. That strikes me as being extremely odd. Some kind of network should be put in place to offer a reasonable degree of information to those who are in dire distress.
The second problem is the banks. Everyone knows that if you are holding stock which you cannot sell, which must be fed because it is still too cold for the grass to grow in Radnor, then your cashflow will be seriously unbalanced. On the whole, the banks are being supportive, but my latest information is that Barclays Bank in Builth Wells has said to my neighbours and to others: "We shall give you a three-month moratorium on interest or repayments on overdrafts". I do not need to tell noble Lords that a period of three months is absolutely nothing when compared with the increase in debt that farmers will incur through higher feeding costs. They need to feed their sheep and they cannot sell them. Furthermore, that does not take into account the six months' period after a farm has been declared clear of disease. The banks have a responsibility, to which I shall return later in my remarks.
I shall now turn to tourism. The concern is not only that staff in hotels are being laid off and that the pubs are empty, but rather that the whole infrastructure of the rural economy is being damaged. Garages, newsagents and small shops are all suffering. The roads are empty. That problem has to be reversed and, again, the banks have a role to play here.
Although I have thought about this problem, I do not know how compensation can be paid for loss of income which is not immediately related to the loss of stock. When she comes to wind up the debate, I shall be grateful if my noble friend could offer some help on this matter. Although one can say that a person may have lost income because his hotel was not fully occupied, can the same be said of a newsagent which has gone out of business because the visitors who were supposed to be in the hotel would have bought their newspapers at that newsagent? I do not know how these matters will be calculated, but I hope that my noble friend will be able to indicate the Government thinking.
Long-term problems will have to be faced. If small shops go bankrupt in the streets of the three towns that I have mentioned--Llandrindod Wells, Builth Wells and Prestatyn--they will never come back. The supermarkets have a grip on food supplies in those three towns. We run the risk that the high street atmosphere of these small mid-Wales towns will be lost. Even though we may sort out the immediate problem, that kind of problem will also have to be addressed.
As I have said, I have three matters which I hope that my noble friend will be able to address. The first is the question of information. I believe that the MAFF website could be much better. My neighbours in Radnor should be properly informed about the
Secondly, I should like to ask about the role of the banks. This matter will be tremendously important in Radnor. Perhaps the area will serve as a paradigm for the rest of the country, but I cannot talk about the rest of the country. It will be essential for local banks to be supportive of farmers and the small industries and services related to farming which depend on the facilities provided by their local banks. After all, the banks are making enormous profits. I hope very much that the Government will bring pressure to bear on the banks to ensure that they are supportive.
My third point partly concerns information, but primarily it concerns wind. When I consulted the MAFF website the day before yesterday, an item appeared which declared that an outbreak in the Isle of Wight in 1981 was probably due to wind carrying the virus from Brittany to the Isle of Wight. As soon as an item of that kind is put onto the website and the information gets around a local farming community, people will worry that the wind can carry the virus from anywhere to anywhere. Until we are given a clear statement by the Chief Veterinary Officer about what the wind can do and how it can carry the virus, I do not believe that the Government can declare that the virus is under control.
I shall return to the example of Radnor. People living there are terrified that an outbreak in Caernarfon, which was mooted today, or an outbreak in Devon may be carried on the wind and brought to their farms.
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