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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it is customary to declare one's interests at the start of any speech. However, I have so many interests, and am wearing so many hats in this debate, that I shall merely say that I speak as a Cumbrian, a Member of the European
Some of what I shall say will be personal, but, while it may be my voice, I am not trying to speak for myself as an individual: I speak for others who cannot speak in your Lordships' House. I seek no special sympathy for myself. I am fortunate. Many others who are affected are much less so. All of us experience misfortunes in life. What one has to do is pick oneself up from the floor when things go wrong. If I sound upset, it is because I am upset. I do not apologise for that; but perhaps noble Lords will please forgive me.
Foot and mouth, as the statistics have shown, has taken a very strong grip on north-east Cumbria where I live, and also in adjoining south-west Scotland. This is not the only area where it is strongly established--indeed, Devon springs to mind--but it is the area that I know best, and so it is the one that I can speak about. The farming community has retreated into itself behind walls of disinfected straw. Rumours abound, and gossip has it that most livestock between Penrith and Langholm might be wiped out. It is not a question of if one gets the disease; it is a matter of when.
It exploded in my dairy herd on Sunday morning. This was hardly a surprise as it was all around us. We could not get a ministry vet until yesterday, Monday, and that was a bit of a struggle. The outbreak was confirmed in the middle of the day. The valuers have been in prior to slaughter and 200-plus pedigree dairy cows will be destroyed and buried in quick lime on the farm. We may have been lucky as our young stock and sheep are separately housed and are kept on separate holdings, so we are temporarily reprieved. But, in reality, I confidently expect that they will end up with the disease and follow the fate of the dairy cows. It is one of the worst episodes of my life, but how much more so for my staff, my manager and, indeed, for my head cowman who has milked these cows most days for more than 12 years.
I was talking last night on the telephone to a member of the family who farms near Longtown, quite close to the notorious mart where it all began. His animals are being destroyed today. As I spoke, he said that if he looked out of the north-facing window he could see four pyres burning, and that if he looked out the east window he could see five. There is an extraordinary kind of medieval savagery about this plague, but it must not be allowed to get in the way of rational debate about what is happening.
It seems to me that there are three aspects that need to be discussed. First, how did the outbreak occur, and where did it come from? Secondly, what is being done now, and what happens in the immediate future? Thirdly, we need to consider what this may or may not mean for CAP reform. In my view, the first and the last aspects are matters for another day. It is the second
What happened to my farm business, and is happening to that of many other people, is akin to a direct hit on the magazine of a battleship: it explodes instantly and disappears in seconds. The past two years have seen one of the worst agricultural recessions this century. The principal reason for that has been the Government's agri- monetary policy, which has meant that some sectors have only been able to provide a farmer with a standard of living less than that of the minimum wage. In Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome, the Community, and with it the member states, is committed to ensuring,
Quite rightly, we in this country are very anxious that other member states should honour their treaty commitments and obligations. United Kingdom agriculture is equally entitled to be sure that its government are honouring their obligations under the treaty. Indeed, had they actually done so, UK agriculture would have been infinitely better placed to deal with the current crisis than is the case. I was certainly brought up to be always on my guard, as cheap is so often synonymous with shoddy.
Nevertheless, we, and all the other farmers who are affected, are like Talleyrand--we survived, just. For us, it was beginning to look a bit better until Sunday. The cows were milking well and the ewes were thriving. In Cumbria, those on the ground who are dealing with the crisis have worked like Trojans and no praise individually can be too high. Equally, in my view, the basic approach adopted by the Government must be right. That view was endorsed by Commissioner Byrne in the European Parliament in Brussels 10 days ago. What I believe has gone wrong is what lies between them.
As has already been mentioned, once animals show symptoms of the disease they are hugely infectious. Right from the start there has been delay in getting vets to certify the outbreaks and then more days' delay until animals are slaughtered, leaving infected animals to exhale the infection into the atmosphere hour after hour, indeed, day after day. As we have already heard, it is transmitted easily by wind and by birds. Dead carcasses, which are less infectious, have been left lying around for days and have been eaten by crows and vermin, even though I am absolutely sure that some of the more extravagant stories are exaggerated. Indeed, the vet's report on the outbreak in my herd suggests that one of those sources may be the cause of my herd's infection. There is, I believe, a real and direct relationship between a number of instances of foot and mouth and the failure by the Government as a whole to move with sufficient speed which all the evidence justifies and has shown to be essential.
Once my cows are infected they should be slaughtered as soon as possible. We did not need a vet to tell a skilled stockman the problem. First of all, I do not wish the disease on my neighbours. Secondly, contrary to some press reports, this is not a benign condition, as a number of speakers have already said. The poor animals should be swiftly killed in as dignified a way as possible, both for their own sake and for the sake of those who looked after and, in many cases, loved them.
The Government have created a bureaucratic machine to push the paper. Why do the beasts need to be individually examined and valued when alive? With the benefit of milk records and experience a decent valuer can do it. It is the classic case of the public purse knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Bureaucratic procedures precisely followed are costing animals' lives and families' livelihoods, and, what matters to "bean counters", the loss and expenditure of public money.
I was pleased to hear from the noble Baroness who has been so helpful throughout this crisis that more personnel have been drafted in. I join in the question posed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about the role of the Army. While that measure has certainly in my view been taken too late, I hope that it is not a case of too few personnel being involved. All strength and good fortune to them, but it is more important to move with speed than it is to avoid over-deploying people. It will also be cheaper in the long run.
The effect of an outbreak on a farm is twofold. First, as has already been explained, the Government provide compensation for the stock. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to confirm that there will be prompt payment, or at least some payment on account quite quickly. After all, just because one's income stops does not mean that the bills no longer come in. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, who buys my milk, will not pay me anything if he does not get any.
I was also pleased to hear the noble Baroness's comments about premia which would be paid in respect of animals that had recently been, or were about to be, slaughtered. Quite apart from that--this has already been touched on by a number of speakers--rigid controls and restrictions are placed on the holding and its buildings which in certain circumstances amount to a de facto requisition of the assets for a time. I am sure that this may well be necessary in the public interest. But, for example, it means that a dairy farmer--this is quite apart from movement restrictions--cannot straight away acquire more cattle and start up again as, for example, a second-hand car dealer might do if his showroom was burned down.
I understand that no help is forthcoming under that heading because CAP rules do not allow it. However, quite apart from that, it is my view that the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and possibly also certain clauses in the recently signed European Charter of Fundamental Rights and general EU jurisprudence may well be relevant to that aspect.
So far I have focused on farming, but in Cumbria the tourist industry is a much more extensive employer and contributes a larger part of the county's GDP. If you cannot go walking in the Lake District, for many people there is not all that much point in being there at all. Most of them have worked that out for themselves. But that was clearly foreseeable when the fells were closed. The tourist boards have in my view quite rightly drawn that point to the Government's attention and have asked, not unreasonably, for assistance to help their members deal with the inevitable and foreseeable consequence of the Government's decisions which have been taken in the wider public interest.
I wish to flag up another important point as regards tourism and agricultural interests. What are the implications for national parks if the disease spreads over the hefted flocks? That is already a concern in Dartmoor and it would be a problem of an entirely different order of magnitude in the Lake District. In short--this may seem a curious point--how would you keep grass down on the fells if there were no sheep to do it? Once a sheep has lost its heaf, it cannot be conjured back again out of thin air.
Let us be clear that what are not needed are more farm or rural diversification grants. Despite certain obvious problems, the structure of rural agriculture and tourism is not the real issue. The real problem is that of little or no cash flow and the destruction of trading assets. Last week, before my own troubles emerged, I raised the matter of the banks. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, made a significant point in that regard. Some banks are taking certain helpful steps in response to the crisis, and good for them. But I believe that what is needed is a means of preserving businesses which cannot trade profitably now but which have every expectation of being able to do so once conditions get back to normal. It is interesting to note that in its continental manifestation the CAP has a long tradition of subsidising credit. Perhaps that provides a useful opening.
In addition, as has already been mentioned, many small businesses will not be able to produce a cash income to pay the grocery bills. For immediate practical purposes they have ceased to exist, at least for the time being, but their proprietors are not out of work. It occurred to me that some provision might be included--as quickly as possible because speed is of the essence--in jobseeker's allowance to enable people affected by the crisis to draw some cash until they can get their old jobs back from their own businesses. My next point arises from my thoughts on my predicament. What about some kind of general capital gains tax rollover relief for affected businesses?
Many people in the countryside are going through hell. I have mentioned some of them but there is no need to enumerate them all. However, foot and mouth is here. The first, overriding priority must be to eradicate the pestilence as soon as possible. The next
Lord Hooson: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I express my sympathy for his loss. I appreciate the way in which he was able to speak of his problems in the context of his own area and in a European context. I also appreciate the helpful suggestions he made for the possible alleviation of the problems which face the country as a result of the epidemic.
I am sorry to say that a note has been passed to me since the commencement of the debate which states that on the six o'clock news it was announced that there are now 205 cases in the country. That figure is higher than the one the noble Baroness mentioned at the beginning of the debate.
I believe that towards the conclusion of her opening address the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the task force that had been set up. I thought that she was rather coy about it, or perhaps my hearing was at fault. Is it intended that the task force will deal with the immediate problem or with the long-term problems of the countryside and country life? I was not clear about that.
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