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October 21 2004

Fallen Stock

4. Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): What assessment she has made of the impact of the delay in the introduction of the national fallen stock collection scheme. [192822]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): None. My officials and the board of the National Fallen Stock Company have concentrated their time and resources on getting the scheme right and getting it started. I am pleased to announce to the House today that the scheme will begin on 22 November.

Nick Harvey: I welcome that announcement and hope that the scheme will actually happen this time. The National Fallen Stock Company has given biosecurity advice to both collectors and farmers. What is the legal status of that advice to farmers, how will it be enforced and how will remote areas in which cover is inadequate be regulated?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman must wait for the announcement of the details of the fallen stock scheme before he gets a full answer, and I shall write to him about it. The rules must be enforced, because biosecurity is important and is high on the list of farmers' concerns. The National Fallen Stock Company is confident that the national network of collectors will cover even remote parts of the country, which should not pose too much of a biosecurity problem.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Minister on the time, effort and ingenuity that he and his officials have put into the scheme. Rather than listening to the continual carping from Opposition parties who claim to speak for farmers, let us listen to the National Farmers Union. Does the Minister agree with NFU Vice-President Meurig Raymond, who said:

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is right. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the Government are putting in £20 million of taxpayers' money to subsidise the scheme, which is supported by the NFU and run by the industry with an NFU representative as the chairman of the board.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Arrangements for fallen stock collection are, of course, part of the Government's efforts to deal with biosecurity. This morning, I saw a distressing video from Northumberland trading standards, filmed four days after the foot and mouth outbreak began in 2001, of Bobby Waugh's Burnside farm. Has the Minister seen that video—I know that his Department has it—and if so, does he agree that it provides ample justification for reopening Dr. Iain Anderson's inquiry into the causes and lessons of the foot and mouth outbreak?

Mr. Bradshaw: I have not seen the video and do not agree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman's
 
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question. I understand that the video contains nothing new and have been told that all the details in it were given to the Anderson inquiry. Dr. Anderson himself has said that his decisions and recommendations would have been exactly the same, and the video formed part of Bobby Waugh's trial.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Does the Minister recall Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 22 July, when he claimed that the NFU supported his view that hunt kennels play what he described as a "small role" in the collection of fallen stock? Has he seen this letter from the NFU, which states:

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman sit down? Front Benchers are privileged and are sometimes called before Back Benchers; do not abuse the privilege. If the Minister can answer, fine; if not, we will move on.

Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot comment on the letter, Mr. Speaker, because the hon. Gentleman did not have the courtesy to include it when he wrote to me about the issue.

 ........

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/cm041021/debtext/41021-04.htm

Foot and Mouth

9. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): What progress she is making in paying compensation following the foot and mouth disease outbreak. [192828]
 
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): All statutory compensation due to farmers for animals slaughtered during the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak has been paid. However, 20 outstanding claims for increased compensation are being considered. In addition, the Department has 26 other claims from farmers relating to the outbreak.

Mr. Swire: I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply, particularly given the fact that, back in November 2001, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), in an answer to me said:

and that the Government were

Yet here we are, some years later, but not everybody has been compensated. Not all the agrimonetary compensation has been called down. Is it therefore perhaps worth understanding why farmers in the south-west simply do not understand why the Government will not hold a full inquiry into the ravages inflicted by foot and mouth, and why they are extremely nervous that, were such an occurrence to happen again, the Government would still be unprepared?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure whether that question really hung together. As I said in my original answer, all the statutory compensation has been paid. Out of thousands of cases, a tiny handful have not been settled, some because the farmers have let them lie dormant for a while, some because they are being disputed. The hon. Gentleman needs to be reminded that, were it not for the hard work of my officials, we would have lost nearly £800 million to the taxpayer through overpayment in cases involving fraudulent or inflated claims.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): It is astonishing if no Minister has seen the video that shows the failings of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in respect of the inspections at Burnside farm. Despite the fact that that video and Mr. Dring's report were not shown to the Anderson inquiry, the Anderson report made it clear that, to keep illegal meat imports out of the country, DEFRA should be given responsibility for co-ordinating all activities, including improving surveillance and adopting best practice from import regimes elsewhere. Does the Minister really believe that, in trying to deal with an outbreak that cost perhaps £3 billion last time and which could cost a lot more next time—indeed, if human disease is brought in through illegal meat imports, it could cost lives as well—four extra sniffer dogs and a refusal to use X-ray equipment for searching baggage is a satisfactory response to the Anderson recommendations?

Mr. Bradshaw: The Conservatives continue with their historic attempt to deflect blame for the foot and mouth outbreak away from where it belongs—with the farmer who was responsible for illegal and irresponsible practices, and who was prosecuted for them—and towards MAFF, as it was then called, and the people
 
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who check illegal imports. Professor Anderson has already said that, even if he had had all the information that has come to light in the past few months, his recommendations would have been exactly the same.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I draw the House's attention to the fact that, as my entry in the Register of Members' Interests shows, I am a farmer. Compensation for foot and mouth is but one example of DEFRA's failure in its dealings with that outbreak. One of the first things that this Government did was to launch the Phillips inquiry into BSE, which cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. Why will they not now grant a similar inquiry with a full remit to examine every aspect of the way in which they badly handled the foot and mouth crisis?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman's party refused to have any inquiry at all into BSE when in government, so it is rich for him, given that we have had several inquiries into foot and mouth, now to demand another. Has he spoken to the shadow Treasury spokesman about an extra spending commitment?

Raptors

11. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): What discussions she has held with the Department of Trade and Industry on (a) possible changes in registration charges for captive raptors and (b) the impact of such changes on small businesses involved in raptor breeding. [192830]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): No discussions have yet been held. Charges for birds needing to be registered under section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 will not be reviewed until officials have consulted stakeholders on new proposals concerning the species to be included on the schedule. Officials will consult fully with the Department of Trade and Industry's Small Business Service at all stages.

Mr. Williams: I thank the Minister for that reply, but, as I understand it, consultation is taking place with DEFRA, and suggested increases in registration charges and in the cost of licences relating to CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species—could put real pressure on small businesses and impede the valuable conservation work being done in this country. Will he meet representatives from the Hawk Board and hon. Members from across the political spectrum to discuss the matter?

Mr. Morley: I am always willing to meet hon. Members who have a particular constituency or other interest that they wish to discuss with the Department. There are two issues here. Consultation recently took place on CITES charging, which applies only to raptors that fall within the terms of such regulations, and we are still considering our response. Consultation on registration charges, which is a separate issue, has not yet taken place, although there has been consultation with the Hawk Board, and a seminar on this issue is being organised. Such consultation is still going on and we would be interested to hear the board's views. If,
 
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having made its representations, it still wants to have a meeting, I will be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about that.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I welcome the Minister's kind invitation. Will he put on the record his recognition of the valuable conservation work done by the raptor breeding programme in the UK, whose international reputation is well deserved?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I am happy to acknowledge the first-class work done by many organisations in conservation and captive breeding programmes. Indeed, we have recognised the importance of this issue in the consultation on CITES charges.

What I am concerned about in relation to charges for management and inspection for overall sectors is ensuring that there is an element of recovery. It should not fall entirely on the taxpayer, but I am willing to take all these issues into account.

Beef

12. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If she will make a statement on beef exports from the United Kingdom. [192831]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): UK beef prepared under the date-based export scheme is being exported to a number of EU countries. In the light of recent positive opinions from the European Food Safety Authority, we will continue to work with the European Commission to ensure that restrictions on UK beef exports are eased as quickly as possible.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), I am not a farmer, but I represent many farmers and beef production is very important in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State say in the House today that UK beef is the best in the world and that it is tender and tasty? Will she tell us what plans the Government have formulated to promote increased exports of British beef once the over-30-month scheme has been lifted?

Margaret Beckett: I wholeheartedly endorse the hon. Gentleman's words. Not only is British beef the best in the world, I strongly believe that it is probably the safest to consume in the world. We are continuing to work fully with the European Commission to ease any remaining restrictions. As to how we can further promote the export of British beef when those restrictions are lifted, he will be aware that some of the first beef exports since the foot and mouth epidemic went earlier this month to the SIAL—Salon International de l'Alimentation—food exhibition in Paris. It was, I fear, Southern Counties Fresh Foods beef, but I know that he will not mind that too much. That provides a good example of exactly the sort of promotion that I am confident that the beef industry, and the meat industry as a whole, is itching to undertake.
 
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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): When did the Secretary of State last have discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on these issues? I understand that there is a health issue and that it might be impeding the export of beef. That should not be allowed to continue.

Margaret Beckett: We are, of course, in continual discussion with all Government colleagues who are affected by this matter. We are also in discussions with the Commission and the House may like to know that our chief vet met the Commission last week precisely to discuss how to take all these matters forward. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we keep in touch with all the relevant players. There are, as he will know, some remaining queries about inspection, enforcement and so forth, but we are endeavouring to address them as speedily as we can.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): The Secretary of State has just said that British beef is now the safest in the world. How much longer will it take Ministers to persuade the EU to make the necessary changes to the date-based export scheme so that the long overdue abolition of the over-30-month scheme, which is already justified in food safety terms, can happen and be followed by full exploitation of the large potential export market for British beef?

Margaret Beckett: Obviously, I cannot put a date on it, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, as I said a moment ago, we continue to discuss the issues with the Commission, as our chief vet did last week. We need to obtain a further satisfactory Food and Veterinary Office report and deal with related issues, but he may like to know that the forward plan presented by the Commission to the Agriculture Council last Monday envisaged lifting the UK embargo in 2005. We are working with as much urgency as we can to address these issues.

e necessary changes to the date-based export scheme so that the long overdue abolition of the over-30-month scheme, which is already justified in food safety terms, can happen and be followed by full exploitation of the large potential export market for British beef?

Margaret Beckett: Obviously, I cannot put a date on it, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, as I said a moment ago, we continue to discuss the issues with the Commission, as our chief vet did last week. We need to obtain a further satisfactory Food and Veterinary Office report and deal with related issues, but he may like to know that the forward plan presented by the Commission to the Agriculture Council last Monday envisaged lifting the UK embargo in 2005. We are working with as much urgency as we can to address these issues.

ition of the over-30-month scheme, which is already justified in food safety terms, can happen and be followed by full exploitation of the large potential export market for British beef?

Margaret Beckett: Obviously, I cannot put a date on it, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, as I said a moment ago, we continue to discuss the issues with the Commission, as our chief vet did last week. We need to obtain a further satisfactory Food and Veterinary Office report and deal with related issues, but he may like to know that the forward plan presented by the Commission to the Agriculture Council last Monday envisaged lifting the UK embargo in 2005. We are working with as much urgency as we can to address these issues.