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Aujeszky's Disease

Volume 87: debated on Thursday 21 November 1985

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1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on his meetings with the National Farmers Union regarding the financing of the Aujeszky's disease eradication fund.

I met representatives of the pig disease eradication fund, including members of the NFU, on 17 June, when I repeated that the Government had agreed to undertake the Aujeszky's disease control and eradication scheme solely on the basis that the industry would meet the net costs of compensation for slaughter. I told them that I could not agree to a departure from this clearly understood arrangement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the present deficit on the fund is about £13·5 million and that hard-pressed pig producers are likely to have to shell out well into the 1990s? Will he reconsider his rejection of the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture and see whether he can do anything to help this hard-pressed industry?

I am aware of the size of the overdraft, but I point out that £3·7 million was incurred by consequential loss arrangements which the fund introduced in direct conflict with the advice of my Department.

Does the Minister accept that the ADEF has been a remarkable example of Government and industry working together to tackle a major disease afflicting agriculture? Why has he rejected the Select Committee's conclusion that the Ministry was responsible for some of the deficit? Why does he not give a handout in the way that has been suggested?

I agree that the liaison between the Government and the promoters of the fund has been successful, and I hope that soon we shall be able to announce that the disease has been stamped out altogether. After all, there were only 10 cases this year compared with 443 in 1983. A clear deal was made between the Government and the sponsors when the scheme started, and I see no reason to break that understanding and arrangement now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that neither his Department nor those representing pig producers foresaw a run on funds and the accumulating interest payments, which are now out of control any more, than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland foresaw the need to ask for £50 million a year because of the unforeseen burden placed on Scottish ratepayers by revaluation? Therefore, will he exert the same muscle in Cabinet as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has done for his Department, and carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee?

The cases are not comparable. I remind my hon. Friend that, when the polls were begun, the Government emphasised that the original estimates had to be treated with caution and that it was not possible to determine with accuracy the extent of the disease and other factors before the eradication schemes were started.

Does the Minister agree that unless the Government make good the shortfall in the financing of the scheme the industry's confidence could be damaged, and that might affect its support for other schemes in the future?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) on his appointment and welcome him to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he will speak for the Opposition for many a long year.

There is another side to the story which the promoters of the scheme might do well to bear in mind. The hon. Gentleman says that the producers' confidence may have been dented. The Government's confidence in entering into another similar arrangement, however desirable, might also be dented if this type of hassle goes on afterwards to try to break the original terms of the deal.