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Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): I echo the thanks of many hon. Members for the work that my right hon. Friend and his Department have done so far. I want to raise a couple of issues which could be discussed at tomorrow's meeting. First, Pembrokeshire county council has a number of problems with strays that are being collected by farmers who then do not know what to do with them. Unfortunately, if they cannot identify the owner, despite being healthy the animals are being put down.
Secondly, I welcome, as do the farmers, my right hon. Friend's proposal for localised licensed movement, which will address a range of problems. However, tack sheep, which exist in large numbers in my constituency and have come considerable distances--in some cases more than 100 miles--are now starting to lamb. Could a crash training course be delivered by the Department and through the National Assembly, so that farmers with tack sheep can handle lambing?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is on to a strong point. There is no way of stopping animals lambing, so if they cannot move, they will have to be lambed with specialist assistance in their location, and that has a knock-on effect for the dairy industry, where a farmer running a dairy business may well have been planning to use facilities on the farm for the purposes of his dairy business. This is not a simple question, but we are considering my hon. Friend's suggestion as well as licensed movement.
I will ensure that advice to farmers on dealing with stray animals is placed on the internet and in the advice sheets that we are sending out, if that has not already been done. However, a stray animal that is taken into a specific herd has, whether voluntarily or not, joined that herd.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): All of us understand the Minister's difficulties in balancing disease control and the animal welfare problems that have been raised time and again this morning. I know that he is aware of the gross problems of ewes that cannot be moved, which can die of septicaemia where they stand, and which might have to abort their lambs or be shot. Of course, the lambs too can die where they lie.
I do not think that we can coax the right hon. Gentleman to say any more about the possibility of a localised licensing scheme, but will he accept that it is a matter of extreme urgency? I recognise that it is also a matter of micromanagement and I understand the problems in making exceptions, but I believe that the more locally a decision is taken, the more effective it will be. I wish him godspeed with the decisions that he is going to take, and I hope that he can make a very early announcement.
Mr. Brown: I thank the right hon. Lady for those words of encouragement. I think that we will be able to proceed with a localised licensing scheme to deal with very localised movements. We will do so as soon as such an arrangement is consistent with disease control advice. That is only a matter of days away. However, my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) referred to the more intractable problem of animals that are effectively in winter grazing quarters and would, in the normal flow of the industry, move back to their home farms for lambing. I keep the animal welfare consequences closely under
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): When the time is appropriate, will my right hon. Friend pick up on a suggestion recently canvassed at the British-Irish interparliamentary body, where it was proposed that there should be a single veterinary regime for the island of Ireland? I should like to ask another question on behalf both of myself and of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer). Will he ensure that his Department considers sheep, cattle and horses on the Thames marshes, whose ownership, control and welfare are obscure, to say the least? Those animals could pose an additional problem in combating the spread of the disease.
Mr. Brown: Of course, the Department is keeping under review the position of wild animals, including boar, deer and Dartmoor ponies, as well as that of animals that are grazed on common land. Our current view is that those animals will have to form part of a common herd, except where it is subdivided. The disease is not infectious to horses, but sheep and cattle are at risk. As for the veterinary regime, co-operation between the different veterinary authorities within the European Union works at a professional level. The respect in which our veterinary authorities are held has helped us to convey our point of view to the rest of the European Union.
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): The Minister will know that 15 of these appalling cases have arisen in my constituency. I must tell him that this morning's reports from the Carlisle and Longtown area are very disturbing. They suggest that the situation in that area is verging on becoming out of control. We have waited five days for some carcases to be burned and sometimes seven days for tests to come through. Everyone praises MAFF's staff on the ground--there is no criticism of them at all--but people in the area are pleading with the Minister to rush in more resources urgently so that the testing can be done more quickly. There are reports that the killing has stopped today because there are so many carcases to destroy. I see that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is agreeing with me. Please can we have more resources to help with the emergency? If necessary, for example, specialist units from the Army engineers could be used to help with the pyres.
Mr. Brown: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is a logistical problem not only to kill the animals, but then to destroy their carcases. I do not need any extra resources to do that; it is just a matter of managing the problem. I express my full sympathy to him and to his constituents, as it has now emerged that Longtown market was at the centre of the spread of the outbreak. Unfortunately, a large number of contacts were traceable back to that market, and thence to the Heddon-on-the-Wall farm. The comfort that I can offer is that the chief vet has been told that he must draw upon whatever veterinary resources are needed. There is no other constraint within Government: we are giving priority to control of the disease.
Secondly, all the cases that have emerged so far, excluding the most recent cases on which work is currently being done, are traceable to the original outbreak. The movement controls that we introduced last Friday seem to have prevented the further spread of the disease. However, it had already spread far more widely than anyone could have forecast or wanted.
Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about urging those in the supply chain to treat each other fairly. He will be aware of reports of shoppers paying higher prices for meat without any benefit to farmers or those who work in the industry. Will he assure us that everything is being done and will continue to be done to ensure that consumers are not paying unjustifiably high prices?
Mr. Brown: That is quite a complex question, because the supply chain has been substantially disrupted. I can only repeat my appeal to all the players in the supply chain to treat everybody fairly. That includes the industry's customers.
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): I appreciate the Ministry's efforts to deal with the terrible disease. The single case of foot and mouth in Northern Ireland was due to an illegal trade in sheep that were bought in Carlisle, imported to Northern Ireland and transferred to the Republic of Ireland.
It has come to light that, under EU regulations, it is not possible to stop the transport of sheep at the ports; they can be checked only at the point of arrival. That means that sheep cannot be checked at the ports. If they are diverted, they cannot be checked at the frontier. There appears to be a loophole in EU legislation. When the Minister has an opportunity, perhaps he will discuss that serious matter with the European Commission so that the loophole can be closed.
Mr. Brown: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right; I shall check the law and write to him. It is my understanding that I have all the powers necessary to prevent the movement of animals and thereby the spread of the disease in Great Britain. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Northern Ireland has a separate veterinary regime. It is not for me to interpret the law, but I believe that the veterinary authorities there have all the powers that they need to restrict the movements of animals. There is no importation of live animals for movement into Great Britain; just as the domestic herd and flock cannot move, neither can any imported animal. I imagine that the position is the same in Northern Ireland under the strict licensing arrangements that pertain there.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): I, too, wish to thank my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the way in which they have handled the terrible epidemic and for the Ministry's detailed consultation with the National Assembly for Wales. We greatly appreciate that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that foot and mouth disease has wide-ranging consequences beyond the livestock industry? Crops and horticulture, and the tourism and outdoor pursuits industries are also affected. They are essential to the economy in my constituency.