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Madam Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Rehabilitation of Offenders

Question agreed to.

21 Mar 2001 : Column 447


Motion made,

Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Touhig.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'.--[Mr. Touhig.]

Hon. Members: Object.

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Foot and Mouth (Cumbria)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Touhig.]

10.17 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I apologise to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for keeping her on the Front Bench. She has been here for most of the day and I am sorry that she will have to be here for a while yet.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to my constituency on Sunday at very short notice to talk to the National Farmers Union and the farmers regarding the very serious problems that Cumbria has with foot and mouth? There are more cases of foot and mouth in Cumbria than in any other county in the United Kingdom. In my constituency, which does not have a very big rural area, two more cases were identified today. The problems are increasing.

There will obviously be an inquiry into the outbreak. It may be through the Select Committee system or there may be a public inquiry. When that inquiry is held, it will look into the reasons for the outbreak, what went wrong, what went right and how we will deal with the situation next time. It will come back to the fact that what really started the problem was the two or three-week delay in the notification of the disease at the farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall. Unfortunately, that delay allowed the disease to spread throughout the country, specifically within Cumbria. That has led to the problems that we see today.

Much concern has been expressed today about the farmers and their families. I reiterate that; there is no doubt that they are devastated and, in many cases, are in despair. I have talked to farmers in my constituency and throughout Cumbria and there is a sense of desperation.

My constituency is mainly urban--90 per cent. of the population is urban--but there is no division between the two communities. There is great support among those who live in the city centre for help for those on the farms and in the rural community. Carlisle city council intends to allocate £250,000 tomorrow for aid for those who are suffering, and I applaud that. There is no division between the communities, and no one should try to create one. There has been too much talk in this House over the years of town and country: this crisis has brought us together, and it should keep us together.

Concern has been expressed about how the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has dealt with the situation. Some farmers' grievances are justified, even if others arise from anger that something has gone wrong and a need to blame someone for it. Certainly, no blame can be laid against the staff who have worked in my constituency. The vets and slaughtermen, those who have gone out to farms and those who work at Rosehill, Edenbridge house and the new crisis centre that has been set up at the civic centre have worked tremendously hard. Unfortunately, we must ask them to work that hard for a lot longer since there is no sign of abatement. I pay tribute to them.

The Government made the right decision in deciding that the regional headquarters in my constituency should expand. It was under threat, but if we had closed it,

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Cumbria would have more serious problems now. The decision to expand it depended greatly on the calibre of the staff, and they have shown that calibre recently.

There has been criticism about communication problems. Whether the true extent of the problems did not go down the line from Carlisle to Whitehall, or whether Whitehall was not listening, I do not know. I have, however, been deeply concerned about those problems, and have brought them to the Minister's attention. Over the weekend, too, I made several telephone calls to Downing street. I am glad that a senior civil servant, Jane Brown, has been sent to Cumbria, and I hope that the Minister will tell us more about her brief. I hope that she will have powers to take the immediate decisions needed if we are to get on top of the crisis.

Last Thursday's announcement on a cull within 3 km of an affected farm was greeted with anger and dismay by some farmers in my constituency. That anger abated somewhat when we clarified the position with regard to cattle, and there has been further change since then because my right hon. Friend the Minister of State met National Farmers Union representatives in Carlisle on Sunday and went on television later to explain the policy to people beyond that group. In addition, the chief vet, Jim Scudamore, came on Monday to talk to vets and farmers.

Time has also changed matters since last Thursday. Almost a week later, it has become apparent that the Government's policy announcement was correct. The increase in cases has proved the Government right, though I must enter the caveat that we have to listen to local opinion, especially among vets. Where a farmer has good reason to protect his stock, that farmer should have a right to appeal.

I have already thanked my right hon. Friend for coming to Cumbria on Sunday. The NFU in Carlisle much appreciated her visit, and she learned as much as they did from it. She was told one or two things about which she had not been aware, particularly about delays. I also pay tribute to the NFU in Cumbria, with whom my relationship has not always been of the best, but we have worked well together during this crisis. I pay tribute to Nick Utting, the local NFU secretary. We have done a lot, but much remains to be done.

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State give me some information on targets? There is still concern about delays, although I accept that the situation is improving. I hope that as soon as an outbreak is confirmed--or perhaps as soon as it is suspected--the target should be that action is taken: the diseased animals should be destroyed within 24 hours and within a further 24 hours they should be buried or removed from the site--sent to the rendering plant or whatever. That is important. We cannot say that the outbreak is under control until we can act within such time limits. Hopefully, the number of cases will start to decline in the not too distant future, but the problem will continue for a while.

I wholly support the involvement of the Army; that is obviously a help and we shall see the benefits. However, I am not sure whether we need to bring up hundreds of soldiers with heavy-lifting equipment--probably from the south of England--to carry out burial and disposal. Good civil engineers and building contractors in Cumbria have the expertise to carry out such work, with the advantage that they are there already--we do not have to wait for them to arrive from Salisbury plain or wherever. I hope

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that my right hon. Friend will carefully consider the involvement of more local contractors to help with disposals.

Compensation for slaughtered animals is being paid quickly--that point came out at our meeting with the NFU. There is no problem with that; the animals are valued and slaughtered and the cheques are being sent out. There was no complaint about that, which is good. However, the agriculture sector will need a great deal of support over the next three to six months--perhaps for a year or more. The Government must find ways of providing that support.

We need to examine the structure of the agricultural industry. We should consider what we really need in Cumbria--what we want farms to do--and make the necessary adjustments in the sector.

I welcome the support announced by the Government yesterday for the wider rural economy. However, we need to look further into the matter, so it was especially pleasing to hear that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment had agreed to meet a delegation from Cumbria to discuss what is needed to help the whole county. I hope that meeting will take place towards the end of next week, because immediate action is needed.

Agriculture is not the only problem--tourism faces great problems. The affected areas of Cumbria stretch from Silloth on the Solway plain to my constituency and up to the Scottish border and south of Penrith--probably a quarter of the county. Fortunately, the rest of the county does not seem to be affected yet--touch wood. However, there are effects on the whole of Cumbria because of television programmes and pictures in the newspapers that suggest that the entire county is affected. That is not the truth. Areas such as Barrow, Whitehaven, Kendal and Workington do not have a problem. People can visit those places and enjoy their holidays. We must get that message across.

It is not helpful when the Leader of the Opposition says that the Cumbria tourist board is in favour of cancelling the elections. I have checked that point. The tourist board did not say that; it is the personal view of the chief executive. Obviously, I understand that the Leader of the Opposition misquotes people; he misquoted me today. I still have not found out where he got the quote relating to my criticism of the Government.

It would be wrong to cancel the local elections in Cumbria, especially if we are singled out along with Devon. What does that say to people who are thinking of coming to stay? It suggests that there is something seriously wrong in Cumbria, and people will not go there. Let us consider the impact that that is having on the Cumbrian economy. Agriculture is losing £5 million a week and the tourist trade is losing up to £10 million every week--a £15 million loss in a county with a population of less than 500,000. That is a major hit, and it would be bad enough, but we know that it will get worse unless we can get the tourists back. It has been calculated that we will lose £70 million if things have not improved by Easter. As the holiday season begins, the losses will amount to £20 million or £30 million a week. We must do something drastic about that.

I want to make two points before I conclude my comments. Cumbrian Members of Parliament are here now. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness

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(Mr. Hutton) is sitting on the Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is sitting behind me. We must accept that the economy of Cumbria will go into recession this year. We cannot disguise the fact that people will lose their jobs and businesses will close. Some people have said that Cumbria is in meltdown, but that is not true and it does not help.

The Cumbrian economy will bounce back. How soon it bounces back and how high it bounces will depend, first, on those of us who live in the county. We must decide how we shall get out of the situation. It is no good holding up our hands, saying, "Help us." We must take action. Although the Cumbrian taskforce is very useful, Cumbria county council must be the lead organisation.

Secondly, we need assistance from the Government. Agriculture needs Government assistance, as does the whole county, but it does not just need money. However, it will need quite a lot of money, and I hope that the assistance will be generous. We must remember that public money is involved; we cannot throw it away. The Cumbrian taskforce should be given some money so that it has the option of picking out the priorities, and I hope that that will be discussed during the delegation's visit next week.

Finally, the economy will not improve greatly unless we eradicate foot and mouth disease throughout the county. We can do the other things that I have mentioned, but the main priority must be to get on top of this terrible disease and wipe it out in Cumbria as quickly as possible.

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