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Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): We now have the voluntary livestock welfare disposal scheme, but I assure the Minister that it is not working. A pig farmer in my constituency--who I believe the Minister met yesterday--now has 3,000 more pigs on his farm than the buildings can accommodate. That is absolutely disastrous. Yesterday, the farmer was ready to move his pigs to the licensed abattoir at Hatherleigh, which was ready to receive them, and transport was laid on to start the process.
At 7 pm, an official from MAFF rang and cancelled everything. He stated that animals should be slaughtered on the farm. The Minister must concede that that would be dreadfully inhumane, a danger to public health and appalling for animal welfare purposes. I dare not dwell on the consequences of partial culls being handled on the farm, especially in pig buildings. I am told that the official who cancelled the arrangements was a Whitehall official, so will the Minister please resolve the chaos and confusion and issue instructions immediately that the scheme should proceed through the abattoir at once?
Mr. Brown: I will take a hard look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. However, there may be countervailing reasons why the instruction was given--I do not know and I do not want to rush to judgment. The hon. Gentleman is right--I spoke to his constituent yesterday--and I assure him that I shall have a hard look at that case and get it resolved.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I welcome my right hon. Friend's frank and detailed statement and the spirit with which he is trying to address the genuine concerns of Members of all parties. I remind him that we now have eight confirmed cases in my constituency and perhaps another two about to be confirmed. It looks as though the situation in the county of Durham is continuing to deteriorate. I welcome the evidence of the speed with which slaughter is already following identification. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether the rumours that the Army may come to the county are true?
Mr. Brown: There will be a military presence to help with the logistics in controlling the outbreak in Durham, in my right hon. Friend's constituency and in neighbouring constituencies. The response time from discovery to slaughter is vital in preventing the spread of the disease in County Durham.
Mr. Brown: No, I cannot, because there are serious reasons why one might not want to use vaccination. That strategy is not to be rushed into just because some people call for it; others are bitterly opposed to it. It is important to explain carefully what we are doing, why we are doing it and what our exit strategy is, and it is vital that we explain ourselves properly to farmers and carry them with us. I did hear something of the complaints that the hon. Gentleman mentioned when I visited Carlisle yesterday, and I am taking action to make the best possible use of veterinarians' time.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the supportive remarks made by vets and farmers in Dover, Deal and other parts of east Kent. Will he consider the particular circumstances prevailing in east Kent, where two cases have been confirmed purely on observations, but all the blood and tissue tests have proved negative and local vets and certainly local farmers are convinced that there is not a foot and mouth outbreak? Yet we have the imposition of all the restrictions about which we have heard this afternoon, and tomorrow a massive cull is threatened of what I consider to be healthy cattle.
Mr. Brown: I said earlier that there is not a popular announcement that I could make. If I lifted the movement restrictions, as my hon. Friend asks me to do, and the disease spread throughout the southern parts of our country, I would be justly criticised. I am afraid that it is necessary to keep those restrictions in place for the time being and to work through the licensed movement system where we can. I know that that is hard news. I understand why people who believe that their animals are healthy resent it, but there is not an easy option and the right thing to do is to keep the restrictions in place. I apologise to my hon. Friend's constituents for that, but it is for the greater good.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whenever I speak to farmers they ask for two things: clarity of advice and co-ordination of operations? He heard what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said about Brigadier Birtwhistle. Will he consider, as I asked him on Friday, appointing a senior military officer, to be directly answerable to him, to take charge of the operations nationwide, rather than merely having a series
Mr. Brown: The briefing is placed in the Library daily and should have been placed in the Opposition Whips Office. As for last Friday's presentation to journalists and Members of Parliament who could attend, I aim to repeat that exercise this week or at the beginning of next week at the latest. I shall try to hold it at a time that is convenient for hon. Members, which I understand is mid-week.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Has my right hon. Friend or his ministerial colleagues had a moment to reflect on the proposal in New Scientist, which I sent to him, that napalm could be used to destroy carcases quickly? If there is a shortage of napalm in Britain, surely the Americans could help. [Interruption.]
Mr. Brown: I understand the question. It is not as frivolous as Opposition Members seem to think. We are considering a range of disposal routes, but napalm is not one of them--not even as a fuel, which is, I think, what my hon. Friend means.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Now that the epidemic has become a pandemic, I welcome the Minister's commitment at least to look at the possibility of using vaccines. How much vaccine is in the United Kingdom and how much might have to be imported? What contingency plans does he have to distribute the vaccine to vets?
Mr. Brown: Purely on a contingency basis, plans are quite far advanced. Some 500,000 shots are lined up for this strain of foot and mouth disease and I have access to an additional 5 million vaccinations, if they are needed. A vaccination strategy requires repeat vaccination. It is not an intervention that is carried out just once. We must also consider the time that it takes for the vaccine to have an effect. The shot that we have had made up is particularly vigorous and would have an impact on the animals between four days and a week.
Ms Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Calderdale is part of a severely restricted blanket exclusion zone, but local farmers have complained to me that they are not being officially told that they are in such an area. They are finding that out through the NFU, through conversations with neighbours or when they apply for movement licences. A number of those farms are more than 17 km from the outbreak in neighbouring Queensbury and the NFU has made representations to the Ministry to get the restriction limited to the 10 km exclusion zone. Clearly, welfare problems are an issue for anyone in a restricted area and I am not pleading a special case. However, it appears that
Mr. Brown: I shall consider the control zones in my hon. Friend's constituency. However, they take into account local circumstances, are imposed on veterinary advice and are vital to prevent the spread of the disease.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister acknowledge that there are three crises in the countryside? First, that of the farmers who have foot and mouth on their holdings, with the tragedy that that entails; secondly, that of the farmers who are caught in the restricted areas, which are widely drawn from London without regional guidance and where enormous problems of animal welfare and of running a business are building up; and, thirdly, the difficulties experienced by hundreds of thousands of ordinary businesses because there are tourist attractions with no tourists, visitor attractions with no visitors and businesses with no customers. Will he deal with those issues?
In addition, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he cannot build a firebreak on the fells? If the disease gets on the Pennine uplands, it will sweep south like a brush fire. Vaccination might be necessary to stop that. Will he take that decision quickly? If he does vaccinate, will he ensure that he has got the vets to do the job? I am afraid that there is a history of a long interval between the Minister announcing policy intentions and their implementation.