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Mr. Brown: It would not be necessary to have vets to pursue each individual vaccination. That can be done by others who are trained only to vaccinate the animals. For once, veterinary resources are not a constraint on policy. I have been as candid as I can be with the House. We have a vaccination strategy under consideration, which I am not announcing today. A contingency plan is being moved into place if we decide to go down that route. If we decide to stand it down, we shall stand it down.
We have tried to respond to the broader difficulties in the rural community, including those faced by the operators of tourist businesses and others. I have introduced the farm animal welfare scheme to deal with those who cannot move their animals and cannot manage them in their local circumstances. The rates have been widely welcomed by the trade. They are as close to market conditions as we would dare get without disrupting the market. That has been done to try to help hard-pressed farmers. Where the disease is found, we buy the animals on the basis of 100 per cent. compensation. I agree that that does not solve the problem, but it goes some way.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): May I ask my right hon. Friend about abattoirs such as Farmers Fresh, which is a producer-owned and producer-led business in Warwickshire? I met some of its representatives last night. It is a high-standard abattoir and
As my right hon. Friend said, we need to think also about recovery. The Farmers Fresh abattoir will need to exist when, as is to be hoped, we arrive soon at recovery. What help is he thinking of giving such abattoirs in the intervening period?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right to set out the difficulties that are faced by other parts of the food chain, including abattoirs. We are trying to get work moving where we safely can. We are trying to do other things to help the sector. He talks of a business being geared up for the export market. I do not know the circumstances in detail, but any recovery plan--we are working on such a plan with the industry--must take into account the fact that the export trade, especially for the sheep sector, is likely to be constrained for some time.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Will the Minister consider urgently the practical issue of pedigree breeding flocks and breeding herds? Owners of such flocks--the sheep have genes that go back more than 100 years--are petrified that if the disease gets into them they will lose them for ever. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to press that issue.
Will the Minister consider the question of price? It is welcome that cattle and sheep can now be moved to abattoirs, but the prices that are being paid, especially for sheep, are extremely low. There is a feeling that farmers are being ripped off by the trade. Will he look into that? Does he agree that one way to resolve the issue is to encourage both consumers and Government Departments to buy British?
Mr. Brown: I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about buying British. I appeal to everyone: if we want to help the British livestock market in these difficult times, we should buy its product. It is clearly identified in retail outlets. Let us make a special effort to buy British. That would help to reinforce the supply chain and reinforce prices within it. I have appealed to everyone in these difficult circumstances to treat one another fairly, and I am happy to repeat the appeal today.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says about rare breeds. I want to do what I can to save pedigree stock and rare breeds. He is right to say that a local vaccination strategy may help us to achieve that objective, either directly or indirectly.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I commend my right hon. Friend and his Department for their approach to this terrible problem. I am aware that he has documentary evidence, supplied by Sky Television and others, of illegal activities. Does he agree that the real issue involves livestock dealers and markets? Will he consider what I feel is a reasonable suggestion made by Commissioner Byrne, which is the tagging of sheep?
Mr. Brown: We are in close contact with the European Commission about all that. I have not yet received the evidence that Sky Television said that it would send me, but when I do, naturally I shall examine it very carefully indeed.
Mr. Brown: Getting our response time down to 24 hours from discovery to slaughter is essential; all our endeavours drive in that direction. In response to a question on a previous statement, I promised the hon. Gentleman that I would have the issue examined. I have asked for that to be done, but I have not yet seen the response.
Mr. Brown: A great deal of progress has been made. There are a number of possible sites and I know that there is a lot of interest in exactly which one will be used; all sorts of rumours are going round the community, as always happens on such occasions. I am not in a position to make a statement to the House today; in fact, I expect the announcement to be made locally. However, we are looking to open other disposal routes, and I understand that we are pretty close to getting those arrangements in hand and announced.
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): May I personally thank the right hon. Gentleman for the support that he and his Ministry offered at the meeting of the European Commission's Standing Veterinary Committee today, which agreed to give Northern Ireland regional export status? That was very good news for Northern Ireland. Given that the principle of regionalisation in the United Kingdom has now been accepted, will he consider opening up other areas on the mainland that do not have cases of foot and mouth so that they too can benefit from that development?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right: the Government want to pursue a regionalisation strategy where possible. I am pleased that we have got acceptance in principle for the strong and perfectly justified case made by Northern Ireland. As our efforts bear down on the disease and we confirm the disease-free status of the north of Scotland, western Wales and East Anglia, it may well be possible to make adjustments to localised movement controls and perhaps, in time, for trade more generally to resume. It is early days, but clearly we have that at the forefront of our minds.
Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): My right hon. Friend is right that British consumers who want to support British farmers can go out and buy British products. Does he agree that if British people want to support their tourism sector and the broader rural economy, they should go out and do so now? Will he prevail on Opposition Members and perhaps the media to desist from their unhelpful assertion that the countryside is closed?
Even in infected areas such as my constituency there are small family businesses, such as the hotel in Shifnal, which has lost 75 per cent. of its trade in March for no good reason, and the village pub that I visited on Saturday, which has lost 30 per cent. of its trade for no good reason. Does my right hon. Friend agree that careless talks costs livelihoods and jobs and will he seek to instil that point into Opposition Members?
Mr. Brown: We are facing a serious disease outbreak in animals; that is no reason to avoid the countryside. All people have to do is stay away from farmed livestock. There are many things in our market towns, heritage sites and so on that people can visit; they should just stay away from farmed livestock. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness): As one who has an unforgettable memory of the outbreak in 1967, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the then Minister, Fred Peart, was advised not only that the slaughtered animals should be buried immediately, but that if the carcases were burned, there was a serious risk that the virus was so viable that it could be carried a considerable distance beyond the infected area?
Mr. Brown: I do not know what advice was given to Fred Peart in 1967--I was at school at the time--but I do know that the business about the virus being spread by on-farm burning is a myth. The risk of the virus being spread as a result of the fires destroying the animals is vanishingly small. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that on-farm burial should be considered as an option. Indeed, it is used as an option, but only where that is compatible with the water table and with other very necessary disease--I include prion disease--control measures.