|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): May I ask my right hon. Friend to ignore the lectures from the Conservative party, whose record on BSE and other animal health and welfare issues was so abysmal? It ill becomes Conservative Members to come to the House in that mood and with those attitudes in the current circumstances.
I thank my right hon. Friend and his officials for being so helpful in dealing with the animal welfare problems among breeding flocks on the western fells of the Lake district in my constituency. Is he aware, however, that agriculture and tourism are inextricably linked in the Lake district hills and dales, so the Cumbrian economy is grievously damaged by the unprecedented crisis in agriculture? Is it not time urgently to provide a package of measures specifically to help the Cumbrian economy to weather the storm? Is it not also time for the Government, or--dare I say it?--the Treasury to be flexible, imaginative and generous in these unprecedented circumstances?
Mr. Brown: I have as much sympathy as I am allowed to have with what my right hon. Friend has said. He is absolutely right to refer to the inextricable links between tourism and agriculture in Cumbria, and I am pleased that the Ministry has been helpful in dealing with one of a series of difficult issues on the fells in his constituency. He is also right to tell me to be very careful about where I take advice.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): What would the Minister say to my constituent, Mrs. Wilcox of Grove farm, Bletchingdon, which is the parish that is almost next door to Chesterton, where we had an outbreak of foot and
Mrs. Wilcox was on the telephone to my office today, almost in tears. The accommodation for her thousands of piglets is bursting at the seams, so what will the Ministry do about such cases? She says that she, the NFU and the National Pig Association cannot get through to anyone on the telephone; but we must have a system so that farmers such as Mrs. Wilcox can have help with their crucial welfare culls.
Mr. Brown: I will ask my private office to take up the constituency case that the hon. Gentleman perfectly rightly raises. Clearly, I cannot give him a response to an individual case across the Dispatch Box, but I will have it examined. He will understand how difficult the foot and mouth outbreak is for the pig sector--fortunately it has not got a hold in areas where pig farming is predominant--and there are two reasons for that. First, the disease is incredibly infectious in pigs and they multiply the virus very quickly. Secondly, as he knows, because of the stratified nature of the industry, movement restrictions can cause welfare problems very quickly. The hon. Gentleman has nevertheless asked me to deal with that issue, and I will get my private office to consider it.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement. May I reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)? We need a financial package for Cumbria, which is in the thick of the outbreak and where there is severe financial hardship in some areas. We are getting on with the job in a bipartisan manner without the splits that have appeared here today.
I have two questions for my right hon. Friend. First, now that MAFF owns the lease on the Great Orton aerodrome, which is the mass burial ground for many animals, will he ensure that public health in that area will be looked after not only today and next week but in the many years to come? Secondly, the NFU would like to keep cattle in their sheds--and not turn them out to grass--for one, two or three weeks more. That will cost money; I understand that it is estimated that it would cost £2 million to keep them inside until the end of this month. Will my right hon. Friend consider ways of funding that?
Mr. Brown: On my hon. Friend's second point, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is considering a feedstuff strategy for the infected areas where we believe the disease will be borne down on best by keeping cattle housed for longer than they normally would be. He is considering how we can facilitate that.
On my hon. Friend's question about the aerodrome lease, the disposal site and the public health issues, I can give the assurance that he seeks. As I understand it, there are no public health risks, but it is right that we should not just reassure ourselves about that but explain the
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Today and tomorrow in my constituency, 3,500 pigs and sheep will be killed. None of them is infected, but they are suffering from animal welfare problems and movement restrictions. Is it too late to provide more flexibility to local vets--they are in the best position to make judgments particularly about the movement of stock over short distances--instead of freezing everything until welfare becomes such a serious problem that it results in the death of many innocent animals?
Mr. Brown: I do not quarrel with the underlying thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question. I am trying to free up the movement restrictions so that we can facilitate the normal workings of the trade. I think we all agree that that is the best way forward. However, I can do that only in a way that is compatible with the veterinary advice on disease control that is available to me. As soon as I can do what the hon. Gentleman asks, I assure him that I will.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I remind the Minister that some areas are not co-operating fully. On the west highland way, which passes through my constituency and attracts more than 1 million visitors every year, landowners are reverting to type and using the foot and mouth crisis to deny people access to it. Will he remind such individuals to put agriculture in perspective? It provides 0.8 per cent. of employment in the country and 1.8 per cent. of gross domestic product. Tourism is the jewel in our crown and we need full co-operation from the farming and agricultural communities.
Mr. Brown: Many matters are devolved and not my responsibility. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point: tourism is an incredibly important industry in northern Scotland, where there is no foot and mouth disease.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Last Saturday, I attended a public meeting in my constituency on the Ministry's proposals for a burial site in the parish of Petrockstowe. My constituents will stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with farmers because they understand that hundreds of thousands of carcases cannot lie on adjoining farms for days and weeks on end. However, the problem is gaining access to the site. The choice, which is devastating the village, is to drive through its narrow lanes--or, alternatively, to use the main road via the clayworks. I believe that the owners of the clay company are using this dire crisis to blackmail the Government and my constituents in an endeavour to secure extortionate terms. Will the Minister immediately exercise emergency powers to ensure that the right of way will go through the clayworks to the burial site, not through the village or its narrow lanes, which are utterly unsuitable?
Mr. Brown: Because the hon. Gentleman asked me to, I have considered the problem. As I understand it, there are three possible routes of access: through the village, off the main road or through the clayworks. He is right to
Mr. Brown: I do not have emergency powers to seize property owned by the private sector, as opposed to the Government. However, I shall do what I can to resolve the issue, to which I have given careful consideration.
Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): My right hon. Friend will know that last week the Peak district national park had its first suspected outbreak. That was investigated by vets almost a week ago and it has still not been confirmed. Nothing has been done on the contiguous farms. Clearly, when the rest of the Peak district economy is starting to bottom out and improve, it is important that we know as quickly as possible not only if the case is confirmed, but how the exceptionally isolated incident occurred.
Mr. Brown: We need to be careful collectively in dealing with predicted sporadic outbreaks. What we cannot predict is where they will occur. Initial testing shows that the holding in my hon. Friend's constituency is clear of the disease. However, it may be too early to give a final confirmation of that. Like everyone else, I hope that it is clear.