Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Meacher: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I realise that his constituency is one of the worst affected in the country. In terms of dealing with the backlog, Devon is probably the most seriously affected area now that the backlog in Cumbria has been cleared to a large degree. I accept that Dartmoor in particular has been grievously affected.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about a regular--he says weekly--re-examination of the infected area boundaries. I shall certainly discuss that with my right

23 Apr 2001 : Column 32

hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I undertake to ensure that what the hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve can be achieved, perhaps by the use of some such method as he suggests.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Given that the rapid disposal of mountains of carcases is crucial, have the rural taskforce or the Government been in touch with the Nevada department of agriculture at Reno or the school of veterinary medicine at the Louisiana state university at Baton Rouge, both of which have experience of the use of napalm? Is it not true that napalm will dispose of carcases in 60 minutes, whereas pyres take three days, and that because of napalm's lack of vaporising effect, its use does not give rise to the by-products, such as dioxins, that may arise from the burning of railway sleepers or old tyres?

Should not the use of napalm be considered urgently? Is the reason why it is not being considered, even though it was suggested in writing four weeks ago, the fact that there are overtones of Vietnam that might not be acceptable to the public? Given the crisis in the disposal of carcases, should we not at least think about it?

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that we have not consulted the Nevada and Louisiana authorities, but I take his point. I have said that the Government's priorities in order of preference are rendering, incineration in industrial plant, and burial on registered landfill sites. Those remain our priorities.

In Devon, the only option--other than the one that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) unwisely suggested--is the use of pyres in the open field. We recognise that issues of public health are involved and we have tried to reduce dioxin emissions, as well as those of other relevant pollutants such as particulates, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, by avoiding the use of wood treated with chlorinated agents such as lindane, large amounts of PVC on pyres, and chlorine bleaches in disinfectants. However, I have no Vietnam-related inhibitions about napalm and I am perfectly prepared to look at its use. If it can make a contribution to the--I hope--rapidly decreasing number of fires in open fields, I am happy to take it on board.

Mr. Maclean: Can the Minister not understand the seething anger in Cumbria when, with 40 per cent. of the country's cases, Cumbria--and, indeed, England--is treated as the poor relation; when we see £6 million lobbed to the tourist board across the border while peanuts are given to the Cumbria tourist board; and when we see on the Wales Office or Welsh Assembly website the boast that the rate relief given there is far more generous than that given in England? Can he not understand the mounting anger when, although the Labour-controlled county council says that we will lose £530 million by July, we get only a share of £15 million given to the RDA, which is money down the drain? Minister, we need cash now for the businesses that are being affected to save jobs now, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) suggested, not to regenerate them in six months' time.

Mr. Meacher: I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity. When I came to Cumbria, I was accompanied by him and I recognised his concern for the area. In areas

23 Apr 2001 : Column 33

such as Penrith and Longtown, the region has been extremely badly hit. He is wrong to suggest that sums such as £6 million have been handed over in a cavalier fashion to the British Tourist Authority or the English Tourism Council. Those sums will assist areas such as Cumbria as much as others.

I recognise that although Cumbria and Devon will get the lion's share of the latest £15 million that I mentioned earlier, that is not sufficient by itself. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say on the day of my visit--if I remember correctly, I made this comment in a meeting at Longtown and in Penrith--that I wanted detailed information and quantifiable data on the basis of which I could judge the size of package necessary to tide businesses over. I am glad to say that the Cumbria taskforce, which is a good body, has been diligent in providing that information. I repeat that we are actively considering what further aid can quickly be given in a practical and well-targeted manner.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Will my right hon. Friend intensify pressure on local authorities to reopen public footpaths? At Easter, I did a good deal of walking in Devon, where far too many footpaths are still unnecessarily closed. Also, can we please have an extra bank holiday in the autumn, as has been requested by the British tourism industry?

Mr. Meacher: We are extremely keen to reopen more footpaths. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, will redouble her efforts to ensure that that happens. A large number of footpaths--I am not sure whether it is a majority--have now been opened, but many that are still closed could undoubtedly safely be used. We will certainly exert pressure to ensure that the guidance and guidelines are properly adhered to. On the question of a public holiday, I said in the south-west, where I think that the idea was promulgated, that we had considered the proposal. However, it is not currently on the Government's agenda.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): The Minister spoke about ways of reducing the public health risks from pyres. Today, he has been reported in various news reports as saying that the Government are monitoring the situation to establish a clear picture of how dangerous the pyres are. However, that is inconsistent with what I was told at a seminar organised for hon. Members three weeks ago, in which I asked what temperature the pyres had to reach to ensure that the virus was killed. I was told that there was a slight risk at the very beginning of the burning of a pyre, before the temperature started to rise, but that the Ministry of Defence was carrying out monitoring down wind of pyres to assess the virus and other risks. Presumably, that monitoring has been going on for a month, so surely an analysis of the health risks is now available. Will he publish the results and provide an assessment now of the health risks from pyres?

Mr. Meacher: I have already made it abundantly clear today that, although there is public health concern about dioxins, the matter must be seen in perspective. We estimate that the pyres have so far generated about 18 per cent. of the total amount--about 350 g--that is generated

23 Apr 2001 : Column 34

annually in this country. That needs to be seen in proportion, as the amount is about the same as that which is produced by two bonfire nights. Of course, bonfires on Guy Fawkes night undoubtedly generate a considerable amount of dioxins. That is understood by the public. I put the matter in those terms because it is important to see it in perspective.

We will certainly publish any information that we have about the public health impacts of dioxins. We are not complacent about that and we know that there is a public health risk. We are trying to minimise that risk and we are considering the options for disposal that will produce the least risk for the public. At the same time, we must recognise that leaving carcases rotting in the fields is the worst option of all. The problem needs to be dealt with one way or another. The Holdsworthy pyre is now being monitored. All the main pollutants, including dioxins, are being monitored and we will certainly publish the results.

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): In Pembrokeshire, we had the best Easter for many years. One of the reasons for that was the work of the county council and the Pembrokeshire coast national park with the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales to open as many footpaths as possible before Easter. I emphasise that every footpath was opened with the full agreement of the local farmer and landowner. That needs to be replicated throughout the country. May I recommend to my right hon. Friend the advice and risk assessment that Pembrokeshire county council and the Pembrokeshire coast national park conducted? All local authorities should work with local farming organisations and tourist associations to open as many footpaths as possible.

Mr. Meacher: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments and the example shown by Pembrokeshire. We are trying to achieve what he recommends. We have called together local authorities, and Government offices in every region have organised meetings with local authorities to ensure that they understand the guidance and the guidelines, and give a commitment to open footpaths, parks and other facilities as quickly as possible. I hope that his request is therefore being rapidly fulfilled.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Minister will have noted some scepticism in the House about the scale of the package compared with that of the problem. To enable us to judge properly, can he tell us the taskforce's current working estimate of the overall impact of the foot and mouth crisis on the rural economy in lost output? Will he explain why it is considered adequate to spend a few million pounds in 12 major markets overseas to promote the tourist industry when the Government find it necessary to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on promoting themselves in this country? They are now the largest advertiser in the country.

Next Section

IndexHome Page