Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 360-380)

MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001

RT HON NICHOLAS BROWN AND MR JIM SCUDAMORE

Mr Jack

  360. In your usual courteous way—
  (Mr Brown) In my usual courteous way of course I will look at your individual constituent's case, starting with, why they cannot be moved!

  361. For the sake of my constituent, Mr Parkinson, who will now have been watching these proceedings for the last hour and 58 minutes, seeing if his case will be raised—
  (Mr Brown) Do any other members of the Committee have constituency cases?

  362. I think that is an indication of the problem, Minister. This is a question to Mr Scudamore. You dealt earlier with the reviews of the infected areas. We have had one kill-out due to a dangerous contact which subsequently analysis has shown did not have foot and mouth. When will that area and the restrictions which come with that kill-out be reviewed? We have had it now for about ten days since the first identification problem.
  (Mr Scudamore) I need to know where the case is and what the situation was. If the dangerous contact was not confirmed, it would not have initiated a restriction order.

  363. The cattle were slaughtered as a precautionary measure but I understand that subsequently analysis showed that the animals did not have foot and mouth.
  (Mr Scudamore) Again one would need to look at the analysis because if the analysis showed they did not have foot and mouth does not mean to say they were not incubating foot and mouth. The problem we have when we talk about dangerous contact, it means there is a link between that farm and an infected farm, so the virus could have been moved from the infected farm to the dangerous contact. Those animals could have been incubating the disease. The reason we kill the dangerous contacts is to remove any potential incubating animals as quickly as possible. The fact that any testing was negative does not mean they were not incubating the disease. Secondly, we do not put an infected area on or around a dangerous contact, the infected areas go on around the infected premises. So I am not quite sure what restrictions would be on. Perhaps I can get the information from you.

  364. You certainly can. Minister, a lot of people have been very concerned about imports or meat products into this country and a number of stories like contaminated dried Chinese meat circulated, to the detriment of Chinese restaurateurs, you yourself when you gave evidence earlier indicated that contaminated meat might well be the source of this foot and mouth outbreak. Can you just give us a quick summary of the types of proposal you are currently considering to try and tighten up on these risk factors in the future?
  (Mr Brown) Work is going on across Government now. In fact there is a paper waiting for me to read on my way out to Luxembourg specifically about the personal imports and, separately, commercial imports from outside the European Union. I am going to consider the views of the different departments which are involved in this. As you know, Customs and Excise have the policing function at the point of entry. When I have something more considered to say then of course I will be ready to discuss it, but I am not in a position to take this forward at the moment, but am close to it.

  365. You are not able to enunciate the list of possible areas where there may be changes, have any short-term changes been made to inspection procedures in the light of this current outbreak?
  (Mr Brown) The procedures themselves have been tightened up and there is some investigative work going on in areas which are deemed to be priority areas, but I do not want to say any more than that.

  366. Can I assume from that that Customs and Excise have also reviewed their procedures, and one might expect a reasonable man to think things have been tightened up?
  (Mr Brown) There is a discussion between my department, Customs and Excise and other agencies about all this, and when I have something important to say in public, I will.

  367. Can you give us any indication, both in the area of my first question and your last comment, as to when you might be able to say something more in public about that?
  (Mr Brown) Relatively soon. I give the Committee this commitment: I am looking to make a statement on Thursday and if I can say something more in that statement on Thursday I will do so. If I cannot, I will do it in my next statement.

  368. Finally, you mentioned earlier this afternoon briefly the question of pigswill and the consultation you are having on that. Can you give us any indication as to when this ban will come in?
  (Mr Brown) I have not decided on the outcome of the consultation yet, so I am not in a position to definitively announce a ban, but again when the Government has formed a view, informed by consultation, I will go to the House.

  369. In that context, are there any other waste products currently being fed to animals which you are looking at as potential sources of risk?
  (Mr Brown) Not that I am aware of but if there is something you would like to put to me in that context, please feel free to do so. I will include it in the consultation process and have it examined. Our current framework is pretty tight now. With the 1999 changes made on mammalian feed it is difficult to see what in terms of the law can be fed to animals what more one can do but I am always open to points others wish to make.

  Chairman: Minister, with the agreement of your private secretary, we are going to take one rapid further question.

Mr Todd

  370. Going back to the theme of the future, clearly there will need to be a recovery plan for the livestock sector.
  (Mr Brown) Yes.

  371. How far advanced are you in that?
  (Mr Brown) I have outlined the proposals which I want to put into the public domain in the next few days. There are some specific issues I will need to consult the industry on but I think the largest question, as we have discussed before, is what is the future shape of the British sheep industry going to be after this. That leads on to a debate about issues which the Committee will be familiar with, our proposals for gene-typing the national flock, having TSE resistance, the European Commission proposals to review sheep premia, our own plans for the future of the less favoured area regime and the successor regimes for the hillfarm and livestock allowances. I do not think anyone at the moment would be arguing we should be doing it on a headage basis but the better thought, and perhaps the more radical one, is that we should look at what more use we can make of the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy under which the hill livestock regime now falls to have a system which is more supportive of farmers' income and less based on the total number of sheep.

  372. On that theme, early retirement, which is something I have raised before—not for me personally but for farmers—
  (Mr Brown) As you know, if I could have made an early retirement regime work, then I was very attracted by the idea, but the deadweight costs were huge when we last looked at it, which was admittedly in a more neutral context.

  373. Sadly, there has been a lot of deadweight removed between then and now.
  (Mr Brown) I take your point. I am looking at a recovery plan which at least does not exclude consideration of that. But let me make it absolutely clear to the Committee, I know there is a lot of support for the idea in the House for perfectly good and decent reasons, it is fiendishly difficult to make it work. In particular where tenant farmers have lost their livestock and might have the most pressing claim, I am told it is not possible because of the law to distinguish between tenants and those who own their farm premises.

  374. Lastly, repeating a question I asked last time about restocking guidance, I think at that time there was a statement saying we were putting something together and we would have it available reasonably soon. Has it surfaced yet?
  (Mr Brown) Do you mean restocking after?

  375. Yes.
  (Mr Brown) No is the answer to that.

  376. Where are we on that?
  (Mr Brown) It is a bit early to sum up.

  377. Another constituency case—Mrs Archer at Marston on Dove- and I am sure there are lots of others.
  (Mr Brown) This is the other way round. I think it would be better to give some clear signals as to what the support regime would be over time and then talk about the restocking protocols. Frankly, if one moved to a system of much more targeted payments directly to the business for a whole series of socially desirable objectives, one would set maximum levels of stock on holding and ensure there were viable business minimum levels as well, but they might be less than what a farmer would expect if their first intention was to farm the livestock rather than take part in a more managed countryside scheme. These are big questions for the future.

  378. In my case, my people are keen to farm livestock and would like to know when they can start purchasing again and start restocking their farms once more. It is becoming more acute to give that sort of information to those who had infection some time ago.
  (Mr Scudamore) We have internal restocking guidance but I do not think we have published it and that is something we need to do. It does involve cleaning and disinfection of the farm, certification cleaning and disinfection has been done, they can then restock with a proportion of the animals which have to be held for 30 days—

  379. We ran through this last time and it needs to be nailed a little harder than that, so people can have some confidence and can plan ahead.
  (Mr Brown) There are difficult questions though about the shape of the regime, including some quite hard ones, which I think it would be quite wrong to—

  380. Which would influence whether people wanted to restock.
  (Mr Brown) Exactly. They are holding, some of them, quite large sums of money and wondering whether to reinvest in the business.

  Chairman: To which we may wish to return. Minister, thank you very much indeed. We have Professor King on Wednesday, so any questions you would like us to put to him, if you would let us know between now and then! Meanwhile thank you very much indeed and we wish you well in Luxembourg. See you on Thursday.





 
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