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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the ongoing hardship and distress that the aftermath of foot and mouth disease continues to cause to so many of the people I represent. I make no apologies for choosing a narrow subject tonightthe impact of the disease in my constituencyalthough if I had known that I would have an hour and 24 minutes to talk about the impact of FMD, I might have broadened the scope of the debate to allow more of my hon. Friends to join in the debate. However, I would welcome any contributions that they might wish to make.
The issues that I shall raise affect all rural constituencies, both those that were particularly badly hit in Devon and Cumbria and those that never had a case of FMD. Tatton was not the worst affected area, but it did suffer from the effects of FMD. The first outbreak occurred at Little Leigh in the west of the constituency on 25 March. Outbreaks at Over Peover and Sproston followed, and the last outbreak was identified at Crowley on 29 May. During those two months, there were seven confirmed cases in the Tatton constituency, out of a total of 17 cases in Cheshire. I should say that I checked the Department website today and it listed only 16 cases, but I am reliably informed by the county council that the correct figure is 17. My constituency had the largest number of any one of the county's constituencies.
Given that I have a little more time to cover the issues, I shall briefly breakas I willingly concedethe agreement I made with the Minister's private secretary a couple of days ago and touch on some of the issues surrounding the Government's handling of the disease, although I hope to do so in a non-partisan spirit. I certainly do not wish to repeat the extremely heated exchanges that I read about between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in the debate in Westminster Hall some days ago.
The issues that I hope any inquiryI shall deal later with the question of a public inquirywill cover include the Government's immediate reaction to the outbreak in the first few days of receiving news of the disease. We need to know how those crucial hours were handled by Government Ministers. We need to know whether those three days in which livestock movements were allowed to continue were crucial to the spread of the disease. I hope that the inquiries will also examine the epidemiological evidence that might show that the outbreak would have been much smalleras some have suggestedif the Government had imposed movement restrictions immediately, rather than waiting for those crucial three days.
I hope also that the inquiries, when they are conducted, will look at the way in which animals were disposed of. There is great concern in farming communities that the large funeral pyres used at the beginning of the outbreak contributed to the spread of the disease. It was felt that thermal currents from large pyres spread the virus over large areas.
I hope, too, that the inquiries will consider whether the Government need to adopt the draconian new powers proposed in the Animal Health Bill. There is little understanding in farming circles of why the Government believe that they have to act in that way now, when the great many other matters arising out of the foot and mouth outbreak will not be attended to until lengthy inquiries have been conducted.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which will be rather longer than he expected, in prime time. Was there any evidence in his constituency of the Department's officials breaking their own very strict biosecurity rules and entering clean premises after working at infected ones?
Mr. Osborne: There were no such cases in my constituency. We were lucky, if that is the right word, in that the disease had been raging for several weeks before an outbreak was reported in my area. As a consequence, by the time the disease occurred there, the Army had been involved and the Government had sorted out their methods of culling and disposal. The culling in my constituency was well handled by the Army, but I know that that is a real issue in many other areas. Again, I hope that the inquiries that will be held will look at that matter.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. This is not a general debate on foot and mouth disease. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confine his remarks to the impact of the disease on his constituency.
Mr. Osborne: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall briefly round off my remarks by saying that none of the matters that I have set out can be dealt with by the various inquiries that the Government have set up. People in my constituency do not understand why a full and independent public inquiry will not be held. Such inquiries have been held to investigate rail disasters and the bovine spongiform encephalopathy
The first matter is the heavy financial losses suffered by many of my farmers. Although the disease did not break out on their farms, their businesses were all but destroyed by the Government's movement restrictions. I shall give one example out of dozens in my constituency. In June, I went to see Mr. Ken Gee on his
In a written question last week, I asked the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), whether farmers like Ken Gee, who have suffered heavy losses solely because of the Government's regulations, would receive any compensation. I received this answer:
I have used Mr. Gee's two cows as a simple and single example of one of the many thousands of ways in which the Government's foot and mouth regulations have caused huge losses to farmers in my constituency and across the country who are not directly touched by the epidemic. Indeed, it is commonplace in farming circles these days to remark that in many ways it was better to have the disease than not to have it. I heard that myself when I visited the National Farmers Union in Chelford a couple of weeks ago. The farms that were infected went through the trauma and shock, which I do not underestimate, of seeing their livestock destroyed, but at least they received full compensation, their business was kept afloat and cash flow was maintained. Those who did not have the disease on their farm but were next to areas being culled may have suffered almost as much trauma and loss of business but they have received nothing, and many of them in my constituency face ruin.