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Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I suppose my right hon. Friend would think that it meant nothing to the Treasury, but may I draw him a little nearer to the new clause? Its purpose is to avoid the horrific scenes of carcases lying rotting in fields, the terrible scenes of carnage that caused enormous problems to our image around the world and had a devastating effect on our tourism industry, which cost us many millions of pounds. My right hon. Friend may like to consider that, even though perhaps it is optimistic to think that the Treasury is capable of taking such issues into consideration.
Mr. Gummer: There is a problem with my hon. Friend's analysis. In looking at the consequences of such a new clause, the Treasury will think only of the narrow immediate expenditure. It will find it difficult to recognise that the new clause is intended to help the Treasury to defend the greater sum of resources available to it. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the huge cost that was paid because of the insufficient funding of the culling operation. The cost is one which we pay today. I happened to be in the United States when the televisions were filled with pictures of fires and the whole situation, but much worse were the photographs of the animals lying dead in piles. That did huge harm.
I remind the House of an experience that I had. It will help the Minister to deal not with large carcases, but with the smaller carcases of hens. I remember being faced with the problem of a number of nuns who were keeping hens and who had a salmonella difficulty. Of course, hon. Members can see immediately the public relations disaster of a whole lot of nuns seeking to protect their hens from the arrival of those who were going to kill them. That did not seem to me to be good news. In the end, we went early, even before they had begun to see the crime. We destroyed the hens before either nuns or journalists were up. I am not suggesting that it would be possible for the Minister to deal with a great mound as quickly as that, but in public relations terms, the quicker, the better. If it has to be done, it has to be done quickly. The hon. Gentleman admits that.
I hope that the Minister will understand that we press the new clause not out of antagonism to him or indeed to what was MAFF and is now, at least in part, DEFRA, but to give him the power that is necessary if he is to win battles within his Administration. Although I was a member of an Administration who by nature, support and backing were closer perhaps to rural areas than his, it was not always easy to win what I needed to win. Often I needed support. From time to time, the hon. Gentleman and his friends gave me that support by making it very difficult for people not to ante up the money. That is all we are doing today.
I hope that the Minister will take seriously the proposition that, by setting him a target, we enable him to set a target for the rest of the Government, achieve the resources necessary and deliver the necessary result. I hope that he or any future Minister will never face such an outbreak again, but the position needs to be put right.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): The Bill is ill advised and ill timed. A touch of optimism is returning to the farming community. I hope that foot and mouth has been defeated, but the Bill again drives a wedge between the industry and the Government. Any co-operation that we would like to engender and encourage between the two seems to be ill fated.
MAFF set targets on slaughter and disposal. Those targets were not met because the disease completely overwhelmed the organisation that was in place. The Minister has told us that there was a national contingency plan but whatever it was, it was clearly not sufficient to deal with the disposal of the number of carcases that were on farms and in fields around farms.
There were three ways of disposing of those carcasesburial, burning or rendering. Clearly, rendering was the preferred method, because it took place in well controlled environments. Sometimes, however, carcases had to be transported through clean areas that had not had the disease. Rendering capacity was limited, so burning and burying had to be contemplated.
Lessons from the previous outbreak did not seem to have been learned, because the report on that outbreak said that on-farm burial was the favoured method of disposal. That had been accepted by the farming community.
Tony Cunningham: Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that one of the problems with on-farm burialI am a Cumbrian MP so I know what I am talking aboutwas that often the water table was too high and it was impossible to bury the animals on the farm where the disease had broken out?
Mr. Williams: I accept that concern for the environment has increased since the 1967 outbreak, but instead of on-farm burial, it was decided to have mass burial and burning pits. The experience in my constituency was that concern for the environment was fairly minimal. One area on the Eppynt, an army range in my constituency, was designated and, until prompted by local farmers and villagers, no environmental assessment was even performed. However, one of the reasons given for not using on-farm burial was that an environmental assessment of each site would have to be carried out, which would be time-consuming and difficult to achieve given the resources available.
If the mass burial and burning sites were included in the national contingency plan or the local contingency plan, that was not thought through very well. The new clause would encourage the Minister to ensure that any contingency plan, and any lessons learned from the inquiries that are taking place, would put more emphasis on deciding how to deal with the number of carcases that are generated.
It was an upsetting time for the farming community. It was the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) who mentioned killing fields, but it was often killing yards. The animals were brought in close to the farms to
It is important that carcases are disposed of to prevent the spread of the disease. Although the animals produce no more virus when they are dead, the carcases can be torn apart by vermin, and the disease transported to other farms. The tourism industry also suffered because the animals were seen to be left unburied and when they were disposed of it was done in a way that deterred people from visiting areas that depend on tourism as well as agriculture for their livelihoods. I supported an amendment in Committee that was not framed as tightly and simply as the new clause, but the present proposal would help the Minister and it should be supported.
Mr. Wiggin: It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who made tremendous and well informed speeches. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) also made a passionate speech.
When the decision to cull was taken, the Minister will have thought, "I must cull, otherwise our export market will be lost." That is a proper commercial decision. It was not done for humane reasons. There are not 5 million fewer farm animals because the Minister had humane reasons for his decision. We know, however, that the Minister will not slaughter on that scale ever again, thanks to the developments in vaccination.
If the new clause has one purpose, it is to act as a brake on the Minister's decision-making process. Never again must carcases lie for nine days, as they did in Winforton in my constituency. Herefordshire relies heavily on its huge agricultural sector, and on tourism. Never again must we allow one market to be sacrificed so completely, and then watch with horror as another is taken down with it, leaving people in the countryside with virtually nothing.
The new clause would encourage the Minister to vaccinate first. The Bill closes the stable door long after the horse has bolted, and any efforts that we can add to ensure that the Minister vaccinates first will improve life in the countryside.
The new clause would mean that any future Minister facing a similar crisis would almost certainly be obliged to call in the Army at the earliest possible stage. That would naturally be part of any contingency plan, and would mean that some of the horrendous abuses of animal and human rights would be avoided. It would also prevent the horrendous mental damage suffered by people whose livestock were slaughtered.
The new clause would also prevent the terrible smell from pyres, which did so much damage to the tourism and agriculture industries, and to connecting businesses across the country. I therefore urge the Minister to change his mind and support the new clause.
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) speaks with great authority from his experience of dealing at constituency level with the tragic consequences of foot and mouth disease. I rise merely to emphasise to the Minister the importance of this new
However, if the Minister is unable to agree to the provisions of the new clause, he must explain to the House why, given the lessons that have been learned and the findings of the two inquiries that are being held, he would not be able to dispose of carcases within the time scale that has been laid down. If he cannot explain that, it will be tantamount to an admission that, in another foot and mouth outbreak, he could not sustain the performance of disposal that was eventually achieved at the end of this outbreak as a result of the lessons that had been learned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), in his elegant speech, mentioned the Army's logistical input. Subsequent new clauses deal with the matter of a national strategy, which should incorporate the type of performance indicator and requirement contained in this new clause. In the interests of sending a powerful message to farmers that the Government have learned their lessons and that ifGod forbidthere were to be another outbreak, it could be dealt with effectively, the Minister should agree to new clause 7. However, if he is fearful of accepting it, he must explain why he will not.