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Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I should like to begin with a point about which I intervened on the Minister. Other hon. Members have mentioned veterinarians, and I wish to reiterate the genuine concern that exists about the number of vets available whose training is based on farm animal welfare. As we have heard, many vets today decide to specialise in companion animals, which means that fewer of them have farm animal experience of the sort that the Department needs to call on when there is a crisis such as foot and mouth.

I repeat to the Minister that there is clear evidence—I am sure that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has spoken to him, and if not, I am sure that it would do so—about the fact that the training of qualified vets in other EU countries does not concentrate as much on farm animal husbandry in its course and syllabus as our own veterinary qualifications.

This is not an issue of knocking people from European countries who come to work as vets in this country, as they are clearly entitled to do; it is about looking at the resource of qualified veterinarians who have the expertise that might need to be called upon in an emergency. One of the lessons that was learned from the last foot and mouth disease outbreak was that many retired vets who were living in the community could have been called upon and would have brought to the situation not only their expertise as veterinarians, but a valuable resource that was clearly needed during the foot and mouth crisis—local knowledge. That would have helped vets who were called in from throughout the country to assist.

I raised the issue of security at ports and airports on several occasions during the passage of the Bill that became the Animal Health Act 2002, as I served on the Committee that considered that Bill. The Government have made some gestures, but I am not happy in my mind that these matters are clear in practice. There is a paucity of people coming before the court to be tried and convicted, and we have heard about the rather laissez-faire attitude of the people who sit and hear the very few such cases that do come before them.
 
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In 2002, I tabled a written question asking the Secretary of State

The reply stated:

I do not travel abroad widely or extensively; as the Minister knows, I live in God's own county, and who would want to travel abroad when they live in Devon? None the less, I do so occasionally, and I think that in the past year, I have visited Canada and two or three EU countries.

Mr. Russell Brown: What about Belgium?

Mrs. Browning: I have not visited Belgium; a little shiver just went through me.

The provision at Dublin airport was implemented as a direct response to our foot and mouth problem in the UK, and the airport lounge contains not only amnesty bins, but a veterinary office. Other countries perceive the issue in that way, and I would like an update from the Minister on illegal imports, which other hon. Members discussed today, and personal imports.

It is important that passengers on planes are asked to fill in a slip and declare what they have. When one enters the United States, for example, one is asked to tick a box. Dogs can deal with the problem without holding up passengers who are moving through airports, because they can sniff out imports without bags having to be opened and examined. More dogs should be involved, because they deal with the problem so effectively.

When the Secretary of State responded to the foot and mouth disease inquiry reports on the Floor of the House, she made a clear commitment, and it would be good if the Minister were to update us on why so few people are apprehended at our ports and airports. Are all ports and airports covered or are there gaps? What happens to people who arrive in this country by sea from the Channel Islands or mainland Europe? When one arrives at a major airport in this country—in particular, Gatwick and Heathrow—one sometimes does not see any officials, and I should like to hear more about that point.

I shall briefly discuss one or two specific animal diseases, on which I should like to hear the latest updates from the Minister. The Animal Health Act includes measures to rid our national flock of scrapie, which is a laudable aim that I support. When we debated the 2002 Act, however, the fact that scrapie is rife in eastern European countries was mentioned, and I discussed the matter with the Minister for the Environment. What will happen to our scrapie policy after 1 May, when some of those countries join the EU? It would be nonsensical to rid the UK flock of scrapie only to expose it to imports of breeding stock or meat—I do not mean that sheep eat sheep. What procedure will be implemented to protect the national flock from increased access to scrapie from eastern European countries?

On avian influenza and Newcastle disease, some hon. Members attended the British Poultry Council's lunch, at which Lord Whitty and Mr. John Maunder, who is
 
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my constituent and the retiring chairman of the British Poultry Council, gave a presentation. In his address, Mr. Maunder mentioned that the council works with DEFRA on environmental matters and contingency planning for an outbreak of avian influenza or Newcastle disease. He said:

the industry

When will those movement licences be finalised to complete the protection against avian flu?

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) and several other hon. Friends mentioned bovine TB. When I was a Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1994 to 1997, I was aware of bovine TB, because, when I was elected in 1992, it had just spread down from Exmoor to affect the area to the north of my constituency. Bovine TB has now spread through my constituency, and it would be on its way into the Minister's constituency if the Minister's constituency contained any farms. The Minister will know from his knowledge of the geography of the south-west peninsula that bovine TB descended across Bodmin moor from higher moorland areas such as Dartmoor and Exmoor.

From 1994 to 1996, I could see the disease moving to other parts of the country, going round the corner to Bristol and up to the borders of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The policy that we had put in place to deal with and control the disease appeared not to be working. I had many meetings to discuss the problem, including with the Irish Government, who had put into practice a cordon sanitaire. My boss—the Agriculture Minister—and I agreed to set up the Krebs committee because we felt that any dramatic change in policy had first to be assessed by an independent panel, then brought back to this House. However, the election and the change of Government intervened.

If the Minister really wants to stop the spread of the disease, which is rather different from containing it where it already is, will he consider what has happened in the Republic of Ireland? As I see it, the only option is to throw a cordon around certain areas where we can see that it is travelling up or—as in the south-west peninsula, where the Minister and I have our seats—down the country. Having held the office that I did for three years, I understand the problems and risks involved and realise that it is a hugely difficult call politically, but it is one of the options that he must consider.

Linked to that, it is well worth considering the work that is being done in the Republic of Ireland on vaccination. One of the things about research—I was always sensitive to this, as is the Minister, I am sure—is that scientists want to bid for those valuable pots of money, whether public or private, to follow their own interests in terms of what research might bring. However, we should not let the fear of duplicating effort preclude us from looking beyond these shores to where research is being done that might help to fast-track some of the solutions that we need, particularly in the difficult area of bovine tuberculosis.
 
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5.22 pm

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Lab): My constituency is a large rural constituency, and I believe that we have approximately 1,800 farms in the whole of the county that is covered by my seat and that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger).

I came to the debate intending not necessarily to take part but to listen to what the Minister had to say about several issues about which I have written to him—not least bovine TB. The title of the debate as it appears on the Order Paper is "Government's Record on Animal and Plant Diseases", and I was stunned that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made no reference to the impact of bovine TB or BSE on the farms in my area. That is a clear indication of how out of touch Tory Front Benchers are in relation to issues that affect my farmers. I am pleased that at least the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Flook) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) recognised the importance of bovine TB to farmers in west Wales, which is a large dairy area.


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