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Mr. Liddell-Grainger: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In an emergency, burial is as good a way of getting rid of carcases as any other, but he is absolutely right to say that we should be going for incineration. My point is that should there be another epidemic, there would not be the capacity in this country to incinerate the necessary number of animals safely. I know that on-farm burning is still an option, but as one who lived through it, I would hesitate over that, and would not want to see it again.
In conclusion, in areas such as Exmoor and Devon, which my hon. Friends the Members for Taunton and for Tiverton and Honiton also represent, we cannot get this matter wrong. If we do, whole swathes of this country suffer, as we have seen. Many things have been recommended by various reports, but they have not been brought together. There are too many loose ends, and unless the Minister and the Government pull them together, if we have another epidemic, either because TB grows faster or foot and mouth returns to this country, we will not be prepared to deal with it. People such as Richard Haddock and farmers throughout the country will be quite rightly furious with us as MPs, and with the Government in particular.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to the debate, and perhaps I may comment on one point that the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) just made on agricultural colleges. I am sure that he shares my concern that with the decline in the number of people wanting to enter agriculture at a young age, the agricultural colleges have diversified into such subjects as equine services and countryside management. Those are perfectly worthy activities, but the colleges have not been able to give as much investment or support to existing farming communitiesthe farmers who are long in the tooth whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
It has been a pleasure to follow some of the speeches of my colleagues, and my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made good contributions. My constituency was badly affected by foot and mouth, and some of the issues that we have discussed today have been brought to my attention by farmers in my constituency.
I agree with probably two thirds of the official Opposition's motion. I agree that illegal imports pose a threat to this country and that vigorous controls are needed. I do not agree, however, that the Government have learned no lessons since the foot and mouth outbreak. Lessons were incorporated in the Bill on
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animal health, many clauses of which the official Opposition opposed; indeed, they may even have opposed the Bill in principle.
Another lesson that has been learned is the importance of contingency planning. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford I mentioned Operation Hornbeam, a major simulation operation that will take place in June to test contingency plans for another foot and mouth outbreak, and which will cover all parts of the country.
I acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), who spoke about how well the ring rot outbreak in his constituency was contained, especially thanks to the responsible actions of the farmer concerned. I should also point out that it was a great honour to attend last Saturday the funeral of Geraint Howells, former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader and former Member of Parliament for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. He would have contributed to this debate in his usual, very deliberate way.
I was rather surprised when the Minister opened his speech by applauding the fact that the foot and mouth outbreak was contained within seven months. That seemed like a bit of positive spin that was perhaps written by a special adviser. There was more than a year of absolute hell in my constituency. I attach no blame to anybody in this regard. The situation overwhelmed everybody: Ministers, farmers
Mr. Bradshaw: Given that the Government managed to eradicate the 2001 outbreak more quickly than the late 1960s outbreak was eradicated, and that the latter was far more restricted geographically, does my hon. Friend accept that that was an achievement?
Mrs. May: Perhaps I might assist in this debate. The Anderson inquiry, entitled "Lessons Learned", makes it clear that the 196768 epidemic lasted 222 days and the 2001 epidemic 221 days. So, far from its being eradicated in record time, it was eradicated in about the same time.
I do hope that consideration will be given to a vaccination programme. I well remember the Prime Minister coming to my constituency at the height of the 2001 outbreak. The Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union made very strong representations to him. They were against a policy of vaccination, even though I was receiving dozens of letters from constituents who found the process of culling, fires and burials absolutely repulsive. They expected that consideration would be given to vaccination.
The FUW has impressed on us the importance of the issue of illegal meat imports. A year or two ago, I attended a disturbing seminar by some experts. Evidence was shown of the amount of illegal imports coming through airports, and there was evidence from
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environmental health officers concerning the illegal production of meat. We in Wales have a particular problem with the production of smokies, which are a delicacy that is well liked by members of the West Indian community, and which involve the blow-torching of pork or beef. The illegal production of smokies has led to arrests in west Wales. The FUW is suggesting that the matter be brought into the open by enabling legal production of smokies in a properly controlled way. I hope that consideration can be given to that idea.
The farming community is calling for more rigorous controls on illegal imports. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) referred to recent cases in which people convicted of illegal importing were given derisory fines of £140 or £150. If illegal imports were an important factor in the foot and mouth outbreak, let us consider the cost of that by comparison. Surely there should be an onus on the courts to sentence appropriately. Perhaps the court in Uxbridge is not close enough to a farming community to impose the penalties that might have been imposed had the cases been heard in west Wales or in a court in the farming community in Monmouthshire.
It would also be right for all embassies to urge their citizens not to travel with meat products and other foodstuffs. When we go to America or Australia, we even have to declare whether we have been on a farm in the last four weeks or whether we have mud on our rugby boots. We have to declare any foodstuffs. We could have more rigorous controls in this country.
It has been a pleasure to contribute to this debate. Hon. Members of all parties have spoken with authority and knowledge, and we all hope that we can avoid any further outbreak of foot and mouth and, if necessary, impose much stricter controls on illegal meat imports.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): This has been a good debate on an issue of tremendous importance to British agriculture, animal welfare and our rural economy. I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that it has been marred only by the fact that the Secretary of State and both Ministers of State decided that they had higher priorities elsewhere and left the Under-Secretary as the sole representative of his Department on the Treasury Bench.
Much of the debate has concentrated on foot and mouth, which is not surprising, as it is only three years since we suffered the worst epidemic of the disease that the world has ever seen. More than 9,500 premises were affected directly, and up to 60,000 farms were subjected to movement restrictions. In my constituency, we were perhaps fortunate in having just the one outbreak, but that meant that it was an infected area, so all the farms were subjected to movement restrictions. I remember only too well that in many ways the hardship resulting
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from those restrictions was just as great for the farmers concerned, who of course received no compensation payment.
The total number of animals slaughtered in the outbreak represented roughly an eighth of the entire farm livestock herd. The cost to the British economy was, according to official figures, about £8 billion, and according to some estimates, anything up to £20 billion. The outbreak left many farms devastated, with farmers seeing a lifetime's work destroyed.
Even now, as this debate has shown, some questions remain unanswered. We still do not know how the disease entered this country or when, or indeed whether the first cases really were at the pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, or whether, as some suspect, the disease might even have been in sheep for several months before. We still want to know why the Government ignored so many of the recommendations of the 1969 Northumberland report on the previous outbreak. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) said, a lot of people believe that, if the Government had implemented those recommendations, the outbreak would have been contained far sooner.
We still need a proper investigation of the efficacy of the contiguous cull policy, under which millions of uninfected animals were destroyed, and an answer to the question whether that cull was even necessary. We still want to know why a vaccination programme was not introduced at an early stage. I share some of the views of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). Such a programme might have prevented the spread of the disease and led to its being eradicated far more quickly. That policy was adopted in Holland when 25 outbreaks of the disease occurred in April: it worked, and as a result, Holland was able to recover its export status just four months later. I have to say that that makes the Minister's remarks about achieving a solution in record time rather strange, as the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) pointed out.
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