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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is right that we were extremely critical of the Howard changes and were vociferous in our criticism at the time. We believe that compensation is right. For that reason, one of the elements of the package we are considering today is to establish a victims' fund which will be additional to the compensation process.

I cannot make a commitment from this Dispatch Box today that we will be restoring the criminal injuries compensation arrangements to what they were in the early 1990s. We have moved on from there. But we recognise that improvements can still be made.

Since we have been in government, we have done much else to support witnesses and victims. A witness services scheme is now in place at all 84 Crown Court centres. It is run by Victim Support. The service is being replicated by magistrates' courts and by March 2001 such a service will be provided in 40 per cent of magistrates' courts. We expect coverage to be achieved completely by March 2002. Since we have been in government--to give another example of our support for victims--we have seen the largest ever grant increase; that is, another 50 per cent funding for Victim Support's schemes nationally. We have also put more money into support after murder and manslaughter.

Those are significant changes. We expect to build on them. For that reason we will be publishing a consultation paper tomorrow in which more detail will be set out for people to assess. That is testament to our support for the interest and concern of victims. We welcome thinking from all parties on that. Again, it should be a shared objective to ensure that victims and witnesses are at the centre of our thinking in the criminal justice process.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister about the issue of families of people in prison.

Foot and Mouth Disease

4.39 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate but I think that the time for the previous Statement has expired.

With the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in another place about the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The Statement is as follows:

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    23rd February that there should be a seven-day standstill of livestock movements throughout Great Britain. This exceptional measure was imposed at 5 p.m. on Friday, and is due to expire at midnight this Friday 2nd March.

    "The Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency have confirmed that foot and mouth disease has no implications for human health or food. The disease causes serious loss of condition, and therefore commercial value, to the main farmed species of cattle, pigs and sheep. The presence of disease also blocks our export markets. The disease is highly infectious between animals. It can be transmitted by movements of people and vehicles. Unlike classical swine fever, with which we had to deal in East Anglia last year, it is carried through the air.

    "Firm control measures had to be taken. The Government are well aware of the disruption the temporary controlled area in Great Britain has caused to farming, the food chain and the wider rural community. I pay tribute to the responsible approach that the industry and the public are taking.

    "During the course of this week, the State Veterinary Service, under the Chief Veterinary Officer, will continue its huge task of tracing and controlling the disease. They have been assured of all the resources they need for that task. The Government are calling on the private veterinary profession and other countries' state veterinary services for assistance.

    "Baroness Hayman, the Minister of State, will be meeting industry and veterinary representatives tomorrow with the Chief Veterinary Officer. Among other matters they will discuss whether it is possible, consistent with a rigorous approach to the control of disease, to allow for some tightly- controlled movement of livestock for slaughter. Consideration will also be given to the possible temporary closure of footpaths and rights of way where this is necessary on disease control grounds.

    "We are keeping in the closest touch with the retailers and food producers to ensure that there should be no serious disruption to food supplies. I am grateful to consumers who have, as I have requested, continued their normal pattern of buying.

    "The House will know that the policy of successive governments has been that compensation is paid only for animals which are slaughtered for disease control purposes--in the case of foot and mouth disease, at full market value. Foot and mouth disease presents a relatively clear clinical picture. Incubation periods tend to be short. I therefore hope that movement restrictions necessary for disease control will not have to be too protracted.

    "The Government are determined to eliminate this disease. I, my ministerial team and my department's staff will give this work the highest priority. I welcome the firm support we have

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    received from the industry, from people throughout the country, from our European partners, and from others further afield, in our efforts to do so."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.46 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, we welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Baroness. I thank the Minister for bringing us up to date in this tragic circumstance. When the original Statement was made, as she rightly said, there were only nine cases. Now there are 12. This is an appalling crisis. We express our sympathy to all those directly involved in the foot and mouth outbreak and to those suffering as a result of restrictions being imposed; to hauliers and others, many in the allied trades. We support the stance of the Government in dealing with this crisis. It has been an horrendous blow to the farming industry coming so soon after the swine fever outbreak.

The most important thing the Government must do is to find out the cause of the outbreak and how it came into this country. That, together with the containment of the outbreak is the number one priority. We support the Government in their efforts. Perhaps I may pose some questions to the Minister.

First, as the Minister stated, at this stage compensation is being paid only for animals which are slaughtered and not for those which are confined because of restrictions. The Statement refers to protracted movement restrictions. Can the Minister be specific about that because obviously it will have cash flow implications.

Secondly, some 200 million of agrimoney has not yet been claimed by the Government, much of which was allocated for livestock. Are the Government considering giving cash help to those affected, who cannot move their animals off the farms? Thirdly, I refer to closure of access. It is important that we discourage the public from going on rights of way. Has the closure of access been extended to land owned by the MoD and other departments which might involve public access? I was disturbed earlier today to hear somebody say that they had seen more people on the moors this weekend than earlier times, which is tragic. Fourthly, the Minister referred to the seven-day movement ban. That is presumably due to expire on Friday 2nd March. If the dreadful crisis continues, presumably that also will be extended. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.

Fifthly, am I correct in understanding that the ban applies to the whole of the UK and not to the separate devolved parts of the United Kingdom? Can the Minister comment on a rumour in the press that perhaps there will be regional bans and sanctions may be lifted in some regions if the disease ceases to spread?

The Minister told us that the last three identified outbreaks were linked to Devon. Given that there are substantial animal movements around the country, of which the Minister is well aware, do we need to be more cautious than in the past? Obviously, it is

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possible that if a greater number of animals are moved, the disease may tragically spread wider than originally estimated.

Finally, I should like to ask about the logistics to deal with the slaughtered animals. I am aware that a great deal of organisation is required to ensure that the necessary coal and wood is available and so on. Presumably, those arrangements are either being put in hand or are already in hand. Originally, only one area was affected but now it is many. I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I have many other questions to ask.

Before I sit down, I should again like to express our sympathy, which I know is shared around the House, for all those who find themselves in this dreadful crisis. Sadly, over the past two years we have had debates which reflect the dire situation in farming. This is just one more dreadful blow. We support the Government's stance and look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

4.53 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches are appalled that this disease has become a countrywide problem. We feel deeply for farmers and all those who are involved in the rural infrastructure. It is particularly hard to be plunged into something so dire at a time when the industry appears to be emerging from the depths of depression after the BSE crisis. We feel very deeply for those in the west country who last week had the small hope that the problem was contained and learnt that the first case was confirmed on Sunday morning.

It is right that the Government should act with decisiveness and ruthlessness. As the Minister made clear in the Statement, the Government will continue to slaughter animals. This is not the time for indecision. We are pleased that the Government have been so decisive.

I should like to put a few questions to the Minister. First, there is a report in today's Evening Standard that modelling is being done based on wind and weather and the statistic to emerge is that some 2,000 farms will be affected. Is the noble Baroness aware of that? Can the Minister say whether MAFF is involved in that modelling? Secondly, obviously some people need to drive from farm to farm, for example those who drive milk tankers to collect milk, postmen and so on. What guidance is being given to those who perhaps are not directly involved in agriculture; for example, postmen?

At the moment, is there any compensation for those who are directly affected? Obviously, if the ban extends much beyond Friday, and for weeks, it will begin to affect, for example, cattle in the over-30-month scheme; they will fall within it because they will have aged during that time. Will the Government consider compensation in respect of those animals which become unsaleable because they cannot be taken anywhere for slaughter?

I hope that in the longer term the Government will do all that they can to persuade supermarkets, which have done so much damage over time to the British

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farming industry, not to redevelop an import culture. I hope that they will regard this as a very short-term issue. I was pleased to see the weekend before this happened posters in Tesco which promoted Somerset farmers. I very much hope that supermarkets will continue to support the British market when this is over and that all of the initiatives which have been taken to encourage people to buy British produce will continue.

There are other questions, but because there are many here who are deeply involved I shall not put them now.

4.56 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of both noble Baronesses. Both are well aware of the impact of this disease on the industry, the whole of the rural economy and the food chain. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, epidemiological teams are already looking particularly at the Northumberland farm, where the disease appears to be of longest standing, and, therefore, is probably the index case, to determine the initial route of infection. I ask everybody not to leap to conclusions. There are a number of possible routes of transmission and we must find out exactly how it happened. We must find the cause in parallel with, but not at the expense of, containment of the disease. The House will be aware from the Statement and the change in the numbers of confirmed cases that this is a rapidly developing disease and containment must be the highest priority.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, described how this matter would be received in the west country. The area concerned already has a high incidence of bovine TB and this is an added burden for farmers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about the continuation of the controlled area status of Great Britain as of Friday midnight when the current controls expire. We are looking at this on a daily basis. We shall take whatever measures are necessary for disease control based on advice from the Chief Veterinary Officer. However, as the Statement makes clear, in relation to domestic produce going into the food chain we shall look very carefully at the possibility, within the parameters of disease control, of the limited licensing of direct slaughter, which is one way to ensure that we do not have the prolonged restrictions about which the noble Baroness asked me. I have talked about prolonged restrictions because some people have asked about the pig welfare disposal scheme in East Anglia. That was a unique scheme to deal with animals on farms where there were severe welfare problems because of overcrowding as a result of prolonged restrictions. We hope that we shall not be in that situation.

The noble Baroness asked me about agrimonetary compensation. She will not be surprised to learn that the president of the NFU made the same point when he saw me and the Minister this morning. Obviously, we shall take into account what he says. However, the pig sector, for example, will not be helped by

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agrimonetary compensation because it is a very lightly supported regime. Equally, as both noble Baronesses have pointed out, the impact of this disease goes far wider than simply the farming industry; for example, the haulage industry.

I was asked about the logistics to undertake the disposal of animals. Yesterday I was at the disease control centre in Chelmsford. To provide coal and railway sleepers and dig the pits is a matter of logistics. That has been done in Northumberland and Chelmsford. There is a central facility at Page Street in London that is looking at providing what is necessary and at taking good practice into needy areas.

I turn to the point about the Evening Standard article. I have not seen that myself. Certainly, in terms of drawing up exclusion zones around the infected areas where disease has been established, we take into account meteorological information. It is not just a 10 kilometre circle around the farm. Wind and weather conditions are very much taken into account because of the ability for the disease to be wind-borne.

Any regional lifting of restrictions, either national or export, will need to be done on the basis of disease control. That will only be done, either by ourselves as an exporter or internally, when it is considered safe in terms of disease to do so.

On the last point about the practical issue of milk tankers that have to visit farms, advice is being put out about disinfectant regimes. Sadly, there is a great deal of knowledge of what needs to be done. But we discussed the issue of making sure that unnecessary visits to farms by utilities or by government departments are not made. One matter we discussed with the NFU this morning was the possibility of sharing the advice that goes out from our helpline and their helpline; for example, making sure that good practice on simple issues, such as leaving a car used for domestic purposes outside rather than inside the farm, is carried through.

5 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, those of us who are farmers, and especially those who were Members of another place during the dreadful epidemic of 1967, remember that situation with a shudder and can only hope that this outbreak does not develop in the same way. The vast majority of people, particularly in the farming world, believe that the slaughter policy is correct and that the Government's prompt action in stopping all livestock movements last week was also correct. Can the Minister say whether any of the pigs at the primary outbreak were fed on pigswill and food residues and remains? Can she further say that if it becomes clear in the next days and weeks that all farmers in the country on all occasions cannot be relied on to boil pigswill according to the regulations, the Government will move in immediately and put a ban on the feeding of that type of material?


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