Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct to say that the farm in question was licensed not to produce but to feed swill to the animals

26 Feb 2001 : Column 1013

concerned. Perhaps I may answer his question in very general terms. We shall do everything we can to investigate the route of transmission of foot and mouth disease. When we have investigated and found out what that route is, we shall take the necessary measures to ensure that that risk is eliminated.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I well remember the 1967 outbreak and seeing the country areas of Worcestershire alive with burning funeral pyres at night and the smoke reaching up to the sky in the daytime. I sincerely hope that that will not happen again. I also hope that my goats will not have to go the same way as many people's cows, sheep and pigs. I know that I would be devastated. I am sure that those farmers are as well.

On that basis, perhaps I may ask the Minister what emotional support is being given to farmers who are bound to be extremely isolated because of the restrictions. Also, what is to happen with fallen stock? We are at the height of the lambing season and ewes do die in the process of lambing. Will farmers be required to produce a veterinary certificate to prove that their animals have not died from foot and mouth disease? How are they to be disposed of? We normally send our dead animals to kennels. What is to happen there?

As the abattoirs are closed at the moment, is it possible that some of the Spanish vets who I understand work for the Meat Hygiene Service could be taken into the State Veterinary Service for a temporary period to help out?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, on the last point, the answer is, yes, we have already been in touch with the Meat Hygiene Service. There are vets there who are available for this work. There are other areas that are shut down and there have been offers of staff; for example, ADAS and the Meat and Livestock Commission. Those staff are already acting. Yesterday, in Chelmsford, there were 67 staff when the complement is normally around seven. Those were people drawn from all over the country and from different areas.

The disposal of fallen stock is an area that we recognised we would need to deal with. Over the weekend we drew up a general licence to allow the disposal of fallen stock. We had already made an exception for BSE suspects. But the disposal will have to be done under licence. Obviously there are individual routes of disposal, whether to a knacker's yard or to hunt kennels or an abattoir. There is a real problem about the potential spread of disease if someone is on a collection round. One of the issues that we are discussing is the actual terms of that licensing. But we shall be giving advice.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked about advice for individual farmers. That is a matter about which we are very aware. We discussed, both yesterday and today, ensuring that there is liaison between the disease control centre and the local farming union representative, so that they have up-to-date information to give out. We opened up a helpline last

26 Feb 2001 : Column 1014

week. There have been thousands of calls to it. The number of that helpline is, for example, on CEEFAX. The website is regularly updated and used.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister and, indeed, the Government, on the way they reacted to this crisis. Clearly, there is support for that all around the House. Perhaps I may ask a couple of questions. First, I should like to ask about compensation. That is really important for the agricultural industry, which has received devastating blows, one after another. The farming industry will have to bear many additional costs; for example, the additional feed costs of keeping animals longer than they otherwise would. Secondly, how on earth will some farmers, because there will be no cash flow, pay their bills and how will they pay their labour, let alone themselves? I hope the Minister will give attention to that matter.

Perhaps I may ask one other question. We are well aware that nearly 1,000 small abattoirs have closed over the past five years as a result of the imposition of the Meat Hygiene Service by the previous government and the European Community. Foot and mouth disease spreads very easily and quickly. Animals have been taken hundreds of miles to be slaughtered, whereas previously they would be slaughtered within 30 miles of the farm. Will the Minister give serious consideration to this problem with a view to re-opening small abattoirs with Government assistance, so that cattle for slaughter are not moved over long distances? That is bad for the cattle and bad for the consumer.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we understand the implications of my noble friend's point. As I said earlier, compensation arrangements are there for those whose animals are slaughtered. There are widespread consequences for the industry and the industry will, I am sure, want to argue its case in that respect. We recognise the issue, but there are such widespread ramifications, as was the case with classical swine fever, that we have to look at particular issues, such as the welfare of animals on farms.

I hear what my noble friend says about small abattoirs, but we have to be careful in this respect. The centre for disease transmission is between live animals at markets intermingling with other live animals. The disease was first detected at an abattoir because of the attentiveness of a vet from the Meat Hygiene Service, who saw the symptoms. There are issues about long-distance travel, but animals travelled long distances to this abattoir because of its specialised nature as a business. It has been going on for many years. While there are many issues to be raised about small abattoirs and their importance in the countryside, I do not think that they can be raised specifically in terms of the spread of disease in this situation.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, against the background of the devolved assemblies, perhaps I may press the noble Baroness on the answers that she has

26 Feb 2001 : Column 1015

given about there being an integrated--I hope totally integrated--approach for the whole of the United Kingdom. She referred to the devolved administrations. She referred to the fact that there was an outbreak in Hereford, close to the Welsh border. I was concerned to see the extraordinary comments of the National Assembly's rural affairs Minister, Carwyn Jones, in Cardiff, who said that it would be possible to export from Wales even though the export ban might be in place in the rest of the United Kingdom. Can the noble Baroness assure me that in these horrible circumstances, where the threat applies equally to every part of the United Kingdom, there will be only one approach and that that will apply to the export ban as to every other aspect of the way the matter is tackled?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, disease does not respect national barriers, local government or devolution boundaries. The export ban was put in place on a UK basis. We are working with partners. If there were any potential for the regionalisation of a ban in the future, as takes place in some areas of the world with regard to disease control and disease status, such as foot and mouth disease, it would be decided not on politics but on disease. That is all that I can say. I have not seen the comments to which the noble Lord refers.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say a little about her troubles in coping with this enormous outbreak? She said that the ministry is looking everywhere for help. The veterinary profession and agriculture have declined enormously since the previous outbreak. Is there any possibility of all the vets who have gone to the profitable care of small animals coming in to help in this case? It appears to be the only source that the Government have.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the Chief Veterinary Officer has made an appeal to private practice to see whether any vets in private practice--small animal practice or farm animal practice--would be willing to work temporarily for the State Veterinary Service. There are in existence reciprocal arrangements with other countries. We are putting those into place. I understand that some vets are coming in from New Zealand today. During the outbreak of classical swine fever we had vets from Ireland, America, Australia and Holland. We have had offers from those countries. We will be accepting those offers. People are often very interested in gaining experience. We are certainly accepting offers of veterinary assistance.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, from these Benches I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I express our deep sympathy to the farming community. I pay tribute to the Government and to the veterinary profession for the speed with which they have dealt with this dreadful outbreak.

I wish to press two points. The first concerns compensation. It is well known that the farming community is at a very low ebb indeed. For the mostly small farmers in the beef, sheep and pig producing

26 Feb 2001 : Column 1016

areas who have simply no resources to fall back on, the question of compensation is desperate and urgent. Does the Minister recognise that even though agri-monetary compensation is not available right across these sectors, that is not a reason for not paying it to those who are eligible to receive it? The Government could find some means of compensating those who are not eligible for that source of help. Is it possible to consider making, for example, an exceptional and large block grant to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which is well practised in these matters--sadly, it has become extremely well practised in recent years--to allow it to care pastorally for farming families, which are desperate in terms of cash flow and do not have money to buy food? Is that one channel through which emergency help could be given?

Secondly, will the noble Baroness look again at the issue of abattoirs? Farmers travel the length and breadth of the country. Some like to do it and are used to buying animals from the other end of the kingdom. However, at the same time any travel that can be avoided should be avoided. The Government are introducing new regulations and a new charging regime for abattoirs. There are small abattoirs that have closed in recent years. They could reopen and be viable. Will the noble Baroness look again at that possibility? I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said on that point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page