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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I understand that, but I have already pointed out to the House--the Chief Veterinary Office has confirmed this on several occasions--that there is an order of priority which starts with pigs and moves on to cattle, with sheep at the end due to their lower infectivity. In an ideal world all the animals that needed to be slaughtered would be dealt with very quickly. However, if choices have to be made, those are the criteria that are used.
Several noble Lords have asked about financial help. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, asked about the compensation on which there is no debate or argument; namely, the compensation for slaughtered livestock. As far as I am aware, as at yesterday, £33 million had been paid to farmers out of an estimated £36 million that had been valued. We aim to make those payments as quickly as possible--as, indeed, the agrimonetary payments which, as I have described to the House, have been drawn down early and are being made as quickly as possible.
So far as concerns the banks--a point raised by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood--I was present at a meeting that we had with the banks very early on to discuss the situation and to brief them on it. As noble Lords have said, there has been an announcement--first by Barclays and then by the other banks--about a moratorium on debt repayments. There is another meeting with the banks scheduled for tomorrow which I shall try to attend. Obviously, the points raised today about the extension of help will be transmitted to them there.
As to the question of other schemes and the need for flexibility, I have dealt with the issue of force majeure and grazing on set-aside. The Commission has been extremely helpful and any other issues which arise about particular payments will be taken up with it.
The noble Earls, Lord Onslow and Lord Caithness, raised the point about Countryside Stewardship and ESA schemes. I am well aware that at this time of the year farmers are drawing up applications and that visits by officials have, for obvious reasons, been suspended. When the situation has stabilised, we shall ensure that potential applicants can still receive appropriate technical advice about joining the schemes and, if necessary, application windows will be extended beyond the end of April for the ESAs and the end of May for country stewardship schemes, which I hope will be of assistance.
Earl Peel: My Lords, on the issue of compensation, the question was raised about farmers who did not have infected herds but who were living within restricted zones and therefore could not get their stock away. I and other noble Lords asked the Minister whether her department would consider compensating them as a matter of priority.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there are many matters of priority in terms of compensation. It is a very difficult issue. I quite understand the concerns of people under restriction; we lived through this with Classical Swine Fever. This situation affects large numbers of people over and above those who have herds; there are other people who lose out. The whole of the country is under restriction of one kind or another on animal movement; different people have different difficulties at different times.
The noble Earl spoke about people who cannot move animals to market, for example, because of restrictions, even though they do not have the disease. Another noble Lord spoke about people who have bed and breakfast enterprises on their farms and who are losing bookings. We have said that we will look at all these issues and the cases that are made for compensation. But the breadth of effect on different industries and individuals of this crisis is enormous. It would be wrong to suggest that the Government are an insurer of last resort for every financial consequence that will come out of this. I understand that people will
I am aware, however, of the point that has been made about the immediate cash flow problems for individuals. From the beginning, we have been in contact with the Department of Social Security about issues such as the Jobseeker's Allowance and the ability of people who are temporarily laid off to be able to claim it. Equally, we are in contact with the Inland Revenue about working families' tax credit. We shall continue to monitor the situation and attempt to be as flexible as possible in ensuring that people are given as much financial support as we can give in the circumstances. I shall certainly make sure that issues such as redundancy are raised with the relevant departments.
The issue of support and advice was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. Perhaps I may make it clear that we are giving the Rural Stress Information Service, which we believe provides a vital link, half a million pounds in this financial year. If it appears that current funding is to be exceeded, we shall look at diverting more resources. I can confirm that we are making £300,000 available for a second rural stress action plan for the financial year 2001-02. We shall keep the issue of funding under review in the course of the next year in the light of demands made because of the current disease outbreak. We greatly welcome the establishment of the Arthur Rank Centre Addington Fund. I know of the work that it did in East Anglia during the outbreak of classical swine fever. I am sure that it will be much appreciated.
There are one or two other issues that I should try to cover. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, raised an important question about the safeguarding of genetic material for rare breeds in particular. Outside infected areas, farmers can be licensed to freeze the eggs and sperm of cattle for embryo transfer and AI. That could not occur in an infected area but it can occur in a more general control area. Genetic material would need to be quarantined in flasks. The point has been taken on board and some provision has been made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about the cause of the outbreak at Hawes in North Yorkshire. I understand the noble Baroness's concerns. The attempt to establish that link has taken some time. In most cases, the link is straightforward and we have published on the website where the links are. I am sorry to say that the case she mentioned is still under investigation. Obviously, we shall try to find out as soon as possible.
Talking of the website leads me to issues of communication. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, had some criticisms of the website. Others have been very complimentary about it. In the main, it has been an enormously valuable source of information. I have figures indicating that the number of hits on the website has reached huge proportions. It has been a source of accessible information for the majority of farmers who have direct access. It has also been used by particular breed and livestock associations and by the NFU locally in order to get information out to people who do not have direct access themselves. We can always make the website better. If there are specific criticisms, I shall be glad to hear them in terms of trying to put matters right.
In terms of "putting right", I should put right the figure that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I missed out a decimal point: £3.3 million has been paid out so far, not £33 million. I thought that we were doing rather well!
As for the timetable for the lifting of restrictions that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Monro, mentioned, there is no set six-month period. Once a farm is confirmed as having foot and mouth disease, animals have to be destroyed and disposed of under official supervision. Slurry and bedding are removed and held for a period sufficient to ensure that the virus will be destroyed. Cleansing and disinfecting can then start--that is, a preliminary disinfection followed by a thorough cleansing. There is then a second disinfection and a veterinary inspection to confirm that the job has been done satisfactorily. The relevant period is 21 days after final cleansing and disinfection for any animal to be introduced on to the farm. That has to be sentient animals, which are monitored for another 28 days by the State Veterinary Service for signs of disease.
Where several outbreaks have occurred in the same neighbourhood, veterinary advice may be that lifting the restrictions on the earlier cases should be delayed until the later ones are due to be declared free of disease so as to prevent the possibility of re-infection. I am afraid that there is no simple answer about the length of time involved. It depends on veterinary assessment--
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am sorry to interject at this point. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that clarification. Am I right in thinking that it is a misconception that is going around that the disease has to be cleared nationally before people can start restocking? Can the Minister confirm that that is a misunderstanding?
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