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As for pig farmers, they have operated without subsidy because they are outside the regime that is covered by agrimonetary compensation. In the past 24 hours, the Minister referred to advancing the available money that was announced last April in the action plan for farming--a total of £65 million over three years. Although the intention was to spend some of that money in the current year, little or none has been spent for the purpose for which it was provided. In addition, the money is available only to people who are going to close down their business. That is not much comfort to people who are worried about the large amount of imported pigmeat that we have to buy. It would be comforting if there was something for pig farmers who want to remain in business.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments. Will he encompass farmers and producers who supply farmers' markets in his remarks? The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food rightly recommended that farmers' markets should not take place for the foreseeable future. Many people completely changed their method and chain of production for those markets and they are especially disadvantaged because they cannot shift any material. I hope that he will agree that that is a problem.
Mr. Yeo: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that. It is a problem. The growth of farmers' markets in the past couple of years, which both sides of the House welcome, has been brought to an abrupt halt, and that will cause acute problems. I am sure that the Minister heard the hon. Gentleman.
Will the Minister consider the provision of private storage aid--for example, for sows, for which the export market has been removed? That would give pig farmers some hope that they might obtain a fair price for their animals.
My second point relates directly to compensation. It is possible that some animal movements may be permitted under licence. I appreciate that the Minister will want to be guided by the chief veterinary officer, and no Opposition Member would expect him to take a risk to cut corners. There is a difficult balance to strike between the obvious desirability of allowing as much movement as possible under licence to enable farmers to generate income again and the need to continue the containment measures that are in place. Clearly, however, the need for extra cash help for the industry will be directly reduced if some animal movement can be permitted. I understand from what was said in the House earlier that more information will be given on Friday. We look forward to hearing that. Can the Minister say this afternoon whether he expects the relaxations in the short term to be extensive?
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): There must be an adequate supply of disinfectant throughout the country to enable even limited movement of livestock. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a shortage of disinfectant in mid-Wales and elsewhere? Would he be interested to
Mr. Yeo: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present earlier, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised exactly that point with the Prime Minister. That is an acute problem not only in the region of Wales from which the hon. Gentleman comes but in Devon and Cornwall and possibly elsewhere. Given that the availability of disinfectant is crucial to the containment measures, this is a key issue and that is why my right hon. Friend raised it.
The Minister will know that the lambing season is upon us, and in Prime Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend pointed out that farmers may want to move their sheep but are unable to do so at present, even across a road that may divide one part of their farm from another. I understand that they are also unable to cross land belonging to a neighbouring farmer, even if the owner has given consent. Clearly, any relaxation that can safely be undertaken would be welcome, but I stress again that we understand that the Minister will want to make decisions on the basis of the advice that he is receiving from the chief vet.
My third point concerns the origin of the outbreak. The British mainland has enjoyed freedom from foot and mouth disease for 34 years, and it is terribly important that we should discover the origin of this outbreak. There are suspicions that it may have resulted from meat imports, whether legal or illegal. We have permitted imports from countries where foot and mouth outbreaks have recently occurred. I am advised that we currently allow imports from five countries where foot and mouth disease has occurred since the start of the year.
The Minister will know of the concern that I expressed in a parliamentary question on 8 January about the risks of imports from South Africa in the light of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in that country. I hope that in due course an analysis of how much meat has been imported from countries such as South Africa, which are known to have had foot and mouth disease in the very recent past, will be undertaken and published. The problem of illegal imports is also serious, and the Minister and I have debated it on many occasions. I will not go over that ground again, except to say that I believe that the public are also concerned about that, quite apart from any possible link with the outbreak of this disease.
I understand that more information is available about the swill used by the farmer in Northumberland, where the first outbreak occurred. I hope that the Minister will be able to share that information with the House and tell us whether he believes that the current regulations on feeding practices need to be reviewed in light of the advice that he is receiving. The public, as well as farmers, will want to know that reasonable precautions are being taken against the risk that foot and mouth disease could re-enter Britain after the present outbreak has been brought under control.
The reports today that antibodies have been found in sheep exported to Germany may--I stress the word "may"--mean that foot and mouth disease has been present here for longer than was previously thought. It underlines the need to understand precisely how the outbreak has occurred.
My fourth and last, brief point concerns access. I welcome the Government's prompt response to calls to close footpaths and rights of way across farmland. I was glad to see a press release from Kent county council today saying that it has already used the emergency powers available to close footpaths, bridleways and byways in that county.
I have heard from other county councils, including Suffolk, that they feel that they do not yet have the information that they need to put their powers into practice. I hope that the Minister will ask the relevant Minister at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to ensure that all local authorities are notified immediately of their powers and of how they can be operated. I hope that he will back that up by urging them to introduce the powers at once.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Is my hon. Friend aware that foot and mouth disease has already been diagnosed at a number of farms in Devon? Given the beauty of the area, many footpaths are still being used, including those over the Dartmoor national park and the heritage coastline. Thousands of ramblers from throughout Europe, including England, continue to walk these paths. Does my hon. Friend agree that Devon county council should be encouraged to close these footpaths and bridleways as a precaution? The foot and mouth farms are within 20 miles of the borders of my constituency. I suggested to the Minister on Monday that matting with disinfectant could be used at all the access points to the peninsula of south Devon, and so eradicate the possibility of foot and mouth disease coming to that peninsula.
Mr. Yeo: Devon is one of the most important livestock farming counties in Britain, and I am sure that the local people would want every possible precaution to be taken, as my hon. Friend has suggested, to minimise the risk of the disease spreading in the county. I believe that county councils would not be criticised if they decided to err on the side of caution in their response, given the powers that are now available to them.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I believe, but I am not yet certain--I shall check during the debate--that the appropriate orders have been made by Devon county council to close the footpaths.
This is a fast-moving situation. It was always likely that more cases would be confirmed after the first one last week. I dare say that we shall not know for a little longer whether the containment measures now in place are succeeding. The country will hope and pray that they do succeed. The Minister has an unenviable task, and we all hope that he succeeds in it. On behalf of the Opposition, I pledge that anything that we can do to assist him will be done. I warmly commend the motion to the House.