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Mr. Brown: It is also fair to say that many farmers will not have seen the symptoms before. We therefore plan to write to every farmer with a livestock holding, including some with whom we do not communicate regularly--we had a problem with the pig sector, because it is an unaided regime--enclosing a simple factual leaflet explaining what the condition looks like and what precautionary measures can be taken. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is perfectly reasonable, and the Ministry is already on to it.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): The issue of information has already been raised. Does the Minister recognise that it is important, and clearly consistent with the tone of the debate, for Members of Parliament to be involved with regard to their constituents? They are likely to hear of any confirmed outbreaks fairly quickly through the bush telegraph. However, will the Minister consider setting up a system whereby Members could be advised--perhaps by means of a pager number--of any outbreaks affecting their constituencies? That would enable them to answer constituents' queries accurately.
Mr. Brown: Obviously, many Members on both sides of the House will, very properly, be anxious for their constituents and will want to do the best they can for them. We all have that in common. I am writing to all Members giving front-line advice, and I will take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on board because I know how important it is for all of us to be able to provide our constituents with a front-line service in these difficult times.
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): Will my right hon. Friend assist Cornwall county council, farmers and the community in my constituency? Owing to the siting of the county's periphery, we have fortunately not had any foot and mouth diagnosed as yet, and we want to keep it that way. Three trunk roads enter the county. The council, local MAFF officials and vets are united in wanting to install disinfectant baths on those three routes. Such baths have already been installed on the minor roads.
Mr. Brown: I am not sure whether that is the right thing to do; I shall take professional advice. Obviously, I do not wish to thwart any disease control measure, so I shall ensure that officials consider my hon. Friend's suggestion and that of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), and convey their professional advice to me. I am afraid that I cannot give a fuller response at the moment.
Mr. Brown: That is an entirely reasonable point. We are also examining issues relating to the conduct of the census. It may be necessary to postpone activity in that regard, although I am not making an announcement today.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Minister is earning the admiration of the whole House by his willingness to give way, and also by the competence that he has displayed in answering a raft of questions.
All of us with rural constituencies share the anxiety and apprehension of the farmers in those constituencies, but other businesses also depend on farming for their existence, not least small and medium-sized haulage businesses. I have received a communication from one such in my constituency, saying that if there are no movements of livestock within the next two or three weeks it will have to close its doors.
Does the Minister understand that when people talk of consequential loss, they have in mind the possibility that the Government will at least consider the fate of businesses of that kind, and give some consideration to compensating them in due course?
Mr. Brown: I understand the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes. The livestock haulage business is a specialist business; it cannot find other markets easily. That is why I am working hard with officials, including the chief vet, to get the industry operating again. It will be able to do so only under licensed conditions--under controlled conditions. I will say something about that later, but it seems that the best way to give hope to the domestic livestock sector and to intermediary industries, including the abattoir and haulage sectors, is to get things working again in a way that does not involve a risk of spreading the disease. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, it is possible to devise such arrangements for direct movement from farm to slaughterhouse as long as the animals do not meet other animals that will not be slaughtered.
Mr. Drew: As always, agriculture problems seem to come in multitudes. My right hon. Friend is well aware of the problems with bovine tuberculosis. What effect is the latest problem having on operations in the trial areas? More particularly, will there will be a loss of personnel, which happened with the outbreak of classical swine fever? Action has been somewhat delayed.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I have been contacted by a Mr. Fattorini, who farms in my constituency. His particular case concerns an auctioneer who goes to a farm to conduct a valuation and who, under current regulations and the ban on movement, is then not allowed to return to the mart for six days because of the foot and mouth outbreak. The question that has been put to me--if the Minister is not able to answer it immediately, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me--is, who should pay the fees for those six days?
Mr. Brown: The one thing that I can say with some certainty--I know that the hon. Lady will not like the answer--is that it is almost certainly not the Government who should pay. I cannot give her a more comprehensive answer, but I will write to her and see if it is possible to establish a more focused response than that.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Can my right hon. Friend give Mr. Bould, a long-established butcher in Leek, reassurance that movement of livestock to slaughter will soon be licensed, as it was in the 1967 outbreak, so that local butchers can continue to source from local livestock suppliers within Staffordshire, Moorlands and he can continue to provide local produce to customers, rather than having to resort to imports?
Mr. Brown: I can in general terms give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. That is the purpose of the licensing schemes that the Government have announced and intend to introduce on Friday. We have announced them now, so that those in the trade can reflect on what they mean to them. They are at least in part private sector arrangements. I cannot predict the total take-up because everyone will make their own business decisions, but it is the Government's intention to devise schemes that help small and medium-sized businesses and that are not just focused on large farms and large slaughterhouses. That is why we are also considering the idea of holding pens.
Mr. Gummer: The right hon. Gentleman will know that farmers want him, in addressing these movement issues, to put stopping the disease above everything else. He will also know that farmers would be happier if they felt that he was considering very carefully the issue of compensating farmers who are in the pig production chain and depend upon movement in it for their very existence. They--including many of my farmers--are facing a second experience of this type of situation in a very short time, and I believe that they would be better able to hold to addressing the pre-eminent issue--eradicating the disease--if he could say something to give them some confidence that that there may be some help.