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Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I shall be brief. I say amen to what the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, or 95 per cent. of it anyway, which was very sound indeed. I offer my sympathy to my constituents, Robin Lloyd and family and David Thomas and family, who have had their outbreaks confirmed today. The situations of several other farmers in my constituency are under close examination.
I am pleased to report that Powys county council has made the whole of Powys a prohibition area. The county holds a quarter of a million acres of common land and about 1 million sheep, and the situation is serious because outbreaks have occurred on the boundary of mountain land. I hate to think what would happen if the disease spread to that.
I want to make a few brief points. In 1967, when I was working in Northumberland, I was involved on the periphery of the outbreak and what I saw was appalling. I have been a farmer, managing 1,500 acres, and I was brought up on a farm. I commend the remarks of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who gave the Minister some sound advice. The methods of disposal being used now are the same as those used in 1967. Huge heat has to be generated to get rid of the disease, but I wonder why the incineration process involves a delay. It could start a lot earlier and there could be graduated burning.
Access is a problem. On Sunday, 100 people from Ross-on-Wye appeared in my constituency even though the Ministry of Defence has banned people from entering its 32,000 acre estate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) realises the importance of that matter. On protection, there is no doubt that lorries need to be sprayed when they enter certain areas and that disinfection pads need to be put in place. The situation at Burnside farm buildings--I know where it is and that is what I prefer to call it--is very serious. If the disease was present for two weeks, an education and training problem clearly needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Imports from third countries are a problem and I alert the Minister to the fact that a person cannot enter New Zealand with even a sandwich in his pocket--it would be incinerated. We must be that particular in respect of the situation in Britain and food brought in at airports and ferry ports should be burned on sight and destroyed. Also, I urge the Minister to consider banning pig swill. Cutbacks have affected Ministry vets and veterinary investigation centres have been closed. That loss must be examined as well.
We must consider consequential loss compensation not only for farmers, but for organisations such as Farmers Ferry, which operates out of my constituency and has exported 1 million lambs in the past 12 months. It will find it hard to continue. We must consider that fact, because we need the infrastructure to continue after the crisis is over. We must be eternally vigilant and must show no complacency in attacking the disease, which, as we know, is highly infectious. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on what they have done so far.
Keeping the food chain going is vital for the future of the industry and the movement of livestock direct to abattoirs is one of the most important points that has been referred to this evening. I agree with the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) about the
The industry needs a future, and if we are not careful it will not have one. However, following the Minister's statements this evening I am confident that he will ensure somehow that it survives and, eventually, prospers.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): We have heard from many Members on both sides of the House with direct constituency involvement in this tragic crisis. Sadly, the number of Members with such involvement has increased day by day--an increase that we all hope will cease.
We have heard in particular from my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), both of whom are directly involved, and both of whom made excellent points. I especially appreciated the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, who cut his speech off in its prime to allow time for the statement about the rail crash.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) demonstrated his experience as a farmer, a Minister and a political adviser, recalled the last major outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and--as others have said--presented a number of sensible proposals.
Last week, while using the opportunity of a parliamentary recess to take a few days off, I received a phone call saying that there had been an outbreak of foot and mouth. Like other Members, I am sure, I asked myself how much more British farming would have to take at this dreadful time. That thought was immediately followed by a comment to my wife: "Poor old Nick must wonder what he did in a previous life to deserve this." He may tell us--or perhaps the Minister of State will tell us.
I have to say that my sympathy evaporated rapidly on Monday, when I heard the Minister's outburst over this debate. He has regained his composure, however, and, as many Members have said this evening, he has redeemed himself totally by his manner--by the way in which he has addressed the issues, and by the courtesies he has shown both on the Floor of the House and privately to me.
We have heard many speeches and interventions, which shows that this subject is of real interest to many Members. I hope the Minister now accepts that it was right to hold the debate--a debate that has taken place against the background of an industry in crisis. The industry is losing 400 jobs a week, and experiencing year-on-year financial losses. Net farm incomes are lower than living expenses, and there are no reserves on which to rely. Upland livestock incomes are about £2,500 a year, while lowland livestock incomes are about £1,500.
I too remember the 1967 outbreak. It happened just after I started work in farming. It lasted about five months, and I pray, as others must do, that this outbreak is dealt with more quickly and does not last as long. It has horrendous implications for animals as well as human
Many people who do not understand agriculture may find it perverse that farmers who breed and rear stock simply so that it can be killed and eaten should, at the same time, care passionately for that stock and its welfare. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham pointed out, however, many of those farmers have spent decades breeding pedigree stock to a high level--stock that now goes to the flames in the same way as the humblest mongrel bullock.
The tragedy was brought home to me the other night when I saw one of my oldest friends being interviewed on television as his stock were being slaughtered in the background behind him. I understood and empathised with him and with many other farmers as that happened.
I join in the tributes that have been paid to Ministry officials, to the vets and to all the others not directly employed who have been and are closely involved in the crisis. I strongly welcome the Minister's robust rejection of the idea of vaccination, a line for which he will have our support.
Farmers are affected in two different ways. There are those whose herds are compulsorily slaughtered and who receive full compensation equivalent to the value of the stock. However--the Minister has not mentioned it, but I presume that this is true--they will not be allowed to restock for some six months, as was the case in 1967. Therefore, they will have no income on which to live. They will have to live off the capital that comes from that compensation--not a situation that we would wish to encourage.
Then there is the group of farmers--a much larger group, I am thankful to say--who are not slaughtered out, but who are hit by the movement restrictions and the other problems that will increase as the crisis lasts. I welcome the Minister's comments about a licensing scheme. Obviously, we all look forward to hearing the details, such as how it might help smaller producers, those who produce for farmers' markets, those who have cattle coming up to 30 months old, and those who have lambs rising to the end of their lambhood with the potential eruption of their second teeth, the carcases of which need to be split. The scheme will be welcomed by many abattoir workers, including those in my constituency who have contacted me, anxious about the future of their jobs.
I understand that there are derogations for injured animals and casualties, but I am told that those are somewhat complicated. I ask the Minister to find out whether they can be simplified. I do not know whether he is in a position to say what the position is regarding TB reactors. Rightly, we have heard from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about the TB situation. Obviously, reactors should not be held on farms longer than is necessary.
There are other movement issues. The Minister showed that he recognised those. There is the issue of moving sheep into buildings or near to land for lambing. There are sheep on agistment, or tack as it is sometimes called--a feature that often expires today, 28 February, when they would be expected to go back to their upland farms. That is an issue not only for the sheep farmer, but for the dairy farmer, on whose grass they are currently grazing. The Minister obviously understands that.
If we can regain some of the supply trade through the licensing arrangement that the Minister proposes, the issue of prices will still remain. I appreciate that getting the trade going is the first priority. I welcome his comments with regard to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on private storage for sows. I hope that he will also consider introducing such a scheme for sheepmeat because that product, too, relied on an export market, which for the moment is denied us. That must hit trade particularly.
We welcome the agrimonetary compensation. I congratulate the Minister on the fact that he is already having discussions with the clearing banks, but I emphasise the need for further help in the form of compensation. The need for help will increase the longer the outbreak lasts. This is a national emergency, and Conservative Members believe that that justifies a call on the contingency fund.