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Mr. Brown: The consequences of the disease control measures for other parts of the United Kingdom economy are under careful review not only by the Ministry, but by other interested Departments. Our strategy to contain and eliminate the disease is right, but the longer the measures continue, the more they will affect people who earn their living from activities that are unrelated to the livestock sector but conducted adjacent to it.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Although I have received today representations from farmers who believe that there should be no livestock movement because of the danger of spreading the disease, I have also received powerful representations from sheep farmers about ewes. The Minister rightly dealt with that in earlier answers. I want to push him on several specific matters.
On licensed local movements to a farm, what constitutes "farm"? Will the definition apply, for example, to ownership or to adjacent fields? If the farm is divided by a highway, will crossing it be acceptable? That affects one farmer in my constituency. Also, what constitutes "localised"? Another sheep farmer in my constituency has ewes waiting to lamb five or six miles from his farm, and he has to make a round journey to inspect them, see to their welfare and feed them. That risks spreading disease. What constitutes "localised" and what constitutes a "farm"?
Mr. Brown: The localised movement scheme will have to be a matter for local judgment, but it will operate within guidelines issued by the Ministry. The question of ownership is not of paramount importance. What is of paramount importance is the movement of animals, whether they would normally mix together, whether they are disease-free, and what the risk of spreading the disease is. Those are, ultimately, matters for local decision under what will be a permissive licensing arrangement for restricted, localised movement.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and I have been discussing with Ministers almost daily the developing problems in Cumbria. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when we are going to be given the model roll-out programme for de-restriction that will apply once the last case of foot and mouth disease has been notified? That is what people all over the country want.
Secondly, I refer my right hon. Friend to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and support his suggestion that there is a major problem in Cumbria of not being able to dispose of carcases. In the light of that, will traditional forms of disposal now be reconsidered by the Ministry to get over this crisis?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right to point out the representations made to me and other Ministers by Members of Parliament representing Cumbria. There are serious issues to be addressed, both on carcase disposal and on what my hon. Friend rightly says might be quite a long tail to the control of the disease. The antibodies--in
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): The plight of farmers in my constituency, as elsewhere, is very urgent. Mr. Robert Watkins of Kentchurch, for example, has 2,000 ewes in holdings. They are now lambing at the rate of 100 a day. The animal welfare concerns, the feed costs and the risk of smothering are vast, yet a mile down the road he has some 400 acres that he could use for them.
Further to the points raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), I want to press the Minister on the use of the Army. I was told earlier this week by members of the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Engineers that they were surprised that they had not yet been asked to intervene and assist. What discussions has the Minister had with the Ministry of Defence about getting the Army involved? That could certainly speed up the disposal of these creatures.
Mr. Brown: There is proper communication across Government as to the use of the uniformed services and, indeed, any other resources of Government that we need to call on to control the disease. However, in all of this, I am professionally advised and would not want to assert a political judgment of my own over the professional advice that I am given.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the localised scheme that we hope to be able to bring in very soon will address the problem of his constituents. I hope that it will, although I cannot give a definitive answer because I do not know their circumstances, and that will be a matter for local judgment. However, there is still the rather more intractable problem of the animals that are miles away from their normal location in winter.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a factor in the outbreak has been the considerable distance over which much livestock is being transported for slaughter? Is there not a case for more local abattoirs? He knows that the farmers fresh initiative has recently opened a new abattoir in Kenilworth. Does not that provide a model of co-operative working? When he meets the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs, Carwyn Jones, will he discuss the need for more investment in agriculture infrastructure in south-east Wales, especially in Monmouthshire, which can serve the whole of south-east Wales and beyond?
Mr. Brown: The Agriculture Minister for Wales and I discussed abattoir provision when we last met and it is one of the issues that we keep under review, not least because there are compelling and perfectly justifiable reasons to support low-throughput abattoirs. The Government have tried to do that by underpinning the costs of veterinary inspections with public funds. Indeed, the money is being transferred from my Department's budget to that of the Department of Health precisely for
The two issues that ought to be of concern to us all in reflecting on the matter are how the outbreak happened in the first place--inquiries on that continue, but we know the point of origin, or at least the farm where the disease first appeared--and how it spread so quickly. The issues involved in the spread are clearly livestock markets, sheep and the movement of sheep.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): Farmers in Warwickshire will be pleased to hear that the Minister is considering closely the possibility of introducing a local movements scheme. I first wrote to him about that matter at the end of last week and it is becoming increasingly urgent by the day. He is right that there are serious animal welfare considerations--lamb losses will be very high--but I hope that he will take another issue into account as well.
Farmers whose sheep are a mile or two, or even less than that, from their farms have to make several road journeys each day to look after them, feed them and perhaps take care of the lambs. That involves a risk of spreading infection. Perhaps undertaking one journey to bring sheep back to the farm would be less of a risk. I realise that the Minister has to protect against any possibility of the disease spreading, but I hope that he will take those factors into account in making his decision.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman makes a shrewd point. On each journey, it is necessary to disinfect the vehicles being used and to do so thoroughly. It might be better, even for disease control measures, to have a localised movement scheme; and the case that he advances is one reason why we are closely considering such a scheme.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Can the Minister say with confidence that his Department has learned all the crisis management lessons of BSE, as set out in the Phillips report, and of classical swine fever? We all appreciate the work being done in his Department, from top to bottom, and the difficulty of co-ordinating the activities of its various parts with those of other agencies. However, may I draw his attention to the case in Cornwall of an abattoir that was given a special licence to slaughter £40,000 worth of cows on Monday, only to have that licence withdrawn within 24 hours? No information was given as to what would happen to the meat, and total confusion resulted.
We understand that co-ordination, though extremely important, is hard to achieve in a crisis. We also understand the Minister's difficulties in that respect. However, can he give an absolute assurance that all the lessons about the co-ordination of all activities that were not learned during the BSE crisis have now been learned?
Mr. Brown: I am making sure that the way in which I handle the situation as a Minister is informed by the Phillips report. When reporting on the Government's response to Phillips, I promised the House that the lessons would be learned by the Government and that, specifically
Again, I place on record my wholehearted support and the wholehearted support of the Government for the officials who have to tackle this difficult and complex situation, not just at veterinary level, but at administrative level and between national Government and local government. I am sorry that I cannot comment on the specific constituency case that the hon. Gentleman raised.