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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I thank the Minister for giving way. He has just given the House the serious news that his Department's epidemiologists predict many more cases and that the crisis will go on for a considerable time. In those circumstances, it would be grossly irresponsible of the Government not to put in hand measures to bring in the Army to deal with the crisis. What measures are in hand to do that?
Mr. Brown: I am torn between explaining what we are about to do, which includes dealing with the point made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), and taking interventions. I shall take the interventions. Then, if the House will allow me, I shall make progress.
Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. My point follows on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said. The Minister says that he expects a number of outbreaks to occur for some time. Obviously there is concern in the countryside--not just in agriculture, but in the tourism industry, which has added significance--so, although I realise that it is difficult, can he give any indication of the time scale that he has in mind?
Mr. Brown: Perhaps I did not make clear enough what I intend to do. Once I have the result of the epidemiologists' work, I intend to put it in the public domain. It is currently being "peer-group assessed", but I understand that it will reach me very soon--within days rather than weeks. When I have seen it, I will share it with everyone else here, and we can make our own assessments. As those who are familiar with such exercises will know, it will not give a detailed timetable, but it will include a range of possible times, so it will give us all something to work towards.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) nor my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) quoted the Minister correctly. Did I not hear him say that he expected the rising trend to continue for a considerable time? Is that really the case?
It is clear now, as it would not have been clear a fortnight ago, that in Devon, Cumbria and southern Scotland, and potentially in the midlands and on the Welsh-English border, there are concentrations of infectivity in such amounts that we are no longer dealing with the emergence of the original spread of the disease in animals. We are now dealing with animal-to-animal infection. There is sheep-to-sheep infection in Cumbria,
Before I finish the business about urban legends, there is one about the Antec disinfectant company. It is effectively the same as the railway sleeper issue. Antec's chief executive officer has claimed on the radio that MAFF must have known about the presence of foot and mouth disease, because we contacted the company in November to discuss supplies. The procurements and contracts division has confirmed that it did speak to the company in November, but that was part of a normal contractual discussion, and we have a normal supply-chain relationship with the company. I must say that I am very tempted to look into that! Anyway, all this is urban legend.
Mr. Brown: I know that the hon. Gentleman's constituency is affected, and I have something to say about it. If he will let me deal with that first, he can intervene later. I know that more needs to be done in his area, and I want to say what that "more" is.
Since 23 February, all animal movements have been at a standstill. Since 2 March, tightly controlled arrangements have operated for animals outside the infected areas to be transported directly to slaughter for human consumption. I understand from the Meat and Livestock Commission--I know that Members will be interested by this--that the pig sector is back to 85 per cent. of normal production, and that the figures for beef and lamb are 60 per cent. and 38 per cent. respectively.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): As the Minister knows, I have written to him about that. My constituency contains a major abattoir, to which livestock is brought from as far away as Wales, travelling through highly infected areas of Devon. That is causing enormous concern in the greater part of Cornwall that currently contains no infection. Farmers are saying that there is surely some risk in bringing cattle such a long way through highly infected areas, and I think they would appreciate some response from the Minister.
Mr. Brown: The risks involved in the licensed movements are extremely low, although I understand the nervousness and concern. The question that is usually raised concerns the spread of the virus by air--the plume from the animals. I am giving a presentation in the Department on Friday to discuss questions relating to the disease and how it is spread, and also to vaccination. However, as I told the Select Committee on Agriculture
Sir Patrick Cormack: The Minister is being helpful. He is answering all the interventions with great courtesy and as clearly as he can. I am grateful that he is putting information in the Library, but may we please have presentations such as the one to which he just referred; can there be presentations specifically for Members of Parliament? Many hon. Members' constituencies on both sides of the House are now affected. It would be helpful if we had some clear presentations from his officials and others on the points that he has touched on.
Mr. Brown: Yes. I want to meet the hon. Gentleman's request in two ways. If there are hon. Members here on Friday--I know it is not a convenient time for hon. Members--who would like to come to the presentation at 10 o'clock at the Department, which has been arranged primarily for journalists and broadcasters, they may do so. I extend an invitation to any hon. Member who would like to come to that presentation to ring my private office. I will arrange for a seat to be reserved for them. They can see the same presentation is being given to the journalists.
I shall also arrange to have the entire presentation repeated midweek at a time that is convenient for hon. Members, so that there will be a second chance to see it. More than that, at the second presentation, I will arrange for the epidemiology to be presented by someone who is qualified to do so, so that hon. Members can have an insight into that, too.
Mr. Luff: I am sorry that Labour Members do not want the House to be properly informed, but I wish to raise with the Minister the question of the adequacy of information. The website is not up to date. The maps are not detailed enough to establish where outbreaks are occurring. When I rang a ministerial office today about the MPs hotline, the staff thought that there was some sort of hotline and said that they would come back to me with a number, but they have not done so yet.
The information that the Minister says is in the Whips Office is not there; I have just been to ask for it. We have not had that information, but it would help enormously if more information could be provided more systematically.
I should like to deal with the point that was properly raised about animals that are trapped by the movement restrictions. It is a serious problem. The whole country is under movement controls at the minute. I recognise that we have created considerable animal welfare difficulties for farmers, particularly in respect of lambing, calving and farrowing. On 9 March, we introduced arrangements for limited local movements of animals. As of yesterday, we had issued 6,400 licences under those arrangements in England. In addition, this week, we are bringing in arrangements to allow animals to be moved on longer journeys, subject to strict controls on the cleansing and disinfection of vehicles. I know that that sounds arduous, but it is vital as a disease control measure.