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Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about his plans for easing restrictions in some areas. Is he aware that the NFU in Northamptonshire is keen for restrictions to be eased locally, especially in view of the size of the area to which they apply and the length of time that has passed since the case that we had? Can he say a little more about the areas in which he is considering easing the restrictions, and about the timetabling of the decision, so that my farmers know roughly when they can expect some movement in that respect?
Mr. Brown: I cannot set a clearer timetable than the one I set out in my statement, because all these matters depend on veterinary advice. It is the areas where earlier outbreaks occurred--especially those in the east of the country--that seem to be early candidates for the lifting of movement restrictions and the return to more normal trade. I have under active consideration the question of whether it will be possible to do something further with the areas that have remained disease free throughout the outbreak, including East Anglia, the north of Scotland and west Wales. However, it would be dangerous to set a timetable for what is, after all, a biological phenomenon. I am advised that unexpected outbreaks are still likely to occur. By far the best thing we can do is to bear down quickly on such outbreaks and cull out the infected animals and contiguous premises.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister now respond to the requests that I made some two or three weeks ago and consider vaccination at least in respect of rare and pedigree breeds in this country? Such breeds are priceless and can never be revived. Will he also look favourably on a request that was made by a number of farmers regarding the 30 mile exclusion zone that extends from Hawes? The affected area is much wider than the recommended 10 km zone.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Although it is gratifying that the number of new cases seems to be falling daily, the evidence of the past few days, which shows that the spread of the disease extends well beyond the areas where most of it has been found before, is extremely worrying. For example, a case recently arose in south Wales, in Nelson, near Caerphilly. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether the investigations of the National Assembly for Wales, MAFF or the Scottish Parliament have produced any ideas about whether such outbreaks are caused by airborne factors, careless movement of vehicles on farm-related business, or unauthorised movements? Also, what is being done to try to get up to speed on culling in contiguous areas?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right that more needs to be done to ensure that the culling out of contiguous premises is achieved within our target range of 48 hours. As to the cause of sporadic outbreaks, more work still needs to be done, but it seems that they are caused by farm-to-farm transmission.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us who attended the presentation that he kindly arranged last week came away feeling that there will be no future for hefted sheep or moorland animals unless he accepts a policy of vaccination very soon? Does he accept that many farmers in my constituency and elsewhere feel that, despite all his good intentions, which are not in dispute, there is a lack of co-ordination and clarity, and no central direction? His answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) about disinfectant on the Tamar bridge illustrated that point. Who precisely is in charge? Who can take the decisions and lead the national fight against this national scourge?
Mr. Brown: On the Tamar bridge, the advice that is available to the Government suggests that the disinfected mats are of only marginal utility. Of course, the objection to them is that they might do more harm than good. On the broader question of hefted sheep on moorlands, and in Cumbria in particular, there are several strategies for saving them, including vaccination. I have not ruled the latter out, but there are several other approaches, including containment and testing of animals to see precisely where the disease is. Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not for the gratuitous culling of animals. It may be possible to deal with the problem just by containing it.
May I introduce a word of bipartisan encouragement? Mr. Philip Bushill-Matthews recently wrote in my local newspaper an article that begins by congratulating the Government on their handling of the foot and mouth outbreak. He is the Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.
Mr. Brown: I am grateful for that bipartisan support. As for speeding up the slaughter element of the welfare scheme, we are bringing onstream sufficient capacity to take out around a quarter of a million animals a week, and some 230,000 are lined up for slaughter in the next few days.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): May I urge the Minister to devote more resources to the clearance of carcases in Devon? Now that more progress is being made with the cull, carcases are literally piling up and typically not being moved for seven, eight or even nine days. What advice does the Minister suggest I give to constituents who are complaining about the effluent from carcases running into duck lakes or past their front doors, about carcases piled up on the school bus route and even about carcases between two caravan parks, which, obviously, are causing a serious odour problem?
Is the Minister aware that his officials in Exeter say that a lack of trucks to move the carcases is one of the problems? Can he do something about that? Farmers are threatening to turn up and deliver the carcases to the Ministry if the trucks do not collect them.
Mr. Brown: A lack of sealed trucks suitable for moving the animals to disposal sites is part of the problem, but at the heart of it has been the difficulty of finding a suitable disposal route, or series of disposal routes, in Devon. That has been an intractable problem throughout Great Britain while we have been dealing with the outbreak, but it has proved particularly difficult in Devon for a range of local reasons. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with all those reasons, and merely stating them will not, of course, solve the problem. As was demonstrated by the discussion that I just had with his hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), it is very difficult to find disposal routes in the west country that are acceptable to the Environment Agency and also to local people. However, we are doing our best and we believe that we now have suitable disposal sites.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Does it not beggar belief that there should be any unauthorised movements at all? Seven weeks into this contagion, there are still farmers out there moving livestock that can contaminate healthy beasts. Has the Minister made any estimate of the number of unauthorised movements? If we track down those irresponsible farmers, what sanctions can we use against them?
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister accept that one way of fighting the disease is for the Opposition parties to do what they are there for--to hold the Government to account and ask questions? If they do not, government will be worse than it would be otherwise.
Does the Minister also accept that the debate on vaccination will not go away until he sets out clear criteria against which we can judge whether the circumstances have indeed arrived in which vaccination can be resorted to, or ought to be resorted to? At present, it is being floated almost as an abstract concept. Until we know how the Minister will reach such a conclusion and in what circumstances, he will become increasingly frustrated by our questions and we shall become increasingly frustrated by his answers.