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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Minister explain--perhaps later in her speech--the criteria for lifting the restrictions in certain areas? I have been told that restrictions have been lifted in certain counties that have had outbreaks but not in others. There seems to be inconsistency in the way in which the Government are lifting movement restrictions.
Ms Quin: I am not aware of an inconsistency in approach. Guidance is available, and information is available on the MAFF website. Information has also been published about how restricted area status can be lifted. If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, I would be grateful if he would draw them to my attention or that of another Minister so that we can respond to him. An overall framework is in place--it is partly a European as well as a UK framework--and I have seen the clear advice that farmers have received.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I am sure that the Minister will agree that there is no cause for complacency and that we still face a crisis. In that context, when will the Government come to a decision on vaccination? Does she accept that the president of the National Farmers Union does not speak for all farmers and that the view that he advances is hotly contested by many in rural communities? The Government are there to lead; when will we have some leadership?
Ms Quin: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must not be complacent in dealing with the disease. Indeed, one of the lessons of the 1967 outbreak of which we are very conscious is the fact that, during that outbreak, there was a lull and guard was relaxed. The disease broke out again, so we must be careful that that does not happen in this case.
I have discussed vaccination with farmers around the country and many are not in favour of it, so the president of the NFU is reflecting their opinions. However, farmers and other groups are divided on the issue, sometimes within the same region. Even people in the hot-spot areas are divided. That makes the decision difficult. Despite
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the Department seriously consider the vaccination of specialist breed sheep, in particular the herdwick sheep that will secure the survival of the breed? Many people in the Lakeland whom I respect have told me that that is possible without compromising our position on vaccination.
Ms Quin: That is an important aspect of the debate. However, other measures and guidance are being made available on rare and specialist breeds. In particular, we want to provide adequate bio-security measures so that the animals are kept separate from possible infectivity.
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The Minister will be aware that Ben Gill, the president of the NFU, is worried about the apparent inconsistency in the Government's policy on vaccination. That causes great stress in the countryside, especially among farmers. Will she seriously consider ensuring that a clear statement is sent to all farmers to explain the Government's position and the rationale behind it? I am sure that farmers would be grateful for that because the uncertainty is posing a considerable challenge to mental well-being in the countryside.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I believe that no matter what the Government say, they will not persuade the NFU to accept vaccination. As an MP from one of the hot spots, I favour vaccination. Obviously we will try to keep cattle in sheds for as long as possible, but are the Government still considering a fodder policy?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I acknowledge that there are different opinions on vaccination, but does the Minister accept that many farmers, such as Graham Gulliver, a prominent farmer in Preston Bissett in my constituency, are worried that their motives are being unfairly misrepresented? Will she acknowledge that many of those farmers who are hesitant, to put it mildly, about vaccination are not being awkward or cussed; rather they are concerned about the future saleability of their stock and the importance of ensuring compensation for consequential loss?
Government policy has been based at all times on the best scientific advice. That advice was that we needed to pursue vigorously the cull on infected premises within 24 hours and on neighbouring farms within 48 hours, which we have been achieving in many areas. Those policies have clearly been effective, as shown by the falling number of cases.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I was close to the Northumberland outbreak in 1967. Does the Minister agree that in that outbreak, immediate on-farm burial within 24 hours, rather than the use of mass burial sites, contained the disease? I have a huge problem on the uplands in my constituency, where 2,000 carcases were to be buried. That caused alarm, and there was a build-up of carcases when the spread of the disease could have been stopped.
Ms Quin: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and the concerns expressed by his constituents. None the less, we cannot make a straightforward comparison with 1967, when there were many outbreaks over a long period. When farms were smaller and we did not have the current environmental regulations, on-farm burial was a different option. We would be severely criticised if we allowed on-farm burial contrary to the environmental regulations that the House has adopted and which in many cases are part of European Union directives that we have freely and willingly entered into. For that reason, disposal routes are complex and give rise to problems in many areas.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): May I draw the Minister's attention to communities, which she knows, around Widdrington, Chevington and Cresswell in Northumberland that have seen thousands of animals burned in a beauty spot at Druridge bay and 100,000 carcases buried at Widdrington? Does she recognise that they need a break because they have been dealing with the problems of the whole region? There could also be some compensation, such as a council tax reduction for a year. There must be a mechanism by which we can recognise that those people have borne the brunt of the sacrifice.
Ms Quin: I know the area well and I understand people's concerns, but I must say that the conditions under which animals were disposed of there were not unilaterally thought up by the Ministry of Agriculture but agreed by all the parties concerned, including the Environment Agency. Various requirements for siting were met, including those on wind conditions. Wind does change direction, but it is easier now than in 1967 to predict it, and we have used that knowledge very effectively.
Mr. Burnett: As the Minister knows, there is a problem in my constituency and in Devon more widely. She said that we should not be complacent. It is reported today that her Ministry's director of operations for the south-west has moved. Who is the new south-west director of operations?
Ms Quin: I have not seen that report, but the directors of operations, who have been working very hard, are entitled to a break in their activities. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the operations directorate in Devon is a crucial part of the fight against foot and mouth disease. The arrangements in Devon to co-ordinate the efforts of the Ministry, the Army and the veterinary service will be fully effective and his constituents will not lose out from any temporary changes in the occupancy of the regional director's office.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The right hon. Lady will agree that it is important to try to keep rural businesses going in the crisis. Hon. Members have mentioned rural abattoirs. Is she aware of the extent to which the welfare slaughter scheme is dislocating the market for slaughter of animals for human consumption? There are abattoirs in the north of England that cannot obtain stock for slaughter even under the Government's rules because the prices under the welfare slaughter scheme, in which animals are bulked up and priced deadweight, are much more advantageous than those offered for live weight in the marketplace. Small businesses will not be helped if they cannot get hold of the animals, even when encouraged to do so.