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Mr. Thomas: I believe that my hon. Friend's point was reiterated by a Labour Member. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) may not have been in the Chamber to hear it. Putting animals into quarantine has been discussed. I have not considered that, but I have examined vaccination. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report that the Elm Farm research centre published. I acknowledge that it has an axe to grind on specific issues, but the report is useful. Peter Midmore of the University of Wales in Aberystwyth wrote it, and it sets out the economic case for vaccination. We should discuss the scientific case for vaccination's ability to deal with foot and mouth if it ever reappears in this country.
Lack of rendering capacity caused increasing problems. That was the reason for so many pyres, which constitute a human as well as an animal health issue. There is not one rendering plant in Wales. If foot and mouth broke out again, we could not render animals there. The single rendering plant that existed in Wales was in Tan-y-groes in my constituency, and has been closed owing to a private legal action. It is important that the Government consider a rendering strategy as part of their plans for future action against foot and mouth.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Does the hon. Gentleman support the idea that is currently being investigated by Blue Circle, whereby it could take animal carcases to use as an alternative fuel in the cement industry?
Mr. Thomas: I would take a lot of convincing that incineration for fuel was the way forward. I am deeply dissatisfied with the use of incineration to deal with our municipal waste. That also applies to animal waste.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for more rendering plants. Does he believe that it is right to bring infected carcases to a rendering plant in an area where there is no foot and mouth? It is believed that some outbreaks of foot and mouth in Cheshire could be directly connected to infected carcases being brought into the county. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that?
Mr. Thomas: I suspect that I would have similar anxieties if the rendering plant in my constituency, which remains free of foot and mouth, had been opened. However, if that was the best scientific method of disposing of carcases, we would have to go for it. The mass burial of carcases in Wales, especially on the Epynt mountain, was a travesty of animal and human welfare. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman supports on-farm burials, but we need the best scientific evidence.
Let us consider scrapie. I believe that it is included in the Bill to deal with possible BSE outbreaks in future. To date, there is not a scrap of evidence of BSE in the sheep flock. We may require further powers to eradicate scrapie, but the Bill does not fulfil that need. The Department that does not know the difference between sheep brains and cow brains should not have powers over the future of our sheep flock. A Department that cannot run a research project without elementary safeguards for checking and counter-checking its results demands more power. I am reluctant to grant it.
The Department's skin was saved by a National Assembly for Wales official, Mr. Mike Simmons, who represents the Assembly on the Whitehall working party on testing sheep brains. He insisted that the material should be sent for DNA testing in July. The Government came within 36 hours of destroying the sheep industry in Wales and the United Kingdom. Mr. Simmons' insistence saved
Mr. Thomas: I have to tell the Minister that the words that I just read out were not mine but those of Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister in Wales. He believes very strongly that Mr. Simmons saved his backside.
Let us imagine what would have happened to the sheep industry if the Bill had been in the Minister's hands and that report had gone to SEAC without being discovered. The Minister would have had the power immediately to authorise the mass slaughter of the sheep flock. We came very close to that, and the Minister's embarrassment was saved by a small but very important official in Wales. That is the truth. I believe the Labour party's propaganda, because it was Rhodri Morgan who sought to put that on the front page of the Western Mail to reflect well on himself.
This is why we have included in our amendment to the Bill the need to devolve powers to the National Assembly. The present Department, whether it be in the form of the Minister himselfI am sure that it is notor the officials to whom the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) referred, is not prepared or able to take these issues properly or effectively into account. The issues need to be devolved to the National Assembly. Is it any wonder that
There are also real concerns among the supporters of animal refuges in my constituency. The refuges are next to farmland and people are concerned that the Minister might apply these powers to other animals in a refuge that can carry foot and mouth.
The plans for compensation are crude, although I accept that we need them and that the Minister will do more work on them. If the Government really wanted to improve animal health, they should have examined issues such as the transportation of live animals over long distances. They could also have examined the difficulties that local abattoirs are experiencing in reopening, which was dealt with in the third recommendation of the Devon inquiry. An example is the case of my constituent, Oswyn Jones, who is trying to reopen Llanwnnen abattoir in the face of every bit of red tape, and who is facing huge veterinary bills.
The way in which foot and mouth has been dealt with in Wales, and the way in which the Government's skin was saved over BSE in sheep, have made it clear that the National Assembly for Wales would be a more able and effective promoter of animal health, a more able and effective defender of the public interest, and a more able and effective developer of sustainable farming in Wales. No doubt the Minister for Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), would agree with that if he were in the National Assembly.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and to contribute to this debate. I have some concerns, as have some of my hon. Friends, about the speed of introduction of the Bill, but I feel that those issues can be settled in Committee and I shall support the Bill tonight in the Lobby.
I want to concentrate on the slaughter policy pertaining to foot and mouth. The policy of establishing a firebreak prevented the disease from spreading in my constituency. My constituency of Ynys Mônbetter known by its English name, Angleseywas one of the first areas in the United Kingdom to suffer from foot and mouth, and had the first reported cases in Wales. The action that followed was decisive, if somewhat brutal, after an initial muddle at the start of the handling of the outbreak.
To date, just 13 cases of foot and mouth have been reported on Anglesey. I say "just", because they were reported very early on in the outbreak. Yet an estimated 50,000 animals were slaughtered in the compulsory cull in south Anglesey. The National Assembly for Wales, with the full co-operation of the farming unions in Wales, authorised the cull and gave it its blessing. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Agriculture for adopting that policy and for taking those tough decisions at that time. I also support how the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food worked with
Establishing the firebreak had its problems, not least that of disposing of so many animals, but it worked and we must learn from that experience. It prevented the spread of the disease and allowed the vast majority of the isle of Anglesey to remain disease-free. It allowed open access to the countryside to be restored much earlier than in many other parts of the United Kingdom and Wales, thereby allowing the tourism industry on which my constituency relies so much, and which is vital to the economy of the island, to recoup some lost time and money. It was because that policy was adopted that the National Assembly and the appropriate authorities were able to announce that the disease was under control, and to send out positive messages sooner than in other areas of the United Kingdom.
Movement restrictions remained in place, however, and farmers in the local community had to conform to tight restrictions. I have no doubt that failure to institute those measures at that time would have compounded the problems still further. The initial confused situation marked by the localised burning of animals in huge pyres sent out a terrible signal, and those graphic images did untold damage to the tourism sector in my local community. The confusion over which animals were at greatest risk, which should be killed, and how many should be buried, where and when, created chaos. The Bill can help to alleviate that chaos, which is one of the reasons why I support it.
Although I support many of the measures in the Bill, I ask for some assurances from the Minister; for example, that the Bill will not preclude the use of vaccination without the need to slaughter later, for animals not destined for the food chain. I am particularly concerned by the allegation that so-called hobby farmers are a nuisance. I do not share that opinion; they are farmers who look after animals in the same way as others, even though those animals are not destined for the food chain. I believe that it would be possible to exempt such animals from a mass cull in a designated area, and that a vaccine could be used in such cases. I am not as colourful as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) when he talks passionately about preventing the killing of pets and other animals owned by hobby farmers. We should seriously consider that issue, and send out the right messages to those people.
I understand the logistical problems posed by mass vaccination. However, we must not abandon the research into and the application of vaccination in forming policy for future outbreaks. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made some movement on that in her opening speech. I further understand the cost implications of mass vaccination, but we must acknowledge that any policy to contain and eradicate diseases such as foot and mouth will be costly.
On costs, I draw the House's attention to the evidence given to the Select Committee by Professor Roy Anderson, who claimed that an estimated £1 billion of taxpayers' money could have been saved if time had not been wasted when implementing the ban on animal movements in the crucial first few days of the outbreak. Indeed, it is alleged that the first reported case in my
I suggest that the House take note of the Devon inquiry, which called for an immediate ban on animal movements from day one of an outbreak. This is simply a question of prevention being better than cure. The same inquiry called for a study to support the re-establishment of small, local abattoirs to be supported by grants. That should be looked at, as it would help to stop the spread of the disease.
I do not support the calls for a public inquiry, although I did have leanings towards that at one time. We should not have such an inquiry until we have heard the results of the Government inquiry. However, there should be a firm commitment to a national contingency plan that clearly identifies the role of each of the constituent parts, including the local authorities and DEFRA. The pressures and burdens placed on local authorities, DEFRA, vets, administrators and farmers during the mass slaughter campaign were immense in my constituency. Emergency planning is required, in line with what has happened in terms of the maritime disasters that have occurred off the Welsh coastline.
It is right to widen the powers of slaughter to limit the spread of the disease. Enforcement during the first months of the crisis was patchy, as hon. Members have revealed. I believe that this Bill will clarify and eliminate unnecessary and complex legal injunctions without removing the right to appeal. The Bill needs greater scrutiny in Committee. However, I repeat that, only this year, the farming unions in Wales supported the slaughter policy in my area and upheld the right to appeal. It is fundamental, especially with the adjusted compensation proposed by the Bill, that a fair and concise appeals procedure be available. Again this needs to be looked at in Committee.
I wish to refer to the implications of the Bill and the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and DEFRA. The Bill covers England and Wales, but I have concerns about the confusion that might occur between the devolved Administration and DEFRA. We need clarity, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that.
In conclusion, I wish to consider consumer confidence, which is mentioned in the Bill. Too often the consumer is overlooked in favour of powerful interest groups, such as landowners and farmersconsumers are important stakeholders and their opinions should be sought. During the recent general election campaign, I paid great attention to the ordinary consumers in my predominantly rural constituency. They told me of the need for the Government to take decisive action to recognise and prevent a future outbreak. Their views were echoed by the many small businesses in the tourism and agriculture-related sectors. I support the desire to enact policies that provide decisions and reduce the chances of prolonged crises of the sort that destroy our rural and urban communities.
My constituents want their Member of Parliament not only to voice their concerns, but to take decisive action to support legislation that is resolute and has the long-term prosperity of the countryside in mind. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill tonight. I hope that the Minister will take on board my concerns.