HC Deb 01 August 1952 vol 504 cc1961-77

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I wish to raise a topic which is of tremendous importance to our great agricultural industry and also of importance to the challenge which our country is making for increased production from our own farms. I refer particularly to the serious threat to food production which has been caused by the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic which we now see not only in our own country but throughout Europe.

Since November, in our own country we have had over 500 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, causing the destruction of thousands of valuable cattle, sheep and pigs. Already we have had to pay in compensation nearly £2½ million. Every week fresh outbreaks are reported. There have been recent outbreaks in Scotland and in my own county of Cumberland. If the epidemic continues, it may well surpass the tragedy of 1923. In that year, we had 1,929 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. We lost 69,000 cattle, 26,000 sheep and 33,000 pigs. The present epidemic may well exceed that figure, and I hope that the Minister will he able to give us the latest information on the position.

These are indeed grim facts. They emerge just when our farmers are making a major effort to increase food production. It has a terrific psychological effect throughout the whole farming world. I read today an excellent article in the "Field" by Ralph Whitlock, who calls this epidemic "a war of nerves in the agricultural world." It seriously interferes with farming practice. Serious as the position is in our own country, it is even worse on the Continent. I have some interesting figures. In Austria, nearly 3,000 farms were attacked and 11,000 gallons of milk were lost per day. The scourge cost Denmark over £8 million. In the month of January Western Germany had over 17,000 outbreaks. In Belgium, for that month there were over 5,000 outbreaks, and in Holland, 2,427.

This is a tremendous threat to agricultural recovery in Europe.

In France, the position is even more serious. In the month of June, it is reported that France had over 60,000 out breaks of foot-and-mouth disease. I believe, therefore, that it is essential that this country, along with the other countries of Europe, should appreciate the need for concerted action on this issue. We must remember that we are really part of the Continent of Europe in our approach to this matter. The disease itself is not a new epidemic in Europe. It swept the Continent in the early part of the 19th Century. The virus was carried from country to country by various means.

We had our first reported outbreak in this country in 1839, when it was believed to have been introduced by infected ship's stores which should have been consumed on board before the ship reached port. In 1926, there was a disastrous outbreak in Scotland which was traced to infected pig carcases from Europe which had gone to a bacon factory. On 12th June of this year, the Minister of Agriculture informed the country that there was now a suspected new carrier of infection, namely, birds flying to this country, bringing in the virus from the Continent. On 17th July, the Minister announced that, because of the threat from France, there would still have to be rigid area restrictions in the south of England. As the Minister pointed out, we have been bombarded for several months, all along the coastal border of our country from Yorkshire to Kent and subsequently from Kent to Dorset, by infection from the Continent.

What is being done to combat this scourge? In Britain there is no complacency. I am not making any political point on this issue. I am certain that every administrative and scientific effort is being made to combat this disease. I know that the Minister himself is working actively to this end and that our own scientists and veterinary staffs, who are the best in the world, are busily engaged on animal disease problems. Our research institutions at Weybridge and Pirbright are the finest in the world and their research products to combat this disease are in universal demand. So every effort is being made in our own country.

Again, in the farming world constructive arguments are raging over the virtues of the policy of slaughter as against the policy of vaccination. The Minister himself has announced that there is to be a special committee, which will begin its work in the autumn of this year, to conduct a special survey and investigation into the whole problem of foot-and-mouth disease. But is this really enough? I do not think it is, and that is why I have questioned the Minister and raised the issue in the House on other occasions.

I believe we now need what is virtually a military campaign against the epidemic, and this means inter-governmental action in Europe. This has been done before. In 1928 this country conducted very successful negotiations with the Governments of the Argentine. Brazil and Uruguay, and our action and joint consultation resulted in the stopping of the export of infected carcases.

In 1946 we had the dramatic example of the action of the United States Government when foot-and-mouth disease broke out in the southern region of Mexico. That was very serious for America, because the United States annually imported 500,000 beef cattle for slaughter from the northern region of Mexico. Immediately the outbreak occurred in the southern region, the United States Government took action. They banned the imports, and I believe the ban operates to this day.

But the United States Government went further and took positive action. Along with the Mexican Government they formed a joint American and Mexican Commission to inaugurate an intensive campaign against foot-and-mouth disease in Mexico itself. A rigid control of cattle movement was introduced, one million infected animals were slaughtered and more than 15 million animals were vaccinated. It cost the American Government 160 million dollars, but I believe it was worth every dollar because the disease has been practically wiped out there.

That is the type of action we now need in Europe. That is why Britain and France, in particular, should initiate a scheme to deal with the problem. However effective the British plans may be and however effective may be our control over foot-and-mouth disease in our own country, it will all be to no avail if great areas of infection remain on the Continent or in other parts of the world. Foot-and-mouth disease is a European and a world problem, and the accumulation of the disease in northern France or in any other part of Europe will always be a serious menace to our farmers

That is why it is so important that we should take joint governmental action to attack the foci of infection now. That is why the British Government should make special representations to the French Government about this. In other words, we should take the initiative. We did it before. We took the initiative when we helped to set up the special European Organisation to combat the Colorado beetle, another pest which threatened our food supplies. In April, 1951, we signed a Convention relating to the European Plant Protection Organisation. We did that to deal with the Colorado beetle, the potato root eelworm, and rodents threatening our food supplies. This new organisation, which we helped to create, is going into action. Its function is to advise member Governments, according to the Convention, …on the technical, administrative and legislative measures necessary to prevent the introduction and spread of pests and diseases of plants and plant products… and to co-ordinate and stimulate international campaigns… If that could be done to deal with pests of this nature, how much more important it is that we should have a similar organisation to combat the scourge which is so greatly hindering the production of livestock not only in this country but throughout Europe. The Plant Protection Organisation is to work as a regional body under the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and I am certain that a similar organisation could be established to deal with diseases affecting livestock production.

Therefore, my plea this afternoon is that the Government, along with other Governments such as France, should take the initiative in setting up a European organisation on the lines of the European Plant Protection Organisation. I am certain that there is no time to lose. We should begin now. It is essential that we have combined European action.

The Minister himself, when he was questioned by me on 17th July, admitted that while he and Her Majesty's Government had made no official representation to the F.A.O., that organisation, along with other international organisations, was considering a scheme to deal with foot-and-mouth disease in the Western European countries. I am very glad that the Minister appreciates the need for international action. He has very rightly enabled one of our most important veterinary officers, Sir Thomas Dalling, to be seconded to the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, and I hope that Sir Thomas Dalling will there use his influence, great ability and wide experience to make the European countries come together over this problem. I hope the fact that we took the lead in giving our best veterinary officer to this international body is a sign that we shall encourage a European plan.

I have had handed to me this afternoon a rather interesting Press release from the Food and Agriculture Organisation which states: The Food and Agriculture Organisation will shortly convene a meeting of European countries to implement an international plan to end the current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Western Europe and to deal rapidly with future outbreaks. I am very glad that this international body is to take such action, and I hope it will have every support from the Minister and Her Majesty's Government.

I shall not go into details of the suggested plan mentioned in the F.A.O. Press release. It suggests a vaccine bank in Europe from which supplies will be issued to various countries as the need arises. These proposals will have to be studied by every representative Government. Nevertheless, the fact that F.A.O. has issued a statement this week that there must be European action goes to show the importance of our taking the lead on this issue.

I can assure the Minister that I have raised this subject in no party sense. I believe there is agreement on both sides of the House that something must be done. I shall not criticise any particular policy at home or any particular policy which may be applied abroad. I believe there is unanimity on the need for coordinating action. We need a European plan. We should regard it as a military campaign. Even if we get over the present outbreaks, the scourge could break out again within the next few years. If we do not tackle the problem now, history will repeat itself. I trust the Minister will be able to tell us more about how Her Majesty's Government and his Department are helping to sponsor European action to deal with this most important problem. Action cannot be delayed.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

We are all most grateful to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) for having raised this matter today and to Mr. Speaker for having given time for it to be debated. The hon. Member very rightly opened his remarks by drawing attention to the very great demoralisation that sets in in various parts of the country as and when they are affected by foot-and-mouth disease. It is absolutely incalculable, and any steps that can be taken either to eradicate or to deal quickly with this disease will be most welcome.

In my own constituency alone there have been more than the 10 per cent. of the total number of outbreaks in the country and the cattle slaughtered represent a loss already of over 1,100,000 gallons of milk a year. Throughout this outbreak I, personally, have met with the very utmost co-operation and help from the Minister and from the Department of Health in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the machinery for dealing with the outbreak of the disease, after a long period of immunity, had rusted to a certain extent.

Whatever steps may be taken with other nations in Europe to deal with this matter, they must be taken as a matter of urgency in every case and the kind of machinery which is devised for dealing with it must be of that character. I think it could properly be likened to the methods to be followed in dealing with an air raid—something of the order of the air-raid precautions machinery.

As soon as an outbreak occurs the first thing that happens is that a large number of veterinary surgeons are drafted into the area, and they are placed under the command of an official of the Ministry of Agriculture. But having so many people coming into the area who are not necessarily familiar with the area creates a problem in itself. It is quite plain that what is needed is a machine that is always in being on the spot and possibly connected with the National Farmers' Union to deal with an outbreak as soon as it occurs, as well as handle the public relations end so as to make quite certain that everybody knows his job right away. The farmers, the police, the local authority and everybody concerned must know from the start, not just learn by experience as they go along, what has to be done.

There is no doubt that on this occasion the machinery was rusty. It did not work perfectly in this case, but I do not think anybody is to blame. The Minister has very wisely appointed a Commission which is to look into the whole business in this country as soon as the disease has died down. The hon. Member for Workington suggested that we should right away get on with the task of collaborating with European countries and study methods for combating this disease. I agree with that. I think it is right if only because it always takes a long time to set up this kind of international machinery.

At the same time, it is probably right that we in this country should reach our own conclusions before we commit ourselves to definite views. I hope, there, fore, that as a result of the Commission's investigation it will be possible to reach a definite view from which other countries in Europe may perhaps he able to profit. It is also a fact that our own method of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease is diametrically opposed to that on the Continent, and it is not going to be easy to work out a common solution. We pursue a slaughtering policy and that means, of course, that as the State orders the slaughtering the State has to pay the compensation. Let us admit at once that the compensation has been satisfactory.

Here I would address a plea to my right hon. Friend. The State orders the slaughter and it pays compensation, but then it proceeds to tax the compensation. For those who are on a herd basis it is only the profits on the trading account in respect of young stock that are taxed. For those not on a herd basis the whole of the excess of the compensation paid over the book value comes in under the present arrangement, as part of the trading profit for that year, and it is possible to get the most astounding results. Supposing that the amount were something in the order of £30,000. All that is left to the farmer after taxation would be something like £5,000 to replace that herd. Surely that cannot be right.

If compensation is paid it should be used for the purpose for which it is granted, and that is to restore production. I hope my right hon. Friend will approach the Treasury in this matter at the earliest possible moment and use his best endeavours to make certain that, whether compensation is given for a pedigree herd or for an ordinary working herd, whether it is large or small, it shall be used in full for the purpose for which it was intended, and that a satisfactory method is designed to ensure that result is achieved.

There are two further points I wish to make. The first is that in the south of Scotland—I have no doubt it applies to the area represented by the hon. Member for Workington, too—we are getting perilously near to the time of the lamb sales. I hope my right hon. Friend will this afternoon be able to indicate what steps are being taken to make certain that the lamb sales will be able to proceed in a manner as near normal as possible.

The other point I wish to refer to is the case which was duly reported in the proceedings of the Commission which reported to this House in 1924 and dealt with a cure which was effective. It was fairly well known at that time that a pedigree herd known as the Aitkenbrae herd was attacked by this disease. It belonged to Mr. Thomas Lindsay, who was not only a county councillor of Ayrshire but a governor of the West of Scotland Agricultural College. Authority was obtained to treat his beasts, which numbered about 150. Many of those animals were in calf, but not one calf was lost. The whole thing was over in 10 days. The animals remained entirely isolated in their byres during that period.

It has been stated that immunity was clearly established as a result of the way the outbreak was treated. The owner of the herd was reported to have given a positive assurance that no casualties from the disease had occurred amongst the cattle. Those are very striking results and the cure is still available. I would suggest that it should be tried out. I would also suggest that we need not wait for the Commission to examine these claims. They have already been examined and established, and if we want further evidence the right thing to do is to allow the person who is in possession of this cure to try it out on the Continent, if proper arrangements can be made with one of the Governments concerned. I hope that will be done, because in dealing with this disease we cannot afford to overlook any possible remedy. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that he will at least explore this matter as early as possible with the countries concerned.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

May I. as a layman in this somewhat bucolic gathering, support the eloquent case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), because this is not only a technical matter. This disease has a much wider impact upon society in general. For example, I was up at the Durham Miners' Gala last Saturday and I found that the Sedge-field Show in the vicinity had been can-celled because of foot-and-mouth disease. Again, in my own Division of Rugby I discovered that the rural district council were discussing whether they should give the dustmen foot-dipping drill, whatever that may mean, before they visit farms where there is foot-and-mouth disease. So this has a wider aspect outside the somewhat technical discussion we have had so far.

The disease has been endemic since last November. In fact, my own market at Rugby only opened last week for the sale of livestock. As I say, the losses go far beyond the agricultural community. The "Farmers Weekly" had an editorial on 27th June which makes my case for me. It said: The daily cost of this epidemic grows bigger. It cannot be counted merely on the basis of the money paid out by the Government in compensation. This figure is getting on now for £2½ million, but it is nowhere near the real cost any more than the cash payment repays the entire loss suffered by an accident-crippled man. Who can compute the actual loss to the countryside where markets as in Warwickshire, for example, are paralysed? There is loss not only to the farmers, dealers and auctioneers, but there is also loss in that there is less beer sold at the "Blue Boar" and fewer boots and shoes bought at the open air stalls on the cobbles of the market place. So it affects the whole countryside.

Again, as a layman, I have sometimes sat behind my hon. Friend the Member for Workington and listened to him interrogating the Minister about European co-operation in checking this disease. Recently I saw that M. Jean Antier, the French Minister of Agriculture, said that one-fifteenth of all the stock in France is infected and they have increased four-fold their import of serum to tackle this disease. They are also calling in the Army veterinary staff to help them. In Germany they have had an outbreak which cost them £80 million.

In Europe they tackle the disease with vaccine, but here we slaughter. I think slaughter is better but, as was said a few moment ago, there are only 20 miles of water between us and the Continent with its hundreds of thousands of infected beasts. The Channel can be called a defensive moat, but this is a highly contagious disease and I am told that virus has been carried in packing cases into the heart of Canada, into Alberta. It may even be carried by starlings over the Channel, as some people suggest.

The Minister has used the term "constant bombardment" and "mass infection." May I support the plea of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) for an all-out operation against this disease? Some time ago we had "Operation Colorado" against the Colorado beetle. We want an "Operation Foot-and-Mouth" on a military scale against this virus and disease.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

The three speeches made so far have been extremely constructive. My hon. Friend has suggested that inside this country we should tighten up the machinery for dealing with an outbreak. The hon. Gentleman who so fortunately for this House raised this debate, said that since there are only 20 miles of water between ourselves and the Continent, there should be a European policy in regard to this disease. I am sure that the Minister will strive for a common policy in Europe for dealing with this problem.

Whilst I agree that it should be treated as a military operation, I am quite convinced that the tactics we pursue in this island are the correct ones. The investment which we should have to make if we used a process like the Waldmann, which is the one mostly used on the Continent, would mean the expenditure of £34 million, since we have 17 million head of cattle, in addition to which we should lose £2 million per annum from the export of cattle which this country enjoys now and which would cease. Here I must confess a personal interest as a cattle exporter.

So long as we can maintain an effective slaughter policy we are all right, and it has been maintained on the whole in this country over a long period of years. The hon. Gentleman talked of a £80 million loss by Germany and said that all the cattle in France were infected. I believe that the figure mentioned is an underestimate. In this country, in the opinion of Dr. Muskus, the chief veterinary surgeon of Venezuela, who is a friend of mine and with whom I was dealing some years ago, we have in Professor Galloway the greatest expert in the world on this subject, and our method of prevention is the most effective in the world.

Whether we could produce for Europe through the F.A.O. or some other organisation the same policy as that carried out in Mexico, I do not know. The Mexican policy cost 160 million dollars and, incidentally, led to the loss of more than 30 veterinary lives because the peasants in the Andes said, "To something with you ! You shoot our beasts, we shoot you." And 30 vets were killed in that operation. The essence of that operation was vaccination and then slaughter when the disease was under control. Of course, I do not want any vets slaughtered, though I expect some dissident farmers at the moment might feel inclined to slaughter some of my right hon. Friend's assistants. If, however, we could get over to Europe that policy of vaccination and then slaughter, it would be the right policy.

4.59 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) for this short debate. It is of great interest to all of us, and I thank the hon. Members for their helpful speeches.

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) that the implications and effects of the disease go far beyond the farm gate. All the points raised by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) are suitable points for the Departmental Committee which is to start work in the autumn, and I assure him that anything we can do to help in this difficult problem, we will do; it is very much in our minds. More than that, I cannot say.

Before I deal with the international aspect, the House would like me to give an up-to-date appreciation of the position. I am glad to be able to say that the position has continued to improve since I last addressed the House on the subject. There were 22 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the second half of July, compared with 29, 43 and 63 in the previous half-monthly periods. The movement is, therefore, in the right direction.

Outbreaks in the past week have occurred in the infected areas in Dumfries, Cumberland and Kent. The only other infected area now is Devon, where there has been no outbreak since 17th July. The restricted area has, therefore, been contracted in size. The remainder of Great Britain is now free from infection.

From the figures since 14th November last year, when the first outbreak of the present series occurred, we find that there have been 548 outbreaks. This has entailed the slaughter of just over 36,000 cattle, 37,000 sheep and 11,500 pigs. As Members have already indicated, the compensation up to date has amounted to approximately £2½ million, which, as the House will realise, is by far the largest sum payable in compensation for any comparable period in the history of the disease in this country. That, however, is due to the present relatively high money value of our livestock.

Turning to Western Europe—I shall have a word to say later about its particular corners—generally speaking, the position has also improved very considerably since the winter and spring. In the Scandinavian countries and in Holland and Belgium, there have been relatively few outbreaks since the beginning of June. Hon. Members will have been interested in the details given by the hon. Member for Workington about the very heavy figures in various countries in Europe during the epidemic, but they were mostly before June.

The one exception to the general improvement—and it is serious—is France. According to the latest available figures, the position there is still deteriorating. The hon. Member was correct in his figures for June, when there were nearly 61,500 fresh outbreaks in France. An even later figure shows that there were over 47,000 more in the first half of July.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

France is a very large place, and it is, of course, the north of France that affects this country.

Sir T. Dugdale

I am coming to that. Fortunately for this country, the infection appears now to be moving away from those parts of France nearest our coasts, and there is no evidence that fresh infection has been introduced into this country from France since the end of June. That means that the threat to our South Coast is now less than it was a few weeks ago. Although my veterinary advisers would like a little longer experience before advising a change, I hope that the controlled area in southern England may be removed in the fairly near future.

Hon. Members will also be aware that controlled area restrictions were removed last night from the counties of Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland, where the spread of disease that appeared possible did not occur, and also from the county of Wigtown, which does not now appear to be threatened by the outbreaks in Dumfries.

Previous experience has shown that in the autumn the chief danger to this country arises when infection is building up in Holland, Belgium, and the Pas de Calais zone of France. These areas are not at present seriously affected, and although—I say this advisedly—the position may change before the bird migration season starts, there is no reason at present to expect a repetition of last autumn's experiences.

Hon. Members who wish also to study the relationship between foot and mouth infection on the Continent and in this country and the effects of bird migration, will find an extremely interesting article on the subject by two of my veterinary officers in the August issue of the Ministry of Agriculture's Journal "Agriculture." That edition will he on sale in about 10 days' time, and I commend the article to all hon. Members who are interested in the subject.

I should like now to refer to the Departmental Committee which, as I have informed the House, will be set up. Hon. Members will not expect me today to comment on the criticisms and suggestions that have been made in connection with our policy and procedure for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. All these matters will come before the Departmental Committee that I have undertaken to appoint. I am, however, very glad to be in a position today to inform the House that Sir Ernest Gowers has accepted the chairmanship of this Committee. That, I think, will commend itself to all hon. Members in any part of the House. I cannot yet give the names of the other members, but it is my intention that the membership should be such as to ensure that the whole subject is carefully and impartially examined.

The precise terms of reference of the Committee have not yet been settled, but they will be such as to require the Committee to review the whole present policy and arrangements for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain, as well as the procedure adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for applying and carrying them out. We shall, in addition, expect the Committee to take account of the present state of scientific knowledge and the experience gained in recent years in this and in other countries, and we shall look to them for advice on whether any changes should be made in our policy, arrangements or procedure.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I am probably pushing at an open door, but it is as well to get this on record. I hope the Minister will see that the membership of the Committee is sufficiently wide in its interest representation that there can be no suggestion afterwards that criticism of policy, because of its effect on particular interests, has been muffled by not giving people outside those interests a place on the Committee. The House would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that the membership of the Committee will be wide enough to go outside those interests.

Sir T. Dugdale

It is my intention to make the representation as wide as possible, but I want to keep down the Committee to reasonable numbers.

Mr. Brown

I quite agree.

Sir T. Dugdale

I hope that the Committee will be able to begin work by about the end of September.

I come now to Pirbright. The House will be interested to know that the Agricultural Research Council have prepared an interim report on the work of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Institute at Pirbright, which has been submitted to the Lord President and myself. My noble Friend has given instructions that the report should be published, and arrangements are being made for publication as early as possible.

The hon. Member for Workington was quite right to lay stress on the importance of international co-operation for dealing with epidemics of foot-and-mouth disease. Disease is no respecter of boundaries, and if it is not dealt with promptly and effectively wherever it occurs, it must become a menace to other countries. This is well illustrated by a recent epidemic which started in South-Eastern Europe and spread northwards and westwards. The vaccines at first available in this great epidemic were not effective against the particular type of virus involved, and before the position was realised and an effective vaccine produced, the disease had spread far and wide and was difficult to overtake. All this might have been avoided if the initial outbreaks had been effectively dealt with.

The hon. Member for Workington suggested that representations should be made to the French Government. On this point I disagree with him. I am doubtful about that, for this reason. As I have explained, the initial infection did not reach us from France and it was only subsequently when France, like ourselves, was invaded by the infection from other countries, that she became a danger to us. I think it would be invidious, therefore, to single out France for special representations, and I am confident that it would be best for this matter to be handled on a wider international basis.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that a new organisation, on the lines of E.P.P.O.—that is the one dealing with Colorado beetles—should be set up. Here again, I doubt whether it is desirable to create yet another organisation to deal with the problem. Let me explain the position of the organisations in Europe.

Mr. Peart

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give the reason why it would not be suitable to do that?

Sir T. Dugdale

I do not think we want any more organisations. There are plenty of organisations working at present. We have to get them coordinated and working together, and I do not think it is necessary to set up another organisation to achieve that.

As I have previously informed the House, there are three international bodies concerning themselves with the control of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe. These are the International Epizootics Office, which was set up in Paris in 1927, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. The allocation of responsibilities between these bodies is being defined, but in the meantime they are working together.

A short time ago, O.E.E.C. set up a special working party, of which Sir Thomas Dalling, at that time our chief veterinary officer, was chairman, to study and report on the prevalence of disease of livestock in Western Europe and the methods for its control. F.A.O. and I.E.O. are represented on this working party. The working party decided that foot-and-mouth disease should be given priority and has formulated definite recommendations for the control of foot-and-mouth disease in Western Europe.

While fully endorsing the stamping-out methods where applicable, the working party recommended the provision of a central store of efficient vaccines from which supplies could be drawn by any country immediately an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was diagnosed. The hon. Member for Workington referred briefly to this. The amount of vaccine stored should be sufficient to supply the needs of all countries for one month.

The working party also recommended the production and holding of supplies by each country of virus which could rapidly be transformed into vaccine to be available within one month of the beginning of the outbreak. The stored vaccine would meet the immediate requirements, while the vaccine prepared from the stored virus would be ready for use within a month and would be used extensively.

These recommendations were directed to countries in which foot-and-mouth disease is controlled by either a vaccination policy or a policy of slaughter with vaccination, and do not call for direct action by ourselves in this country. Nevertheless, it is of the greatest importance to us that the recommendations should be energetically followed up, and I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to ensure this. The recommendations were discussed at a meeting in Paris of Directors of Veterinary Services from most of the countries concerned in May of this year and were finally agreed as a means of controlling the disease.

At a recent meeting of the Food and Agriculture Committee of O.E.E.C. the recommendations were adopted and a resolution was sent to the Council of O.E.E.C. urging that O.E.E.C. inform the concerned countries of the urgent need for a meeting of representatives to consider the ways and means of implementing the recommendations. At the same meeting it was decided to pass to F.A.O. the duty of ensuring the implementation of the recommended organisation of control of foot-and-mouth disease in Western Europe. Meantime, the European Committee of Agriculture of F.A.O. had also considered the recommendations and had accepted them.

We are making it abundantly clear through the appropriate channels that Her Majesty's Government are anxious to participate in a high-level meeting at the earliest possible date of representatives of the Governments concerned to consider the implementation of these recommendations and any other measures designed to bring this dreadful scourge under control.

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