§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
In our debate on agriculture today we on this side want the Government to give us their view on a number of questions. We shall ask them their view about the state of agriculture today and, more particularly, what effects they say devaluation has had on the industry. What about the increased costs which will fall on the industry? What about the greater opportunities which should accrue to the industry? What do the Government propose to do to give a clear lead in these matters? These are the major issues about which we shall speak.
This debate takes place in the shadow of the most disastrous epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease which has confronted the country in recent times. Before turning to the wider issues, I want to express my concern and that of, I am sure, all hon. Members on both sides of the House for all who have suffered and are suffering loss in the epidemic. More than that, I want, on behalf of those people and of the many others who feel themselves in proximity to the spread of the dread disease, to question the Minister on certain issues relating to the outbreak and the way in which it is being handled.
A week ago, when I questioned him, the Minister seemed unduly sensitive. He accused me of seeking to make party capital because I chose to question the way in which he was carrying out his duties. It is a strange new doctrine in the House that one must not presume to criticise a Minister simply because he is involved in handling a national disaster. It is not a doctrine that has been practised by hon. Members opposite in the past. I criticised the Minister then for 970 lack of leadership, and I shall have a work to say on that today, although he has shown more activity since I last spoke. However, what the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Members behind him should realise is that he is very lucky indeed to have such a responsible Opposition against him on this subject.
The main issue of policy that I put to the right hon. Gentleman arises from the retention of the policy of slaughter. This is always unpopular with many people who do not know all the facts. It would be very easy for anyone in opposition to harry the Government of the day about it. Yet not a single hon. Member on the Opposition benches has attempted to jump on that bandwagon in spite of the unprecedented number of animals involved. Can the Minister put his hand on his heart and say that if the positions had been reversed no hen. Member of his party would have raised this issue at this time? I doubt very much whether he would dare say that. When I think of the reputation for independent opposition of some of his hon. Friends, I have no doubt what the answer would be.
It may yet be necessary, if the disaster continues to spread, to introduce vaccination as well. This is a possibility which the Minister has recognised in the arrangements that he has made for getting a supply of vaccine. But let no one have any doubt that if that were to be done it would be to admit a heavy defeat. In that sense, I fully support the policy that the Minister has been following in the broad issue. I am not seeking for a change in that major policy today. The stocks of vaccine, he tells us, are being secured elsewhere. I only wish that he had started stockpiling vaccine at home earlier Perhaps he can tell us a little more about that today. I agree with him in having it ready and also agree in not having any idea of using it at the present time.
There are three major categories that I want to look at in regard to foot-and-mouth disease. The first consists of those who are farming outside the infected areas. People are very anxious, particularly those near the affected areas, about preventing the spread of disease reaching their farms. The second category is those inside the existing areas who have not at this time got the disease, and the 971 questions that are worrying them are even more acute. The third category is those who have had the disease and had their animals slaughtered. They want to know what plans are being made for assistance to them.
The first category is the one about which there is the widest measure of concern, because there are so many more people affected and so many more people with very acute anxieties. This was what I was referring to last week when I questioned the Minister. I asked for certain things to be done. The Minister has taken action on some of them. Racing has been cancelled. He made his television appeal about the spread of the disease. But he decided not to cancel the Royal Smithfield Show. That has gone forward. I will not dwell on the issue now. I only hope that farmers as a whole will stay away from the Show, because I have not changed my view that there was danger in attending it. I still feel that it would have been better if it had been cancelled.
What about other public functions? During the last 48 hours I have been getting many inquiries about, in particular, football matches where teams are coming out of infected areas and visiting other areas. This arises in my constituency, where a team is supposed to be coming from Cheshire next week to play in the cup-tie against my home town, Grantham. Is this being discouraged or not? We want to know what advice the Government are giving on issues of this kind. A line has to be drawn somewhere, obviously, as to what shall be limited, but it seems to me that where teams are coming out of infected areas there is danger and that if they travel advice should be given to them about their activities other than playing football—about not visiting people in the area outside the town, for instance.
There is still not sufficient evidence of co-ordination about the various steps that are being taken to prevent the spread to new areas. The classic case is the question of barriers across roads. The matter has been highlighted as a direct result of a statement that the Minister put out last Friday. Until then the impression had gained ground among farmers and county councils and thers—the Army had become involved in at least one case— 972 that there was real value in having disinfectant barriers across main roads. It had developed to a considerable degree. But on Friday last week the Minister stated that he considered that it should not be necessary to establish disinfectant pads or splashes on those roads.
There may well be an argument for saying that. It may be—I presume it is—that the Minsiter is saying this on the best veterinary advice. But if it was to be said, why was it not said a month earlier? If there is no benefit to be gained, why let those people go to all those lengths and then afterwards tell them that there is no point in it? The first outbreak came on 25th October. This statement came out on 1st December. It is incredible that there should have been this delay in giving that degree of guidance; that is, if it is the right guidance. There are many people who do not feel that it is.
In a statement put out on Friday night the National Farmers' Union claimed that farmers were 100 per cent. right to go for certainty and disinfect roads.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that support for the view that he has just expressed was given on the wireless this morning by the Professor of Veterinary Science at Bristol University?
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not hear that broadcast. There is no doubt that what he says confirms that there is certainly a divergence of view on this. Whatever may be said in relation to it, no harm could result from putting the pads on the roads and some good could have followed. Therefore, I am surprised that the Minister took so long to make the statement and then merely poured cold water on what was being done.
I have had many letters on this subject, and I must quote one which reached me this morning. It seems to put the issue particularly clearly in regard to areas such as Devon and Cornwall. The letter came from Cornwall. It says:In the debate on Monday perhaps you will find out why the Minister of Agriculture is in favour of our putting disinfectant baths at our gates, but against it on the roads. Surely the only farm entrances to Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor, Exmoor, New Forest, etc., are on the roads.973 There was a desire in Devon and Cornwall to shut those two counties off. It was felt that it could be done practically. It was desired to contain this enormous area of open land with animals grazing freely on it. Therefore, even if one accepts that this is for farm gates alone, surely he must face up to the particular problems of areas such as these and I would ask him specifically to deal with the when he replies.
I say to the Minister that if he is discouraging the setting up of these disinfectant barriers it is necessary for him to make clearer other ways of disinfecting and to secure the most effective form of disinfection barriers. If he says that the alternative is to do it at the farm gates, if he believes that it is necessary in areas not affected, why has not far clearer guidance been given to farmers? This should have been provided in the early stages of the outbreak, when it was seen how virulent this outbreak was. I claim that here, once again there has been a lack of guidance.
What I believe is really needed, particularly in the counties adjacent to the infected areas, are senior administrative officers of his Department—available on the spot in each of the counties, to give advice on the best way of disinfecting and of preventing spread. They should be on the spot, ready to give quick advice.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Cheshire they have pads which are not wide enough for the farm gates and, therefore, are not providing enough security?
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. It just shows the need for clear guidance on this matter if it is to be really effective.
There is a very genuine desire on the part of these people to have clear guidance. I am quite sure that if it were given they would respond, for they are desperately anxious to prevent spread, and this would seem to be one clear way in which they could be helped. They want advice and help, for instance, on the size of the pads and about any preventive measures which could be taken, as the comment which my hon. Friend has made has shown.
There are other activities going on in many of the country areas, activities 974 which, again, call for comment. I have had a number of complaints about a development taking place in laying pipelines across the countryside. I gave the Minister notice that I would raise this point. Pipelines are being laid right across large areas at the present time. There was one specific case brought to my attention where pipes are being brought out of an infected area and being laid straight across an uninfected area. There is a very real risk of infection arising here from the vehicles, and from the men.
I can give the Minister the specific case if he would like to have it. It is near Droitwich and affects Droitwich New Town. Pipelines are being laid across a very considerable area of Worcestershire. Apparently the contractors in this case have a penalty clause, so they say they have to continue the work. They have offered to stop the work at present if Droitwich New Town will cancel the penalty clause. I suggest that here is a practical case where the Minister could intervene and seek to have this pipelaying brought to a halt, if there is a danger, as these pipes are being brought directly from an infected area. This is not the only case of pipelines being laid, and I would ask the Minister once more to give guidance in cases of that kind.
Then there is the case, of which one still hears in areas outside infected areas, where fishing is still going on. I know that the Minister has appealed for this to be given up, but I was told only last weekend of fishing in the River Wye, and the fishermen are still going there. Will the Minister say what his powers are in relation to this? Is he merely seeking to persuade, or are there powers to act? And if he has not got powers to ensure this comes to an end, will he come to the House and get them? This is the sort of thing which causes really acute alarm, that large numbers of people are moving from area to area along riversides and causing great danger in this way.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that last weekend a reputable agency in Evesham appealed to an angling association to discontinue its exercise in the River Avon, and it refused, that I telephoned the Minister for his approval on Friday afternoon at 4 o'clock and was told that the Ministerial view was that 975 organisations for that purpose—angling—coming from non-infected areas did not represent a risk of spread of infection?
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment, but I am amazed. If that was indeed the Minister's attitude, I hope that he will quickly revise it, because these men going from field to field in this way are a very serious danger in spreading the disease. I am glad my hon. Friend has stated those facts, which reinforce the point I was making a moment ago.
After all, we have to accept that in this epidemic there is a greater degree of virulence, at least a greater degree of infection, than we have seen in any outbreak, and therefore precautions which may have been adequate on previous occasions may certainly not be adequate at a time when we are getting this very large number of cases. I was happy to see there was some fall in the number, but I understand that there were 55 new outbreaks yesterday. So I say to the Minister, let us have clear guidance, where we can, on the spot to stop the spread outside the existing areas.
I come now to the infected areas and to those farmers who have not as yet suffered, and I hope they will not suffer, from the disease. Theirs is a particularly difficult position. They are in a state of siege. They need all the help and encouragement they can get at the present time. I would pay a tribute to what the Ministry's vets have done. They, and others, have done a great job in working under very great strain. They deserve congratulation. I am glad that the Minister has been able to get reinforcement of the numbers he has got—and surely they will need relieving, because they have been under such strain since the outbreak first started.
The farmers whose farms have not yet got it should have as much help as can be given to them, with, for instance, disinfectant sprayers which can be provided to keep infection away. It seems to me that some form of power spraying equipment is urgently required. There are in this country a very large number of high-powered sprayers not in use at this time of year in the orchard areas of Kent and Herefordshire, ones which are used on apple crops and which can readily 976 be adapted for use in uninfected areas and which can do a very good job. I do not mean a sort of watering-can approach but a very powerful jet spray with the right kind of disinfectant.
Again, if there were administrators on the spot they could give advice on these sorts of things. It cannot be properly done from Whitehall, but these men should be in the counties, with power to act, and with money to back them up. These people in the areas which are still free must be given all the help and all the encouragement they can be given.
Now I come to the third category I mentioned. What about the ones who has suffered the slaughter of their animals? I asked in the House two weeks ago that the Minister should set up a committee to look into the long-term needs. I specifically ask about it now because if it was urgent then it is even more urgent now. I believe that we should set up a very high-powered committee. I suggest that a Joint Parliamentary Secretary should be chairman, that there should be the Minister's own liaison officers, and that one or two senior people from the areas affected should be members of it, so that they can look over a period of weeks at the real problems affecting the farms where animals have been slaughtered, and see what is now needed to help those farmers in those areas.
There is a very real need for help over and above the ordinary terms of compensation which they receive. If such a committee looked at the problem I am sure it would want to consider whether supplementary compensation were necessary. Certainly when it comes to restocking, animals will cost more.
Farmers will also want clear guidance concerning tax on their compensation. In particular, those who change to the herd basis for tax purposes will be faced with a very special problem when it comes to restocking. They must have sympathetic treatment in regard to tax or they will not be able to restock, even at the present levels of price.
Will some special help be needed to rehabilitate whole areas? Will something have to be done to help ordinary grassland farmers to plough up and take an arable crop? These are the practical issues which a high powered committee should be working on at the present time.
§ Sir John Foster (Northwich)
Would my right hon. Friend also consider whether it is necessary to take account of the position of an agricultural worker, a herdsman, who may be out of work while the farm is sterilised?
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Certainly they should be included. Any farmworkers affected should come within the purview of this committee and I hope that generous provision will be made. It is worth pointing out to the Minister that, although the cost of compensation is high, he. is gaining a benefit. I am sure it is not one that he would wish to gain, but he is gaining a benefit by the rapid rise in the price of beef and the fact that the deficiency payments which, up until two months ago, were at least £1 million a week, are now almost nil.
The change in the Exchequer cost brought about by this foot-and-mouth disease epidemic is so extraordinary that, while the cost of compensation is heavy, the saving to the Exchequer under the deficiency payments will probably be greater than the cost so far involved. If that is so—and I would like the Minister to tell me if it is—surely this re-emphasises the fact that the Government has the ability to provide that additional compensation which will make all the difference to those farmers whose cattle are being slaughtered in the interests of all farmers. I am sure that all farmers want to see that they are properly cared for.
The cause of the outbreak of the epidemic is much longer term and I want to dwell on it for only a moment or two. It has never been identified; nobody can say where it arose. Under this heading the question of the importation of meat from South America arises. Guidance has presumably been given to the Press, because there have been a lot of statements which lead us to believe that the Minister will tell us about it. We shall be interested to hear what he has to tell us. If the intention is that importation of meat from these areas shall be banned, clearly this will have a widespread impact. However, what we want to know, if it is to be done, is from what period of time it is to be done. Is it to be done on a voluntary basis or by compulsion?
978 Concerning the cause of the outbreak, the Minister will be aware, as I am, that a tremendous number of rumours are flying around in the infected areas. I received a copy of a letter this morning which one farmer sent to the Minister in which he talked of bad meat being buried at Otterspool. That is not the first time I have heard that story. I do not know whether it is true or not, but, as this letter has been sent to the Minister, perhaps he has considered it.
This is the sort of thing which has to be looked at, after the outbreak is over, by a high powered committee different from the one I was proposing. I think that this is urgent. We want a long-term high-powered committee. We want a rehash of the Gowers Committee to look at the whole problem and advise us on the wider aspects which occur in regard to an outbreak as virulent as this. These, indeed, are the issues upon which we seek a clear lead and guidance from the Minister. If that is given I believe that the people involved will respond. All of us in this House want to see the end of this epidemic.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I have listened with great care to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). May I ask why there is a complete omission to deal with the only wild animal that we have in the countryside? What is the position concerning the fox? Would both sides of the House, under an emergency of this kind, be prepared to deal with the fox peremptorily without waiting for any other consideration?
§ Mr. Godber
I would say to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) that it is not only the fox. There are a lot of wild animals, including red deer, otters, badgers—all sorts of animals. I think that they have to be dealt with in the infected areas, and I imagine that they are being dealt with. I should be surprised if they are not. There is no fear about that. Naturally, fox hunting has been stopped all over the country, but I am sure that wherever wild animals are seen they are being dealt with in the same way as farm animals.
We all want to see the end of this epidemic, and where the Minister takes effective action he will have our full support. If he fails, he will not only invite, but will receive, our full criticism.
979 Apart from foot-and-mouth, what is the position in agriculture today? This year has been a favourable season from the climatic point of view. We have had favourable weather and good hay and corn harvests. The September Return, which the Ministry issued a short time ago, shows some increase in cows and in heifers in calf; a reduction in calves under a year; a slight fall in sheep; some increase in pigs and poultry; and a fall in the number of workers leaving the land.
If the declared policy was that agriculture should be going along on an even keel, this sort of picture might be satisfactory, or, indeed, if the growth over the last three years had been rapid, but neither of these things is true.
First, growth over the last three years. The best way to judge that is to look at the Minister's own White Paper at the last Price Review. Paragraph 5 of that White Paper quite clearly states:Overall, net output is tending to decline. In 1965/66 the index of net output fell slightly; the forecast for 1966/67 shows a further slight fall.The figures in fact were 137, 136 and 135 over the last three years—a steady drop on the graph.
When one looks at net income it is the same. Paragraph 6 states,… net income has remained static…In fact, it is lower than 1964/65.
This is repeated throughout the White Paper, as the Minister knows well. Indeed, he refers in paragraphs 21 and 23 to the loss of confidence in the beef producing sector and the need to restore that confidence. There is no doubt—and it is agreed between both sides of the House—that there was a loss of confidence and that there has been a complete "stagnation"—I think that was the Minister's own word—in production, which he tried to do something about in the last Price Review. That is the position over growth.
What is the declared policy against which this is taking place? The declared policy is the selective expansion programme of the National Plan. That is and has been the Government's policy since 16th September, 1965.
On Wednesday of last week the Minister reminded us of this. He said, in answer to a supplementary question, 980…I have always defended selective expansion programme and the rôle which home agriculture can play."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 406–7.]Always defended it. I could not help wondering: against whom he has defended it. It certainly was not against this side. We wanted to see expansion. It must have been against some of his own colleagues that he had been defending it. It will be interesting to see if he will tell us who he has been defending it against.
If the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to defend the way in which it had been implemented, that is a different matter. The expansion programme may have been all right temporarily, but the way in which it has been handled has been that there has not been any growth at all. As I pointed out in the quotation from his own White Paper on the day the National Plan was published, the Minister said,For farmers and farm workers and landowners alike, the call is to expand the output of those products which are wanted under this programme…In the guidance which the right hon. Gentleman gave, he made clear what these products were. The Government wanted the industry to meeta major part of the additional demand expected by 1970 totalling some £200 million…and also to supply much of the cereals required for the increase in livestock production.We were told that meat would have a most important part to play:Mutton and lamb and pig meat can make a substantial contribution…But the main emphasis must be on the expansion of beef and veal production which will have to be increased to the full extent of the technical possibilities.Those were the words,the full extent of the technical possibilities",and this is the policy under which we are operating now. As I have said, the 1967 Price Review White Paper showed how miserably that policy was failing to live up to what was claimed for it in 1965.
After the Price Review the Minister said:I firmly believe that, provided farmers respond to the capital injection given at this Review, output and income will resume their upward trend and, most important of all, the industry will be able to make an even greater contribution to the nation's needs.981 That was in March of this year. What results have been achieved so far? I have shown, from the September return, that there is very little improvement, but I think that the most significant figure which I can give the Minister, having quoted what he said about this being increased tothe full extent of the technical possibilities",is that for calves slaughtered.
I have taken the first nine months of 1965, 1966 and 1967 to avoid any feeling that foot and mouth have played ducks and drakes with the figures. In 1965, 261,000 calves were slaughtered. In 1966 the figure was 342,000, and in 1967 it was 459,000, an increase of nearly 200,000 compared with 1965. This is the industry's answer to the Minister's statement about increasing beef production tothe full extent of the technical possibilities.Indeed. the increase in calves slaughtered since 1965 is greater than the number of cattle slaughtered to date because of the foot-an 3-mouth epidemic.
That is the extent of it, and it shows the complete lack of confidence which has existed—and must exist—since the Price Review White Paper, because this figure could not have been accounted for by the period to March of this year when the White Paper was produced. This is a clear indication of the position which obtains at the moment. If there is to be expansion, there must be something quite different from the present policy to bring it about.
There is no dispute about the policy, but it has not achieved the required results. Had we been in line with the targets in the National Plan, we would by now have been producing another £100;million worth of food and feedingstuffs, with a corresponding reduction in imports, and one can see what a help that would have been to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the balance of payments position.
I come, next, to the problems arising from devaluation. This is not the debate in which to discuss the wider issues of devaluation, the way in which it might have been avoided, the loan which accompanied it, or the strings attached to it. I gather that this will be the subject of debate tomorrow, and we shall be ready to take part in it, so I am not today asking 982 the right hon. Gentleman to respond on that issue.
I propose to bring the Minister back to its effect on British agriculture, because for this industry it does two things: First, it puts up farmers' costs. Secondly, it makes increased home production more important than ever, because, apart from those countries which have devalued with us, it makes food imports a bigger burden than ever on our balance of payments.
For every other industry which is engaged either in exports or in import substitution, the stimulus provided by devaluation should be automatic and immediate. For the exporter, his prices are immediately more competitive abroad. For the import saver, as imported goods become more expensive on the home market, he will be better able to compete. Why does the second benefit not apply to farmers? The answer is simply because, under the present system of support, the price which determines his return is fixed at the Annual Price Review.
Higher import prices will put up the price of food to the consumer, but the benefits will not go to farmers. They will accrue to the Government, in the reduction of deficiency payments which have to be made. Over the weekend we saw the supplementary estimate for substantially higher deficiency payments which we expect to see, but this will change the whole picture and sharply reduce the liability over the remainder of the financial year.
I mention in passing that this problem would not have arisen under the system of support which we advocate, but farmers are operating under the deficiency payments system, whether they like it or not, and if the Government pin their faith on the system it is up to them to make it work, and to give farmers an adequate return from it.
In his now discredited broadcast to the nation about devaluation, the Prime Minister said:Farm production, too, will be stimulated and will be able to do more to replace food imported from abroad.If he was meaning by that that it would automatically be stimulated, it is untrue, for the reasons which I have given, but if he was implying that action would be taken to stimulate it, it is time that 983 farmers were told what that action is to be. I fear that the unpleasant truth is that today very few people set much store by what the Prime Minister says.
Farmers remember the Prime Minister's earlier speech. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen opposite do not. They remember the pledge which he gave, and which was reported in The Farmers' Weekly of 30th July, 1965. Speaking at Newtown in Montgomeryshire he said:We shall not solve our economic problems without a vigorous import substitution policy through agricultural expansion.I have told the House what that has achieved over these two years. Referring to the roadside "fair deal" posters saying, "Why import, we can grow it?" the Prime Minister said:I agree with what they said. George Brown is hard at work with Fred Peart and other Ministers to set the guide lines to save imports, not only by increasing production in industry, but on the farms as well.That was the story which at that time was built up in a very big way as a real pledge to the farmers. We have seen the results of the right hon. Gentleman's work and his co-operation with the Minister. [An HON. MEMBER: "How to win an Election."] That may have had some bearing on it.
At the last Annual Price Review farmers received a considerable increase in the level of the guarantees, in order, as the Minister admitted, to restore confidence, and to give some element of capital injection, yet even before devaluation a large part of this had been swallowed up by increased costs, including a substantial, and fully justified increase, in farm-workers' pay.
Costs will now rise much more sharply as a result of devaluation, and imported feedingstuffs will be the largest item in this increase. There is also the effect of devaluation on fuel oil, potash, and phosphate fertilisers, while the present high interest rates represent a savage increase in farmers' credit costs. I have estimated the total increase in farmers' costs due to devaluation as £50 million. If the Minister does not agree, perhaps he will give us his figure.
Thus, even if no increase in home production is called for, there is still an urgent need for a statement on how 984 farmers are to be recouped for their heavy increase in costs. If, as we believe, production from our farms should be increased, and really increased this time, it is essential that we have a clear statement from the Minister about this.
We have not called for a special Price Review, but we have called for the Annual Review during February to be brought forward. I called for new prices to be established by Christmas, and last week the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) asked for a statement by 15th January. What was the Minister's response when that question was asked last week by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian? The Minister said:I hope that the hon. Member will not tie me to a date for making an announcement…It would come sooner. I will decide and nobody else."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 416.]The arrogance of that answer will not go unnoticed in the countryside. I suggest that the Minister might do well to withdraw it, because that approach does not do credit to any Minister, at any time, still less when it comes from a member of a discredited Government, living on borrowed time—when it becomes really deplorable. I hope that the Minister will realise that that was a very unwise thing to say. He seems to be resenting the discussion of these matters, because I imagine that some guidance had been given to one of this morning's newspapers.
In The Guardian I see a report thatMinisters are more than a little annoyed with the Opposition for forcing a full scale debate on agriculture at this time. It is felt that insufficient time has been allowed to the Government to prepare detailed plans at a moment when much of the Ministry of Agriculture's energies are being devoted to the foot-and-mouth epidemic.Is that really so? Do not they want to have a debate, so that they can tell us? The function of Parliament is to help, by advising Ministers how they should handle matters. Parliament should not merely be presented with a fait accompli afterwards. The Minister should welcome the advice that he will be receiving today from myself and my hon. Friends. It is essential to have an early statement if it is to influence farmers' plans for 1968. If those plans are not considered 985 important by the Government, how urgent is their approach to solving the nations problems?
Last Wednesday, the Minister also said:I am examining this matter, and if I have to make an announcement I will do so. There is no attempt at delay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 407.]As if he were deliberately seeking to delay! Nobody accused him of that. We say that there has been delay, and that there should be an attempt at bringing things forward. I tell him bluntly that this sort of half-hearted approach will not do. The farmers are entitled to be told speedily what is required of them.
What do we recommend? First, we believe that the method of agricultural support should be changed, but we recognise that even if the Government were willing to do this—and they show no sign—there is no time to change the system at this stage before an announcement on higher production is made. Therefore, we want to see new price levels established under the present system which not only recoup farmers' increased costs but pass on to them some of the added incentive which every other import-saving industry will receive from devaluation. That is essential.
Secondly, there must be clear indications that specific, substantially increased production is required for clearly specified commodities. Beef is obviously essential because of foot-and-mouth disease, but it was already supposed to be being increased "to the limit of the technical possibilities". Everybody knows that that is not happening. What about lamb, bacon and wheat—both hard and soft, but especially hard? The Minister should give a direct incentive to the expansion of hard wheat production, which can cut our heavy imports of Canadian wheat. What about still more barley to replace much of the maize which is still being imported?
Thirdly, there must be positive steps on import control. Without that, confidence among our farmers cannot be fully restored. It may take time to implement such controls, but a firm and unequivocal pledge is called for, followed by action as soon as possible. We are virtually the only free market for food in the world today. The 986 Common Market does not allow free imports of food, nor does the United States. It is time that we faced reality and the fact that we no longer derive the advantages from cheap food imports that we did half a century ago. In any case, devaluation has changed the whole picture in favour of home production.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Does the right hon. Gentleman advocate import controls operating against E.E.C. countries as well?
§ Mr. Godber
Certainly, when we are not in. If and when we enter, the position will be different and we shall be safeguarded by Common Market controls. At present, they operate against us.
Many people are talking of targets. There was a target of £200 million in the National Plan, the N.F.U. mentioned a figure of £300 million, and Mr. Wallace Day, in a clear and well-argued paper, has set out a much higher target. I am not setting any target, but if the farmers of Britain are given two things they will reach any reasonable target set for them. Those two things are, first, real incentives in the form of higher prices and, secondly, real and effective assurances on the limitation of imports.
This Government, after all their pledges to the contrary, have devalued the £. A weakened Britain can no longer afford to neglect any of her assets. In her farms, her farmers and her farmworkers Britain has a priceless asset which is being under-used today. The opportunity is there, the need is there, as well as the ability and the desire of everyone to expand production economically and effectively. The one thing missing at the moment is an effective lead from the Government. We call upon the right hon. Gentleman to wake up and give it.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
As the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has said, in his very long speech—[HON. MEMBERS "A very good one."] It was a very long one, and I thought it rather tedious. I am likely to be shorter.
Quite rightly, the debate has ranged widely over many problems. Also, the 987 debate must inevitably be concerned with the achievements of the industry. I shall be saying something about what the Government have done and are doing to help the industry's progress. First, however, I must respond to what the right hon. Gentleman said and deal with the question which must again be our immediate concern, namely, foot-and-mouth disease.
I shall try to deal with the many points which have been raised by the right hon. Gentleman and also answer some of the queries raised by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Nabarro). In previous statements I have made it clear that this is the most serious epidemic that has occurred in this century. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing sympathy to all who have suffered. This sympathy goes especially to those who have lost their stock and also to those other farmers throughout the country whose farming operations have been upset.
The disease struck in the area of dense livestock population in the West Midlands. It was bad enough when this happened in 1952, as some hon. Members will recall, but it is an even worse threat today, because the density of the livestock population is so much greater. This virus has shown extreme virulence in the speed with which the disease has spread from herd to herd. Thus the epidemic took on the character of an explosion. There is still much that we do not understand about the rapid spread of the disease on this occasion. Scientists from my own laboratory at Weybridge and from the Pirbright Institute are continuing their investigations on the spot.
The dangers that we now have to fear are not those of the dispersal of disease due to movement of livestock. The greatest menace, so far, has come from the high daily number of new outbreaks in the main infected area, rising rapidly to a peak of 80 a day in the week before last. Such a level of outbreaks invitably raised the question whether it would be physically possible for my hard-pressed staff to cope with diagnosis, slaughter and burial of so many animals in rapid succession. With magnificent help from the police, contractors, and the Armed Services, as well as from veterinary surgeons in the private profession 988 and from overseas, they have been able to keep pace with this task. In the last few days, welcome relief has come from a steep fall in the daily number of outbreaks, but they are still at a dangerously high level.
The main weight of the epidemic is still concentrated in the original West Midlands area. Nevertheless, there have been jumps into other areas, particularly Lancashire, Derby, Stafford, Hereford, Monmouth, Leicester and Northampton. None of these has yet developed into a major centre of spread.
There has also been a persistent spread southwards from the main area. There is a continuing series of outbreaks in Worcestershire. Most recently, there has also been an outbreak among sheep in South Shropshire. This is a cause for anxiety and is a most unfortunate counterweight to the slowing down of the spread in the main area. This situation today therefore offers some hopeful and some disturbing features. There is not the slightest reason for complacency and for relaxation, but neither is there any reason for despair. I emphasise this.
I am glad to say that the work of those coping with the epidemic in the field has been widely and deservedly praised, but I and my Department have been accused of lack of leadership by the right hon. Member for Grantham. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may say that I was rather sensitive about this. I was, for the reason that I arranged for him to meet my deputy chief veterinary officer and staff. I talked to him the day after, and asked him to co-operate, and said that, if there was anything constructive he had to offer, I would certainly take it up. But he chose to come to the House and say what he did before he had listened to the points which I had to make in reply to certain questions.
I did resent it, and I think that the House and the nation resent any attempt to make political capital out of a national disaster—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am glad that he now says that there is no complacency on my part. I hope that we shall not debate this. We can argue about our policy in regard to the second part of his speech, but the matter which I am now describing is too serious for party political speeches. We should all be working together to stamp out this dreadful disease, instead of playing politics 989 with it while the epidemic is at its height—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]—After the right hon. Gentleman studies some of the views of his own hon. Friends, he will find that I am right about this—
§ Mr. Peart
No, I hope that the hon. Member will be serious and I hope that all hon. Members will accept what I say sincerely. I believe that, if I had been leading for the Opposition, I would not in any way have sought to make political capital out of a disaster. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is. That is all that I am saying—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Would the right hon. Gentleman not concede to me that, in an area where the outbreak has been most virulent and concentrated, I have not made one single party political point in the House or in my constituency on this matter? I have sought to co-operate with him to the utmost.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. Unless the Minister gives way, the right hon. Gentleman must not persist.
§ Mr. Godber
On a point of order. I must finish this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has accused me in regard to a personal interview which I had with some of his officials and will not allow me to reply. That is surely utterly disgraceful.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order. It is always a matter for discretion whether a Minister gives way or not.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Only one hon. Member may speak at a time. Mr. Eldon Griffiths, point of order.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Can you advise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker? The Minister has just courteously given way to an hon. Member on this side of the House, but he has not given way to the official spokesman of the Opposition, against whom he has made a most serious accusation. Is it in accordance with the customs of the House that such gross and unfair discourtesy should be shown by the Government Front Bench?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The conventions of the House are quite clear. It is always open to a Minister or any other hon. Member to decide whether he will give way. If charges or accusations are made in the course of a speech, they can be answered subsequently in a debate. Whether a Minister or an hon. Member gives way immediately to enable challenges to be answered is entirely a matter for his discretion.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
On a point of order. With the greatest respect to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I remind you—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that my right hon. Friend will not have an opportunity to reply to a most grievous charge. His only opportunity to reply, surely, is to intervene in the Minister's speech. The 991 Minister, quite improperly and against the convention of the House, is not giving way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that I may explain, for the benefit of the House.
If accusations are made in debate on one side of the House, they can be answered subsequently in debate by any other hon. Member who takes part. It is always at the discretion of the hon. Member who is addressing the House to decide whether he will give way to an intervention or not.
Why should I withdraw? What I have said is right. If I may now proceed to deal with the points, the right hon. Member can intervene later in my speech if he so wishes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Now."]—Not on this point. I have made my point.
There are hon. Members on both sides, I was going to say, particularly those whose constituencies have been severely hit by the disease, and many others, who have put to me many constructive suggestions which I have greatly welcomed. I note carefully the point made by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. This was the first that I had heard of it. I understand that he was making a major point about anglers. I will check this and contact the hon. Member. I have tried in turn to meet many of the points constructively.
On the wider activity, I have not attempted to close down every recreational activity and a good many commercial activities throughout the country. Nothing would have been easier than to ask for everything to be stopped, but I have sought all along to obtain the co-operation of the public, and this means 992 taking reasonable care not to interfere unnecessarily with activities which involve no risks.
I have here relied, certainly, on the advice of my veterinary staff who, with their great experience of disease control and close contact with the leading scientists, are best able to assess what the risks are. What might be a necessary precaution near the infected areas might be quite unnecessary in the remoter parts of the country. Moreover, the position changes from day to day and we have had to revise our assessment of risks with the extension of the disease. I have not hesitated to ask for the cessation of activities which involve risk, and I have never been refused co-operation.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Would the Minister say a word about markets? Cirencester cattle market is apparently going on within 25 miles of an outbreak and in an infected county. Would he make a statement clearing up what the position should be about holding livestock markets, not for slaughter but for sale?
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
In my constituency, Macclesfield, where the disease is fairly widespread, three poultry sales are advertised between now and Christmas. Will the Minister give guidance on this important point?
§ Mr. Peart
I have said that unless the animals were for immediate slaughter, sales in an infected area should be stopped. I will look at the two markets concerned. I made a general statement on the position, but I will certainly follow it up, and before the debate is ended I will give a further answer about those two cases.
Where powers are available I have been ready to use them. Both nationally and in the field we have brought to the attention of every farmer and of the public what they can best do to help. There has been an excellent response. Farmers have been asked to observe the four rules of keeping visitors off their farms, keeping their livestock under cover, splitting their livestock into separate units and watching daily for symptoms of disease. The public have been asked to keep out of the infected areas and not to go on farm land elsewhere which carries stock unless it is necessary to do so and 993 then only with the farmer's permission. This appeal has been kept before them through the Press, television and radio.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about guidance for fishermen. I have made a public appeal, and I believe that there has been a response. The point which I mentioned earlier is relevant. I made a special appeal, and fishermen were included in the broadcast. Many public events have been cancelled or curtailed on the advice of my Department.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of pipelines. My Department and the National Farmers' Union have collaborated in giving advice not only to firms engaged in laying pipelines but to public utility undertakings—gas, water and electricity—asking them to restrict entry on farms in infected areas to essential or emergency visits, to keep vehicles off farms, to pay attention to disinfection and to keep in touch with my regional and divisional organisations where they need advice. The Ministries of Transport, Power and Housing and the Post Office are playing their part in reinforcing the advice.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of disinfectants on roads.
§ Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point, may I quickly put two questions to him? There are a number of Chistmas fatstock shows taking place at present. Many hon. Members, and certainly many members of the farming community, feel that these should be cancelled. Will he give a view about that? Secondly, in connection with markets, surely it would be wiser at least to set up emergency plans whereby beasts can go straight to the abattoir? Surely if we are in a war against this disease we should behave as if we were in a war against it.
§ Mr. Peart
I do not dissent from that. Where we can get animals to the abattoir, that is the right course. We have that in mind. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about specific shows. In principle, I agree with the point which the hon. Member made. On the other hand, where specific areas or parts of the country are concerned, I must first of all take advice from my veterinary staff who are giving guidance on the day-to-day running of the control of the disease. In 994 principle, I think that the right hon. Member is right, and I accept his point. But I must judge each issue on its merits.
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way now on this issue and on these points of which, incidentally, I have given him private notice. I say that because he accuses me of doing things in private. I have given him notice in order that he may reply. Is he considering taking powers on these issues to enable him to take specific action, for example, in connection with angling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) said, or in connection with pipelines?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Every possible appeal, including an appeal from his Department, was made that this angling gathering on the Avon last Sunday afternoon should be cancelled. As I am reminded, it was also on the River Wye. The men concerned with the organisation of the gathering refused to cancel it. Has the right hon. Gentleman the power, or has he not the power, to refuse a gathering of that kind permission to go forward?
§ Mr. Peart
I have not those powers, but in view of what the hon. Member said I should certainly be prepared to come to the House and take them, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would let me have them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late."] I do not believe that it is too late. I have tried to deal with this by the co-operation of all those concerned, and so far I have had a tremendous response.
§ Sir J. Foster
Would the Minister not consider it better to take powers, when he does not possess them, and to give orders rather than advice?
§ Mr. Peart
Advice is important. When I toured the areas at Oswestry and Chester, it was felt there by many official farmers' representatives whom I met that it was right to make an appeal, and this I did. I made my television broadcast the other day. We have had a series of 995 leaflets to the individual farming community and a series of continuous Press bulletins and also broadcasts. But if we felt that an Order were necessary, I believe that there would be no delay because the House would pass it immediately
May I turn to the question of disinfectants on roads. Here there has been argument and controversy and my right hon. Friend has been pressed about it when dealing with the Scottish situation. My veterinary advice is quite definite that the proper place to take precautions is at the farm gate and that splashes on roads are of little or no value in themselves as a precaution against the spread of disease. I have not wanted to discourage local initiatives for setting up these splashes, since they may remind the public of the presence of disease and of the need to take precautions. But I cannot go so far as to say that they are necessary. If I thought they were, I should not have hesitated to require them to be provided.
The control of the disease depends for its success very largely on rapid slaughter and burial of infected carcases and strict control of livestock movements. The Committee will not expect me today to discuss the pros and cons of vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter in the control of the disease. I am well aware that our knowledge of viruses and vaccines has grown rapidly in recent years, and that several countries on the Continent of Europe have been able to bring the disease under control by the use of vaccines in conjunction with slaughter. But I am convinced that the stamping out policy is still the best in our circumstances. I want to emphasise this. I am glad to have the support of hon. Members opposite on it. Indeed, I think that responsible opinion in the farming world also agrees.
Nevertheless, I recognise that vaccination might be required as a second line of defence if, in spite of all our efforts, we are not able to check the spread of the disease by the stamping out policy. Some little time ago I took a decision to obtain and store in this country 5 million doses of vaccine of the appropriate type so that livestock in an area around the main centres of infection could be vaccinated. All the necessary 996 preparations are being made. But I cannot state too emphatically that I believe that we can still stamp out the disease and that this is what we must do. Hon. Members will have seen the statement today which supports this policy—the statement from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. When this epidemic is over we must be sure that we have learned all the lessons which it can give us for our future guidance.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have a public inquiry into all the outbreaks which have occurred in the last two years so the lessons can be learned which can avoid all these muddles which are occurring today?
§ Mr. Peart
There is no question of a muddle today. What we need is a particular inquiry rather like the Gowers Inquiry in the 1950s. Obviously the situation has changed. This is a matter which I shall have to consider. I responded to what the spokesman of the Opposition said—that there should be an inquiry. We shall have an examination in depth of our policy and our methods of control. I do not think that we should be limited to two years. We should examine the broad spectrum of policy over a period of time. Indeed, an inquiry like the Gowers Inquiry might be the appropriate way. I hope that the noble Lord will not press me for a precise answer. I have conceded in principle that we shall have an examination in depth of our policy and our methods of control.
We must be sure that we learn all the lessons that we can learn from what has happened in the epidemic and which might help us for future guidance. I hope that I shall have the noble Lord's support. When we are no longer preoccupied with the urgent task of coping with the epidemic, I intend to set up an independent committee—it is important that it should be independent—to examine both our policy and our arrangements for dealing with foot and mouth disease and to advise whether any changes are necessary. It is also clear that after the epidemic is over—
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been most generous is doing so. Would he repeat what he said a moment ago—that disinfectant bars are of little or no use? If there is any question of their being of any use, would it not be worth while to keep the precaution going by the voluntary efforts of farmers, if only for the psychological effect on people?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. We ought not to have intervention on intervention. I am sure that the Minister will give way to his right hon. Friend in a moment or two.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am sure that the public recognise the tremendous way in which the Minister has tried to cooperate with everybody to try to stop the disease, but is he aware that there is very high scientific opinion which believes that vaccination may be a danger and not a help if it permits the virus to remain in the body of the animal so that it becomes a carrier rather than a diseased animal?
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) was dealing with disinfectant. I have confirmed what I said in my Press statement.
I accept that there are dangers from vaccination. Anyone who reads the (lowers Report and examines the statements of leading scientists will see that there are difficulties—such as that of obtaining complete immunity and that of carriers.
I want to deal with an important point raised by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with what I term reconstruction. It is also a fact that, after the epidemic is over, there will be the most serious problems of rehabilitation and restocking in the area. These are already receiving consideration and I shall press ahead with an examination of the practical financial problems which may be involved, and I shall discuss them with the National Farmers' Union. I have also announced about farmers' guidance panels in the areas concerned. That is important, and I am glad that I am able to deal with it.
998 I come to the subject of meat imports, because this is very relevant to the debate and because there has been much Press speculation about it. I have already made it clear that it has not been possible to trace the origin of the present epidemic. Hon. Members know that our veterinary resources are now fully stretched in fighting the present epidemic. For this reason, a new primary outbreak elsewhere could be very dangerous.
The Government are, therefore, making temporary changes forthwith in the arrangements for importing meat into Great Britain in order to reduce, as far as possible, the risk of any new primary outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease while the present emergency is being brought under control. These changes do not imply that the present epidemic was necessarily caused by imported meat, but the Government must minimise the risk of any new infection from any source at this time.
The meat importing trade has offered its co-operation, which the Government have gratefully accepted. The trade has agreed to control the storage and distribution of meat already shipped. It will also suspend for the time being new shipments from all countries of the world, except those very few countries where foot-and-mouth disease is unknown or which have a long history of freedom from it. The Government have also been in consultation with the Governments of meat supplying countries, other than those few, about the need for urgent general action during this emergency.
The response from a number of countries has been sympathetic and encouraging. The Government hope that supplying countries concerned will be willing and able to take similar steps. In order that a complete and effective control can be exercised, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have made an Order, coming into force today, altering the present licensing arrangements. Details are being posted to all existing licence holders.
The countries in which foot-and-mouth diseases is effectively unknown and which are exporting meat to Great Britain are Australia, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Irish Republic, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of South Africa and the United States of America. These countries are not affected by the new measures.
999 From all other countries in the world, the landing of carcase meat and offal without an animal health licence will be prohibited. No further licences will, for the present, be issued. This will not prevent the landing of meat already shipped, but the Imported Meat Trade Association has undertaken to limit its distribution, by putting frozen meat into cold store and by confining chilled beef to the London area. Frozen meat already in cold store will be held there.
These arrangements are temporary. They will last until the present emergency has been brought under control and will, in any event, be reviewed in three months' time, if still in operation. Imports of canned meat and of bacon and ham are not affected.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)
Do the Government anticipate that these measures will create a considerable meat shortage for the consumers in this country?
§ Mr. Peart
They are bound to create some difficulty. I accept this and I hope that all hon. Members will, where possible, inform the public, as I shall, that they must understand this. We believe that these steps are necessary in the battle of foot-and-mouth which we face.
I come to other problems and opportunities before the agriculture industry. It is clear, from what the hon. Member for Grantham said, that the Opposition are trying to show that devaluation has confronted agriculture with a new challenge and that the Government have done nothing to enable the industry to meet it. This was the theme of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Two weeks have gone by since devaluation, and they criticise me because I have as yet made no dramatic announcement on agriculture. They hope that if they press hard enough and shout "complacency" loud enough, they will panic me into rushing into hasty and ill-considered measures.
I will not be, and have never been panicked. I want to give the industry a sensible lead, not to take action just to meet the clamour of some right hon. Gentlemen. It is right that we should have a careful examination of the situation. I said last week that we were examining the implications of the new 1000 situation for agriculture. When we had done so, I said, we would take the measures that were necessary.
§ Mr. Godber
The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that it is only a short time since devaluation. Is he aware of the statement issued by the N.F.U. saying that an exchange of correspondence has been going on with the Prime Minister since 7th September about the expansion of the industry in this context? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is, therefore, in a position to make some statement about this whole matter.
§ Mr. Peart
The right hon. Gentleman should listen to what I am saying, which is that since the statement made in the House about devaluation—the recent statement—it would be wrong for us to take panic measures to deal with the position. In other words, the effects of devaluation and the important rôle which agriculture must play are subjects which must be carefully examined.
The right hon. Member for Grantham said that he wished to give me advice and would like to help. If, as he said, he wishes to be constructive, I assure him that I shall be prepared to listen to advice from him or any other hon. Member. I am not complaining about this debate but merely saying that the debate is taking place only a short time after a major decision was taken. I need time. I will note what hon. Members say in this debate—which is the purpose of the debate—but the Government cannot make a full statement today. I still believe that this is right.
We must consider the general situation of the agricultural industry. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly the right hon. Member for Grantham, complain about defects in our policy and in the action we have taken. I shall deal with those complaints in my speech.
Since we came to office we have taken positive measures to create conditions for a strong and competitive British agricultural industry. We set out our objectives in the selective expansion programme. That was right and it was endorsed by the industry. This is more than the Opposition ever did when they were in 1001 office. We recognise the vital contribution that the industry can make to the nation's economy. We have stressed the help that it can give to our balance of payments through import saving.
Some hon. Gentlemen opposite, at Question Time last Wednesday, seem to have thought that there was something new in the importance of import saving. But this has been a key feature of our policies since we took office. That is why the selective expansion programme is so important. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that the target was that by 1970 the British people would be consuming £200 million worth more food and that most of that must come from home production.
The last two Annual Reviews have been directed to securing its objectives. I am not for a moment suggesting that devaluation makes no difference to our position or requires no adjustments in our policies. I will be saying more about this. But the direction of our agricultural policy was right before devaluation and it is right now. But we have a fundamentally strong industry on which we can build.
§ Mr. Peart
It is easy for hon. Gentlemen opposite to throw abuse. That was a silly intervention.
I will review the progress that is being made. I have never claimed that progress under the selective expansion programme has been all that we had hoped. This we recognised at the last Review. There was substantial progress on the arable side but I admitted, and I admit again, that on the livestock side progress was lagging. So, at the last Review, we injected extra resources amounting to about £40 million to help finance the necessary investment if expansion was to be maintained. I think farmers recognise that this was the best Review since a Labour Government were last in office; and it was not an election year bonanza. We are now seeing results, although the foot-and-mouth epidemic is a tragic setback.
This year, we have had a record cereals harvest of 14½ million tons and 1002 we expect record milk output of 2,630 million gallons. The size of the dairy and beef herds was rising and pig numbers were recovering. But, as I say, foot-and-mouth disease has been a setback. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have accused me of words rather than deeds. Let them remember the increases we have awarded, for example, in the milk guarantee, the pig guarantee, the sheep guarantee, the beef guarantee and the hill subsidies.
At the same time, we have been pursuing a consistent policy for making the industry even more efficient than it is; and I pay tribute to its outstanding record. This provides a sound basis for expansion and increased competitiveness. We have recognised the importance of farm management and have taken positive action to reinforce it by advice and through production grant schemes. Improved farm management gives increasing scope for streamlining our production methods, for making the best use of resources and for planning the most effective methods for increased productivity. In the National Agricultural Advisory Service we have something which is the envy of other industries and other countries. We have strengthened it and we have reinforced the technical backing behind the industry. This is the more valuable because it has the support of the industry. It has made a major contribution to agriculture's outstanding record of increasing productivity.
In this year's Agriculture Act we have taken wide-ranging measures to help to improve farm structure and to encourage improvements in production, marketing and co-operation. It is action of this kind that increases the underlying strength of the industry. Consistent and well thought out policies are required—not panic measures.
I will give some other examples of how we appraise the situation and take action to meet it when we have properly considered the implications. When faced with the temporary break in the meat market due to an unforeseeable combination of circumstances, we agreed—with the support of the farmers' unions—to change the beef guarantee arrangements to meet the situation. Similarly on bacon; we introduced the stabilisation scheme, facing a problem which the Conservatives had consistently run away from. The 1003 industry welcomed this action. It ill befits hon. Gentlemen opposite to accuse us of failing to act when the situation requires.
It is not only on immediate questions that we concentrate. We look further ahead. We have set up the Economic Development Committee for agriculture, the members of which include farmers, workers, landowners and independent economists. They have been putting in a great amount of work examining the technical possibilities of import saving by the industry in the early 1970s, after the end of the present selective expansion programme. This will provide information of great value as a basis for fundamental thinking about agriculture in the years ahead.
I have made this brief review of what the Government have done to give the true background to the state of our agriculture. However, I recognise that, since the last Annual Review, farming costs have been rising. I understand the concern which farmers feel about this. But it does no one any good to exaggerate the position, as hon. Gentlemen opposite are so tempted to do. Some of the more important cost increases, such as those arising from the recent wage awards, will have their impact only towards the end of the present farm year. It is too early to say what the total effect of these cost increases will be on the full year basis on whch they are taken into account at the Annual Review. There is no doubt, however, that they will be considerable and greatly exceed the figure of £15 million taken into account at the last Review.
The right hon. Member for Grantham asked me to be precise about the £40 million figure, but I cannot. He knows that it is impossible to have such precision. I can only say that the cost increases will be considerable, but I cannot go beyond that. When we have established the true amount of the cost increase, we shall fully examine the implications with the unions, together with other considerations such as market prospects, farming incomes, and so on. This gives a picture of the position of the industry, and enables us to take proper judgments in the course of the Review.
What will be the impact of devaluation on the industry? It will be some 1004 time before the full effects can be seen, but two things are immediately clear. First, devaluation, of itself, gives no stimulus to the main sectors of home agriculture, because farm returns depend on guaranteed prices rather than on market prices. Second, we must expect increases in farming costs. We shall now be examining these questions. On the one hand, they present a challenge and an opportunity; on the other, they raise the question of resources and how they can be provided.
I have been pressed by some hon. Members to hold a special review and by others to bring forward the Annual Review itself.
A special review at this stage of the year would be inappropriate. The arguments for bringing forward the Review are more understandable. A Review is held for the purpose of providing information about the conditions and prospects of the industry on which the Government can base sensible decisions about the level of grants and guaranteed prices for a year ahead.
Formally speaking, the Review takes place over quite a short period, but this can be misleading. The decisions taken at the Review must, to be of real value, be based on sound and properly compiled data. The responsible leaders of the industry recognise this. So the preliminary to the Review is the preparation of much complex data digested and appraised in consultation with the experts of the farmers unions.
I can assure the House that I shall personally ensure that this detailed work is speeded up to the maximum extent possible. I have already brought forward the date of the technical discussions between the experts. I am in close touch with the unions, and shall consider with them at the right time whether it would be practicable and appropriate to advance the main Review timetable.
I must remind the House, however, that it is quite essential to have as clear a picture as possible of the effects of devaluation on costs and prospects. Moreover, I would remind the House that these effects have implications for the whole economy. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer have already said that we are reviewing the 1005 implications of the new situation for agriculture in particular. We, and, indeed, the farmers' unions will be able to take soundly based and sensible decisions on the course of our future policies in the light of these considerations.
We can, however, now see clearly that devaluation will put up the cost of some of our most important food imports. This underlines the importance of growing as much of our food as we reasonably can here at home. I have mentioned the increase in costs that has been occurring since the last Review. Farmers are understandably worried whether, in view of this increasing pressure of costs, they will be able to go ahead with their plans. I have explained why it would not have been vise to bring forward the Price Review without the information we need to make sensible final judgments. Whilst we cannot anticipate the detailed prices that will emerge from the Price Review, we recognise the need for an increase at the Review in the guaranteed price for wheat, and the need for a wider differential between wheat and barley and for a review of the standard quantity provisions. We shall enter the Price Review on that basis.
I believe that what I have just said will not only enable the arable farmers now to get ahead with confidence but will be seen as an important reassurance by the whole industry.
Winter wheat sowings have been delayed by the bad autumn. The need is to get the seed in now. Wheat is particularly important in the new situation created by devaluation because it can be used as a substitute in more than one way for imported wheat. Wheat is already the most costly of our cereals imports, and its sterling price has already gone up following the change in the exchange-rate. I hope that farmers will now put in winter wheat during the next few weeks to make good, and more than make good, the present arrears, and will step up spring wheat, where this is possible.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am most grateful to the Minister for what he says, and it is most important. Is he aware that many wheat farmers have sold forward in accordance with the Cereals Marketing Act, and may find themselves in a situation in which, if they had not sold forward they would, because of devalua 1006 tion, have got a very much higher price in the spring? This is a matter of some concern to wheat farmers, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say a word or two to encourage them.
§ Mr. Peart
I have made what I think is a major statement. I recognise the need in the Review for an increase in the guaranteed price for wheat. I have given this assurance, and it is important. The precise details are a matter for discussion with the unions, and I will note the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. I cannot go further than what I have said today. As I have said, I believe that this assurance will enable farmers to get ahead. I hope that it will be beneficial, and that they will now put in winter wheat during the next few weeks, and more than make up the present arrears.
Turning now to beef, this is also a commodity on which the Government recognise devaluation gives us a new opportunity for competitive production at home. But the foot-and-mouth outbreaks have been a very severe setback to the livestock sector of the industry. It is too early yet to say what the full impact will be, but the flourishing dairy herds that have had to be slaughtered will need to be replaced. The direct contribution that they would have made to our beef supplies in the years ahead, and the calves they would have produced for beef have now been lost. The first call upon existing calf resources will be for replacement. It is, therefore, even more important that full use should be made of calves which are suitable for rearing and finishing as beef.
We shall be looking very fully into the livestock sector of the industry, and I shall make a further announcement in the House before the Christmas Recess on the basis upon which we shall approach this problem in the Price Review. I give that assurance that I will make an announcement, and the right hon. Gentleman has accepted it.
The pig herd has been going ahead. Farmers may fear that increases now to be expected in feed costs as a result of higher prices for imported grains will keep down the profitability of pigs and diminish the resources available for investment in additional sows and equipment. I think, therefore, that I should remind them that the feed formula which 1007 operates as part of the guarantee arrangements should safeguard them against any increase in feed costs pending fuller examination of the pig situation at the 1968 Price Review.
Since devaluation was announced, I have seen the leaders of the industry. Talks with the unions have been started, and will be going on until the Review. Hon. Members will have seen the statement which the unions have just issued. I appreciate their statesmanlike attitude. I am particularly interested to see that among the points to which they attach importance are those which I have recognised in what I have just said.
I had intended to deal with the ideas about levies expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham—we could have a long argument about those—but time is getting on and I know that hon. Members will be getting Impatient. Devaluation will put up costs of many of the things we buy. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we should add further to the costs of food by making levies on imported foods. If he means what he says, he must accept that this is bound to be the consequence. If he argues that he would only proceed slowly, putting levies on gradually and raising prices bit by bit, does he expect that this is going to give agriculture the stimulus he says it needs? Of course it will not. That is why I prefer the straightforward approach that we take. Does he really accept the implications for the housewife of greatly increased prices for the food she needs for the family? Does he accept the implications for our export traders in their overseas markets? I prefer our approach.
§ Mr. Godber
I say that devaluation has put up the cost of living by more than the total effect of the policies we would introduce. And in regard to our gradual introduction, we have said that deficiency payments would remain as before the introduction. The right hon. Gentleman is completely distorting our policy.
§ Mr. Peart
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either he wants levies put on immediately, or he wants them to be applied gradually. This would be on top of the present policy and on top of the decision to devalue. This would create further increases in 1008 food prices. I have never believed that to be the right approach.
§ Mr. Peart
I will give way to the Leader of the Liberal Party in a moment, because I think that he also believes in levies.
I have never adopted a doctrinaire line, When my predecessor introduced his Act of 1964 providing for minimum import price arrangements, I said that I would accept the principle behind it, provided I was assured—as I was then—that it would not be used deliberately to force up food prices but that its only purpose was that of introducing greater stability into the market. On this basis I have maintained minimum prices for cereals and the bacon market sharing understanding. I accept the importance of avoiding distortion and disruption of markets caused by unco-ordinated supplies.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that many farmers are in favour of the levy system on the basis that they prefer to get their return from the markets rather than from subsidies. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he opposes the levy system? Is he aware that the Prime Minister, in applying to join the Common Market, has accepted precisely that as the sort of policy which agriculture should adopt?
§ Mr. Peart
We have never said that we would support dismantling our main Agriculture Acts, which were supported by the Opposition—and by some Liberals, despite the views of the right hon. Gentleman. What was said was that if we went into the negotiations we would see how best to link our two systems together and phase our agriculture into the common agricultural policy. That is something different from supporting levies before we go into the Common Market. That is a different approach from the Liberal Party. Our system has worked well, but in present circumstances the policy of the Tory Party would inevitably mean increased prices. I believe this would happen and of course it is important that these issues should be debated today.
I hope that what I have said will reassure the industry on the importance 1009 that the Government and the country attach to its efforts so that it will go ahead with its work and plans between now and the Annual Review.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Before the debate the whole House had great sympathy with the Minister because he was faced with the biggest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that any Minister has ever faced. In the course of his speech I felt that he lost a great deal of our sympathy because when—as we shall continue to do—we questioned his administration in detail he took it as a charge of playing party politics.
§ Mr. Turton
This is much too big a thing far playing party politics and I regretted very much that part of his speech.
I have always taken the view, although I had some doubts 15 years ago, that the slaughter policy for foot-and-mouth disease is the only sensible policy for Britain if we set store by our livestock industry, and if we attach importance to the livestock export trade which amounts to £14 million a year. But if we have a slaughter policy I have always felt that we are playing with safety by importing animals and meat from disease-ridden countries.
While I welcome the Minister's announcement about imports, I deeply regret that he talked merely of some temporary arrangements. If we care for our livestock industry we have to make it quite clear that we are no longer to tolerate imported animals or meat from disease-infected countries. One of the remarkable things is that this year imports of animals from France have gone up 50 per cent. in nine months. That does not concern only cloven-hoofed animals but my figures do not differentiate. A 50 per cent. rise requires a great deal of explanation when we have this very quickly spreading virus. Meat from the Argentine increased in quantity before the outbreak by 14 per cent. this year.
That meat is not admitted into the United States of America because foot-and-mouth is endemic in the Argentine. Australia will not admit any animal from France because of the danger of infection 1010 from foot-and-mouth disease. I beg the Minister—all hon. Members, for this is not a party matter—to reconsider this policy. If we are to try to have immunity from foot-and-mouth disease and to build up that immunity, we cannot take the risk of importing meat or animals from those countries. I welcome the Minister's announcement today, but I beg him to make the temporary arrangements permanent.
The only other comment I make is prompted by his remark that he had never hesitated to make restrictions. What alarms me about the present outbreak is that in 41 days we have gone from one outbreak to 1,400. All of us must be anxious from the point of view of constituents that the Minister without hesitation should take the necessary precautions to stop the disease spreading and to see that none of the spread has been due to any lack of speed in taking those precautions.
A fortnight ago I got back to my constituency and found that the farmers and the police were extremely disturbed because the international R.A.C. rally was to go through my constituency on the Sunday. Hearing the National Farmers' Union had protested without any result, I immediately got in touch with the Ministry of Transport and asked if the Ministry could cancel the rally. I was informed that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not say that it was dangerous for the rally to be held.
I got on to the right hon. Gentleman's office and found that he was away in his constituency. One of his officers dealt with me most courteously, but he explained that it was the Ministry's view—this was 5 o'clock on Friday, 18th November—that it was not dangerous for the rally to be held. I pointed out that spectators would come to that rally from all over the country. It was incredible. All the branches of the National Farmers' Union were protesting about it all day. The chief veterinary officer had told the farmers that in his view the rally should be stopped and the police were quite certain that it should be cancelled. Of course it was cancelled at 7.30 p.m. that day but why was there all this hesitation? Why could it not have been done before?
1011 The other illustration of the Minister's hesitation in taking action brought to my notice is that, last week, consignments of Irish cattle were being brought from Birkenhead to York by rail through the infected counties and then unloaded at York Station and taken by road to my constituency. I was told that the Minister had authorised this transport because it was by rail and therefore there was no risk. He would not have permitted it by road.
My constituents find that very hard to understand. They cannot understand how it can be safe for cattle—not for slaughter but Irish stores—to be brought right through infected counties to York. Since Birkenhead has itself had an outbreak, the traffic has been stopped, but I beg those in charge to realise that the instances make farmers feel that the Minister is hesitant about taking the necessary precautions and I ask him to be not so keen on giving an appearance of taking, time and being prudent. Caution in an emergency can itself make the risk much greater and I think that all hon. Members would ask the right hon. Gentleman to be much more drastic and quicker in the action he takes to prevent foot and mouth disease.
Now I turn to the problem of agriculture after devaluation. There again, I have found the right hon. Gentleman hesitant—taking the attitude "No panic—everything must take time". He does not realise that this is not a question of agricultural policy but of national policy.
I have been comparing Britain's economy of 30 years ago with that of today. Thirty years ago, half our total imports were in food, one-third in raw materials and one-quarter in manufactured goods. Now, the food import bill has gone up by four times and raw materials by three times but the manufactured goods bill has gone up by nine times.
One of the major difficulties of our balance of payments is that we import too much. For our economy, we must, of course, encourage and continue the import of raw materials and I believe that the great change-over to getting more manufactured goods is all to the good for the standard of living of our people. But, as far as food is concerned, we must change the balance and grow more at home. If 1012 we are to do that and successfully ride out the problems after devaluation, the change will have to come very quickly. The Minister seems to talk as though this were the old problem of the selective expansion programme which he embarked upon when be became Minister. But this problem is of new dimensions.
The other factor which the right hon. Gentleman does not appear to realise is that agriculture is in a different position from the export industries. Here, our main competitors, Denmark and New Zealand, have also devalued, so that our agriculture will have the greater costs incidental to devaluation, which my right hon. Friend put at £40 million to £50 million, but will still have to face the devalued prices of our main competitors.
There is real need for urgent action—more urgent action than the Minister outlined today. The first point I have been pressing on him—and I am sorry that here my right hon. Friend does not agree with me, but that has happened before—is that we have to have a special agricultural review. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has said, there are farmers who have forward contracts for the current cereal year and their situation has been altered by devaluation. If we are to wait until the next regular review, however much the Minister ante-dates it, it will still be applying to the next cereal year and the next meat year.
I want to see expansion faster than that. I want to encourage the farmers to plant more. The Minister can give great help with encouraging words about his intentions for cereals but I want the farmers to plough up very much larger acreages of grassland into arable at present in order to relieve our balance of payments.
Then again the right hon. Gentleman must do something to encourage the pig farmers who are, despite all the help he claims to have given them, in a difficult situation. The livestock farmers of my constituency have been having a very rough time.
I also believe—and this is another aspect on which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch to-day—that we could get a big transfer in the balance of payments, possibly about £200 million food import savings in the next 12 months or so and 1013 looking forward to about £500 million in two years. This kind of programme, which is necessary if we are to carry through devaluation, means, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will have to renegotiate some of our agreements with other countries.
In particular, it means a re-negotiation of the Anglo-Danish Bacon Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was a mistake. The Prime Minister for once interfered too much with the work of the Minister of Agriculture and made a treaty not in the interests of our agriculture. I am sure that, if the Minister were not sitting on the benches opposite, he would admit as much. Both these treaties need re-negotiation in order to get this shift.
Again, is it really necessary for us to import food which is at present surplus in this country? I know it is a small matter, but why, when our egg production is 125 per cent. of consumption, do we spend £2½ million a year on the import of eggs in shell or in liquid form? The Government should prohibit imports of food that is in surplus in this country—eggs and possibly, as I believe, also pork.
Thirdly, I believe that we must have a system of minimum import prices so arranged that it will prevent the undercutting of efficient British production by imports from overseas. This is particularly necessary in view of the fact that our main competitors have devalued at the same time as we have done.
Those are the three main prongs of policy which the Minister should be putting forward at present, together not only with a special review but a true February review, thus giving the farmers encouragement and guarantees for next year which would reflect the change in the value of money. I believe this is necessary for our survival. I am not satisfied that exports alone will change the balance of payments situation. Agriculture has got to play a much larger share in import saving, and I do not believe we have much time. Unless we can make a rapid change in our balance of payments and balance of trade this coming year, we shall again face the problem of not being able to hold the £ at its present 2.40 dollars rate of exchange.
1014 That is why I beg the Minister not to be so hesitant and not to be so keen to acquire the reputation of being a cautious, prudent man, but to show powers of leadership. If he does this, he will be supported by the farmers and the friends of the countryside, and by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but especially on these benches. For too long have I been worried about the disparity between town and country, and between the wages in agriculture and in industry. The drift from the land stems from the fact that in the last 30 years we have treated our agricultural policy on the wrong basis, on the basis of bleeding the farmers. We should enable agriculture to help save the country so that we can secure a proper balance of payments.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
In this debate on the present state of agriculture, there are many major issues that we could be discussing. The whole future of the industry is at present in the melting pot, and two of the most recent developments in this country—devaluation and our apparent failure to get into the E.E.C. in the immediate future—underline this fact.
I could discuss the whole problem of import saving and exports in agriculture, of agricultural expansion which I believe is in the interests of our country as a whole. I could devote time, if I had sufficient of it, to some aspects of the Specialist Committee on Agriculture. However, I hope there will be another occasion when time will be found to talk about these matters.
I want to concentrate this afternoon on the foot-and-mouth epidemic, and I wish to do so for three particular reasons. First, I consider that this is perhaps an unprecedented disaster for agriculture. Second, I have some technical knowledge in this field which I hope will enable me to put before the House some points which otherwise might not be made. Third, I had the misfortune some years ago to live through a foot-and-mouth epidemic in the far South-West.
I wish to start by paying a tribute to those involved in this epidemic. We have already expressed our sympathy to those 1015 farmers who have lost stock, and I believe all hon. Members will wholeheartedly support me in sympathising with those farmers who day by day are faced with the threat that the same will happen to them. I wish to pay tribute to the whole rural community who have been hit so hard by this disaster. I pay particular tribute to the veterinary surgeons who have done a phenomenal job during the last few weeks—not only the Ministry team of veterinary surgeons but also the private "vets", and particularly those who have come from overseas, from the Irish Republic, Commonwealth countries and North America, to help us in our hour of need.
I also pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which he has handled his part of this exceedingly difficult problem during the last six weeks. He has had to take a series of major decisions, and, tragically, he will have to continue doing so during the weeks and months ahead, judging each time on the situation as he sees it. He is dependent on technical and expert advice, and he alone has to take into consideration the economic and political consequences of his decisions.
As has been said, this is not a party issue. Indeed, the agricultural community as a whole would reject out of hand anyone who attempted to make party politics out of this disaster. I personally resent the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) that we on these benches who are interested in agriculture would make party political points out of this situation if we were on the Opposition benches. I believe that the vast majority of Opposition hon. Members have no intention of doing this, and, certainly, those of us on these benches who are concerned about the future of agriculture in Britain would not do it either.
This epidemic is unprecedented. We have this malignant growth of disease spreading through the country. Over a period of six weeks nearly 1,500 outbreaks have occurred and we have slaughtered nearly 250,000 beasts. But let us keep this in proportion. The number of cattle slaughtered is still no more than we normally slaughter in three weeks or so for food purposes. The number of pigs and sheep we have slaughtered is little more than we 1016 slaughter in a matter of days for food purposes.
Nevertheless, this is the worst epidemic in living memory. In the early 1950s we had the epidemic which was covered in the Gower Report, when there were 600 outbreaks over a period of 12 months. In the early years of the war there was a larger epidemic when there were nearly 1,000 outbreaks spread over a year or so. In the early 1920s, there was a three year period when we had between 1,000 and 2,000 outbreaks each year. Before that, one has to go back to the middle years of the last century to find an epidemic of any magnitude.
This epidemic, however, is unprecedented in other ways as well, and I want to spell out the unprecedented and unique features of this epidemic.
§ Dr. Dunwoody
I ignore the sort of contribution that the hon. Gentleman is attempting to make. It would make very little impact in his constituency where, I know from my experience some years ago, there will be great concern at the problem we are facing.
The first unique feature of the epidemic is the explosive nature of the disease. We have had in such a short time 1,500 outbreaks and, as hon. Members will realise from the figures that I have quoted, in no previous epidemic have we had anything like the same number of outbreaks in such a short time. The remarkable feature of this epidemic is that despite the explosive nature of the epidemic and the vast number of outbreaks, it remains relatively contained. We have never had a epidemic approaching this one in size which has not spread throughout the country. In each case, the past epidemics to which I have alluded spread throughout the whole of Britain. The present epidemic is still relatively contained, and this shows the enormous benefit resulting from the traditional methods that we have been using. It shows the phenomenal degree of co-operation that the Government have had from the agricultural community and everyone involved. There has been no distant spread worth speaking of. I think I am right in saying that 15 or 20 miles is about as far as the disease has gone in any one case.
1017 I cannot emphasise too strongly this remarkable feature of the present epidemic. In my view, it shows how the traditional methods are giving as great a dividend as we could possibly expect. However, the other feature of the epidemic, the one which gives me far more concern than the daily record of the number of outbreaks, is the gradual though inexorable spread across the country, how one sees an affected area spread from one day to another just a few miles, first in one direction and then in another.
The unique features of this epidemic lead to certain inescapable conclusions. First, there is the one I have already mentioned: the usual precautions are particularly effective in this epidemic, and they are being rigorously applied by those responsible for them. The second inescapable conclusion is that the particular strain of virus with which we are dealing is uniquely virulent, a virus more liable to spread than any before. In the early days of the epidemic, many of us suspected that there might be some hidden source, perhaps a herd in which the disease had not been recognised or notified or, perhaps, some other source such as water or food which was causing the disease to occur at a number of points over an area simultaneously.
This might have been possible in the earlier days, but I think that the way in which the epidemic is spreading leads us to realise that that was not a possible explanation, and one now has to look no further than to the uniquely virulent nature of the particular virus.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, up till today, large quantities of meat have been imported outside the official certificate procedure for feed for animals, including animals which may well have died with foot-and-mouth disease? Is not this likely to be the source for which the hon. Gentleman is looking?
§ Dr. Dunwoody
The hon. Gentleman is underlining the point I am trying to make. Precisely because of the nature of the !Tread, with the disease starting in one limited area and only gradually spreading from that area over the six weeks, I am sure that we are not dealing with a source of the kind which he suggests, which would have led to a far 1018 wider spread and scatter of the disease. In my view, we can explain the way in which the disease has spread by pointing to the nature of the virus, a uniquely virulent strain, rather than to some common source of that kind.
Together with the uniquely virulent nature of the virus, we have to take account also of the much greater importance of windborne infection in this epidemic than in any previous epidemic, and this much greater importance of windborne infection is underlined by the very efficiency of the traditional methods of controlling spread by vehicles, by diseased animals and by human contacts.
We see one of the most interesting features of the epidemic by reference to the map of the spread of the disease in the West Midlands. There has been a good deal of concern expressed, understandably and justifiably in some ways—we have had much of it in the far SouthWest—about spread by vehicle tyres. However, it is interesting to look at the map of the West Midlands and see how the disease has gone from the original outbreak, fanning out predominantly, though not entirely, in a north-easterly direction as though carried by the prevailing winds from the far South-West.
It is interesting, also, to look at the line of the A5 trunk road running right through the most heavily infected area from the South-East to the North-West. In fact, there is no spread of the disease up and down the line of the road, which would have been almost inevitable in a heavily infected area if vehicles were playing any part in the spread of the disease.
What of the future? Let us consider what may happen if the epidemic continues, and whether we shall see gradual extension of it over a bigger and bigger area of the country. Shall we see the literal decimation of our livestock?
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say something of great importance. As he has some technical knowledge in the matter, will he tell us whether it is his view that there is no danger of spread by vehicle? Is he saying that?
§ Dr. Dunwoody
I did not say that there was no danger from vehicles. There is danger of spread by vehicles, but I think that the accepted and traditional methods of vehicle disinfection at the farm gate and in other ways in infected areas are proving efficient. I think that the illustration I gave of the failure of the disease to spread along the main road through a heavily infected area underlines that. I am not suggesting that the disease cannot be spread by vehicles—I am sure that it can—but I think that the methods we use are controlling it.
There is the possibility of the literal decimation of livestock in heavily infected areas. Already, in parts of Shropshire and Cheshire, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 per cent. of livestock have had to be slaughtered. We must now seriously consider the future control of the epidemic and possible additional methods of control. I have outlined how the existing traditional methods are being used to the full and are almost 100 per cent. effective at present.
This brings one to the question of vaccination. It is worth while discussing this and underlining some of the difficulties and disadvantages as well as the possible advantages of this method of control. We should not adopt the sort of attitude which, in months gone by, perhaps for good reasons, we have adopted in not mentioning the word "vaccination", rather as we did not mention the word "devaluation" in the economic context.
Our traditional policy is one of slaughter, a stamping-out policy, and there is no doubt that it has paid enormous dividends over the years. We have a virtually disease-free cattle herd in this country. Anyone who suggests that we should switch over to a complete vaccination policy has only to look at what has happened in countries in Western Europe or South America to see the incidence of the disease there and realise at once how wrong that would 1020 be. In our situation, vaccination has many serious disadvantages.
First, vaccination against this disease does not give complete protection. We cannot think of vaccination in terms of vaccinating human beings against, say, smallpox, in which case there is virtually 100 per cent. success. This is not possible with foot-and-mouth disease. Second, vaccination will protect animals against only one particular strain. Thus, there would be the risk, perhaps a serious risk, of another strain entering a vaccinated herd and causing the disease to break out again.
Third, vaccination does not give instant protection. It takes at least a fortnight build up to full protection. Fourth, vaccination provides protection for only four, five or six months—a period of that kind. Moreover, it is ineffective in calves certainly up to six months and possibly to a greater age. Some South American veterinary authorities say that it is ineffective in calves up to 12 or 15 months. Certainly, there is less protection for young animals. Moreover, vaccination is less effective in sheep and pigs than in cattle.
All these factors show that there is a real risk of masked infection taking place and of the disease occurring without clinical signs in animals which will none the less spread it to other cattle, which will then contract the disease.
Vaccination would cost a good deal not only in cash, but in manpower. If we were to vaccinate a large proportion of our cattle herd, we should have to call on a considerable amount of quite skilled manpower. Finally, vaccination would end the export of livestock from this country to those parts of the world which are virtually or completely disease-free, such as Australia, New Zealand and America. These are export efforts which one would like to see expanding, not contracting.
Nevertheless, although these disadvantages are real and important, we must, in the context of the present situation, balance them against the alternatives. What are the prospects for us if the epidemic continues? This is an exceedingly difficult field in which to be certain, and anything one says must be guesswork. Viruses are unpredictable organisms, changing their characteristics from time to time.
1021 We have had only six weeks of epidemic so far. In each of the major epidemics we have had in this century, the disease has been in the country for at least a year. One has only to point out that we have had 1,500 outbreaks of the disease so far and 250,000 beasts slaughtered to realise the consequences of the epidemic if it should continue as it has done over the past six weeks and spread for a whole year or more. It could be not just months, not just a year or so, but even a number of years. The whole problem of restocking in infected areas is much more difficult when the disease is as rampant and as virulent as it is at present. The number of cases could become truly astronomical.
Next, we must consider the effect of restrictions which we must inevitably continue to use. What would be the effect of continuing these restrictions over a very long period? It is all very well to tell farmers that they must not move their livestock or go outside the farm gate for some weeks, but for how many months can we expect the farming community to do that? Is it reasonable to expect them to do it for a year or even more? These are practical problems which we may have to face.
There is also the economic cost, not only in terms of compensation but also the consequential losses, of a continued epidemic running at the pitch which it has reached in the last six weeks. The cost would be enormous. We have to consider the effect of a continuation of the epidemic on the supply of meat and milk to the public, because to a large extent this regular supply of an enormous quantity of liquid milk has been built up by having a disease-free herd.
I have shown the two sets of facts which we have to weigh in the balance. Vaccination, on a mass scale, nationwide, would be little short of a disaster and I for one would never countenance it. Local vaccination combined with slaughter in the infected areas would do little or nothing to control the disease. But there is the possibility, which must be balanced against the disadvantages, of vaccinating around the infected areas. The Minister hinted at this possibility, and obviously it must be considered on a day-to-day basis.
Vaccination in a disease-free band to create a fire break around a limited area 1022 where the disease is occurring is a policy for consideration. We know from the way in which the disease is spreading within the area how wide the fire break should be—perhaps 30, 40, or 50 miles wide. It would be an enormous undertaking and a very serious step to take, but it would not mean abandoning the stamping out policy because it would be a once-for-all effort to create a limit to the disease and to restrict it to certain parts of the country. We should later be able to go back to a stamping out policy. We have to balance the serious disadvantages of vaccination against the estimated progress of the disease, and this is a balance which has to be struck at present virtually daily.
On balance, I believe, we are right to continue to depend entirely on stamping out, but every day that the epidemic continues at the level of the last few weeks means that the balance is moving a little in favour of some partial and geographically and specifically limited area of vaccination. Serious consideration must be given to it, because if we are to introduce any such campaign, the sooner it is done the better.
The other measures which have been mentioned today are of secondary importance. I welcome the restriction on meat imports because to have another primary outbreak during the epidemic would be disastrous. We must look to the future and ask whether this sort of restriction of meat importation should be an integral part of the stamping out policy against the disease. I have mentioned vehicle disinfection. It is vital in and around the infected area, but the further we move from the area the less important it is. The use of disinfactants should be examined in a little more detail. There is the question of disinfactant sprays of one sort or another to be used in cow sheds to do for animals what Lister did when he introduced antiseptic surgery in the latter years of the last century.
It is essential that this critical situation should be evalued day by day as the epidemic progresses. I believe that in the not-too-distant future, although it may be longer than many people at present realise, the dairy and meat-producing industries will return to the happier days of more than six weeks ago. If they can do that, they will be able to play their part 1023 in the expansion and the progress which I am sure will occur in British agriculture in the years to come.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I shall not detain the House for long as I know that many hon. Members who wish to speak have this affliction in their constituency.
On all sides of the House there is an absolute determination to see that this disease is stamped out. I congratulate the Minister on many things. First, on going ahead with the Smithfield Show, which is a right decision, and on his attitude to the main highways, proposals in respect of which were totally impracticable. The key to the problem, which has saved Staffordshire, is the great common sense of the individual farmer. The defence must be on the farm itself.
May I suggest that the areas of vehicle movement should be wider. I agree that at present they are too narrow. There is a great deal to be said, too, for getting hold of the powerful jet sprays which are available in other parts of the world. But without becoming political, I suggest that two points emerge from the Ministry's attitude during the campaign. First, the Minister was a little late in recognising the seriousness and the turning point of the epidemic, which was about 18th November. At that point the Government should have taken more strenuous measures than they took. This Ministry, and perhaps the last Ministry, too, are somewhat responsible for not implementing some of the recommendations of the Gowers Report which should have been implemented. If the Minister had carried out more review and research after the outbreak last year some of the obvious points in the Gowers Report could have been implemented.
The most important issue is that of feedingstuffs, either for human beings or for animals, being imported, and I hope that the Ministry will look seriously at two factors. The first concerns the powers which they have under the 1925 legislation, revived in 1947, concerning dispensation for the boiling of feeding-stuffs. It is very difficult to enforce, but hon. Members know that quite often swill is not properly boiled. It appears to boil at the top, but lower down the porridge 1024 does not reach boiling point. There are two Acts covering this matter which are difficult to enforce, but it would be helpful if they were drawn to the attention of farmers. The second point concerns refuse collected by private charter or by municipalities. We must see that it is properly sterilised. Speaking from memory, I think that it is a recommendation of the Gowers Report.
In addition, there is the question of the importation of meat from overseas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said, that covers a very wide area. We want confirmation from the Minister before the end of the debate whether it does or does not apply to Danish bacon. They have had outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. There were 26 outbreaks in 1966, speaking from memory. This is an important point which needs to be clarified. It raises the widest possible issues when we consider the three-month ban on imports covering a very wide field except for certain countries which have been specified. It is the right course to take, but it raises great issues from the point of view of the farmer, the Ministry and public policy. If we prevent for ever the importation of meat from overseas this will create a revolutionary situation in British agriculture. What is more, it will be an extremely difficult object to achieve. I speak as someone very much connected with the beef industry. It is all in my interest that this should happen.
However, if one looks at the agronomic facts one sees it is almost impossible for this country to produce enough beef on its own and it has got to import beef. Where, because of the effects of devaluation, we can make the biggest increase in production is in milk and in pigs. This is where the biggest growth can be. Therefore, it should not be a long-term policy, if it can possibly be avoided, to prevent the import of meat from overseas. From the point of view of the wellbeing of the country, and of overseas trade, it is important that we should go on importing a certain amount of meat. We ought to grow more here at home, but, nevertheless, there must be a margin of supplies to be imported.
The next three months of the ban should be spent by the Ministry in sending out teams to discover whether or not 1025 it is possible to control the medicinal, the non-virus, quality of imports from overseas. In Argentina, I believe that there are three resident Brtish "vets"; it may be four. What we should surely try to work out between now and the lifting of the ban is whether or not there can be a system of proper inspection. This, I believe, is worth doing. The same is worth doing in other areas. This is what the Minister should be deciding upon, because, I warn hon. Members if there is an import ban in perpetuity on meat coming in from overseas there will be a great danger that there will be a demand for vaccination in this country. I am certain, therefore, that these two things ought to be considered.
§ Mr. Fraser
No. I will not. I am in a hurry, because other hon. Members want to speak and I want to be only a few moments. There have been far too many interruptions in the debate already.
This is the issue which I put to the Minister and to my right hon. Friend, that unless we can somehow improve the safety of imports there will be a danger that there will be a demand from people for a vaccination policy which would facilitate undesirable imports.
I congratulate both sides of the House, humbly, for the contribution which they have made to this operation, and I wish the Minister well in stamping out this pestilential plague.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
We are considering the agricultural industry in the extremely awkward and unpleasant situation of this attack of foot-and-mouth disease, but I feel that, in a sense, there is some small entry on the credit side, in that the disease has brought home to many people who do not normally think about the agricultural industry just how widespread it is, just how much capital is invested in it, and at just what risk farmers proceed. I think that, the fact that the average townsman has seen, night after night on his television, evidence of the sort of industry this is, has helped to create the kind of atmosphere in which we might now well rethink our agricultural policy in one or two respects.
1026 We all know that, on major issues, policy congeals over a number of years; it takes time to develop. We in this country have been running since the 1957 Act on a series of assumptions about our agricultural policy, assumptions which were only slightly altered by the publication of the National Plan. These were the 1950s assumptions—that we had an adequate surplus on the balance of payments; secondly, that there was a world surplus of food; and, finally, that the chief objective of Government policy was to limit the open-ended guarantees by the Exchequer, and therefore to cut down the dependence of the farming industry on the Exchequer. It was on those principles that the 1957 Act was based.
I think we all detected, when this Government came into power, a slight change of emphasis with this discussion of selective expansion. The expansion was meant to cover an increase in consumption which would take place in this country up to 1970 without fundamentally changing the free import policy we had been pursuing.
Now it seems to me that the shock effect of recent economic troubles and of devaluation is that this has forced us to re-examine our policy and to consider carefully whether we wish to continue on precisely these same assumptions. That is why many hon. Members, agricultural organisations, and many independent observers have been pressing the Government, because it has been evident that the Government are carrying out this type of reconsideration.
I am a little unhappy, sometimes, that my right hon. Friend the Minister has not fully realised that our pressure is not aimed at him but through him to all other members of the Government, to enable them to rethink this question. I am a little distressed that when a number of hon. Members make speeches about industries which are vital—such as mining, shipbuilding, the car industry—all of these concerned with devaluation—it is accepted that those speeches are directed to the national economy, but when one discusses import saving by agriculture and fisheries, one is thought to be suddenly retreating into a narrow constituency interest. It is a most unfair attitude, when our object is to strengthen the Minister and in no way to weaken him in his dealings with these questions.
1027 What, then, can we do to try to influence the Government in their thinking about the whole basis on which agricultural policy has been pursued for the last ten years? Here, I think, there are two elements. The first element is clear and straightforward. It is the continuing element in the economic equation that any Price Review would have to look at next March; that is to say, the very sharp increase in costs taking place normally because of the increases in wages and in increases in fuel prices and increases in import prices.
I think that these have now been pretty accurately estimated. I made estimates of these figures in an earlier debate, but I think that it can now be said that present increases in costs as a result of normal factors, are something like £32 million in a full year. The Minister kindly answered me that he reckoned they were £27 million up to November. Increased costs due to devaluation are more difficult to estimate. I think they run at something between £17 million and £24 million. The total of £60 million being the amount of increase in costs which the farming industry will have to recover if it is to continue even at its present level.
The second element in the equation is a much more difficult one. What changes do we need in Government policy towards the industry in order to contribute positively to import saving? It is very difficult because it involves an elaborate number of calculations.
I am a little upset at the reluctance of the Ministry to divulge information on which hon. Members and the public can base their calculations. I asked a series of Questions which were purely aimed at finding information in order to be able to make an informed contribution when we came to debate this subject. I asked the Minister on 30th November, what studies he had made of the anticipated increase in agricultural output resulting from specific increases in agricultural support. I think all hon. Members know that we have had assumptions so varied as, at one extreme, that coming from the National Farmers' Union, that for every £1 increase in Government assistance we get £4 savings on our balance of payments, to the opposite one, which I have read in Oxford economic journals, that it takes £4 of 1028 Government spending to have £1 saving on the balance of payments.
I wanted to know what view the Ministry took of this question and whether it would publish some figures so that we could digest them and try to assess how much the interests of the farming section of the community could be met in this way and how much we could balance the particular interests against the general interest. The answer that I received from the Minister was that it was not practicable to publish this type of information.
My second question on this matter was more specific. It asked what would be the effect on output and what would be the cost to the Government of removing the standard quantities limitation. The standard quantities limitation was the keystone of the 1950s policy. We did not want to have more than a limited amount of agricultural production. It was introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite. In many ways, the removal of this standard quantities restriction—and I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Minister said that he would look into this—would be one of the biggest possible pieces of evidence that the Government were changing their policy and wanting expansion. It was, therefore, legitimate to ask the Minister what the cost would be to the Government of doing this and what was estimated to be the maxima and minima of the effects on agricultural output. I was again shocked to receive the answer that it was not practicable to answer either of those questions.
Last Session I asked a Question in much the same fact-finding way about the administrative costs of each of the 29 basic subsidies in agriculture. I was told that the Ministry either did not collect the figures or that it was not practicable to release them.
When I went upstairs to the Select Committee on Agriculture and put this same question to a senior official of the Ministry, he said, "We have these figures. We produce them every month." I believe that the Ministry does not know the answers to my two questions about the costs and the probable effects of certain changes in Government policy. I know that the Ministry has a team of brilliant statisticians. I protest at the withholding of information from the 1029 House, because it is the sort of information without which neither the farming community, the public, nor hon. Members can decide on which side of given options they want to come down.
We are not here plugging narrow sectional interests; we have the interests of the taxpayer and the community at heart. But if we can find that money put into these interests would yield an adequate return to the taxpayer and a worthwhile improvement in the balance of payments, we would be in a position to discuss the matter. I feel that this systematic attempt to fob us off with this kind of answer—and I do not blame the Minister. I think it leads to trouble for the Minister which he need not have, because if he informed us of these matters we would be in a position to discuss much more constructively and positively the possibilities open to us. I will do my best to—
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
My hon. Friend says that he does not blame the Minister. Who does he blame? The Minister in charge of a Government Department is entirely to blame for the actions of his officials, so who does he blame if he does not blame the Minister?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I take my hon. Friends point on this. It is the correct constitutional procedure to blame the Minister, but I have noticed a tendency to give this kind of reply to fact-finding questions spreading over many years and over many Departments. It is a habit of modern British Government to think that the less they tell people of the fundamental facts on which policies are based the more convenient it is for governing. I think that this is wrong.
§ Mr. Baxter
I think it is bad practice for any hon. Member to make statements that some person or persons unknown is or are denying us the right to have facts and figures and absolving Ministers from blame. I do not subscribe to that method of approach. I deprecate it very much indeed. I think that my hon. Friend should withdraw any allegations about 1030 officials withholding information and absolving the Minister in the way that he has.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I am not choosing to blame the officials and I am not choosing to blame the Minister.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I think it is fair enough. It is a habit of Government which I have seen spreading across Departments over a number of years. I do not think that this was a personal decision by the Minister in reply to me. It is a particular practice which I deprecate, because we are starved of information.
To give another example, when my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) last year asked for a White Paper on the effects on agriculture of our entry into the Common Market, he was told again that this information either was not available or was too difficult to collect. A month later the Select Committee on Agriculture asked for and obtained just such a White Paper. It did not do any political damage to the Government and it did not lead to more partisan attacks. It merely meant that we were better informed as a House and as a country on this problem.
I return to the major question on this matter of agricultural expansion. As hon. Members know, we import about £1,000 million worth of foodstuffs from temperate areas. The problem is at what cost and how easily could we replace these imports with domestic production. Returning to my positive proposals, I feel that the most important single step—I regret that we do not know the cost—would be the removal of the standard quantities limitation. I am delighted that the Minister announced that this question is being considered. He said that it is being reviewed at the moment.
The second question one has to consider is the possible expansion of beef. Here again, the Minister will be widely applauded for his statement that he will make an announcement on this matter before Christmas. The expansion of beef production is extremely difficult, particularly if we are to fulfil even the National Plan target of 125,000 tons. This is where hon. Members will want facts, 1031 because 125,000 tons of extra beef means 600,000 head of cattle extra, which means 800,000 tons of extra feedingstuffs. Therefore, the whole balance within the farming industry would be affected, so one has to consider the ramifications of this type of change.
I believe that there could be a considerable expansion in beef production. I gather that if the agricultural industry could get about £12 per live cwt. for beef this would be a sufficient inducement. One can calculate the present total Government aid by adding in the calf subsidy and the cow subsidy and this shows it is between £10 and £11 per live cwt. Therefore, this is a feasible increase, but it carries repercussions. For the rest of the pattern of farming it would require feed crops to be grown on existing arable ground as break crops where they are not grown now. It would have to be considered in conjunction with the plans for increasing arable production which the Minister has clearly announced this evening.
On the question of ancillary effects of increased beef production, part of this would be an increase in milk output, as a good deal of the beef would come from dairy herds. We are self-sufficient in milk production. The problem is what we would do with the extra milk. Some thought will have to be given to this. The Milk Marketing Board believes that it could be processed and we could save £30 million with the butter, cheese and skimmed milk produced, but this might be at uneconomic cost. The problem is complicated in that much of what we import of this particular type of dairy product is produced at an uneconomic cost abroad so we must ask how much we are meeting the real costs of the foreign producer when we enter into competition in these products. In this case I would not in any way object to specific Government help to stop this type of gap in our balance of payments.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that we would have to renegotiate the Danish Agreement on pork and pig meat. I see no reason why we should not announce that this is our intention, because these agreements will not go on for ever and some change in this could be for the benefit of the agricultural industry. The Danes 1032 having partially devalued, there is a likelihood of a slight rise in the; price of bacon and it is, therefore, possible that we will see a rise in the price in the shops. If this is correct, the pig meat industry may become more profitable and it may be possible to gradually increase the percentage produced in this country and thus make a case for the re-negotiation of this agreement.
On cereals, which is a fundamental factor in our balance of payments, the positive pledge that the Minister gave that something would be done to increase the price of wheat will be very welcome indeed, because £80 million per annum is spent on cereal imports by this country. Part of this will be replacement of soft wheat imports and part of it will presumably be the use of new strains of wheat which we hope will replace our hard wheat imports. In general, I see no reason why this country could not expand to a cereal production of 20 million tons per annum. This was the possible expansion envisaged at E.E.C. prices if we joined the Common Market.
This level of inducement will not be given at the moment, but if all our arable producers were as efficient as the best ones, who produce two tons of wheat per acre, while the average for the country is about 30 cwt., there would be no problem and we would achieve this great expansion in cereal production. It is partly a matter of improved techniques over the next five years, and partly the question of price which the Minister mentioned.
The last category in which we can change and expand is horticulture. This is an extremely elaborate industry, but we have evidence from a recent report by the Wye Agricultural College that the problem facing the horticulture industry is not so much price and quality as marketing. This is a long-term strategic problem. We have to improve the whole marketing system.
If we are to have this type of expansion, we must have the facts, we must have an estimate of costs, we must have an estimate of the difference to the balance of payments, and we must see the repercussions of these changes throughout the agriculture industry. If we are to continue with our policy of applying to join the Common Market, which I hope we 1033 will, this is an extra reason for proceeding with this type of change, because it will pave the way towards the type of policy which we will eventually have to adopt when we enter the Common Market. It will be extra evidence of our seriousness of purpose if we are prepared to make this type of change.
I ask the Minister, in his statement to which we look forward between now and Christmas, to consider removing the standard quantities, to say something about credit, and to say something about renegotiating certain import agreements when they come up for reconsideration. If he will, in general, explain what I believe to be the case, that we are now rethinking our agriculture policy in the direction of a positive replacement of imports, for the first time in many years, or if one likes for the first time for a century, and if his statement is backed by the information which we require, he will receive the support of the farming industry, and of a large section of the country.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I greatly welcome the opportunity to bring before the House the appalling state of the agriculture industry in my constituency. For many weeks we have been in a state of seige. Every day this terrible virus obtains a greater hold. I have had confirmed in my constituency no fewer than 350 cases, which is exceeded only by the number in my neighbour's constituency, Oswestry. This means that between the two of use we have more than half the trouble.
This debate, which takes place at the seat of Government where the great decisions have to be made, is necessarily somewhat academic to people in the country. When I say that the desolation and sorrow which reigns in the Cheshire countryside is something which no words of mine can describe, I ask the House and the country to believe that that is true. The milk cow is a different sort of animal from the general run of farm animals. If she is a good cow, she is there for a long time, and the farmer, his wife, and children get to love that animal as we all love our pets, and perhaps even more because they live by the product which she produces daily. Hens cannot compare with her. The feelings 1034 of farmers and their families have to be seen and known to be appreciated, and I hope that the House will not think that I am over sentimentalising the subject when I say that, because I think we should realise these things.
If I say some hard things about the Minister, I assure him that I do so in a non-party spirit. I say them simply because they have been brought to my notice by my constituents. I am referring now to how they think the right hon. Gentleman's administration has been carried out.
I begin by saying some really nice things about the conduct of the veterinary officers, the field staff, and those dealing with cases at the veterinary centres. I have found no farmers who have anything but complete confidence in, and acclaim for the work which has been done at that level in most difficult and trying circumstances.
At the Crewe centre, no fewer than 200 people, veterinary surgeons and others, have had to be recruited to run the operation. This has thrown a good deal of work on to other people, and I pay tribute to the members of the Women's Voluntary Service who have looked after these workers, fed them, and made them comfortable. I also pay tribute to the police for the wonderful co-operation which they have given. I pay tribute, too, to those—I do not know who they are—who organise the helicopters and direct these ponderous machines in the best possible way to the fields where this harsh and horrible work has to be done. All of them deserve the highest praise, and this is what my constituents would like to pay them.
Having said that, I must turn to the higher direction of the national effort, which I think leaves a good deal to be criticised. That we were in for a most terrible outbreak must have been obvious to everybody from the very early stages. All the external activities of the countryside ought to have been curtailed by energetic action at a much earlier stage than they were.
I think that perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry is that local authorities were not brought sufficiently into contact with what was going on and did not receive proper instructions. If one looks at the 1035 letter in The Times the other day from the Clerk to the North Shropshire Rural District Council, who must at last have been driven to say something, one can see how bad this part of the Ministry's work has been.
In the early days, it was very difficult to get time on the B.B.C. for those who wanted to say what should be done. The telephone system in Cheshire has been jammed because subscribers were not told that they must not use it unless it was essential, and, perhaps above all, that they must not use it in the early morning and in the evening, when most of the cases are notified. Sometimes it has been impossible to get calls through. If this were a time for joking, one could say that one of the things which this situation has brought to light is the extraordinary amount of telephone time occupied by courting couples. This has come to light in trying to get them off the line to enable it to be used for the work in hand.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise matters which he thinks show that there is a need for improvement in administration. I went to Crewe and to Chester. I met a number of local people and put questions to them to satisfy myself that the administration was working effectively. The hon. Gentleman's colleague put various suggestions to me, and we acted on them. A week later I sent my Permanent Secretary to the area. We have had no lack of co-operation from the local authorities there.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I am obliged to the Minister, but perhaps I can now tell him of a deplorable incident. It happens that the Chairman of the Cheshire County Council, together with the Clerk, the Deputy Chief Constable and the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee waited upon the regional veterinary officer—I believe at his invitation—to talk about the problem and how they could help, but because one of the right hon. Gentleman's senior officers was engaging that officer in conversation, or in a meeting of some kind, they were unable to see him, and they went away empty-handed. I have been told that—not in confidence—by the Clerk to the Cheshire County Council. It is absolutely true.
What I want to do is to make sure that the right hon. Gentleman now acts 1036 with the utmost energy. I am sure that he will get everybody's support if he does. I hope that he will also deal with the anglers while he is about it, because they do a lot of traipsing about.
There is a very dense cow population in this part of Cheshire; in fact, the whole of Cheshire is one great farm. This population has increased by about two-thirds in the last seven to 10 years, and it is, therefore, difficult to isolate one farm from another—just the conditions in which a virus is likely to thrive.
I do not say that the Government have not done anything in the way of research; I realise that a good deal of research has been done at Pirbright, and I do not want to belittle it. But the Minister has now hit upon the real source of all our trouble—the importation of meat from countries where this disease is endemic. I am sure that the House, the farming community and the rest of the country will greatly welcome the steps that the Minister has taken this afternoon. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall use every endeavour to see that the policy is converted into a firm and permanent one.
Why should we consider the Argentine in this situation? We do not owe them a living; we owe ourselves and British agriculture a living. I am grateful for the timely letter from the chairman of the N.F.U. this morning, in which he gave some illuminating figures about our trading with the Argentine. Perhaps not everyone realises that in the last two years before this we bought goods to the value of £71 million from the Argentine and they bought goods to the value of £23 million from us in 1965, and only £20 million last year. So who gets the better of this bargain? Why should we consider them at all? It is we who should be considered.
Besides, we should get our meat from countries which are free from this disease. The Gowers Committee said that it was its firm opinion that this disease was most likely to be caused by such importations. If we took a vote of all the veterinary officers in this country today we would find that the overwhelming majority support that view. Let us produce more meat at home and import meat from countries which are free from 1037 this disease. I can assure the Minister that we shall keep on and on at him about this matter until he finally sees with provide open eyes the light of which he has at last got a glimmer.
I want now to pass to the financial aspect of the problem, and especially to the matter of compensation. It is in this matter that I want to enlist the right hon. Gentleman's sympathetic consideration and attention. Owing to the scarcity value of animals, valuers are now valuing them higher than they were doing. This is causing a lot of bad feeling and apprehension among farmers generally. Apart from that, it may create a situation in which the farmer is much worse off in spite of the compensation he receives.
I want to quote a short paragraph from a letter which puts what I am trying to say mere clearly than I can. The writer says:Further is the concern of compensation and book values. It has been the practice of farmers not to have fluctuating values on their hooks but a static value, this in its turn gives a fair assessment of the annual profit which is acceptable to Inland Revenue. In a large percentage of cases I suggest this will lead to a taxable discrepancy, i.e., book value, £60; compensation value, £100; taxable, £40; amount of £100 after tax, £83 10s. When a tarmer goes into the market to restock presumptive value not £100 but £130 or more, leaving a deficit to be found by the farmer of £46 10s. or more for every £100 compensation. Where is this to be found, and how are farmers to raise it?I received that letter from a constituent only this morning, and it puts the problem very clearly.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
As I have not been able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask my hon. Friend to ask for a Ministerial assurance that compensation will be totally free of taxation—free of Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Income Tax and Surtax? That is the assurance that we want.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I have certain suggestions to make to the Minister, and I do not mind his having my hon. Friend's as well.
Most farmers are insured against a loss of milk income—probably about 75 per cent.—but many small men are not so insured, and this raises the question whether they should not have some form of compulsory insurance by the Ministry, 1038 on reasonable terms, anyway to meet the situation. In any case, none of them should suffer in the present crisis.
This compensation goes nowhere when one thinks of unproductive wages. That is the problem—that people will have to pay wages in these dark days when there are no cattle to milk. The cost of pedigree herds is very difficult to value. The loss to a man who has spent his life and his money raising the finest stock we have in England is difficult to understand. We cannot properly recompense him for that loss.
There is another minor matter in regard to feedingstuffs left on the farm unopened, the value of which the farmer will also lose. Finally, this situation mucks up his whole farming rotation. What will he do now with his hay and straw? I suggest that some system should be introduced, perhaps along the lines of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) or a more palatable method on the lines of the scheme first introduced by Sir John Anderson in the Budget of 1945, by way of which the money spent on farm buildings could be paid back at a rate of 10 per cent. over 10 years. That would greatly help the farmer to meet any Income Tax bills he might have to pay.
Another important matter of which some people have lost sight is the large number of inspectors of Inland Revenue. Even in my constituency there are four. They are human beings. Some are kind and some are tough. Some people have said that they find out who the inspectors are before they go to live in certain parts of the country. Inspectors should act fairly, and well together. It would be a good point if he could get his right hon. Friend the Chancellor to impress on inspectors that they should act together and, above all, be generous.
One of the other points which is worrying farmers, especially the more thoughtful ones, in my constituency, is what will happen when it is all over and restocking begins. That is when they foresee possibilities of great trouble. There will tend to be a great rush to get started again, and we in Cheshire do not want an enormous number of useless animals brought in simply because they are the 1039 only ones available. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this and to have a word with his own man, Mr. Eric Carter, of Lindsay, who is doing a splendid job in creating a pool of cattle from which people will be able to purchase when the time comes. Could that not be applied to the whole country, so that good cattle can be brought back into Cheshire?
Some scheme of herd inspection such as exists for pedigree herds might be possible, so that Cheshire farmers could certify the type of animal which should go back into the Cheshire herd. We have had wonderful cattle in Cheshire, and we want our fields occupied by fine cattle again. However well it is done, it will be many years before we can return to that degree of excellence.
I realise that the right hon. Gentleman's office is by no means a bed of roses—indeed, no Minister of Agriculture in my time has had a bed of roses—but I ask that special attention should be given to seeing that justice is done. We should remember particularly the words of our much-beloved Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire, Lord Leverhulme:What has been a great disaster for England is a very great catastrophe for Cheshire. Do please help us to get back to somewhere where we were before.We should remember that a quarter of a million cattle have been killed so that our glorious national herd may have the best chance of avoiding the plague without lasting damage being done to the nation.
Our farmers, my constituents, have made a great sacrifice. We look to Her Majesty's Government to see that that sacrifice is not used as a way of making money for the Revenue or of treating us unfairly. Above all, let us deal not only with Argentine meat, but with all the meat in which the disease is endemic and keep it out of our country once and for all.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ensor (Bury and Radcliffe)
If the debate has done nothing else, I hope that it has brought home to the general public the seriousness of the agricultural situation as a result of what can be described as nothing less than the national disaster of the outbreak of 1040 foot-and-mouth disease. It is, perhaps, easy to be wise after the event, but I am certain that our sympathies go out to the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) because of the appalling situation in their constituencies.
My sympathy also goes out to the Minister because of the situation in which he finds himself and to the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who is also in a difficult situation. What the right hon. Member for Grantham said in the House a week or two ago, when we were discussing something entirely different, has some bearing on the present situation, that, grave disaster though it is, we must try to look at it as far as possible with our heads rather than our hearts, because it concerns us all vitally.
It is a little unfair to say that my right right hon. Friend the Minister has not done this or that in the light of what has happened in a very short time. This disaster, of appalling magnitude, spread with appalling rapidity, but the fact remains that, at a very early stage, my right hon. Friend and his Permanent Secretary cancelled a visit to the Far East because the situation was clearly getting out of hand. His Ministry has done much to deal with a situation which has spread with alarming rapidity.
People outside, and hon. Members on both sides, should do everything possible to prevent the spread of infection. Although I agree with my right hon. Friend when he said that he does not think that the disinfection of main roads will help a great deal, I join issue with him on one point. Anything which we can do at present can be of possible assistance. For once, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)—
§ Mr. Ensor
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon.
I read this morning that he said that, as he lives in an infected area, he does not propose to travel outside it to clean areas. I have done exactly the same in reverse. I live in a clean area and do not propose to travel to my constituency, which would mean travelling through a highly-infected area.
1041 My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) dealt purely with the technical side, and I had some doubts about his remarks about the inefficacy of possible vaccination. The time has come for us to spend a great deal of money on research into vaccination. The House should realise that, over the past 40 or 50 years, vast amounts of money have been spent on the eradication of tuberculosis in cattle, on brucellosis or contagious abortion, and on other serious diseases which have now, to all intents and purposes, been practically eradicated. The time has now come for the Ministry to spend a large sum of money on further research along these lines. The result may not be satisfactory, but at least we should try, knowing perfectly well what the present situation is.
If I have any criticism or complaint to make with regard to the Minister, it is that I believe that the Smithfield Show should have been cancelled altogether, because it is not so much a question of bringing cattle together in a show but of bringing farmers together in such a concentrated area.
The poultry industry is to be congratulated for having cancelled the National Poultry Show without even being asked by my right hon. Friend. Although poultry do not carry the disease, if they come from an infected area they can carry the virus into Olympia, where gatherings of farmers might cause untold damage. They showed a statesmanlike attitude in cancelling the show without being asked.
This is a lamentable situation. My right hon. Friend has done the right thing in cancelling the imports of beef from infected areas, and I hope that we shall continue to keep that ban for a very long time until, by our present slaughter policy, we have eradicated the disease or stopped it as far as we can and until we have seriously considered, in consultation with the experts, whether we ought also to adopt a policy of vaccination.
A debate of this kind generally ranges over a wide area connected with agriculture, but today the debate can have importance only in dealing with the present tragedy. I hope that every hon. Member will do all that he can to assist the Government in meeting this tragedy and 1042 will also bring home to the notice of everyone in his constituency the necessity for co-operation in attempting in every way to check the disease.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
We are conducting this debate under a cloud, and faced with the worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease within living memory. I express sympathy with the Minister in the very difficult situation which faces him and I pay tribute to the Ministry's veterinary officers and all others who have been fighting this virulent attack.
I believe that the Minister will have to tighten restrictions still further. We are approaching the Christmas holiday season, when people move around freely, many from England to Scotland, and when there are various sporting events attracting large gatherings of people in many parts of the country. It seems to me that the Minister will have to take additional powers to control such gatherings and to prevent the further spread of the disease.
This is a most timely debate because the general public realise now, more than they have realised for a very long time—if ever before—the importance of agriculture to the well-being of the country. At a time when the major problem facing the nation is the balance of payments, and when it is generally agreed that agriculture can make as large a contribution as, if not larger than, that of any other industry, the time has come to give the necessary incentives for the industry to expand. The Minister said that he would listen to suggestions, and I want to make a few.
What incentives do we require to expand our production? First, we require a substantial increase in the end product, particularly beef and mutton. We should remove the limitation of standard quantities once and for all if we want to expand. We must also have easier access to capital at more reasonable rates of interest. I understand that at the moment interest on overdrafts is at 10 per cent., so there is no incentive for anybody to expand or increase production on those terms.
This is the time to take advantage of the vast potential of our hills and uplands, and I ask the Minister and the 1043 Secretary of State for Scotland, who is with us, to bear in mind that there is more scope for this type of development in the Highlands of Scotland than anywhere else in Great Britain. As the increase in the use of lime and fertilisers is a prerequisite to expansion in those areas, I hope that the Minister will implement the recommendations of the Estimates Committee by giving different rates of grant and subsidy to those special areas. Transport is also vital to those areas, and I hope that the Minister will have another hard look at the transport problem in Scotland.
There is also the question of extending the grant which was introduced for field beans at the last Price Review to other break crops such as turnips and rape. By changing over from grain temporarily to those crops, many low-ground farmers would be in a position to fatten lambs, and this would enlarge the market for lambs from the hills and uplands.
I hope that for the time being the Minister will forget about the Common Market when he is working out his plans for expansion. It is quite clear that the conditions prevailing in the E.E.C. would not produce the confidence in the future of the industry which is necessary if we are to get the increased production which is so vital to the nation at this time. It is very revealing to read some of the statements in a recent issue of European Community, which I believe to be a reliable periodical. From it we gather that there is unrest and even violence in some rural areas because of farmers' discontent at what they are paid for their produce. The Community cannot increase the producers' incomes sufficiently by stepping up production because it has already reached the limit.
There is also a social problem facing the agricultural worker in the Community. The farmer and his wife are in danger of becoming slaves to their farms, because most of them can no longer afford to hire farm workers. The disparity between the incomes of farmers and those of workers belonging to comparable occupational groups in other industry has not been reduced, and the consequence of this state of affairs is particularly marked in backward and outlying areas. While the Commission accepts—and this is important—that the 1044 farmers' income situation in the Community is critical it does not agree with the Parliaments' request for what would amount to a general 5 per cent. rise in farm prices. I hope that the Minister will take note of these facts and that he will not allow his judgment to be unduly influenced by the enthusiasts in all parts of the House who see in our entry into Europe the beginning of a prosperous new era and a solution to most of our problems.
One point I should make to the Minister is that the sooner he makes a statement about what extra effort is expected of the industry, the better. I realise that certain details may have to await the Price Review, but a start must be made now. I strongly appeal to him to take this opportunity to give agriculture a lead and to give it an opportunity to show what it can do for the benefit of the nation.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
I am interested to see a split in the Liberal Party, even if it is on the Common Market.
This is a most important debate on a tragic situation. The foot-and-mouth disease is very virulent, but it is also very puzzling, and I want to deal with four outbreaks which have taken place in the North of England.
There was an outbreak in Westmorland which was away from any contact with the large infected areas. That was about a month ago, and there has been no outbreak there since. There was another outbreak in North Lancashire, at Cam-forth, followed by two adjoining outbreaks, but that must be three or four weeks ago and there has been no other outbreak since. Next came an outbreak at Feniscawles, near Blackburn, miles away from any other infected area. That was three weeks ago. No outbreak has occurred there since. On Saturday last the disease came into my constituency at Eccleston, which is miles away from any other contact. So far these four outbreaks have not extended.
It seems to me that there is some connection between these four outbreaks. Why should there be four isolated outbreaks with no contact whatever with the main areas? Someone should examine these outbreaks to find 1045 out whether anyone has moved from the infected areas into these areas or vice versa. What has been the contact which has brought these outbreaks in isolated areas, away from the main areas?
We have heard much about the manner of disinfecting. We have put straw on the roads and soaked it with disinfectant, and the cars run over it. We have stopped all lorries and vans and other vehicles from going on to the farms. The vehicles are disinfected. Yet we omit to disinfect the main contact—the cow itself. How many farmers in these areas thoroughly disinfect their shippons? Very few. The virus enters the cow through the mouth or the nostrils. We are told that it is airborne. We are also told that it can be taken into the cow by food. Would it not be advisable to spray the cows as we spray the wheels of cars? That would be much nearer to the affected areas. If the farmers had to spray their animals—heads, nostrils and mouths of the animals—at least once a day we should be nearer to stopping the infection from spreading. At the moment we do not do that. The farmers never touch the cows. Many of them never touch the shippons. They spray their doors, their gates and their roads, but the shippons and the cattle are left untouched. This omission should be rectified.
I was interested to hear the Minister say that he is stopping, at any rate for a time, imports of meat from the Argentine. The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) and I were in the Argentine last March and had a chance to talk things over with the Minister of Trade there. I heard on the radio this morning that someone in that country has threatened that if we stop buying their meat they will retaliate. With a balance against us of about £30 million a year, how will they retaliate? We have every opportunity of stopping the importation, if it comes this way, of this virus, and assisting our balance of payments at the same time.
We learn from the original case that the farmer concerned has never used swill or waste food. It has not, therefore, come from this waste product but from some other cause.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That does not mean that it has not come from another 1046 animal which is a carrier and which was fed on swill.
§ Mr. Kenyon
It means what I said; that this farmer does not use swill and that, therefore, the disease has not come from any swill which he has brought on to his farm. I am merely quoting what has been shown on television and said on the wireless about this case.
This farmer had these animals for three days before he realised—in fact, even then he did not realise—that his animals were suffering from the disease. Not until he sent for the "vet" to look at his animals, because he thought that they were suffering from an entirely different disease, was it discovered that they had foot-and-mouth. Only when the "vet" told him that they had foot-and-mouth did he realise that the disease was on his farm, and by that time he had taken his cattle to the auction, and the disease had spread.
This is a puzzling situation because we as yet have no idea of the exact origin of the disease. Did it come from imported meat? We do not know. In the cases which occurred in the North, and which I quoted, it has not come through swill or imported meat. However, for the safety of everyone, countries which have this disease endemic in their herds should not be permitted to send their meat here.
It has been pointed out that the agriculture industry will suffer. Several hon. Members have asked for help so that we can grow more arable crops in order to build up our livestock. The greatest crop we have in Britain is grass. It is our most valuable crop, and if we can develop, cultivate and bring our grassland up to standard, we can thereby increase our herds and flocks.
Another puzzling point arises in the N.A.A.S. advice. We have been told for years to plough up and reseed to grow better quality grass. It has been proved conclusively at the experimental farm at Helmshore that we get a better return from permanent grass than from reseeded grass. Per acre, in terms of milk and meat, over a period of years permanent grass gives a better return.
We are somewhat mystified by the changes which we are recommended to undertake. For example, grassland is undoubtedly one of our great assets if we 1047 can develop it properly and stock it thoroughly. But if we are to do this, we require capital. It needs a tremendous amount of capital to improve this country's grassland. Much of it needs draining, lining, slagging and fertilising, and all this costs a lot of money. Capital at the present rate of interest is too expensive to enable the majority of farmers to undertake this work. I therefore urge the Government to reduce the interest rate as quickly as possible so that farmers may have the advantage of cheaper borrowing.
Looking at the question as a whole, I suggest that there are more puzzling points in this whole outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease than we have yet been able to ascertain.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) spoke about four isolated outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and raised some interesting points. I was particularly interested in his remarks about spraying cattle. I believe that much more should have been done about disinfecting such things as the clothes of lorry drivers.
I wish to concentrate on the situation in Herefordshire. It is a small county and to us this outbreak has been like "The Plague". We are the most heavily stocked county in England, having nearly 1 million livestock, worth at least £20 million.
I have always liked and respected the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I regret that he is not in his place, because I have some critical remarks to make about his handling of the epidemic. First, however, I wish him to know that he has my backing 100 per cent. on two of the policies he announced today. His rigid policy of slaughtering and stamping out has the backing of every farmer with whom I have spoken in the last six weeks. They agree that there cannot be any compromise and that we cannot afford to devalue this policy. We must not weaken to what appears to be, or could be an easier and more attractive policy of vaccination. Once one start vaccinating, one must keep it up year after year.
I agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) that it is not 100 per cent. effective, especially for young animals and pigs. Our export market of pedigree 1048 cattle would fly out of the window if we once adopted such a policy, and it would take a long time to coax it back. In Hereford, when we had a sale at The Vern last year, 136 animals were sold for £231,000, an average of £1,696 per animal. Many of those went for export and this is small proof of how valuable pedigree cattle are to this country.
I agree with the remarks of the Minister when he spoke about restricting the import of Argentine meat. Such a restriction has paid dividends in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America. It is the right and only policy and I hope that, even after the three months are up, he will carefully reconsider this policy because it makes no sense at all to believe in a slaughter policy, on the one hand, while, at the same time, allowing meat imports from countries where foot-and-mouth is endemic.
My criticism of the Minister is on three counts—the woolly advice that has been given, the lack of decisive orders at the beginning of the last outbreak, and the delay. The right hon. Gentleman talked earlier of a battle plan, yet there has been no general at the top to run it and to put it straight into operation when the epidemic broke out at Oswestry on 25th October, although it was the third serious outbreak this year.
As to the woolly advice that has been given, no urgent or firm policy has emanated about banning fatstock markets near infected areas; for example, at Bridgnorth and at our market in Hereford. On the one hand, the Minister has been asking farmers to avoid foregathering at meetings and the general public to stop rambling, hunting, racing and shooting—
§ Sir C. Bossom
I am not sure about that—anyhow, the markets were allowed to continue, and this is strange logic indeed.
I represent four market towns and I am, therefore, well aware that to close a market might create difficulties—the disruption of supplies, prices, deficiency payments, and so on—but "might" is the operative word, because if a clear policy was laid down the wholesale trade would soon adjust itself to the new conditions. 1049 Direct negotiations with butchers and auctioneers could take place and I believe that the farmers would take more care to see that no risks were taken at their own farm gates rather than going into a "controlled" market.
Woolly advice was certainly given about the use of disinfectant and how it should be used on road vehicles and road barriers. It took five weeks for the Minister to say that it was not necessary on roads. Nor do I agree that the official advice has been anything but woolly, because in the official handout it is stated:The Minister is reluctant to dissuade anyone from taking these precautions. His veterinary advisers say that disinfectant at the farm gate is a far better precaution.This is not only woolly advice, but bad public relations, because if we had proper dips and baths, properly manned, with clear lighted warning signs well out in front, it would be a tangible piece of evidence and far better publicity for urban dwellers and even farmers than anything the Minister can say on the air or publish. These people would see the urgency and seriousness of the epidemic. It would be an example for them to pay much more careful attention themselves and also to take these precautions at their own farm gate. Although the experts may say that it is not the right answer to have baths on main roads why did it take the Minister five weeks to find that out?
The Minister should have sought powers from Parliament to take over control and order local authorities to take whatever action was necessary to be carried out. He should have stated clearly what type of disinfectant should be used—I gather that the Ministry is now saying that soda is better—the type of equipment that should be used and what type of sterilising equipment should be used in the markets.
Local authorities in infected areas were and are anxious and willing to do everything in their power to be helpful but they have received no proper guidance. The Minister should not have left such important decisions to laymen and local authorities which in most cases know very little if anything about foot-and-mouth disease. It was all left to them to make these important decisions.
I asked the Minister 10 days ago to make more use of radio and television to 1050 give better and more exact information of new infected areas on T.V. maps, but there is still extremely poor co-ordination at the top. For example, the 1 p.m. News on Saturday spoke with two voices: the Midland News said that the outbreak was on the decrease while, at the same time, the B.B.C. News gave it out that the disease was on the increase. There is a lack of co-ordination at the top.
The Minister himself disappointed the farming community in his own broadcast last week. He then had the opportunity of saying positively how he wanted the present epidemic to be controlled and contained. Instead of making general appeals for co-operation, he should have given forthright directions on the steps that must be taken. We must not forget that nearly all members of the farming community were listening to that very important programme.
On Saturday and Sunday I visited the control centre at Ledbury, in Herefordshire. It was working smoothly and efficiently, and I join with so many other hon. Members in saying that great praise is due to the veterinary staff and the police. I felt that up to regional level the system worked well, though I still believe that more authority should be given at that level. Even now, the man in the regional H.Q. has to pass information back to London and get the authority he needs. He should have more authority on the spot. But it is at the top that co-ordination is still lacking.
I am sorry to have been critical of the Minister, because I believe that he is doing his best, but I felt, as have other hon. Members, that I must pass on what farmers are saying so that he can put these matters right as soon as possible. If this terrible and tragic disease should ever break out again the Minister of Agriculture must be ready to give firm control and direction right from the start which, unfortunately, on this occasion he has not done.
§ 8.02 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
As a countryman, and as one who has the privilege to represent a rural constituency, I want to join in the sympathy tendered by many hon. and right hon. Members on both sides to the farming community on the dreadful blows and losses it is now suffering. No one can deny that 1051 this is a very grave tragedy for the agricultural industry and a threat of disaster of terrifying magnitude to the British economy as a whole.
I am glad that so much publicity has been given to this matter so that the public at large can understand the issues that are at stake. Now, more than at any other time, there is a general acceptance of the truth that however sophisticated society may become and whatever may be the developments of modern science and commerce, it is still possible for an industry such as farming to be subjected to a peril such as this present terrible scourge.
Like many other hon. Members, I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has seen fit to reduce this problem and peril to the level of a miserable little political squabble. He may have gladdened the hearts of the mandarins of Toryism, but in my view he has not added an inch to his stature in the estimation of the farming community. From what he and one or two other hon. Members opposite said, I gathered that the real gravamen of the charge was that Ministry officials and Ministers were not definite and specific in their advice and in their analysis of the situation. How can one be specific, how can one be definite, when so little is known the world over of the exact conditions and character of this plague?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) sought to say that this was not an attack on the Minister but on the Ministry staff. Is there no doctrine of ministerial responsibility? Is not the impugning of Ministry officials an indictment of the Minister himself? Surely, in view of what happened some 10 years ago it should be better appreciated in agriculture than anywhere else that a Minister does carry full responsibility for everything done by his officials.
By departmental circulars sent to farmers, by all the information disseminated through officials, and by his own public utterances, the Minister has done everything that could be expected of a Minister of the Crown in this connection. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has made his statement on the banning 1052 of meat imported from countries that are not clean areas in respect of foot-and-mouth disease. Some may argue that there is an element of injustice in this ban, but if one studies the facts of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, from the first, in 1839, to the present day, there is a mass of circumstantial evidence in support of the contention that many, if not most, of the outbreaks suffered by Britain are traceable to the import of meat from such countries.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
There is a widely held view that this disease comes from the importation of meat, but we import more than meat from some of the countries referred to. From South America, for example, we import a considerable amount of bone meal, and there is just as much chance of our importing contaminated bone meal for distribution within the British Isles, and that that could be the cause of the trouble. When my hon. Friend talks, as everyone does so glibly, of the importantion of meat, has he given consideration to other aspects of the problem that may have a bearing on the outbreak of this disease?
§ Mr. Morgan
I readily concede my hon. Friend's point. The reference should not be to meat alone but to all animal products coming from such countries. Scientists know that this virus, which is about one-10,000th the size of the smallpox virus, is one of the most resilient of all viruses. They have proved that the foot-and-mouth virus can exist in active state in the bone marrow of a frozen bovine carcase 76 days after the animal has been slaughtered. I believe that it is more than a coincidence that most of those countries that are free in respect of foot-and-mouth disease are those that do not import animal products from the non-clean countries. I hope that this ban will not be of short duration and that it will continue until it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that foot-and-mouth disease is no longer possible from these sources.
Several hon. Members have mentioned that the legal powers now enjoyed by the Minister under the Diseases of Animals Act are not sufficient to allow him properly to combat this disease. That point is properly made, but nevertheless 1053 it should be qualified by the consideration that it is not statutory restrictions that enable a disease of this magnitude to be fought. It is the co-operation and good will of the public at large, the sense of fellow feeling with the farmers in their dreadful peril and of responsibility both towards farmers and the community as a whole.
Nevertheless, there is a very strong case for arguing that the Minister should look again very carefully at the powers he has. There should be wider powers dealing with the congregation of people for any purpose in an infected area or areas contiguous to it. Particular attention should be paid to the movement of fodder, feed, agricultural machinery and so forth from infected areas into areas which are not infected. Special thought should be given to the powers of local authorities to spend money in relation to seeking to check the spread of the disease.
I think they have no powers for this at the moment. It is highly unlikely, however, that any auditor would be so inhumanly legalistic as to demand a surcharge for moneys which have been already expended. I trust the Minister will confirm that this probably is the legal situation at the moment. I hope that consideration will also be given to whether or not it would be proper to make a grant available to local authorities many of whom have only scanty financial resources to help them with the expenditure they have inevitably had to incur in this connection.
The question of compensation has been raised by many hon. Members and I heartily endorse it. Merely assessing the capital value of animals which are slaughtered cannot cover but a fraction of the losses suffered by the farming community. Recompense must be given in respect of the grave disruption to the process of husbandry. I give full support to the suggestion that some compensation should be given to agricultural labourers who might be unemployed for many months while land is sterile after the slaughter of animals.
I am certain that the Minister has taken cognizance of everything that has been said in favour of examining the possibility of a totally new and effective strategy for combating not only this outbreak, but future outbreaks, if we are unfortunate enough to suffer them.
1054 I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said about disinfection of animals. There are difficulties here. There are four or five points on a cow's body at which this virus could enter. In the case of the hoof, the coronary band above the hoof, the udder and the teats, it is probably not beyond the wit of man to devise some form of disinfection but the question of disinfecting the mouth and the lips is complicated. If a break-through were made here it might be possible to have an effective cordon sanitaire around an outbreak when it occurs.
This crisis may last very much longer than we expect, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody). It would be proper for the Minister to consider the appointment of a Minister from his Department to be responsible for combating this outbreak. He should have full charge of the Ministry's activities and be in liaison with the Ministry's officials, local authorities and farming organisations. This is a desperate situation; it properly demands drastic action of that nature.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
I crave the indulgence of the House for my second "maiden speech". If I have learned one thing it is that maiden speeches have to be brief. I am also aware that many of my hon. Friends wish to make contributions to this debate.
I have the good fortune to follow as the Member for Derbyshire, West, Mr. Aidan Crawley. As my predecessor he looked after the constituency extremely well. I take the opportunity of wishing him the best of luck in his new occupation. He has a very responsible job.
In West Derbyshire we have not suffered quite so badly from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease as have the constituencies of my hon. Friends in Cheshire and Shropshire. Nevertheless, we have suffered in that county quite severely enough. Unfortunately, last week there was a fresh outbreak in my constituency.
The Minister's speech today contained some extremely important facts. One must not be too controversial in making a "maiden speech", otherwise I would have taken him up on the point he made 1055 in his opening remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). It is surely our duty to criticise the Minister when he is handling a matter of such great importance as this disaster. The Minister said that he will have an inquiry. I welcome that remark and I am delighted, but I hope that it will be a public inquiry held when the outbreak has been contained and has died out.
One cannot help wondering why only this last weekend disinfectant precautions were taken in my constituency. The Minister did not at first approve of that. Surely those who have been handling bulldozers and carting quicklime to places where the outbreak has taken place should be decontaminated. I hope that matters such as this will be very closely investigated when the outbreak ends.
In my constituency, and I think elsewhere, cattle are still seen grazing in fields adjacent to roads. I hope that the Minister has issued, or will issue, advice to farmers to remove cattle from fields adjoining main roads.
There has been controversy in this debate about whether the disease can be carried on car wheels. I do not know about that any more than anyone else, but so long as there is a possibility of its being carried in that way farmers would be right to take cattle well inside their farms. The Minister would be wrong in not recommending dips on the main road right up to where an outbreak had taken place. This is the correct thing to do and I hope he will look at that question again. I welcome his suggestion for an inquiry and I hope it will be public and that we shall be able to give evidence to it.
I am glad that the Minister made the point about voluntary banning of imported meat from infected areas. Some years ago there was difficulty over the outbreak of typhoid in Scotland. The point was then made about the examination of meat processed in Argentina. With the best will in the world, I do not believe that the Ministry's veterinary staff overseas, particularly in Argentina, have any possibility of being able to check properly on whether there is a chance of foot-and-mouth infection reaching this country. I welcome his 1056 statement, therefore, that meat imports from there are to be stopped, certainly for three months, and I hope that he will review the situation in the light of what happens during that period.
The banning of importation of meat from Argentina will inevitably create shortage and prices will rise in the coming months. I would like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do immediately to stimulate British beef production. One appreciates that a two-year cycle is involved in beef production, but there is, nevertheless, great urgency, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman realises, and steps should be taken at once to increase meat production on our own farms, particularly of beef.
Is the Minister negotiating with countries free of disease, such as Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, for increased supplies to try and fill the gap in the coming three months, particularly during the Christmas period? If he has not been able to succeed in negotiating extra supplies from there and other uninfected countries, what is he doing to be able to buy other types of meat as a substitute for beef, such as lamb and pig meat?
One of the things which emerges clearly from the debate is that the industry has not been able to expand as had been hoped. When going through Derbyshire, before the outbreak, I found the farming community cheerful but in a state of frustration at not being able to expand production as much as it wished. Now the opportunity is thrust down the right hon. Gentleman's throat. He must help the industry to expand, particularly the fatstock section. Perhaps this is the good which will come out of the disaster.
I join my right hon. Friend in pressing for an immediate review. The beef cycle means that one has to stimulate production a long time in advance. I welcome the statement by the right hon. Gentleman that he will make an announcement before Christmas about the level of deficiency payments. But there are brakes on subsidies and deficiency payments and perhaps he will consider removing the seasonal scale. I am sure that he can find some method whereby beef production can be stimulated in the near future, for it is essential to do so.
I do not want to continue too long, particularly in a maiden speech, but I 1057 earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman to do what he can to see that the farmers who have been hit, not only in West Derbyshire and elsewhere, are compensated and that they get their compensation without suffering taxation on it. I ask also for a special inquiry to be carried out, after the outbreak is over, into the rehabilitation which will be necessary on those farms which suffer. Finally, I welcome the statements which the right hon. Gentleman has made in relation to these points that I have mentioned. I am certain that they will help the industry forward after this grave disaster.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
It is a privilege to welcome back the old-new hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I have known him a considerable number of years and I know that most people associated with agriculture will agree on his ability to debate and support the claims of agriculture both in this House and outside it.
During the 1964–66 Parliament, the hon. Gentleman and I served on opposite sides of Standing Committees dealing with a number of Bills and there I was able to appreciate his knowledge of the industry and his capacity for putting forth the point of view about which he felt strongly at the time.
I am sure that, now that the hon. Gentleman has come back, we shall hear a great deal from him, particularly with reference to agriculture and rural life generally and I am sure, also, that hon. Members on both sides are delighted to see him in our midst again, even though we may not necessarily always agree with him.
Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I am glad that the Opposition chose this subject for debate. It provides us with an opportunity to discuss, in a way which is detached from the detailed considerations of the Price Review or a specific Order or Prayer, what is still one of our largest industries. Unfortunately, we have to discuss the position of agriculture against the background of the disaster which has attacked so much of the country.
I have no intention of going into detail as to how this disease may have come about and how it has spread so far and 1058 wide. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his endeavours to create the organisation to contain the disease so far as it has been practicable so to do. But, like my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), I find it a little difficult to understand how these isolated cases appeared in different counties, apparently unattached to the general areas of infection.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appeal to all sections of the community. While there may have been isolated instances where the general pub-lice have not responded as one would have wished, by and large they have played the game and are conscious, I believe, of their responsibilities. But had my right hon. Friend taken any other steps than he did at the time, perhaps the co-operation would not have been as great as has proved to be the case.
I want to mention one particular aspect that has not been touched upon during this debate when obviously everyone's thoughts are overshadowed by the foot-and-mouth disaster, and that is the position of the workers within the industry. So far in the debate nobody has mentioned the agricultural workers. This is perhaps understandable. We recognise that the farmers suffer a great personal loss when they see their pigs, sheep and cattle destroyed, but equally the workers engaged on the affected farms feel just as strongly as their employers do. Indeed, many of our best stockmen probably know the herds much more intimately than do the owners of those herds.
I remind hon. Members that if the farmer is confined to his farmhouse during the many weeks of the disaster, so is the farm worker and his family. I say quite sincerely that there is a good deal of concern amongst the farmworkers about their future. Some farmers who may have been hit more than once by this disease may decide that it is not worth the candle to continue in stock breeding, milk production, and so on, in which event the workers, experts in stock handling, may find themselves out of work.
It is true that a number of farmers—in fact, most—will be paying their men during the period of this disease, but the pay that most of those men will receive will probably be the basic minimum wage. They will suffer a good deal in 1059 loss of earnings. A cowman with a large herd puts in a considerable amount of overtime, labour being as scarce as it is. Obviously, with the herd destroyed there will be no necessity for overtime. We have to face the fact that most people base their standard of living on their earnings, and those with relatively high earnings enjoy a standard of life that is greater than those who receive the basic minimum wage.
Those employees in receipt of the basic minimum wage are experiencing hardship. Thus, while expressing our sympathy to the farmers and others affected by this great tragedy, let us not lost sight of the fact that the workers employed in the affected areas are also suffering considerable loss. If compensation is to be given to the farmers—and I support this to the hilt—I suggest that consideration should also be given to providing compensation for the workers whose livelihoods have been affected.
Some of our workers will, no doubt, seek employment in other occupations. If this should happen to any extent, the industry as a whole will be the poorer for the loss of skilled stockmen, and this is something that the industry can ill afford. I hope that in assessing the cost, some of these points will not be overlooked.
Debates of such a nature often bring forth little response, but today I think there is a growing awareness of the importance of agriculture. Perhaps this is due to recent events. If so, I hope that awareness will be maintained because I am sure that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will agree with me that there are some influential Members on both sides of the House who have felt from time to time that we should give up our agriculture, or at least reduce it substantially, and concentrate our manpower on the production of manufactured goods, buying our food overseas more cheaply, so it is argued, than it can be produced at home. We should recognise that there is this large volume of opinion which does not encourage or stimulate the interest in agriculture which the industry is entitled to receive.
All arguments on these lines are usually based on two main points: first, that to which I have already referred, 1060 that we are an industrial nation and should, therefore, concentrate the whole of our energies in the production and sale of manufactured goods; and, secondly, that by following a policy of this sort we would be reducing the burden on the taxpayer.
A healthy agriculture is not just a good thing for those employed in the industry. It is good for manufacturing industry, as well. If our agriculture were to decline, there would be a marked impact on our agricultural engineering industry, to take but one example. Those who go to Smithfield—if any hon. Member goes to Smithfield this week—will see there the shop window of the mechanical developments which have taken place in our agricultural industry. In tractors and equipment alone, we exported last year about £179 million worth of agricultural machinery. This is a big contribution towards correcting our adverse balance of payments. If there were a decline in our agriculture, because of lack of interest or because, as it is sometimes said, it would pay us to buy all our food from abroad, there would be repercussions upon our agricultural engineering industry and the markets throughout the world which machines tested and tried on British farms are able to command.
The second ground for arguing that our home agriculture should decline is said to be the cost to the taxpayer. Most nations, by one system or another, support their home agriculture. There is a good deal of argument within the European Economic Community about the form of support which should be given to the home agriculture of the six nations. If my memory serves me aright, the Economic Community as a whole almost foundered on the question of agricultural support. There are some of us who feel that, from the point of view of British agriculture, it would not have mattered much if it had foundered on the set-up as it is now.
For all its imperfections, our system has enabled our farmers to plan ahead, and has given them a measure of security. There may be faults. No scheme is perfect. But our system, enduring as it has over the past 20 years, has provided a foundation upon which some measure of prosperity could be looked for and 1061 upon which plans for the future could be laid.
As has been said, agriculture is not a short-term industry; it needs long-term planning. We may talk tonight about the need to step up home beef production, but it will be almost two years before we see any tangible results. This aspect of the matter must never be overlooked. I hope that, when the heat of the debate is passed, when the present scourge of foot-and-mouth disease has receded into the background, when we have forgotten about the extra cost which the consumer and the taxpayer will have to bear because of the current situation, the claims of the industry itself will not be forgotten. I hope that agriculture will be recognised as having a proper function to perform. It is anxious and willing to perform it, but it must have the support of the community as a whole.
In spite of rebuffs, agriculture has a record of which it may justly be proud. If every industry had increased it.; productivity and production on the scale of agriculture, perhaps we should not have been facing the economic difficulties in which we have found ourselves during recent years.
The Government have encouraged the agricultural industry. The very formation of the National Plan, with its section for agriculture, indicated the views and the approaches of the Government with regard to the part that agriculture could play in the general economy. Whatever may have happened to the genet al basis of the plan, the fact remains that the section dealing with agriculture is unaltered. In the last Price Review, of which we have heard very little today, there was injected into the industry an additional £40 million as recognition of the need for increasing investment and confidence on the part of those engaged in the occupation.
While output of agriculture has increased over the years, it should not be overlooked that this has been achieved in spite of diminishing land for agricultural purposes. The creation of roads, homes, schools and factories has taken land away from the industry. Year by year we are faced with the problem of how to encourage industry to go to the poorer types of land. The inroads upon agricultural land have been colossal, and there is no sign of any abatement. To 1062 maintain and steadily increase production against that background is an achievement for which those employed and engaged in the industry can take full credit.
However, if we are to achieve increased production, we must still maintain a labour force to bring it about—in spite of all the equipment that one would see at the Royal Smithfield Show this week. I know that the National Plan provided for a reduction—employers and workers combined—of about 140,000 by the end of 1970, but in reply to a Question last Wednesday the Joint Parliamentary Secretary stated that between June, 1964, and June, 1967, more than 84,000 workers had left the land. If this pace is maintained the efforts to step up production will be materially hampered through lack of manpower.
I know that taking a long-term view the industry will have a much smaller force of workers than at the moment, and I recognise that the decline will continue, but at what pace? It is the pace that concerns us at present. It has been far too great for the good of the industry. We cannot blame workers for leaving the land. They go largely because of their economic conditions. However much this might be disputed, the facts speak for themselves.
Earlier today my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security made reference to wage-stop benefits. Does the House realise that every farmworker who finds himself out of work for some reason or another is controlled by the wage-stop business because his wages fall below the level at which full benefits are prescribed?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that in certain circumstances an unemployed car worker in the Midlands can draw more in full social security and other benefits than a farm-worker gets after spending five hard days working on the land?
§ Mr. Hazell
I am grateful for that comment, because it is the next point I was going to make.
It is a fact that, in the main, an industrial worker, being out of work, can secure more money through our social insurance benefits than a farmworker can obtain as a result of all his skill and knowledge in our agricultural industry. These 1063 facts are not lost sight of by the farm-workers. This is the reason why, when opportunities come along offering higher wages, better opportunities, they quit our agricultural industry. One thing which does not help and is not likely to help the retention of skilled farmworkers is the very fact that we have just recently negotiated a new minimum wage for the industry and yet we have to wait till 6th February, 1968, before that award can be put into operation. If this is not enough to put any farmworker's back up I do not know what is. No other induswould tolerate this sort of business.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that our workers, by and large, do retain their interest in the industry, and it is a good thing that they do, and I am glad to note in this regard that it has been agreed to set up an industrial training board in the industry, because, with the smaller manpower in future, that manpower will have to be highly skilled to cope with the many types of jobs they are and will be called upon to do and the new equipment which is constantly coming off the line.
Training through the industrial training board set up by the industry will provide the means which the present generation has not had, who have had to pick up as they have gone along the skill and knowledge which modern agriculture requires. But, of course, side by side with the training board there must be a ladder of opportunity for our young people and we must have a wages structure within the agricultural industry.
Devaluation merely focuses the nation's attention on its food supplies, its increases in costs, and the need to produce more. I am satisfied that the industry will respond. It always has. In the last Price Review a clear indication was given by my right hon. Friend of the line of development which the industry would be called upon to meet. I would say to my right hon. Friend that he has got to keep spelling this out time and time again, and re-emphasise, because memories are short, the requirements of the nation. If this is continually spelt out I believe that the achievement will be forthcoming. Our agricultural industry, in the lifetime of most of us in this Chamber, has been faced with challenges and it has responded to those challenges.
1064 I believe that the industry will respond now. It means that the appeal made should not be a short-term one; it must be a long-term one if we are to retain the confidence of all those in agriculture in the years which lie ahead.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
Over the last 30 days I have had the experience of living in an infected area in the stricken countryside of Cheshire. I will not go over the many points tonight which have been made in this debate, because I had the unique opportunity in those days of speaking to Ministers and senior officials in the Ministry. I have made various constructive suggestions, and I believe that they have taken those suggestions very seriously.
I have but one further suggestion to make tonight, because I am certain that we should counter-attack this disease. We should, by all means in our power, step up our precautions and do everything we can to avoid having to fall back on vaccination. I make this one suggestion tonight, because I believe that it is of unique importance. The one thing in this whole problem which is not protected is the animal. I would remind the Minister of the offer which he has had made to him by a good friend of mine, Mr. Stuart Ponsford-Raymond. He has offered the Minister two of his cows which have had the unique protection of homeopathic borax administered to them for about 10 days. Those cows, along with 2,500 other cattle in Cheshire similarly protected have been surviving in the midst of the area where this disease has been raging.
A unique opportunity may have been missed by this country in giving protection to our animals. This homeopathic borax is cheap. I was brought up as an homeopath. I have today spoken to a veterinary surgeon who is also an homeopath and he has immense confidence in this homeopathic borax. It is giving protection to 2,500 cattle in the County of Cheshire at the present time. This is no gimmick. It has been tried out effectively in Switzerland. The Ministry had full details of it in 1960, and I ask how far the Ministry has investigated the evidence which it was given then.
My emphasis tonight—I make only this one point—is on counter-attacking. 1065 I believe that the Minister can give further encouragement to more safeguards which can be used on our farms. I believe that some of the old wives' tales or some of the old farmers' tales could help. On my own dairy farm we use every possible precaution, and all the old wives' tales, including onion protection. I am thankful to say that at the moment we are surviving, and we are pretty well surrounded by this devastating plague.
I emphasise tonight the words "counter attack". I hope that the Minister listened to his hon. Friend who advocated the appointment of a Minister with special responsibility for controlling this particular disease. A Minister should be appointed here and now. When we had the stranding of the "Torrey Canyon" we had Ministers resident on the South Coast for weeks and weeks on end. We deserve a Minister and we also deserve a supreme commander of the administrative machine. If those two things were done, our counter attack might well be successful and we might never need to fall back on the vaccine.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The debate to which we have listened today, has, quite naturally, fallen into two parts. The agriculture industry of this country is at present under a cloud of uncertainty. It has been faced with the tragically vast problem of the foot-and-mouth disease. I do not propose to spend much of the time available to me on that aspect, but that is not because it is not recognised that the effects of this tragic outbreak go a great deal beyond the area immediately affected.
I would ask my right hon. Friend one point about the foot-and-mouth outbreak concerning vaccination. I realise that a vaccination policy, as opposed to a slaughter policy, is a revolutionary proposal which is not acceptable in this country, but is it agreed by the Ministry that the only real objection to such a policy is the cost of the vaccination, or is it that the vaccination itself is not thought to be—
§ Mr. Peart
It is not a question of cost. As the Gowers Committee said, and it was confirmed subsequently by scientific opinion, the problem is that of getting vaccine of the right strain. Added to that there is the difficulty of providing im 1066 munity for animals under six months old. There is also the difficulty presented by pigs. Tremendous veterinary difficulties are involved.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am glad to have my right hon. Friend's reassurance about that.
The principal element of uncertainty overhanging the agriculture industry stems from the declining profitability of agriculture, and the lack of opportunity before it in the post-devaluation situation for a radical reappraisal of farming policy and the policy of agricultural support. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) when he says that there is an urgent need for a new look at our whole system of agricultural support, but I think it is fair to recognise that under the present Government our agricultural industry has enjoyed a much greater degree of certainty than it did under the previous Administration, and that this stems from the selective expansion plan enunciated in 1965.
The short-fall in production which has occurred since then, and which was recognised in last year's Price Review, makes it all the more imperative for the Minister to review the situation, because it seems clear that despite the enormous assistance which is being given to the industry in the form of major structural alterations which are being encouraged under the new Agriculture Act, despite the encouragement to co-operation, despite the improvements in marketing which we can envisage from the setting up of the Meat and Livestock Commission, and despite the tremendous assistance which will be given to the hill and upland farming industry under the new hill land improvement schemes, and despite, too, the range of response to these long-term needs, there is, and it must be faced, a real uncertainty in the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian drew attention to the unwillingness, or in effect the refusal, of the Minister to answer certain factual questions about the estimated cost of the switch to a new form of agricultural support. I wholeheartedly associate myself with my hon. Friend's strictures, and draw attention to an Answer given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 1067 which, while it was more specific, did not show that appreciation of the rôle which agriculture can play in our economy which one would expect to follow from the Prime Minister's speech after devaluation was announced. I am referring to the Answer to a Question about the availability of credit to the farming industry. In his Answer the Chief Secretary stated that:Within the overall ceiling on advances (which does not apply to advances for exports and shipbuilding finance), one of the categories of lending which the banks are asked to give priority to is lending for agriculture, in so far as it promotes import saving."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1967; Vol. 754, c. 417.]It is clear from that reply that the Treasury Ministers, at least, do not—as I submit they should—give the fullest priority to agriculture in terms of credit.
If I devote the remainder of my remarks to the predicament of the hill and upland sections of the farming industry, it is in part, at least, because it is recognised widely—as was referred to in the letter from the N.F.U. which all hon. Members received today—that the hill and uplands section can make one of the major contributions to import saving, especially in livestock.
Here again, there are some important reasons for the uncertainty to which I referred earlier. I take issue with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) about the Common Market. I know that he is at odds with his party on this subject and that his views are not shared by other spokesmen from the benches opposite. But he painted an altogether too melodramatic picture of the uncertainties of the Community and also the possible effects of joining upon hill and upland areas.
In its Report the Select Committee on Agriculture drew special attention to the problems which would have to be faced. It emphasised that the Community's policy was flexible in these matters. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty could have mentioned that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in speaking to the Council of the Western European Union on 4th July last, made special mention of the predicament of this area if we should begin to negotiate, and he made it quite clear that the interests of 1068 the hill and upland areas of Scotland—and this applies particularly to the Highlands—was a matter on which Her Majesty's Government would wish to negotiate.
This afternoon my right hon. Friend made two important points which indicated that there is a fundamental reappraisal of British agricultural policy under way. I am thinking of his reference to the review of standard quantity restrictions and to his very welcome statement about a guaranteed price for wheat. Those statements will go far to encourage the view that this reappraisal is necessary.
In the 9 million acres of hill and upland land in the Highlands of Scotland we have an example of the gross under-use of our nation's resources. The area, which constitutes nearly half the land mass of Scotland, is responsible for the production of only 11 per cent. of its agricultural output. This is extremely regrettable, and is due to a number of related causes, some of which have been pointed out by the Government in their Economic Plan for Scotland. Among the causes quoted are the sparse population, the poor quality of the soil and the smallness of the holdings. This is one area, par excellence, where the sparseness of population is reversible, since it arises partly from abuse of the land over many years and partly from its use for primarily sporting purposes. It is in many cases good productive land.
It is now time for action. We have had report after report on this. The Highlands and Islands Development Board referred favourably, as the Government have done many times, to the Cameron Report, which is probably the most detailed survey. The rôle of the Board in this area has not been sufficiently clarified. I understand that discussions are proceeding between the Board and the Scottish Office's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to consider what rôle it should play.
The time has come for a clear statement and I have one or two suggestions. First, it appears—if I am wrong, I hope to be corrected by my right hon. Friend—that if the Development Board agrees to make a grant to a farmer for some scheme of hill land improvement that is automatically deducted from the grant available to him under the Hill Land 1069 Improvement Scheme. If so, this is regrettable. There are special reasons for regarding the Highlands as needing special assistance. I draw attention to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates, on which I have the honour to serve, on the improvement of agricultural land—that the type of fertiliser scheme which operates in the Scottish Islands should be available in other parts of the country, particularly in this area.
The extra costs of transport in this area make this a particularly pressing need. Devaluation, of course, presents opportunities, but only if the Government give a clear lead and set their targets for agricultural production considerably higher than those set in the selective expansion programme, and if they provide the wherewithal.
My last point is of considerable importance, particularly in the Highlands, and concerns the security of tenure of tenant farmers. Considerable hardship and declining agcriultural production has been experienced in Scotland because of a grossly misconceived amendment of the 1948 Act by the Party opposite. In Section 6 of the 1958 Act, the security of tenure of near relatives of tenant farmers was removed, and this has been of great concern to the National Farmers' Union in Scotland and to individuals in the Highlands in particular. A number of very serious cases have come to my attention of tenant farmers, who have worked land for many years, being turned off their farms to make way for proprietors who may wish to put cultivated land to a non-agricultural use. That is a deplorable situation which calls for most urgent action, as I am sure the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty wholeheartedly agrees. I hope that the Government will assist farming in this area in that important way.
If the Government are not prepared to advance the date of the Price Review this year—and I fully understand the difficulties of such an action, which have been explained by the Minister—I hope that they will make clear at the earliest possible date that the selective expansion programme is not to be the ceiling on agricultural production in Britain in the post-devaluation period.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
As time is short, I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments.
My constituency is the latest to be hit by this scourge of foot-and-mouth disease, and I want to say a few words about it. Dealing, first, with the long-term policy, I add my voice to those who have urged that the Government should look generously on the payment of compensation for those who have suffered. I understand that the Gowers Report recommended that compensation should not exceed the market value of the stock which has been lost, but I hope that the Government will review that recommendation, because when the Report was published there was no expectation of an outbreak on the scale of that from which the country is suffering.
I also add my support to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who pleaded that in this emergency we should not forget the agricultural workers who might lose their jobs as a result of the diminution in the herds.
I press the Government to consider the whole question of imports from such countries as those in South America. Surely that is the most important of all questions to be considered in the long term. One question to which insufficient attention has been paid in the debate is that of research. We know that at Pirbright we have the finest veterinary research, but it is astounding—if what I am told is true—that in agriculture in this country we devote to research only 0.7 per cent. of the gross national product compared with over 2 per cent. as an average in other industries. The visitation from which we are suffering raises the question whether we ought to have a larger allocation of finance for agricultural research.
Dealing, next, with the short term, I add my tribute to those which have been paid to the veterinary service of the Ministry. I am sure that it has done a wonderful job, and it is remarkable how the officers are managing to sustain the effort. But I am afraid that I must be critical of the Minister on what might be called his administration. The visit which 1071 he paid to Oswestry the Friday before last was much appreciated. When I listened to him on television that evening, however, I was perturbed at what appeared to be his tone of optimism, and I was not alone in that view, because my evening paper the next day had a heading "Optimist Peart". I am not saying that to be critical or humorous, but it is regrettable because, until the emergency has passed the last thing we should do is to raise false hopes that the war is won. We are at war.
This affects me because in my consituency we have been lucky enough to be free from the disease until four days ago. Now we have the first outbreak. This is defeat, because we are at a distance from the centre of the outbreak in Oswestry. The outbreak in my constituency, which occurred at a sheep farm must be at least 20 miles from the nearest existing case. That must be defeat, because one is driven to the conclusion that it must be a failure of administration in the Ministry of Agriculture in the control of the movement of vehicles and personnel.
§ Mr. More
The wind has not been blowing from the north-west, as would have had to be the case.
There has been grave concern in my part of the country about markets, and I was concerned about it in the debate, too, because even today we have not had the clear-cut answers which we might have expected from the Minister about markets. Last Monday, in my constituency, a fatstock market took place at Bridgnorth. I was informed on the Monday evening that it had been decided that no further markets would take place. Either of those decisions in isolation could have been correct, but together they must be wrong because they amount to indecision. Only four days after that market took place we had an outbreak about 12 miles from the market. All this leads inevitably to lack of confidence among the farming community and the public at large.
I suggest to the Minister that we must be so organised that when we are faced with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth 1072 disease we can move into action as an already organised team. It should be a military operation in which the jobs are known from the start. I do not think that that was the case in the present outbreak. Of course, the organisation must be complicated, involving the county council, the district councils, and, in particular, the police, but it is essential that everybody should know from the moment the outbreak occurs what their jobs are so that as soon as the Minister gives them the word they can all move into action. That has not been so in this case.
As part of the review which the Minister is making in the whole of this tragic story, I hope that he will look again at the recommendations of the Gowers Report. We in this House should be brought up to date about this: first, about how far the recommendations of the Report have been implemented; and, secondly, to what extent, in the light of what has happened and is happening, the recommendations need to be expanded and strengthened.
I conclude by reiterating my admiration for the efforts of the Minister's staff. I hope that my few remarks may not prove altogether useless should be ever again face an emergency on this scale.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
This debate has inevitably been largely about the tragic foot-and-mouth outbreak which we have been watching with apprehension for the last six weeks.
The Minister, having chided my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) for speaking for a long time, spoke for 10 minutes longer himself; and so the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have agreed—and we hope that it has been of help to the House—to start the wind-up and reply speeches 20 minutes later than usual. It I cannot, as I would normally do, be courteous and refer to all Members who have spoken, I trust that they will forgive me.
The Minister accused my right hon. Friend of playing politics. This was unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. I have been in the House on I think every occasion when the problems of foot-and-mouth disease have been debated in recent days and I cannot help but look back to the days when I had rather a similar 1073 problem on my hands as the Minister has on his—the typhoid epidemic in Aberdeen. I vividly remember that a great many of his hon. Friends questioned me closely and were often critical of my decisions, as they had every right to be.
The Minister is relying on expert evidence and advice on subjects about which he inevitably knows comparatively little. Nevertheless, he is responsible to the House and if he feels that hon. Members on either side are critical of him he should realise that that has nothing whatever to do with playing politics. Ministers should retain their responsibility to Parliament and, in this respect, I differ only once from the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Macintosh), who seemed to suggest that the Minister was not responsible for bad answers which his Ministry gave to Questions asked by hon. Members.
I shall be brief and fair. I agree entirely with the Minister's slaughter policy, but I disagree with him about Smithfield. Like every other livestock producer in Scotland, I felt that it should have been closed immediately. I agree with his meat import policy but I disagree profoundly with the way in which he has handled the problem of straw mats and dips. It seems a remarkable lack of a sense of public relations or leadership to have allowed the spread of a disease as fast as this for six weeks and then suddenly to say, or at any rate to strongly infer, that the putting of mats across roadways was something which people could do if they wished, but which was basically a waste of time.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland—I feel sure that he will do this—will take full responsibility for any decision he may take now or in future to put some form of disinfectant barrier on the Scottish Border. We cannot tell—we do not have the top medical veterinary advice which is available to Ministers—whether this is satisfactory, but we believe that it makes a great deal of difference to many people to feel that this sort of protection is available, if it is needed. Nobody but the Secretary of State can give that lead and make the necessary Order, if it is right, and I hope that he will do it.
We in Scotland have been extraordinarily lucky so far and we pray that it 1074 may continue. We have as yet not had any cases in our country, unlike our sister Celtic country, Wales, which has already had more than 200 cases.
I regret that I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I understand that he suggested that some evidence exists that a new homeopathic cure might be of value and interest for protecting herds. If this is so, I hope that the Minister will try it out to see whether it has a useful effect.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that considerable dissatisfaction exists among the farmers of south-west Scotland about shooting parties coming from England—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite complaining. I am speaking on behalf of my constituents. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this practice should be discouraged during the period of the epidemic?
§ Mr. Noble
Anybody who organises a shooting party in which people come from areas where foot-and-mouth is rampant is seriously to blame.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will quickly be able to consider the problem of supplementary compensation, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham referred. Most recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have involved only a comparatively small number of cases, and though the replacing of slaughtered animals may have been difficult it has not been, I suspect, anything like as difficult as it will be on this occasion when, because of shortage of animals, prices will rise very considerably.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) has said, and as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport) has written to me, allied to this problem is the problem of taxation, when we have a large increase in costs which not only affects farmers who have suffered but those in the area round about. As my right hon. Friend said, the Minister has at least got some advantage in savings in deficiency payments.
Having covered, all too quickly, the main foot-and-mouth problems as I see them, I know that the right hon. Gentleman will look carefully at the very many 1075 points put by my hon Friends who have had experience of this matter. I am sure that he will have noticed, as we all did, that although my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), in whose constituency this epidemic started, tried steadily throughout the debate to contribute to it, he was unable to do so. I am sure that if he has a particular point that he wants to make to the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to it.
I want now to discuss the general policy which the Government will, I hope, adopt soon as an immediate result of the post-devaluation period. The Minister seems, at times at least, to be a little impatient that the House should expect him to announce decisions or to take any action so soon after devaluation has taken place, but it is fairly clear that the devaluation decision was taken over a fortnight ago, and announced. The Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated to the House that he knew that devaluation was likely to occur perhaps a fortnight earlier than that.
While I accept the fact that the right hon. Gentleman obviously cannot discuss with the lower strata of his civil servants whether the Government are to devalue, it seems to me to be right an proper that he could—at least in the last month or two, when almost every country was saying that Britain intended to devalue—have discussed with his senior civil servants what the position was likely to be if we devalued. I therefore find it a little odd that the right hon. Gentleman should say to me and to the House that he does not like the idea that we should suggest that he should take panic measures. What more panic measure have the Minister and the Government taken than devaluing? I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will deny it, but if he then says that devaluation was the result of a long, carefully thought-out plan, his whole defence for having nothing ready falls to the ground.
I am quite certain that I speak for the vast majority of the people in the farming community in England and Wales and Scotland when I say that this is, perhaps, a disaster for the country but also a considerable opportunity for agriculture really to help the country in a very difficult position. I think that I 1076 also speak for the farmers when I say that at the moment I do not find in the Minister of Agriculture the person who is clearly leading the industry in the very difficult battle that it has to fight if it is to play its part in the devaluation war.
One or two of my hon. Friends have been trying to keep a record of the things which, over the last few weeks, the Minister of Agriculture has said he has under careful consideration. Several pages of foolscap are now covered. It may be very useful for the" right hon. Gentleman to have so much under careful consideration, but it is not the sort of thing that makes the farming community feel that we have a great leader, who knows where he is going; that he may not know the details but knows where he is going and the part he wants us to play; that there are one or two details to solve, but that we can follow him. We have had no indication, not even five minutes in any speech, in any Question Time, or in any statement by the Minister, that has given me the impression that he was keen to lead the agricultural industry in a campaign to help solve the balance of payments problem. It may be that he naturally has a lugubrious manner in the House, or it may be that he has the widest collection of platitudes I have heard from any Minister.
The Government in their thinking on devaluation—and I had a little experience in exporting before I became a Minister—are over-optimistic in their hopes of the speed at which exports can build up. I do not want to develop this because obviously this is not the time to do so, but equally if the farming community is given the right lead and incentive it can make up for the over-optimism of the Government in exports by providing a considerably greater saving of imports than looks likely at the moment. Do not let us in any way minimise the importance of saving imports because, after all, it is the balance of payments that matters, not the crude figures one way or the other.
I welcomed, as did, I think, most hon. Members, the Minister's statement about the planting of extra wheat. One or two of my colleagues, more expert than I am in growing winter cereals—they do not grow very well in Argyll—thought this a little late. They thought that if we could have had the information a fortnight 1077 ago that would have given the crops a better chance of developing fully. I do not argue that from my experience; I merely record what my hon. Friends who know about these things have told me.
I welcome that the Minister—I think I have it right—is to make a statement on the beef and the livestock situation before Christmas. As most hon. Members know, it takes about as long to breed a bullock as to build a battleship. Unless one has clear guidance early there is no doubt that a great deal of the calf slaughtering, which has been rising substantially—and, I think, frighteningly from the point of view of the Minister—will continue and not enough calves will be kept for the future.
What are the major things the farming industry must know if, with the Minister, it is to go in for a real policy of expansion? First, every farmer in the country must know that we have sufficient capital at our elbow to expand at the rate the Minister wants us to achieve. At present the bank overdraft position in Scotland is about £81 million. In the United Kingdom the bank overdraft for farmers is running at about £600 million. These are very big figures. With Bank Rate at 8 per cent., most farmers, if they have an overdraft, are probably paying 10 per cent. The Minister and the House can see the sort of drain there is on existing overdrafts, let alone any money farmers borrow for anything else to help the industry to expand.
The Minister has to talk seriously to his colleagues in order to make certain that the banks are given a clear instruction that it is just as important to put money behind the farming industry for import saving as it is to put money behind industries which are exporting over the next six months. I hope he will be able to do that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) would have liked an immediate Price Review. I realise how difficult it is for any Minister to stage an immediate Price Review at this moment. But I do not think that it is impossible for the right hon. Gentleman and his staff and for the Secretary of State for Scotland, if they really try, to move forward the Price Review to perhaps the middle of February. After all, it is the "February Price Review" 1078 and if they could advance it they would at least be helping the whole industry, because it would know where it was a month or six weeks earlier than usual.
The right hon. Gentleman told us, not quite accurately, that it had been the Government's policy to go in for import substitution ever since they took office. This is not true. Import substitution figured first—and I pressed for it at least six or nine months before that—in 1966 in the Prime Minister's speech which has been referred to. But the House must realise that the livestock
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
I merely wished to refer the right hon. Gentleman to the White Paper on the future of agriculture published in August, 1965, which had a section dealing with import substitution.
§ Mr. Noble
On many occasions in 1965 and early 1966 we pressed the Government to say whether or not they would go in for such a policy and never got an answer.
I was referring to import substitution, particularly in livestock. We do not produce at home 26 per cent. of our beef, 56 per cent. of our lamb and mutton, 67 per cent. of our bacon, 93 per cent. of our butter and 56 per cent. of our cheese. I know that there are problems, but this is an enormous amount of food, the vast bulk of which could be produced at home.
I think that the Minister, in casting back to what the Government have done over the last few years, might have referred to the fact that, in the ten years immediately before 1964, the extra output which had come from our farms had saved over £250 million a year in imports. This was an important achievement over a long period which was of great value to the balance of payments.
If I am right that the development of an intensive livestock industry is very important, I hope that the Government will immediately look at various problems connected with it. We will certainly need, because a great deal of this will have to be intensively produced, extra help with buildings and investment grants. We shall certainly need a great 1079 deal of extra support for research. As an industry, we shall need an assurance that, if we do go in for the sort of intensive livestock rearing the Government need, our buildings will not then be rated.
I believe that the arable farmers, many of whom I know, will be able to produce a great deal of the extra food this livestock will need—not all of it, perhaps, but certainly a great deal. But that will not be needed for presumably 18 months or two years because the livestock industry builds up comparatively slowly.
For the hill and upland areas which have an important part to play, I ask the Ministers to consider carefully whether they cannot do more to help the lime subsidies. This is a fertiliser of great importance to these areas. It is not imported. It is a natural resource and is a necessity for the expansion of livestock areas.
Another factor which I hope the Government will look at, and which has so far not been mentioned, is the fishing industry—and the right hon. Gentleman knows my interest—which at the moment is in a period of very great indecision, as are the Government. We have been waiting month by month for the review the Government keep promising of the way the industry is to go.
There has not been a period since the war when the trawling industry has been in greater difficulty. A decision has to be taken by many companies on whether to scrap their boats or not, and unless the right hon. Gentleman can come out clearly—as I hope he will to the agricultural industry as well—with his proposals, the fishing industry will not be able to play its part in providing a first-class wholesome food which needs, as far as I know, no foreign currency or help at all to provide it for the housewife's plate, except, perhaps, for some oil in the trawlers.
I appeal to the Minister and to the Secretary of State for Scotland to look at the whole problem of agriculture with a completely unpolitical eye. There is a wealth of good will amongst the farming community to help the nation if it is in difficulties with its balance of payments, in exactly the same way as we helped the nation when it was in difficulties during the war and could not import food. 1080 There is a vast amount of good will there which is available to the Minister if he will give a clear indication of what he wants. As he knows, I have farmed for the whole of my life. I have made every penny I could out of my farm, and I have spent on it every penny I have made. This may have been bad business, but this applies to a vast number of farmers. They will do almost anything to improve their land and livestock to help the country. I hope the Minister will give them every chance to do so.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
As the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said at the outset, this debate has taken place under some of the darkest clouds that have ever appeared over the farming industry. I think that it is a tribute to this House that nobody, during the debate, has adopted a political attitude to it. I found the debate very constructive and, certainly, most hon. Members have fastened on points which really matter.
We are concerned to contain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease within the infected areas and to try to reduce the possibilities of spread. As my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) and for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said, there are puzzling factors, but one of the successes has been the extent to which the disease has been contained within the main areas. Here, I should pay tribute to the veterinary staff and all the voluntary workers; and in this connection I am glad that one hon. Member mentioned the W.V.S. I think that this shows that the concentration of effort has been right and that we have adopted the right policy.
I want to try to cover as many points as possible. First, let me deal with compensation. A concession was given under the Finance Act, 1953 to provide special treatment, for taxation purposes, in respect of compensation payable for slaughtered livestock. This, I know, is not the complete answer. The trouble is that we have to deal with every case individually, and so difficulties may arise. We understand that the farmer does not 1081 wish compensation to be eroded by taxation. The taxation law and its incidence is very complicated indeed.
As I say, it varies from individual to individual, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has arranged for the whole problem to be thrashed out with the N.F.U. and the Inland Revenue. I can assure the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris), who, I think, raised this matter first, that we are very sympathetic and we shall do all we can to ensure that fair and adequate compensation is provided.
The hon. Member for Nantwich paid a moving tribute to all that was being done. We join in that tribute and in the sympathy which he expressed to all those who are affected. It is tragic to see men whose herds have been wiped out, herds built up not just over years but over generations.
The hon. Member for Nantwich made certain criticisms of the higher direction, and he was joined by others in this, including the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I welcome the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West back to the House. We are very glad to see him and to hear him on what is probably his favourite subject. Seldom does one have a chance to take part so quickly on a subject dear to one's heart, though I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would rather not have had to make the kind of speech which he did make today.
There have been these criticisms of the higher direction, but I ask the House to take into account the virulent nature of the virus in this epidemic. I am certain that many hon. Members opposite with experience in these matters could not have predicted how it would effect such a quick spread within particular areas. It is wrong to say that, in the first few days, we could have done this, that or the other. The Ministry has the basis for fairly immediate action, and what follows thereafter must be determined by the progress of the disease itself.
The right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) spoke about my responsibilities in respect of the Border. I take full responsibility for what is being done there at the moment. If I feel that more should be done, I shall do it. I was in Edinburgh on Friday and had a conversation with 1082 G.O.C. Scottish Command. He will have 2,000 men ready at my disposal if we feel that we must act and act quickly. The plans are there. I was asked, also, about people in adjacent areas, and it was suggested that someone should be there to give advice. Someone is there to give advice. The regional veterinary officer is there and individuals or local authorities should get in touch with him.
I should tell the House, and particularly hon. Members from Scotland, that I am not responsible for action in these matters, unless it be action taken by the local authorities, because the 1950 Act provided for a general command, recognising that action must be within one hand. The Minister of Agriculture is responsible throughout the whole United Kingdom. In this way, we are able to take uniform and speedy action. Just as I do, where necessity requires, my right hon. Friend takes the advice of our veterinary officers. We should be very foolish if we did not. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Argyll took the advice of his veterinary officers when dealing with the situation in Aberdeen in the outbreak there.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry—no. I have not the time.
A very good point was made by the hon. Member for Nantwich when he said that we should look beyond compensation to rehabilitation. This is already being done, not just from the point of view of the pool of stock but going well beyond that. It is well in hand now under the N.A.A.S.
I am glad that the import ban has been generally welcomed. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked us to go further, but I am sure that it would be foolish to do so at present. My right hon. Friend assured the House that there will be a full study of the matter. Hon. Members have asked whether the inquiry would be in public. It will be an independent study, and, as a general rule, the question as to whether evidence is taken in public or in private tends to be left to the people who are given the job to do. The fact that the inquiry is to go on should 1083 give us some assurance that we shall not lose sight of the lessons to be learnt and lay ourselves open to a similar outbreak in the future. We must be guided by past experience in these matters.
There have been comments about mats. One of the pieces of guidance here is the evidence given to Gowers. The information given by Canada was that this method was of limited or, perhaps, no practical value but it has a psychological value, creating the feeling that people were altered and they had to take certain precautions. This has a carry-over into other things, and I hope that that will be borne in mind. We may pass all the statutory bans we like, but what is really needed is acceptance by the urban public that they ought not to go into the countryside, and certainly not go over farms, and acceptance by farmers of their responsibility not to mix in congregations of people where there may be other farmers and other persons in touch with livestock. This is vital.
The broadcast by my right hon. Friend was criticised. He was not broadcasting to farmers. Most of the farmers know the difficulties and also know the drill, which is to get one's animals under cover and take the necessary precautions.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West spoke of seeing animals out grazing flanking the main roads. Advice is given about the need to take further precautions, and, if necessary, we have compulsory powers, and they have been applied in certain areas. In Cheshire, for instance, the animals are under cover.
It must be appreciated that my right hon. Friend was talking to the general public and not to farmers. I believe that appreciation of this by the general public is almost 100 per cent. now. I hope that we do not have a repetition of angling clubs insisting on holding gatherings where they may well be endangering valuable herds far from the present outbreak. This is common sense, and we must get this over to people.
It is not 250,000 cattle, as the hon. Member for Nantwich suggested. It is 125,000 to 130,000 altogether. The total number of livestock is about 250,000. It is all very well saying that this is a very small percentage of our livestock population, but when one reduces it to 1084 areas the disaster becomes a catastrophe. No one inside those areas or outside should put any other area at risk by unnecessary movement and contact. I am very grateful for the measure of co-operation that we have had.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) was also critical of the Minister, but I think that he was unfair. I know of no Minister of Agriculture who has worked harder and right away. My right hon. Friend cancelled his visit to Pakistan and went into the area and saw that the administrative machine was working. It is wrong to talk now about "woolly advice, no decisive orders and no general at the top". If we had not had a general at the top the position would have been very much worse. My right hon. Friend is at the top. He has his chief veterinary officer, a man of experience and knowledge, giving his advice.
I thank the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) for his very useful speech. He did not agree with his right hon. Friend on the decision about Smithfield. I think that, on balance, it was the right one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) asked whether the sporadic and seemingly puzzling and leaping outbreaks were being studied to ascertain whether any connection between them could be found. The answer is that they are. Scientific officers and epidemiologists have been in the area and are at present studying these points.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and the hon. Member for Nantwich spoke about the temporary suspension of imports. My right hon. Friend has made clear that it has not been possible to trace the origin of the present epidemic. But I think that the need now is to minimise the risk of new infection from any source while our veterinary resources are fully stretched. The urgent need has been recognised by the meat importing trade. The extent of the cooperation that we have obtained is an indication of the alertness of everyone to the importance of this matter, and it has been recognised, too, by the sympathetic response that we have had from the countries which may be affected.
One of the best suggestions made was made by the right hon. Gentleman the 1085 Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), that, in co-operation with our overseas suppliers, we should see what improvements they can make in their control of the disease. That was a constructive suggestion, and we shall certainly consider that when the present outbreak is over, and it will be covered by the inquiry which was mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick a id East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) made, if I may say so, a number of niggling points. [Laughter.] They were. He must face it. If he is going to say he has not got the statistics he requires, and which are available, the person responsible is the Minister. Let him say so, and not be so mealy mouthed about it, even if he is going to be niggling.
I can assure my hon. Friend, on his suggestion in relation to what would be the costs of the removing of standard quantities, and on the answer which he got, that it was not practical, that he got the right answer. There are so many variables—about the amounts, about the prices and all the rest of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know that what I am saying is true, and they must face it.
Hon Gentlemen, I think on both sides of the House, mentioned the question, which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, of the renegotiation of agreements, and more than one Member mentioned the bacon understanding. It is looked at every year—[HON. MEMBERS: "This year?"]—and this year will be no exception.
I want to pay tribute to what I think was one of the most formidable speeches we had today, and that was by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne. I think that his was a masterly account of the difficulties and dangers of changing over from slaughtering to vaccination. I think that, generally speaking, and apart from one or two hon. Members, there has been agreement in the House that our policy of slaughter is the right one. I think that history has already proved that, and we must not be panicked into a change.
My hon. Friend drew attention to all the difficulties which would arise and he mentioned the possibility of ring vac 1086 cination. This is part of the emergency plans which my right hon. Friend spoke about last week, but remember, it is the last ditch, and I hope we never get to the point where we have to put this into operation, because it could change very effectively our outlook.
§ Mr. Ross
I cannot give way. I have only a few minutes. I had only 17 minutes altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "And wasted them." I do not think that the farmers who are worried about compensation and the spread of this disease will think that what I have said has been a waste of time.
The question was raised about the effects of devaluation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, in facing the problem of devaluation we build, as my right hon. Friend has already said, upon a strong agriculture, and if hon. Gentlemen would like to have a look at our last White Paper, page 31, they will see the statistics, going right back to 1953, they will see the nine years of neglect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—when output went down and down and down and down and never got to what it is today. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. It is a fact. It is the kind of fact the hon. Gentleman will not ask for, because he knows that it is available.
What I would like to tell him is that we have not quite suddenly discovered we can save imports by improving the position of agriculture. This has been the basis on the selective expansion programme which was announced in 1965, and it has been expanding during the year, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it, and the figures were given by my right hon. Friend today about that. We have set out—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.