HC Deb 28 February 1968 vol 759 cc1379-86
4. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has concluded his investigations into the source of the current foot-and-mouth epidemic; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. Grant-Ferris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has now decided to keep the ban on the importation of meat from the countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in force pending the findings of the independent inquiry which he has undertaken to set up.

21. Mr. Stodart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if it is still his intention to retain the ban on certain imported meat only up to 4th March; and if he will make a statement.

27. Mr. More

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now undertake not to remove the present temporary ban on importation of meat from South America until a recommendation has been received from the proposed committee of inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Mr. Peart

I cannot today add to what I said on 15th February either about the origins of the epidemic or about the temporary suspension of meat imports. I will make a statement on 4th March.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread local belief that this epidemic originated from a consignment of Argentine lamb? Is he also aware that, ever since the Gowers Report, a strong shadow of suspicion must fall on Latin-American meat? Will he take this into account in his statement?

Mr. Peart

Obviously I take account of what the Gowers Report said. As I have stated before, I have had a report prepared by my Chief Veterinary Officer which is now being studied. This will be taken into account in the review of the temporary suspension of imports.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the delay caused by his not answering questions about the ban has caused the greatest gloom in agricultural areas? If—I sincerely hope that he does not—the right hon. Gentleman decides to lift the ban, will he remember that it is vital that it should be kept on mutton and offals and that no carcases should come here which are not decapitated?

Mr. Peart

There has been no delay on my part. This is a very difficult problem. I made a full statement earlier and I shall make another on 4th March.

Mr. Stodart

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, with time running out and 4th March so near, his failure to make this statement today in answer to the Questions on the Notice Paper makes it abundantly clear that he has not yet made up his mind on this, and this is something which is bound to cause the greatest distress in farming circles?

Mr. Peart

Some hon. Members suggested—and I have seen Press accounts suggesting it—that I had made up my mind, and decided when I made my previous announcement that I was to commit myself to a certain line of action. I had not and I ask the hon. Member to be patient.

Mr. More

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread local suspicion that apart from the original outbreak, some of the later outbreaks have been primary outbreaks, due to the same cause, imported meat?

Mr. Peart

I do not know whether the hon. Member is stating categorically what he thinks is the cause. I must not commit myself until I make a final decision, which I will announce. I am still considering my Chief Veterinary Officer's report.

Mr. Ford

Would my right hon. Friend take care to base his findings on conclusive scientific evidence, and not take too much note of the pleas voiced by hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Peart

I must say in all fairness, and my hon. Friend will appreciate this, that I must take note of my Chief Veterinary Officer's report. This is a scientific report.

9. Mr. Temple

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on supplementary financial assistance proposed by the Government to assist farmers who had their livestock slaughtered in the early weeks of the recent foot-and-mouth disease epidemic.

10. Mr. Temple

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, following further consideration, he will now make a statement concerning the special position for tax purposes of compensation payments made to farmers as a result of livestock losses in the recent foot-and-mouth disease epidemic.

11. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the result of his consultations regarding measures to ensure that sums received by farmers as compensation as a result of foot-and-mouth disease are not subjected to tax.

58. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now make a statement on the supplements proposed for the valuation of stock of early victims of the foot-and-mouth epidemic; and on the tax treatment of compensation for stock compulsorily slaughtered.

Mr. Peart

There has been an encouraging response to the measures already taken to assist restocking—including the National Farmers' Union's Restocking Scheme, the special arrangements for bringing the help of the Ministry's Advisory Service to each affected farmer and for encouraging grant-aided improvements, and the special £10 per acre Ploughing Grant.

In the light of this the Government will now be deciding what further help may be necessary. I hope to cover the taxation and compensation problems in my statement on 4th March.

Mr. Temple

Is the Minister aware that these "non-answers are becoming rather monotonous? Is it not time that farmers knew exactly where they are? Farmers have had to face the problem of restocking and it is high time that they knew about their position with regard to the tax, which I raised in November, and with regard to valuations. This has been known to the Minister for many months.

Mr. Peart

The first part of my reply was not monotonous, and has been welcomed by the industry, and I believe by the hon. Member. The matter of taxation was mentioned by the Chancellor yesterday. My Department is still having consultations with the Treasury and the Inland Revenue, I will make a statement on 4th March. That is not being monotonous.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

The Chancellor said yesterday that he had not made up his mind; at the same time he wanted to do justice to the farmers. Would the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Chancellor that he can quite easily do this by reaching a decision quickly, and ensuring that these payments are not subject to tax?

Mr. Peart

I hope to announce a decision on Monday on this, but I will bear in mind what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Biffen

In view of the somewhat ambivalent nature of the Chancellor's answer yesterday, could the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that he stands by the principle that the compensation shall be treated, in terms of tax, in such a way that it enables the farmer to replace the stock which has been compulsorily slaughtered?

Mr. Peart

I have said repeatedly that I am discussing this with the Treasury and the Inland Revenue and will make an announcement on Monday.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that any net compensation paid to farmers cannot be regarded as fair unless it is sufficient to replace every single beast that has had to be destroyed?

Mr. Peart

I understand what the hon. and gallant Member has said. This point of view has been put to me by farmers' representatives and that is why I am having discussions with the Treasury and Inland Revenue. I will make a statement on Monday.

19. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to protect consumers from the effects of another outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

24. Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will take all possible steps to prevent further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.

Mr. Peart

A number of import controls designed to prevent the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease are already in force. Additionally, the import of meat is at present suspended from certain countries.

Mr. Mills

Yes, but does not the Minister realise that if there is another serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease it is the consumer who will suffer probably more than the farmer because of increased costs? Will he take further steps to see that they are protected?

Mr. Peart

I am aware that the consumer also suffers as well as the producer. We did take steps.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does the Minister realise that the South Irish Government have imposed a ban indefinitely on imported meat from diseased areas? Does he regard it as coincidental that they have been free from the disease?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the policy adopted by the Eire Government. I am making a statement on the wider issue on Monday, as I said earlier.

Mr. Paget

Could my right hon. Friend tell us when he proposes to raise the restrictions in Northamptonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire?

Mr. Peart

As soon as my veterinary advisers report to me and I believe that the precautions are adequate.

20. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the foot-and-mouth disease situation.

Mr. Peart

Since I reported to the House on 15th February there have been six further outbreaks, bringing the total to 2,339. 208,800 cattle, 100,700 sheep, 133,400 pigs and 39 goats have been slaughtered. Compensation paid or pay- able to date is estimated to be £26.3 million.

The recent reappearance of disease at Spetchley, Worcestershire, has necessitated the reimposition of infected area restrictions over much of the county. Elsewhere it has been possible to reduce still further the areas already under restrictions and to combine them into one area.

Mr. Marten

In view of the possible spread or respread of infection, and as the Minister is now releasing imported meat out of cold storage, could he tell the House precisely what arrangements are being made for the disposal of the bones from this meat and the waste?

Mr. Peart

We have been in touch with the industry. There will be strict precautions and the bones will be destroyed. I am satisfied with what my veterinary advisers have said, that this is right in the circumstances.

Mr. Farr

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that new consignments of beef from Argentina have not already left for this country, in view of the fact that a week ago the London insurance market was asked to quote for these consignments?

Mr. Peart

I am not responsible for any consignments of meat which have left any countries outside of our country's jurisdiction. As far as I know there is none, but it could be that ships are leaving to take meat to other countries, but I am not responsible for that.

Mr. Godber

Arising out of the answer to the Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), can the right hon. Gentleman give a firm assurance that none of this meat is being sold across the counter in a form in which bones could become available?

Mr. Peart

Certainly. This meat being released is for processing only and several precautionary measures have already been taken. If the right hon. Gentleman would like me to, I can write and give him greater details.

Mr. Temple

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of three cases of recrudescence of this disease on infected premises, and has he any plan for disinfecting once again all the infected premises to make certain that the virus has been got rid of?

Mr. Peart

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this has happened on previous occasions and I agree, in relation to the question of disinfecting premises again, that this is right, and this has been done.

41. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the total cost, so far, of the foot-and-mouth epidemic to public funds.

Mr. Peart

The total cost to public funds so far is estimated to be £35 million.

Mr. Digby

Does this include or exclude tax on compensation?

Mr. Peart

Compensation for animal slaughter is £27 million. I am in discussion with the Treasury on this matter, as I mentioned earlier.

Mr. Digby

Does that figure include it?

49. Sir C. Osborne

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that farms which have suffered from foot-and-mouth disease, and then been declared free of the disease, have caught it a second time on restocking; and if he will consider imposing a minimum period before restocking can take place.

Mr. Peart

It is the normal practice not to permit restocking until six weeks have elapsed from the date of slaughter or four weeks from the date of final disinfection, whichever is the earlier. This period is sufficient in the vast majority of cases but occasionally there have been second outbreaks of disease on farms after restocking. I do not think it would be desirable to extend the present minimum period before restocking but I am taking other steps to minimise the risks of a second outbreak on a previously infected farm.

Sir C. Osborne

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the second outbreak has caused a great deal of anxiety among farmers who want to restock, and that they would appreciate guidance from him on this, because apparently they will run greater financial risks if they restock and fail the second time?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of this. Indeed, as I said in reply to a previous Question, this has occurred before. This was a matter of disinfection. We examine each case, and as a result of our examination we find that we are perhaps able to give even further advice to farmers.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that those unfortunate farmers who have had a second outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease will get the same compensation, or at any rate not less than they did on the first occasion?

Mr. Peart

I said that I shall make a major statement on Monday on compensation. This will cover these farmers as well.