HC Deb 24 January 1968 vol 757 cc380-8
2. Mr. Biffen

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

16. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now make a statement on the foot-and-mouth epidemic, with particular regard to the source and origin of the outbreak and its subsequent pattern of spread.

71. Sir G. de Freitas

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a further statement about the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

My right hon. Friend reported progress to the House on 17th January in reply to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). The number of outbreaks is now 2,308; 204,000 cattle, 98,100 sheep, and 112,800 pigs have been slaughtered. The reduction in the average daily number of outbreaks continues to fall, and averages three for the week ended 23rd January.

The infected area round Ledbury in Herefordshire has been contracted, and other contractions have been made round Derby as well as in Staffordshire. But because of a fresh outbreak in Laxton, the Nottinghamshire area has had to be extended north and south.

As regards the origin and spread of the present series of outbreaks, I am unable to add to the Answers given on 18th January to the hon. Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and Banbury.

Mr. Biffen

Could the hon. Gentleman take this occasion to reaffirm that the Government are committed to the principle of compensating for stock losses at replacement value? Could he further confirm that he hopes soon to make a statement following his discussions with the N.F.U. on this point?

Mr. Mackie

No, Sir. We do not pay compensation at replacement values but at market values. As the hon. Member knows, we are carrying forward the first valuation and we are making a concession there, but we cannot pay at replacement value.

Mr. Davidson

Can the hon. Gentleman say, as he has given us the number of cattle which have had to be slaughtered, what proportion this represents of breeding cattle, roughly speaking, in the infected area?

Mr. Mackie

It is about 1.5 per cent, of the total cattle in the country, but I cannot give the percentage in the infected area.

Sir G. de Freitas

When considering the terms of reference of the new Committee of inquiry on the lines of the Gowers Committee, will the Minister ensure that they take account of the tremendous advances in recent years in preventive medicine in those countries where there is not a slaughter policy and where consequently they have been forced to pay particular attention to this?

Mr. Mackie

I am sure my right hon. Friend will bear in mind my right hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Godber

I am sure that the whole House will be glad to hear of a reduction in the virulence of this epidemic. Will the hon Gentleman address his mind to the urgent need for establishing the independent Committee which the Minister has already promised to look into all the aspects of this problem and all that arises from it? On the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) about replacement value, he will be aware that for these cattle and other beasts slaughtered in the early days of the epidemic farmers did not receive adequate compensation in relation to what has happened since.

Mr. Mackie

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the situation is improving. I repeat that there is no room for complacency yet, although we are glad that there has been this big drop in the number of cases. We cannot pay replacement value. We are carefully considering the question of the difference between the compensation paid now and that which was paid at the beginning of the outbreak.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

As to the origin of this terrible disease, has my hon. Friend had any help from the Micro-Biological Institute at Porton, which is apparently engaged upon the study of this matter?

Mr. Mackie

My hon. Friend can take it for granted that the Pirbright Institute will be seeking help from anywhere it can get it in this very serious epidemic.

Mr. Godber

Can I come back and press the Parliamentary Secretary on one important point which I made earlier, and which I think he overlooked, about the setting up of the independent inquiry?

Mr. Mackie

I am sorry that I did not answer this earlier. This matter is in hand and will be done at a very early date.

Mr. More

In view of the enormous number of problems to which this outbreak has given rise, will die Joint Parliamentary Secretary undertake that, before the terms of reference of the independent committee of inquiry are settled, there will be the fullest consultation with all interested bodies—the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, local authorities, the police, and all others involved?

Mr. Mackie

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will take all that into consideration.

3. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to extend the ban on meat imported from countries with a record of endemic foot-and-mouth disease.

15. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now take steps to ban the import of meat from all countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic.

66. Sir Clive Bossom

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will announce the extension of the three-months meat import ban, as the present uncertainty about the future is causing concern amongst the farming community.

Mr. John Mackie

As my right hon. Friend announced on 4th December, the temporary suspension of imports from certain countries will be reviewed after three months if still in operation. We are aware of the importance which farmers, meat traders and others attach to this subject. The long-term question of supplies of meat from countries where foot-and-mouth disease occurs is one for the independent inquiry which will shortly be set up.

Mr. Biffen

Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that no statement that could come from his Ministry could do more to reassure the morale of farmers in areas affected by foot-and-mouth disease than the assertion that the ban on imports of meats from countries with an endemic record of foot-and-mouth disease will continue at least until the findings of the committee of inquiry are known.

Mr. Mackie

I reiterate that my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that this was a temporary measure until the emergency was under control. At the end of three months, the decision will be reviewed. The ban will not be continued if the emergency is over at that time.

Mr. Davidson

I endorse the views which have been expressed from this side of the House. What percentage of Britain's meat imports comes from countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic?

Mr. Mackie

Speaking off the cuff, about 11 per cent.

Sir Clive Bossom

Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that not only the breed societies but the entire farming community is deeply worried? He has not even assured the House yet that there will be an extension of the ban until after the judicial inquiry is completed and has reported.

Mr. Mackie

I have made it clear that there will be an extension of the ban only if the emergency is not over. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] This was the promise my right hon. Friend made. Hon. Members opposite proclaim their anxiety that the Government should keep their promises, and this is one that we intend to keep. Should any other situation arise, my right hon. Friend will naturally consider it.

Mr. Stodart

Is not the object of the ban to ensure in the long run that we do not get foot-and-mouth disease from imported meat again, if that circumstantial evidence is correct? In view of the very strong circumstantial evidence which exists in regard to Ireland and America, is three months the slightest use for this? Ought it not to be three years at least?

Hon. Members


Mr. Mackie

That was a rhetorical question. My right hon. Friend decided at the time that the ban should be for three months. If it turns out that, because of emergencies, a longer ban is required, the decision will be reviewed. In the years before we took office there were many outbreaks and many opportunities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am merely answering in the tone in which the hon. Gentleman asked his supplementary question. The Conservative Government did not take action on this matter. It is a difficult question. The Gowers Committee, which was appointed by the Conservative Government, suggested that this course might be followed, but the Conservative Government took no action, because I believe that right hon. and hon. Members opposite realised, when they were in power, the very great difficulties which exist in the matter of our meat supplies from these countries.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Does not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary realise that the whole agricultural community, not only the 700 farmers in my constituency who have lost their herds, believe that this ban for three months is utterly futile and that, unless it is imposed for at least three years so that a proper test can be made, it would be almost better if the ban had never been imposed? Can the hon. Gentleman give a reasonable undertaking now that the most sympathetic consideration will be given to the imposition of a ban to last for at least three years?

Mr. Mackie

No hon. Member opposite needs to tell my right hon. Friend or myself of the feelings of the farming community or about the tragedy of the situation which has existed for the last three months. I assure the House that we will do everything possible to control this disease. Hon. Members opposite must appreciate the very great difficulties that there are in carrying out the policy which they would like to see operated.

Mr. Godber

We must press the Joint Parliamentary Secretary further, because his answers have been unsatisfactory. There can have been no possible point in imposing the ban if it is not to be retained until the position is clarified. This is the very least that can be done. The hon. Gentleman charged the Government of which I was a member with having taken no action. It is illogical to take action if the action is not to be carried through. The Minister has promised to set up an independent inquiry. Cannot the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that no meat will be allowed in until the committee of inquiry has reported?

Mr. Mackie

I reiterate that in the interim period I cannot give that undertaking.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary realise the widespread concern which exists about the very high prices of meat, notably beef, in butchers' shops? Will he make it clear that these high prices are in no way related to the estoppel of imports from the Argentine "but are due to Government policy, to their failure to give sufficient encouragement to increasing beef production in Britain?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That does not arise on this Question. Question No. 4.

Mr. Monro

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

7. Mr. Allason

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will reconsider his decision to permit the sale of Argentine chilled beef in the London area, in view of the lack of control over the disposal of bones with consequent dangers of spreading foot-and-mouth disease.

Mr. John Mackie

All supplies of chilled beef in transit but not yet arrived when the temporary suspension of imports was announced on 4th December have by now been distributed. As regards the disposal of waste material, I would like to take the opportunity to remind all concerned that the Diseases of Animals (Waste Foods) Order, 1957, requires all waste food to be boiled for one hour before animals are allowed access to it.

Mr. Allason

Does not the mere distribution of this beef ensure that bones will end up on rubbish dumps? Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary give a categorical assurance that there is no danger of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease as a result of bones coming on to those rubbish heaps? If the hon. Gentleman cannot give such an assurance, has he not been taking grave risks of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in the Home Counties?

Mr. Mackie

The hon Gentleman will appreciate the size of the urban conurbation with which we are dealing at the moment. Local authorities are very well aware of the need not to dispose of this waste food in areas where it can be got at by animals. I am sure that most local authorities accept this responsibility and do their best to see that animals cannot get access to this waste food, by bulldozing the loads after they are tipped.

Mr. Hazell

Is my hon. Friend sure that adequate steps are taken to ensure that the boiling is undertaken within a period of not less than one hour?

Mr. Mackie

Enforcement of any law is very difficult, of course, but if my hon. Friend has any indication that this is not being carried out and will report such cases to us, we will take action.

13. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps his Department are taking to ensure that mechanical diggers, used to bury animals slaughtered owing to foot-and-mouth disease, do not come on to public roads before their wheels are washed and disinfected.

Mr. John Mackie

Mechanical diggers used to bury animals slaughtered on account of foot-and-mouth disease are thoroughly cleansed with pressure hoses and then disinfected under supervision before they are allowed to leave the premises. Particular attention is paid to the undercarriage and tyres.

Mr. Digby

Is the Minister aware that a constituent of mine who visited the infected area in a professional capacity reported to me that this was not being done? Is not that highly dangerous?

Mr. Mackie

I am very much worried that the hon. Gentleman knows of a case like that. I should like him to report it to us and then we shall certainly take action.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the Minister aware that there is some disquiet that people operating the bulldozers and like equipment are not being satisfactorily disinfected, and whilst on the job are going out to local villages, carrying the infection with them? Will he look into that? I have had grave reports from Derbyshire and elsewhere.

Mr. Mackie

We have had such reports before and I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing them to our attention again. We are looking into this.

24. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on his current plans for the restoration of agriculture in areas devastated by foot-and-mouth disease.

Sir A. V. Harvey

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what special aid is to be given to dairy farmers who have suffered foot-and-mouth disease in their herds to reestablish their milking herds.

69. Mr. Hooson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the hardship experienced by small farmers, due to lack of income following the slaughter of their animals, due to foot-and-mouth disease, he will consider giving special help in cases of established hardship.

Mr. John Mackie

My right hon. Friend has recently written to all farmers whose stock has been slaughtered as a result of foot-and-mouth disease enclosing a leaflet describing what we are doing to help them. I am sending copies of this leaflet to the hon. Members.

We are keeping in close touch with the National Farmers' Union about any further action that may be needed, but I cannot say any more at present.

Sir G. Sinclair

But are these plans sufficient to get these rich agricultural areas back into full production at a time when the yield of every acre can contribute to import saving?

Mr. Mackie

We have redeployed the Advisory Service to these areas, given a £10 per acre ploughing grant, encouraged improvement schemes, helped with a few instalments of grant under improvement schemes, been in touch with banks and other credit institutions, cooperated with the N.F.U. on restocking and have other plans ahead. What more would the hon. Gentleman like?

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that unless farmers in the foot-and-mouth areas reach a satisfactory arrangement over their valuations and Income Tax with Her Majesty's Government, they just will not have any money at all to do any restocking of their farms?

Mr. Mackie

We have found that the Treasury and the taxation people have been very co-operative in these cases.