HC Deb 15 May 1968 vol 764 cc1210-2
22. Mr. Kitson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made on the Brucellosis Eradication Scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Mackie

Up to the end of April, 9,150 applications for membership of the Brucellosis (Accredited Herds) Scheme had been received. Some 5,000 herds are in varying stages of their qualifying tests, and 235 herds have been registered as Accredited.

Mr. Kitson

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will try to speed this up. Those are respectable figures, but this is not good enough. There is a serious health risk. Could not something be done to speed up the eradication scheme?

Mr. Mackie

We are satisfied with the rate of applications, which is about 90 a week, compared with 100 immediately before the foot-and-mouth epidemic, which is just about the same. In due course, we feel that the numbers will reach, I think, at the end of this year, about 3,250 herds, but, of course, we need far more than that before we can think of compulsory eradication.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Would my hon. Friend consult his colleagues in the Ministry of Health to try to discover the true incidence of this disease, particularly among farmers, farm workers and veterinary surgeons, since many of us believe that it is far more common than is generally realised?

Mr. Mackie

I would agree on this, but it is not a notifiable disease and figures are difficult to get. The numbers of cases reported each year between 1963 and 1966 varied between 123 and 169. The provisional figure for 1967 quoted on 2nd February was 242.

Mr. Godber

But will the hon. Gentleman please make some further effort in this matter? We all recognise the great problem in that the scheme had only just been started when the epidemic broke, which meant that a good deal of work was diverted, but we all want much speedier action. Would he ensure that the maximum attention of farmers is drawn to what can be done and that special steps are taken to get moving on this, since we in this country are lagging behind in this regard?

Mr. Mackie

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is being done. He must appreciate that, apart from the testing, there is no pool of accredited herds at present from which to draw. I would not like to say that veterinary surgeons are working to full capacity on it, but the tests are complicated and this is going on. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will see that publicity is given to this matter. The N.A.A.S. and the veterinary officers are aware of the feeling in the country about it.

Mr. Hooson

But is the hon. Gentleman aware that the present scheme will take many years to achieve anything like eradication? Has further consideration been given to a compensation scheme, even if it has to be introduced regionally, and at least to the disease being made a notifiable disease?

Mr. Mackie

No, Sir. We are always getting into trouble with the Opposition, which includes the Liberal Party, about spending money. If we were to carry out a full scheme of eradication, it would cost between £45 million and £50 million, apart from the fact that our milk supplies would be reduced during the operation. Hon. Members in the Liberal Party should look at things practically and not from an airy-fairy point of view.