HC Deb 21 July 1970 vol 804 cc492-9

4.37 a.m.

Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)

May I express my gratitude to the Minister for his readines to answer this debate, especially as it has been raised by a maiden speaker. Before turning to the subject of the debate, which is brucellosis eradication, I should like to thank hon. Members in anticipation of their usual indulgence which I am sure they will extend to a maiden speaker even at this early hour of the morning.

I was born and bred in Foelgastell in the heart of the constituency, and it is a long time since Carmarthen people sent to this House one who was born amongst them and hewn from the rock of the people whom I now represent. I owe the constituency a great deal, and, in return, I hope that in this House I shall be able to serve the good people of Carmarthen and guard all that is best in the life of the constituency.

My constituency is part of a county that has a memorable history. It has been the home of great historic and legendary figures, from the days of Merlin, Bishop Ferrar, an early Protestant martyr, to Gruffydd Jones, who began what turned out to be the beginnings of the modern educational movement in Wales. It is the county of great hymn writers, the greatest of them all being Williams Pantycelln. It nurtured those nocturnal militants, the daughters of Rebecca, who challenged the tyranny of the turnpike trusts. Here also Dylan Thomas lived and worked, and who would dare leave out that great fighter and gentleman, Jim Griffiths?

Carmarthen is a constituency which epitomises the life of Wales—strong in its upholding of the culture, tradition and way of life of the Principality. In it one will find people imbued with the radical tradition, warm in their welcome to strangers, but determined to combat injustice and oppression.

Coming to the Mother of Parliaments, I think of the distinguished Members who have represented Carmarthen in the House—Lady Megan Lloyd George, remembered with affection in Carmarthen; Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, a learned and able Deputy Speaker of the House; Moelwyn Hughes, a distinguished lawyer; and Daniel Hopkin, who is still spoken of in the constituency as a great pioneer. These people carried the radical tradition of the constituency into the House, and our people revelled in their work.

I understand that it is the custom of the House to refer in a maiden speech to the previous Member. I follow as Member for Carmarthen a gentleman whose presence in the House constituted a record for his party, for he was its only Member of Parliament in the party's 45 years' history.

The Carmarthen constituency has both an agricultural and an industrial life. I hope to return on another occasion to the problems of the industrial part of the constituency, but suffice it to say that all are aware of the importance which the anthracite coalfield played in moulding the character of the people.

Carmarthen is the foremost dairy county in the whole of Wales. Over 62 million gallons of milk are produced, and there is an estimated income of over £8 million from milk sales. There are several creameries in the constituency, based on the large milk production. Therefore, the prosperity of the dairy industry is vital to the county's future. It is for this reason that so much apprehension exists within the constituency with regard to brucellosis, particularly when one reads, as in World Medicine of 23rd September, 1969: Britain is one of the few countries in Western Europe which still has endemic brucellosis. In cows, the natural hosts, the disease causes abortion, loss of milk yield and lowered fertility. In man it can cause anything from a mild transient fever to a chronic and practically incurable infection. The British Medical Journal stated that about 1,000 human beings every year are infected with brucellosis. Therefore, the cost to the industry and indeed the effect on human beings demand that a determined programme be carried out to eradicate this disease.

The farmers of Carmarthen are very progressive in their methods and eager to pioneer new developments. To this end Carmarthen has been a pioneer in brucellosis eradication. The farmers of the county have gone into the eradication of brucellosis in their herds with more enthusiasm than in most counties. The latest figures show that under the old brucellosis accredited herd scheme, over 800 herds are in the scheme, and of this total 439 herds had been declared clean by 30th June last. Over 200 herds have already applied for the new incentive scheme which is the subject of this debate. These figures make Carmarthen way ahead of any county in Wales, and it is the third best county in Britain.

All who are associated with agriculture are aware of the need to combat this disease in the interest of human and animal health. There are far too many people contracting undulant fever, and far too many farmers are sustaining losses in their stocks. It is estimated that this disease costs the industry £2 million per annum.

From now on the Minister will be considering which areas and counties are to be selected as eradication areas in 1971. In this, my first speech, I want to make a special case for the inclusion of Carmarthenshire, and, if the Minister deems it practicable, for the inclusion, too, of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire in the areas selected for eradication. In the area of the three counties hundreds of herds have been tested already. Furthermore, it was one of the first areas to be included in the pilot scheme for the compulsory eradication of tuberculosis.

Before I conclude I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary certain points that are of concern to farmers in my constituency. One is the insurance premium. Some farmers are afraid that it might be too high. Can the Parliamentary Secretary therefore state how the consultations have progressed on this matter—consultations started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes).

Then there is the point that compensation for reactors would be far a more effective inducement than the insurance principle. Although it is said that compensation could lessen the chances of farmers acting swiftly to rid the herd of infected cattle, can the Parliamentary Secretary comment on the possible development of compensation as a means of solving the problem? Obviously the ultimate solution is compulsory eradication, but at present the voluntary scheme seems to be the best one. Care must be taken that there are plenty of clean herds available for accredited replacements for such time as compulsory eradication comes into effect. That is why an area-by-area approach must be the next step. I agree with the principle of tackling areas of relatively clean herds first so as to create a reservoir of clean stock in readiness for area eradication next year. Area eradication is a sound principle, because, although a farmer may have taken all the necessary precautions, unless he is surrounded by a whole area in which brucellosis has been eradicated a great deal of time and money could be wasted.

Another point of concern expressed in my constituency and probably others is the level of the incentive offered. Although 1¼d. is probably a good start there is room to debate whether this is a sufficient inducement for the future. Others argue that the beef incentive is not sufficiently high to induce beef herd owners to embark upon an accreditation programme. I should like to hear the views of the Minister on those points.

I end on the note that Carmarthen-shire's record merits its being included in the selected areas for eradication.

I have been very honoured to be able to make my maiden speech on a subject of such vital importance to many of my constituents.

4.49 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynoro Jones) thanked me with a courtesy that has made it a real pleasure to have sat up to this hour to listen to him. I am sure that those on these benches agree with me. In previous debates it has been my pleasure to be placed in the fortunate position of complimenting two hon. Members from Wales on their maiden speeches. That makes me realise what a great affinity there is between the Welsh and the Scots. I can well remember saying what excellent speeches the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) had made. They made a great impact on this House.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had so small an audience to listen to him tonight, but he has certainly warmed our hearts, and I hope that he will help us—because he has a great deal to contribute—in our agriculture debates. We shall listen to him in future with great interest.

We all appreciate the leading place which the county of Carmarthen has taken in its attachment to and enthusiasm for the accredited scheme to date on brucellosis. Brucellosis is a scourge, the main surviving one in animal diseases. It is considerable in cattle and far from insignificant among humans: it is far more widespread in human beings than is generally believed.

For long it has been the intention of successive Governments to come to grips with this problem. The limiting factor in the attack upon it has been, and still is, the strength and availability of our veterinary services. It took 25 years and an all-out drive to get tuberculosis out of the way. So high is the standard which this country sets in all matters veterinary that any diversions have caused a postponement until the decision to proceed was taken in the recent Agriculture Act. It is a formidable task, for which all our veterinary services must be mobilised.

Some people ask, "Why not slaughter all the reactors and pay compensation?" It would be absurd of me not to say, since my remarks are on the record in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings on the Agriculture Bill, that I took the view then that compensation was essential to success. But I did not know then, and nor did anyone else, other than the Government Ministers of the day—I am not even certain that they did—how different would be the insurance rates under the Incentives Scheme from those which were forecast when we discussed the Bill.

As much as 50 per cent. of the incentive was at that time being bandied about as the price of the insurance premium. In fact, to insure a dairy cow for £60, which is the average figure which featured in the old scheme, would cost 12s., which is only 15 per cent., and not 50 per cent., of the average dairy incentive under the new scheme. This makes all the difference in the world to thinking about compensation.

It is not just a question of a frontal attack on this disease, with no thought of strategy: there is the all-important question of having enough clean stock before slaughtering reactors left, right and centre. It is also important to pinpoint where the build-up of clean stock can best take place. We know a certain amount about Carmarthen, and there are other areas we know, like Ayrshire, Westmorland and the West of England. We need to find out a good deal more, and hence the testing which the milk marketing boards will be doing for us this autumn.

It is no good to anybody for a farmer to have a reactor slaughtered and then have to pay the earth for clean replacements. It would be worse still if he had to re-stock with untested animals and thereby run the risk of infection all over again. This is why we have the Incentives Scheme, with compulsory area eradication guaranteed to begin in 1971. The first areas will be announced early in the spring. I would not wish at this stage to give a positive commitment that the hon. Gentleman's constituency will be one of these, but I think it would have a very good chance.

It is absolutely vital that we should increase the rate of voluntary accreditation and, more particularly, attract the large number of clean, or relatively clean, herds which we know have so far held back. These are the people who have so much to offer to the eradication effort and who have so much to gain from this new scheme. That is why I reject the arguments of those who press for a return to compensation.

The herd owner we want to see come forward of his own accord in the next year or so stands to gain little, if anything, from the promise of compensation for reactors he probably does not have. This is why the Accredited Herds Scheme held little attraction for him and why, even though we shall be retaining some measure of incentive premiums during compulsory eradication, he will not gain by waiting for us to come and tackle his herd compulsorily.

He will be far better off under the Incentives Scheme, with the promise it holds of a guaranteed financial return from his herd over a five-year period. That is why I believe that, despite the nostalgia that remains in some quarters for compensation, this scheme will have a considerable impact, both in its own right and in its effect on the momentum of the compulsory eradication campaign.

Discussions will be held about the terms to be offered to those who will be dealt with in the compulsory areas and about the first areas to be chosen. An obvious pointer to these areas will be the results of the surveys which the milk marketing boards will be doing later this year to give us precise information about the incidence of infection in different parts of the country.

The hon. Gentleman referred to certain criticisms of the scheme and, basically, there have been three. First, it has been said that it is wrong to use private insurance to deal with what should be a public obligation. My call for compensation was made when my impression was that the insurance rates would be very high. In view of what I have said on this point, the picture has been completely altered.

Second, the hon. Gentleman referred to the beef premiums and voiced a view that has been quite widely heard, that they are too small compared with the dairy ones. It must be admitted that the risks in a beef herd are a good deal less and that the complications one gets are much smaller than with a dairy herd, and replacements in a beef herd, costly though they are nowadays, are also not as expensive. A beef cow does not cost nearly so much today as a good dairy cow.

Third, there is the criticism that there is no guarantee that the insurance rates will remain at the proposed levels as the scheme moves towards the more difficult herds and the more difficult areas. This is something we must watch, and watch we will, but the present rates are guaranteed for two years at their present levels, and the no-claim bonuses which are being offered give a certain amount of confidence.

I noticed a newspaper report at the weekend by a journalist for whom I have a great respect and who is extremely well-informed. He described the scheme as being still half-baked. I prefer the views of Mr. Anthony Parkin, to whom I listened on the farming programme on the B.B.C. at, I think, quarter past seven on a Saturday morning. His view was. "Let's make this a challenge to get rid of brucellosis in the 1970s". I should not like to say that by the end of the 1970s we shall have got rid of it. I hope so. It will be a major triumph if we have. But let us at any rate bend all our energies towards doing so. Let us take great encouragement from the fact that applications for the new scheme are coming in from all over the country. Let us give it a thoroughly good send-off.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having raised the subject and allowed me to make the comments that I have.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee this day.