HC Deb 05 March 1984 vol 55 cc607-8 3.35 pm
Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham) (by private notice)

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the recent outbreaks of fowl pest, also known as Newcastle disease, and on the steps being taken by the Department to contain and control the outbreaks.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

Two outbreaks of Newcastle disease in poultry have been confirmed, the first in Shropshire and the second near Thirsk, north Yorkshire. In accordance with the Government's policy, the poultry in question have been or are being destroyed. Compensation is payable by the Minister and will be reimbursed under insurance arrangements made by the industry.

All possible steps associated with the slaughter policies are being taken by the state veterinary service to prevent spread of the disease, including declarations of infected areas, movement restrictions and tracings. It is not possible at the moment to determine the likely course of the disease.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I apologise to the Leader of the House. I was led to believe that the outbreak near Shrewsbury was in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway), but I am now told that it is in his constituency. I apologise for not informing the right hon. Gentleman that I intended to ask a private notice question relating to his constituency.

Is the Minister wholly satisfied that there is no relationship between the two outbreaks? Is she satisfied that there is no external overseas source of infection? Will she undertake to keep the House closely informed of further developments, because only 14 years ago the British poultry industry lost about 44 million head of poultry in such an outbreak? Will she ensure that everything that can be done will be done?

Mrs. Fenner

I most certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that everything that can be done will be done. I am mindful of the industry's good record. Of course this is a matter of concern. Both origin and connection are under the closest investigation. If necessary I shall come to the House with the latest news because this is a matter of such concern to the House and to the poultry industry.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The chairman of the National Farmers Union poultry committee is one of my constituents and owns a large poultry farm just outside my constituency. Is my hon. Friend aware that many poultry farmers are concerned in case the outbreaks are directly related to the large number of chickens imported from our European partners? Can the Minister assure us that every effort will be made to ensure that there is no connection between imports from the EEC and the outbreaks of the disease?

Mrs. Fenner

Of course I can assure my hon. Friend that every investigation as to the origin is being and will be made. I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend's constituents. My Ministry will do everything possible to discover the origin of the disease.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) for advising me that he was asking this private notice question. As he said, the outbreak is in the constituency represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), the Leader of the House, but the rest of us in the area are anxious that the outbreak should not spread further. We are grateful to the Ministry for acting so quickly in Shropshire. I spoke today to the county NFU officer, who assured me that the action was swift.

Mrs. Fenner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure him that we will do everything possible to restrict the outbreaks. Following confirmation of the disease, infected area restrictions were imposed covering a 10 km radius in each instance. The first, in Shropshire, came into effect on 29 February and the second, in north Yorkshire, on 3 March.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What is the Government's position on vaccination?

Mrs. Fenner

The general application of vaccination by owners will have to be considered as an option if the slaughter policy is thought likely to fail. Vaccination under Ministry control around the outbreaks is another option. We shall be investigating the outbreaks closely and one hopes that they will not spread further.