§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
I remind the House that, in accordance with the order of the House on 12 November, the Chair must put the Question on each of the motions relating to public health not later than one and a half hours after the first of them has been entered upon.
§ 11 pm
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assume that all three motions will be taken together. May I ask for some clarification on the papers in relation to item No. 7 on the Order Paper, which is Statutory Instrument No. 1894 relating to Wales? The papers that are available from the Vote Office are completely incomprehensible. The version that has been printed has missed out entire sections of the order. I have been back to the Vote Office to check whether I received a faulty copy, but it appears that all the papers that are available contain the same error. They start at page 1 and then miss everything from sections 1 to 5 inclusive, apart from the latter parts of section 5, and then go on to section 6. The order as it stands is utterly meaningless, and I should be grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I regret this very much. It has only just this moment been brought to my attention. I do not know whether the Minister can help us on these papers.
§ 11.1 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist)
I beg to move,That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (No.Order 1987 (S.I. 1987, No. 1837), dated 21st October 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd October, he approved.I suggest that, with this, it will be convenient to take the following motions:That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (No.4) Order 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1888), dated 3rd November 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th November, be approved.That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Wales) (No. 5) Order 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1894), dated 5th November 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th November, be approved.These are the latest in a series of orders controlling the movement and slaughter of sheep in parts of north Wales and Scotland since the Chernobyl incident. It is about 12 months since the House last debated those restrictions, and it may assist hon. Members if I briefly recount the stage that we have reached.
§ Mr. Wigley
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have a set of papers here that makes no sense of what we are discussing, and no other papers are available from the Vote Office. Either we have the appropriate papers on which we can make a decision, or we shall have to put off the debate on this statutory instrument until we have them.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I understand the difficulties in which hon. Members have been placed. I am having some inquiries made and I will report as soon as I can. It has only just this moment been drawn to my attention.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Chairman. I have just had a brief 871 consultation with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and I should tell the House that I obtained a complete set of documents from the Vote Office last week. To strengthen the hon. Gentleman's representations, may I say that although the Order Paper would have us believe that the papers were laid on 5 November, they were not available in the Vote Office, even in the form in which I have them, until Friday of last week. That does not give us much time, even if we had complete sets.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Do I understand that they were available to the hon. Gentleman on Friday of last week?
§ Mr. Grist
When, following monitoring of a wide range of agricultural products in the aftermath of Chernobyl, we first found it necessary in June 1986 to introduce restrictions to sheep in certain areas, about 8,900 holdings and some 4 million sheep in England, Scotland and Wales were originally affected.
At first, a complete ban on movement was imposed, but such a drastic step could be only a short-term measure. We subsequently devised, in consultation with the farming unions, a modified scheme of control, known as the mark and release scheme, under which sheep were allowed to leave the restricted areas in accordance with normal farming practices provided that they were given a distinctive paint mark. This identified them as ineligible for slaughter.
A refinement of the scheme became possible from October 1986 when the availability of reliable machines for live monitoring of individual sheep in the field meant that only sheep that failed the test needed to be paint-marked. Previously, the only reliable way of monitoring was to kill the sheep in order to obtain a meat sample for laboratory testing.
Experience has proved that, once sheep leave the restricted areas and graze on clean pasture, their radioactivity levels fall rapidly. Therefore, a further refinement of the mark and release arrangements was introduced, whereby purchasers of marked sheep could apply to have them re-monitored. If then their radioactivity has fallen acceptably, the paint mark is effectively cancelled by the attachment of a distinctive ear tag, and they may be sent for slaughter. By regularly changing the colour of the paint we can ensure that we know which sheep have been out of the restricted area for sufficient time, and as soon as we have sufficient remonitoring evidence to justify it all sheep with a particular colour mark can be released for slaughter.
These arrangements may seem complex, and they require regular adjustment to the prohibition orders. However, they work smoothly in practice, and I can confirm that they have the full support of the farming unions. They ensure that interference with normal farming practices is kept to a minimum and that the marketing of sheep can proceed with full protection for the public food chain, while enabling buyers to have a good idea of how long they may have to hold sheep before they can go to slaughter.
At the same time as we were devising the mark and release arrangements, we were continuing to undertake intensive monitoring of particular areas to establish when 872 restrictions could be removed altogether. The numbers of holdings and animals were gradually reduced, so that by the end of the 1986 marketing season we had been able to remove restrictions from the whole of Scotland and from all but about 318 holdings with 145,000 sheep in Wales.
However, our scientific advisers suspected that in 1987 there could be some recycling of radiocaesium in the poorer, often, peaty, soils of Cumbria, Wales and Scotland, where the lack of minerals, which would immobilise the radiocaesium in other soil areas, would leave the radioactivity free to be absorbed through the pasture roots. An experiment undertaken on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the results of which were published in April, confirmed that possibility. The Government therefore undertook extensive precautionary monitoring during the late spring and summer. As a result, evidence was found of a few sheep exceeding our 1,000 bq/kg action level, and therefore we reimposed restrictions in a few small areas of Wales and Scotland that we had de-restricted last year and, in Scotland, extended restrictions to some additional areas that had not previously been subject to controls. Those actions are also covered by the orders.
Even with these additional restrictions, only 485 holdings are now subject to control in Scotland and Wales, compared with the 7,100 holdings in June last year. Even on those holdings, comparatively few sheep are a problem. For example, in Wales this year approximately 150,000 sheep have been live-monitored in order to leave the restricted area, and only about 15 per cent. failed the test. In saying that, I have no desire to appear complacent. One holding under restriction is one too many. The Government are continuing to sponsor research to increase our understanding of how radiocaesium behaves in upland ecological systems. We have also investigated possible remedial treatments of the land or animals affected. Most have drawbacks of one kind or another, and, after discussion with the farming unions, we believe that for the immediate future the present movement and slaughter restrictions provide the best means of ensuring the continued safety of the food chain and the maintenance of confidence in the lamb market with the minimum disruption to farmers' normal husbandry practices.
While the restrictions continue, so does the compensation scheme introduced for farmers affected by them. It is made up of four separate elements that reflect the ongoing developments. The first — Leg 1 — compensated producers of released holdings for loss of variable premium on over-fat animals sold, and for any market price loss. Leg 2 provided compensation for market price loss to producers who were still restricted and selling under the mark and release arrangements. Leg 3 covered certain direct losses for each week the animals were held back by the restrictions. Leg 4 covered monitoring and marking costs that were involved before the animals were moved, under consent, on or after 29 September 1986. Legs 2 and 4 of the scheme continue in operation, and, since the introduction of the restrictions, we have paid out to producers over £3 million in Wales, about £1.5 million in Scotland, and, in total, almost £4.9 million on 9,444 claims.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
What the Minister says is all very well for the producer, who will be rather generously compensated, but 873 will he say a word about the consumer and the ways in which radiocaesium and other radioactive elements enter through the food chain, by various paths, into the bodies of human beings? The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), is sitting on the Minister's left, rather inappropriately. On behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland, will the Under-Secretary of State say why he has consistently refused any sort of systematic examination of radioactivity in human beings? It has been proposed by the Scottish universities research and reactor centre at East Kilbride, and others, that it would now be appropriate to have systematic whole-body monitoring of people in Scotland to find out the cumulative effects of the ingress of radioactivity through the food chain. Why are the Government so concerned about compensation to producers, not about the health of consumers?
§ Mr Grist
The hon. Gentleman runs the risk of arousing a certain amount of over-concern in the matter. In fact, the amounts of radiation that we are talking about, affecting human beings, are minuscule. Tests are carried out. For instance, at Ysbyty Gwynedd in north Wales, whole-body monitoring has been carried out. There is regular testing of all fresh foodstuffs in Wales and Scotland. There is absolutely no cause for concern. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.
§ Mr. Grist
The hon. Gentleman made a long intervention. I am sure that he can make his own speech later.
Over the past 16 months there have been extensive consultations with the farming unions and others about both the principle and detail involved. The unions welcomed the various elements introduced to reflect ongoing developments as providing speedy, appropriate and fair compensation and accepted that there would inevitably be an element of rough justice in the direct losses element of the scheme, which was designed to put money into producers' pockets quickly. Equally, it was generally agreed that that money should be targeted to those in genuine need and through a scheme that was seen to be fair, legally defensible, affordable and reasonably straightforward to administer.
Subsequently, however, the National Farmers Union put to Ministers the submission that while most producers had been adequately compensated, it considered that for some farmers the existing arrangements had not provided fair compensation. That matter was considered with great care in discussion with the farming unions, but it did not prove possible to find a sound basis for avoiding the rough justice, which it was always agreed would inevitably be a feature of the compensation arrangements.
It is important to see the matter in perspective. Some 2,400 Welsh claims have been paid under the direct losses elements of leg 3 of the scheme and have been accepted as satisfactory by the producers concerned. The NFU has put forward 49 Welsh cases that claim to have received too little compensation. Of those 49 cases, 29 have already 874 received compensation for direct losses in varying amounts up to £3,670. The remaining 20 chose, as a matter of commercial judgment, to sit outside the scheme and market their animals later.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales agreed to review those cases if they could be shown to contain any special problems or anomalies not already covered by existing compensation arrangements. At present the NFU in Wales is reviewing the details of those cases to see whether any of them fall outside the criteria governing the various elements of the compensation scheme already applied and whether there is adequate evidence available to support such claims.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Minister is aware that representations on those cases have now been made for many weeks and that the farmers involved have been suffering claim losses for many months. Will he tell the House when a decision will be reached, in view of the difficulties faced by many of those farmers?
§ Mr. Grist
As I said, they will have to wait for the NFU to finish its review of the outstanding cases. As I told the House, my right hon. Friend has undertaken to review their cases in the light of the NFU submission.
It would be wrong of me to finish without paying full tribute to the co-operation that we have received from the farming unions in devising the mark and release and compensation arrangements and from farmers generally in making the restrictions work successfully.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I am concerned about the matter raised by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Normally, his hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnyd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) joins us in debates such as this. If the orders are not available in the Vote Office, I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would regard that as an important and serious matter. I gather from the signs that you are making to me that they are available in the Vote Office. Perhaps one of my hon. Friends can leave the Chamber and get a complete set.
I have an important question to ask the Minister, and perhaps he could give it careful consideration. These orders were tabled on 5 November and were not available in the Vote Office until Friday. Given the way that the House operates and that it was announced on Friday afternoon that the orders would be on today's Order Paper, I am sure you would agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, given constituency commitments of hon. Members, one day's notice is inadequate. I do not want to labour the point. I have put it to the Minister and I am sure that he and his hon. Friend will look at the matter to ensure that we do not have such difficulty in future.
There are three orders before the House, and I shall speak especially to the one that affects Wales. Their purpose is to give parliamentary authority to the orders that the Minister was responsible for tabling in the summer. The complacency that the Minister displayed in commending the orders to the House was breathtaking, although the hon. Gentleman denied it. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who has now left the Chamber, but is coming back, I hope, questioned the Minister about the potential effects on human health as a result of the ingestion of 875 radioactive material. I was astonished to hear the Minister's assurance that there were absolutely no grounds at all for concern.
I know that the electors of Cardiff, Central are fastidious in their choice, but I did not know that at the last election they sent someone to the House who is not only blessed with the ability to carry out medical examinations, presumably, on the hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who are potentially affected, but also possesses a capacity for understanding nuclear physics. The Minister gave us absolute guarantees that the current levels of radiocaesium in sheep in north Wales are such that they present no hazards at all to humans. I was surprised to hear the Minister say that, but no doubt he is about to enlighten me.
§ Mr. Grist
I shall give the hon. Gentleman a little illustration. The average consumption of lamb in Britain is 5 kg a year. If every 5 kg consumed has had 1,000 bq, the ingestion of radiation would be about the same as that ingested in travelling from London to Aberdeen or from London to Cornwall. That puts the matter into some context.
§ Mr. Davies
Is that a scientific opinion? The Minister nods in approval. I am delighted at that, because less than a fortnight ago the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said at the Dispatch Box, when moving the motion on a European document, that the criticism of the scheme was that it had no scientific basis. The Minister tut-tuts and shakes his head, but I think he acknowledges that he has dropped something of a boo-boo. The Minister of State told us that we could now safely raise the level from 1,000 bq to 5,000 bq. His argument was that that was the only scientifically determined level. I suggest that the Minister should consult his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food before he gives such guarantees to the House.
Despite my comments, in broad terms the Opposition welcome the continuation of the order, because it provides some measure of public safeguard and ensures the continuation of compensation payments. It gave us some cause for amusement to hear the Under-Secretary's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon about there still being 49 cases outstanding. It now appears that the National Farmers Union is the executive arm of the Welsh Office. The Under-Secretary of State said, "It is okay. We will not debate it as we are waiting for the National Farmers Union to reach its conclusions." It is perhaps proper for the Welsh Office to consult—and I want the Welsh Office to consult — but I remind the Under-Secretary that at the end of the day the responsibility for judging those matters rests not with the National Farmers Union, however convenient that might be and however cosy the relationship is, but with him. I ask that the Minister and his hon. Friend should discuss this matter and that, during the winding-up speech we should be told that the ultimate decision will be taken by the Welsh Office, not by the National Farmers Union.
It is ironic that on 28 October, when we were discussing the proposal from the European Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have had us believe that the current level of 1,000 bq/kg was so low that, with no danger at all, we could countenance the 876 removal of all restrictions which formed the basis of the regulations and have the accepted level increased to 5,000 bq. Given the comments that we have just had from the Under-Secretary, that is ironic. Nevertheless, it is worth reiterating that Labour Members support the continuation of the orders even though on 31 October the EEC regulations that underpin them were withdrawn.
There has been a lot of criticism about the piecemeal nature of the orders and the way that they were developed during the summer. I do not share that criticism. I understand the way in which the orders progressed. I think it appropriate that the Government arranged periodic monitoring and, quite sensibly, imposed restrictions when it became apparent that they should be imposed. I do not think that the arguments that they were on one year, off another year, or that there was a building-block approach, are valid.
I would appreciate it if the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is to reply, would comment on the fact that in certain areas in Scotland the radioactivity levels are higher this year than they were last year. That must be of concern.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley has returned to the Chamber, because he put a grave allegation to the House which was flippantly answered by the Under-Secretary of State. It illustrates that there is cause for concern. What I found worrying was that there was no humility in the approach of the Under-Secretary of State. There was no suggestion that there were questions that were unanswered or that we were dealing with a new phenomenon. There was the brash approach, "Everything is okay. Leave it to us and the National Farmers Union."
The brief of the Under-Secretary of State is not quite accurate, because he told us that everything was okay, that the National Farmers Union had agreed and that we could all proceed quite merrily. I shall read from the Farmers Weekly of 21 August. I suspect that the member of staff who wrote the speech will receive a rocket tomorrow about what he wrote, because the union that supports the Government and all their works had this to say:The raggedness and tattiness is perceived in the way in which this, and previous governments, have handled the issue of radio-activity, either home-grown or imported. Is it a coincidence that each polluted area has its own nuclear power station or waste-processing plant? Can we be sure that every single becquerel being ingested by the half million or so sheep carries the Chernobyl signature and was not, in fact, vomited from the orifices of nuclear installations at Hunterston and Chapelcross, (south-west Scotland), Sellafield (Cumbria) and Trawsfynydd (north Wales)?The Minister has said that we can. Perhaps the Government can justify that. In his peroration, however, the Minister said that they would continue their investigations and research and fund the work being done by Liverpool university. If there are elements of doubt—if there is a grave rift between his Department and the National Farmers Union—it does not become the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box with the complacency and self-satisfaction that we saw earlier. He should at least give us some indication that there is doubt in the minds of the experts.
I have referred to the people who write the Minister's speeches. I should also like to mention those who write letters on his behalf. On 24 February this year, a Mr. J. I. Davies, of the Welsh Office, wrote to producers:A second factor will be the new growth of herbage since the increasing bulk of vegetation will have the effect of 877 dissipating what radiocaesium remains. Lower levels of radiocaesium in spring pastures will result in lower levels in sheep than those experienced last year.The exact opposite happened. When the fresh growth came in April and May, it was that fresh growth particularly that gave rise to increased levels of radiocaesium during the course of the year. The Minister said, "It is all okay. We understand it all. We have all the answers. We do not need the research. We do not need to question or consult." That really will not do.
The Minister suggested that the question of compensation had been adequately dealt with. I do not think that he or any of his colleagues—with perhaps the exception of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) — serve on the Standing Committee that debated what became the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, under which the orders have been laid. During that Committee stage, we questioned the Minister at length about compensation. The then Minister—now the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—said, "Do not worry about compensation; everything will be okay. We shall operate on the basis that the polluter pays. If any compensation is required over and above what is afforded by that principle, it will be covered by insurance." We asked whether that would always be the case: would there never be any circumstances in which the Government would have to intervene? We were assured that it would not be necessary. But the Minister has now told us—I am not sure whether he did so proudly, or with some contrition—that £5 million in compensation had been paid.
The point was put when we debated the orders on 24 October last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) asked then what would happen about compensation. It is interesting to look back 12 months. The Minister said:We have reserved our position on whether the Soviet Union will be required"—not requested—as it should be if the case is proved — to pay compensation. Whatever comes out of the discussions, whether or not the Soviet Union pays up and whether we have an international agreement, the crucial point for the British farmer is that he knows that compensation is not dependent upon … international discussions.—[Official Report, 24 October 1986; Vol. 102, c. 1455.]As it happens, I agree that the question of compensation should not be dependent on those international discussions. The Government evaded answering that question in Standing Committee. They also evaded it when the matter was discussed 12 months ago. Therefore, we are entitled to ask two blunt questions. First, has the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Scottish Office or the Welsh Office requested the Soviet Union to pay the £5 million? They would probably say that that is taking glasnost too far. Secondly, has there been international discussion of this matter? I should hate to think that since the Chernobyl disaster there has been no discussion between scientists, civil servants and politicians of the after-effects of the disaster and who will have to foot the bill. These are serious questions and they deserve an answer.
The Under-Secretary of State said that the Government had provided compensation amounting to £3 million. It is important that the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and for Caernarfon should know, because of the 878 nature of those communities and of the sheep-farming enterprises in those constituencies, whether the capital values of those farms will be substantially reduced.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
We need to know how long the restrictions will remain in force. The Government have a duty to say what the best scientific advice is about the time that these restrictions must remain in force.
§ Mr. Davies
It would be unfair of us to expect the Government to say that they will remain in force for 12 months, or for two or three years. The Departments have to reserve their position. They say that if the level rises again next year they will reimpose the restrictions. The hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and for Caernarfon would want the restrictions to be reintroduced to safeguard public opinion of Welsh lamb, which is very important to us all, and to preserve the confidence of the producers. However, that approach does not coincide with the view of the Under-Secretary of State. According to his speech, he has all the answers. Therefore, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is entitled to ask him to give a precise date. The Under-Secretary of State cannot do that. It provides another graphic illustration of the weakness of his arguments.
It is vital to maintain the confidence of both producers and consumers. We must ensure that nothing that we say during this debate or in future discussions prejudices the interests of the producers, or causes concern to the consumers. This is a voluntary scheme. It relies to a large extent on the willingness of farmers represented by the hon. Members for Caernarfon, for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) to participate fully in the scheme. The Minister said nothing about enforcement. However, he has virtually no option but to ignore that as it would be almost impossible. I do not wish to consider evasion as it would lead to another debate.
The Government have taken the view that all things can be left to the scientists and that all the questions are answered. I believe, however, that this is one of those issues where we must learn as we live. We have asked the questions, but we have not had the reassurances to which we are entitled. If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is to reply, cannot provide such reassurances, we might be inclined to divide the House.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
The fact that my hon. Friends the Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) are also here shows the significance of this matter for my county of Gwynedd and our constituencies.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) touched on issues of concern to the farming community in Gwynedd. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for clearing up my question about the order. There has been some mistake in compilation and things have appeared in the wrong order. I am sure that it will not happen again.
We support the orders, because it is necessary to have some semblance of certainty, although there is some doubt about how long they will continue. The hon. Member for Caerphilly is right. If uncertainty continues and the orders come up year after year, the capital value of farms is bound to be affected. I do not think that there has been a massive 879 effect so far, but if farms in Gwynedd, the north-west of England and parts of Scotland are identified as having a long-term problem, compensation for the lost capital value of the farm will be needed as well as compensation for revenue losses. I hope for some assurance that the Government will bear that in mind if the problem continues.
The Minister said that there are a handful of unresolved compensation claims in Wales. I think he said that there are 49. He said that the claims are in the hands of the National Farmers Union, which is trying to establish a definition of an adequate basis of compensation. The claims have been going on for months. I have constituency cases about which farming unions, I and others have made representations many times, but they have not been resolved. One such is that of Richard Jones of Penygroes, which I discussed with the Secretary of State four weeks ago. Thousands of pounds have been lost. It is not doubted that a loss has been sustained; it is merely a matter of quantifying it. If up to 49 cases remain, I urge the Minister seriously to try to find means of settling them without delay. We are talking about sums which are relatively small in Government terms, but which can make the difference between life and death in terms of cash flow for farmers, many of whom are being squeezed by the banks.
§ Dr. Thomas
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a strange feature of Government policy on compensation that they should ask the farming unions to present them with a formula for resolving outstanding compensation cases? Does this not show how the Government have handled post-Chernobyl compensation?
§ Mr. Wigley
Yes, that has clearly been a massive problem for the Government. I well recall the debate in July 1986 when Mr. Mark Robinson, a former Minister at the Welsh Office, replied to the debate and referred to the likelihood that the problem could be wound up in a matter of months. I realise that there was uncertainty in the Government's knowledge at that stage, and all hon. Members would urge the Minister to acknowledge that there is still uncertainty, that we do not know all the answers and that we must be very careful indeed how we treat the problem. As we do not have all the answers, it is unreasonable to pass the buck to the NFU or anyone else to work out the compensation. As we heard earlier, if necessary, ex-gratia payments should be made to help the farmers in the absence of being able to arrive at a scientific formula that bears scrutiny if circumstances change, as indeed circumstances might well change in future.
I want to consider the source of the radiation, as questions over the source of the radiation continue to cause concern in my county. The radiation overwhelmingly came from Chernobyl. The levels should therefore be declining, and that is happening, albeit far too slowly. Scientists have noticed—this was reported in a HTV film a couple of months ago—that the ratio of the radioactive isotopes concerned had not changed in the way in which the scientists had expected. That showed that radioactivity might be coming from another source and that that was compounding radioactivity from Chernobyl.
Given that the areas where radioactivity is affecting sheep lie in the vicinity of nuclear power stations, the coincidence is too great and the question must be 880 considered in depth. Indeed, the affected areas in north-west Wales, north-west England and Scotland are all close to nuclear power stations. As we know, radioactivity builds on itself. A little radioactivity from one source added to a little from another source adds up to a level which then causes alarm. It is absolutely correct that strict rules should be applied by the Government and the farmers in deciding what is acceptable. We should congratulate the farming fraternity on the way in which it has operated the rules so that Welsh lamb, Scottish lamb and English lamb are commodities that reach the housewife and the shops with utter confidence that they are completely edible.
To that extent, we welcome the Government's approach. However, we urge the Government to be very careful and to use every technique available to identify the source of the radiation that may be affecting sheep and the general environment in the areas close to nuclear power stations. That is particularly relevant when the possibility of new nuclear reactors is being discussed for Wylfa and Trawsfynydd. If the uncertainty that we have seen over the past year continues, it will have a material effect on the attitude towards new reactors at Trawsfynydd and Wylfa. I hope that the Minister will understand that and realise why people must have answers to these questions.
I urge the Government to make clear in future what lessons they have learnt in a more general context. If, God forbid, there were another disaster in the United Kingdom or in a nuclear power station in Europe and a tragedy hit our agricultural fraternity again, how would the Government tackle these matters? What additional techniques and resources are available? How would they ensure that the farmers and others dependent on the farming economy were not hit as hard as they have been over recent years?
In allowing the orders to pass tonight, we do so because we believe that to oppose them would stop something that is necessary for the farmers. Allowing them to go forward does not mean that we are entirely happy with the situation. There are far too many unanswered questions for that to be the case.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
So far, the accents in the debate have been either Welsh or Anglo-Welsh. I wish to introduce a Scottish accent to make it clear that the Opposition's concern stretches across Scotland as well as Wales and the north of England.
There are many farming interests in my constituency, from the south-west, where early potatoes are growing, to the north-west around Muirkirk, where there are mainly sheep farmers. The concern therefore stretches right across the board. Conservative Members do not always appreciate that some Labour Members represent large farming constituencies, especially in Scotland, such as my own and that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson).
§ Mr. Foulkes
The same applies to Alliance and Scottish National party Members.
It would be counter-productive for any of us representing farming constituencies to be involved in any 881 way in creating the kind of atmosphere that might result in any kind of scare that might worry consumers or create losses for producers. I say that because the Scottish Office Minister who is to reply to the debate has an unfortunate tendency to accuse the Opposition of scare tactics, extremism and other unfortunate tendencies. Perhaps it is a case of motes and beams. I therefore make it clear that I have no intention whatever of creating any kind of problem along those lines.
I emphasise the comments the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) about post-Chernobyl losses and the necessity for speedy and adequate payments to be made to people, including some of my constituents, who are suffering great losses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) rightly said, we were utterly astonished when, instead of removing or reducing some of the restrictions in the current year, the Scottish Office not only reintroduced restrictions but extended them to areas not previously covered, thus confounding its own previous statements. It is vital for the economics of the farming interests concerned that compensation should be speedy and adequate.
As I said in an intervention, there is also concern about the cumulative effect on health of various paths in the food chain leading to the build-up of radioactivity in human beings. The hon. Member for Caernarfon rightly pointed out that although Chernobyl is the largest and most clearly identifiable problem—I accept that by spectral analysis one can identify the sources of radioactive substances—there are other sources of radioactivity, such as Sellafield, Hunterston and Chapel cross. Recently we have seen statistics showing the high level of leukaemia near nuclear power plants, which can only reinforce our anxieties.
After Chernobyl, Professor Murdoch Baxter of the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre said that there should be a ban on milk for three or four weeks, but the Scottish Office rejected that. The result was that all of us in the south-west of Scotland continued to consume milk which, according to some experts, was highly radioactive.
We know that there have been restrictions on lambs with radioactivity above a certain level, but the fact that the limit was set means that we have been consuming meat from lambs where radioactivity is just below that level. Therefore, radioactive lamb has been consumed, albeit below the critical level. Indeed, we continue to consume such lamb, as I did the other day.
As I am sure the Scottish Office Minister is aware, it only became clear a few days ago that trout in Loch Doon and Loch Dee in my constituency have a level of radioactivity three or four times higher than the permitted level. Some people may say that few people eat a great deal of trout, by my constituents at Dalmellington and Bellsbank, 40 per cent. of whom are unemployed, supplement their diet by catching trout — legally, if course—so they will be consuming that radioactivity.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that before the Chernobyl disaster fish were caught in Trawsfynydd lake with radioactivity in excess of 1,000 bq/ kg? That shows the validity of our questions.
§ Mr. Foulkes
That would come from the outflow into Trawsfynydd, which would affect the trout. That certainly reinforces the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Recently we received information that hare and rabbits in the south-west of Scotland have 4,500 bq/kg. Add to 882 that the effects of root crops, fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs, and we are seeing a build up of radioactivity in people in the south-west of Scotland and, presumably, in other parts.
As the Minister knows, I have suggested, and, more important, the SURRC has suggested to the Scottish Office a programme of systematic whole body monitoring of the people in the south-west. Until now volunteers have been able to have whole-body monitoring, but there has not been a systematic, scientific study and analysis of the effects of the build up of radioactivity in our bodies. Elsewhere, random samples have been taken. Recently I read of a farmer in Yorkshire who had had his body monitored and found that he had a high level of radioactivity. There have been random examples in Cumbria and elsewhere which have caused anxiety.
The SURRC is suggesting a systematic scheme of whole-body monitoring for people in Scotland, particularly the south-west. The Minister of State, the noble Lord Sanderson, has, unfortunately, rejected that. The Minister who will reply to today's debate answers for him in this House and I hope that he will give us a clear indication of the position.
On several occasions my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has called for an inquiry into he effects of Chernobyl, but he has constantly been turned down by the Government. They seem to want to keep it quiet. As I said before, none of us want to create a scare. That is the last thing that any of us would want to do. However, if there is a real problem, we want to identify it and do something about it. The Government seem to want to cover up any problem that may exist for human health.
I may have gone a little wider than the orders, but I have drawn from them, and I hope that in his reply the Minister will say why the Scottish Office consistently turns down the excellent proposal for checking whether those of us who live in the south-west of Scotland have been affected adversely by Chernobyl and other radioactivity in the area, which is continuing. If a systematic study proves that there has not been a build-up of radioactivity in the bodies of those of us living in the south-west of Scotland, as one of them, there will be no one happier than me.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)
The Minister likened the ingestion of 5 kg of irradiated lamb to a train ride to Aberdeen. As a scientist, I find that comparison strange, to say the least.
The problem not faced by the Government's arrangements is the cumulative effect of caesium 137 and other isotopes. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) touched on the fact that trout in Trawsfynydd lake had high levels of radiation—over 1,000 bq/kg—and that they were present as far back as 1978. That would not necessarily be the result of the outfall from the nuclear installation because, as it is a gas-cooled reactor, any leak of radiation is vented into the atmosphere and would require precipitation to come back down and into the lake. Therefore, it is likely that there is a large area around Trawsfynydd — as there may be around some of the other older type reactors—that is contributing to the levels that were discovered through the Chernobyl incident.
On the assumption that people do not live by sheepmeat alone, there may be a considerable accumulation of caesium and other elements such as strontium 90, 883 which lodges in the skeleton and has a half-life of several thousand years. Therefore it is much more dangerous to the biological systems of livestock and humans in the downwind area of Trawsfynydd and other reactors. I believe that further testing should be part of the arrangements made by the Government for the good of the human population and I agree with the hon. Member for Caernarfon that the source of the radiation should be identified. I believe that it should be easy to do that.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
It gives me great pleasure to support the orders. We are duty bound to support all our constituents and all the people in various parts of Britain who are facing this problem.
I will not pursue what has been said by other Opposition Members. I believe that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has said it all. Many of his constituents are involved. He knows all about it and he knows the history of it. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) outlined the problem well, as did the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).
I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. In my view the problems facing the farmers in my constituency in north Wales and various parts of Britain are, first, compensation, secondly, restrictions and, thirdly, lamb sales.
We all assume that the majority of farmers have been fairly compensated. However, last year many farmers in north Wales—whom I know very well—and in many parts of Britain were not adequately compensated. I am sure that the Minister is aware of that fact. At this late hour, I make a plea that the Minister will reconsider the financial problems facing those unfortunate farmers who were not properly compensated last year. He believes in justice, so I am sure that he will reconsider their case.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) asked how long the restrictions will last. It is a major problem for those who live outside the area in mid and south Wales. Many of my constituents ask whether the restrictions will last for another 12 months, three years or five years—some have suggested 100 years. If that matter is clarified it will relieve the worries of many of my constituents.
The largest problem is Welsh lamb consumption and the lamb trade in this country and within the Community. The Minister, having had a word with his seniors and other officials in the Ministry, should consider giving additional financial aid to Welsh Lamb Enterprise for its excellent marketing of lamb and to the Meat and Livestock Commission, which operates so successfully in various parts of the country.
The Minister knows that many parts of the country are dependent on the sheep sector, so the interests of the industry must be safeguarded. I hope that the Minister will consider compensation restrictions and give additional financial aid for lamb sales.
§ 12.1 am
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has made 884 it clear that the official Opposition support the orders, which are intended to protect the public from the risks of food that has been contaminated by radiation.
It is important and significant that the Government are introducing the orders, and that the House is debating them, under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1965 nearly 19 months after the Chernobyl disaster.
I shall concentrate on the Scottish order, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly dwelt on the Welsh aspects. I understand that there will be a separate debate for England in due course.
I pay tribute to sheep farmers in the affected areas of Scotland for their full and wholehearted co-operation with the monitoring operation and the restrictions that have been necessary under the scheme. Those restrictions on the movement and slaughter of sheep have undoubtedly caused difficulty and hardship for a number of farmers, particularly hill farmers, although we accept, understand and are grateful for the fact that the compensation scheme now seems to be operating reasonably satisfactorily in Scotland, despite the difficulties in Wales that a number of other hon. Members have referred to. Those farmers and their employees have co-operated fully and accepted the need for restrictions in the interests of public health and the reputation and quality of Scottish lamb. It would be disgraceful if the contamination threshold were to be increased from 1,000 bq/kg, as it presently stands, to 5,000 bq/kg, as has been suggested by the Euratom article 31 committee. I am referring to the European Community document 7183/87 which we debated on 28 October.
We understand that consideration is being given to increasing the threshold which triggers action such as that represented by the orders. The Labour party thinks that such a watering-down of the precautions would be wrong in the light of the scientific evidence from Japan and the more stringent precautions which apply in some other European countries. It would make a mockery of the orders and of the restrictions which have applied since June 1986.
Consumers have confidence in the current precautions. That is why there has been no significant change in the market for lamb in the last 18 months. Any increase in permitted contamination would damage consumer confidence in lamb and in other products from the affected areas.
If the Government lift the threshold they might seek to extricate themselves from a longer-term and more expensive commitment than was originally expected in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl incident. If that is what they have in mind I suggest that they forget it.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has already made an overwhelming case for an inquiry to make it possible for all shades of opinion to draw all the lessons to be learnt from Chernobyl. It seems unreasonable that the Government should refuse to respond to that request.
The industry and the public are entitled to expect the Government to maintain the highest safeguards against the effects of radioactive contamination from any source. The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), whose constituency is affected by the orders and who also happens to be the Minister of State responsible for industry and energy at the Scottish Office, made a statement last week claiming that detailed 885 contingency plans for a major accident at a Scottish nuclear installation were not justified. That is not acceptable in the light of experience.
I shall make four specific points. First, we understand that the restrictions apply to 130,000 sheep on 69 farms in nine districts in Scotland. The biggest concentration is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). What will be the cost of monitoring, administering and paying compensation as a consequence of the orders?
Secondly, I understand that 78,000 of the sheep, on 39 farms, were not covered by previous orders. Why and how are areas which were not affected by fallout from Chernobyl last year apparently affected this year? Could it be that we have in Scotland another hot spot of the kind found in Yorkshire last year? The House and the country are entitled to an explanation.
Thirdly, is it possible that further areas will be affected? Most importantly, how long will the problem continue? We understand that the half-life of caesium 137 is 30 years which might cause long-term problems. The Government have had time to obtain full scientific advice and evidence and should know how much longer such areas will have to labour under restrictions.
Fourthly, will the Minister say something about contamination in the ground, heather, grass, wild animals and in people who live in the affected areas? If lambs are being contaminated, it is probable—to put it mildly—that other species will be affected, too. We are entitled to some explanations about that.
We support the orders and welcome the debate. We want clear undertakings that the Government will maintain and, where necessary, improve the safeguards against radioactive contamination from any source, whether at home or abroad. Complacent reassurance can be no substitute for effective precautions from the Government.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)
We have had a constructive debate on the orders, which continue the emergency provisions on the movement and slaughter of sheep in north Wales and in certain parts of Dumfries and Galloway, and Strathclyde and Central regions, including my constituency. Several detailed points have been made, and I shall try to cover as many as possible during the time available to me.
I should tell the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that there is no complacency in the Government. Nor is there the scaremongering that we have heard from him and some of his colleagues.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is in her place. I was interested to hear her comments on Radio Scotland this morning. She said that the orders related to increasing compensation and that she opposed them because she thought that more compensation than was being provided should be paid, but she thought that they were a step in the right direction. I hope she now realises that the orders have nothing to do with compensation and that, contrary to what she said this morning, farmers in her constituency will be allowed to move their sheep. There are no restrictions on the movement of sheep. The orders relate to the slaughtering of sheep.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
I have listened carefully to the debate, and it is clear that compensation underpins many aspects of the orders. As has been made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and others, farmers are still worried about compensation. Although the National Farmers Union may accept the broad principles of the orders, as do all hon. Members, there must be a case for reconsidering the capital values of farms in the long term.
§ Mr. Forsyth
On the radio this morning the hon. Lady said that the orders dealt with compensation. I assure her that the farmers in her constituency and throughout Scotland, who have been ably represented by the Scottish National Farmers Union, are content with the orders and have co-operated splendidly in—
§ Mr. Forsyth
I am coming to the hon. Gentleman. Several of his points were in the scaremongering category. The substance of his argument related to whole-body monitoring. He accused the Government of not being prepared to consider whole-body monitoring and of having resisted it. The Government have contributed towards whole-body monitoring of people by several laboratories, including the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre at East Kilbride, where a project has been under way since late 1986 to measure radioactivity in people from all areas of Scotland.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to learn that the results of the research will be published in March or April next year, and that results to date confirm that decisions taken following the Chernobyl accident were based on a sound assessment of the doses likely to be received following consumption of foodstuffs affected as a result of post-Chernobyl deposition. I hope that we shall hear no more scare stories such as those that we heard from the hon. Gentleman tonight about trout, hare and rabbit.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I accurately predicted what the Minister would say. We know him only too well in Scotland. Will he confirm that the only people who have been given whole-body monitoring in East Kilbride are those who have volunteered? Therefore, the study is in no way systematic. Will the Minister also confirm that Professor Baxter and his staff have put forward a proposal to the Scottish Office for a systematic scheme, which the Minister and his colleagues have turned down, in spite of the fact that such a scheme would show clearly whether there is an effect, rather than just taking in people off the streets?
§ Mr. Forsyth
Not being a scientist, I am content to wait for the results to be published in April next year. No doubt the hardworking people in the Scottish Universities' Research and Reactor Centre at East Kilbride will take grave offence at the doubt into which the hon. Gentleman casts the quality of their work.
§ Dr. Thomas
The Minister will be aware that a whole-body monitoring study has been carried out at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, with some serious results, including the discovery of a level of 3,000 becquerels per kilogram in one of my constituents. Will the Minister comment on that?
§ Mr. Forsyth
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that, because I was coming to his point about the influence of nuclear power stations.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) seemed to suggest that we should have a lower limit than the 1,000 bq/kg that is applied to sheep. I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend said about that. He described eating 5 kg of lamb as broadly equivalent to taking a journey to Aberdeen. I am sure that both experiences are equally pleasant. Perhaps I could give another analogy. If one ate 5 kg of lamb a year, the dosage would be equivalent to 0.06 mSv. A comparable example might be a chest X-ray, which represents 0.1 mSv. My hon. Friend was right to put these matters into their proper context.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
The Minister is really misinterpreting the exchange. My point was that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales was speaking with great authority, as if there could be no possible questioning of the scientific evidence. We do not accept that radioactivity and the cumulative effects of radioactive poisons can be the subject of that much scientific precision.
§ Mr. Forsyth
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that these are areas of uncertainty and difficulty. I hope, therefore, that he will pay tribute to the way in which the Government have tackled the new, post-Chernobyl position and ensured that there has been no contamination of the food chain.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly, and other Opposition Members, asked why some areas of Scotland had higher levels of radioactivity this year than last. The hon. Gentleman will chide me for my certainty, but when the radioactive cloud deposited caesium 137 through rain last year, the radioactive contaminant was on the surface of the grass and was taken in by animals and subsequently discovered. In the following year the caesium had been washed into the ground, and, depending on the nature of the subsoil, the minerals present in it—especially in clays—absorbed the caesium. In areas that were mineral deficient—particularly in north Wales and parts of Scotland—the effect was to concentrate the levels of caesium 137, which then became part of the plant structure. I hope that that explanation will help.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am glad that the Government—like the rest of us—are learning about the issue. Is the Minister in a position to inform the House whether the problem is likely to recur next year, or the year after that?
§ Mr. Forsyth
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will continue to ensure the protection of public health. We are not in the business of anticipating what will happen. Frankly, had it not been for experiments carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last year, we would not have been able to anticipate the higher level of radiation arising from the vegetation. If the hon. Gentleman knows the answers to those questions, as he clearly does, why has he asked them of me from the Dispatch Box?
The other great scare that was put forward by Opposition Members was that the fall-out might have come not from Chernobyl, but from nuclear power stations. That is stretching the truth to an extraordinary extent. It is evident that the caesium isotopes that have come from Chernobyl have a distinctive fingerprint. 888 Caesium 137 and 134 isotopes appear in the ratio of 2:1. The fall-out that one would expect from a nuclear power station would normally show a ratio between those two isotopes of about 10:1. So the Chernobyl fingerprint is clear, and stretches across north Wales as well as Scotland. It is irresponsible to suggest that the problems that we have came from anything other than Chernobyl and to advance arguments against nuclear power in this context, which is what Opposition Members are about.
§ Mr. Forsyth
No, I must press on.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) asked how long the restrictions would last. They will last as long as the monitoring shows that there is a problem of radioactivity in sheep.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly asked about compensation from the Soviet Union. The USSR is not a party to any of the international conventions relating to third party liability in nuclear energy, and is therefore not subject to any specific treaty obligation to compensate for damage caused outside its national boundaries. I hope that that will help him.
Compensation cases in Wales were mentioned by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Surely the point is that the NFU has been asked whether there is any additional information or argument in support of its members that it wishes to put to the Secretary of State before he comes to a decision on the claim. I understand that we are still waiting for the NFU to give that information to the Secretary of State.
The Government recognise that the restrictions occasion difficulties and additional costs for sheep farmers affected, and we are currently providing compensation in two ways, which I believe have been broadly acceptable to the industry as a whole. It is difficult to forecast with any precision to what extent caesium arising from the Chernobyl incident will continue to cause a problem. However, at this stage I cannot rule out the possibility that some restrictions will remain necessary in the future.
We are continuing to monitor the situation carefully. I assure the House that we are unwavering in our determination to ensure that the public are not exposed to any unacceptable risk. We are continuing to examine what long-term measures may be required. However, for the immediate future, we believe that the present movement in slaughter controls provides the most practicable way of ensuring the continued safety of the food chain and the maintenance of public confidence in British lamb with the minimum of disruption to farmers' normal husbandry practices. Accordingly, I commend the orders to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (No.3) Order 1987 (S.I. 1987, No. 1837), dated 21st October 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd October, be approved.