HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1192-3
9. Mr. Alexander

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action his Department is taking to ensure that there are no further outbreaks of rhizomania in the United Kingdom.

Mr. MacGregor

We have taken strong and positive action to prevent the spread of the disease. The outbreak of rhizomania in Suffolk has been contained by stringent controls to stop infected plants and soil being moved from the farm. Since the outbreak in August we have surveyed over 12,000 hectares of beet crops and have found no other infection.

We have recently reduced the amount of soil that can be imported with potatoes from 2 per cent. to 1 per cent. and introduced the 1 per cent. allowance for certain other root vegetables. We intend soon to introduce statutory controls to allow the disposal to land of waste from the processing of imported potatoes and other root vegetables only on sites approved by the Ministry.

Mr. Alexander

My right hon. Friend has given a most helpful reply. Does he recollect that the sugar beet industry has for some time been asking for stricter controls on soil disposal, and that the Ministry has declined those in favour of a voluntary code? As rhizomania is spread by a virus in soil imported from abroad, it is almost certain that the recent outbreak came from imported vegetables, so our present controls were clearly inadequate.

Mr. MacGregor

I have to tell my hon. Friend that I examined the proposals that I have mentioned to him today during the summer — before the outbreak of rhizomania — with a view to taking action. I am as determined as anyone to ensure that the disease does not spread, so we have been—and are — moving to the precise point to which my hon. Friend wants us to move.

As to whether the disease comes from imported vegetables, we have examined every possible source from which the outbreak might have come, and there is no evidence that it had anything to do with imports. It was certainly not due to the failure of the measures that we have taken in the past few years. It is now clear that the disease had been in that particular field for some years.

Mr. Bellingham

My right hon. Friend will be aware that many Norfolk beet growers will be pleased with the constructive and positive response that he has given today. Is he aware that many of those beet growers want to diversify out of arable land into woodland? What progress is being made on a farm woodland scheme?

Mr. MacGregor

The Bill dealing with the farm woodland scheme has now had its Second Reading in another place. It is progressing, and I hope that it will come to the House with due speed before too long so that we can get the scheme into operation.

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