§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.6.38 pm
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
No one could have heard the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and not be moved by the great devastation that has hit his constituency. He has prayed that no other farmers go through what those in his constituency have gone through, but farmers everywhere fear that that is exactly what will happen. That burden will overhang the farming industry and community over the next few weeks.
I was horrified to hear the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food say that he did not think that the crisis had passed, and that there were many more cases still to come. That admission was brave, but it is worrying and scary for any hon. Member in this Chamber with an agricultural constituency.
The Opposition do not get many days on which to choose the subject of the debate, yet this is the second time that we have used our Opposition Day to discuss something that the Government should have found the time for. This is a national emergency—the Government have found no time to allow us to debate it, yet the Opposition have.
The Government have sent out mixed messages during the crisis. A newspaper report of 12 March said of the Minister of Agriculture:While the Government denied that it was being overwhelmed by the foot and mouth crisis, Mr. Brown insisted that he was 'absolutely certain' that the devastating outbreak was under control.395 The right hon. Gentleman gave a reassurance then which he was unable to give with any certainty today. I was very concerned by the Minister's admission.
Let us be in no doubt that this is a disaster for the countryside. Things were bad enough before the outbreak started; the agricultural industry has been going through a continuous crisis for quite some time. The accountants Deloitte and Touche published an analysis of farm incomes in October 2000. Average-sized farms of 202 hectares that earned £80,000 in the mid-1990s earned just £8,000 in 2000, and might run up losses of £4,000 in 2001. That was before the outbreak started.
The crisis is comprehensive—the fall in farmgate prices and incomes is affecting every sector of the industry. Net farm incomes are down by 16 per cent., dairy farm incomes by 21 per cent., upland livestock farm incomes by 26 per cent., and lowland livestock farm incomes are down £1,500.
The industry was just starting to believe that there were signs of a turnaround before the outbreak of foot and mouth. Having gone through a very bleak period, farmers saw some signs that things might be starting to get better, but any improvement has now been totally wiped out.
I represent a constituency of outstanding natural beauty, which covers a large area of the Peak district. More than 20 million people visit the Peak district each year. It is, without doubt, the lungs of Britain, with a catchment area of Sheffield, Manchester and the west midlands. On a bank holiday, it feels like the whole of that catchment area comes to my constituency. Yet I believe that we have taken the countryside for granted. We think that it exists because of nature, but that is not the case. It is farmed, maintained and looked after by farmers—that is what makes it the countryside that we love and enjoy going to see. If we do not realise that, we will be in peril of losing one of Britain's great national assets—its countryside.
There has been much talk about the 1967 outbreak and the comparisons that can be drawn, but I do not think that many comparisons can be made, because the farming environment has changed dramatically. Farms are now bigger and when a farm is infected, more animals are involved. For the past 20 years, Governments of both colours have encouraged farmers to diversify but now they find that the money that they invested in diversification is not bringing in the returns that it should. That is one of the great problems of the rural economy. We must remember that we are talking about the future of the rural economy, not just that of the agricultural industry.
Too many mixed messages have been, and are still being, sent out by the Government. We heard Ministers say yesterday that the countryside was open and that people can go there providing that they do not come across cattle and sheep. In the Peak district, we do not have much arable farmland; it is mainly given over to livestock.
Derbyshire county council has issued the following notice:HELP STOP THE SPREAD OF FOOT AND MOUTHHelp us protect our countryside—DON'T VISIT UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.I believe that the county council put up that notice in good faith. Yesterday, however, the Minister for the Environment gave a different message to the House and 396 to the nation. Can we please have some consistency? People do not want foot and mouth to spread, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said, but they need to know what the advice is from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Towns in my constituency such as Bakewell and Ashbourne have been devastated by the lack of visitors. Indeed, some business people have set up a mutual self-help group, known as Hartington and Newhaven Development, or HAND. I shall be going to see those people on Saturday morning because they want to express to me their concerns about the future of their industry and the way in which they can survive the crisis. One of the establishments in the group was serving 60 lunches until a few weeks ago; it now serves three or four. That is the kind of devastating impact that the outbreak has had on small rural businesses as well as those in the agricultural sector. It is incumbent on us as Members of Parliament to tell the Government that those are the concerns that businesses throughout the Peak district have to face, partly because of the Government's mixed messages about whether access to the countryside should be encouraged or prevented. That is the problem.
I hope that the Government will get their act together in the next few days and send out one, single message so that people can understand what the criteria are for access to the countryside and certain areas. That is particularly important in the run up to Easter, which is a tremendously busy time for our small rural businesses. If they lose their takings or their takings are substantially down at Easter, they will not be around next Easter or even this summer.
This is a crisis for the agricultural industry; it is also a crisis for rural Britain and the rural environment. For far too long, we have taken the countryside for granted. The Government have brought in right to roam measures to give people greater access to the countryside, but the truth is that this crisis threatens the very existence of our countryside.
§ Mrs. Diana Organ (Forest of Dean)
Following the contributions of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), none of us wants the maelstrom that has hit those areas to be visited on our rural areas.
In my constituency, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said in his opening statement, there is a concentration of the outbreak of foot and mouth. There are nine confirmed cases and others are suspected.
Three weeks ago, at the beginning of the outbreak, when the Forest of Dean was made an infected area due to the outbreak on the other side of the Wye valley in Herefordshire, I attended a planning meeting that included representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food, the police, the Forestry Commission, the district council, trading standards and emergency planning departments, as well as the commoners from the statutory Forest of Dean. At that meeting, I raised the important issue of sheep roaming free in the statutory Forest of Dean. We are not sure exactly how many sheep there are, but believe that there are about 5,000. They are grazed there by right of cot commoners or badgers.
397 I asked whether the sheep would be mustered and penned together. The area of the forest is wide, and contains many towns and villages. I was told that there had been advice that it would not be good policy to muster the sheep since that would cause tremendous disturbance and disruption, which would increase the risk of spreading infection. I was told that only 40 per cent. of commoners had holdings elsewhere for sheep, which raised the difficulty of where the sheep would go. The forest enterprise could identify only five areas in the statutory forest that could be fenced in, and even they would create problems with grazing the animals. I made it clear that I would want to see someone take responsibility for the problem. I was told that responsibility for managing and checking the sheep, and for keeping them in the statutory forest area would, as it always had before, fall on the commoners themselves.
Since then, the situation has changed. At Coleford magistrates court today, Glyn Barclay a badger, was tried at short notice and found guilty of allowing his sheep to roam free outside the statutory forest. Indeed, they were roaming down the A48. He was heavily fined, and the case was dealt with quickly to show its importance.
There has also been a confirmed outbreak in the village of English Bicknor, outside the statutory forest. A couple of weeks ago, free-roaming sheep went on to the farm in question from the statutory forest. The farmers were told by MAFF to pen those sheep separately and feed them. They did so, but have now had a confirmed outbreak of foot and mouth disease, although it arose not from a link with those sheep, but from a link with Ross market.
On Friday, at my surgery, a gentleman arrived breathless and late. He apologised, and said that he had been held up by a sheep truck. I said, "They can't be moving sheep around; how do you know there were sheep in it?" "I could see them," he said, and we realised that he was talking about an area inside the statutory forest where one of the commoners was moving sheep in an open truck.
In addition, there has been a confirmed case at a farm in Blakeney, which abuts the statutory forest, and we must consider the possibility that that will infect the sheep in the forest. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and the head of the planning team in Gloucestershire to ask them to reconsider the decision taken three weeks ago so that we can go ahead with mustering the forest's free-roaming sheep. We need those sheep to be properly managed, as they patently have not been to date. I want those 5,000 sheep checked to ensure that they do not have the disease, and we must be sure to protect the surrounding agricultural community.
It is clear that in recent weeks some—though not all—commoners have behaved irresponsibly. Indeed, MAFF has made it known to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that commoners have been obstructive in letting out their sheep at night. Such behaviour contrasts directly with the measures taken in the surrounding agricultural community Other farmers are rigorously enforcing controls and taking every possible precaution.
I seek urgent reconsideration of this matter. The decision must be taken on the advice of experts, but since we have all suddenly become experts on foot and mouth, let it be left to real experts. The free-roaming sheep could cause a serious risk, although I appreciate that there has 398 until now been no evidence that infection among any Forest of Dean flock has come from them. I do not ask for a cull, which would be a complete change of policy. At present, the sheep are clean, and a cull would also include deer in the forest. However, we must consider penning and controlling the sheep since the commoners are not doing so themselves.
In my area, as in all others, farmers are extremely anxious, and not only on the nine farms that have foot and mouth. Those farmers are at a loss to know what to do as they grieve the loss of their animals and businesses, some of which may have been built up over generations.
I have a few further issues to discuss, including concern about mixed messages from MAFF. There are problems with the website. Although it is excellent in part, I have been told that it is not updated frequently enough. Local farmers are finding out about outbreaks from the local news rather than the MAFF website. Nor is it precise enough. It will say, for example, as it did in a case last week, that there has been one on a farm near Lydney. That information was no good since the farm was in Purton, which is not near Lydney. Farmers need to know whether an outbreak is on the farm next door or 3 km away. The information on the website is not accurate enough.
I am also concerned about information for the general public. We have all become experts on foot and mouth, and I have heard some curious stories. One lady, for example, rang up to say that she knew that sheep in a nearby field had foot and mouth because all the baby lambs had pink legs. Lots of new-born lambs have pink legs, and it is not a sign of foot and mouth. Suddenly, however, everyone is an expert.
We need to put out more accurate information for the general public whom we are asking to play a part by keeping out of the countryside in infected areas and away from footpaths and the statutory forest. We need to make sure that people do not panic and build up myths that could damage our farming community and tourism industry. We need accurate information.
I want to touch on what is happening to other rural businesses in my constituency. The Forest of Dean is beautiful and unique, and it depends heavily on tourism. Indeed, it depends more on tourism than it does on livestock. Although I recognise that we must do absolutely all that we can to secure the future of the livestock industry by eradicating this dreadful disease, I do not want the tourism industry sacrificed.
Since 27 February, my area has been classified as infected. That creates punitive problems for businesses such as local pubs, outdoor centres, centres running canoe courses and the Newent bird of prey centre. All those places are either closed or serving few visitors. Cancellations have been made at our hostels and at all our caving centres. We must recognise that people can cope with a problem for a short time, but that they face cancellations not for now, but for June and July as schools pull out. We need much more support. We need not sympathy alone, but measures to tide businesses over until the affected area is cleared and we can open up the forest again.
The work of the taskforce must be widely publicised among businesses. I have been asked what the Government are doing and have said that the taskforce would report and that a transitional package would be put 399 in place. But people do not know what is in that package, and I must point out that there has not been enough information even in the House of Commons Library about what the taskforce is doing.
I welcome, as small businesses will, deferrals of value added tax on businesses, the three-month business rate relief and support from the Small Business Service in the form of a loan guarantee scheme. All that is good, but we need more. The taskforce must go on meeting and making recommendations. That information needs to be disseminated to businesses close to infected areas so that they know what help they can obtain during this difficult period.
Many people in rural areas have made a terrific sacrifice. Although we welcome the work that is going on, the rural community—farmers and small businesses—must have clear messages both from MAFF and other Departments about how the Government are handling the matter and seeing it through, and about what we are doing to assist businesses in this dreadful situation.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
I want to raise some practical issues that affect my constituency. There is only one outbreak cluster in the area—in Hawes in North Yorkshire. Although my constituency does not have an outbreak, a large part of it is in an infected area, so the impact is strong.
My first concern is for farmers in an infected area who do not have the disease on their farms. They are heavily restricted and cannot sell or move their animals. Their cattle are going over the 30-month limit—cattle are often marketed at 28 or 29 months. There is a similar problem with lambs. When they push up their second teeth, they are sold as mutton and that can mean a 50 per cent. price discount.
Those farmers do not stand to receive compensation, but they are losing substantially because their animals are eating their capital, yet generating no revenue. The matter is serious. Those farmers are directly concerned. Will the Minister of State look urgently at that matter when she considers compensation? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has already said that compensation is needed in relation to the over-30-months scheme for cattle.
I want to draw attention to the problems of farmers whose ewes are away from the main farm. The Minister said that they have an option: they could repatriate the ewes voluntarily, provided that the animals were passing from an area of lesser infection to one of greater infection. In practice, there is little of the voluntary about that; many farmers have no real choice. Their ewes are in lamb in extraordinarily difficult circumstances—on small patches of land where little food is available. There is high mortality among ewes. The farmer cannot bury or dispose of the carcases. There is also high mortality among lambs. In my constituency, one farmer's ewes were eating ivy and so produced many dead lambs. If a farmer wants to bring his sheep home, the sheer hassle involved is almost prohibitive.
I understand why the regulations are in place, but the distances—as well as the series of journeys to get disinfectant—and the costs mean that in practice, for a 400 farmer who is really concerned about animal welfare, the only sensible choice is slaughter. However, that farmer will not receive proper compensation: because his action is deemed voluntary, he will receive only two thirds of the price. A responsible farmer would not regard that as a voluntary choice. Will the Minister of State consider that matter seriously? The animal welfare implications are very real.
The most chilling remarks that I have heard in my constituency during the past few days have been from farmers who ring me up to say, "The best thing for us would be to get the disease on our farm. Then we'd get the proper compensation. We are suffering because we do not have the disease — There is only a short step from farmers who think that the restrictions are unreasonable or perverse and who are suffering because they are combating the disease to people who might be tempted to relax their guard or even, in marginal cases, attract the disease. The sheer frustration and anguish of farmers, their sense of vulnerability and foreboding, cannot be exaggerated.
It would help if the Minister of State explained why some of the exclusion zones have been drawn as they are. Around Hawes, they are extremely wide; they stretch 25 miles to Ripon, yet they are much shorter in other directions. There are some perverse lines on the map. I realise that one needs to identify proper traceable features, but farmers who are 25 miles away from an outbreak and under restriction know that other farmers only half that distance away are not under restriction. The Minister of State should consider local authorisation for the revision of those boundaries where that can be done sensibly and rationally so as to liberate some farmers. The older idea of drawing a circumference around affected areas might be considered.
I want to look ahead. At the end of this experience, we shall need to draw the threads together. I want to make a pre-emptive strike by noting three conclusions that I hope will not be drawn because they are entirely false.
The first is that the outbreak is all the fault of intensive farming. That is the greatest load of nonsense I have heard. As foot and mouth is endemic in the third world, yet the United States has managed to eliminate it entirely, it is difficult to argue that intensive farming generates the disease. That is a false and ridiculous conclusion.
The second false idea relates to abattoirs. There is a case for small, local abattoirs—but not on the grounds of animal health. The case for such abattoirs is that they serve a local market and meet a proper need. It is not to do with hygiene. We closed down many abattoirs, and many of them badly needed it. Between 10 and 15 years ago, Britain was heavily over-abattoired; there was much surplus capacity.
It is ironic that the disease was detected in an inspection of a modern, up-to-date abattoir. I am in favour of such abattoirs. Of course, small abattoirs have a role, but they, too, must be modern and up to date. Let us consider such abattoirs sensibly rather than in the context of the romantic folklore that, by definition, they are superior to what has replaced them.
The third false statement is that the outbreak is all the fault of the supermarkets. I regret that the Prime Minister made such silly remarks about supermarkets when he visited Gloucester recently. The supermarkets have probably done more to change the shape of the common 401 agricultural policy and of agricultural development in the United Kingdom than any politician. By and large, they have done so for the better.
We must look to the future—the Minister of Agriculture talked about that. Many people will leave agriculture as a result of this experience. The average age of farmers in Britain is 59. Farmers will receive compensation if their animals are slaughtered. I accept that he has said that he has tried to make that compensation generous rather than otherwise, but for many farmers, it will be their retirement pension. He would be well advised to consider whether some modest outgoers scheme might not be a useful weapon to deploy at this stage, despite the arguments levelled against such schemes in the past.
We must also bear in mind the heavy costs of stock replacement. The Minister of Agriculture may be paying a good price for the cull, but that price probably comes nowhere near the replacement cost of the animals, simply because less stock will be available Some farmers who are suffering now may do well soon if they have stock available for sale as replacement stock and a marketplace for it.
The shape of British agriculture will change dramatically; BSE did not change it but foot and mouth will. It is inevitable that live animal exports will come under scrutiny. It will be difficult to resume them. I have supported such exports. My constituency earns a large part of its agricultural livelihood from sheep, and export plays a part. It will be difficult to resume exports, especially as only one vessel, the Farmers Ferry, is used. We may have to examine the practicalities involved. There will be consequences for the market. The Minister of Agriculture talked about the need to restore a functioning marketplace; those factors must be taken into the equation.
Scrutiny of live auction marts is also inevitable. I support them. In my constituency, where many farmers lead an isolated life, the mart is the one place where they meet other farmers. Indeed, if Government are looking for an instrument to tackle social exclusion, the live auction mart could play a major role in rural parts of the United Kingdom.
I realise that questions will be asked because of the problems of transmission, so the Government must think about what measures might be necessary to reassure people that the live auction system can continue, while eliminating any risk that might stem from them. At the same time, I believe that introducing a pause before traded animals can be dispersed is likely to be the inevitable consequence.
We will also need to consider meat imports. Meat can be imported from regions where foot and mouth does not exist, but from countries where it does, and many people will want to be reassured that the controls that govern the movement of that product in the country of origin are strong enough to enable us to have confidence in that trade. If we regionalised the United Kingdom and had regions that were free of the disease, I doubt very much whether it would be easy to export our products on the basis that some of our regions were free of foot and mouth when it was endemic in others.
The disease will accelerate the trend away from support for production towards support for the public good. Even before this crisis, the question for farmers was what they 402 should do in a society that is well-off and well fed, that has no problems with food security and that is mobile and environmentally conscious. The answer is that they will have to move to new marketplaces, going up the food chain and producing better food. They will also have to move to recreational and environmental markets.
We, the other parts of society, must define what we want in terms of the public good and what we are willing to pay to achieve that public good—a more difficult problem. We should have that sensible debate sooner rather than later, as it would take us entirely in the direction that the previous Government and this Government have been going, to try to move away from supporting production to defining agriculture in the wider rural context. That is the sensible way forward.
Finally, the Government are taking the right actions, but there is a danger that they will lose the argument because of the problems involved in implementing them. If an animal is slaughtered and disposed of rapidly, that is better than if it hangs around. Putting right the practice is an important element of winning the arguments of principle involved in the Government's actions, and I am sure that they will observe that importance.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
It is rather ironic that 1 should follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) in the debate, as we have recently been to Poland together, where he inveigled me into talking about agriculture for much of the time, when I wanted to talk about the chemical industries and the development of information technology, which are my natural interests.
Some might not have predicted that I would take part in this debate, given that Falkirk, East is mostly an industrial and residential constituency, but I can claim some credentials because, between 1980 and 1990. when 10 per cent. of the beef farmers in the Forth valley area went out of business for economic reasons, they came to me, as leader of the council, and we struck up a very good dialogue which continued between 1992 and 1997. When they came to the House to lobby they would see me, even though I was the Member for Falkirk, East, because they did not seem to receive much of a hearing from the former Member for Stirling.
The new Member for that constituency, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), has a very close relationship with the farming community, but she has been rostered to sit on the Whips Bench today. However, we have been talking about the issue, and I know that she is in close contact with the farming and tourist industries in Stirling.
Although Falkirk, East is mostly an industrial and residential constituency, it has a hinterland, as do all constituencies, except those in cities. Sadly, that hinterland contains two farms at which foot and mouth has been suspected during the recent outbreak. I told the farmer and his family that I would mention their plight today. Although their animals have not suffered from foot and mouth, outsiders might think that they would be better compensated if they had, as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon has suggested, because it seems that they will receive no compensation for the losses that they suffered when their farm was embargoed and movements frozen while it was under inspection.
403 The farmer's mother and wife came to see me at the weekend, and they were in a rather emotional condition. They are concerned about the hard work of a young, enterprising farmer, who is under 50—well below the average age of 59. He decided to diversify in what seemed to be the right way. In fact, he became a haulier, stocker and wholesale sheep dealer for abattoirs, the markets and the supermarkets. He had a well-worked-out business plan, and he seemed to be doing very well until the recent outbreak.
Although some sniping and posturing has occurred, most of the debate has been enlightening, intelligent and balanced. It does not help farmers if hon. Members try to score points rather than settling down together to work in a bipartisan manner to solve what is a massive problem for them.
I want to raise the issue of consequential loss. It is clear that there is a spectrum of claims. That spectrum includes matters far removed from farming and the breeding and rearing of animals, but I hope that farmers and those in farming-related enterprises, directly linked to the production and distribution of animals, will be treated slightly differently from those who may also suffer, but have a tenuous link to the industry because they happen to be in the rural environment.
The problem occurred as a consequence of something that happened on the farms. As a non-farmer who does not come from a farming community, I have to say that it happened because of something done by a farmer. Someone did something in the farm food chain that caused the disease to spread. All the people whose livelihoods depend on farming should be considered to be victims of that act. I heard the Minister say that one of his aims was to put more money into farmers' pockets, and he said that the Government will consider whether more can be done.
I want to relate the story of the Stewart family of Drum farm in Bo'ness. They are a young family who had broken away from rearing animals, by fattening sheep for four weeks before market. Those who know about farming understand that that involves feeding high-protein cake. Although the cake is expensive, those who use it normally get their reward in the end because they can sell lean sheep at a good price. The family purchases for abattoirs on a wholesale basis and they offer overnight lairage for local abattoirs. They also buy sheep to sell on to the supermarkets.
The family also owns a livestock haulage firm, running eight lorries. Theirs is a small firm, not a large concern, but they employ 11 men. At the weekend, it was remarkable to hear them say that they were really worried in case they had to lay off any of those people because they had been very loyal. Their firm was clearly haemorrhaging cash, but they did not want to make anyone suffer who had shown them loyalty as they changed from being farmers and breeders and developed their new business.
The family owed 6,330 sheep the day before the foot and mouth outbreak. I am told that the sheep were worth £2.50 a kilo before the foot and mouth outbreak, but the family gets just £1.75 a kilo for the sheep now that they have been released from their incarceration and can take the beasts to market. That represents a cash loss of more 404 than £90,000 to that business. A bank manager would need to be very understanding to be happy that a business had lost that amount of money in such a short period. That money will be not recoverable unless the Government seriously consider compensation.
During the 10 days that it took for the family to get the all clear, when they were almost locked in, they had to bring in feed in bags because no one could take feed to the farm in large lorries. They keep sheep at a number of places in my constituency, and they had to take medical supplies to all those animals, some of which were suffering because they had been kept long beyond the day that they should have gone to market.
I commend the family on being very enterprising. Now that they have been allowed to move, they have started to take small herds of sheep from smaller farms directly to the local abattoir, and they are involved in the secondary business of moving the carcases to supermarkets. They are trying to recover some of their losses, but they are not getting anything like the money that they should. If we say that such consequential losses should be written off, I am sure that that would be the tip of the iceberg. All the other Members whose constituencies contain many sheep farms and other type of farms that are also frozen under the embargo will say that they are also losing out and that it will be a long time, if ever, before they recover.
My plea to the Government is that they treat businesses such as that run by the Stewart family as direct farming units and compensate them as direct farming units. If we do not do that, we are saying that it is better to have beasts with foot and mouth slaughtered than it is to do what the Stewart family did. They showed a real public concern. I understand that only one sheep was ill and that they had been to many markets, but not to the Longtown market in the borders. They called in the local vet, who did not know whether the sheep had foot and mouth—he did not know what was wrong. Therefore, he decided to call in the MAFF vet.
As soon as the MAFF vet stepped on to the farm and took a test, the two farms that the family use were embargoed and locked off for 10 days. The fact that the family did their public duty cost them money. It is therefore rather odd to hear from the media that the Government will not compensate them because their losses are consequential. I would say that they are direct losses.
Mr. Stewart asked me to pass on a few thoughts on the wider issues. The first relates to proper washing and disinfecting at markets. The Stewarts' haulage firm has full wash-bay facilities that are often used by other people hauling back and forward to the market in Edinburgh. Although it is probably a matter for the Scottish Parliament, and I do not know how it happened, I have been told that the wash-bay facilities have been taken out of one of the markets in Edinburgh because the sewage did not conform to the environmental health regulations. That seems rather strange. Instead of moving the market or upgrading the treatment facilities, the wash bay was removed. That does not suggest that the people who run the market have much concern for public health. I hope that that matter will be considered either here or in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr. Stewart feels strongly about the second point that he made. He said:UK meat now has an image problem. The public perceives meat as being expensive because of recent problems. In real terms the lamb price being paid to farmers is 30 per cent. less than before. 405 Consumers need to be made aware that meat is good value for money, and it has been for a long time. The British public wants meat of the highest standards like Scottish lamb.I am sure that he meant "like British lamb", and he adds:They need to be made aware of the good value of lamb for their money.If this does not happen we will have greater imports of inferior meat coming into the country than ever before. We must not forget that it was probably imported meat that caused the whole problem in the first place.I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister say that we will crack down on the illegal importation of meat. Clearly, that is very welcome.
On the next point, I disagree with the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon. Mr. Stewart said that the marketing structure had been extremely fragile for many small farmers and small hauliers, and the market had become far too dependent on large farming and hauling enterprises. Small farmers had to take the price given, and that probably would not sustain them. Mr. Stewart thought that he had found a niche market in which his small haulage firm could sustain a large number of small farmers. It would provide good value for money and he would give them good rates for haulage, lairage and so on. The outbreak has thrown the situation into chaos and he said that we must consider seriously how we can help small hauliers and small farms to sustain their contribution to agriculture. I agree that the smaller farmer seems to be more concerned about the quality of the product rather than the number of the beasts that they turn out.
I wish to quote the conclusion of my letter to my right hon. Friend the Minister, because I hope that the Government will take this point very seriously. I wrote:I hope that the Government are planning to offer adequate compensation to farmers and livestock haul[...]ers such as the Stewarts of Drum farm, Bo'ness.If we do not, we shall be seen as not having treated the whole farming industry in a proper manner.
I end my remarks with an ironic story. Mr. Stewart has a close friendship with another haul[...]er who comes from the Cumbria area. His animals were found to have foot and mouth, and he is looking to buy a farm in Scotland when he receives his compensation. That is a crazy indictment of the way in which compensation is being paid.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I welcome the debate, because the tone of the House has reflected the extreme gravity of the situation. As many Members have said, the problem does not affect just agriculture. Anyone who has read the front page of The Times today will have seen that the village of Porlock in my constituency reports a total absence of visitors and that there has been a collapse of all the businesses involved in tourism and with the wider Exmoor community
I have just received a report of a meeting in Porlock village hall today, where I shall be on Friday. Two hundred people in the village hall, the chairman and director of the national park, the local director of the National Trust and the chairman of the district council all recognised the extraordinary gravity of the situation.
I was concerned whether it was appropriate to table this motion, and I discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). However, it is 406 important to make a distinction. I believe that we should take a bipartisan approach to this serious and growing problem, but the Government should realise that some real problems need attention. That message must go right across government.
On an earlier occasion, I pointed out to the Minister that people did not know what foot and mouth looked like. I urged on him the need to advise people on how they could recognise the symptoms and he made a reasonable reply. He said that he understood my reasonable suggestion. Most of the people dealing with the problem have never seen foot and mouth, and I understand—I may be wrong—that Mr. Jim Scudamore is about the only person serving in MAFF who was involved in any significant way when the previous outbreak took place in 1967.
The great problem with such issues is the collective memory. No Minister has ministerial experience of dealing with foot and mouth; hardly anyone in MAFF or in Parliament has either. I have been here a long time—some people say too long—and I came to the House two years after the previous outbreak. Therefore, I hope that someone is keeping a careful diary of every event in this outbreak.
Although the Minister said that it was a good idea and that he had the matter in hand, it was nearly 10 days before the first pictures appeared showing what foot and mouth looked like. They were good because they showed what to look for in cattle, pigs and, in particular, sheep, which are liable to get blisters on the palate which makes the disease very difficult to recognise. I hope that those pictures will be stored and a stockpile will be kept so that they can be printed instantly should an outbreak occur again.
Today, we heard the Prime Minister commending burying in line. The 1968 report shows that that was the preferred method then. It warned against burning because of the risk of spreading the disease further. It is only now, in week five, that we seem to be returning to one of the strong recommendations of the 1968 committee. It is important that we learn lessons. Prompt slaughter is another of the 1968 recommendations. Discretion should be given to vets so that they can move faster. It is as though we have had to reinvent the wheel.
A further recommendation in the 1968 report was that we should bring in the Army earlier and provide assistance at an early stage. I have just received the excellent foot and mouth bulletin that is produced by the National Farmers Union in the south-west; I always ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk receives a copy. The bulletin says that Major Belinda Forsyth has now appeared on the scene in Devon. She is the commanderof the army team which has been brought in to assist with the logistics of the slaughter and disposal operation. She has 25 two person teams out in the field, organising contractors, coal, straw etc, so freeing up vets' time for more appropriate work.That is jolly good. However, the bulletin adds:What she does not have is access to military resources or manpower, and we remain to be convinced that resources in that regard are adequate.No Minister should be embarrassed about asking for military assistance. In the Ministry of Defence document "Defence Policy 2001",Military Aid to the Civil Community407 is a justification for defence expenditure. I recall its being used during strikes by ambulance men. That is carefully provided for and part of peacetime security. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is entitled to expect a proper contribution.
The leader of my party implied in his speech two nights ago that a vast resource is available. I might have to disagree with him. The Royal Engineers are overstretched, so I am not sure how large the resource is. However, whatever is available should be used and, with great respect to the Minister, should be in place because such arrangements take time to organise. That was a recommendation of the 1968 inquiry.
That inquiry made another recommendation. It is obvious and, I think, starting to be accepted that it is impossible to manage the crisis from Whitehall or regional offices. One Member made a profoundly true remark when he said that the Ministry and all Government offices are institutionally urban. Calls to the regional office in Bristol are answered by terribly nice people who have probably never seen a farm in their lives. They have been recruited in Bristol to do a call centre job or whatever. The problem in the south-west is that the regional office in Bristol is going to close and has lost some of its key people. The Minister should worry about the wisdom of that closure, because suddenly that office is desperately needed.
Management of the crisis cannot be run from a regional office; there must be local discretion. I understand that we are to have a south-west supremo who will be based in Worcester. That will not serve Devon and Cornwall too well. Let me give the Minister an example of a pathetic case. People are ringing up because they have seen ewes in a village called Enmore. The west country has had terrible weather in the past few days, with 2 in of rain and snow on Exmoor. The animals are out and there are welfare considerations. The farmer has asked to move his sheep to new grazing which is 5 miles away, but an earnest, decent and conscientious person sitting in Bristol has read up the rules and told him that he cannot have a local movement order because that is limited to 5 km. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals turned up, looked at the ewes in the field in the village of Enmore and ordered them to be shot. They have been killed because someone in Bristol who has never been to my constituency looks at a map and cannot use his or her discretion. That cannot be right.
I understand the problems that Ministers face. I dealt with a few when I was in Government and recognise that the crisis has a complexity beyond most of the difficulties that I encountered. It cannot be controlled from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Nobel house or the regional offices. There must be local discretion.
Common sense must be applied. To make a further movement of livestock, a lorry has to be sent to a regional cleansing centre. When a farmer in my constituency gets a movement order and wants to move animals, the closest regional cleansing centre is in Exeter. A farmer from Weston Zoyland, which is 5 miles outside Bridgwater, would need to send his lorry to Exeter, bring it back to Weston Zoyland to load the animals and take it to a farm four miles away, before sending it back to Exeter to be 408 cleaned again. South Molton has a regional cleansing centre, but there has been an outbreak two miles from there.
On the market situation, a large pig producer in an infected area—thank God it has now been cleared—cannot move his pigs because the price has collapsed and the slaughterhouses will not take them. The other slaughterhouse in my constituency deals mainly in beef. Although it could be open, the flood of Irish beef has meant that it has laid off its people because it cannot sell beef at commercial prices.
The rising trend of outbreaks will continue for some time. Farms and the rural community as a whole are facing a crisis. Half our potential county councillors are farmers who are locked on their farms. For the Prime Minister to parrot what the Leader of the House said about holding the county council elections on 3 May sends a bad signal. It seems that the Government's best argument for not cancelling them is that people throughout the world would say, "Good Lord! The British have cancelled their county council elections."
If those elections go ahead and any Agriculture Minister goes near the hustings, there will be a riot. They know that it is their job to work. They will not be able to campaign because the Government have responsibilities at a high level to deal with the crisis. If we get a measure of control in force and the election and its related activities cause the disease to burst out again, I shudder to think what fate would face the Government, and they would deserve it. Although I understand the pressures, I hope that people realise that we are in a major crisis and it must be given top priority.
§ Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)
If the debate is to have any value, it should focus on two issues: first, whether the Government's strategy is right and, secondly, whether that strategy's implementation is satisfactory. We have heard little about the strategy. The farming community accepts that the Government's objective to eliminate the disease as fast as possible and restore our country to its previous disease-free status is right. Our strategy is to identify each outbreak, trace it and eliminate the animals involved and their contacts. My only concern is that, although farmers are persuaded of that, the population at large are not sure that that is the only route to eliminate foot and mouth in this country.
I have just received a briefing from the Soil Association, which is promoting a meeting tomorrow to discuss the possibility of using vaccination around the areas with the highest concentration of the disease. I shall be surprised if that I proposal does not receive a good deal of support from people who are concerned about the welfare implications of the strategy and the likelihood of succeeding with the methods that we have chosen. Although my right hon. Friend touched on the possibility that there might be a plan B should the mechanism that we have identified fail, we need urgently to work out whether there is a fall-back strategy that could be implemented reasonably quickly.
The current strategy has my support. We have not established that it cannot work, although there is evidence that, in some parts of the country, resources are being overwhelmed by the demand placed on them. I have received many inquiries from people who are concerned 409 about the need for slaughter and the possibility of exploring alternatives. We should continue to keep an open mind and engage with the wider public in some of the complex issues that have not been played out. That is why I welcome the announcement of a briefing to journalists on Friday.
I want to concentrate on the effectiveness of our delivery of the current strategy. We need to put any comments into context. I listened with care to the remarks made by experienced Conservative Members. It is easy for us to criticise with hindsight, and there has been a tremendous number of references to 1967. It is clear that this outbreak of the disease was not identified early, which means that the virus had numerous routes of transmission that could not be shut off because it had already passed through them. There appears to be far more movement of stock, particularly of sheep, than in 1967, making spread of the disease rapid and exposure wide and not readily predictable.
The main carrier is our sheep flock, in which movements and locations of animals are far less traceable than in other species. Flocks and herds are far larger than in 1967, making the sheer scale of the outbreak far greater given the lack of early identification. This virus is particularly hard to spot in sheep, making early identification hard. Sheep are fanned extensively, making identification even more difficult in most conditions.
The outcome of those disadvantages is that the disease is far more widespread than in 1967. I share the gloom of Front-Bench Members about the prospect of an early end to the disease or even an early sight of its peak. We face a logistical nightmare. Instead of the relatively tight concentration of outbreaks in the m[...]dlands in 1967, we have outbreaks the length and breadth of the country. That makes the concentration of scarce critical skills in the right places much harder to achieve than before.
When faced with such a problem it is normal, first, to define where those skills add most value and, wherever possible, to simplify the processes that skilled individuals have to follow and, secondly, ruthlessly to prioritise the tasks that they have to carry out. On that point, some of the comments about inexperience this time round have some resonance. Insufficient care has sometimes been taken to define clearly what vets do best and on what they should concentrate all their time. We have not used some of the key analytical and management skills early enough.
The critical tasks in disease control are identifying the disease, valuing the stock, killing the animals and disposing of the carcases. When risk analysis is also involved, movement control management requires analytical skills of a high order. We have had to increase the number of vets available, and identification remains a vital task for the farmer himself. The Government have done their best to recruit vets, but a lack of vets is not the major cause of our difficulty. Understandably, there have been difficulties with valuation, for which there should be simple, fair formulae. I was encouraged by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister said that we are moving towards that.
There is clearly a difficulty in getting qualified slaughtermen to the right places at the right time. As abattoirs are running well below capacity, it should surely be possible to bring those skills to the places where they are needed. Live animals pass on infections—as far as we can tell, often within hours. It is critical that the gap 410 between identification and slaughter be cut from days, which is how long it takes in some parts of the country. to hours.
Destruction of carcases is less critical. In disease control, the critical issue is whether the animal is alive. The presence of carcases is obviously distressing to farmers and others and runs the risk of spreading other kinds of disease, but the destruction of carcases is clearly a lesser priority than some of the other tasks facing the team confronting the disease. As other hon. Members have said, burial is less of an option than in 1967 simply because of the scale of the herds and flocks that we are dealing with. There is also a greater awareness of the potential for pollution from burials. In my area, where there have been seven outbreaks, I would be extremely doubtful of the value of burials on land that lies within the flood plain. Nevertheless, it is clear that burials should be made easier, and we urgently need to clarify what might be the Environment Agency's concerns.
Movement control is a complex process of risk analysis. The disease could be incubating at the time of movement and animals could be infected during that time, so any movement carries some risk. My constituents expect vigilance to prevent the further spread of the disease in the area. Many farmers have expressed concern to me about the complex process that must be undergone to acquire movement licences. That should be simplified for the convenience of farmers and, just as importantly, to reduce the work load on our hard-pressed public servants, who have better things to do than shunt bits of paper around the countryside.
Clear information is critical to the handling of this crisis. Although MAFF's website is excellent in many respects, it is not always up to date. It should include details of sites where a form C has been issued. People should be aware of the high risk attached to a vet's opinion that an outbreak is likely to occur. Farmers have had one high-quality mailing, and I myself received one. They now need much more detailed practical information on issues such as obtaining movement licences, access to the voluntary scheme that has been referred to, rules on disinfectant and restocking and aid packages for farmers considering alternative uses for their property. They need to know how agrimonetary compensation schemes will be firmed up, how exactly the schemes will work and within what timetable.
Initiatives are being taken in my area which are outside the Government's grasp. I commend the Derby Evening Telegraph campaign to aid farmers in the area. It works directly by fundraising and encouraging support for local rural enterprises that have been badly affected by foot and mouth because visitors and business partners have been discouraged from coming to see them. We need market support mechanisms to maintain the prices of the tradeable sector now and through recovery. I commend also the Minister's approach for examining the long-term issues. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made some intelligent remarks about the issues that we must confront.
Finally, we urgently need definition of the policies necessary to aid recovery. Many farmers face a complete reassessment of their life prospects, and it is entirely understandable that they may be considering retirement or an alternative future. We should help them in their time of need. Rural development plan resources are almost 411 certainly inadequate to meet that requirement. We should review the resources already set aside for schemes, which are available to fund alternatives to farming.
Farming and related rural enterprises have a great future in this country. I have said that before and I say it again—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I know that this is a very important debate and many hon. Members want to participate. If everyone takes their 12 minutes, there will be widespread disappointment.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
I shall endeavour to be brief, but I want to make a couple of points on behalf of the farmers of east Kent. The area is not recognised on the maps that one sees on television as being heavily affected by foot and mouth disease, but of course as in any other agricultural area, the knock-on effect is dramatic.
I want to talk about animal welfare on behalf of farmers because there seems to be a mood abroad that farmers do not care. The press have indicated that some of my local farmers are weeping for their bank balances, and one farmer this morning described that quite simply as "offensive crap". He is right to use exactly those words. Farmers care enormously for the welfare of their animals. They care because, as that farmer said, if one has built up a flock of Merinos over three generations and that flock is slaughtered, one is likely to cry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to a field of lambs that the RSPCA ordered to be shot. The cameras do not go into those fields; they are not allowed to. The pictures that the public see on television are not the worst images, although piles of dead animals and palls of smoke are bad enough. The dying lambs; the ewes out in the cold; the pigs crammed into sheds unable to move; the cattle that cannot be moved—those are what ordinary people do not see in newspaper photographs or on television.
This morning, a farmer told me about his flock of sheep on waterlogged pasture, with no edible grass. He has only a fortnight's supply of feed and once that is gone, he will be cleaned out and those animals will starve. I am told that sheep are already starving on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. There is no veterinary care either; even if there was, the farmers cannot afford it. The impact of all of that on farmers who care for their animals is simply terrifying; the impact on the animals themselves is just as bad.
I resented it when the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box this afternoon that thousands of sheep went to the abattoirs every week, and that just a fraction of the national herd was involved, so it did not matter. Of course it does. The knock-on effect extends beyond the animals that are culled and has an impact on every farm and every animal across the land. In the main, those animals cannot be moved into fresh pasture or shelter for lambing; they cannot be moved to feed in areas where there is no feed. The knock-on effect on those who supply wheat feed is just as bad because they cannot get their food to areas where the animals need it.
As I said, the cameras are not going in so people are not seeing that. However, today my farmers and the British Veterinary Association told me, "Cull and bury, and do it 412 fast." That is the message, but there is a backlog of animals waiting for slaughter and burial. In the Chamber last night, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment quoted Humpty Dumpty in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass":'When I use a word [...].. it means what I choose it to mean'" — [Official Report, 20 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 215.]Today's word seems to be logistics; that was the message from the Dispatch Box at Prime Minister's questions. The logistics team of soldiers—who, I am sure, are doing a good job—are going into the west country. However, people there do not need logistics; they need soldiers with machinery to go in and bury the dead animals.
I am angry for those people because a farmer and his wife with dead animals in their pasture are like every man and every woman with their dead dog or dead cat lying unburied on their lawn for days. That is what the Prime Minister is ignoring. The Minister of Agriculture is a decent, honourable and caring man, and his speech was very beguiling indeed. However, the bottom line is that we need not logistics but troops to do the job—the culling and burying. We do not need vets to do that. The BVA and the farmers want that done, and they want it done now.
I want my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to listen. My farmers' criticism of him and of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—not the Government—was not that we had called for a postponement of local elections in Cumbria and Devon, but that we had not done that nation wide. There is no recognition that this is a nationwide problem; it is about not just Cumbria and Devon, but every farm in the land. Do the Government seriously believe that they can go ahead and send out canvassers because advertising has already been booked and 3 May is in the diary, holding the countryside and the rural economy in contempt, when Ministers should be doing the job that they were elected to do and sort out the crisis? If they do, they will pay a terrible price. The farmers are paying a terrible price now, and it behoves all of us to recognise that.
§ Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)
My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) mentioned the need to look at strategy, and to consider whether it is right and whether it is working. I want to say a few things about both the short-term and long-term situation for my famers.
In Pembrokeshire, we have two main industries, agriculture and tourism, both of which have been hit heavily in the past few weeks. We have been fortunate in not being directly affected; ours is still a clean area. However, we have had a couple of blips and worrying incidents, when everyone held their breath. Basically, we export livestock, including cattle, to other areas, where they are fattened up[...] and we have therefore kept clear of foot and mouth disease.
My farmers, with whom I have been regular contact since the outbreak started, wanted me, first, to tell the Minister how grateful they are that he is listening to what they have to say, and is being open about the advice that he is getting. That is a major concern for my farmers, especially bearing in mind the historical record. However, I shall not go into that now, because farmers also tell me that they are desperate that the issue should not become 413 political in any way. They are grateful for the cross-party approach to the issue, which is far too important to make cheap political points on the back of the United Kingdom's rural economy. That is the other prime message that my farmers in Pembrokeshire would want to give the House.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell—Savours) in praising the role of Ben Gill, who has shown great courage in his approach to the problem. He, too, is looking to both the long term and the short term, even when it has been difficult for some of his members to cope with that.
Although we must keep the problem clear of party political issues, we cannot ignore a couple of small points arising from past decisions. First, there is a shortage of vets because of the decimation over 10 years of the state veterinary service. Secondly—and this relates to my Pembrokeshire farmers—another problem arose from the restrictions imposed after the BSE cr[...]sis.
§ Mrs. Lawrence
I see the Opposition spokesman gesticulating. I hope that he will agree with what I am going to say, especially since his Government, regrettably, were responsible for those measures.
§ Mrs. Lawrence
I am terribly sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that raising regulations that had to be introduced because of BSE is a cheap political point. Those regulations are having a major impact on livestock farmers in my area. The over-30-months scheme, for example, is having an impact, along with movement restrictions. My farmers in Pembrokeshire are responsible people and could, if they wished, fatten their livestock on waste vegetable matter, as happens in other areas. They choose not to because they are responsible people who keep their animals on grass until the last minute and send them to market before the 30-month limit. As a result of the foot and mouth outbreak coming on top of the BSE restrictions, they must face the fact that they simply get the sum, under the OTMS, for cattle for which they would normally get market value.
Since the end of February, I have argued in the House that affected farmers should be classed as eligible for direct, rather than consequential, compensation. As a result of the regulations, their cattle are as condemned, just as they would be if they had FMD. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) chooses to ignore that fact.
Several concerns that I expressed in our debate on 5 March have now been addressed. I spoke about small-scale movement of livestock within holdings, so I was pleased to hear about provision for further movement and for licensing longer journeys in clean areas. That provision will be helpful in my constituency.
My local branch of the National Farmers Union has spoken to me about the role of the Army. It recently said, "Jackie, tell the Minister that we are desperately concerned. We want everybody to pull together, including 414 the Army, but we want them to be used appropriately." The Army could, for example, be put in charge of ensuring that proper disinfection systems are up and running for movements over long distances. It certainly has the necessary manpower for such tasks. The NFU has significant concerns, which I am sure were the basis of the comments that my right hon. Friend the Minister made earlier.
I should like to make a quick point about the broader scene with regard to farming business and the wider rural economy. A couple of weeks ago, I rang the Samaritans in my area to find out how much more their services were being used. Clearly, some people are desperate about facing the future with so much uncertainty. I was told that not only in Pembrokeshire, but in the area represented by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and in Carmarthenshire, a shortage of funding means that the Samaritans in those areas can offer a counselling service only during certain hours of the day. For the rest of the time, the service has to be switched to Swansea, an urban centre that is some 70 miles away. I ask local authorities throughout Wales and the United Kingdom to consider giving stronger support to organisations such as the Samaritans, as they are very useful in helping people to cope with difficult circumstances. They are especially important in respect of farming, as so many farmers lead extremely isolated existences.
I have already mentioned the OTMS. Farmers have told me that a 28-day movement restriction is needed for animals that have just been purchased at market. It has been suggested that they should stay in one settlement before being moved again, so that any disease can manifest itself within those 28 days. I was sent an article from Farming News by Mr. William George, a livestock farmer in Camrose in my constituency. He pointed out the final paragraph of the article, which states:The solution being mooted … is some form of movement control. A limit to the frequency of stock movement.It would mean more red tape and checks, but could have made isolating this terrible FMD outbreak much easier.The article deals with a matter of growing concern among people in Pembrokeshire.
We have also read in the newspapers recently about farmers who have been responsible enough to take out insurance to cover them for of foot and mouth losses and whose policies have come up for renewal during the outbreak. Apparently, many farmers have been refused renewal by the insurance companies, which are happy to take money when there is no FMD, but whose attitude changes the minute that it appears on the scene. They are behaving immorally by not fulfilling their commitments to allow farmers to renew their policies. Will the Government please consider introducing a proper, Government-based insurance scheme that will cover all farmers in respect of any such problems in future?
My farmers also continually express concerns about imports. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would look into illegal imports and consider what action needs to be taken on them. He also gave an assurance that he would look into regulation regarding pig swill. It is an absolute scandal that £5,000 is the maximum fine for someone who is shown to have broken the rules by feeding unsterilised pig swill, when, if feeding unsterilised swill is shown to be the cause of the disease, it will have cost the British economy £9 billion.
415 I have spoken for only nine minutes, but I am aware that other hon. Members want to raise constituency issues. I should like to speak about one further concern among my farmers in Pembrokeshire. They are decent, honest people who are trying to make a living from the land. They have been most anxious about reports published recently in the national media about movements arising from so-called sheep leasing, allegedly used to beat quotas; there have also been reports of some farmers moving animals closer to sources of infection. Of course, anxieties have also been expressed about illegal movements in general. My farmers are anxious for the Government to take quick and efficient action if there proves to be any substance to those allegations. They fear that unless such action is taken, illegal activities could wrongly influence people's attitudes towards them, as they are honest, decent people.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
I shall try to follow the example of the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and keep my remarks short.
Like many rural MPs, I have been approached by many farmers who are very worried about the outbreak. On one occasion, two farmers' wives "hijacked" me into their car as I walked down the street. They wanted to press the concerns that I hope to get on the record now. Obviously, the Minister of State may not be able to address all my points; if so, I hope that MAFF will consider the details and write to me.
I want to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who made a general case about all farmers and the economic plight that they are suffering, whether or not they are directly affected by the disease. I want also to associate myself with comments made by other hon. Members about the wider community.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) rightly raised the issue of consequential costs, which the Government will have to confront. We are discussing a major crisis that has hit an industry that was already on its knees, and which was blighted by so many other problems that it simply could not take on board the consequential losses of the outbreak. I join in expressing sympathy for people in the area represented by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and in neighbouring constituencies. Many of them have been devastated by the disease, and I thank him for expressing the wish that the rest of us will not face such serious problems.
I am disappointed that even when Ministers say that welfare movements will be improved, it takes time for such changes to be made. Once the hope has been prompted that a measure will be introduced to help in dealing with the crisis, it must be delivered as quickly as possible if farmers' morale is to be kept up. They sit at home and see the issues being reported, but then find that they are not necessarily arriving on the ground.
Many people are anxious about the quality of imports and have asked about their control and inspection. Labelling is a related concern. It is extremely disappointing for farmers to hear about carcases entering 416 the country to be butchered here and then turn up as British meat in the supermarket, especially when they have met far higher quality standards than the producers of that imported meat and have paid proper attention to disease and to human health.
If licensed movement is to work for the farmers, proper capacity is required in the abattoirs. Farmers have told me about their worry that the imports of foreign meat that arrived during the complete close-down have reduced the available capacity to make such licensed movement work. What are the Government doing to monitor the abattoirs' capacity and their ability to provide an outlet at the other end of the process? If such measures are to relieve farmers' problems, abattoirs must be able to process the stock.
Abattoirs have raised with me another serious concern. They are worried about how long they will have to close down for if they open up to take licensed movements but end up receiving infected animals. The risk of closing down for a month—the time scale applied for many closures—and suffering the consequent damage is not one that they are willing to take. That risk is especially great with regard to sheep whose symptoms are less obvious.
I heard on the phone recently about worries in respect of the fact that some flocks have been traced back to the market very late in the process. Farmers who are trying to protect their herds want reassurance that information on where every movement has ended up is now out in the open. They do not want suddenly to find that a nearby flock carries a high risk and that they have not been able to take extra precautions.
Let us consider the wider lessons and the way in which we can deal with some the problems of movement. One farmer made the point that if we are going to create producer co-operatives, reduce movements and introduce electronic auctions, farmers need to have more confidence in the grading at abattoirs. Any sizeable producer co-operative will have to use more than one abattoir. Such producers will not get a choice of abattoirs, but if they opt out of the co-operative, they can choose the abattoir where the grading is most sympathetic to the supplier. I have raised that point with Ministers and the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Farmers have made the valid point that if they have no confidence in the grading system, they will not happily auction animals electronically to any old abattoir for a price that can be downgraded when the animals arrive. For farmers to reduce movements and ensure that the system is working efficiently, they must have confidence in the grading system.
I want to emphasise the strain on those farmers who are not yet directly affected. That is a problem throughout the country. It is vital that we learn lessons from the crisis. Clearly, most of MAFF's energy must be directed at containing and controlling the outbreak. However, it must also try to learn how to avoid a recurrence. We cannot go through such a crisis again. If the original trigger is not identified, fully understood and placed on the record as soon as possible, we cannot be confident that we will have the necessary precautions for avoiding a recurrence.
I stress to the media the importance of balance. It is difficult for them to deal with a continuing crisis that takes time to develop, because they need a new story or angle all the time. The fire-break strategy caused a media feeding frenzy about the slaughter of healthy animals. An 417 outbreak of any disease on a farm means that all animals on the farm are slaughtered. Some may be healthy at the time, but all animals must be slaughtered to contain the disease. The fire-break strategy is simply an extension of that, because the disease is not easily contained or easily detectable. Rather than referring to the slaughter of healthy animals, the media should use the phrase "apparently healthy". The strategy is being used to remove infectivity from the flock.
I especially remember Kevin Bouquet revealing the journalist's lack of perspective when he nearly began a report by saying, "They are about to murder"—before correcting himself and using the word "slaughter". There must be perspective in reporting the outbreak if the wider public are to understand and embrace the strategy.
Obviously, I cannot meet farmers groups now. However, in meetings between representatives of NFU branches, Members of Parliament and Members of the Scottish Parliament, and with individual farmers, I have been impressed by the energy with which they try to understand the wider issues that affect their industry and the complexities that surround them. Often, when I am on a platform and one farmer confronts me with a question that is almost impossible to answer, another mentions the complex reason for a certain regulation, for instance, before I have a chance to try to reply.
Farmers live and breathe their industry. Farming is not a nine-to-five job; it takes over farmers' lives. The crisis deeply affects them and their families. The nature of the disease controls means that their natural support networks are not there. I hope that the wider community understands how seriously they are affected, and that the Government recognise the importance of tackling the crisis, and of taking every possible measure to contain it now. I urge them on in their actions. They must accept some of the anxieties about implementation and the need to take advice from the Army. They must take their action forward because the disease must be tackled quickly, efficiently and effectively if the strain is to be removed from all our farmers and the wider community.
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith), who speaks with great authority about the experience in Scotland, and to follow other hon. Members who have spoken with passion about the serious predicament that faces the country. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) told especially disturbing stories and spoke very well.
I did not expect to attend a debate in the House today, because I had made plans to be in my constituency to share a platform with the Archbishop of Wales. I regret that I am not able to do that, but I am sure that people will appreciate the necessity of my being here to speak on behalf of the farmers of Monmouthshire.
Until last Friday, we had had a few scares, but no outbreaks in Monmouthshire. Last Friday, the first case was confirmed on a small farm in Grosmont near the Hereford border. The outbreak in Llancloudy in Herefordshire meant that movement across much of Monmouthshire was restricted. The case in Grosmont sent a shudder through Monmouthshire farmers, who expressed to me the anxieties that I shall outline.
418 Although the outbreak in Grosmont was confirmed on Friday, the stock was not slaughtered until Monday. I took that up with the Ministry vet in Cardiff, who informed me that the infected stock were killed over the weekend, but local farmers dispute that. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to make inquiries at the National Assembly for Wales about that.
Neighbouring farmers say that they were not formally notified of the case and they believe that communications have not been as good as Ministers said they ought to be. There has been a suspect case at the neighbouring farm of Mr. David Probert, who was chairman of the Monmouthshire branch of the National Farmers Union until a couple of years ago. He shot the suspect sheep immediately and put them in bags. He is now awaiting, with some trepidation, confirmation of an outbreak. I have discussed those matters with Mr. David Thomas, the Ministry vet in Cardiff, and I appreciate his help, advice and willingness to speak to local farmers.
I recently spoke to a pig farmer in my constituency. We have few pig farms in Monmouthshire, but Mr. Whittal-Williams informed me that there are 3,000 pigs currently on his farm. At this stage, he would normally have only 2,000. The extra pigs are overweight and growing rapidly. They cannot be housed adequately, they are fighting each other and some have even fallen into the slurry pit and drowned. That is an especially disturbing animal welfare case. Mr. Whittal-Williams feels incredibly frustrated that he cannot either get the pigs to abattoirs, which will not take them anyway, or get them destroyed on animal welfare grounds and be compensated. I welcome the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that animal welfare considerations for slaughtering such pigs will be in force as quickly as possible.
In recent discussions in my constituency with the NFU and the Farmers Union of Wales representatives expressed anxiety about the welfare of sheep in Monmouthshire, about the need to move lambing ewes indoors, and about farms that are divided by the restricted area boundary. Farmers cannot bring their sheep from one part of the farm to another because the boundary runs through it. They also want to be able to bring home sheep that are on tack, so I am glad that licences are available for that. I am grateful for the representations that farmers have made to me and for being able to convey them to Ministers.
Farmers have expressed anxiety about dealers who buy and sell livestock around the country and put small groups of livestock together. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) said, a 28-day restriction on livestock movement could help to prevent such outbreaks.
Farmers have also expressed frustration over the role allocated to the Army and hon. Members have spoken of the need to involve the Royal Engineers. I have in my constituency the senior Territorial Army regiment in the country: the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers. They go out on exercises every month.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
I have heard the hon. Gentleman say that before. The senior Territorial 419 Army regiment in Britain is, of course, the Honourable Artillery Company, which is 200 years older than the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers.
§ Mr. Edwards
Thank you, Jamest—that was really useful. The hon. Gentleman has intervened on me on that point three or four times, and I still believe that I am absolutely correct. The regiment that the hon. Gentleman represents is the oldest, whereas the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers is the senior regiment. I hope that my point has been made.
Farmers with pedigree herds are also concerned that, if the disease spreads, they will have their entire herds wiped out after building them up for many years. The previous owners of their farms, perhaps their fathers, often helped to build up such herds, and it would be a tremendous tragedy if they were to be lost completely.
I am grateful for the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has dealt with the crisis. As I said in the House a week or so ago, the farmers of Monmouthshire do not often compliment Agriculture Ministers. I have represented them when there has been a Conservative Agriculture Minister, as I now represent them when there is a Labour one, and there is a feeling that my right hon. Friend has handled the crisis rationally and soundly. That is not to say that they have not been concerned about some aspects of the crisis and how it has been dealt with. Of course, there has been concern about the delays in having sheep and other livestock identified and slaughtered.
I am grateful that my right hon. Friend has made available the agrimonetary compensation. It is important to reiterate that this Government have devoted more than £600,000 to agrimonetary compensation, whereas the previous Government did not devote one penny to it. Agrimonetary compensation is not compensation for foot and mouth, but it is right that it has been brought in as quickly as possible to provide an important mitigating form of support.
The tourist industry in my constituency is very important. My constituency includes the beautiful Wye valley, and the Llanthony valley, of which many people are unaware. I hope that, when the time is right, they will be able to visit it. In those tourist areas, market towns such as Monmouth, Chepstow, Abergavenny and Usk have all been affected by people's sense of responsibility that they ought not to travel into rural parts of the country. Perhaps that feeling is genuinely felt, but it is somewhat misguided. We have so many attractive pubs, restaurants and hotels, probably all of which have been affected in one way or another by the lack of custom resulting from the restrictions.
I have been speaking to the proprietors of the Crown hotel at Whitebrook in my constituency. It is a beautiful small hotel with an equally beautiful restaurant, which has suffered quite considerably. I know that the proprietors appreciated the measures that the Minister for the Environment announced yesterday. Those announcements went further than many people in the tourist trade had anticipated, and I am sure that those people are grateful for that and will look forward to the introduction of any future measures.
The farming community has been subject to a number of crises in the past five to 10 years, and now it is facing another crisis. I hope that we can all work together to 420 support those in tha[...] community who have worked with great resolution. I feel the greatest sympathy for them, but they need much more than sympathy and I hope that we can work together to bring about a resolution to this crisis.
§ Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and [...] express my commiserations to him and his farmers. Mi[...]e was the first constituency in which the fires started to b[...]rn, and I know exactly what he must be going through. I[...] is very difficult talking to farmers whose livelihoods a[...]e being destroyed before their eyes. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) talked about Members of Parliament all being social workers now, and that is indeed the case. We are spending a lot of time with our farmers, trying to solve various problems.
I am pleased to see the Minister of State on the Front Bench. It would be churlish of me not to thank her for her office's help when I had a problem earlier last week with getting some sheep moved to Brindles farm in my constituency from the neighbouring fields. The farm is well outside the 3 km net, and was working within the regulations, but people on the ground were unwilling to take the necessary decision. Had it not been for the kind intervention of the right hon. Lady's office, that movement would not have happened, which would have led to the unnecessary deaths of perfectly healthy sheep.
That case illustrates the problem that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) mentioned, which is that people are unwilling to take decisions. It is absurd that a Member of Parliament has to ring the Minister of State's office to arrange for a few sheep to be pushed through a hole in a hedge in a field in Essex. There is a lesson to be learned from that.
I also need to thank the right hon. Lady for the decision to speed up the opening of the abattoir in my constituency in which the foot and mouth outbreak was first diagnosed. I went round the abattoir last Friday with the owner, looking at the preparations for reopening, and I was struck by the necessity of getting that abattoir back into operation. It was strategically important for the pig industry of the United Kingdom, and it will help enormously in dealing with the problems from which that industry is suffering. It is a good thing that it is going to reopen, particularly as it ensured, by being so vigilant, that the foot and mouth outbreak was identified so early.
One of the more chilling aspects of the Minister of Agriculture's statement this afternoon was his saying that the crisis—far from being over and far from being under control—is going to get much worse, and that the number of cases, and the number of herds affected, is going to rise. The disease is undoubtedly going to spread. We are experiencing exactly the same sort of thing that we did in 1967. This is a peculiar disease, because it will jump over a farm, missing it completely, and occur in another one. It will then jump again, quite wildly, across the county.
My worry is that, while we are trying to get this outbreak, this epidemic, this great crisis under control, we now have to start to think about what is going to be left. I believe that we need a rescue package. We have gone beyond talking about compensation now. We have gone beyond haggling over individual carcases. We are talking about what is going to be left, what kind of British agriculture will exist, and what kind of support services there will be, in terms of abattoirs and haulage services.
421 Gaining control over this dreadful disease should not blind us to coming up with a rescue package. After all, in one small section of the pig industry, 800 tonnes of sow carcases are being processed every week. Something is happening to those pigs that are not going to slaughter. We know the effects and we have to ensure that, as we start to bring the industry together, there is some means left by which the industry can survive.
Many problems that farmers face, especially the fall in farm incomes, have been described today, most notably by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin). About three weeks before the outbreak, I met about 16 farmers who are well established in my constituency to discuss the crisis in the industry. They said that few of their children want to take over their farms and many have gone into other businesses. A young farmer who graduated from Reading university about three years ago told me that only two of his class are active in agriculture. People have moved into jobs elsewhere.
Farmers tell me that they are simply overstaffed. Many are keeping people on because of the commitment that they feel towards their employees, but the prospect of their being able to retain staff is beginning to diminish as the crisis deepens. Farmers quote a long list of burdens that have been placed on them by the Government and local government, such as having to collect taxes, having to distribute benefits, having to fill in forms and having to duplicate paperwork for different Departments.
Yesterday, I was surprised by the Minister for the Environment's comments on the climate change levy. He said, "Don't worry about the climate change levy. It will not really affect farms." He added thatoverwhelmingly, it will be larger and non-rural businesses that will certainly have liabilities under the levy." —[Official Report, 20 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 195.]I am sure that that is absolutely right. More urban businesses will be involved, but rural businesses will also be affected by the levy. Significantly, my farmers raised the climate change levy with me and [...] have also received telephone calls about it since the outbreak.
Even if the Minister for the Environment is right about the long-term benefits that the levy will achieve, surely it makes sense to ensure that farmers who are facing up to these great difficulties are relieved of that problem. Why place additional burdens on farmers at this most difficult time?
Today, I talked to an old friend who is a hill farmer in the Pennines, where I used to live. His farm and his area are fortunately free of foot and mouth, but he wanted me to tell the House that if foot and mouth strikes, he will give up. That applies not only to him but to the majority of his neighbours. Restocking simply would not be worth while—he could not afford to restock—and if farmers go out of business, the nature of the Pennine foothills will change for ever.
May I make a suggestion to the Minister about how to get the pig industry back in operation when the crisis passes? East Anglia, for example, has been hit badly because it has suffered from classical swine fever, so we must recognise what has happened to that industry. When foot and mouth descended on us, pigmeat imports increased enormously, but some supermarkets underestimated consumers and put on the market joints that people simply did not want. The net result was the complete collapse in the price of pigmeat.
422 To retrieve the position, we need to go with the market and the way it operates. We must support infrastructure and we should encourage the private commercial storage of pigmeat by giving aid to abattoirs. Such a system could operate only if it went with the general trend: modern consumers want meat traceability. Encouraging private storage of meat by commercial abattoirs would enable us, in time, to offer a guarantee that such pork came from a farm free of foot and mouth. That would be a better way in which to stabilise quality in the market after the crisis and I hope that the Minister will consider ways to achieve that which flow with the general mood of market.
I have one message to pass on from my farmers: the crisis is about respect. They expect the Government to respect the countryside. Ministers talk about people going to the countryside, but that runs contrary to what they know is right in respect of ensuring that the outbreak does not spread. When they talk about tourism, my farmers say that what they are really talking about is the enormous amount that the Labour party has spent on posters and its publicity campaign.
The signal for which the outside world does not look is a Labour candidate wandering up the drive in a borrowed Barbour and a red rosette. That is not what will end the crisis.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
When I last spoke in a debate on this subject, my speech preceded that of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). He made some nice remarks about me, and until the last minute of his speech tonight, I had intended to make some nice remarks about him. I could go along with nearly all he said during the first 11 minutes, but that last minute contained remarks that could be described as a little far-fetched.
This has been a sombre debate, as indeed it needed to be. It has also been an honest debate. However, some of us become riled by accusations based on the idea of town versus country. Many of us represent what I would describe as semi-rural areas, which contain urban centres in the form of market towns but which also feature a rural hinterland in the villages and the surrounding land, most of which is farmland.
At times such as this, it behoves everyone to try to bring people together. I have been genuinely impressed by some sharing of ideas about strategy and by the attempts of politicians on both sides of the divide to find some hope in what has been happening. There is no case for politicking: many people look to this place for leadership, and they will not find it if we are seen to be bickering and point scoring.
We are going through an emotional time, and we have heard some moving speeches. I pay special tribute to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), whose constituencies are at the centre of the catastrophe.
We are, in fact, talking about three separate parts of the agricultural environment. There are the hot spots—Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, and Devon. There are a number of other areas in which infectivity is present, and must be dealt with through a range of measures. Then there is the rest of the country, which may have experienced the odd case but to which we are trying to 423 restore some normality. We are, however, sharing common worries and calling together for the cohesive action that is needed.
If there is any lesson that we can learn from today's debate, it is this. It is not necessarily the case that mistakes have been made, but there have been problems in the way in which policies have evolved, and in the way in which decisions were—or should have been—made.
We should recognise, following what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister, that more bad news seems likely, but as the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar sensibly said, the disease is difficult to predict. There have been two outbreaks in my constituency, and there is no rhyme or reason as to why those holdings suffered and others have not. Pray God the others will not suffer, but there is a measure of uncertainty about how the disease begins to take hold, which makes coming up with solutions that much more difficult—if, that is, we are to avoid the most drastic solution, which is the "clean ring", or proactive culling.
There is much that we should try to do in regard to the science of the problem. Some of that is for the future, but we need to use some science today to learn how to discover further outbreaks as quickly as possible, to implement a slaughter policy, and—this seems to be, in many respects, the most difficult aspect—to dispose of animals in the right way.
Alongside the science of dealing with the disease are all the usual problems over money and compensation. It may be of secondary importance, but we fool ourselves if we regard it as being of no importance. Unfortunately, for all sorts of reasons, people haggle.
As I said in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), there was some criticism of the work of valuers in the other place. I have talked to valuers and they have fiercely defended their position and the way in which they work under pressure. They seem to be paid more than vets from private practice, and perhaps that needs to be changed, but we need all those people in place.
It is not a question of MAFF doing all the work, with the help of the Army and other public servants. We are indebted to the private service and must try to make that relationship work as well as it can. When I talk about the public service, it is important to remember local government, as I have tried to do whenever I have spoken, because it has done an amazing amount of good work.
I want to talk about agriculture because that is the issue that most affects me and we should, I suppose, concentrate on it, but like every other hon. Member in an affected area where there is infectivity, I know that other parts of our environment and the context in which people live their lives are being drastically affected. I have in my constituency the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre at Slimbridge, which for the past two weeks has been closed. An organisation that relies almost entirely on people coming through the door—I accept that there is some charitable giving on top of that—is day after day incapable of opening. It has staff with whom it does not know what to do. Should it get them to do some tidying up or research, or should it lay them off? Those are the dramatic, drastic decisions that people face in those areas.
424 I am indebted to MAFF because it has helpfully clarified the position with regard to whether such organisations should be open or closed. That makes a lot of difference in respect not only of loss of revenue in the immediate future, but of possible insurance claims and of how to re-gear. Businesses based around other wildlife face a tricky transitional period in getting the public back into their facilities again. It will perhaps not be as tricky as restocking will be for our farmers, but it is a difficult exercise that must be thought through carefully. People will need monetary help as well as advice on how to do it.
Other hon. Members have spent some time going through the antecedents of the disease. I can make suppositions only on the basis of what we appear to know about where it came from, the implications of that and the way in which it has spread throughout the country. My hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) both talked about the movement of animals throughout the country. We need to consider carefully whether those movements are excessive and whether we should demand that animals stay in situ for longer.
Whether one thinks that that was a causal feature or an effect, the nature of the movement of sheep in particular has added to the seriousness of the outbreaks. I do not mind saying that we must question at least some of the ways in which dealers operate. Perhaps they feel that they are in the frame to take too much of the blame. They will in due course have the opportunity, through the media and in other ways, to defend their position.
From talking to farmers—dealers are, in their own way, farmers—I know that there is some question about whether we have gone too far in allowing such movement to take place. That leads us to questions about the food chain. Clearly, sheep are not traceable in the way that cattle and pigs are. More particularly, we must look at the centralisation of the food chain and how we move animals nationally and internationally. Some animals were exported to France and had to be slaughtered.
I want to look forward. We know the difficulties of the current situation and we feel great sorrow for those who are affected and in the depths of despair. However, we will see the problem through and get on top of foot and mouth. In so doing, we must recognise that, in reconstructing the industry, we must learn some lessons. There may be some value in re-engineering a localised food chain that locks into what the consumer seems to want. That is not a call for a drastically different food chain, but one that is in tune with what the customer wants. That will involve different production and distribution methods, which cannot come too soon.
We must examine how MAFF has performed. There seems to be agreement across the House that it has handled the basic strategy well, but there are points of detail, particularly in the hot spots. I heard what was said by hon. Members from Cumbria, where things are very difficult. There is an issue about the command-and-control structure and the way in which MAFF can give information. We can learn from that and get on top of the disease. We must look outwards and onwards, as that is what our farmers want at this time.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise some matters of great importance to my constituents. We have cases of foot and 425 mouth and, as in many other constituencies, the farming community is on tenterhooks. The pressure on farms—particularly the small family farms in my constituency, which is a livestock area—is enormous. I hope that, as the days go by, we will hear about the ways in which the Government are addressing the issues raised tonight and on earlier dates by hon. Members because the present situation needs to be changed.
In my area, slaughtered animals have been left in fields for up to a week before removal. However, it is not just that they lie in the fields. They are attacked by vermin, and that is a matter of great concern in terms of the spreading of the disease. Of course, moving animals that have been lying in that condition for a week is a very unpleasant task. Anyone who knows what happens to an animal post mortem will know that. There is also an added risk in terms of what is spread when the animals are moved.
Ministers have heard pleas from both sides of the House. It is essential that animals be disposed of immediately they are slaughtered. The plan must be there and put into action. Members on both sides have called for the Army to be more actively involved. In Devon, it has been deployed this week, but not for the purpose of overseeing the removal and disposal of animal carcases.
I have heard the arguments against burial on farms. Clearly, there are some farms and parts of farms where burial would be highly inappropriate, particularly because of leaching, contamination and the level of the water table. However, farmers know their land, and I believe that carcases could be disposed of on-farm in many cases. In that way, we could speed up the system and allow vets to be released to do other work. That would make a significant difference, as the task of overseeing the disposal of animals could well be left to the armed forces.
The Minister of Agriculture said that the problem was likely to get worse. The figures in my area show that it is getting worse every day. We must therefore make big changes in how we tackle the slaughter of animals and the disposal of carcases.
I intervened on the Minister earlier about a case in my constituency involving the welfare of pigs, and I was grateful for his response. People in this country say that they care about animal welfare, but they would be appalled if they could see some of the critical problems on-farm. The pig industry especially is in great distress, as animals are growing in size and are densely stocked. On welfare grounds, therefore, something must be done to help pig herds.
The scheme introduced last Thursday has a proper structure. Matters to do with compensation remain to be discussed, but I reiterate a plea that I have made before: will the Ministry please allow animals to be slaughtered on veterinary certification alone? We could then deal with the rest of the bureaucracy and the payments afterwards. Such an approach is justified on welfare grounds, and it would mean that we could start to sort out some of the pig industry's problems tomorrow.
I want to pay tribute to Mrs. Jean Turnbull of the National Pig Association. Her telephone number has been circulated around the country, so that pig farmers undergoing a great deal of stress and worry can ring her, day or night. She has also given out her mobile number for the same reason. All hon. Members who have had to deal with some distressing cases in the past two weeks 426 will have appreciated the fact that people like Jean Turnbull have offered their support in helping to talk people through their problems.
We should not underestimate the stress that the farming community is going through. It is tragic and difficult for people to come to terms with the slaughter of their animals, but hon. Members from all parties have noted that the problem is not confined to them. Families waiting to see whether they are going to be the next to suffer are also under stress. For instance, a lady telephoned in the morning a week ago last Sunday as I was peeling the vegetables, saying that she just had to talk to someone. That illustrates the stress that families are going through.
The consequence of the outbreak for many people will be that they will lose their farms. Tenant farmers in my constituency tell me that they will have nothing if they lose all their stock. Many of them are close to retirement, and do not have the years in front of them in which they can rebuild. Even if they were given the money tomorrow, the experience has knocked the stuffing out of people of that older generation. I therefore urge the Minister of State to look at what can be done to help those who want to leave farming, and to give hope to the younger generation who will have to face the challenge of restocking and starting again under the most severe of circumstances.
It will be a long time before farms can be restocked. People's financial problems arising from the loss of stock will be exacerbated by the fact that there will be a long lead time before they can restock and get going again.
All hon. Members pray that the outbreak ends as soon as possible, but the reality is that it will not just disappear. The problem will remain for some months to come. Even when the last case has been dealt with, there will be a long period of restructuring and reorganisation before farms can get back into business.
I also ask the Minister of State to address the situation, particularly in the west country, where there are animals that could be slaughtered for the food chain now. I was encouraged to hear the figures on how the amount of meat in various species is increasing in terms of its distribution through the food chain.
I am particularly concerned about the sheep industry and about getting more sheep into the food chain. This is the time of year when thousands of animals, known in the west country as hoggets, are ready for the table. They are about a year old and have been fattened up. We need those animals to come to slaughter and to enter the food chain. Has the Ministry considered whether there may be a case for intervention if the meat from animals that are slaughtered for the food chain is not immediately taken into the food chain? That would give farmers some hope.
Some farmers are having difficulty feeding their stock. Mr. Lee, in Sandford in my constituency, has a feed bill of £4,000 a week, but no income. Mr. Hill, who farms a smaller farm in Ashley, has a feed bill of £1,000 a week, but no income. Farmers are extremely worried about how they will continue to feed their animals. Has MAFF considered contingency arrangements for emergency feedstuffs when the feed runs out, as it certainly will for some of my farmers in the next couple of weeks? They will not be able to buy feed for their animals because they cannot pay for it, which is very distressing.
Much has been said about bureaucracy. I know only too well how difficult it is to get wheels turning as quickly as one would like on occasions. However, a little more 427 flexibility would help. In my constituency, for example, there is a very small, minor country road going through a farm. It is between Uplowman village and Stag Mill. The local villagers have, by consent, decided not to use the road through the farm because there is an alternative lane that can easily be used to bypass it. They do not want to put the farm at risk. The "road closed" signs put up by the villagers were taken down by the authorities, and they were told that they would be fined if they did it again. That is surely bureaucratic nonsense.
I have not phoned the Minister's office about the matter because I know that she has a lot of very difficult cases to deal with and that a lot of people are ringing her. However, where common sense prevails in a local community whose members want to protect the local farm, surely that common sense can be respected, without the need for an official to take the signs down. After all, it will not inconvenience anybody. That is an indication of the enormous concern and respect felt in the rural community for farms. The problem affects the whole countryside.
We have heard much this week about alternative industries in the rural areas connected with farming—perhaps not the most obvious ones—that are affected. I ask the Minister of State, as many hon. Members have tonight, to clarify what is meant by access to the countryside. I confess that I would be hard-pressed to advise a constituent what it really means. It is not sufficient to say that people should not go near grazing animals in fields. We all know that the disease can be transmitted on the wheels of vehicles and by people. Although human beings are not affected by the disease, they can carry it, so there is a certain nervousness in rural communities, which understand these things, about what is meant by access to the countryside.
A lady in my constituency has just invested her life savings in a fishing tackle shop, yet people cannot go out into the countryside to fish—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)
Order. Many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, so I ask Members to be brief so that as many as possible may speak.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)
I shall be as brief as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have great sympathy with all the hon. Members who have spoken about the way in which their constituencies have been directly affected by outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. I am fortunate enough to have a large farming constituency that has not, so far, had an outbreak, although a suspected case a few weeks ago turned out to be negative.
I intend to speak on the impact of the current situation on my constituency and my farmers. I have some suggestions for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that may ease matters. My farmers have problems of animal welfare and the costs that flow from that. In particular, the establishment of the longer-distance licence movement scheme has raised some problems. It is, I accept, a brand new scheme, which is bound to have 428 teething problems, but it is important to address such problems quickly so that movements in my constituency and that of my he n. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs Lawrence) may take place.
Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and, to a lesser extent, Ceredigion are areas in which there are many sheep during winter. Thousands of sheep from elsewhere in Wales are now on pasture that should be used for dairy herds. That is adding significantly to animal welfare problems for sheep that should be moved elsewhere and to the costs of farmers who want to get their dairy herds into the fields.
There are also welfare problems for dairy herds that are off their home farms and within the same area but outside the short-distance movement radius for the previous licensing scheme. That problem was brought to my attention by Mr. and Mrs. John, whose home farm is near Templeton in my constituency, but who rent land 25 to 30 miles away in Angle. They have 50 dairy cows calving on that land at the moment. They want to bring the cows to their home farm for obvious reasons. They are travelling three times a day back and forth, which is not a good thing when we are trying to limit the number of movements. It is essential that the licence scheme for longer-distance movement should be got up and running.
The initial problem with the availability of application forms has now been sorted. That was followed by the problem of centres for disinfection and cleaning of vehicles, which are essential. That, too, is now up and running. Now, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) said, there are questions about the licences themselves. I understand that matters are in hand, but the licences must be made available as quickly as possible.
I perceive a further problem. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that movements would be accompanied, and I have reservations about that. I understand that agricultural development advisory service staff will accompany the vehicles, but as some round trips may amount to 100 or 200 miles, tying up staff to accompany some vehicles may create a problem with finding personnel to accompany others. As the vehicles will be sealed, just as Customs and Excise seals bonded vehicles between a port and a bonded warehouse, would it not be better for ADAS staff to seal a vehicle at one end and have another member of staff at the receiving farm to ensure that the seal had not been tampered with? It would seem better to use ADAS personnel in that way than to insist on them making the full journey.
I want to raise with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State the over-30-months scheme, to which other hon. Members have also referred. An early decision is needed that payment will be made to farmers with beef cattle who, through no fault of their own, cannot get the cattle to market before the 30-months deadline and who thus make a substantial loss. That would be welcome.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food referred to the need to establish collection centres so that the smaller beef producers can put together a load of animals to be taken to an abattoir. I realise that there are difficulties, but I hope that work will continue on such schemes; they offer a way of ensuring that beef cattle get to an abattoir before the 30-months deadline
429 I have some comments on the wider rural economy. As I have pointed out in previous debates, I was a Member of Parliament when we were dealing with the Sea Empress disaster, which had a massive effect on the tourism industry although there was a huge compensation scheme. In my constituency, the tourism sector is probably far larger than the agriculture sector in that it employs more people and generates more revenue. Even in seaside resorts such as Tenby and Saundersfoot, hoteliers are already expressing real concern about the impact of foot and mouth.
We learned several lessons from our experience after the Sea Empress disaster in 1996. The first was that perception is all. News programmes covered in great detail, rightly, the environmental damage—the huge amounts of oil washed up on the Carmarthenshire and south Pembrokeshire coasts. During the first week of that disaster, the phones rang constantly at the hotels and caravan parks; unfortunately, all the calls were cancellations. Even though the disaster happened in February, people were cancelling their July and August holidays because of their perception that the whole environment of Pembrokeshire was so seriously damaged that they would not be able to take their holidays. That was not true, but that was the perception at the time.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who is not in his place at present, referred to the cancellation of the county council elections—as did his hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). If that happened, the perception would be that the whole British countryside had closed down. We know that that is not true—especially those of us who live in our rural constituencies. We know that people are moving about. I accept that there are real restrictions in those areas where there are outbreaks, but the vast bulk of Britain has no restrictions—people just need to be sensible.
The hon. Member for Nest Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) said that the advice from MAFF was hit and miss—it was not clear. However, it is horses for courses. We cannot have people walking across the moors in the Peak district, where there are huge areas of open land and a large number of sheep; but elsewhere, people can go into the countryside to visit particular attractions or towns—to castles, beaches and so on. We have to get that message across.
Timing is all. That is the second lesson that we learned from the Sea Empress. It is pointless to mount a massive advertising campaign—as has been suggested—if, while we are trying to promote the idea that everything is okay in the countryside, we see only bu[...]ning pyres on our news programmes.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment rightly announced, following the work of the taskforce, that investment and additional resources will available to tourism associations and so on, but it is essential that the advertising campaign is timed correctly, otherwise it will be completely fruitless. The intention will not be achieved because people's perceptions will be formed by what they see on their television screens. No matter how many adverts are run and how many articles appear in newspapers, we shall not achieve our aims while those pictures remain on our television screens. It is essential that the campaign takes place and that we gear up for it, because there is no question that it will be needed. 430 There will be very large consequential losses not only in agriculture, but in the tourism sector. I am very pleased with yesterday's announcement, but it is an interim statement, and the taskforce clearly needs to undertake further work. However, I remain convinced that substantial funds will have to be made available in various forms to the rural economy, to our farmers and to our tourism sector, so that they can fully recover.
§ Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)
Together with the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), my constituency, which is in south-west Cheshire, is the largest milk field in Europe and the most intensive dairy farming area in the United Kingdom. That area was at the epicentre of the 1967–68 outbreak of foot and mouth, which devastated the farmers, their families, the rural communities and many of my constituents and their forebears in Darnhall, Winsford and the other villages in the area.
The book, "Plague on the Cheshire Plain"—published in 1969, by the then editor and his colleague of The Chester Chronicle, Messrs. Herbert Hughes and J. 0. Jones—records, in all its horrific detail, the scale of my constituency's appalling experiences of that time and the beginnings of the recovery that took place a little under a year later. The preface states:We say now, it must not happen again … This, then, is the story of Cheshire's greatest farming disaster—this long trouble on some of the fairest fields in England. It is a story which, we hope, will never have to be told again.With two confirmed cases at Baddiley, just a short distance from my family's home in the constituency, the spectre of my constituents having to go through that disaster again, 34 years later, is all too real. For Mr. Hockenhull and the Huntbach family, who have lost all their stock, that has now become real, and I know that the House will join me in saying that our hearts go out to them. None of us who lived through that time—1 was 10, and remember it well—will ever forget the acrid and bitter smell of the burning cattle pyres blazing across Cheshire.
I did not intervene on the Minister about that point because I understood why he seemed not to want to take interventions at the time, but the 1967 outbreak, which geographically was relatively contained compared with today's epidemic, lasted nine months, which may be a guide to the time scale that we must seriously contemplate today. Following that dreadful time, there were many lessons to be learned, most of which were set out in the excellent and thorough 1969 report. Sadly, I am now doubtful whether all those lessons were learned, although many were.
In Eddisbury today, there is real fear, stress and anger. However, my constituents are responsible people; they support the measures that have been taken, but they want them to go much further, much faster. In the interests of time, I shall not list what many right hon. and hon. Members have already mentioned, but I endorse all that they have said.
Of all the lessons in the 1969 report, the key one is speed of action in containing the spread of disease. Speed is of the absolute essence, especially between farmers contacting the vet, the vet investigating the clinical suspicion and confirming the presence of the disease, and the slaughter and disposal of the animals. It is important 431 that the animals be buried in preference to burning. However, burning may be necessary, and on-farm disposal is the key.
I pay tribute to all the residents of Eddisbury who have notably sought to comply with all the restrictions, because they are deeply conscious of the desperate anxiety that exists.
Safe zones have been mentioned, but it is unfortunate that zones that were safe in Cheshire on Tuesday then became unsafe on Wednesday—the very day the Minister talked about the concept. That is unhelpful and we need much greater clarification. I call on the Government to give aid to all who seek to help the farmers, as well as to provide that clarification for all those who live in the country and depend on the rural economy.
A problem arises out of yesterday's announcement by the Minister for the Environment about compensation. Understandably, he focused his remarks on the retail sector, even though many, such as Mr. Clacker's company in my constituency, are contractors laying pipelines across farmland on behalf of the utilities. They are not in the retail sector, but they have been desperately seriously affected. However, because they have a job but now no income, they are not able to access the compensation arrangements. It is important that their needs should be taken into account, so I call on the Government to consider carefully the needs of the non-retail sector.
I want to be brief, and I know that the Minister has sought to address today the issue that I shall raise now. I received information on the day that the outbreak was announced suggesting that several constituents had heard that timber supplies for pyres had been sought many weeks before the outbreak began. With due diligence, I spoke to those sources and I raised the issue in the proper manner in a named day written question that is due for answer tomorrow. I shall not prejudge the issue even though I know that press speculation and some excitable comment has attracted headlines. However, as far as I am concerned, the answers will be received tomorrow and that is when we shall judge them. I look forward to that, and I am grateful to the Minister for addressing my concerns.
I want to ensure that the Minister and his team are aware of an issue on which I have been guided by Mrs. Perry of Pear Tree farm, who has experience of the 1967 outbreak, and the House of Commons Library, which at breakneck speed came up with some evidence today. I have not heard much from the Ministry about the contact that it has had with the Meteorological Office. Weather is a key issue. According to historical records, we are entering the windiest time of the year and we have extensive evidence from the outbreak in 1967, notably from Mr. Rowland Tinline, about wind-driven spread.
There have been all sorts of experiments about lee wind and wind-driven spread but, in summary, Mr. Tinline's research showed thatairborne spread was the major spread mechanism. Wind direction, wind speed and 'wind swing' were the major weather variables that influenced spread. Rainfall had little effect except perhaps in isolated cases".Experiments have demonstrated that considerable reduction in outbreaks could be obtained by reducing the slaughter and confirmation periods through increasing 432 exponentially field veterinary staff. I therefore endorse everything that is happening to try to increase the numbers of such staff.
The issue of ring vaccination has been touched on today, but the research shows that such schemeswere successful in terms of controlling spread but showed that accurate weather forecasts is about 20 days in advance were required.That is why it is so important, in considering all the options, to liaise closely with the Meteorological Office. I am sure that the Minister will want to reassure me that such liaison is taking place. Wind-driven, airborne spread appears to be taking place in Cumbria, not least because of the turbulence created by the wind.
I am conscious that I need to keep my remarks brief, but it is appropriate to share with the House something that has touched me greatly in the current crisis. It is an anonymous prayer—that is typical of farmers and their folklore—that appears in the book "Plague on the Cheshire Plain". It was written by a Shropshire farmer in 1967, and I am sure that the whole House will share in these sentiments:Let us pray for those who tend our herds and flocks and all who stand guard this day. May God comfort the afflicted and give them new hope. Strengthen the resolve and diligence of those who tend with loving care the c[...]oven hoofed animals and remove the fears which each day brings.Let us give thanks for the fortitude of the few who labour in the task and for the understanding and self denial of the many.Let us pray for the winds to be stilled so that a calm and peaceful countryside can open its pleasures once again to all people.I wish to offer support for the Minister for what he has done so far, and ask him to listen carefully to all the constructive points about more action that have been made in this serious debate.
§ Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate, because the issue is of grave concern to my constituents. I apologise that I could not be present in the House earlier, but I sent a note to the Speaker's Office to explain that I had a long-standing constituency engagement.
I returned to the House because the issue is so important. Seven cases of foot and mouth disease have been found in my constituency—one bordering the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) and six in a hotspot in the Leigh and Bramshall area
The disease is devastating for people who are directly affected by it and, as many hon. Members have said, it is desperately worrying for those who farm close by. However, it is not just farmers who are under a great strain. The local cattle market in my constituency has closed, which has had a knock-on effect on the retail trade in the market town of Uttoxeter. It has also meant that the Friday retail market, which takes place on the cattle market site, no longer takes place and Uttoxeter race course has closed. Sadly, the local abattoir has had to close, with 15 men being laid off.
Local businesses that are also in difficulty include those that one would not expect to be affected, such as the glass works in Tutbury. Not only is that firm missing the tourism trade, but it is losing out on orders for competition prizes because those are not taking place. Hopefully, as a 433 result of yesterday's announcement by the Minister for the Environment, the canals will reopen. That will help a local company that produces a superb book on canals.
Like many hon. Members, I welcome yesterday's statement. It is desperately important that we do not accept that all the countryside is out of bounds. It is not. However, we must be careful about where we allow people to go in our countryside. The most important consideration is to tackle foot and mouth.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) mentioned Cheshire. I grew up on farm there, and I know what it was like when there were outbreaks of foot and mouth. My father had just moved over the border into Staffordshire when the 1967 outbreak occurred. Thankfully, my family's farm never suffered from foot and mouth, but the fear that we might have been next is very real in my memory. It was different then because Cheshire had mainly dairy herds.
Blame has been placed on the lack of abattoirs. It is true that there are fewer of them, but one of the greatest problems is the movement of livestock, especially sheep, around the country and into different markets. That was the source of the outbreak in Leigh. Farmers from that area have contacted me because they are worried about the way in which the disease is being handled. There is concern that the disease is hidden in sheep. One farm, which has now had foot and mouth diagnosed in its cattle, was checked by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for several weeks because it had sheep from Longtown market. However, those sheep have not tested positive.
People are deeply worried that sheep in areas where there are also cattle may be the hidden source of future outbreaks in cattle. I have received requests, which I have conveyed to the Minister's office, for the introduction of a voluntary disposal system so that people who are prepared to give up their sheep within two miles of an outbreak are allowed to do so. I hope that that is given serious consideration.
We must also carry out a risk assessment of the possible causes of future outbreaks. No doubt much of the disease is spread by the wind, but the problem is compounded because foot and mouth is not easily identifiable in sheep. Perhaps cases were identified quickly in Cheshire because the disease was predominantly in cattle.
One of the main points that farmers have raised with me and, I am sure, many other Members, is that we must try to speed up the time between identifying the disease and disposing of carcases. That is crucial for disease control and for environmental reasons, and also because, otherwise, people are living on farms alongside dead animals.
Another issue that has been raised with me is closure, which I understand will be for six months. It means not only that farmers cannot have animals on the farm for that time, but that they will be unable to produce hay and silage. Farms that close now because of foot and mouth disease will need fodder for animals when they are allowed to return.
I know that the Government are doing everything possible to look at how the system can be improved. In the end, sadly, the disease will run its course, but I hope that we can put an end to it far quicker than we did in 1967.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
I commend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the way in which he opened the debate. He was correct to say that this is not a party political matter, and he handled it as such. Indeed, how could it be a party political matter? We all agree on the problem, which is foot and mouth, and we all agree on the solution, which is eradication.
The right hon. Gentleman's remarks were in contrast to those made by the Leader of the House yesterday, perhaps by way of a slip, when she said that animals were in quarantine, not people. Two farmers who telephoned me today after hearing that were extremely frightened by the implications, but that is not the tone in which the Minister conducted the debate and I am grateful to him for it.
It is essential that country people have confidence in the way in which the system is operating. The Minister may find it unpleasant to know this, but he must understand that there is a lack of confidence in the far south-west about some aspects of the situation. Time does not allow me to quote correspondence in great detail, but one farmer who wrote to me, Roderick Young, said that the tenants of a particular farmhave been subjected to living in quarantine surrounded by their stinking dead animals for the last six to seven days.He concluded:It is quite obvious to those on the ground. surrounded by the stinking, rotting carcasses of their animals that something is not quite right.He makes a good point.
If we have 108,000 animals waiting to be slaughtered and 80,000 waiting to be disposed of, we are not there yet. That is why I wish that the Minister had been able to consider using the Army in a different way. Nobody suggests that the Army should go boar hunting in Essex, but it does have expertise, through the engineers, in performing tasks such as burial, and it would be well capable of doing that. I shall not ask the Minister to assent to my next comment because I do not think that he will like what follows. I suspect that he might have some sympathy with what I am saying, but the Army is not being used in that way because the Prime Minister knows that if it were, the cat would be right out of the bag and people would realise that this is a national crisis that goes far beyond the regions that are affected.
As this is a national crisis, we have gone far beyond mere talk of compensation. We must realise that we are talking not about compensating individuals, but about the need for massive infrastructural input to ensure that whole regions do not simply crash out of economic prosperity altogether.
In the hope that many of the hon. Members who have been here for some time will be able to contribute to the debate, I shall make my final point. We must look at control. The Agriculture Minister will remember an exchange with me on 1 February. when I put it to him that when there is good, solid evidence abroad about unsafe meat coming into this country, it is not a sufficient response to say that to act in those circumstances might be considered anti-European. The one point that is common ground between us—the Minister has always had the courage and grace to admit it—is that this condition came from overseas, and whatever other conclusions we come to, we need to look at our importation controls.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I have nothing but praise for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He has treated the House with great courtesy and patience and he has tried to be as helpful as possible. The substance of all his remarks today and on previous occasions is that we want national unity to tackle this crisis. He said also that we want to have a Parliament that he can report to regularly. It would be an absolute scandal if a Government with 14 months of their mandate left, a massive majority and now a national crisis to add to their other unfinished business, plunged the country into an unnecessarily premature general election. That would be a great disservice. The Prime Minister's remarks this afternoon gave me the impression that he was not fully apprised of the great national calamity facing us. He talked with a glib assurance that was deeply disturbing and in marked contrast to the tone adopted by his right hon. Friend the Agriculture Minister.
The Government should not divide those parts of the country that are terribly beset by this dreadful disease by holding local elections. They should be postponed in certain areas of the country, but not necessarily everywhere. It would be contrary to the Minister's wish to maintain national unity if the Parliament to which he is answerable were dissolved prematurely and unnecessarily. We must face the crisis together and fight it together. We wish to give the Minister the support that his gentlemanly and sensible conduct manifestly deserves.
§ Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)
Anyone who has listened to our debate over the past few hours will have been struck by two things: the sheer scale of the crisis facing our countryside and the extent of the misery that it has created for communities across the United Kingdom. We wanted an Opposition day debate because of our alarm—which is increasing day by day—about the fact that, in some ways, the response to the crisis in the countryside does not measure up to the scale of the problem.
I have no complaint about the Government's motives and objectives, especially those of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whose speech was, I think, appreciated by the whole House. He is much more aware of the desperate nature of the situation than, I suspect, some of his colleagues. However, some of the Government's actions have been late, half-hearted and not effective enough. There are two separate crises hidden within the overall problem: the farming crisis, and the collapse of various local economies that depend on a combination of tourism and agriculture. Our motion and the Government amendment both make that clear, yet the wider economic aspects were only touched on by the Minister. However, they should be taken just as seriously as the farming crisis.
I shall say a few words about farming first. In the past few hours we have heard from Members on both sides of the House that farmers want speedy and decisive action. They need quick diagnosis, quick slaughter if necessary and quick disposal of carcases. Above all, they need immediate, authoritative and clear advice. All too often they are still getting none of that and I am afraid that all the Minister's charm cannot hide that fact. Too many farmers in Britain today are not just frightened: they are confused and are getting contradictory advice from local and regional offices.
436 That is why, a few days ago, we proposed three specific actions that the Government could take. As many Members on both sides of the House have said, we recognise that this is a national crisis, and in those circumstances, it is the role of a responsible Opposition to be constructive as well as critical. That is what we have sought to be, and we shall continue our role as the crisis proceeds. The Minister has made moves following our suggestions about speeding up the slaughter without requiring a lab test and bringing more vets to the front line. I am glad that he recognised that our suggestions were genuine and constructive. In return, may I say that we welcome the steps that he has taken, but we want him to do more and we want him to do it quickly?
Last week, we suggested that the Army be used for the disposal of carcases We welcome the small steps that the Government announced yesterday, but they are not enough. The average wait of two days between diagnosis and slaughter, and another two days between slaughter and disposal, disguises the longer and more dangerous gaps that are occurring in some cases. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr . Campbell—Savours) said that he was pleased that, in Cumbria, 36 hours is now the going time between diagnosis and slaughter. I am sure that many of the farmers in Cumbria, about whom we heard some eloquent tales from my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), still regard the 36-hour wait as inadequate as the crisis threatens to envelope them.
I hope that the Minister will deal within the next few days with the welfare of animals, which is becoming one of the new focuses of the crisis. My hon. Friends have said a lot about pigs, but he should deal also with the thousands of sheep that are starting to lamb in unsuitable land, miles from were they should be. For two weeks, farmers have known that many such sheep are dying. They cannot move them and they are asking MAFF for guidance, but too often they are getting none. I know that from my constituency and from colleagues representing areas around the country. I profoundly hope that the Minister's words will be followed by action within hours, rather than days. Th a is what is needed if a serious animal welfare crisis is to be prevented from hitting large areas of the country, including some that have not been as badly hit as those about which we have been hearing. The outbreak could spre td and hit new areas.
I am also grateful to the Minister for his unequivocal statement that he and his officials had no knowledge of any infection before 18 February. I am happy to accept his assurance that the phone calls that were made to timber merchants were part of a regular contingency planning process. However, that gives rise to another vital question: what does all this contingency planning achieve? If there is a contingency plan and it is regularly practised, why is it taking so long for sensible solutions to be put in place? The Minister made welcome comments about valuation tariffs, but we are now a month into the outbreak. Is not the Army included in the contingency plan? Various hon. Members spoke bout using the Royal Engineers. Whether or not one believes that it is right to use them—the Opposition believe that it is—surely the Army would have been included in any contingency plan. There is no evidence in the Government's reaction to suggest that it was. Whatever time and effort was put into the regular contingency plan, it was, frankly, a waste of energy, as the Government seem to have started from scratch.
437 Similarly, as the debate is rolling on we are hearing that the Environment Agency is gearing up for action with regard to on-farm burial. Will the Minister of State tell us whether the agency is included in the contingency planning process? When was it brought in to consider suitable burial sites? Does not it already have records telling it where the sites are located? If so, why are we not using them now, four weeks into the crisis? From the outside, it is impossible to tell whether the Environment Agency is being dilatory or whether its attention was directed at the problem too late. It holds the key to the solution to one part of the crisis and it needs urgently to raise its game.
The crisis goes much wider than farming. Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment announced some welcome steps towards dealing with the wider issues, although I fear that they are too tentative. As many of my hon. Friends said in response, more needs to be done and it must be done now. I am delighted that the Minister for the Environment has joined us. It is regrettable that he has not participated in the debate, not least because the motion and the amendment make clear that there are two sides to the outbreak: the agricultural crisis and the wider crisis.
Indeed, I agree with one of the points that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) made in a thoughtful speech. She said that, as someone who followed the crisis carefully because of her constituency interests, she did not know what the taskforce was doing. She wanted more information; the debate afforded a good opportunity for providing it.
Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment made some welcome announcements. However, it is significant that, in a 16-paragraph statement, he used the word "consider" four times. That sums up the statement; the Government are considering doing many things. I shall quote part of a fax that the chief executive of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association sent my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) a couple of days ago:We need help—and we need it fast if Br[...]tain's inbound tourism industry is not to collapse. I've been in this industry over 30 years and I've not seen anything like it (including the Gulf war!)It continues:No long drawn out 'consultation' processes or 'reviews' or 'consideration will be given' … & Action this day, please!He is right.
In a 24-hour period, the organisation received many damaging cancellations. They include 12 adult German groups, representing a value of £1[...]4 million, and 21 student groups, representing a value of about £1 million. The Austrian Government have advised their nationals not to travel to the United Kingdom. Ninety per cent. of language students for a particular course have cancelled. Tour operators report that forward bookings are non-existent.
Confusion at the heart of Government exacerbates the problem. The Prime Minister and Labour Members have told us that we must encourage tourists to visit the British countryside and that it is open for business. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) pointed out, Derbyshire county council, doubtless with the best intentions, has taken out adverts headed "Help Stop the Spread of Foot and Mouth", which state:Help us protect our countryside—don't visit unless you have to.438 It is not surprising that potential tourists are confused about the message.
§ Mr. Luff
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is highlighting that point. In tonight's Worcester Evening News, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), is reported as urgingpeople to stay away from the countryside in an effort to curb the spread of foot-and-mouth in the county.Is not that different from the message that the Prime Minister gave the House this afternoon? Is it not time for the Government to clarify their message?
§ Mr. Green
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. There is confusion in Government about solving the crisis. Resolution will remain difficult as long as the confusion continues.
Many businesses besides tourism are in severe, possibly terminal, difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) therefore called today for interest-free loans for businesses that qualify for rate relief. Attracting tourists back to the English countryside will take some time. It is clear that we need practical action now to help the cash flow of those businesses so that they continue to exist to take advantage of any upturn. Conservative Members will continue to offer practical ideas; they are desperately needed by thousands of businesses, which will go under unless the Government act now.
Everyone in the House and in the country shares the objective of ending the crisis as soon as possible. I hope that everyone shares the view that the Government should concentrate all their energy on dealing with the crisis. The Minister admitted with characteristic honesty that the epidemic will get worse and that the outbreak will show a rising trend. If he is right, the British people will not understand it if the Government do anything to suggest that solving the crisis is not their highest priority. If they have another matter at the forefront of their thinking in the next few weeks, they will fail to tackle the crisis in the countryside and earn the condemnation of those who live and work there. They will pay the penalty, and they will deserve it. For the sake of those who are clinging to their livelihoods throughout our country, I hope that the Government will choose the honourable path.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)
The debate has reflected accurately the fears and anxieties felt in all parts of the country as a result of this dreadful disease. Right hon. and hon. Members of all parties have spoken of the immense distress caused to farmers who have had confirmed cases or suspected cases, or who are in infected areas. Members representing non-infected areas have also vividly expressed the fear of farmers in their areas that they might be affected in their turn. A number of hon. Members mentioned that, including the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who also praised the Opposition for holding this debate.
While I fully understand that the Opposition would choose this subject for debate, I do not accept that Ministers have not made time to address the House on these issues. The Minister for the Environment made a statement yesterday, and regular statements have also 439 been made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who was also, quite properly, giving evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture all morning.
The severity of the situation has understandably and powerfully been referred to by many Members. Not surprisingly, that has been particularly true of Members from Cumbria. The speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell—Savours), the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and other Cumbrian Members showed that they were deeply concerned. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has an Adjournment debate on this very subject tonight.
The south-west has also been very badly affected and, not surprisingly, has been referred to throughout the debate. So has the area round the Welsh border—particularly Powys—and the area of Dumfries and Galloway, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) made a powerful speech. There are a number of worrying hotspots around the country. Even in my own part of the world, we are very concerned about the concentration in Durham, Tyne and Wear and the adjacent area of Northumberland, where there are also a considerable number of cases.
We have also heard outstanding contributions from hon. Members representing other areas who are very close to the situation of farmers in their constituencies. They include my hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), and the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith).
Let me say something about the role of all Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on this issue. As has been pointed out by many hon. Members, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has shouldered a huge burden of responsibility, and I certainly echo the many compliments that he has received in the Chamber today. My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Hayman, as Minister responsible for animal health, has also been fully involved in the issue and has to report regularly to the other place.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the Ministry's representative on the taskforce, building on his experience working on the rural White Paper and as the Minister responsible for the countryside. I have responsibility for trade issues, not many of which have been aired today. None the less, many companies throughout the country are affected by export restrictions. I assure the House that we are working closely with companies to provide the necessary certification for when they are able to export again. We also work with them when they encounter export obstacles created by other countries—either European Union or third countries—because import blockages are imposed, even against products not covered by the restrictions. That is an important area of work. As a result, I have a weekly meeting with representatives of the trade and the companies concerned to tackle some of the issues.
440 I pay tribute to officials and staff. People are working round the clock. I have experienced that on visits to offices around the country, and I know that many administrative staff in the Ministry's regional centres and animal health staff are making Herculean efforts to tackle the problems.
A number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), referred to the 1967 situation. He and I bumped into each other in the Library last night and we discussed that outbreak, to which the hon. Member for [...]ddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) also referred because of his constituency interest in it. We have learned lessons from 1967 and it would not be true to say that no one involved in tackling the disease this time has any knowledge of what happened during that outbreak. Indeed, the chief vet himself, Jim Scudamore, has such knowledge.
I accept the differences, to which hon. Members referred, between tt e two events. Many Members on both sides made the point that the current outbreak has occurred at a time of enormous difficulty for farming. The tourism industry was perhaps not as important to the national economy in those days, but this time round, Cumbria and Devon, two of England's premier tourism areas, are affected. as is tourism in other parts of the country, as hon. Members vividly described.
There are also differences in our knowledge of the environment, which affects some possibilities, but not all, of disposal by burial. On wider losses, the Government have already beer more imaginative than were the Government in the 1967 outbreak—certainly in respect of considering the welfare disposal route for animals, the work of the rural taskforce and other, wider measures.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
Will the Minister accept from me that the wider losses are analogous to a natural disaster and that they will place a great burden on local authorities? Local authorities can take advantage of the Bellwin scheme, so can we consider a similar measure to support them in their dealings with local businesses in affected areas? Will she also consider the Treasury suggestion for a community investment trust to achieve urban regeneration, which could be used to regenerate rural areas as well?
§ Ms Quin
I know that the hon. Gentleman wanted to contribute to the debate and he makes some useful points. Obviously the rural taskforce is examining some of those issues, but it make[...] sense to consider what has worked elsewhere—urban regeneration schemes, for example—and think about whether such ideas can be applied to the current situation. The Bellwin scheme can be considered in that context.
Another difference from 1967 is that this country is a significant agricultural exporter. That was pointed out in an interesting article in the press yesterday by Professors Thompson and Oswald. Not surprisingly, many Members on both sides of the House referred to the different measures taken to tackle the disease, including the various ones mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
There are measures for disease control and for protecting specialist breeds and flocks, which two Members raised, and we have introduced a scheme to 441 allow movement of animals to slaughter to help the market to pick up. I hope that the welfare disposal scheme will start very shortly.
§ Ms Quin
I said "very shortly", which is what we expect. I want to pick up points made by hon. Members by saying that it is best to introduce the scheme properly and in a way that will work. That is why we are preparing it in the way that we are.
Many Members mentioned the various schemes relating to the movement of animals, including short-term movement. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) thanked my office for its help, but I take his point that we want the scheme to work without the need for our private ministerial offices to be contacted. The longer-term movement scheme is also important, and is now under way.
Members on both sides of the House have said that bureaucracy must not override common sense, and I accept that.
§ Ms Quin
I will not, because I have only a few minutes in which to finish my speech, and I want to respond to a couple of points made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. As he knows, we spoke earlier about the situation in his area.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made an interesting point about variation in the size of restricted zones. The borders of the zones are sometimes pushed beyond the minimum to natural boundaries, or for topographical or meteorological reasons. The hon. Member for Eddisbury mentioned the importance of meteorological considerations. None the less, the distance to which he referred seems lengthy, and we shall therefore look into the example that he gave.
Mention was made of the increase in the number of vets. The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) met a vet from overseas who had come to help us, and the number has indeed increased considerably. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) mentioned on-farm burial. Animals have been buried when it has been safe to do so, but in each case we have been guided very much by environmental considerations.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater said that we should not be embarrassed about asking for military assistance. I assure him that we are not, and that the Army is already deploying successfully at three levels. We expect its contribution to increase in the way outlined by my right hon. Friend the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington mentioned changes in management in Cumbria I am glad that he welcomed the arrival of Jane Brown as director of operations. I also commend to him the assistant chief veterinary officer, Richard Drummond, who will oversee veterinary operations in the area.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the countryside stewardship scheme. I assure him that we are considering whether it may be necessary to extend the deadline for applications beyond 31 May, as 442 he suggested, and also considering ways in which we can help farmers to make applications between now and the deadline.
Wider issues were mentioned, particularly by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) —who now seems deep in conversation. Those wider issues are important. Many speakers have talked movingly of the effect of the crisis on the wider rural community, and of the devastation faced by some members of that community. It is particularly frustrating that in many cases that devastation—that reduction in commercial opportunities—is unnecessary, which is why it is so important to convey a clear message. Over the next few days, we shall embark on television and other publicity to make that message as clear as possible.
I applaud some of the efforts made by the Cumbria taskforce—which has been mentioned—by the taskforce comprising Exmoor businesses that have united to seek opportunities, and by similar efforts in the area represented by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire.
The Government have kept the House informed and responded to hon. Members' concerns. We have to bear down on the disease as effectively as possible.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (North—East Hampshire)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 305.
|Division No. 164]||[10 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Chidgey, David|
|Allan, Richard||Chope, Christopher|
|Amess, David||Clappison, James|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Collins, Tim|
|Baldry, Tony||Cormack, Sir Patrick|
|Ballard, Jackie||Cotter, Brian|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Cran, James|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Curry, Rt Hon David|
|Bercow, John||Davies, Quentin (Grantham)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)|
|Blunt, Crispin||Day, Stephen|
|Body, Sir Richard||Duncan, Alan|
|Boswell, Tim||Duncan Smith, Iain|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Evans, Nigel|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Fabricant, Michael|
|Brady, Graham||Fallon, Michael|
|Brake, Tom||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Flight, Howard|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Burnett, John||Fraser, Christopher|
|Burns, Simon||Gale, Roger|
|Burstow, Paul||Garnier, Edward|
|Butterfill, John||George, Andrew (St Ives)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Gibb, Nick|
|Cash, William||Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Green, Damian||Paice, James|
|Greenway, John||Paterson, Owen|
|Grieve, Dominic||Pickles, Eric|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Prior, David|
|Hammond, Philip||Randall, John|
|Hancock, Mike||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Rendel, David|
|Harvey, Nick||Robathan, Andrew|
|Hawkins, Nick||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Hayes, John||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Heald, Oliver||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)||Ruffley, David|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Horam, John||Sanders, Adrian|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Keetch, Paul||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Key, Robert||Spring, Richard|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Stunell, Andrew|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Swayne, Desmond|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Syms, Robert|
|Leigh, Edward||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Lidington, David||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Livsey, Richard||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Loughton, Tim||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Townend, John|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Tredinnick, David|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne||Trend, Michael|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew||Tyler, Paul|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert||Walter, Robert|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Waterson, Nigel|
|Madel, Sir David||Wells, Bowen|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Malins, Humfrey||Whittingdale, John|
|Maples, John||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Mates, Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Maude, Rt Hon Francis||Willetts, David|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Willis, Phil|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Moore, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Yeo, Tim|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Öpik, Lembit||Mr. Peter Luff and|
|Ottaway, Richard||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)|
|Ainger, Nick||Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Bennett, Andrew F|
|Allen, Graham||Benton, Joe|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Best, Harold|
|Ashton, Joe||Betts, Clive|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Blackman, Liz|
|Austin, John||Blunkett, Rt Hon David|
|Banks, Tony||Boateng, Rt Hon Paul|
|Barnes, Harry||Borrow, David|
|Barron, Kevin||Bradley, Keith (Withington)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Bradshaw, Ben|
|Beard, Nigel||Brinton, Mrs Helen|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Brown, Russell (Dumfries)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Browne, Desmond|
|Burden, Richard||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Burgon, Colin||Grocott, Bruce|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Grogan, John|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Hain, Peter|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Caplin, Ivor||Healey, John|
|Casale, Roger||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Caton, Martin||Hendrick, Mark|
|Cawsey, Ian||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Heppell, John|
|Clapham, Michael||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Clelland, David||Hoey, Kate|
|Clwyd, Ann||Hope, Phil|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)|
|Cohen, Harry||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Coleman, lain||Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)|
|Colman, Tony||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Connarty, Michael||Hutton, John|
|Cooper, Yvette||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Corbett, Robin||Illsley, Eric|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Ingram, Rt Hon Adam|
|Cousins, Jim||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Cox, Tom||Jenkins, Brian|
|Cranston, Ross||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Crausby, David||Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)||Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov't[...]y S)||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa|
|Davidson, lan||Joyce, Eric|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L[...]anelli)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Dawson, Hilton||Kemp, Fraser|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Khabra, Piara S|
|Denham, Rt Hon John||Kidney, David|
|Dismore, Andrew||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Dobbin, Jim||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Dobson, Rt Hon Frank||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Doran, Frank||Lammy, David|
|Dowd, Jim||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Laxton, Bob|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Edwards, Huw||Levitt, Tom|
|Efford, Clive||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Ennis, Jeff||Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen|
|Fisher, Mark||Linton, Martin|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Lloyd. Tony (Manchester C)|
|Flint, Caroline||Lock, David|
|Flynn, Paul||Love, Andrew|
|Follett, Barbara||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Macdonald, Calum|
|Foulkes, George||McDonnell, John|
|Fyfe, Maria||McFall, John|
|Galloway, George||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Gerrard, Neil||Mclsaac, Shona|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||McNamara, Kevin|
|Godsiff, Roger||McNulty, Tony|
|Goggins, Paul||MacShane, Denis|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||McWalter, Tony|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading [...])||McWilliam, John|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Salter, Ma[...]tin|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Sarwar, Mohammed|
|Marshall—Andrews, Robert||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Martlew, Eric||Sawford, Phil|
|Maxton, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Meale, Alan||Sheerman Barry|
|Merron, Gillian||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Miller, Andrew||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mitchell, Austin||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Moffatt,Laura||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Morley, Elliot||Snape, Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B' ham Yardley)||Soley, Clive|
|Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)||Speller, John|
|Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Mountford, Kali||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||Stevensort, George|
|Mudie, George||Stewart, lan (Eccles)|
|Mullin, Chris||Stinchcorribe, Paul|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Murphy. Jim (Eastwood)||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)||Stringer, Graham|
|Norris, Dan||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Olner, Bill||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|O'Neill, Martin||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Organ, Mrs Diana||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra||Timms, Stephen|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Todd, Mark|
|Pearson, Ian||Touhig, Don|
|Pickthall, Colin||Trickett, Jon|
|Pike, Peter L||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Plaskitt, James||Turner, D[...] Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Pollard. Kerry||Turner, D[...] George (NW Norfolk)|
|Pope, Greg||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Tynan, Bill|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Watts, David|
|Purchase, Ken||White, Brain|
|Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Radice, Rt Hon Giles||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Wills, Michael|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Winterton Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Wood, Mike|
|Rogers, Allan||Woodward, Shaun|
|Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff||Worthington, Tony|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wright, Tony(Cannock)|
|Roy, Frank||Wyatt, Derek|
|Ruane, Chris||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Ruddock, Joan||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Mr. Kevin Hughes.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.446
That this House expresses grave concern about the very serious effect of the current foot and mouth outbreak on farmers, the livestock industry and the wider rural economy; supports the firm and rapid action taken by the Government to control the spread of the disease, identify outbreaks and slaughter and dispose of animals that are infected or 'at risk'; pays tribute to all those who are continuing to work around the clock to combat this devastating disease; endorses the Government's policy of intensifying disease control measures in areas of high infectivity and working towards modifying controls in areas that have remained free of the disease; expresses deepest sympathy to those farmers whose herds and flocks have been slaughtered in order to control the disease; and welcomes the Government's provision of financial support to farmers including £156 million in extra agrimonetary compensation and a preliminary package of measures to assist the wider rural economy including temporary business rate relief for affected businesses.