§ 3.46 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government to state the number of outbreaks, number of birds and beasts slaughtered and cost to the Exchequer to date in the current epidemics of fowl pest and foot-and-mouth disease.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, from the beginning of September to December 14, 633 outbreaks of fowl pest were confirmed in Great Britain, involving the slaughter of nearly 11 million birds. Compensation payable will be about £1 million. From November 6 to December 14, 235 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease were confirmed in Great Britain, involving the slaughter of about 17,000 cattle, 20,500 sheep and 7,000 pigs. Compensation will amount to over £1 million. In addition to compensation. there will be some cost to the Exchequer arising out of disinfection and similar ancillary operations.
I hope I shall not be out of order if I mention that, since the noble Earl put down his Question, his own farms have been struck by fowl pest and he has himself lost more than 50,000 birds. I thought your Lordships would like me to express our sympathy to him.
My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his reply? May I also assure noble Lords that the fact that I have put down this Question has no relation to my own troubles? Would the noble Earl venture to say whether or not, in his opinion, these diseases are now past their peak? Or is that an impossible question to answer?
My Lords, I shall find that somewhat difficult to answer, because I hate to give hostages to fortune. I should say that the fowl pest epidemic is still causing us serious concern in the Eastern counties, but I should hope that we are over the worst of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, did the noble Earl's figures include Scotland, as well as England and Wales?
Yes, my Lords, I think we can do that. I think a great deal of information has been given in the Press and over the B.B.C., who have been most co-operative throughout these outbreaks, and I think that information is readily available. But details can certainly be circulated as to where all these outbreaks have been.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, could the noble Earl say, in view of the fact that many persons quite uninformed, as I am, are a little anxious about it, why we have not adopted the vaccination method against foot-and-mouth disease?
I think that that question hardly arises out of the Question. It is a very complex matter, but the very short answer is that the slaughter policy is a far better policy for a country which has a chance of stamping out the disease altogether (such as we have, as an island), and vaccination is really applicable only to countries such as the South American countries, where it is a very long-term process to keep the disease under control.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider some form of licensing of poultry and cattle dealers in an attempt to curb the spread of fowl pest and foot-and-mouth disease, and to give the 601 agricultural community in general more confidence in its relationship with these people.]
My Lords, though at first sight I was attracted to this idea, I fear that there are great difficulties. The mere licensing of dealers would not significantly lessen the spread of disease, because the risk is inherent in the movement of the stock. Again it would not only be extremely difficult to define a dealer, but it would also be difficult to determine on what grounds a license should be granted or withheld.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for his reply, but does he not consider that in the matter of prevention of disease the dealers are in fact the weakest link in the chain? And is it not possible for some restrictions to be imposed on people who buy cattle at a market and then re-hawk them around other markets, thereby very much increasing the possibility of spreading disease?
My Lords, I should not like to go so far as the words of the noble Earl. I think we must admit that a very large number, probably the vast majority, of dealers in cattle or poultry are honest and honorable men. In applying myself to the question whether licensing would help in this matter, I am bound to say that I am very much afraid the difficulties would be too great.