HL Deb 29 April 1968 vol 291 cc871-3

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Oakshott on urgent family business, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have occurred since the restrictions were relaxed—

  1. (a) on premises previously infected; and
  2. (b) on premises previously not infected.]


My Lords, may I say that I am sorry about the circumstances which prevent the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, from asking his Quesion.

Since March 18, after over three weeks of freedom from outbreaks, there have been 12 on premises previously infected and 10 on premises not previously infected. All these cases are in those parts of Cheshire and Shropshire in which the Infected Area Order has remained in full force.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his Answer to this Question? Is he aware that 22 fresh outbreaks is a seriously alarming number? I wonder if he could tell us whether the experts think that this reinfection may be due to the failure completely to disinfect the premises on the occasion of the original outbreak, and in particular the supplies of fodder on the premises, the hay and straw; and whether it would be possible to include the destruction of the hay and straw on these premises in order to eliminate this particular source of trouble?


My Lords, I agree that 22 new cases is serious, but taken as a proportion of the original outbreak the number is, in fact, not large. Indeed, it was expected that it would be larger in view of the fantastically heavy infection that must remain in this area of Shropshire and Cheshire. The noble Lord asked about the possibility of the infection remaining in straw. Experimentally it has been shown that this is possible; and, of course, in all those cases where there is direct contact with the infected animals the straw is burnt.


My Lords, could the Minister give the House any information whether there is or is not a case in Scotland? It was reported in the Press, and it would be useful and valuable information if the Minister could tell us the facts.


My Lords, the noble Lord is asking a new Question, but in fact I understand this incident was a false alarm.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is any suggestion that the recent outbreaks have anything at all to do with the resumption of the beef trade with South America?


My Lords, the answer to that is "No", but I am not quite sure what it proves.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his answer to my supplementary question. In view of the real danger of reinfection being caused by infection remaining in hay or straw, would the noble Lord ask that investigation be pursued into this particular source of danger with a view to destroying hay and straw supplies where they are adjacent to those parts of the farm where the animals were kept at the time of the previous outbreak? And would the noble Lord do everything possible to impress on farmers in this large area the need for continuing vigilance in every respect in order to stamp out finally the whole of this disease?


Yes, my Lords. On the question of fodder, I think the noble Lord would agree that it would be wrong automatically to destroy the hay or straw in all cases. The question of those cases in which it should be burnt and those in which it should not is a matter for veterinary judgment on the spot; but I will see that what the noble Lord has said is considered. With regard to the enforcement of the restrictions still in force in those areas, I absolutely agree with what the noble Lord says: that it is necessary to maintain the standard of care and the precautions. My right honourable friend, in what he said last Thursday, emphasised the need for the utmost care and vigilance; and I hope that this Question and Answer will have the effect of underlining the importance of continued vigilance.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that it would not be right in all cases to destroy ricks, and so on, but is the noble Lord aware that there is a theory that ricks which have not been destroyed harbour both rats and mice which can carry the disease? So might it not be a good thing to look again at this question of destroying ricks?


My Lords, as I have said, I think the noble Lord would agree, on reflection, that if one has hay or straw in a barn away from contact with the farm animals it is a very serious thing to say that this, too, should be burnt. As for the question of other animals transferring the disease, even if one burnt the hay or straw there would be no absolute certainty that you would destroy the animals that had been harboured within it. It is necessary to draw the line somewhere. At the moment, we leave it to the veterinary judgment on the spot, and possibly the noble Lord will agree that this is the best thing.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government be willing to look further into the matter of meat imported from Argentina, where I believe the conditions in slaughterhouses are about as bad as they could be? Would he not also agree that, since man can be a carrier, that could be a possible source?


I think the noble Lord is carrying the Question rather far.