§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
rose to call attention to the further developments in the countryside since the House debated the foot and mouth epidemic on 13th March; and to move for Papers.
My noble friend Lord Cranborne asked me to tell the House how bitterly sorry he is that he is unable to be present today; he has a totally immovable alternative engagement. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and to the Chief Whip that, in the four years when I was Government Chief Whip in another place, I could not possibly have counted the number of times that messages from the Opposition were translated to me through the staff in my office.
I must begin by declaring my interest as a farmer—
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I have received a message from the staff stating, as I understand it, that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, 822 did not mention the change in the speakers' list to any of them. No one has any recollection of that happening.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, all I can say is that when I arrived in the House on Monday evening my name had been inserted on the speakers' list.
I declare my interest as a farmer. I am a former Cumbrian Member of another place and a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. While my heart bleeds for the plight of farm families and other country people, especially in Cumbria. I shall try hard in this debate to speak more in sorrow than in anger—although my feelings over the past few weeks have had a good deal more to do with anger than with sorrow. I shall attempt to confine myself almost entirely to the situation in agriculture with regard to foot and mouth disease, although it would be easy to make another speech on the effects of the crisis on the nonagricultural areas of the countryside.
First, I shall attempt to refute the statement—apparently believed by some—that foot and mouth disease is merely like flu. It is a particularly nasty disease. Animals often cannot walk or eat; the skin peels off their tongues; and the situation is wholly unpleasant. Secondly, I say to the Minister that we all understand that this outbreak is perhaps the worst, the most dangerous and the most widespread in living memory. But in spite of my affection and respect for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I am forced to say that I despair at the errors and delays that have marked the Government's response to the disease. I cannot understand how or why the department seems to have been so unprepared.
On a number of occasions during my four years in the department I was told urgently of suspected cases of foot and mouth in various parts of the country. Mercifully, all the reports were false alarms, but I recall each time one took fright at hearing such warnings, asking for an assurance that we were fully prepared and that we had fully taken on board the proposals of the Northumberland committee. On each occasion I was reassured.
So I have been shocked and ashamed to see MAFF's handling of the situation, and to see the department appear so numb at this time. As the situation has developed, days and days have elapsed between notification and confirmation of the disease, between confirmation and slaughter, and between slaughter and disposal. I noted in the second report of the Northumberland committee that in the period between 25th October 1967 and the end of that year, 85 per cent of the carcasses in that dreadful outbreak were disposed of either on the day of slaughter or on the following day.
Following that dreadful outbreak, I recall the pride that the late Fred Peart had in announcing in another place that the Duke of Northumberland, one of the past half-century's most distinguished agriculturalists, was to head the inquiry into the 1967 outbreak. Over the years I have read a number of times the 823 distinguished and authoritative report by the Duke of Northumberland's committee. The message conveyed was of the vital need for urgency.
I give your Lordships one example which I happened to pick out from the recommendations of the second report of the Northumberland committee. Paragraph 72 states:If the valuer has not arrived on the premises to value in-contact animals within two hours of being called, slaughter should proceed, and the valuer should then value the dead animals".That is a theme which goes right through that report. The tragic fact over past weeks has been that for every hour of delay—there have been many hours of delay—the disease spreads, the death toll rises and the date of clean-up recedes into the future.
Another tragic fact is that as the geographic extent of the outbreak, and the extent to which it had taken a grip, became all too clear, it became more and more clear to many of us that it was beyond MAFF's ability alone to bring it under control. It has seemed that Ministers in the department could not bring themselves to recognise that basic fact and to accept it. I believe that wide Cabinet responsibility should have been seen to be in charge very much earlier. The Army should clearly have been brought in weeks earlier. Perhaps then we would have avoided some of the uncertain messages which have come from the Government which have bedevilled the crisis since it first appeared in mid to late February.
First, there was the uncertain message of whether or not the countryside was open. That misunderstanding has been one of the principal causes of the huge damage which has been done to the tourist industry throughout the country. Secondly, there was the uncertain message conveyed by the dithering over whether or not it was right to use licensed slaughtermen employed by hunts. That is a degree of dithering which we could well have done without. Thirdly, there was the uncertain message of whether one should dispose of carcasses by burning them or burying them. However, one only has to look at the Northumberland committee's report to see the very clear message that burying is an infinitely better way of disposing of carcasses than burning. Fourthly, there was the announcement some weeks ago which suggested that there should be a cull of healthy animals. Then there was a change of mind as regards whether or not cattle should be included in the measure and a delay in implementing it. That also caused uncertainty.
Immense confusion has arisen, particularly recently, with regard to the department's publicity relating to the number of animals involved and the number of outbreaks. There seems to have been a wave effect as regards the amount of information which has been put out by the department. Only yesterday confusion arose as to whether or not there should be an inquiry into the outbreak. One Minister said that there would be an inquiry; Downing Street said that there would not. I hope that I may make a suggestion to the Minister. I believe that a committee of inquiry ought to be set up at once while the outbreak is still taking place. The committee of inquiry should examine how the 824 outbreak is being dealt with. Further, I suggest that there is no one more distinguished and experienced to chair such a committee than my noble friend Lord Plumb. He and I were young members of the council of the National Farmers Union. He became chairman of the animal health committee and later a member of the Northumberland inquiry. Later still he became president of the European Parliament. He is well suited to fulfil the task I have mentioned.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I shall certainly consider that proposal. I should be grateful if he would recognise that the proposal which he put to me on the Floor of the House on 26th February with regard to the banning of pigswill has been taken on board by the Government.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I am grateful for those comments. I think that I was one of the first in either House to suggest that there should be a total ban on pigswill because it seemed to me right from the start that it was obvious where the outbreak had originated.
I hope that the Government are collectively thinking hard about what should be done in the future. I refer to the June elections. I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of providing extra free postage to candidates in certain areas of the country, if not in the whole country, as it will be difficult for candidates in the county council elections and/or the general election to get around.
Will the noble Baroness also pass on to the Home Office my next point? My noble friend Lord Plumb recounts an occasion at the beginning of the century before the use of telephones when his grandfather's livestock suffered an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Warwickshire that was subsequently transmitted to the livestock of cousins in Cheshire, apparently by means of a letter. I believe that that case has been authenticated. There is not much difference between a letter and a postal ballot paper. If there is a huge number of extra postal ballots in the elections, I hope that the Government will ensure that disinfectants will be used so that those who handle the ballot papers do not pass on the disease.
I also hope that the Government will consider how the livestock areas are to be restocked once all this is over. I think particularly of the upland areas. When all this is over, prices for replacement stock will go sky high because there will be a shortage. That will cause immense difficulties to farmers who seek to restock but have received in compensation only the pre-outbreak value of the animals they have lost.
Perhaps even more important is the serious situation which may occur if mountain flocks in the areas I used to represent in the Lake District and other places are stripped. If those hefted flocks—which contain ewes which have been brought up to look after themselves on the fell or the mountain—are stripped and they are replaced with new ewes, one will always suffer much heavier losses than with the hefted flocks. With the lack of profit and incentive to enter upland farming 825 and the problem of replacing livestock, there is a real danger that those mountainous areas will not be farmed in future. If areas such as the Lake District are not properly farmed, they will become infinitely less attractive to tourists.
We also need to consider urgently whether or not to vaccinate. I still hope that vaccination will be used as a last resort. I plead with the Minister to be careful of taking on board the recommendations in the Soil Association's report. I know that some veterinarians have some serious reservations about that. I hope that the Minister and her department will consult carefully with people such as Professor Brownlee of the Royal Veterinary College and with the world reference centre on foot and mouth disease at Pirbright which I believe have serious reservations about vaccination.
I also want to draw attention to the serious problem of illegal food imports. The National Pig Association has shown me correspondence that demonstrates that the volume of illegal meat imports into this country has not been properly monitored. That must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Urgency remains the crucial imperative. We are now told that the Prime Minister is in charge of the situation. Frankly, I am not impressed. Perhaps I may give some examples. The National Pig Association tells me that the welfare disposal scheme is floundering seriously. It is very difficult to contact the Intervention Board to register. Many applications for the welfare disposal scheme have been in for weeks, with no results. I am also told that the Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex, for instance, which is to take animals under the disposal scheme, is awaiting their arrival and doing nothing in the mean time. That is highly unsatisfactory.
Yesterday we were told that 900 rotting animals in Durham would have to be dug up because they had been buried in the wrong place. That does not reflect very well on the management of this dreadful situation.
I am told that on Monday and Tuesday of this week, 10 hunt slaughtermen were sent to Cumbria at the request of the Army, but they have spent Tuesday and Wednesday doing nothing because nobody has sent them to do any slaughtering, even though there are hundreds of animals awaiting slaughter. That is ridiculous.
Monday's Yorkshire Posttold a story of unbelievable mismanagement. One paragraph, relating to a village not terribly far from where I live, stated:Among the problems which have left the village of Danby, Wiske allegedly stinking like a battlefield was the delivery of two lorryloads of fire-resistant wood to make pyres for the dead animals".We expect better from the department, the Government and the Prime Minister. There is not yet much to show for the great man's management of the crisis. I cannot escape the conclusion that the Government's handling of this crisis makes King Ethelred look like a greyhound straining in the slips. My Lords. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I have nothing to do with farming. My interests lie in business and industry. I decided to speak in this debate partly to show my support for Wednesday afternoon debates, after the comments that were made about them recently, but also because I wanted to express my sympathy for those whose livelihoods have been damaged by this outbreak of foot and mouth and to show my distaste for those who are trying to divide us into urban and rural societies. I should also like to give some balance to the debate by expressing a town-dweller's point of view.
First, I must express my sadness for those farmers whose livelihoods have been affected. They have had a very difficult few years, with BSE, swine fever, flooding and now foot and mouth. Others involved with tourism, sport, transport and support services have also had their livelihoods destroyed. I commiserate with them, too.
My message for them is: don't give up the struggle. Disaster frequently precedes renewal. We had a good example of that only three weeks ago, when we learnt that Grimsby, which had been blighted by the crisis in the fishing industry, reported full employment and many new businesses in the food processing industry. Perhaps the livestock industry will change for the better after this crisis and a broader rural economic base will emerge.
I am grateful to those who have lent their expertise and specialist knowledge to help fight foot and mouth disease, including the Army, the Environment Agency, the 100-plus final-year veterinary students who have been taken on and the 110 foreign vets who have come here to help. This is day 44 of the crisis. According to Ian Gardiner on "Farming Today" this morning, they seem to be winning through. He said that he thought that he saw signs of an endgame and welcomed the fact that everyone is doing what they can to help.
That brings me to my distaste for those seeking to capitalise and benefit from an artificial split between urban and rural society. Those who have tried to use the situation for their own political ends should be ashamed of themselves. We have all seen the suffering and damage caused by such "them and us" disputes. There is no such divide. The proof is now before us.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, what does the noble Lord say about John Prescott, who talked about the contorted faces of people who live in the countryside?
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I am not aware of that remark by John Prescott. A lot of damage is done by "them and us" disputes between rural people and urban people. I do not believe that such a divide exists. The fact that everybody is putting their shoulder to the wheel to fight the disease is a sign that that divide does not exist. Those who are trying to capitalise on the situation should not do so.
Another reason for speaking is to try to give a little perspective and balance to the debate. The fuss and hysteria is way out of proportion with the reality. 827 Certainly the disease has spread faster and more widely than expected, but even so it is mainly concentrated in three areas. Of course it has been a tragedy for those farmers, but across much of rural Britain the only signs of foot and mouth are sensible limits on unnecessary contacts with and movement of animals. Most importantly, foot and mouth is harmless to humans. It is not like BSE, which can kill humans. It may be unpleasant, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said. but it is not even fatal to animals.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong. Young animals die. Some 90,000 piglets died in Taiwan last summer from heart disease caused by foot and mouth.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I should also correct the noble Lord on another point. Nobody has died from BSE. Some people may have died from CJD, but the two are not the same.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I do not want to enter into a long argument, but it has been demonstrated that there is a connection between the two. It would be wrong to ignore that.
§ Lord Haskel
Thank you, but my time is nearly up.
I should like to look at the economics for a moment. It is estimated that 1 million animals will be culled. That is a tragedy for the farmers concerned, but we should put the figures in proportion. The meat trade kills half a million animals every week in this country. One million animals represents only 4 per cent of the nation's stock. The gross turnover of the whole agricultural industry is £15 billion, which is about 1.5 per cent of the nation's turnover, and livestock accounts for only about one-third of that. It is important to put those figures in proportion.
Presumably, the justification for all the effort and work that is going in is the need for high quality, safe food from the agricultural community. So why does the farming community have that type of welfare state economy of its own and why is it being preserved? Why do not animal rights activists attack the cull? It is partly due to sentimentality, but I believe that the truth is different. Farming is a business like many others, and animals are treated as items of stock as in any other business.
§ Lord Haskel
You may say "rubbish", but I have seen farmers acting in a tougher manner than do many business people whom I come across.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I am sorry; I should address the House.
828 My six minutes are up but I want to say that I hope I shall hear some "thank-yous" from noble Lords opposite: a thank-you to my right honourable friend Nick Brown and his team, including, of course, my noble friend the Minister, for the unstinting effort that they are putting into fighting foot and mouth disease; a thank-you for persuading the public and fellow politicians that the cost and work of eradicating foot and mouth disease is justified; a thank-you to the taxpayers for their generosity; and a thank-you for the remarkable achievement of ensuring that farming interests are maintained against the interests of very much larger sections of the economy.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, when contributing to a debate, I believe that it is traditional to thank the person who initiated it. However, considering the ire that that might cause, perhaps I may say that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was excellent. His knowledge in this area is considerable. I witnessed it at first hand when serving on Sub-Committee D—the agriculture committee. I also thank the Minister for having answered many times to this House. She has been extremely helpful in the answers that she has given.
I must declare an interest. I live in the remotest part of rural Northumberland. In fact, it is the area of England with the lowest density of population, and it has a rural economy based on sheep and cows. Much mention has been made of diversification and of other areas of the economy being hit. I understand that all too well as I own the only tourist attraction in the Redesdale valley. It has been shut since the beginning of the outbreak and it will remain shut for some time.
I have one question for the Minister. I understand the reasons why the tourist industry has acted responsibly in closing many sites. At the moment the countryside is closed and I shall keep my tourist attraction closed until the crisis is over. However, after the last cases have been dealt with, I believe that the Government will have a role to play in promoting travel within Britain. Tourism will be extremely hard hit throughout the remainder of this season. People will be making their plans and, if we lose them now, very few will travel to Scotland past my tourist attraction. I admit that that is a personal interest, but the significance to the valley is that I employ four people part time. I have had to telephone them to tell them that they will not have jobs well into the summer.
There is very little time to speak in this debate, and hindsight is a valuable but perhaps worthless commodity. However, as I come from Northumberland, where the outbreak began, perhaps I may raise one issue for consideration. I wonder whether the outbreak would have been so severe if the abattoir at Ponteland had not shut in the past year. It is possible that if Ponteland—one of the small abattoirs—had remained open, the outbreak would have been localised in Northumberland. That may not have been the case but, after speaking to local farmers, I now find that 60 per cent of the sheep that we send off in the Border area are slaughtered in Anglesey. 829 That seems an awfully long way to go. Perhaps in the future the Government will have a role in funding the setting up of small, local abattoirs.
I am sure that many noble Lords will discuss the speed with which the Government have acted, and I am sure that lessons will have been learned. However, I have seen at first hand the speed at which certain cases have been dealt with. I refer to a case only five miles from where I live. Within 24 hours the animals had been slaughtered and buried. That was rather unfortunate because the slaughter occurred before the results of the blood tests had come back. The results proved that there was no disease. It was unfortunate for the farmer but it came as a great relief to everyone living close by. Can the Minister say whether the website is correct in stating that in all areas apart from Cumbria the 24-hour deadline is being met?
I have one suggestion for the Minister. I am not sure whether it has been mentioned in the many debates that she has answered. Are the Government giving serious consideration to the use of napalm as an agent in fires? Although napalm has unfortunate connotations from its use in warfare, the very same attributes that make it such a deadly weapon—that is, it sticks to flesh and continues to burn—would be extremely useful. Unlike many of the combustibles being used at present, its potential for pollution is far lower.
The knock-on effects that I have seen in the valley in Northumberland are considerable. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that the disease affects only small areas. That is probably true. Vast areas of the country will not be affected by foot and mouth. However, I should have thought that a recent report showing that the poorest areas are those hardest hit would be taken on board by all Members of the House; I am sure that the Government have done so.
One issue that has been raised—there is not enough time to discuss it here—is that perception must also be changed. Hill farmers are often accused of being scroungers of subsidy and of living off the state. However, it is the CAP—the common agricultural policy—that has regulated and created the form of agriculture that is now employed in this country. Until the CAP is thoroughly revised—perhaps this unfortunate outbreak can be taken as a spur to the reformation of the CAP—then farmers will be trapped in a system in which many do not believe.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I declare an interest as the wife of a farmer who has beef cattle, sheep and goats, as a specialist cheesemaker and as chairman of Honest Food.
While some people may be concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is being a little precipitous in choosing this topic for debate so soon after the previous one, I am grateful for the opportunity that he has given us to look further into what is happening. I also have sympathy with, and express my gratitude to, the noble Baroness the Minister who must respond 830 to the debate. However, being a Minister is a little like being married. One takes on the job for better or for worse.
I could go rambling on about how things used to be and where we must go in the future. However, as I said in the debate on 13th March, it is much more important to get things right now.
Other noble Lords will talk about the animals and the farmers. Therefore, I shall deal with more peripheral matters.
The media are just beginning to be aware of the appalling mess over which MAFF is presiding. The outstanding factor is the total failure by anyone in MAFF to give clear and consistent advice on any subject. The noble Baroness knows that I have been trying to obtain information about the application of the Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1995, particularly in relation to the production and sale of cheese.
Since 11th March, when our area became infected, I have had many pieces of advice as to what we can and cannot do with our cheese. My environmental health officer is a proactive lady. She has tried by all the means available to her to obtain clear advice. She can see the unreasonableness of imposing what are human health regulations in a situation related to animal health. She has looked at all the websites but has gained no help there. She has simply been told that no one can tell her not to enforce the law.
No one has ever said that humans can get foot and mouth disease from milk or cheese. Why cannot any dairy products made from unpasteurised milk prior to March 2001, when the first of the orders in cheese-making areas came into force, be sold? She needs to know; I need to know; and several hundred other cheesemakers need to know why cheese made as long ago as a year cannot be sold.
I wrote to the Minister last Thursday requesting an urgent reply. I have been promised an answer. I was promised an answer by yesterday afternoon. I telephoned her office to ask how long afternoons last in MAFF. I have still not received an answer. This is a relatively simple matter—
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for giving way. She will agree that afternoons in my office last until at least 10 p.m., when she had her final conversation with my private secretary. I have written to her and I asked for that answer to be e-mailed to her. If she did not get it, I apologise.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I have not had an answer. If the noble Baroness has done what she described, I am very grateful.
Someone must cut through all the red tape, decide whether there is any risk to human or animal health and tell us clearly what we must do. We can answer to Europe later.
Not only is there no clear, consistent advice, but no one is examining the consequences of the decisions that are being avoided. What is to happen to the 831 cheeses worth £9,000 that a colleague of mine has on his shelves? He is not allowed to sell them; they will deteriorate with time; he faces prosecution if he dumps them on a tip; he cannot burn the cheeses; and he might be prosecuted if, after all this is over, he tries to put unfit food on the market. Who will tell him what he is to do? He has to keep a wife and family on the profits from the sale of his cheese—he has no other income. Will he get compensation for not being allowed to market a perfectly saleable product because of a law that anyone with any sense knows is crazy?
Since 11th March, we have been throwing our goats milk into the hedge—that is probably illegal, too—because we had no facilities for pasteurising our milk. Two weeks ago, my husband and I walked down the line of our 24 goats discussing which we should cull. We could keep just two or three because we could not afford to feed all of them and could not afford a pasteuriser. My husband inquired about the slaughter scheme for uninfected animals. They could be slaughtered under the scheme only if they were starving. We are not prepared deliberately to starve our animals in order to benefit from the scheme. Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to buy a reconditioned pasteuriser and will not have to make that awful decision.
However, I have been told today—this pursues the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling—of a local farmer who this morning fed his last bag of feed to his animals. He has no food in his house for himself, he has no income and he faces prosecution by the RSPCA for cruelty to the animals that he loves. The animal welfare section at Worcester is so tied up with the foot and mouth disease that it cannot consider routine animal welfare matters. What is that man to do? The authorities know about him but they do not seem to have told him about the charities that have been set up to relieve his poverty. No one seems to care.
I want to ask a very important question. Three weeks ago, why did the scientists at Pirbright reject an offer from the United States Department of Agriculture of a field-testing kit based on the amplification of the virus RNA by a real-time polymerase chain reaction? It can detect minute quantities of virus in infected tissue, blood or saliva. Tests can be done at the farm gate and results can be available within a maximum of three hours. It is also highly specific. For example, it would not give a signal for the clinically similar swine vesicular disease. That offer, which was free, was turned down politely on the basis that those at Pirbright were too busy. That was done at a time when results were taking days to come back and when there were expressions of anxiety in both Houses about the way in which farmers were being held in suspense. Was it some sort of "stiff upper lip" arrogance that prompted that stupid decision or was it merely incompetence? Will Her Majesty's Government now go back to the Americas and say, "Please may we take you up on your offer?"? The problem of delays has not gone away, and it will not do so for a long time. Think of the relief that farmers 832 will feel—they are currently waiting for the sword of Damocles to drop—when they know that they will get quick and accurate results.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be relatively brief. Indeed, until last weekend, I had no intention of speaking. I felt that there was little value in the House once again regurgitating the issues involved in the foot and mouth epidemic, particularly as my noble friend Lady Hayman has already made no fewer than six Statements on the issue since the outbreak was first detected on 20th February. Although that was just six weeks ago, I hastily concede that it seems much longer. Media reporting comes to us virtually by the hour. I do not underestimate the scale of the disaster but I question the value of our further debating the matter. What more can be said to assist in the effort to tackle this major problem?
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I hate to interrupt any noble Lord who is speaking. However, there is a good reason for our reconsidering the issue again today because every day things keep changing. If the Government do not come back to the House, we do not get such an opportunity. We have given a day to debate the problem in full.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
My Lords, I certainly respect the noble Baroness's opinion and I hope that she respects mine.
Last Sunday, I decided to speak in this debate because I was incensed by Michael Portillo saying on television:Last week we had a Prime Minister who was paying attention to the general election and dithering about the foot and mouth epidemic. Now we have a Prime Minister who is paying attention to the foot and mouth epidemic and dithering about the general election".We know what Mandy Rice-Davies would say about that, "He would, wouldn't he?". I believe that Michael Portillo's comments were grossly unfair and shallow. He was clearly exploiting two very serious matters purely to score political points. The scale of the outbreak has been much greater than anyone anticipated but the action taken has been considerable as the circumstances have developed.
During the last six weeks, twice as many animals have been slaughtered as were slaughtered during the eight months of the 1967–68 epidemic. On average, an animal has been slaughtered every 5.8 seconds and the number killed is in the region of 1 million. It is now known that in the three weeks before the first outbreak was detected 1.35 million sheep were moved around the country, which obviously contributed to the spread of the disease. Perhaps one encouraging feature is that the number of cases has only just reached 1,000. It is reported today that, on a weekly count, new cases are for the first time fewer in the current week than the previous week. We should compare that with the 2,500 cases during the 1967–68 epidemic.
833 Yesterday, there was another encouraging report. As a result of the measures being taken, there is a little optimism about the fact that the worst will be over towards the middle or the end of May.
What measures have the Government taken during this relatively short period of six weeks? Slaughtering has taken place on a massive scale. Slaughtermen have been engaged in considerable numbers; vets have also been engaged in considerable numbers; compensation has been agreed for farmers; the Army has been brought in to assist; carcasses are being burnt or buried; the Prime Minister has taken direct charge; the local elections have been re-arranged; the anticipated general election has been postponed; we are preparing for vaccination if necessary; advice has been sought and accepted; and counselling provisions have been put in place for farmers. All those measures have been taken during a short period. The epidemic is being treated with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves, very much as if we were on a war footing.
There have been mistakes and miscalculations. But who expected everything to be perfect in such circumstances? Who expected things to run smoothly when cases were springing up here, there and everywhere and when no one knew where the next case would be? I appreciate that hindsight and wisdom after the event can be wonderful instruments of criticism but I hold no stock with that approach.
In any event, despite the majority view in the Labour Party, the Prime Minister, by postponing the general election and rescheduling the local elections, has put country before party.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
My Lords, I said that the Prime Minister had put the country before the party.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, those on the Conservative Benches have already made numerous interventions. Noble Lords do not have very long in which to speak. I had no intention of intervening but there is almost one intervention a minute. I hope that noble Lords on the Conservative Benches will allow us to proceed in this debate with fewer interruptions.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness.
In conclusion, I am reminded of the words of the man from Stratford. He wrote:The lady doth protest too much, methinks".I caution the party opposite. If it continues unjustifiably to attack the Government's actions at every opportunity it should not be surprised if the people of this country charge it with being less concerned about the foot and mouth epidemic and more concerned about its political future.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, our admiration for the manner in which the Minister has performed her duties in recent weeks, combined with a proper feeling that we should support appropriate action to tackle the crisis, means that criticism of the Government's record has been muted. However, it cannot be doubted that the disaster that now faces so many is greater than it need have been because of failures by the Government. The MAFF website tells us that sheep were being dispersed over the period 14th to 24th February when,we were still unaware of the disease.The statement that MAFF was unaware of the disease over that period is misleading, although no doubt it will say that it thought it was local and confined to pigs. An alert vet spotted the disease in Essex on Monday, 19th February, and Ministers were informed of the fact the same day. On Wednesday the 21st, they banned exports but took no action to ban sheep movements until 5 p.m. on Friday the 23rd. The website tells us that sheep went to Hatherleigh on the 20th, Hereford on the 21st, Northampton on the 22nd and Ross-on-Wye on the 23rd. There were particularly large movements on the Thursday and Friday.
Then, over several weeks, the Government defied the clear advice of the Northumberland committee that stock should be killed within 24 hours and buried. Even when the vets and farmers knew foot and mouth had been identified, they had to wait four or five days for laboratory confirmation and for valuations before slaughtering of highly infectious animals took place. By the time uncompromising words from the chief scientist and alarming forecasts from a number of different computer models brought Ministers to their senses it was far too late. The outbreak was out of control.
Initially, the decision was taken to burn and not to bury. There was delay and confusion about which option to adopt and about the choice of sites—even burial in the wrong place. Despite wet conditions, there were obvious advantages in burial. My scepticism—I speak as a former chairman of the NRA—when we were told it was impossible because of the high water table Was later proved right when sites were found.
It has been just one example of the lack of co-ordination between government departments, illustrated by the way in which the Army was called in too late and, initially, in inadequate numbers and also, within the last few days, by the Department of Health delaying plans for the burial of cattle while it assessed the risks of BSE contamination. Why on earth was that assessment not completed weeks ago? It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister did not set up a high-level Cabinet committee in the first few days of the crisis; and having been set up, it is odd that even now it does not seem to be working effectively.
Mr Meacher makes a sensible comment on the need for an inquiry, and is promptly contradicted. In Cumbria, MAFF closes down its emergency line for 835 reporting disease at 5.30 so that messages have to be left on an answer machine. In Wales, when the welfare and livestock schemes were introduced, forms were not available for five days and farmers were waiting for a response weeks after forms had been sent in.
I fear that even if the arrangements have belatedly improved, the outbreak is still far from under control. In Monmouthshire the disease has suddenly and alarmingly jumped seven miles in two different directions. Within the Black Mountains we have had an outbreak among hill sheep at Hay Bluff, and on Saturday morning stock were being burned by Gurkhas five miles up the valley from my home. A similar pattern can be seen in Wensleydale in Yorkshire, and there has been an entirely fresh outbreak just to the south of Bristol. Yesterday there were 44 new cases.
Listening to news broadcasts, with their concentration on Cumbria and the West Country, it is easy to make the same mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, of ignoring the fact that a huge area of the country is now affected. The noble Lord should take a look at the MAFF website and its map.
All this is dreadful for farmers, but it is equally dreadful for those who serve the farming communities and the tourist industry. In my part of the world, visitors come to walk in the hills, to ride, to fish, to climb, to explore the limestone caves and to hang-glide. None of these occupations is possible at present. For a large proportion of our local businesses—and this goes for a great part of the Welsh border, mid-Wales and the adjacent English counties—the country is, at best, only partly open and local market towns face economic devastation.
The packages announced by Mr Meacher and the Welsh Assembly are welcome, but inadequate. Rate relief for businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 in England would over a period of three months be worth up to £1,290. In Wales this relief would be available up to £50,000, which is worth up to £5,000 in each case. I have to say that the whole Welsh package is significantly more generous than anything yet announced for England. But if turnovers are down by up to 40 to 50 per cent and cash flows are even more seriously hit, that is not enough if widespread bankruptcies are to be avoided.
I must press the Minister to tell us what other measures the Government propose and what are the conclusions of the task forces that have been set up. It has been suggested that there should be "VAT holidays" and the deferment of tax payments, plus interest-free loans. Are such measures being implemented? Urgent responses to such questions are needed, together with a range of measures to avoid the economic devastation of a very large part of rural Britain. This is now as urgent a task as halting the outbreak.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, I believe it is beyond doubt that the situation with respect to foot and mouth disease has grown serious 836 and much worse in the last few weeks, but I do not intend to lay blame. Rather, I want to identify lessons that might be learnt from this pandemic that affects our country.
A number of points emerge, but I believe that there are three of note. The first is that foot and mouth disease was probably present in sheep well before it was identified in pigs in Northumberland and hence, through the trading of sheep at livestock markets in the north of England and further down into the south, was able to reach parts of the country in a pandemic form long before there was the opportunity to control the source in Northumberland. That identifies the problem that we have in surveillance and identification of animal movement.
The second point was clearly the shortage of veterinarians to identify and diagnose foot and mouth disease and to attend to the slaughter. As we know, in some places this took several days, but now I understand that the timescale is within 24 hours. That makes an enormous difference to the control of the disease, which I will return to in a moment. I understand that the number of veterinarians now is of the order of 1,500, which is said to be sufficient to deal with the present levels of confirmation and slaughter. The need to identify and slaughter rapidly is exemplified in the epidemiological projections that pertain to the outbreak. If this can be done within 24 hours the number of projected cases falls very considerably, whereas if slaughter is delayed for two, three or more days, the projections are for a holocaust.
The third point is the very great difficulty of farmers in the affected areas obtaining reliable information about slaughter, compensation, insurance and whether, if they offer their animals voluntarily for slaughter to create a so-called fire-break, they will get insurance compensation in addition to the compensation for the animals. This worries dairy farmers in the north-west of England, in Cumbria, a major dairying area of the country. There are many large dairy herds there, and the farms are very efficient. I wonder if the Minister might look into that problem.
Much has been said about vaccination. Many of your Lordships will be aware of the document that has been circulating in this House, and indeed elsewhere, entitled Why we have to vaccinate. The best comment on that comes from a person who has described it as a,classical example of an evaluation using inappropriate evidence, written by someone without experience of foot and mouth disease.That is blunt and puts the matter in its place.
Vaccination cannot replace the slaughter policy. I have spoken about this before. Apart from losing our foot and mouth disease free status for at least two years if not longer, dairy farmers who may have their cattle vaccinated have asked whether the milk from their cattle will be saleable, even though it would be perfectly safe for human consumption after pasteurisation. They ask whether the meat from their cattle will be saleable even though it would be perfectly safe for human consumption. These are some of the 837 issues that point to a bleak future, especially for the marginal farmers in Cumbria, the Lake District, Yorkshire, the Borders and elsewhere.
The stuffing has been knocked out of these farmers. The poor economy, BSE, swine fever in certain parts of the country and now foot and mouth disease have brought them to the point that some would prefer to take the compensation money and not farm again because they do not have the incentive to rebuild their farms. They wonder whether the banks will provide them with loans on a favourable basis and whether they can generate the income to carry on.
We have learnt a lot from the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and should learn a lot more. One of the lessons for the future is that our surveillance and vigilance of the diseases that can be brought into this country must continue. Our veterinary service has been denuded in the past 10 years by various governments—it is 50 per cent. of what it used to be. We have only three veterinarians at Pirbright, the international centre for foot and mouth disease, to which all other countries in the world come for evidence and advice on research and surveillance. Last night, Professor King used the term "horizon scanning", by which he meant surveillance of those issues that threaten not only livestock and horticulture but human health. We should learn from this outbreak of foot and mouth disease that we must pay attention to such issues.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, I declare a very real and painful interest in this matter. We farm in west Gloucestershire, which is a seriously infected area. We have a substantial dairy herd as well as some sheep, and the disease is coming menacingly close to us. Therefore, the two points that I wish to raise have a direct concern for me.
Before I get to those, however, I must say a few words to the Minister. Last Tuesday I asked for the position on vagrant sheep in the Forest of Dean. Two days later it was announced that all these sheep were to be rounded up and culled. Doubtless the timing was a mere coincidence, but in order to preserve at least an illusion of influence, I express my great gratitude to the Minister for her prompt response and action after I had raised the issue, although I remain puzzled as to why it had not been done a lot earlier.
The first issue that I wish to raise is the vaccination of dairy herds, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby. Why should it not be possible for a dairy farmer to vaccinate his dairy cows and to retain them on his farm until the end of their useful life? Clearly, that would have to be on terms that they could not thereafter leave the farm and could not be sold for food, which would not happen to dairy cows in any case. That restriction would be acceptable to many dairy farmers, as their herds are there to produce milk for sale rather than to be traded or sold for consumption.
838 The slaughter policy is said to be to enable us to continue to export. If slaughter continues much longer, there will be nothing left to export. The question of export is irrelevant to dairy herds, or the great majority of them, and if we continue to slaughter them there will be a serious milk shortage. It will take a considerable time to replace these cows. For a long time after the end of this plague, there will be virtually no replacement animals available.
I have a communication from the United States Department of Agriculture, whose people I imagine even the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, does not regard as being ignorant and not knowing what they are talking about. The department makes it plain that with the new vaccine one can detect even after vaccination whether a cow has become infected. The vaccinated cow is then no risk as a carrier to other animals.
I hope that the Minister can give a clear answer as to whether farmers will be allowed, if they so wish—not required—to vaccinate their dairy cows on the basis that I have outlined. If not, why not? These farmers are in a special situation as their needs are to implement vaccinations so that their cows can keep producing milk. That would apply whether or not vaccination is suitable generally.
It seems rather odd that a Government who have expressed their concern about the welfare of the fox seek to deny cows the opportunity of avoiding the very unpleasant illnesses and symptoms which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has described.
The second issue that I wish to raise is wider. I raised it briefly in the debate on a previous Statement. If the purpose of slaughter is to preserve the trading value, particularly the export value, of the remainder of the livestock in the country, presumably there must come a moment when the policy no longer makes sense. First, there will not be enough animals left to export and, secondly, the value of the export trade that might be lost will be less than the cost of the slaughter. I am referring only to the bare financial costs of the slaughter, not the cost in human distress and the sheer enormity of slaughtering vast numbers of healthy animals in pursuit of a doctrinaire policy.
I fully accept that when I asked the Minister last time to define precisely at what stage the dividing line would be crossed and how it would be measured that was a silly question which could not possibly be answered. None the less, I apprehend that the noble Baroness will agree that at some stage in a very gloomy scenario such a line will have been crossed. Who will make that decision and how will it be made if from mid-May onwards, which is probably about the time that a decision will be required, Ministers will have abandoned their offices to go electioneering and Parliament will not be here either to question their decision—or more realistically, perhaps, their indecision.
The debate is about the countryside, but I make no apology for concentrating on the effect on farming. In reality, if we have no farming, we shall have no countryside.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for putting all the issues so clearly in his speech this afternoon. The chief vet in Scotland, Leslie Gardner, said yesterday to the Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament that the disease was out of control. That is a statement of fact with which I shall not argue. It is, therefore, somewhat galling to see in the main headline of the Scotsman the statement of the Leader of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Coalition that the foot and mouth epidemic in Scotland was only a little problem. He really does not understand what is going on in Dumfries and Galloway.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, pressed the issue of an inquiry—something on the Phillips line, but briefer and less expensive, relating to imports, in particular.
I asked a question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on 5th March about endemic imports from countries that have foot and mouth. He responded,I understand that EU certification rules require freedom from foot and mouth disease in a country or region before meat from susceptible animals can be imported into the EU. Consignments of meat from third countries entering the EU are subject to checks at border inspection posts".—[Official Report, 5/3/01: col. 5.]I could not accept that and wrote to him the next day to say that that could not be true; we know that the disease is endemic in South Africa, in Argentine, Brazil and Uruguay, yet we import meat from those countries. However, I have not yet received an answer and almost a month has passed. So the noble Baroness must tighten up our import inspections because beef and mutton have been coming into this country from susceptible areas.
The noble Baroness has said a number of times that there is no blueprint. But that is wrong. As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, the Northumberland report highlighted exactly what steps should be taken as soon as foot and mouth is diagnosed. One of its recommendations was that contingency plans must be in constant readiness. Frankly, that was not the case. MAFF was caught out. The movement of livestock could have been restricted earlier and all the animals which were left out for a long time could have been held under suspicion.
Again I ask: why did it take so long to bring in the Army? It has been a huge success. In Dumfries and Galloway the 52nd Lowland Brigade turned up as soon as it was asked and there was a dramatic change in the whole attitude to what was taking place. Controversy arose yesterday after Mr William Hague suggested Army control. But we had had that for a week or so in Dumfries and Galloway. The senior Army officer in the operational bunker was the lead member of the group running the Dumfries and Galloway outpost. It has been highly effective and warmly welcomed by the officials of Dumfries and Galloway council, by the Scottish equivalent of MAFF in the Scottish Office and by the veterinary service.
840 I want quickly to put a few questions to the noble Baroness which I hope she will be able to answer when she responds to the debate. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell raised the issue of rateable values. In Scotland local authorities receive 95 per cent finance on rateable values of buildings of £12,000 or less, yet Wales is to get 100 per cent on buildings of £50,000. Scotland and England want to know why we cannot do as well as Wales.
The welfare cull has been an absolute disgrace. The Intervention Board at Reading has been swamped with telephone calls. Nobody is able to obtain an answer. When are we to see some action? Why is the price paid by the Intervention Board several pence per kilo less than market value elsewhere?
Perhaps the noble Baroness could also say something about taxation on compensation. Compensation has been paid speedily, and we welcome that. But the Inland Revenue seems to be in a muddle as to whether it is paid on a herd book basis, where no tax is paid, or whether it is on a normal trading basis when taxation will be payable. I should like to have that point cleared up—whether it is to be regarded as flying stock or the herd book.
Again, why are the vets in Scotland subject to control by MAFF in London? That is a strange part of devolution. I am glad that the Ayr office of the Veterinary Service upped sticks and has moved at once to Dumfries. And the Scottish National Farmers Union is dead against vaccination. Does that mean there will have to be some form of sterilisation or surveillance zone between England and Scotland should England go down the road of vaccination so that Scotland can retain its freedom from disease for export purposes, which is extremely important to us?
I should like to have said a great deal more but the clock is against me. I hope particularly that the noble Baroness will say something about the future administration that needs to be put in place in terms of the IACs for next month; how we are to deal with grass parks and the many other issues that need positive decisions from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to help farmers in desperate situations plan for the future.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for the opportunity to take part in this debate. The noble Lord said that he could have made a different speech because the countryside has, in many ways, changed so much over the past 50 years. I shall make a very different speech about a specific sector of the rural economy, without in any way denigrating the vital importance of agriculture and farming. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, without farming there would be no countryside.
I want to speak about a sector which is being hit very badly: outdoor pursuits, outdoor centres and the whole area of outdoor education. A special example is the National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin at Capel Curig in North Wales. It is estimated that that 841 centre makes a contribution of some £2 million a year to the local economy. At the moment it is almost non-functioning.
A whole series of specific problems arise. The Adventure Activity Licensing Authority licenses outdoor centres and has 938 such centres, of which over 80 per cent are now completely closed. Including local authority centres and others which are members of the body representing the heads of outdoor education centres, and as many again that are not members of any of those organisations, it is estimated that that sector is now losing revenue of around £5 million a week. That is an extremely important contribution to the rural economy.
Independent outdoor instructors, who are often self-employed, are losing £375,000 a week according to estimates from their association. Of the 230 YHA hostels, of which many noble Lords will have fond memories from their youth, 110 are at the moment closed. The association estimates that by the end of April it will have lost revenue of £2 million. By and large, all those are centres which are run by and employ people in the countryside.
The immediate need relates to the risk assessments. Local authorities have been asked by the Government to undertake to open as many footpaths as possible in low-risk areas where that can sensibly be done without seriously causing risk to farm animals. It is important that local authorities develop a sense of urgency and apply extra staff to that task. In many areas they are using their existing footpath staff, often just a handful of people. It is a serious and important matter if people are to be brought back to the countryside and to the country economy.
That is important for Easter, which is almost upon us. It is fairly clear that foot and mouth disease is not going to disappear quickly. But even if, as we all hope, it abates fairly rapidly now—there is no guarantee that it will—it is clearly not going to go away before the summer holidays are upon us, let alone Whitsuntide, or whatever that holiday period is called nowadays.
The summer economy of many of these places is facing ruin. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, spoke of the Lake District. I have been told that the tourism economy in the Lake District is worth 25 times as much as the farming economy. I do not know whether that is a correct figure, but tourism is worth far more than the farming economy.
This matter affects rural people and rural economies. It is urgent that we find out what can be done. Support and rescue packages are required. In many areas I do not believe that local authorities have begun to consider such matters. Support and resourcing will be required from central Government. In many areas where such things can be done with low risk, innovative ideas and the resources to back them are required.
I shall give one example. The British Mountaineering Council owns a cliff in North Wales at Tremadog on the North Wales coast, called Bwlch y Moch. It is not on but adjoins agricultural land. The 842 council has come to an agreement with the farmer of the adjoining land to erect an electric fence to separate the animals from the climbers, and the other way around. That kind of innovative scheme will be needed in many places to allow access again.
For ordinary climbers who cannot visit such places it is too bad, but we are talking about the many thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on instructing in that kind of activity. Plas y Brenin itself has had discussions with the Snowdonia National Park Authority and with the Welsh Assembly about a scheme for allowing access to the slate quarries and some of the limestone cliffs at Llandudno, where access can take place without affecting farm animals. Temporary fences may have to be erected in order to separate one activity from another while allowing both to continue.
In parts, the Pembrokeshire coastal path passes through Army ranges where there are sheep. People need to ask which is more important, the local tourist economy, the local outdoor pursuits economy or the small number of sheep that perhaps could be grazed somewhere else. Temporary fencing could be erected in such areas as well as in areas of open moorland and cliffs. There could also be the temporary removal of sheep to other grazing land. Such measures will be required, but resources will be needed, along with a sense of urgency in order to avoid large numbers of people becoming bankrupt or going on the dole.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, because he has made an extremely important point. Some recreational areas in the country are in great distress and if nothing changes I do not believe that they will have the cashflow to help them to survive this period and into the future. I thank my noble friend Lord Jopling for stepping into the breach at such short notice and for leading this debate in such an excellent manner.
I have three points to raise: first, imports from South Africa; secondly, the nature of foot and mouth disease; and, thirdly, the effectiveness of a particular unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
On South Africa, I know from a parliamentary Answer that I have received that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food knew of an outbreak of a pan-Asian strain of foot and mouth disease in September 2000. I am still waiting to hear how much meat has been imported since, and why a ban was not implemented on imports from South Africa.
Since the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease and in response to concern about the number of dead animals lying in our fields, Ministers and officials have argued that once an infected animal is killed the infection dies. On the other hand, whenever there is speculation about the cause of the disease and how it came into this country, Ministers and/or their officials, on radio and television, have suggested—of course, without prejudice to any inquiry—that the disease could have come from illegally imported meat or a sandwich casually thrown from an incoming ship, and 843 even a Chinese restaurant has been named as a possible source because the proprietor was thought to have imported Asian meat. Then there was a suggestion about contaminated pig swill.
However, one cannot have it both ways. If the disease dies with the animal, it follows that imported meat or even meat from within this country, could not be the source. If meat could be the source, it follows that the infection lives on after the death of the animal. There is real concern, and not least some controversy, about whether the infection dies with the death of the animal.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Baroness by telling her my understanding of the matter. This is a difficult and technical point. The death of the virus that comes with rigor mortis and decomposition occurs because, at that point, the pH levels change. One is careful not to allow meat that enters the food chain to decompose. Processes like curing or freezing of meat ensure that there is no decomposition and no change in the pH levels; therefore, it is possible for the virus to survive.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, there is a great deal of decomposition in the fields. Along with many members of the public, I am concerned about the risk of infection from the dead animals that are lying around.
I pose the following questions because I believe that public confidence, or the lack of it, demands unequivocal answers. First, given that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food knew of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in South Africa last September, were any meat or meat derivatives imported from South Africa between September 2000 and February this year? Secondly, why was a ban on such imports from South Africa, given that we knew about the outbreak, not implemented once the knowledge of the outbreak was received? Thirdly, does foot and mouth die with the animal? We have had a partial answer to that from the noble Baroness. Fourthly, as a corollary to that, if foot and mouth does not die with the animal, what is the residual risk of foot and mouth disease from a dead animal, especially from the 200,000 odd animals lying dead around the countryside awaiting burial or burning? Fifthly, is it true that a unit set up in 1992 by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, the then Secretary of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to monitor animal movements and to root out rogue traders has been shut down and that the investigators in that unit have been moved on to other jobs? If so, why? The work of such a unit would have been invaluable at the outset of this crisis.
Finally, many compliments have been paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, with which I concur wholeheartedly. However, on behalf of many noble Lords. I want to put on record how much we appreciate the tireless work of my noble friend Lady Byford. Throughout last summer's vacation she prepared for the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill almost single-handedly. She has spared no effort in her 844 concern for the countryside, and her commitment to speak for countryside issues in this House without professional back-up has been extremely impressive. It is without hesitation that I offer our warmest thanks to my noble friend.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Crawley
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who opened our debate, has great experience and expertise in agriculture in this country. Once again, he has provided the House with an opportunity to debate this crisis, this dreadful foot and mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom. However, I believe that the efforts of the noble Lord to turn what should be a serious debate about containing and reconstructing many areas of the countryside, especially Cumbria, the Solway Firth, Powys and Devon, into a highly political diatribe against the Government is to be regretted at a time of national crisis. It is hard to take such criticism coming from a party that presided over the disaster of BSE.
The Government are determined to eliminate foot and mouth disease. Indeed our thanks go to my noble friend Lady Hayman for the enormous personal effort that she, along with her Ministry officials, is putting into the eradication of this dreadful disease.
While many noble Lords today have rightly addressed the plight of the farming community, I declare an interest in that I chair the West Midlands Regional Cultural Consortium, with responsibility for encouraging the development of tourism in the West Midlands. In my short contribution, I shall pay tribute to the work that is going on day in and day out under the leadership of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency, "Advantage West Midlands" and The Heart of England Tourist Board to minimise as much as possible the damage to a thriving tourist industry.
The tourist industry in my region welcomes the efforts at national and regional level to respond to the plight of the industry. At present, an urgent £50,000 advertising campaign is being launched in the run-up to the Easter break in order to emphasise the fact that the region's great tourist attractions are indeed open for business and pleasure. There are attractions such as Shakespeare's birthplace, the Iron Bridge, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and many many others.
Furthermore, the regional task force is also tackling issues that will be important for the future; for instance, restructuring assistance, soft loans and the right business rate relief. It is also concerned that information sent to businesses is accurate. In order to ensure the region's future tourism prospects, it is examining the future domestic market and ensuring that the right messages are sent to the overseas market.
The Prime Minister recently visited the region. Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire have all suffered confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease. The more the Government can continue to work with regional task forces in their sterling efforts to overcome the great threat to tourism as well as to 845 farming, the more we as a country and as an economy will recover from this ghastly visitation of foot and mouth disease.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will understand how pleased I am not to be in her shoes. I hope she also knows how much I appreciate and admire her dedication. I want to echo the words of my noble friend Lady Blatch about my noble friend Lady Byford. She really is a tremendously hard and effective worker.
It is an important fact that in the past two years we have imported 37,000 tonnes of pig meat from 26 countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic. The Government have allowed that to happen, thus flaunting the agreement reached during a Labour government in 1969 by the Duke of Northumberland's committee of inquiry.
That is the result of policies endorsing cheap food and it must not happen again. The cost of the epidemic, which is almost certainly the result of buying tainted meat, is estimated at £9 billion. Heaven knows where it will end.
As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, another point made by the same committee in 1969 was that burial is better than burning. Despite the recent stupid mistake, I agree with that conclusion. In my view, the environment agencies which have advocated burning rather than burial are just plain wrong. It was interesting to note that the day the Army moved into Cumbria, its first job was to dig a great big hole. That speaks for itself.
I cannot help feeling that if I were a soldier involved in this gruesome job I should be saying to myself, "I joined the Army for Queen and country and not for dead sheep". I believe that the Army deserves our warmest praise and thanks.
Another point is that the RSPCA and the animal activists, who are so vocal and active when hunting is concerned, seem to have lost their voices and stopped their activities during this present crisis, despite that fact that hunt abattoirs have been called in to help in the general situation.
I want to make one final point. This is a rural crisis. It is not farming versus the countryside, as the press and indeed others seem anxious to tell us—and I wish they would not. I think of the many B&B establishments I have seen and visited which have supplemented the diminishing incomes of small farmers. Just tell those farmers' wives who work so hard that they are not part of the tourist industry. It is wicked to suggest otherwise.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for giving the House another opportunity to take stock of the present crisis. Together with other noble Lords, I want to express sympathy and support for farmers in their current 846 plight. Their distress is not just economic but emotional and spiritual, for herds and flocks which they may have spent many years building up are being destroyed. At the same time, I do not forget the many others in the tourist industry or in other businesses which are curtailed by the present restrictions on the movement of goods and people.
The churches have been deeply involved in the plight of the farming community. Rural churches, which are so easy to underestimate, have truly come into their own. Rural chaplains, both in their own ministries and through the networks they have set up, have been at the forefront of support for farmers in many ways, including helplines. There has also been significant emergency financial support. The ARC Addington Fund has now raised well over £1.5 million and 376 grants have already been made.
I want to pose a simple practical question, but one which raises wider, deeper ones. Is there no alternative to the present policy? The pictures of the mass slaughter of animals have been extremely distressing for a range of people who in no way would be regarded as cranky or sentimental about animals. The possibility of mass vaccination was posed and then apparently rejected. I have listened to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and I hope that the Minister will address that question. But if vaccination is not an option in the present crisis, surely we need extensive research to find a form of vaccination that will prove effective in every way. We cannot rest content with where we are now.
The simple practical question, "Is there no alternative?", raises questions at a more profound level. This crisis, coming after several other crises in the food industry in recent years, makes us ask again about the place of animals in the created order. Animals, according to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, are there in part for the benefit of human beings. But they are also valuable in themselves, reflecting some aspect of the divine glory. This means that they cannot be seen simply as economic units. Economic factors are among other factors which lie behind the present crisis; for example, methods of intensive farming and the long distances which animals now have to travel for slaughter and distribution. The value of the export market is a key consideration justifying the policy of slaughter. In any Christian understanding of animals, economic considerations, although of course important and in themselves legitimate, cannot be the only ones; nor indeed do we allow this to be the case for we have a whole range of laws concerned with animal welfare.
Perhaps I may highlight the point by quoting a letter I received recently from a sane, sensible, down-to-earth theologian. It pointed out that in sharp contrast to policies in this country, Star News in India recently reported the case of farming women in Andhra Pradesh who nurse animals sick with foot and mouth back to health with neem leaves and other naturally occurring medicines. As a result, someone has suggested in all seriousness that people should send their sick animals to India where they can be nursed 847 back to health. Of course, this is foolishness and nävety, but sometimes it is the foolish and näive perspective which can raise fundamental questions about our own practices.
When cracks appear in a building, we take it as a sign that something is amiss. The current crisis, coming after others, is such a crack. It suggests that something has gone fundamentally wrong in our whole understanding of the relationship between human beings and our fellow creatures on this planet. Perhaps the present policy is the least bad in the crisis in which we now find ourselves, but, looking to the future, we need to find alternatives not just for the sake of the British farming industry but for our relationship with animals and their place in the created order.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Jopling for his authoritative opening of the debate. A fortnight or so ago I explained my involvement in what is happening in east Cumbria which is where I live and which has always been my home. On that occasion I dare say that some noble Lords thought that I was telling travellers' tales. I hope and trust that nobody now believes that I was then describing the former Yugoslavia and not mainland Britain.
Nothing much has changed. The ghastly disaster still takes its course; it is merely more extensive than it was then. It is now generally accepted that as far as concerns Cumbria the Government's response has been bungled. To see that one has only to look at the conclusions of the Duke of Northumberland's report and contrast them with what has happened on the ground. The disastrous consequences affect the entire economy of Cumbria, not only farmers. In Cumbria the outbreak runs like fire through stubble. The words "out of control" come to mind. Parts of the county are effectively no-go areas to livestock. I should like to ask the noble Baroness, whom I thank for the way in which she responded to my concerns and interests in this crisis, whether it is part of present government policy just to let the disease rip in certain parts of the infected areas.
Quite rightly, the movement of stock is prohibited in the public interest immediately the disease becomes apparent. That means that farmers lose most of the control over their businesses. One cannot remove one's possessions as one might if an adjoining house catches fire or the invader is at the gate. All that a farmer can do is wait for the disease or the cull. Stock is conscripted and then, if not killed at home, taken off to the death camp at Great Orton. Farms are effectively requisitioned and businesses sequestered with trading assets destroyed or, in the case of the very important tourist industry, the landscape—the mainstay of their enterprise—is eclipsed by the smoke of pyres or shut down in the public interest. When that happens there is nothing left for the service industries to support.
In Cumbria the farming and tourist industries believe that they are being destroyed without a "please" or "thank you", a "we'll see you all right", or 848 even a clear rationale for exactly what is going on. They are like a patient who has been taken into hospital and undergone a bungled operation. In that case the perpetrators are responsible and must face the consequences. In this case the Government's position is not that of an insurer of last resort but the person who is responsible for the debacle.
Just as in our darkest hour in the Second World War plans for peace were developed, we must now look forward. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said last week at Question Time, we must be clear that the priority for both tourism and farming is to stamp out the disease. Three weeks ago I raised the problems which were potentially faced in the high fells—they were again raised this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Jopling—in particular, in relation to Herdwick and Rough Fell sheep. We still have no clear explanation as to how to avoid the self-evident ecological and environmental disaster that stares all of us in the face. Frankly, to touch wood and cross fingers will not be enough in this case.
As my noble friend Lord Monro said, farming decisions cannot be delayed like the date of the local elections. Those who have been affected by the disease must recast their plans quickly in order to mitigate their losses. As we all know, the agricultural industry is set in a framework that is controlled by government. Please, please, tell us what we can do and, bearing in mind the various suggestions bandied about in this Chamber, down the corridor and elsewhere—ideas which may not appeal to the Government—what we cannot do.
In and around where I live there is a great deal of confusion on the ground about the implications and consequences of infection and the serving of various notices. I believe that it would be very much in the public interest if information could be made widely available—for example, by advertisement in local newspapers—so that the community as a whole knows the rules and people can have confidence that their neighbours are behaving in a responsible way.
Trotting along behind the virus as it swirls through the Cumbrian air is the dark dog of despair; it moves rather like sin and death, as described in Milton's Paradise Lost, and it is the story of another lost Eden. Despair is all around. We need leadership from somebody with fire in his belly who can take up our cause in government. I suggest a junior Minister. If we cannot find somebody down the corridor with a big personality, and no side to it—I dare say we will not find a suitable person—perhaps we may find someone in your Lordships' House. Failing that, one can always bring someone into your Lordships' House from outside. I am sure that such an individual would be an ornament. We need somebody to lead from the front who can show those who are cast down by the events through which they are passing that there is a future.
Last week I gave a special presentation to an unbelieving agriculture committee of the European Parliament. I described what was going on at home. I concluded by saying that we now needed a Marshall Plan for Cumbria which might well include an entirely 849 different form of agriculture and, with it, Marshall aid. As I explained on the previous occasion, the issue is not one of economic diversification but the sudden destruction of trading assets and cash flow. What is needed now is cash—that vulgar commodity—not vague suggestions about possible VAT deferment and so on, and decisiveness and speed.
Last weekend I discussed this matter with a friend who knows Cumbria well and is a leading merchant banker. His bank has offered to help pro Bono. He agreed with me that this crisis is not of the kind that is usually associated with economic upheaval and job losses, such as the tragedies at Llanwern, Luton and so on, which are caused by market failure. The problems that we are considering are much more like those experienced in the new democracies of eastern Europe and their currency crises. To deal with those problems we must take the right steps and not be seduced by wrong exemplars from past experience.
I end with what may be a surprising conclusion. I do not believe that the crisis in Cumbria has been caused by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. I believe that the cause is a bungling and blundering effort to deal with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. If the Government respond to the crisis in Cumbria with the same sloth and incoherence that they responded to the disease, they will merely compound an economic crisis that they have already created.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am pleased to join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for introducing this debate. I start by acknowledging that. in preparing for what I intended to say, I received considerable assistance from a former Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Grantchester, who many will be aware is a distinguished member of the farming community as a prize-winning dairy farmer in Cheshire. His agricultural experience is much missed on these Benches, but he has been able to give me an indication of some of the issues and problems that face farmers in Cheshire.
There has been a good deal of confusion and speculation in many quarters. What is agreed is that foot and mouth disease is a devastating and highly contagious disease to cattle and pigs and can be carried with fewer ill effects by sheep. For cattle, it should be likened to leprosy in human disease terms rather than a common cold or the 'flu. Infected cattle have to be slaughtered not only to stamp out the disease but on welfare grounds as well. One single case of foot and mouth signifies a national emergency.
Both the previous government and the present one have over the years reduced the State Veterinary Service, largely as a part of the process of integration with the European Union and the reduction in cross-country border controls. In retrospect, it seems that that is one reason why we were not as prepared to deal with the onslaught of the disease as we could have been. The realisation of that coincided with the 850 Minister's Statement of 13th March. This week, the sixth since the outbreak began, everyone hopes that the disease is stabilising, as so far there has been an average of 35 new cases per day against 37 last week, 24 in the previous week and 16 a day in the third week.
The deputy director-general of the NFU, Ian Gardiner, is quoted in The Times today as saying:This drop is significant. An epidemic out of control should double every nine days, but we are now seeing a disease whose course has been interrupted".He rightly goes on to warn against complacency. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that complacency is the last thing we need.
As we have heard from many noble Lords, Cumbria, south Scotland and Devon are bearing the brunt. Around 250 herds have been slaughtered, accounting for 1 per cent of the national dairy herd, representing perhaps 150 million litres of milk annually, though I gather that the Zenith and Nestlé milk fields in Cumbria account for nearly half the total.
The first case in Cheshire was three miles away from Lord Grantchester's farm on 14th March, in sheep traced to Welshpool market. That date was at the very end of normal incubation time. Since then, the disease has crept into four contiguous farms. Those farmers have blamed smoke from neighbouring fires engulfing their premises as the cause of the spread. There is dismay locally that the environmental health people have insisted that under no circumstances may cattle be buried due to the potential BSE risk from cattle over 30 months old. Can farmers be reassured that the burning of carcasses is safe and destroys the virus completely? Could it be that the warm draught of air created by the fires spreads the virus further and more quickly? The burying of stock, including cattle, must surely be the preferred method of disposal.
As the possible dangerous contacts are traced, there is a worrying development, especially in mid-Wales and Staffordshire, of finding sheep with healed blisters, signifying, possibly, that the disease has already passed through them and that the sheep in question are recovering from foot and mouth. If that is so, it would imply that sporadic outbreaks could reoccur for some time to come.
As the disease spreads, local farmers are naturally extremely anxious and wait on every news update. They feel that there has been a lack of proper information getting through to them. They realise that the emergency planning committees are now operating in every county. Those committees will need to explain what farmers may or may not do with their farms during the months following infection. Can my noble friend clarify whether policies have been determined regarding what will happen in this year's growing season, whether consequential loss payments are being examined, and how quickly compensation payments will be made?
The effects of this terrible disease on the wider rural community have also been highlighted by a number of noble Lords. Following the example of a survey of the effects of the problems at Rover in the West Midlands 851 last year, Advantage West Midlands has conducted a short survey of affected rural businesses as a forerunner to a bigger survey to be undertaken by KPMG and Harper Adams Agricultural College. From that it is becoming clear that the areas of impact between agriculture, rural and town businesses are far wider and deeper than had been imagined. For example, the National Trust has cancelled its orders for all pottery items next year from a manufacturer in Stoke, as a consequence of the expected drop in visitor numbers at its premises this year.
Finally, I shall say a few words about Chester Zoo. It is the biggest wildlife attraction in Britain. It estimates its losses to date from closure at some £500,000. It has taken the decision to open this Saturday. Naturally, visitor figures may well be disappointing. Can my noble friend confirm the importance of maintaining the United Kingdom's disease-free status for endangered species, and has any thought been given to vaccinating a category of special cases, such as those that can be found at Chester Zoo and other centres of wildlife?
All this underlines the urgency that is needed to combat and defeat this disease. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to all the hard work and long hours being undertaken by the teams out in the field and by my noble friend Lady Hayman.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have been involved with agriculture. I should like to pay my tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who has worked with enormous determination and effort and has always been courteous in coming to your Lordships' House to explain what is going on. I thank the noble Baroness and her team of people at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. When one is a Minister, all of a sudden something comes out from the sky, lands on one's lap and one has to deal with it. It is very unpleasant. Even if one accepts that a good deal of effort has gone in, one has to be robust enough to accept criticism too. In this world it is not good enough to have tried; one has to succeed as well. If there are points of criticism, we have to realise that it is for our future benefit to try to find the best way out.
We can never say that the disease is under control. If it was under control, it would never have started in the first place. The best one can do is to hope that one can say that the disease appears to be waning. When we last debated the matter, the Minister said that there were 191 outbreaks of foot and mouth. There are now around 991, which is terrible. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that one of the great disasters was at the beginning of the outbreak when so much time lapsed between the disease being inspected, the virus being sent for checking, diagnosis of foot and mouth, valuation, slaughter and then burial. That lapse of time was the opportunity for the disease to have spread.
The Government are absolutely right. I congratulate them on setting the target that the task should be completed within 24 hours. But the sad fact 852 is that of the 1 million animals which are to be or have been culled, nearly 400,000 are still waiting to be slaughtered. Nearly 200,000 animals are awaiting disposal. That is terrible. I understand that some 1,700 soldiers are now at work. They were told that they would advise and supervise. I find it hard to believe that 1,700 soldiers can do that. I know that they are digging holes too, but it would be a great help if the noble Baroness could give us some indication of what they are doing.
Obviously, things have gone wrong. My noble friend Lord Jopling gave the example of the two sites for burial being chosen at Tow Law and the animals being buried in the wrong place. They have had to he dug up, although they had partially decomposed. The footpaths were closed and then opened. The countryside was closed and then it was opened. We have had a good many problems of that nature, including the Minister, Mr Meacher, saying that there would be a full, open and wide-ranging inquiry. He was quite right. The same was done over BSE and it was very unpleasant for some people who were involved. However, the day after he said that. No. 10 denied that there was to be such an inquiry. Can the noble Baroness say whether there will be one?
I agree with my noble friend Lady Blatch. She was concerned that the disease had been attributed to either a ham sandwich or the residue from a Chinese take-away. Like my noble friend, I cannot understand how, if the food was cooked, the virus could still exist. I was grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining that, apparently, even if the animal is killed and the meat is then cooked, the virus can still be present. It is only the process of rigor mortis that destroys it.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, that is why the rules concerning the boiling of pigswill at 100 degrees Centigrade are so crucial. That, in addition to the process of rigor mortis, will kill the virus.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation, which is of great assistance.
I should declare an interest at this point: I own a rare breed. Some people have asked whether rare breeds and special bloodlines ought to be protected, but I do not see how that could be done. Once we start to vaccinate rare breeds or, indeed, any other kind of animal, we shall destroy the present policy. Perhaps the noble Baroness could make the position clear on that point.
I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Many other areas of the economy are being deeply affected by this outbreak. The noble Lord went on to cite some impressive and frightening figures. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, also referred to this issue. It is perfectly true: ancillary businesses such as timber merchants, marquee erectors, livery stables, saddlers, agricultural engineers, tractor suppliers, feed merchants and hauliers—all these and many more—are being affected. The effects of this problem are being felt far beyond agriculture and tourism and in many other types of business.
853 An interesting survey was undertaken between 23rd February and 3rd March by the Country Land and Business Association in the West Midlands. It showed that the average loss of turnover was 41 per cent in agriculture; 42 per cent in the equine area, covering riding schools, farriers, saddlers and so forth; 55 per cent in farm-related businesses such as feed merchants, hauliers, contractors and farm equipment suppliers; and 57 per cent in tourism. Those figures represent reductions in turnover. Few businesses can suffer such turnover reductions for long without going bankrupt. It just goes to show that the tentacles of this disease have spread far wider and deeper than the killing of livestock and concerns for agriculture and the immediate countryside.
My noble friend Lord Jopling wondered how farms are to be restocked with livestock once all the animals have been destroyed. I hope that, if any disease is discovered, the affected animals will be shot and disposed of immediately. I hope that the Government will make up their mind over the use of vaccine, because one cannot oscillate too much on this point: either they should support it or they should reject it. Any indecision is bad for all concerned.
I hope, too, that the Government will continue to "draw down" the £180 million from the European Union monetary fund. That money, and much more, is due to us because of changes in the economic standing of the pound. It does not, in fact, have anything to do with the foot and mouth outbreak, but the extra funds will be a great help to the whole country.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, it is not surprising that, with such an enormous nightmare hanging over us, noble Lords are taking part in another debate on developments in the countryside, which is now being shattered. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for leading today's debate and for his excellent speech.
As I have done before, I shall declare an interest as I farm in what is now an infected area. I am also trying to decide whether it will be possible to open my riding centre. If people are to enjoy the countryside, they must have something to do; they cannot just sit in a pub all day.
With the need to protect our wonderful breeding stock and our rare breeds, which are a part of our heritage, along with our dairy herds, many people are querying the possibility of introducing vaccination. Perhaps I may ask the Minister: has enough research gone into developing such vaccines?
In the Evening Standard yesterday, a headline read:Low prices fuel trade in disease".There is great concern in the countryside, where animals are a part of our lives, that animals and people are being put at risk of new outbreaks of diseases brought in by the global trade in cheap food. Apart from foot and mouth disease, salmonella, CJD and 854 BSE, foreign meat could bring diseases such as the Ebola virus, TB and anthrax to Britain. Only yesterday several children were diagnosed as suffering from TB at a school in Leicester. The Evening Standard went on to state that all kinds of bush meat has been carried by air passengers from West Africa. On Tuesday of this week, I was told that an airline pilot brought in meat from Kenya because he liked it. It seems that the problem is far greater than we might think.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister this: what will be done to make Britain safer? This kind of thing would not happen in New Zealand or Australia. We should put in place far stricter restrictions. For years a great deal of energy and interest has been directed towards trying to stem the import of illegal drugs. Of course that work is vital, but has the issue of drugs shrouded the importance of other concerns? Has Britain become complacent?
Where I live, many small farms adjoin each other, mainly with sheep and cattle. We all have questions which arise as the virus comes nearer. Last Friday I tried to call the veterinary department of MAFF in Leeds. I could get no answer. I telephoned the NFU helpline. I was told that their representatives also could get no answer. When eventually I got through, the person I spoke to did not know the answers to my questions. I called again today, to be told that the department would be getting some new telephone lines. Can the Minister tell me whether the department will also be getting some more people to respond to the calls? It is necessary that MAFF staff should have at their fingertips the correct answers to questions.
I spoke to a representative of the county council at Northallerton today on the question of clipping sheep. I was told that one could not clip or dip sheep in an infected area and that this was laid down in paragraph 25 of the 1983 order, as amended, covering foot and mouth disease. The person I spoke to at the MAFF veterinary department in Leeds did not know this.
I have a feeling that people are trying to do their best, but they are hard-pressed and in need of a great deal of information so that they can pass it on to worried people who become frustrated when they receive conflicting advice. When I spoke to the representative at the NFU, I asked him what he felt was the most important need as a result of this horrifically contagious virus. He told me, "Information, information and information".
The outbreak at Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales has caused great consternation among local people as regards the burning of animals. Fears were expressed that smoke from the fire would blow around the village, polluting the air for school children and residents. The animals were then taken to another site and buried. But local people feel strongly that, when officials move in, they should listen to those who know the area.
The difficulty involved in moving sheep has been of great concern to many people. Perhaps I may give an example of one of my personal problems. I was holding gimmer shearlings in a field next to a large 855 animal feed mill called l'Anson's at Masham, which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will know well. Their lorries travel all over the country and I was concerned for my sheep. But on Monday I received a telephone call from the mill because its owners are concerned that, if my sheep contract foot and mouth disease, they will be closed down. There are many spin-off problems and we have to try to help each other.
Flamingo Land is a zoo and theme park close to Pickering in North Yorkshire which last year attracted 1.3 million visitors and employs 800 full and part-time staff. It is now in crisis. Its meat stocks are running out and some of the zoo animals may have to be killed if they cannot get food. With the abattoirs closed, the zoo needs help. Why cannot it have the healthy animals which have to be culled as a precaution? I spoke to Gordon Gibb, who runs the zoo, this morning. He feels bewildered by the confusing and conflicting messages. Is the countryside open or closed?
As zoos fall between MAFF, and leisure and tourism, will the Minister set up a special zoo unit at her department so that the zoos do not feel isolated and unloved? They feel that no one cares. Perhaps the noble Baroness could become "Minister for the Zoos". That would help.
Why cannot cloven-footed zoo animals be vaccinated? Will the Minister please answer this question today, if possible? We need to protect the animals and the tourist industry. We need more proactive help on such matters.
On Sunday I watched the "Panorama" programme on farming. It was not helpful to struggling farmers, who are having the most disastrous and heartbreaking times of their lives. Are we to have meat from Argentina and cheap eggs from China? Perhaps when the milk runs out and the fields are empty, people will understand a little more about what they are losing. With the news that agricultural shows are cancelled, concern over foot and mouth has escalated since the last debate on 13th March.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Cavendish of Furness
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Jopling. As a former constituent of his, I recognise his authority and experience. I should like to say how well he is respected in my part of the world, in Cumbria.
Once again, I need to declare an interest as chairman of a group of Cumbria-based family companies concerned with land ownership, forestry, construction, mineral extraction, tourism and National Hunt racing. As I have told the House before, I have a personal stake in these companies. As an additional interest, if it can be described as such, since the last time I spoke this disease has arrived with us at home and, while I speak, livestock on estate land is being slaughtered; an ancient herd of fallow deer is under threat; and our local economy is in free-fall.
On 13th March, all sides of your Lordships' House supported and gave encouragement to the Government in their efforts to bring FMD under 856 control. Without exception, everyone who took part expressed warm appreciation for the contributions of the Minister. I hope that our thanks and appreciation will be conveyed to her once more. I see that she is not in her seat at the moment; during this long debate she deserves a break. Even today, I should he surprised, with the mood rather changed, if credit rather than blame should attach to the noble Baroness when the full story of this disaster comes to be understood.
The truth is that, along with the whole nation, she has been cruelly let down by a deeply flawed department, by ministerial colleagues obsessed with the election, and, I fear to say, by a vacillating Prime Minister who, not for the first time, goes to pieces in times of crisis; every day reveals a pitiful lack of leadership. One is left wondering what purpose there is to high office if it cannot resolve the petty obstacles that have dogged progress and have compounded, by so many magnitudes, the misery of this crisis.
If true, it is to be welcomed that there will be a public inquiry into this epidemic and the handling of it. Self-evidently, there must be one, and it must have terms of reference equal to the task. I could personally offer volumes of evidence of a horrifying character to such an inquiry, and many of my neighbours in Cumbria would have much more to say than me. Today, I shall confine myself to two examples of how dreadful the management of this crisis has been.
In the early stages of the outbreak, it occurred to me that in south Cumbria we could be protected from the infected north by virtue of the hills and fells that divide us—they would become, so to speak, a natural firebreak—but only if those hills and fells were cleared of stock. I tried therefore to get permission to allow sheep which were grazing on moorland that belongs to us, but where several farmers have commoners' rights, to come down off the hill and to lamb on their farms, as they normally would do at this time of year. No public roads were involved. I did not know then—I do not know now—whether the idea was workable, but that is not the point.
When the department was open to take telephone calls, I received seven different and contradictory answers to this question. Among the comments I received was that this was an important issue which was being resolved at a high level. Nothing is resolved and the disease has come over the hills into the valleys of south Lakeland. Another reply was, "Yes, this is allowed, but we will not put it in writing"; and, "No, you will not be eligible for compensation unless you have permission in writing".
Aside from the incompetence, there is a rather sinister lack of humanity here. Small wonder, I thought, as one grazier spoke of his lambs dying on the fell and said that it might be better for him and his family if his stock caught the disease and had to he destroyed.
My second example relates to a farm tenant on our estate who reported abscesses in the mouth of one of his cattle, which then, naturally, came under suspicion of having FMD. He was served with an "A" notice; his children were not allowed on the farm. By the evening 857 of the same day, the vet who had taken swabs from the suspect cattle received instructions from MAFF in London that the farmer was to put the swabs in his fridge—where, more than a week later, they remain.
The farmer next discovered on 31st March that on the MAFF website his farm was shown as a "confirmed" site. The next day it was reported that an error had been made and that it was no longer a confirmed site. His relief at this news has been short lived as yesterday he was told that his flock has to be slaughtered as a precaution when resources permit.
Even if one accepts, which I do not, that it is reasonable to disregard people's feelings in times of crisis, can the noble Baroness not understand that horror stories such as these seriously undermine any confidence that people may have in the Government's ability to deliver their principal objective of defeating this disease?
Can the Minister tell the House how many laboratories are licensed to perform the routine foot and mouth disease test? We were told one. Does she appreciate that the MAFF website has been a very important means of giving information to the farming world and that it has been a lifeline for many? Why has its format changed so much for the worse? Why does it now give so much less information? Does she accept that a sinister interpretation has been placed on these changes? Will she ensure that the former excellent service is resumed?
Does the noble Baroness agree that, in the matter of pre-emptive culls, the delays in effecting slaughter, often amounting to weeks, very much diminish the intended results? May it not even be the case that after, say, 10 days, the benefits are so small as to be almost worthless?
Perhaps I may say a final word about the situation more generally. This is a crisis that will not end with farming; it will affect everyone. Tourism is perhaps as much a casualty as farming. We should treat with some caution the statistics being bandied about. Although farming is small statistically, farmers create and manage every working day of their lives the very products that tourists want to see and enjoy, so a league table of suffering does not help anyone.
As a modest player in various facets of tourism in Cumbria, I have given thought to two upcoming events that we stage and which now stand a 50/50 chance of going ahead. One event is a garden festival over three days; the other, a few days after that, is three days of National Hunt racing at Cartmel. Both are likely to be cancelled. I mention them because we have calculated that these two events—small as they are—generate in whole, including starting-up costs, between £1 million and £2 million. They represent a tiny proportion of the planned activities over the next few months in Cumbria, but I use them to illustrate the knock-on effect that the crisis will have.
My own losses are not of interest to your Lordships. I profess to be an entrepreneur and, therefore, take risks. I mention losses for this reason: in considering rescue operations—whether for agriculture or any 858 other sector—it should be remembered that the recovery of losses currently being made on investments of all kinds in Cumbria will be very slow. This will create difficulties in helping the rescue programmes and should be taken into account.
In conclusion, it would be a tragedy if farming on a family basis were ever to end. It is a time to keep faith with farming and the farming industry.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Brennan
My Lords. I live in the countryside. I regard the present situation as of the gravest concern. As a comparatively new Member of this House, I had assumed that such grave matters of national importance would be determined on the basis of what is in the national interest. Therefore, I say with regret but with firmness that I find the remarks of some Members on the Opposition Benches, many in the Conservative Party, to be putting party interest before that of the country. Criticism is destructive; the policies that are put forward, few as they are, are often ill thought out; and the language that is regularly used is extravagant. There are notable exceptions. The example that has been set by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, should be followed.
Those in the Conservative Party who wish to criticise the Government—as they are rightly entitled to do—should have a care. Only a few years ago, a disaster of equal if not greater proportions—namely, BSE—took place in secret as to its origins. Today, we are debating the resolution of a crisis in public. Of course there are problems that will result in mistaken solutions; there will be mix-ups between ministries and there will be different priorities. Such is the nature of government problems in trying to resolve a crisis which I described in the previous debate on this matter as numerically, geographically and logistically of enormous proportions.
That said, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for giving me the opportunity to issue what I regard as a justifiable criticism but, more importantly, to move on to the important topics of the debate: solving the problem, helping those in need, and planning for the future to ensure that such a crisis does not happen again.
In attempting to solve the problem, of course one should be careful and prudent. But yesterday, a chief scientific officer said that it is too early to be completely sure that the strategy is taking effect but that the signs are encouraging. Surely we should build on that comment rather than scour the past six weeks for mistakes that we can criticise.
During the past weeks, as I understand it, the Government have met with the support of senior officials of the National Farmers' Union for what they are doing. The Army officers who have been interviewed over the past few days have expressed their support for the part that they believe they can usefully play in the present strategy. Those examples represent national unity. They should not be undermined.
859 The problem has to be solved by government, through ministries and through the people they are using, such as vets, in the field. It is surely the duty not only of Members of this House but of the public to give full support to a government trying to solve a national problem.
I turn to the second question: helping those in need. I agree that, in the aftermath of the crisis, farming areas, certainly in Cumbria and Devon, deserve consideration for declaration as special regeneration areas. I agree that with regard to tourism the steps taken last week by the task force in terms of rate relief were a beginning and that they should be built on; otherwise, we face the risk not only of losing hundreds of millions of pounds this year but of facing the cost of rebuilding the damage done to the tourist industry.
Thirdly, there should be major new investment in farming and food production. The despairing farmers with whom we sympathise and about whom we have heard so much in these debates should have an alternative.
I turn finally to planning for the future. The crisis has surely brought to the fore the fact that this country—not this Government, but this country does not have a coherent food policy. We are the victims of market forces. When a disaster such as this happens, we must surely reconsider the number one priority of most countries; namely, that the country should produce most of its food from its own resources.
The second point in regard to planning for the future is that the population should be educated in the idea that higher quality, lower quantity food is better than lower quality, higher quantity food, even if—here is where the education is required—it is more expensive.
Last but not least, if the present crisis has done anything, it has illustrated that the rural community is a community of farmers, of tourist industry providers and also of visitors who enjoy the benefits of the countryside. Perhaps the time has now come to consider setting up a department of rural affairs to replace MAFF.
I opened my remarks with a stern criticism, from which I do not resile. I close them by reminding myself and your Lordships of that criticism in the hope that it will be productive. This crisis demands national unity and solidarity. Those outside this House will expect us all, in finding a solution to the problem, in helping the needy and in planning for the future, to put the national interest first.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jopling for introducing the debate. It gives all Back-Benchers a chance to take part, unlike at Question Time or in debates on Statements.
Our previous debate on this matter took place on 13th March, when the Minister of Agriculture said that the situation was under control. Only 22 days later, cases are up by 500 per cent; condemned stock is 860 up by 570 per cent; the numbers of stock killed are up by 480 per cent, of which 30 per cent still await disposal; and the number of animals awaiting slaughter is up by over 800 per cent. Some control; such ineptitude!
I ask the Minister: why was the latest high-tech programme on foot and mouth bought from New Zealand not installed earlier? Few are surprised, but many are infuriated, by the burial of stock in the wrong place. As my noble friends Lord Soulsby and Lord Cavendish have asked, why is MAFF still giving contradictory or ambiguous advice on almost every issue, be it the disease risk from caracasses, crops in store or valuations? Why is it still taking up to 10 days for infected stock to be slaughtered? It is a case of "another day, another blunder".
We are grateful to many vets and support workers who are toiling hard. But I believe that they are now being badly led. Like many other noble Lords, I believe that we are being subjected to a staggering tale of complacency, incompetence and inefficiency. Sadly, MAFF has totally lost the trust of the livestock farmers—and not just of the farmers; there are many in the countryside who are angry and alienated as a result of the way the crisis has been handled. Thank goodness the Army was brought in to try to stabilise the situation. But why were troops not brought in earlier, and in greater numbers, as my noble friend Lord Jopling said?
Do the Government have any plans for the further closure of veterinary establishments, which are crucial to livestock farmers? Perhaps I may give an example in Scotland. The Lib-Lab pact that forms the Scottish Executive has, partly through lack of funding, caused the threatened closure of the Disease Surveillance Centre in Thurso. The closure was announced in January. It would mean that 50 per cent of the stock in the Highlands would have no veterinary centre near to it; the nearest one would be miles away to the south in Inverness. Like others, I wrote to the Minister responsible—a Liberal, Mr Ross Finnie—in January. Despite a reminder, he has not had the courtesy to reply. That is not the first time that that has happened when letters have been sent to Liberal Members.
Last week the situation was aggravated when the Scottish Agricultural College said that the closure of the centre was even more likely as a result of the foot and mouth crisis. Quite the reverse policy should apply. Is anything as stupid as that happening south of the border?
I turn to two problem areas. Why is the compensation for the livestock welfare disposal programme paid at 90 and not 100 per cent? That is discriminatory and unfair and is causing immense resentment in the countryside. But more important is the question of exports, on which so much of the farming industry depends. The Minister in her normal courteous way has kindly told me that it will be at least 12 months from the end of this crisis before exports can be resumed.
However, Saturday's Financial Times revealed that officials in MAFF believe that the relevant period will be four years. I believe that that is probably more 861 realistic, given the recent attitude of our so-called "partner", France, with regard to our beef exports. That will result in lower prices than before the disease struck.
Even then farmers, particularly those in less favoured areas, if they made any profit at all, earned their lowest incomes in real terms since the Second World War. Lower prices in the future will drive them off the land completely. The great disappearance of people from the countryside in recent times will accelerate. Sadly, I do not believe that the Government are giving any thought to the future. If Northern Ireland is allowed to export its meat again, will the same preference apply to the Highlands of Scotland, which, thankfully, is still free of the disease?
It is all very well having a public inquiry to look back at what has happened in the past, but it will take years for the countryside to recover. I repeat my call for a Royal Commission to look forward and to be appointed now, as my noble friend Lord Jopling mentioned. It must consider other areas besides farming. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned outdoor pursuits. I am grateful that he spoke as he is the only Liberal Back-Bencher to do so today. If we let the infrastructure and labour force deteriorate further, it will be costly and will take time to restore. I believe that the countryside has generally been well managed by farmers. The future care of the countryside depends on a profitable farming sector. That is what we do not have at the moment and the prospects look increasingly gloomy. The situation must be urgently addressed.
It appears that in many instances the Government are most reluctant to listen to advice. I ask the Minister to heed the words of William Jennings Bryan, which are as true today as they were in 1896,Burn down your cities and leave our farms and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country".
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, I speak as deputy president of the Countryside Alliance. I farm on the edge of an infected area and I am chairman of the Cottesmore Hunt, whose slaughtermen are now working in Cumbria.
I start with a slight message of hope. On the east side of Leicestershire there was one case at Stonesby exactly six weeks ago today. It was well handled. The sheep had come from Northampton and were introduced into a house flock. One of them was suspect. The valuer was to hand; the sheep were slaughtered and they were buried in quicklime. One could not have a fire because there was a gas pipeline on the property. The whole matter was dealt with in exactly 24 hours. Will the Minister consider lifting the infected area status for the whole of Leicestershire? That would give us some hope that the situation was beginning to get slightly better. Leicestershire is a major grazing area. We have a large number of cattle 862 all waiting to go outdoors and quite a large number waiting to be eaten as soon as possible. Removing the infected area restrictions would help tremendously.
The scheme for dealing with cattle is not working for those animals that have now passed 30 months of age. A good bullock under 30 months fetches between £600 to £700. My figures differ from those of my noble friend Lord Caithness. I am advised by the local auctioneers that when an animal of over 30 months enters the welfare disposal scheme they will get only £300 for it. Will the Minister consider making up the difference where these animals are held back and have to enter the welfare disposal scheme?
Another problem concerns moving animals. At the moment one has to ring up or send a fax to the relevant official. Eventually a permit comes back which is addressed to one's vet. The vet charges £22 to come out and £30 for an inspection. Will the Government pick up that extra bill? The other matter that annoys farmers is that when they are told how far they can move their animals, the distance is measured not in miles but in kilometres. That is extremely annoying.
Having started on an optimistic note, I must conclude with a matter that is causing much unhappiness. In Britain there are 150 licensed slaughtermen who work for hunts. They are well used to going on to farms and handling a traumatic situation in a sympathetic way. A team of eight was ready at the very start of the outbreak in Cumbria but they were never called. A letter was sent on behalf of all the hunts to the Ministry of Agriculture on 21st March. We have not yet received an answer. It was not until the MoD became involved that the hunt slaughtermen were asked to come forward. The Masters' of Foxhounds Association provided money for their accommodation, but we have received no communication whatsoever from the Ministry of Agriculture, although we have now discovered that 36 of them are working in Cumbria, a certain number are working in Gloucestershire and Bristol and some are standing by in Wales. Will the Minister please respond to that point?
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to have the debate and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for making it possible.
I was in Belfast in early March. On entering the Parliament buildings I bumped into a member of the Ulster Farmers' Union who said with feeling, "I bet you are glad you are not the agriculture Minister now". I should also declare an interest in that I have a home in Cumbria. For that reason, although I do not have the business or farming connections with that county that some other noble Lords have, through my knowledge of, and acquaintance with, the area I feel the pain that people in the county are suffering.
I am a keen fell walker. Of course, the attractions of the Lake District depend a great deal upon the contribution that farmers make to it. Without farmers the Lake District would be a poor place for visitors and tourists. I am fully aware of the tough time that 863 farmers have had not just in terms of low prices over the years but also in terms of BSE and now the terrible blow of foot and mouth disease.
I have listened carefully to the debate—the contributions that have been made and the criticism that has been made, not, I am glad to say, of my noble friend Lady Hayman, but of other Ministers. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If all Ministers had the same foresight as other people have hindsight, perhaps life would be easier for them. I believe that Ministers at MAFF have acted fully on the basis of scientific advice. I suggest that most of us in their position would have behaved in a similar fashion.
It is possible that scientific advice on this particular disease is sometimes faulty; it is not perhaps as well developed as it might be. That could explain why Ministers have, understandably, had difficulties in dealing with the matter. I am not certain as to how much of the spread of the disease is caused by wind, how much by people, how much by vehicles, or, indeed, how effective disinfection will prove to be. For example, if I walk through a disinfectant pad, am I clear or could I still spread the disease? Moreover, how effective would it be to tag individual sheep, as is the case with cattle, rather than simply tagging them by herds? Would that approach assist as regards traceability?
I am well aware of the damage that has been done to tourism, especially from my knowledge of the Lake District. What will happen regarding the plight of hotels, bed-and-breakfast outlets, cafes, restaurants, outdoor shops and the outdoor centres referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves? I suggest that those businesses will need help because they are so heavily dependent on tourism. I can give your Lordships an example that: was reported in the newspapers recently. The manager of the Wastwater hotel in Wasdale said that the value of the business that he had lost in the first few weeks of the outbreak exceeded the value of all the livestock in Wasdale. That indicates just how much tourism is suffering at present.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I cite the case of Northern Ireland in this respect. The policies introduced in the Province are almost identical to those followed in Britain: yet they have worked in Northern Ireland. It is possible that they have had a bit of luck, but the policies have been the same. There was one case only, and the disease has been well contained. So effective have those policies been that I understand the restriction zone may well be lifted within the next few days. The European Union Veterinary Committee is likely to allow the export of animal products in the near future, except in the Newry and Mourne area where that case was identified.
By following the same policies, it seems to me that Northern Ireland has managed to contain the disease. It is just bad luck that the quick movement of sheep around the country has made the situation more difficult in Britain. However, I should like to pay tribute to officials at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development whom I know very well from my time there as a Minister. I pay tribute to their high 864 level of capability, efficiency and, indeed, to the way that they have tackled the problem. The Minister, Brid Rodgers, has also played a leading role in containing the disease.
Further, the disease has been contained in the Republic of Ireland. There has been but one case, which spread, apparently, from the Newry and Mourne area. Again, the Republic has implemented very tough containment measures, not that different from those that have been enforced here, and they seem to have worked. I also pay tribute to Joe Walsh, the Minister responsible for agriculture there, for the work that he has accomplished in that respect.
This is a difficult period for us. Now is not the time to score political points, as, indeed, a few Members of this House have tried to do. We are faced with a most difficult situation. I believe that the Government have acted both effectively and properly in dealing with the matter. We are talking about a tremendously difficult problem and one from which there are many lessons to be learnt for the future.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I also add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Jopling for initiating today's debate. I should also like to express my gratitude and thanks to the Minister for the part that she has played in these matters and for the way that she assiduously keeps the House informed of what is going on. Indeed, I express my sympathy to the noble Baroness for the fact that she has to deal with such a crisis. I sympathised with her when she was appointed, and I have done so ever since.
Whatever the system of livestock management, we need to keep in the back of our minds that all are susceptible to this disease. Now that we are hearing advocacy of vaccination from the Soil Association, animal welfare organisations and other parties, it might be as well to look a little closer at the problems caused by this virulent virus. It is a fact that most countries will not import either live animals or carcasses from countries that do not have OIE disease-free status for foot and mouth disease. I should explain to noble Lords that OIE stands for L'Office International des Epizooties. In order to maintain disease-free status countries should adopt,an effective system for surveillance to ensure that all regulatory measures for the prevention and control of FMD have been implemented".If we consider what has happened in this country, we have to admit that they probably have not been. I shall return to that point. If the tenor of my remarks is somewhat critical, it is not because I particularly wish to be critical: it is because we have to learn the lessons of this outbreak for the future. If we do not, we can be very sure that there will be another outbreak. However, if we do, there is just a prayer somewhere that we may succeed in preventing a further outbreak.
When I spoke on the matter previously I referred to the Northumberland report, which was then available in the Library of the House. I pointed out that there one could read about the possible cause of the 865 outbreak. Sadly, the subsequent announcements have borne out what I said. When one comes to consider whether or not this country has fulfilled the OIE's disease-free status for foot and mouth—which we have always had for as long as that status has existed, which we have maintained proudly, and which the European Economic Community envied enormously, until it joined us about seven or eight years ago—one has to say that we have failed miserably as far as concerns our control over food imports. There have been too many reports over recent weeks of what happens by way of personal imports of food that appear to be completely unrestricted. Moreover, it seems that official imports are accepted here on the basis of exporter certification, which I doubt is an adequate control. I believe that much stricter controls should have been in force at this end.
This virus has been travelling round the world for about 10 years. It is a well-known fact that it is very virulent. The operation of high health and hygiene standards in cattle is no defence against it. In Saudi Arabia, which is pretty isolated and where one would have thought that the climate would be more hostile to viruses than anywhere else in the world, three herds of cows were wiped out three or four years ago, despite everything that that government could throw at it.
You cannot freeze the virus. The vaccine, which is a live vaccine, is stored in liquid nitrogen, which, if my memory is correct, is about minus 180 degrees centigrade; indeed, the vaccine comes out of that rather nicely. Damp, dark and cool conditions promote its survival. It will survive for six months in slurry, and for one month on the ground in winter. The sort of cool, moist weather that we are currently enjoying is great for the survival of the virus. If the Minister and the rest of the House could lay on a heat wave, it would be immensely beneficial because the virus will survive for only three days on the ground in summer.
Holland used to vaccinate. However, when it had a vaccination policy it still had foot and mouth outbreaks. I certainly know of one cow that was vaccinated three times with three separate foot and mouth viruses but which still caught the disease from a fourth strain, simply because the virus mutates. We are faced with a real problem. I should add that Denmark had similar problems. That experience is one of the main reasons why the European Community went for foot-and-mouth-free status; and achieved it. When one compares its reaction to what has happened in this country, one has to ask whether our actions were sufficient.
The disease was first notified in this country at an abattoir on a Monday morning. That should have set off something like a maroon that would launch the lifeboat immediately. At that point, the animal concerned must have been away from the farm that was the source for at least 48, if not 72, hours. That prolonged the gestation period.
When the outbreak was announced in Holland, there was an immediate stop on all movements of cattle, feedstuffs and everything else to and from 866 farms, including milk, which was not collected for three days—it went on to the ground or into the drains. We were rather slower here.
The final point that I ask the Minister to bear in mind is that, sadly, the Dutch outbreak was due to the activities of the animal welfare lobby. It is a regrettable fact that it can be traced back to this country. The requirement that animals be offloaded, fed and watered at regular intervals on a journey creates staging posts that are great sources of cross-infection. The Dutch outbreak arose because calves from Northern Ireland happened to stop at the same rest centre that a shipment of infected English sheep had occupied three hours earlier. The case rests against that practice.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, like many noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for introducing yet another debate on this most desperate and serious situation, which affects us all, whether we live in the country and have sheep and cattle at risk—or have lost them in horrendous circumstances—or whether we are only visitors to what was, in parts still is, and in the future must all be, our green and pleasant land.
I shall speak only briefly, because so much has already been said and so pertinently. I greatly hesitate to burden the Minister further. I see that she is not in her place, but I hope that she will read my remarks. She has bravely and tirelessly sustained the heat and fray of battle and the horrible smells, sounds and sights that I know that she will share for ever with those who have lost their animals. Throughout it all she has remained charming, approachable and much loved by all of us in the House.
My noble kinsman by marriage, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, was not able to speak today because he could not stay until the end of the debate. However, he has left me part of his speech, from which I thought that your Lordships might like to hear this anecdote about a farmer near Crieff, who found two substantial and well clad ladies in the middle of a field of his sheep. He asked whether they had seen the "Come Back Code" issued by the Scottish Office or the notices on his gates, which all said, "Keep out" and "Stay away from livestock". "Oh yes," they said, "but that doesn't apply to us, because we are both vegetarians".
I tend to think of things in a historical sense, which is a sort of three in one—past, present and future. We all know what went wrong. There have been delays in action and hideous mistakes, such as lorries filled with carcasses of infected animals stopping at healthy farms to ask the way, or trying to stop in lay-bys, which are now mostly blocked up, because they did not know the way. It is not always clear how the disease spreads, but it is highly possible that it spreads through the air, perhaps even from burning. Burying carcasses in suitable pits in isolated areas clear of water supplies must be the answer.
867 Other noble Lords have made other points. I shall not go on. There is no use crying over spilt milk, although it is always important to remember how it happened so that one does not spill it again.
For the present—this is very important—there are still cattle that could be saved from the holocaust, especially rare breeds and those historical bloodlines that have been carefully bred over generations. Foot and mouth is easier to detect in cattle than in sheep, which may often harbour the disease, but not have it in evidence. I do not like to say so, because I find it deeply upsetting, but the way ahead must be to clear round infected areas of any possibly infected sheep.
We had two tame lambs once, called Rosa and Bambi. They became rather a nuisance when they grew up and became tame sheep, running and butting one when one was on the telephone, but we were very fond of them. Other people also love their sheep and, like my noble friend Lady Mar, their goats, but one of the first priorities is to create clear breaks, even if it means culling more apparently healthy sheep, in order to save as many cattle as we can.
I pay tribute to our Armed Forces, who have come in with all the help and professionalism that they possess. It is like when the nurses and doctors arrive when you are ill—you then know that you are in safe hands and are going to be all right. That feeling of confidence must he extended to everyone in the country who has been under this terrible blight.
Now we must think ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, did at the end of his speech—although he is not in his place either. There will be milk shortages. My cousin in Dumfriesshire has lost all his Ayrshire herd and his sheep. There will also be lamb and beef shortages. There must be massive incentives to encourage farmers to continue to farm. We must cut down on imports of foreign meat. We must give out substantial subsidies. For years, farmers have scraped, saved, lost money to the banks and always seen more going out than has come in. There must be subsidies and substantial incentives. If not, no one will restock their farms. Man cannot live without hope. No one will continue the struggle. Our green, beautiful and pleasant land will become pools of concrete surrounded by jungle. We must have a tree planting mentality. We must think of the future and plan to keep the farmers on their land with their herds, their flocks and their quietly grazing sheep.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I, too, join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Jopling for initiating the debate, laying out so clearly the serious situation that we face a nd pointing out the great many mistakes that have regrettably been made. I am particularly disturbed by the fact that so many recommendations from the report that was produced in 1968 under the chairmanship of the Duke of Northumberland have sadly been ignored in this tragic situation that we are facing today.
I declare an interest as an owner of land in the north of England, where I have a number of tenant farmers who are as worried now as they were when we last 868 debated the issue. I am glad to say that so far they have not had an outbreak of the disease, but I am afraid that it is coming ever closer.
I put my name down to speak today largely because of the irritation that I feel at having read so many articles on the subject in the national newspapers. I am increasingly fed up with the tribal card that has been played by too many urban journalists. They have argued that country people did not support the miners, so why should the miners and others support country people? Apart from finding that distasteful, I seem to recall that miners received quite substantial redundancy payments. More importantly, considerable sums of regional aid have been pumped into many depressed urban areas from the European Union. Lest we forget the fact, that is taxpayers' money. I do not regret that—indeed, I welcome it—but it is important to maintain a sense of proportion when talking about the tragedy that we face today.
Another argument that I find particularly disturbing is the idea that farmers are all crying crocodile tears over their fallen stock and that all they really care about is the profits that are going up in smoke on the funeral pyres. Those same journalists and media people ask why farmers should care when the same animals now being slaughtered because of foot and mouth would have died in the abattoirs anyway. It seems extraordinary, but I fear that it is true, that they appear to fail to understand the basic difference between a flock or herd and the milk, the suckler cows and lambs that that flock or herd produces for the market place, and the maintenance of the flock and herd that produces that money-making objective.
They still do not seem to understand that many farmers have spent, in many cases, generations building up the flocks and herds, which are much loved and cared for by the farmers, the farmers' wives and, indeed, the herdsmen. Therefore, if we are to have a meaningful debate on the way that the countryside is formed in the future, I suggest that we demand a better understanding from those who write such pieces.
I am under no illusion. I realise that the whole question of subsidy and support is a matter from which we cannot walk away. We must discuss it and do so constructively. In my view, no farmer has the right to expect such support without being able to justify it. In that respect, farmers are no different from miners, steelworkers or any other sector of society.
However, we must never forget that, apart from producing food, farmers are different in that they are the guardians of the countryside. That does not come cheaply. Furthermore, farming has been the backbone of rural Britain for a long time and I, for one, hope that it continues.
Tourism is suffering but, as my noble friend Lord Cavendish so rightly said, the interrelationship between tourism and farming is almost symbiotic. We must never forget that. However, I am only too well aware of the current imbalance in the CAP in favour of production and output rather than the 869 environment. For a long time, I have called for changes in that direction. I believe that it is necessary if we are to obtain public support for farming in the future.
It is interesting, and perhaps not unconnected, to note that the Answer to a Written Question that I tabled recently indicated that 40 per cent of the total area of SSSIs in England—equivalent to fractionally under 1 million acres—is dependent on grazing animals to maintain its conservation integrity. Indeed, many of those SSSIs are the same areas that were created ESAs when my noble friend Lord Jopling was Minister of Agriculture.
Therefore, what will be the future of those areas without grazing animals? I shall say one thing: the tourists will not thank us if they are not there. Unless farming and land management are profitable, clearly those areas will not have the people to run them and will not have livestock. It is a sobering thought but it is clearly one that will have to be built into the equation in our deliberations on these important issues.
Clearly, at present the question is: is vaccination a reality or not? I do not know and I am certainly not qualified to speak on the matter. However, common sense tells me that it cannot be right for hundreds of thousands of animals to be slaughtered to extinction simply in order to eliminate a disease which is not a threat to human life and from which most animals recover. I know the debilitating effects of vaccination, but I question, particularly in relation to Cumbria and Devon, whether we can talk about exports at a time when all the flocks in those areas are likely to be wiped out. I hope that the Minister will give us a clear indication of her department's thoughts on the realities of vaccination.
Perhaps I may make one final point. It may be a surprising one, coming from this side of the House, which, on the whole, quite rightly has been very sympathetic towards farmers. There is always the odd bad apple. During this crisis, some of the bad apples have behaved incredibly irresponsibly. I urge the Minister and the Government to take action against those people. We must set an example for the future.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Jopling for introducing this debate. Naturally, everyone affected by this epidemic is crying out to the Government for help. Where else can they turn? Yet, of course, the Government must be cautious and selective in their help.
Perhaps I may emphasise that, if financial help is to be given, it should be given here and now. However little it may be, some now is worth a great deal more than promises and assurances for the future. Ministers have announced measures to help local authorities to extend business rate relief and to defer VAT and income tax demands. I welcome those measures, but will businesses have to pay commercial or any other rates of interest on the deferred payments? Such 870 measures will bring a sense of relief but they do not begin to meet the scale of the crisis for the thousands of rural businesses facing the almost total loss of three, six or even nine months' income.
Tourism chiefs are looking at losses to their industry approaching £250 million a week at present and running up to £500 million a week in high summer. Bankruptcy is looming large all over the place, and many people have no idea what to do. Great effort must be made now to clarify messages as to where tourists can go—where they will be welcomed and where they will not. It should be possible to do so by applying common sense with accurate and properly co-ordinated information and rapid and effective dissemination of that information to potential tourists, both in the UK and abroad. To that end, I welcome the launch this morning of the new website by Chris Smith. I believe that it will be most helpful.
I shall give one example of how that information is not getting through. I understand that a group of Americans who are involved in helping disabled tourists recently cancelled a visit to this House because they feared that we were infected with foot and mouth disease and that they might catch it.
Is the countryside open for business or not? Some of it is and some not. It must be made much clearer which is which. Therefore, it was not helpful of English Nature, in the course of its advertisement in the House Magazine of 26th March, to refer to:The effective closure of the countryside".Consequential losses in revenue from tourists who have not come to Cheltenham races, Badminton Horse Trials and many other cancelled events will affect the whole country and not only the adjacent rural areas. Easter—the normal start to the tourist season—is, I fear, heading for disaster.
The Government must continue to press banks and other sources of lending money to be as generous and sympathetic as possible to loan requests. They should not ask for repayments when it is clearly not possible for those to be forthcoming until businesses recover. Staff in hotels and many other businesses are being laid off. How can any enterprise, without income and without funds, pay for redundancies? How can a guest house claw back income from empty rooms?
I welcome the fact that the Government are providing an extra £10 million to the British Tourist Authority to go out and rebut some of the misconceptions which are deterring potential tourists from abroad. But is that enough? The scale of the problem is massive and warrants a sledgehammer response. After all, tourism in England alone generates more than —12 billion per annum.
Many agricultural shows are being cancelled. That, in turn, will bring hardship to the thousands of small businesses which are dependent on the summer shows for their livelihood. Are the Government aware that even late season shows, such as Burleigh Horse Trials at the end of August, are likely to have to cancel now due to their inability to obtain cancellation insurance coverage to include foot and mouth disease? I state an interest as I have a stand at Burleigh selling 871 watercolours. But many small businesses will have nowhere to turn if they cannot expose their wares to sell.
In today's press release, Chris Smith urges new events to be put on as a way of contributing to the Government's strategy of encouraging visitors back to the countryside. I thoroughly support that. Therefore, would it not make sense for the Government to persuade insurance companies not to abandon what in many cases are long-term customers in their hour of need; or perhaps the Government would consider some kind of guarantee, like the export credits guarantee scheme?
The longer that the crisis continues, the greater the long-term damage is likely to be to Britain's image as a tourist destination. I wonder whether the House is aware that it took five years for the inward tourist industry to the United States to recover from the Gulf War, which did not even happen in that continent.
Can the Minister give us up-to-date news on the spread of the disease in the Lake District National Park? Does she agree that an even more serious threat to the tourist industry looms if the disease gets a hold in Exmoor, the New Forest and—God help us—Dartrnoor?
I am afraid that so far as I can see there are, sadly, no signs that the Government are beginning to hold even the increase in the disease. That is the first priority. Would it not help if the Government stopped saying that the disease was under control when it plainly is not? The Minister is obviously keeping her nerve and I wish her well personally and thank her for her efforts on our behalf.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, I, too, stress the importance of the job that MAFF and, notably, my noble friend the Minister are currently doing. Noble Lords have already discussed the fact that the MAFF team has an extraordinarily difficult job to do. There is loose talk about changing departments and of MAFF merging with the DETR, the DTI or the "D-anythingelse". The fact is that agriculture and food go together. We should consider what should be done on any other such occasion in the future. Agriculture may be treated as a branch of tourism in the future, but that proposal requires a bit of thought and we should not use loose language in that regard.
The general trend of the debate has been to give basic support to the Government's policy as it now stands. In saying that, I should check that we are all talking about the same thing. Our view is that we acknowledge that the policy of culling is a quicker way to get to the end of the crisis than the policy of vaccination. Some noble Lords may shake their heads, but it is undoubtedly the case that going down a different route would have different ramifications for our exports and status; the implications could last for months or years.
The key point is that the arrowhead of the Government's policy is that there should be slaughter at infected farms within 24 hours and at neighbouring 872 farms, I believe, within 48 hours. That policy will involve a projected downward curve of cases during the next few months. Other policies would involve projected upward curves, some of which are alarming.
With my trade union background, I want to discuss the problems experienced by farm workers in this crisis and more generally. Employment statistics for the latest available year—I believe that it was a fairly typical year—show that in the year to June 2000, 12.4 per cent of hired workers, which amounts to 20,000 workers, lost their jobs, compared with only 0.6 per cent of farmers. I was interested by the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has tenant farmers. Although there are exceptions, land values in Britain have generally increased substantially—by about 10 per cent a year. That is a cushion for landowners but not for tenant farmers or those who work at the wages board rate of £4,57 an hour. Bankruptcies in the farming industry have been for many years—I stress this—the lowest of any major industrial sector.
If noble Lords are ready, I have another statistic for them. Suicides are high in rural areas and in farming, but proportionately more hired workers commit suicide than do farmers.
When considering the future, we should do so against the background that there are traumas for everyone involved. Land workers are often closer to the animals that they look after than are their employers who own those animals. There are different types of farm, including big farms the size of Norfolk—I exaggerate—and those in the tenant farmer sector.
I say, half tongue in cheek, that there is a perception in the Lake District and in many other parts of Britain that agriculture is a branch of tourism. We may have to take that more seriously in future.
Some union officials told me a statistic that surprised me and which is worth mentioning. One might think that we had only a couple of abattoirs left in the country but in fact 340 abattoirs are still running. We have argued about the disappearance of abattoirs. I chaired some meetings in my region about that six years ago during the BSE crisis. The relationship with supermarkets has to be examined in a cooler way. There has been a curious increase in trade in sheep and cattle, but not because there are no abattoirs left.
We need to consider the question of subsidies. The impact of subsidies is becoming more pronounced—80 per cent of the subsidy goes to 20 per cent of farmers. That is because of the structure of the CAP. It is all very well for people to keep saying, "We do not like the CAP" but half of farm incomes is from the CAP or a result of our tariff protection. The figures—I believe that they are right—show that we get a subsidy for agriculture that is equivalent to £3.5 billion from the CAP and that we get a subsidy of £1.5 billion through the effect of the tariff. That makes £5 billion. If I added the extra externalities of pesticides and so on, the figure would be bigger. Mining and the car industry have been discussed. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, should perhaps bear that comparison in mind.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, in the time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have been in the unhappy position of witnessing the decline and destruction of the shipbuilding, steel, mining and textile industries.
I had the pleasure of serving on a committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, which drew attention to the decline in the manufacturing sector. We considered what we would do when oil ran out. The great economists—736 of them—and the government said that there was no need to manufacture any more. We used to manufacture and export to pay for the cost of our food. We are now self-sufficient in terms of food and one of the most efficient farming nations upon Earth. Perhaps we need not worry; our future could depend on services and tourists. At that time, the noble Lord, Lord Weinstock, said in an interview, "Do we all really want to end up as Beefeaters in the Tower of London?"
We have witnessed a decline in farming and we are now facing another decline of far greater seriousness than I believe any of us are prepared to recognise or acknowledge. I will set the scene like the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. We have 18 million hectares of land in this country; 141,000 farms are upon that land; there are 60 million beasts; and 60 per cent of the land is suitable only for occupancy by beasts. If we look at the balance-sheet, we could value that land at £100 billion and the livestock at £10 billion. We know that the capital invested in farm machinery is about £32 billion. But are we talking about that alone?
In that sector we now have some 550,000 employees, and I think of the phrase, "the loneliness of the long-distance tractor driver". The populations of the rural areas have been decimated because, as in so many things, the United Kingdom has again failed to manage its own decline. I should perhaps declare an interest in that in 1967 the group with which I worked did a lot of work in the agricultural sector for the then government. We also handled promotion and market research for the British Tourist Authority at the time of the foot and mouth crisis.
I thought afterwards that we were going to have a disease-free farming industry. We had very strict controls from MAFF: nobody could move or breathe. Apart from the VAT people and Customs and Excise, MAFF had absolute powers to go anywhere and control everything. They were not universally liked, but they were respected. Now we have a scene where we have moved into the "blame culture" and people are looking to blame each other. Noble Lords opposite are blaming noble Lords on this side for not being constructive. We are perhaps being destructive of ourselves, but it is a serious situation.
It is not only economic, but socio-economic. It is difficult to find the facts and the information. Yesterday I searched all the government websites. I rang numerous numbers, only to find that there were no answers. Then—since I recalled that my grandfather gave the BBC its original charter—I got on to the BBC, and all night went through their 874 website. I took 634 farms and analysed them: how many animals they had, where they were on the map and I practically burst into tears as I realised, looking through the information, that there was the farm cow that had gone and the farm goat. There were 317,000 sheep that had disappeared and 101,000 cattle; and then there were 6,750 pigs. Then there came 100 goats, the one goat and finally the two water buffalo in the south and the one llama. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said, and I thought about the two sheep that my sister and I had. One was called Gert and the other one Daisy. They disappeared one day. We thought they had been stolen, but in fact they died of disease.
This problem is one that is emotional at one level and economic at another, but the knock-on effects are very serious indeed. I now move to money. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, mentioned the agricultural workforce. Of course they have the lowest remuneration in the country—£7,500: the lowest pay in 25 years. At the moment there are 7,500 public servants helping these poor impoverished people. We have the valuers at £1,200 a day. I respect the valuers, but they have lost their business as auctioneers. We have the vets at £420 a day; we have the Army at £60 a day; and then we have the farmers themselves, with virtually nothing.
I come to the only reasonable and practical solution. I would like to ask the Government whether, for each sheep, they would make an immediate grant of £100, no questions asked; for each cow £500, no questions asked. It would mean a total of £125 million for cattle and about £50 million for the sheep.
Then we have to look at the banking sector. I worked for a while with the Midland Bank and the farmers' banks. You cannot trust banks. They look after their assets and they know the underlying value of the land. We are talking about a short-term problem where the Government must step in behind the banks and provide the necessary guarantees to prevent foreclosure: otherwise grants or anything else will end up in the hands of the banks themselves. I believe that the Minister has been talking to banks and perhaps she could say something about this. There is a willingness to help, but the Government must be behind them. It is a crisis that can turn into a disaster. I believe something can be done, but unfortunately in our "blame culture" only the Government can take the responsibility.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, in The Times on 24th March I put forward the idea of declaring a national emergency and, by courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I would like to expand on that today. The noble Baroness has kindly said that she owes me a letter about it, and I look forward to receiving it. I know that she and her colleagues have an enormous workload.
At Christian Aid I have had some experience of emergencies overseas and of public appeals and the importance of uniting all the charities involved, with 875 the media, in what we call the Disasters Emergency Committee. I was also on the panel of the Telethon in the South West. I suggest that recognised major disasters such as Aberfan and foot and mouth should be officially declared to be national emergencies, for two simple reasons.
They draw attention to an acute situation and they unite the nation in response. In the present case we have already had some important individual donations and some major appeals by newspapers and the Churches, but we have still not had any indication from the Government that, in recognising the true extent of the crisis, they are prepared both to declare an emergency and either launch or support a national appeal. Why?
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in reply to my recent question, said that an emergency and perhaps an appeal might give the wrong signal to the rest of the world. We have heard this argument many times from the Prime Minister and others. It is frankly too late to worry about giving the wrong signal. The emergency has arrived, and it is potentially far worse in scale than the previous outbreak, as we have heard. It affects very nearly the whole country, because of the greater mobility of people and livestock, the consequential losses and its permeation of the food chain. It is already an emergency, although the Government insist on using the word "crisis".
Quite rightly, the Prime Minister has recognised that the foot and mouth outbreak has affected the wider economy and that we have had to send out "come hither" messages to potential visitors and tour operators. I am sending exactly the same message to my American cousins, who refuse to come to west Dorset. We must go on sending these messages, but it does not mean that for internal UK consumption we are inhibited from recognising an emergency. We should come clean and consider our farmers and farm workers first. We do not need more grisly images to convince ourselves of the extent of the problem.
As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, they need to have the whole nation behind them. Above all, they need the confidence that there will be a time when they can rebuild their herds and start again. As has been shown, they need the money for consequential losses as well as farming, which the Government may not have. We have heard examples of this from the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and the noble Lord, Lord Luke.
I hope that there is not another reason that the Government, or some sections of it, are unwilling to declare an emergency. Have some Ministers given way to the critics of farmers, such as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, or to the cynical columnists in some newspapers, who go on about the need to look beyond farmers and stop endless subsidies for the sake of one small sector? These cynics have a point to make but they should not make it now, and I assume the Government are ignoring them.
Of course we have to look forward and plan the future of the countryside; we must speed up Agenda 2000 and CAP reform: and perhaps this crisis will help. 876 It is an urgent matter, and perhaps the Minister will confirm that as well. Of course farmers' sons recognise that they will have to look for other forms of employment or the kind of regeneration about which the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, spoke. Perhaps in upland areas they will be called "countryside managers" and will be paid to keep token sheep and cows in key areas of the landscape, rather like deer in a tapestry. We can contemplate this, but they are not able to do any of this during an emergency.
We are concerned with a much more immediate problem: how to support those who are suffering today. Farmers are very proud, robust and versatile people. Perhaps that is why they have not appeared in the statistics of the noble Lord, Lord Lea; but just because they rarely complain we should not be fooled that they can get by without generous support. Whatever the Government say about an emergency, they should not be afraid to launch a national appeal through television to publicise the work of the farming charities.
I must make it clear that I recognise the work of existing charities and the value of individual donations to such organisations as RABI, the ARC Addington Fund, the Farm Crisis Network and the Archbishop's appeal. But there will be many people in urban areas especially, far from the affected areas, who will Want to respond, who are not aware of the farming charities and who would like to support a central fund that is formally backed by the Government. That would also help the Government to support the many who are even now making hardship claims through local government—I have a form which has come to me as a parish clerk—and other channels that the Government are unlikely to meet without a national appeal.
Last weekend saw the levelling out of the daily number of cases. Although we are a long way from predicting the end, it is possible that the media will begin to lose interest. The BBC and Channel 4 will continue, but ordinary news media will move on. It is vital that an appeal goes out as soon as possible in order to command the proper attention.
My noble friend Lord Palmer was sorry that he was unable to stay for this debate, but he told me of a case of a distressed farmer in Northumberland who had to wait nearly 24 hours for a vet. That is similar to the tale told by the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. He, along with others, will write to the noble Baroness.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I must declare an interest. I have a farm and some rare breeds—not many—and some pigs again, not very many. The economic damage that has been caused by the crisis is already calculated to be about £12 billion. I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was excellent in showing a particular aspect of it. In our previous debate, I said that we knew how to deal with foot and mouth, but I now know that I was wrong. We do not. Not only was the wrong policy of slaughter carried out, it is only just ceasing to be carried out with 877 Crimean War inefficiency. I have chapter and verse of that from many friends in Cumbria who are far too numerous to catalogue.
A public-spirited publisher, Mr Peter Kindersley, rang round the veterinary and scientific community to find a quality scientist who would challenge the slaughter policy. Many refused saying that their jobs were not worth it. Finally, Dr Sumption of the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who is not, as my noble friend Lord Soulsby, said, a man of intellectual knowledge who knows nothing about foot and mouth, produced a paper calling for vaccination. Everything in the paper is backed up with scientific sources and evidence. The Prime Minister has seen it and has cross-questioned Dr Sumption in the presence of Jim Scudamore. I shall return to the meeting later.
Mr Scudamore attempted to disprove Dr Sumption's thesis. He has replied to these allegations, which were as follows. First, vaccination only protects against a single strain. The answer was yes, but we have only one strain. Secondly, vaccination is not 100 per cent effective. The answer was that no vaccination is. The old vaccine reduces viral replication and spread, while modern ones prevent passing infection to animals in contact. Thirdly, vaccination requires repeat doses. The answer was that that was rubbish. High modern payload vaccines require only one dose. Fourthly, animals can continue to harbour the virus with no visible signs. The answer was that the risk is negligible. There have been no documented cases of a vaccinated carrier animal passing on the disease.
The EU—not my favourite organisation, but I shall give the devil its due—proposed blood testing to detect antibodies to protein after emergency vaccination. These are shown only in the live virus, not in vaccination. It was done successfully in Korea last year.
The fifth allegation was that animals can still transmit the virus after vaccination, and the answer was that the level of virus produced by vaccinated animals is markedly less. Sixthly, laboratory tests are hard to interpret, but they are not, according to David Mackay who co-ordinated a summary of a European Union Concerted Action project CT 93/0909, which said that reliable and reproducible assays to measure antibodies in FMDVNS proteins had been developed and extensively validated.
Seventhly, animals must be detained indefinitely after vaccination. The answer was that that did not accord with the EU strategy document. Eighthly, vaccination does not give complete immunity to all sheep. The answer was that it is a fiction that complete immunity is required to impact on a diseased flock. Herd immunity depends on the transmutability of the virus. With no controls or vaccination, an animal could infect up to 72 others. In these circumstances, to ensure a spontaneous decay, a level of 98 per cent effective immunisation would be necessary. That is without movement, control or stamping out. Additional measures are all in place, so complete 878 immunity is not necessary. Modern optimum vaccine constituents can immunise sheep so that there is no transmission to other animals.
There are another four paragraphs of questions, all of which have been completely and utterly repudiated by Dr Sumption with intellectual vigour—I hasten to add.
I return to the Prime Minister and his meeting on Monday. Will the noble Baroness to whom I gave notice of these questions answer this one? Has Dr Kitchen of the Pirbright laboratory accepted that the risk of vaccinated animals being carriers is theoretical and not actual? Has he accepted the benefits of vaccination? Has MAFF realised that the laboratory was short of vaccine and placed a substantial order last week? Did the Prime Minister accept that vaccinated animals did not need to be slaughtered?
An answer of "yes" to these questions is the impression of three people who attended that meeting, one of whom is the director general of the National Trust who has written a letter to the The Times advocating vaccination. All Dr Sumption's data are in the public domain. MAFF should have learned, marked and inwardly digested it. It has behaved like the doctors at a Vienna lying-in house, who forbade Dr Semmelweiss to make gynaecologists wash their hands with carbolic soap to reduce the danger of puerperal fever. When they did, deaths fell, but when they stopped, deaths went up again.
MAFF has installed the Crimean War mentality into the NFU, which unfortunately has shown the same sort of bovine reactionary stubbornness to vaccination. Instead of having open minds and questing spirits, MAFF has behaved like old Lord Raglan, and the ministry has overseen a control exercise which makes Scutari look like St. Thomas's and Balaclava look like the battle of El Alamein. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has fought with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions like Cardigan fought Lord Lucan. I am sorry to have to say that to the noble Baroness who has been a pillar of strength and help to us all. She is doing her best.
We must vaccinate. The scientific evidence, in spite of what my noble friend Lord Soulsby said, is overwhelmingly in its favour. Had we done so, the epidemic could have been brought to an end long ago, as it was in Macedonia.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for the debate. I have no direct interest to declare, other than being a tourist who visits and stays in Cornwall at least twice a year. My wife and I were due to go there in March, but, following advice that was then being given, we decided not to go. We were aware, too, that many attractions, such as National Trust houses and gardens and country and coastal paths, were closed. Happily most of those decisions have now been reversed and we shall be returning to Cornwall in June.
879 However, i know from my contacts there that there is extreme concern about what is happening to tourism and what it will be like later this year. There is even concern about what it may be like in 2002. My contacts say that, although cancellations of bookings are now declining to some extent, they are extremely worried that hardly any bookings are being made for later this year and certainly not for 2002. What has transpired since our last debate on 13th March is a greater awareness of the need to spend more time addressing the problems which arise from FMD and which face the tourist industry. We need to see what can be done to try to assist in that area as well as on the agricultural side.
I am sorry to say that today I have been somewhat disappointed that those other aspects of the crisis that currently face us have not been addressed in perhaps the way I would have hoped, though notable exceptions came from the contributions of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lord, Lord Luke.
For example, the GDP generated by tourism in Cornwall is four times that generated by agriculture. Other noble Lords gave examples earlier in the debate showing that the ratio is much higher in other parts of the country. It is important that we give even more attention to that topic than has been done so far.
Without any question, full support and sympathy is given by the tourist community to their colleagues in the agricultural industry; in fact they are intertwined in many areas. The point has been made forcefully to me that, while farmers are being compensated when, regrettably, culling has to take place—indeed, in the view of many they are being generously compensated—the position is quite different in the tourist industry. There is a feeling that the same voice is not speaking up on their behalf. Many in the industry are struggling; many are facing bankruptcy; many will close during the course of this year unless further support is offered to them.
It is true that some reliefs are on offer. But no direct compensation is presently in prospect for any of those in the tourism industry. I am pleased to hear that the right honourable Michael Meacher is heading up a task force to look at the effects on the rural economy. I hope that it will move speedily and be given all-party support. I hope too that this issue will be given equal recognition as one which needs high priority over the course of the next few weeks.
It would help greatly if we could get a better balance in the media. I pick up here on some of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I join others at this point in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman, not simply for all the work she has done, but especially for her valiant efforts in the media, particularly with the BBC. I have heard her on many occasions recently endeavouring to separate the facts from the fiction and scaremongering which seem to be the way of life these days in many parts of the media. When I listen to Radio 4 news programmes I sometimes think the BBC's initials stand for the "British Blaming Corporation".
880 In quieter times it would be interesting to have an independent assessment made of the cost of the modern style of media coverage to the British economy. I certainly believe that the media have greatly damaged our tourist industry, both internally and externally. At some time we have the right to raise the issues of responsibility and accountability, certainly for publicly-funded operators.
Those are personal views and I do not ask the Minister to respond to those points. But I ask whether the media will be invited to join the Meacher task force. If not, why not? As they have so much influence in these areas, this is an opportunity for them to make a start in accepting a degree of responsibility and involvement beyond that which we currently see.
May I suggest that the task force gives urgent consideration to making further provision for rural businesses primarily dependent on tourism to have payment of their second instalment of their 2000–2001 tax assessment during the summer deferred for six months? This is not simply to have a sympathetic and understanding business approach adopted by the Inland Revenue; it is to move to a positive and concrete deferment through to January 2002. Technically, even though arguments will be raised against it, it is possible to do that with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Otherwise I fear that many businesses will close and many jobs will be lost. which will cost more in the long term than offering a tax break now.
Finally, can my noble friend say whether she is entirely happy with the pace at which local councils and authorities are re-opening footpaths in both coastal and countryside areas and National Trust properties and gardens? Is she aware that in Sussex, which has not had a case of foot and mouth, most of the National Trust houses and gardens have been closed for weeks? It is only now that they are about to reopen. Is she aware that in the whole of Yorkshire, the largest county in England and one with little problem from the disease, only five properties and gardens in the whole of the Yorkshire National Trust area are open to the public? Why?
One has the impression that in some areas either the county or local authorities are deliberately delaying the reopening of the countryside. I hope that that is not the case. Can the Minister say whether any further action can be taken to get those councils and authorities moving? If not, and if there are still difficulties, will she ensure that those in the local tourist industries know who is responsible for the failure to allow people into those areas?
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jopling on stepping into the shoes of my noble friend Lord Cranborne at short notice and on introducing this debate in such a forceful and effective way.
With the total head of livestock condemned for slaughter passing the 1 million mark and the number of outbreaks of the disease approaching 1,000, one is 881 forcibly reminded once again of the appalling waste resulting from this disease and the efforts to stop its spread.
The spread of the disease must have been greatly aided by the delays that have occurred, and still seem to be occurring, between diagnosis and slaughter and, more than the Government have yet admitted, between slaughter and carcass disposal, in particular from the activities of carrion feeders and also from the process of incineration itself, at least in the early stages. If those delays could have been avoided from the outset, we should surely not be in the situation we are in today. Yet despite the Government's endeavours to remove the delays, the number of animals awaiting slaughter seems to be increasing, not diminishing. When do the Government expect the backlog to be disposed of?
In addition, policy changes are announced without their coming into immediate effect, or without it sometimes becoming clear to which parts of the country they are to be taken to apply. That has been true in some cases of the three kilometre pre-emptive culling policy. As a result of that lack of clarity, farmers can find themselves exposed to some very painful, unexpected and apparently inexplicable decisions. I learnt last week of a neighbouring farmer in north Lancashire who bought 15 sheep from a farmer who had himself bought sheep at Longtown market on 17th February which later contracted FMD.
My neighbour took huge care to keep his 15 sheep, which had not themselves come from Longtown, isolated from the rest of his flock, which they were for more than 40 days—way past the incubation period—with no sign of the disease appearing and with MAFF monitoring the situation. Then one day the men from MAFF came and announced, for no new apparent reason, that all his 450 sheep and 750 lambs had to be slaughtered. I do not want to say whether on balance such a decision was right or wrong. But its cruelty, arbitrariness and apparent irrationality are very hard for a farmer to accept.
Much will be done in the way of securing acceptance, however reluctant, from farmers for government policy, however drastic, if the compensation is generous enough. I should say at this moment that my wife keeps a small flock of sheep, not yet condemned so far as I know, and we also have tenants with sheep and cattle. From what I have heard, compensation seems to be based on reasonable calculations of market value, but who knows what the cost of rebuilding herds will be, particularly in the context of reduced supply and sudden demand, as, among others, my noble friend Lord Jopling warned this afternoon. Will the Government watch that?
I should like to put in a word for farmers who have lost all their income. The Government do not compensate for loss of income. Farmers with livestock, but without a dairy herd and therefore reliant for their income on sales of lambs or young cattle, now earn nothing. Tenant farmers may well not be able to pay their rent. They may also be unable to 882 pay for the feed necessary to keep their livestock alive on exhausted pastures from which they cannot remove them.
A fortnight ago the Government introduced a welfare disposal scheme under which, in those circumstances, the Government would pay for the removal and slaughter of such stock. However, my information is that the scheme has been completely inundated with applications and that farmers can now expect a delay of many weeks. That entirely defeats the point of such a scheme.
The situation is rapidly deteriorating. On humanitarian grounds, will the Government urgently consider making advance cash payments to farmers of a percentage of what they will be entitled to eventually and so enable them to stay in business and to treat their stock humanely? I have provided the noble Baroness with notice of that question.
What progress have the Government made over the past week on the subject of vaccination? A number of noble Lords are interested to hear what the Government have to say on that subject. Are they considering it for rare breeds? What was their reaction to the requests that I understand were put to them by the Soil Association and the National Trust in that respect this week? I note the caution of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and others in regard to that matter.
I see no future in vaccination if it is known that it must be followed by culling. It would simply demoralise the farmer, whose co-operation is needed to carry out the vaccination. What is the Government's thinking on that issue? Are they still considering using vaccination to halt the spread of FMD? I believe that today that policy is being put into effect in the Netherlands. What do the Government say to the proposal made last week in the House by my noble friend Lord Vinson, taken up today by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that the dairy herd could be vaccinated without any effect on exports. Is it true that the Food Standards Agency has imposed the impractical condition that milk so produced would need to be labelled? I would be most grateful if the noble Baroness could provide answers to those questions.
Finally, of course there has to be an inquiry, an open-minded inquiry and not one whose terms of reference cast aspersions on farming generally, as the Minister for the Environment was reported to envisage when he spoke out of turn yesterday. Along with my noble friend Lord Jopling, I believe that the quicker we set up such an inquiry the better. We can discuss the terms of reference on another occasion.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Jopling for the judgment and experience that he has brought to the debate. Perhaps I can remind your Lordships of a sample timetable of a small farm during this catastrophe that has probably been repeated many times across the country. This example comes from Yorkshire. The farmer discovered symptoms of the disease at 8.30 a.m. on a 883 Thursday. Immediately he contacted MAFF and was told that a vet could not come until the next day, Friday. The farmer then spoke to his own vet who, after conducting his rounds, arrived on the evening of Thursday arid confirmed the disease. On Saturday the Ministry vet appeared, 48 hours after the notification and 24 hours later than he said he would. He then insisted that samples be sent off for analysis, which took another 48 hours, and four days after the notification the animals were slaughtered.
Several noble Lords have drawn attention to the need for speed and urgency, commodities apparently lacking in MAFF thinking. As several noble Lords have pointed out, the Army has been standing by from day two of the outbreak. Even when the Army was brought in, it was done by stealth in some cases, as though MAFF wanted to keep control of the operation. As we know, not only were there differences with the MoD, but there were also differences with the Department of the Environment.
Of the many criticisms that frequently have been levelled at MAFF, I suggest that the most insidious is the reluctance to relate to farmers themselves. Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that all MAFF's shortcomings start with this Government. Of course, the Ministry was in place during the previous administration, but the current Government have been left holding the parcel when the music stopped, so they and the Minister in another place must take responsibility for the shortcomings of that department.
By contrast, I pay tribute, as many noble Lords have, to the handling of this crisis by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and for her patience and courtesy not only towards your Lordships but also in the media. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Byford, who has shown responsibility and constructiveness throughout this crisis. I also want to refer to my honourable friend Mr Tim Yeo, who, as I am sure noble Lords will agree, in the early days of this crisis went out of his way to support the Government in the action that they took. in good faith, he took that action to he for the best. Only after the delay, indecision and bureaucracy—what a cocktail—shown by MAFF, quite correctly he became increasingly critical for fundamental, not political, reasons.
Of course, one must feel some sympathy with the Prime Minister. In the first instance, he was entitled to look to the relevant Minister for his briefing. All the indications are that that was less than adequate and no doubt contributed to the dithering which was the overriding impression conveyed by the Government. But it is to be welcomed that at a late hour he has taken control of measures to deal with the appalling tragedy and that at last he is taking advice from outside bodies which are thoroughly qualified to give it.
I say to some noble Lords opposite that I make those references to the Prime Minister not as leader of the political party in government but as leader of the country. A crisis such as this demands strong but, above all, immediate leadership, as was demonstrated by my noble friend Lady Thatcher during another national crisis, the invasion of the Falklands.
884 In conclusion, I have a specific question for the Minister. The cost of this crisis is estimated at between —9 billion and —10 billion. Can she give us any indication whether that will affect the Chancellor's Budget estimates?
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord Biffen
My Lords, I am grateful to he able to speak in the gap. I am also grateful to my noble friend who introduced the debate and to Michael Meacher for suggesting that there will be a public inquiry following the conclusion of this miserable episode. The emphasis is on the word "public" because such an inquiry must be wide-ranging and relentless. That is the least that we owe to those who have been so adversely affected over recent weeks.
One of the first tasks of that inquiry will be to consider the origin of this scourge. In 1967 it was fairly quickly and incontrovertibly established that the origin was the importation of Argentinian lamb. On this occasion there is no such clear evidence, but the general and good-faith view is that it was caused by some form of import, as foot and mouth disease is not a home-grown scourge.
That requires us to consider more effectively, but none the less more fundamentally, what our import policy should be in respect of matters of animal welfare and animal hygiene. For generations British agriculture has lived alongside substantial imports from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, countries with great climatic advantages, but that operate to standards that are broadly similar to those of our own agricultural industry.
Today matters are rather different. My noble friend Lady Trumpington mentioned a list of countries from which we import pig meat. Indeed, now our imports range much more widely in terms of agricultural sources than would have been true a generation ago.
There is also the growing and not much noticed development of imported processed foods. They are imported in substantial quantities which are likely to increase. In my view that is a difficulty waiting to reveal itself. Perhaps most importantly, a problem that attracts our attention is not an immediate one, but one that is just over the brow into the future. It is the enlargement of the European Community to include countries of eastern Europe whose agricultural challenge is often thought of in terms of production. I make no comment on that or on the skill of those domestic agricultures. However, as regards Turkey, for example, there is a different proposition in terms of animal health and enforceability. A challenge is there awaiting us and that factor is as much in the minds of our negotiators as are all the others which are contained within accession.
I believe that we should move forward and try to develop a policy for import regulation in respect of agriculture which will sustain the interests we have discussed today. It must lie at the heart of the welfare of the nation at large and the narrower issues of animal husbandry, welfare and hygiene. However, if that is our resolve—and we are in the uniquely happy 885 position of being able to fashion a policy based upon our island status and having the insular characteristics of control—we must be prepared to pursue it with determination. It must be against a background of the rhetoric of the world's trade organisations and their ambitions for wider and more open markets for agricultural produce, all an aspect of the fashionable globalisation of our trade and economies. We must put down our marker in respect of our interests and I hope that the inquiry which will conclude this foot and mouth epidemic will enable us to make an opening bid to secure for our own agriculture and people by our own energies a deal which is equitable.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for introducing it. There have been interesting differences between this debate and that held on 13th March in which many of your Lordships also spoke. I have found this debate a little less focused but that is not bad. Perhaps it has been less focused because we are less certain of the right way in which to proceed. Noble Lords expressed their view, strongly in some cases, but it is clear that we can only follow the best advice of the scientists.
Another particular theme that has run through the debate has been the reaction of politicians, the public and the media to a crisis or emergency occurring outside the country—mention was made of the Gulf and Falklands wars—compared with the reaction to such an event occurring inside the country. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, it is unfortunate that when an emergency occurs inside the country there is a huge temptation to treat it as an opportunity for political spin. If someone takes time to make a decision, they are delaying and dithering. However, if someone makes a decisive decision, it is a knee-jerk reaction and rushed.
From time to time, the length of time taken to make decisions will be wrong. I am not in a position to defend the Government and shall later comment on those matters which could have been better handled. However, the media are to blame for the fact that in respect of many aspects of this situation we have descended into a blame culture. The media enjoy watching politicians tearing each other apart. I do not believe that the public do, and people living in the countryside and the farmers certainly do not. They are not interested in the political games which are played here and they are thoroughly depressed by them. Furthermore, we could learn from our reaction to emergencies which occur overseas and could behave better in respect of emergencies which occur here.
The noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Inglewood, made a strong case for there being no division between town and country. They and other noble Lords said that the issue needed to be addressed by both, stating that what is happening in the countryside strongly affects towns and cities. A good example was pottery production for the National Trust, but many other industries will suffer a downturn in their sales this year 886 as a direct result of the epidemic. Even the Countryside Agency's annual report, which was published yesterday, held a surprise. Its final section showed that the views of town and country people are similar when it comes to the issues which affect the countryside. There are only marginal differences of opinion on the importance of the countryside. We should appreciate that fact because too often we hear about the divisions.
My noble friend Lord Redesdale raised the important point that the poorest areas are hit hardest. I believe that the Government appreciate that in Cumbria and Devon and their surrounding areas in the North West and the South West not only farming and tourism but all businesses have been affected. Many noble Lords have said that 100 per cent rate relief should be available and that local authorities should be fully reimbursed for the cost of that.
It has also been suggested that interest-free loans to a generous ceiling should be available to businesses. A business employing a number of people is as worthy of support as a small business using perhaps one self-employed person. We on these Benches believe that the Government's blanket national approach causes difficulties and that there is a strong case for a regional approach so that the worst hit areas can receive the greatest aid. Will the Minister say what amount of contingency money will be filtered through to those worst affected areas?
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, referred to the problems that she faces. She highlighted the need for information to be as clear as possible. During the previous debate and during our debate on the recent Statement we referred to the DSS issuing clear guidelines. Are those guidelines available to Members of your Lordships' House through the Library, showing what information has been sent to farmers who want to claim income support or the working families' tax credit? People's entitlement must be made clear.
I agree with other noble Lords that the contribution of my noble friend Lord Greaves was most valuable to our debate. Using the example of outdoor centres, he painted a graphic picture of the losses that are being experienced by people outside farming. He highlighted the fact that local authority risk assessments are most urgently needed. I echo that because they will enable the various counties to take different approaches.
I want to be more specific about the approaches which some local authorities are taking, particularly in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. I must declare an interest as a member of Somerset County Council. I believe that local authorities have been left out of the circle of those who have done a good job in tackling the crisis. Today noble Lords have spoken of delays in issuing licences. However, local authorities responsible for issuing licences to enable animals to be slaughtered for meat, which is highly important while we continue to supply our domestic market, have in almost all cases been able to issue the licences within minutes or hours. They have set up emergency hotlines and dealt with the 887 matter with the utmost efficiency. The offices of some local authorities are open 24 hours a day and staff are drafted in as necessary.
I have been sent a large number of examples of good practice by local authorities of all political persuasions. It is quite clear that councils throughout Cornwall, for example, have provided local solutions and offered businesses rate relief, in many cases on a manual basis. That could not be done on a national basis. Suffolk County Council, for example, has looked at its footpaths on a case-by-case basis—I believe that the Prime Minister referred to it—and works with parish councils to reopen the countryside as fast as it reasonably can. Swindon's office is open 24 hours a day. All of the councils that have contacted me address the important issues each morning in their working groups. I hope that the Minister and noble Lords recognise that local authorities have done their best in this situation.
I turn to footpaths. One of the reasons why it has been difficult for counties adjacent to infected areas to reopen their footpaths, perhaps in the way that the Minister, Michael Meacher, would have liked, is that when a footpath was closed by order it was done simply by informing the Minister. However, I believe that the order made on 16th March, which provided a different power to close footpaths, revoked parts of the earlier order. The effect is that once a local authority has opened footpaths, it cannot close them again without consulting the Minister in relation to every specific site. Counties next to infected areas are very nervous about reopening footpaths because to close them again is a difficult bureaucratic procedure. The Minister appears to be slightly doubtful. I shall supply the noble Baroness with the details that have been provided to me. Perhaps the Minister will be able to give me further information on this.
We had a similar difficulty over roads. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, whether local authorities had power to close roads. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, referred specifically to Exmoor, Dartmoor and the New Forest, where road closure is crucial, particularly in the case of the first two. They are surrounded by infected areas. Noble Lords are well aware of the threat to the red deer herd. The Minister said that local authorities could close roads, but it emerged subsequently that local authorities did not have that power. The Minister has kindly written to me to clarify the position. I understand that they can close roads in a controlled area if such a prohibition has first been approved by the Minister. If all local interests get together and come up with a definite plan for road closures, how much time will elapse between the submission of that plan and ministerial approval? If that is deemed necessary by all the local community, it is because the situation is urgent.
Many noble Lords this afternoon have described graphically upland areas that may well be denuded of stock. Is the Ministry considering a special restocking grant for upland areas? That is certain to be an issue. Noble Lords have referred to the link between farming and tourism. I believe that for both interests a restocking grant would be very important.
888 A number of noble Lords have spoken about food policy, which I believe is critical. Have the Government made any further progress with the code of practice for supermarkets to ensure that they stock more locally-produced food? What progress is being made by the Countryside Agency's "Eat the View" campaign which is supposed to promote local food to local people? Will the Ministry of Defence review its policies? According to a Question for Written Answer, I was informed that last year the ministry bought over 52 per cent of its meat from abroad. Will the ministry consider supporting farmers by buying British meat?
Finally, I thank the Minister very much for her courtesy in replying to letters, points raised in relation to Statements and the debate this afternoon.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Jopling for so ably giving us the opportunity to voice our ideas, doubts and fears. The debate has been of great interest. I hope that the Government will find much to ponder on and that in some instances the debate will help them to remedy the situation. My noble friend referred to early errors by MAFF, the delays caused and acceptance by the department that the outbreak of the disease had grown beyond its ability to cope on its own. We have pushed for, and welcomed, the invitation to the Army to help vets and many others who are fighting this disease.
The question of restocking for the future has just been raised. That matter was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and my noble friend Lord Jopling. I shall return to that later. Reference was also made to the illegal import of food, in particular pigmeat, to which my noble friend and other noble Lords have responded. The call for a public inquiry has been supported by many noble Lords on all sides of the House.
I turn quickly to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I have never considered this to be a town and country issue. All of us, whether we live in town or country, rely on food, and I believe that most of us consume UK-produced food. This industry is crucial to each and every one of us; it is not a town and country issue. Although the noble Lord said he believed there was a lot of fuss and hysteria and tried to put it into perspective, 1,000 confirmed cases and the identification of over 1 million animals amount to a crisis.
The main problem about the foot and mouth outbreak has been lack of leadership and the muddle between the DETR and MAFF, particularly at the early stages, which caused a delay in the burial of many carcasses. The slaughter policy was right, and we supported it, but over the weeks insufficient logistical support was obtained and organised. Slaughter should have taken place within 24 hours and disposal 24 hours after that. Were laboratory tests really necessary rather than acceptance of the decision of vets on site to confirm the disease? Should farm valuations have been made when the disease was obviously getting out of control, or should they have been taken at face value? All of these have added to the delays.
889 The depth of the outbreak in certain areas was obvious by 13th March. The speed at which it spread was alarming, but in the past three weeks its pace has been terrifying. There has been general agreement among the professionals and politicians that swift eradication is necessary and, with few exceptions, the Government's slaughter policy has been supported. Unfortunately, that good slaughter policy was damaged both by delays in the time taken to kill the infected animals immediately diagnosed and the time required to dispose of the carcasses.
As reported at col. 314 of Hansard on 8th March, I asked the Minister to involve the Army, but some weeks elapsed before its involvement. By then I had received many messages from people who were outraged that animals had been left to lie in the fields where they had been killed. I have been assured by many others, including microbiologists, that microbes continue to live after animals have been put down. Like my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lord Ferrers and other noble Lords, I fail to comprehend how a sandwich made from the wrong meat can travel halfway round the world and infect healthy animals, even after it has been cooked and processed, presumably, yet infected sheep and cows can be safely left in the open for days to be scavenged on by birds and animals without those carcasses becoming a source of further illness.
In connection with the import of suspect meat, can the Minister confirm, as other noble Lords have suggested, that 37,000 tonnes of pigmeat have been allowed into the United Kingdom over the past two years from countries where foot and mouth is endemic? My noble friend Lady Trumpington referred to that matter. Will the Minister also tell the House what measures the Government have taken to tighten up controls on commercial and private meat imports since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease was acknowledged? Can the noble Baroness say how many countries have suffered outbreaks of this disease in the past year? Will she also tell us what role the Food Standards Agency has played, or does monitoring rely only on trading standards officers? My noble friends Lady Blatch and Lord Biffen and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, all referred to South African meat.
Perhaps I may move on. The transport by lorry of infected bodies, once killed, over the length and breadth of the country seemed to be asking for trouble. I do not have medical training, but I understand from others that barrier nursing involves layers of protective clothing, face masks, airlocks on doors and the use of gloves at all times. Even then, doctors and nurses sometimes succumb to disease. Are we really to believe that sealed lorries are foolproof against the leakage of body fluids? Are we doing all that is necessary to ensure that these highly infectious creatures which are being moved around the country are completely safe? In the face of anecdotal evidence, are we to believe that the lorries used in this fashion have always been thoroughly sealed? I notice that in tonight's Evening Standard there is a question about that with regard to Cheshire.
890 I understand the problems of burial, particularly when in so many places the water table is higher than for years. I can believe that there is a dearth of railway sleepers with which to start fires, but why cannot we use the trees that were blown down last autumn or coppice wood? Is the Minister aware of the report in yesterday's Daily Telegraph to the effect that a member of the Intervention Board had stated that it was proposed to take slaughtered sheep by lorry from west Wales across to Suffolk for burial?
It is the simple things that strike hardest. No one is manning the emergency telephones of MAFF in Cumbria after 5.30 p.m. In contrast, when the Environment Agency was coping with the floods, its floodline extension was manned until midnight during the months of October, November and December last year. Why cannot MAFF do the same? Notifications of possible disease outbreaks between those hours have to be entrusted to an answering machine. Not only is that inefficient, but it must also make the planning work for vets almost impossible and it must truly be the last straw for those phoning to announce the end of their hopes.
In Newcastle upon Tyne, I understand that the office dealing with the animal welfare scheme has six faxes but no computer. I do not know whether that is because one is not available or because it has broken down. Presumably, however, the number of applications reaching the office has risen dramatically. Will the Minister give us totals, species by species, over the past three weeks? Will she also confirm that some 1 million animals are waiting? What help will the Government give to farmers who are running out of feed and are having to keep their animals in unacceptable conditions? What help will there be for those with over 30-month cattle and lambs gaining their second teeth?
I turn to the employment of vets. When the noble Baroness made her previous Statement on 27th March she challenged me. I have paperwork from Dr Dick White of the University of Cambridge Veterinary School. His students offered help to MAFF in Bury St Edmunds but were turned down. On their own initiative they kept trying and are now working in Devon. The cases of Rob Turnbull and Mr Haxby were written up in the Veterinary Record of 31st March. They offered their services but they were turned down because they were over 65.
Other noble Lords have referred to delays. Delays have meant that more flocks and herds have been infected than should have been necessary. The delays have resulted in many other trades and professions being damaged. Tourism is an obvious example. Tourism is very important to us. My noble friends Lord Peel and Lord Luke and many other noble Lords referred to it.
891 It is coming up to Easter when traditionally many country folk earn their first bread. They are also looking to their summer bookings. This year many of them will earn nothing. Will the Minister confirm that the appropriate agencies will deal swiftly and compassionately with redundancy payments, job seeker's allowance and tax credits for people who are laid off, made redundant or are simply unable to earn their living? That should include hotels and pubs, zoos, wildlife parks, marinas and other canal-based leisure industries. livery stables and those who supply them. Noble Lords have also referred to outward bound schools and outward bound activities. I should like to reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
The whole issue of banking and help with banking is crucial. My noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and my noble friends Lord Selsdon and Lord Reay mentioned this. Indeed, when the Minister made her previous Statement, she was about to go on to a meeting on that subject. We look forward to hearing what she has to say.
We are in the midst of a disaster. I say to the Minister that my figures are salutary. More than 1 million animals have been identified. The figures I took from the MAFF website on Monday 2nd April show that some 379,000 animals are awaiting slaughter and that 192,000 are awaiting disposal. At the current rate of backlog clearance, it will take 18 days to clear the slaughter backlog and 27 days to clear the disposal backlog. Those are horrendous figures. The backlogs must be dealt with. I hope that our debate today will have given more power to the Minister's elbow. We want her to be able to succeed.
I wish to make two further points. First, last year, the Newlands Adventure Centre in Keswick took £25,000 in March alone. In the same month this year, it took £9.87. Secondly, Mr James Sankey, a Shropshire farmer, has hundreds of sheep that he over-winters on his land. He is under Schedule 8 and his sheep are stuck. He was on Radio Shropshire this morning explaining his plight. He has been told that it will take 11 days before the welfare animal slaughter scheme can be applied to him. The Intervention Board is totally inadequate and is unable to cope with the cases being passed to it.
A noble Lord said that not many people have been affected. To date, 18 counties have been affected. But I conclude on a much more hopeful note. We all share the hope that the disease will be controlled and eradicated. As I said earlier, I have never considered it a case of town against country. What we wish to see is the improved handling of the crisis. That must be brought under control. Eradication must be much more speedily achieved. We all look forward to the rebuilding of our farms and our rural businesses and to the return of some form of normality, not just for them but for all our citizens.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am enormously touched by the kindness shown to me on a personal level by every speaker in the debate. I have to apologise to the House and, in particular, to the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Strange, for not being in the Chamber for their speeches. I understand that they too were very kind. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that she was under an illusion when she thought that I was going for a cup of tea. I was actually trying to attend to some business not unrelated to the matters under discussion today. I understand that while I was away the noble Baroness suggested that I should be made Minister for Zoos. That is in some ways an attractive portfolio, but I think that I shall have to maintain my current responsibilities, for the moment anyway.
§ Baroness Hayman
Only in addition. On the zoo question, I can perhaps tell the noble Baroness that the Standing Veterinary Committee in Europe was today considering the issue of the vaccination of zoo animals with a view to allowing it without impeding the movement of livestock. However, that is not a cure-all even for zoos, which depend on international trade not only in animals but in semen and embryos. II is not a simple matter but it is one that we are addressing.
On the seven occasions that we have debated these issues, I welcomed the spirit in which the debate has been conducted. I welcomed the opportunity to take my place in your Lordships' House. Some very useful suggestions have been made. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that I have taken those back and, on occasion, I have managed to deliver on them. I refer, for example, to matters such as the noble Lord's sheep, the noble Countess's cheese—for which I still have hopes—or the issue of the valuation of livestock under one of the disposal schemes raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monro. I hope that that issue has now been resolved. I have taken away specific issues, as I have taken away general issues.
Equally, in today's debate certain important and practical issues have been raised. No one could listen to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, describe the situation in Cumbria and its future without thinking seriously about what we shall have to do for that region, because the distress caused by the destruction of the local economy has been enormous. It will have to be rebuilt. Again, broader points have been made as regards the importance of learning from this episode and of undertaking thorough reviews. Furthermore, we shall need to make sure that when we come to rebuild a livestock industry for the future, we should not attempt simply to recreate the past. We shall need to look at how we can put in place a system that will underpin the industry decades into the future, rather than try to put the clock back to the past.
893 However, I have to say to noble Lord that, today, the tone of some contributions has changed dramatically. Kind though it is, I do not wish to be exempted from the rest of the Government or from my department. Frankly, I do not think that noble Lords can get away with that. The early debates held on this exercise were full of praise. I think that they were full of praise because they were working on the same assumptions of the kind of outbreak with which we were dealing as we in MAFF were working on.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that I did not challenge her to produce paperwork when she recounted an incident concerning a vet who had been turned back. I said to the noble Baroness that, if she would give me the details, I would follow it up in order to try to get the case of that vet sorted out. Indeed, in thinking now about some of the things that have been "alleged", of the fundamental mistakes that have been made, the fundamental incompetence, the fundamental mismanagement that I have heard today, I went back to read some of the comments that noble Lords who have spoken today made on 21st February, 26th February and on 8th March. People do have 20/20 hindsight. I do not have 20/20 foresight, but when, on 8th March, the noble Baroness rose to her feet to reiterate her support, not for me, but for MAFF—my department—because she was anxious that someone had suggested that she had not been sufficiently fulsome in her praise, I was the one who said to her that I would rather no one judged this episode until it was over.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I quite accept what she has said, but obviously circumstances move on—something that I think the noble Baroness will acknowledge. It is right that noble Lords should come back to the House with further suggestions. Indeed, in fairness, I had paid her the compliment before her noble friend suggested that I had not done so.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, that is absolutely true, but what the noble Baroness had not said then was what an incompetent shambles was MAFF and how fundamentally flawed was the policy.
I am in complete agreement with the noble Baroness that circumstances change and that we have to re-evaluate policies. I am not trying to say, here and now, that every single decision has been absolutely right. Indeed, I was fascinated to hear the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, say that he had had in mind a policy two weeks ago, but that he has now thought about it and has decided that it was wrong. But then he went on to say that MAFF should be open-minded and made the most excoriating suggestions about how close-minded, how ridiculous, how impossible was the department to consider vaccination. However, widely different views have been expressed in your Lordships' House this 894 afternoon and, indeed—on his own admission—were held by the noble Earl himself until a few days ago. All of us can learn as we go along.
I am terribly conscious that on the last occasion I took 50 minutes to wind up the debate. I shall not be forgiven for doing that on this occasion, so I shall try to make progress and answer some of the points that have been made.
As I said, we have to learn as we go along. We have to recognise a point which has now been accepted internationally; namely, that we are dealing with a very different outbreak. This outbreak perhaps may be unprecedented. When I said previously that there is no blueprint, I did not mean that there is no blueprint for dealing with disease. Perhaps I could now hit on the head the idea that a 24-hour slaughter policy was suddenly imposed because someone, somewhere, thought that that would be a good idea. It was the policy of the Chief Veterinary Officer from day one of the disease outbreak. When I referred to the fact that there is no blueprint for the disease, I meant that no epidemiologist could say what would be the pattern of the outbreak. It was not possible to tell why Cumbria would be affected to such a devastating extent.
No one could foretell that for two sets of reasons: the first concerned the amount of animal movements. I do not refer to movements to slaughter because abattoirs were a long way away. That may be an argument as regards abattoirs, but it is not an argument as regards disease control. The movements continued to such a large extent, criss-crossing the country. The second reason was that the movement controls that we all hoped would allow the disease to express itself in a fortnight—that was the incubation period—did not happen because this strain of the virus is such a silent disease in sheep. What we are often encountering is a diagnosis in cattle which have been infected by sheep which were not the first animals in the flock to have the disease, but rather are the second or the third wave of animals to have been infected. So we are coping with an enormous disease problem, the scope of whose difficulty would challenge any ministry of agriculture in any country anywhere in the world.
In the course of this outbreak, we have done a great deal. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the movement to slaughter scheme and the role played in that by local authorities. I do not think that it was mentioned by any other noble Lord who has spoken in this debate. It is supplying something in the order of 75 per cent of the beef market, 90 of the pork market and around 35 of the lamb market, because at this time of year most lamb is exported. It is working extremely effectively. It is not mentioned simply because it is working extremely effectively. It is one of the schemes that has been set up totally ab initio since the outbreak began, along with the schemes covering the slaughter and disposal of animals.
Policies have changed as the disease has emerged and developed. They do have to be specific. I understand of course that individuals have had to 895 endure the enormous uncertainty of not knowing their situation. We need to work even harder to explain to people and to raise with them the issues remarked on by noble Lords. We need to tell them how we shall get out of this: how, in Leicestershire, we are shrinking the areas that are infected; and how we are managing to lift restrictions.
In Northern Ireland I understand that the SVC decision has been successful; namely, to secure the regionalisation policy that means that only the area immediately around the affected premises will be restricted. However, I say to noble Lords who are interested in whether Northern Ireland, northern Scotland—the area was mentioned in the debate—or East Anglia are possible candidates for regionalisation, that they should bear that in mind when they make a blanket condemnation of any import policy within the EU from any country that has foot and mouth disease anywhere. That is because regionalisation served us well with swine fever; it may again serve us well in the future with FMD.
I wish to speak about some of the, if you like, rural myths. I hope that it will be reassuring to noble Lords to know that the Cumbria office helpline does not close at 5.30; it is open 24 hours a day. I have the number if anyone needs it. Someone in my private office phoned the helpline five minutes ago and, yes, it is answering—and it is well past 5.30.
As to the staff from hunt kennels, when this issue was first raised with me by a Member of your Lordships' House I investigated it. I found no evidence whatever that there was any policy not to accept such staff. We are grateful for the help of kennel slaughtermen, of which 10 are employed at the Great Orton site and three other teams are in Cumbria. I can assure the House that they are not there only because of the army; these teams are working directly to MAFF vets as well. So a worry, yes, but not one that was necessary.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said that we had not engaged with the farmers. I can tell him that I have personally chaired the stakeholders' meetings from the first Friday of the outbreak to the next week and all the way through. At these meetings there have been representatives from the NFU, from Scotland, from Wales, from the National Beef Association, from the National Sheep Association, from all the specialist veterinary associations as well as from the BVA, from the abattoirs, from the processing industry and from the retailers. We have never excluded the farming industry from these discussions.
I recognise—this is an important area—that the welfare disposal scheme is causing great concern. I fear that in future I may have more than a little responsibility for it, so it is causing me a lot of concern as well. On the issue of disposal, a noble Lord suggested that some of the slaughterhouses were not yet working at capacity. That is absolutely true. The 896 reason for that is that we have learnt that it is enormously important to have the final disposal route available. You cannot stack up produce from abattoirs if it has not got an eventual disposal route. We now have, I think it is, 34 approved landfill sites.
I hope that any noble Lord who has the opportunity will offer reassurance to the councils involved with these sites that the material going to them is from healthy animals. One speaker—I apologise, I do not remember the name—raised an instance of a long journey. Yes, indeed, it was a long journey; it was a licensed journey, after veterinary inspection, of non-infected animals. It is the only way we can make the scheme work.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro, and other noble Lords, asked me about the rates to be paid under the welfare disposal scheme. They are not full 100 per cent compensation rates because it is not a compensation scheme for the state stepping in and slaughtering your animals under animal health laws, as we do for foot and mouth disease control. It is based on the swine fever pig welfare disposal scheme. It is a voluntary scheme. It is completely up to owners whether they use this scheme, whether they try a movement scheme or whether they manage animals alone. Owners are paid at something like 90 per cent of pre-FMD market value, which the NFU certainly judges to be generous and has recommended to its members. Given that something like 1,250,000 animals have been enrolled in the scheme, it is seen as a generous one.
Our desperate need now is to make sure that the scheme is functioning efficiently. The tonnage is going up already and I hope to see improvements on that. It is an area where we need to improve, and we intend to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, kindly gave me notice that he would be asking about the issue of advance payment. It is one of the matters that I should like to take away. It may well fit in with issues on which we are having discussions with the banking sector, which are ongoing. The banks have given extensions of credit and have shown that they wish to be helpful, not only to farming but to other rural businesses. It may be appropriate to discuss this matter with the banking sector, given that this is a cash flow issue rather than anything else. It may be that the banks can help and I shall certainly undertake to pursue that issue.
I wish to say something about vaccination. Engagingly, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, wanted three straight yes or no answers. I am sorry, even with notice, he cannot have three straight yes or no answers because the questions were a tad simplistic, if I may put it that way.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, vaccination is not a yes or no decision. There are different policy options 897 for introducing vaccination. There are the policy options which relate to disease control—dampening down, ring fencing and so on—which have a logic of immediate or very quick slaughter afterwards; and there are issues relating to reducing the number of animals to be slaughtered, the protection of rare breeds and the protection of dairy herds, a matter raised today. A decision about vaccination on any one of those issues then leads to equally complex decisions and judgments having to be made about the effect on the overall livestock industry, or the regional livestock industry in which vaccination was introduced.
There is scientific debate about those issues and about carrier status, and the possibility that carrier status would extend the epidemic's tail, although it might not change dramatically the number of cases. If you extend the epidemic's tail, you then extend the time before you regain disease-free status, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.
We have to look at the issue. We have taken precautionary action, planning in advance, to make sure that we have stocks available and that European cover is available should we wish to vaccinate cattle. Again, of course, we would need to debate what to do with the different species. We would need to have vaccine available for cattle in Cumbria and Devon. Beyond that, we would need to look at the European bank of vaccine—where the vaccine is not double strength; it is single strength and would need two administrations—were we to go for wider vaccination. I am sorry; I cannot give absolute clarity on this because no decision has yet been made. A debate is raging about whether and in what form vaccination could be usefully applied to this situation. We have to get it right because it will have enormous long-term consequences.
Several noble Lords talked about the human consequences, as did the right reverend Prelate, of this terrible, terrible event that has blighted so many areas of our country and so much of the rural economy. We are trying to help, through the Department of Social Security; through the Department for Employment and Education, which sees jobseekers; through the Inland Revenue, which administers working families' tax credit; and through the voluntary organisations, where there have been so many generous contributions—which are being matched by the Government—to make charitable funds available.
I am extremely anxious that we give people coherent advice. A great deal of advice, numbers and help has been given in the farming sector and in a large number of other areas. MAFF has given over its pavilion at the Stoneleigh ground to the Rural Stress Network to open up helplines there. I hope that in communication with farmers we can make clear the avenues of help, just as through those avenues we are making sure that people receive the right advice and we are doing as much as we can to help them.
898 The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the issue of illegal meat imports, as did the noble Lord, Lord Monro. I referred earlier to the issue of regionalisation. European Community legislation permits the import of meat from certain countries where FMD is endemic, but only where the disease is restricted to specific areas. I understand that that is exactly in line with the recommendations of the Northumberland committee. As I said earlier, it may be of great interest to farmers and colleagues in Northern Ireland in the future.
The countries involved are: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay. All meat imported into the UK from third countries must enter at designated UK border inspection points, where it is subject to veterinary inspections. All consignments are subject to document and identity checks; at least 20 per cent of consignments undergo physical checks, and these are carried out by an official veterinary surgeon.
Of course, it cannot be guaranteed that there will be no illegality anywhere. We have already recognised the need to look not only at the regulatory framework but at enforcement provisions for the future.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but I gave a list of some 26 countries where foot and mouth is endemic. I do not think that all the checks deal with that point in terms of the country of origin.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness. My information is that it is in countries where the disease is endemic rather than where it is acute that it is possible to regionalise. In regard to some matters, the meat itself is subject to regulation and must be deboned. That followed from the recommendations of the Northumberland committee.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I know that she is giving careful thought to her reply. Given the movement of sheep and cattle in this country, if an animal is moved from an infected area—let us say, for example, Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa—to a non-infected area, so that the imports then come to this country from a non-infected area, what guarantee is there that we are not taking in food from an infected area?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, perhaps I have not expressed myself clearly enough in terms of the certification and regulation that is necessary. I accept what the noble Baroness says, and that that may be possible. However, in my own view the problem is not in areas where the provisions apply, where there is certification and the certification is wrong. The issue arises where there is no certification and where there are illegal, smuggled imports which no one has tried to 899 do anything about. However, I shall write to the noble Baroness about the exact framework.
I ought to say a word or two about the broader rural economy and some of the issues that have been raised about the measures that we have taken. There is a need to ensure, again, that we give the right message in regard to footpaths, tourist attractions and leisure facilities; namely, that we are not cavalier in relation to disease control, but that we are not so risk-averse that we go beyond veterinary advice and thus create more desolation than is already occurring. It is incumbent on county councils to look very carefully at whether what they did initially on a precautionary principle and beyond veterinary advice is absolutely essential now. No one is asking them to be cavalier, but it is important that they recognise the damage that is being caused in many areas of the rural economy. Most of the major organisations, such as the National Trust, have taken great care to adopt a responsible attitude in reopening, but the aim has been to reopen wherever it is possible in order to provide a service and to ensure that we do not cause more difficulty than there is already. I hope that, equally, noble Lords will work to ensure that that is carried through.
As regards the change in the legislation, I fear that I probably signed both statutory instruments, so I shall look very carefully to see whether it is all my fault and shall try to put right anything that gives rise to difficulty.
The Rural Task Force met again today. It has announced a number of possibilities—for example, the funding of hardship rate relief, the extension of mandatory rate relief to more categories of rural business, and the sympathetic approach of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to deferred tax payments and national insurance contributions. The task force is considering a number of other measures. I believe that the approach, certainly in the worst affected regions, of looking very broadly at what package could he available is one that we shall want to take forward.
In conclusion, just as I said when everyone thought that we were doing wonderfully, that I should prefer people to reserve judgment until the end of what we are facing, so now, when some voices have turned and some are more interested in blanket criticism, perhaps they too should reserve judgment. Some form of inquiry will be necessary. We need to learn as we go along. But I suggest that to carry out a full-scale inquiry day by day when we need to be diverting all our resources to combating this dreadful disease is not a wise thing to do.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a valuable debate. I hope that it has been valuable for the Government too. I cannot be expected to refer to every speaker, but I am especially grateful to those noble 900 Lords who spoke kindly about my opening remarks. Perhaps I may say a special thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who was extremely kind from the Liberal Front Bench.
We heard some remarkable and moving speeches from a number of noble Lords who have been personally involved in the tragedy besetting the nation. The noble Lords, Lord Inglewood, Lord Cavendish and Lord Monro, have either had animals destroyed or have animals awaiting slaughter. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, is also in that situation, and possibly other noble Lords.
I am glad that so many speakers referred to the non-agricultural aspects of the current tragedy. I explained that I wanted to refer purely to the agricultural issues of foot and mouth disease, but we have heard valuable comments from a number of noble Lords. Perhaps I may make special reference to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and my noble friend Lady Byford, who also referred to issues which are vitally important at this time.
On a lighter note, perhaps I may pick out a remarkable speech by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Anyone reading it tomorrow will not realise what we all realise; namely, that he made the entire speech without a note. It was a remarkable performance. One has heard of mythical characters who could deliver a Budget speech without a note. Had my noble friend organised his career differently, he too might have been in that situation.
The Minister spoke helpfully and in detail about the problem of vaccination. She summed it all up when she said that there would be enormous long-term consequences of moving in that direction. I hope that the Government will think very carefully before they embark on that.
Two Members of the House criticised me for playing party politics. I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. All I can say is that if they think what I said was a case of party politics they should take a walk down the road to hear what party politics really are.
The truth is—let none of us forget it—that we come here to criticise when criticism is justified. On 26th February I commended the Government for taking prompt action with regard to livestock movements. I commended their slaughter policy. However, I reserve the right to do what I come here for, which is to criticise when I think that that is necessary. I assure the Government that I would have said exactly the same, probably in even stronger terms, if my party were in government. I remind them that if Parliament had not criticised incompetence at the beginning of World War II we might never have had leaders such as Churchill and Montgomery.
901 I turn to the Minister's comments. She said that she was concerned that people had praised her but had criticised her department and the Government. When she reads my remarks at the beginning of the debate she will see that I made no personal criticism of her. However, she will note that I said absolutely nothing to exempt her from my general criticism of the Government as a whole. I believe that that was the right approach to take. The noble Baroness gives the impression that she comes here to learn and to try to benefit from our comments. For that I thank her. I hope that the debate has brought to the Government's attention what so many people outside the House are saying. Let us be frank, our intention was to put a bomb under the Government to get more and quicker action. I hope that the Government—
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I suppose I should say that I am grateful that he was not nice about me when everyone else was. 902 However, I found the condescending tone of his final remarks insulting when he said that the Government have heard comments today and now I shall know what the problems are.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I say straight away that I do not believe that my noble friend intended to cause offence. I believe that I said that I hoped the debate would add more power to the noble Baroness's elbow. Although she does not like the words that my noble friend used, I believe that he intended to convey exactly the same sentiment.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I conclude by saying that nothing I said was intended to be insulting to the Minister. If I did say anything insulting, I am very sorry. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
House adjourned at fourteen minutes past eight o'clock.