HL Deb 09 April 2001 vol 624 cc1013-27

4.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement on the foot and mouth outbreak.

"As I have done on seven previous occasions over the past weeks, I wish to update the House before the Easter Recess on the latest position on the disease, set out the measures that the Government are taking and give honourable and right honourable Members the opportunity to raise issues with me.

"As of 7 p.m. yesterday, Sunday 8th April, there had been 1,134 confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease. As at 2 p.m. today I had been informed of a further 10 cases. The number of animals authorised for slaughter—as of 7 p.m. yesterday—was 1,366,000, of which 888,000 had been slaughtered and 478,000 awaited slaughter. Around 329,000 animals remained to be disposed of. This is out of a total UK cattle, sheep and pig population of over 55 million, and against a figure of some half a million animals which would go for slaughter in a normal trading week.

"It is still too early to predict the future course of the epidemic. The epidemiologists are constantly updating their data as the outbreak progresses but they still cannot say with any certainty how long it will continue. There are some encouraging signs, but this is an exceptionally serious outbreak with a long phase-out period and we cannot afford a moment's complacency.

"There is considerable agreement among the four groups modelling the epidemic. In particular, all have concluded that the two key interventions in tackling the disease are: first, and the highest priority, to cull all animals susceptible to the disease (principally cattle, sheep and pigs) on infected farm holdings within 24 hours; secondly, to cull susceptible animals in neighbouring farms which share a boundary—the so-called contiguous cull—within 48 hours.

"We appreciate that the latter is very difficult for farmers to accept but it is vital for the overall success of our disease control policy that all potentially infected animals are culled. I urge farmers, in the strongest terms, to co-operate with us in seeing this through. Expert advice is that these premises will have been exposed to infection and need to be dealt with quickly.

"I have written to all livestock farmers to make three key points. I have set out advice from the Chief Veterinary Officer about on-farm biosecurity. I have urged co-operation with the necessary culling of animals on neighbouring premises to infected holdings, and I have appealed to farmers not to jeopardise their own disease status, and that of other farmers, by moving animals around without a licence. Some of the isolated cases that have appeared in recent days and weeks appear to be directly attributed to farm-to-farm transmission from infected to clean areas. That point was made very forcefully to myself and the Prime Minister at our meeting with the NFU this morning and we share its concerns.

"Across the country the 24-hour report-to-slaughter target is being met in nearly 80 per cent of cases. Where cases are not completed within 24 hours, they are being dealt with shortly afterwards. The 48-hour target for contiguous premises is more difficult to meet because of sheer weight of numbers, but progress is encouraging, with some areas achieving around 70 per cent within deadline. It is particularly important that we hit this target in any new outbreaks away from the heavily infected areas to prevent further spread, and resources are being concentrated to that end.

"In support of this strategy, we have committed more and more resources to ensure that any possible blockages are removed. We have increased the number of vets on the ground very significantly to 1,522, with more being recruited. We are employing over 650 people as temporary animal health officers to supplement the 200 regular officers in the State Veterinary Service. We have appointed 11 directors of operations in the most affected areas. The Army is deployed in all the key areas, with 1,842 troops committed to this outbreak, and I am grateful for the excellent support provided by the Army and the MoD.

"We have taken a number of other practical steps to eliminate delay. We have introduced a generous standard tariff to speed up the valuation of the animals, while at the same time safeguarding farmers' rights. We have reduced the turn-round times for vets visiting farms wherever this is possible, for instance by altering the reporting procedure for new cases.

"We are very aware of the financial difficulties that many farmers face at this difficult time and have addressed this in four ways. First, compensation for slaughtered animals is currently estimated to reach over £247 million and is still rising. Secondly, we are paying £156 million in optional agrimonetary compensation to livestock farmers. Payments begin this week. This package is worth some £2,750 to the average dairy farmer, £650 to sheep farmers, £650 to suckler cow premium claimants and £450 to beef special premium claimants. Thirdly, we have introduced the livestock welfare disposal scheme as a last resort for livestock farmers whose animals face welfare difficulties as a result of FMD-related movement restrictions. The tariffs for the animals slaughtered under the scheme are generous. The estimated value of this optional scheme depends on take-up, but it is likely to be in excess of £200 million.

"Finally, we have ensured that where animals slaughtered are the subject of a current subsidy claim subsidy entitlement will be preserved as a result of the application of EU rules on force majeure. Overall, we have committed over half a billion pounds to farmers so far in the course of this outbreak.

"Vaccination remains an option, but it is not an easy option. There are no easy options. Members are aware of the arguments for and against vaccination. We are prepared to vaccinate if necessary. We have obtained the approval of the EU Standing Veterinary Committee for vaccination in the UK under certain circumstances. But it would be a major step to take with significant consequences. We are constantly reviewing the position and will continue to do so.

"Many farmers are currently keeping cattle indoors, and this is helping to minimise the risk of spread of infection.

"We hope that soon it may be possible to release some areas from restrictions, either completely or partially. There are two aspects to this: first, we will be looking at whether we can safely reduce the size of one or two areas that currently extend beyond a 10 kilometre radius; and, secondly, once all the necessary veterinary inspections and blood testing have been completed we will be looking to lift one or two infected areas completely where there have been no new cases for 30 days. I hope that it will be possible to start making progress on both of these actions in the next week or two. But again, disease control must remain the priority.

"I and my ministerial colleagues in many other departments are doing all we can to promote the message that the countryside is not closed. More and more properties and visitor attractions are opening again and being publicised. We hope that over the Easter period the visitors will return. We have provided updated advice to zoo owners and to Royal Parks which will help them to make decisions on whether to re-open.

"My right honourable friend the Minister of State is today participating in the Informal Council of EU Agriculture Ministers on my behalf in northern Sweden. She will be updating colleagues on the progress of the outbreak here. We are continuing to work very closely with our EU colleagues, who remain supportive of the efforts we are taking to bring the outbreak to an end.

"We will continue to channel all our efforts into ensuring that our targets of 24 hours from report to slaughter and 48 hours to culling neighbouring farms are met. With the continued support from members of this House, from the farming organisations and many others, together we can succeed in our aim of eradicating this disease."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.42 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place earlier today and for bringing us up to date on the issue before the Recess.

Your Lordships will be aware from the Statement that these figures are even worse than the backlog figures I recorded last week in our Wednesday debate. While we welcome the EU's appraisal and approval for the possible future use of vaccination and the Government's moves with regard to financial help for farmers, there are still matters of concern.

Perhaps I may again stress our thanks and appreciation to those working in the field to try to ease this terrible situation. The Minister particularly mentioned the Army. I remind the House that in our debate on this matter on 8th March I asked for the Army to be called in.

Everyone hopes that the crisis will be brought under control. The tributes that I have paid reflect the feeling and understanding within the House of the devastation caused not only to families immediately affected in farming but to those in rural businesses and tourism.

As I said earlier, these figures are horrendous. The first figure we had for animals awaiting slaughter was 440,000. Today's figure has increased to 478,000. There is also an increase in the figure of animal disposals from 266,000 to 329,000. Why has the system of reporting changed? How can we be kept up to date during the Recess if those figures are no longer available?

The Statement recorded the increased number of vets and of Army personnel. How many slaughtermen are being used? Are there sufficient slaughtermen to tackle the dreadful backlog?

The Minister touched on zoos. In our previous debate zoos were talked about at greater length. The Statement referred to helping them with their own decisions. We debated the whole question of animal welfare and whether vaccination within zoos might be considered. It is a very difficult problem, but perhaps the Minister will report to us again on it.

Another issue raised was the enormous problem of getting fodder to animals on farms where they are stuck and cannot be moved. The situation is dire. What one sees as one drives through the country is appalling. Have the Government considered airlifting to farms any of that food rather than transporting it by lorry? I mention that issue because this weekend there was an outbreak of the disease in Jedburgh. One of my northern colleagues suggested that there was a lorry taking animal feed from Carlisle to Jedburgh and that it could have been the cause of the outbreak. If that is so, it has huge implications. Perhaps the Minister will reply on that matter.

With regard to money, it is welcomed that the payments are starting so soon. All those affected will be grateful for that. However, will the money include advances to farmers against their eventual compensation payment, particularly with regard to animal welfare because obviously there is a great lack of cash flow at the moment? Further, will the financial aid cover the "over-30 months" scheme and also the lambs which have cut second teeth?

I turn to the question of reinsurance for farmers and insurance for those who want to put on events in the countryside. I was not sure from the Statement whether that issue was covered. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.

I move now to emergency powers. The Statement urges farmers to co-operate with the Government, particularly those who may have infected animals or be close to the culls. Do the Government have existing powers if that co-operation is not forthcoming or do they need to return to Parliament and get extra powers? They have made appeals to farmers, but, understandably, some farmers are reluctant to co-operate with the decisions, particularly when they have clean stock which they hope will not be included. If emergency powers are needed, what are the Government's plans to bring them forward?

The Statement referred to the appointment of some 11 directors of operations. Perhaps the Minister will say whether they are to be MAFF officials or who they are to be. Further, what will their relationship be to the vets, the slaughtermen and the Army? Lastly, who at the end of the day will be in charge of those directors? The Statement is not clear on those matters.

The Minister referred to animals in isolation, animals that are being kept indoors. Will animals which have been kept indoors be exempt from a contiguous cull?

Vaccination was referred to in the Statement. That question has been talked about at some length in this House. I accept that there is no easy option. I think that we all agree with that. What are the criteria that are referred to in the Statement? What will decide the Government to kick in on the question of vaccinations? Are there enough vaccines available? Have the Government considered vaccination of dairy farm cattle first—I do not include beef cattle—because of the possible threat to our milk supply? Again the Statement is not very clear on that subject.

The Statement refers to trying to open more of our countryside. Will that be left as a local decision? If so, how will people find out which parts of the countryside are open, because it may be that within a certain area, or even within a county, some is open and some is closed? Will it be the responsibility of the tourist board to act as a help-line or will there be a MAFF organised help-line in each of those areas?

I have another question. The Statement states: Secondly, once all the necessary veterinary inspections and blood testing have been completed we will be looking to lift one or two infected areas completely where there have been no new cases for 30 days". Is that a simple statement or does it involve anything else?

We on this side of the House very much hope that the Government will reinstate our daily records to keep us informed of the achievements in, and control of, the outbreak. It is crucial that we know that, especially during the Recess when, if the figures are not available, none of us will be able to judge or comment in any way during that time.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place. Have the two new and fairly isolated cases been dealt with by computer modelling? Are there firm theories as to how those cases may have occurred? Is the cause likely to be airborne? What advice has been given, in view of the change in weather conditions in the past few weeks?

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that her colleague mentioned the possibility of a lorry transferring the disease to an isolated place. I think that I asked about that route during questions on the previous Statement about road closures. I hope that the Ministry is keeping under review the issue of road closures and disinfectant points, even in so far uninfected places.

I wonder whether it would be helpful for the Government to think about changing the language slightly from countryside open and countryside closed to something that reflects reality a little more. It is footpaths which are open or closed; the countryside is open everywhere. Indeed, I went to an open event held at a local pottery in the middle of the Somerset Levels at the weekend, and the public were well aware that it was open. It was on the road and very well supported.

The public often go to the countryside just to look. In our discussions on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, noble Lords agreed that the public often do not walk anywhere; they park their cars and look at the view. If they are happy to do that and then visit the local pub, that is marvellous. Perhaps we should remind everyone that that too can be a pleasant activity that people have enjoyed for years.

I have a couple of specific questions to ask the Minister. Has MAFF drawn up plans for the lambs that would normally be exported at this time of year? We usually expect sales of new lambs to be coming on line shortly. There is, I understand, a backlog of 1.6 million hoggets—lambs about a year old—as well as new lambs. I wonder whether the Government are thinking of undertaking a promotional campaign for British lamb to counteract the shortfall in the lamb export market. Given the effectiveness of the licence to slaughter scheme, perhaps not enough is being said about buying British meat. When I shop in local supermarkets, I do not find British meat widely on sale or widely labelled, which is an absolute disgrace.

Finally, I should like to ask the Minister about the animal welfare disposal scheme. I understand that there are difficulties and that farmers are running out of feed. The Minister mentioned that stock are still being kept indoors and that that is being encouraged. But feed is an issue. It is still wet and cold in many places and animals kept outside are suffering severe difficulties. It seems that the intervention board does not have computerised records of the applications made to it and it is suffering a severe backlog. I understand that it is very difficult to get through to the intervention board and, although there is an MPs' hotline, my honourable friend from another place has informed me that it is stone cold. The Minister said that it was put in place as a last resort, which it certainly is, but it must be activated quickly for those in great need. The animal welfare issues are obviously extremely severe.

Will the Minister consider allowing local vets to authorise short distance movements of stock to better conditions, particularly in light of the fact that the intervention board is clearly unable to cope with the vast volume of applications it is receiving at the moment?

4.55 p.m.

Baroness Hayman

I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their contributions, which were, as ever, based on great knowledge.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that there are concerns about the numbers of carcasses awaiting disposal. We are all concerned and that is why so much effort has been put into targeting the 24 hours and 48 hours periods and opening up extra disposal sites. I am the last to be over-optimistic. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that the statistics were extremely gloomy. However, the statistics of the number of cases over the last week were not extremely gloomy; they were not along the worst curve that the epidemiologists predicted. While there is no certainty that that means that the number of cases has reached a plateau, we can say that the graph is not continuing on the curve that was predicted by all the epidemiologists. That reflects the enormous amount of work that is being undertaken.

I can assure the noble Baroness that as long as she has access to a website or telephone to ring the helpline, she can find out the number of new cases, the figures updated during the day and the daily cumulative figures of the animals identified for slaughter, those awaiting slaughter and those awaiting disposal. Those figures will be divided by species.

There was a wobble on those figures because people were anxious to ensure that we were comparing like with like, day by day, week by week. It is not always easy to do that. The number of new cases reported in a single day will not be comparable with the number of infected premises slaughtered out within 24 hours because the figure relates to 24 hours back. The same applies to neighbouring premises slaughtered out in 48 hours, because the figure refers to 48 hours back. We need to ensure that the data are comparable and when that is done the information will be made available.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about airlifting food. She should be careful about that, especially with regard to helicopters, which are great for spreading disease and virus and should not be used in these kinds of circumstances. If transfers are made by lorry, there are basic biosecurity and disinfectant routines to follow, which are extremely important. It is crucial for all livestock farmers, whether or not they have disease on their farms, to act as if they have in terms of movements on and off their farms.

That relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the epidemiology of these new cases. It was always known and suggested by the epidemiologists that there would be what they call "sparking"—new cases beyond infected areas. That would not necessarily be because of wind-borne disease, but because of person-to-person and vehicle movements. Obviously we investigate every case.

I echo what the noble Baroness said about not having a bland message about the countryside being open or closed. It is a matter of footpaths. Some of them are closed because they go through farmland or are near susceptible animals and so should be closed. Some are still being closed on a deeply precautionary basis, which is not based on veterinary or scientific advice. That has a ripple effect on all sorts of other business, of the kind to which the noble Baroness alluded. The matter has to be examined case by case. Some footpaths are closed in some counties, but in counties that do not have a single case, to close all footpaths so that no one can go to a country pub is a deeply damaging message for the rural economy.

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, animals taken under current policies are taken on veterinary advice that they have been exposed to infection. That means that they are being taken under the Animal Health Act. We have the necessary powers and so there is no need for emergency legislation. The noble Baroness asked about vaccination. We have stocks of 500,000 high dose vaccines. We have European cover to vaccinate in Cumbria and in Devon if that should be the policy decision. The noble Baroness asked whether there are enough doses of vaccine. That depends on the intention. If one intends to vaccinate 55 million animals—a mass vaccination—there are not enough doses. It depends on whether one is going for, as the noble Baroness suggested, the dairy herd, the dairy herd in specific areas or vaccination as a firebreak. How much vaccine one needs depends also on whether one is using vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about the welfare disposal scheme. She will be reassured to know that the intervention board has written to everyone who has registered with the scheme. It should be a scheme of last resort. That means we do have to take action to open up the livestock markets—from market to slaughter for uninfected animals—and it is hoped that we can make some progress on that. The noble Baroness's point about LVIs licensing short distance movements is an important one. The frustration involved in getting through to the intervention board has been noted. We have installed a good many extra lines. However, as the noble Baroness said, it is a last resort scheme. It is important to ensure that the urgent welfare cases are dealt with and that the scheme does not become an alternative to the market, particularly in that area of hoggets, to which she referred, where normally there would be an export market.

5.2 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, in East Anglia, where I live, we are fortunate enough not to have this terrible pestilence, yet farmers are still being forced to slaughter thousands of sheep because they cannot move them, despite what the Minister said. They have no more food. The food has run out. The welfare disposal scheme is not working because it is practically impossible, first, to get through and, secondly, to get someone to slaughter the animals. We have thousands of starving sheep. There is chaos. Most of the countryside and footpaths are closed. I am referring to East Anglia and Norfolk. Is the Minister really satisfied with the situation?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I understand that in the very near future Norfolk will reopen many of its footpaths. Of course I am not happy if sheep are in deep distress Norfolk is not an infected area. Those sheep can go, under licence, into the food chain. As I understand it, there are no problems—if the noble Baroness tells me otherwise, I shall be glad to hear it—about licensing into the food chain. There are problems with the welfare disposal scheme. I recognise that. I acknowledged it in my remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. There have been huge problems.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, the noble Baroness has misunderstood that question. My noble friend asked whether the Minister is absolutely satisfied that there are no healthy sheep in uninfected areas that are likely to be killed by the RSPCA because there is no food for them.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I did not understand that to be precisely the question. I am not satisfied that that is the case. That is why we have given a great deal of advice to people about managing welfare problems on farms. We have made it possible to move animals, particularly pregnant ewes, for which there was a problem, either over short distances or on the longer distance movement scheme. We have also introduced as a last resort the welfare disposal scheme. That scheme is not currently operating as it should. The throughput is very limited at the moment. We are making an enormous effort to get more abattoirs working and more landfill sites for eventual disposal working. But—I revert to what I said at the beginning—the most urgent cases come from infected areas where there is no possibility of movement onto the market. Of course, there are also welfare problems in non-infected areas. Of course, everyone is suffering because of the disease. We have put in place a scheme. It is not working as well as it should be. That is why we are putting a great deal of effort into making it work better.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I thank my noble friend, her department and the Army for the efforts they have made. However, there is still concern about the movement of stock and about the application of form D. There are restrictions but farmers have not been told of the restrictions. Farmers have also been subjected to form D but have not been told when the restrictions have been lifted. There are persistent press reports in Cheshire about the movement of carcasses to rendering plants and to the fact that they have been taken in open-top lorries and that spillages are occurring. Can my noble friend comment on those points?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend asked about form D. Farmers should know whether they are under a form D because it has to be personally served on them. Some of the confusion may have arisen because some form Ds are time limited to 21 days and simply expire at the end of that time. That is marked on the form D. Some of them are not time limited and have to be specifically notified. I f there have been problems with that, perhaps my noble friend can let me know.

My noble friend referred to the movement of carcasses. Concern has been expressed on that point. The veterinary risk assessment has been carefully undertaken. The journeys are not in open lorries. They are in lorries that are doubly sealed—once with weighted-down polythene and then with tarpaulins over the top. I am sure that on occasion it will not be impossible to find someone who has not abided by the rules. If that is so, we can follow those up. But the system in place seeks to ensure that when there are trips through non-infected areas they do not pose a disease risk.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, perhaps I may be forgiven for bringing her back for a moment to the welfare scheme. Will she bear in mind the plight of those sheep farmers who brought in their ewes for lambing some weeks ago and in past weeks have lost hundreds if not thousands of ewes and lambs as a result of welfare problems arising not from a lack of food but from very poor physical conditions, which have led to some lambs being smothered and dying of disease in overcrowded sheds and holding fields? Will her department give sympathetic consideration to the losses suffered by farmers in those conditions? Will it recognise that farmers in those conditions, particularly where they are very near foot and mouth areas, really deserve to be compensated at the same rate as their colleagues who have had foot and mouth? In the past week I have had one farmer on the telephone to me saying, "I wish I had foot and mouth on my farm".

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, there are anomalous regimes according to the circumstances in which people find themselves and which are nothing to do with their own intervention. That is a far broader issue of consequential loss at a time of disease that applies in the circumstances described by the noble Lord and in many others as well. The farmers who depend on bed and breakfast activity that they have not been able to carry out have lost income, just as farmers have lost ewes through lambing. Pregnant ewes are a big problem. There have been more than 50,000 applications for licences for movement under the welfare scheme. More than 90 per cent have been granted. As I said earlier, the welfare disposal scheme is a real problem, but we should not forget that we have tackled these problems in some areas and tackled them satisfactorily.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, further to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, I know that the Minister is aware of the communication problems that we have encountered. I know that the Minister is also aware that on Saturday I spent a great deal of time trying to sort out those problems in Worcester. As a result of talking to the vet in the area, I believe that it would be extremely helpful if those groups which are accustomed to working on the telephone and which have local knowledge, such as citizens' advice bureaux and the Samaritans, could greatly help local veterinary services by providing farmers with consolation. We should not forget that farmers are in an extremely anxious and wound-up state. They ring the State Veterinary Service because they are worried about what will happen to their stock. Once they know that the animals have got to die, they accept the situation. However, does the Minister agree that the period in between when farmers do not know exactly what is happening and it appears that no one is able to tell them is particularly stressful? Can the Minister look at this and see whether the problem can be resolved?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Countess has put her finger on an important point. A great deal of work is being done to provide support for people in distress on the national level, primarily through the Rural Stress Information Network. Furthermore, cross-referencing takes place with the Samaritans, the RABI and other organisations. However, there is also an enormous demand at the local level for specific information. Vets on the ground who are desperately getting out to fight the disease have difficulty in trying to deal with those farmers who are one down the line, so to speak. Part of the improvements in regional operations being led by regional operations directors concerns the strengthening of communications efforts in the widest sense. I shall certainly look again at the point made by the noble Countess to see how we can ensure that clear, concise and specifically relevant information is disseminated locally.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, perhaps I may express my astonishment that the Statement made by her right honourable friend made no reference to the dangers posed by the disease being spread via unburied corpses or corpses which have not been disposed of, of which apparently there are 329,000. I appreciate, however, that the noble Baroness touched on this in her later remarks. Is she aware that an increasing number of farmers believe that this has been one of the main reasons for the spread of the disease, in particular the "leap-frogging" of the disease via gulls? The birds eat the meat from carcasses. Does the noble Baroness know that recently in Cumbria, after lying on the ground for several days, a pile of corpses was about to be moved with a JCB? As soon as work began, a host of rats escaped from the pile to make their way to neighbouring farms. Will the noble Baroness now admit that, contrary to the Government's comment that a minimal risk of disease spread is posed by corpses, there is a real danger? Just as a target has been set for the period between diagnosis and slaughter, will she set a target for the period between slaughter and disposal?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, a target was set for the period between slaughter and disposal at the beginning of the outbreak, as was a target set for the period between diagnosis and slaughter. The problem lies not in setting targets, but in fulfilling those targets when hundreds of thousands of animals have to be dealt with. I know that the noble Lord is concerned about this issue and I know that he does not accept the veterinary advice that I have received and have then transmitted to him on earlier occasions. However, I shall repeat that advice as clearly as I can.

When animals have been slaughtered on infected premises, the foot and mouth virus will survive in some tissues. For that reason, the outsides of the carcasses are sprayed with disinfectant to kill any surface virus. For those carcasses to contribute to further spread of the disease, it is necessary for the carcasses to come into contact with susceptible animals. Controls on infected premises prevent people from removing anything from them. In most cases where the epidemiology has been examined, it has been found that aerosol transmission from person to animal and from vehicles leaving infected premises to outside flocks and herds have been the sources of further outbreaks. The vast majority of new cases can be traced back to such sources. There is no risk of aerosol transmission from decomposing carcasses because of the pH levels. I know that the noble Lord does not like me to refer to pH levels, but the scientific advice is very clear on this: decomposition after rigor mortis reduces infectivity except in bone—that is why animals that are imported have to be de-boned and so forth. Of course there remains a minimal risk from scavenging animals, but that comes very low down the list of risks of transmission.

The noble Lord is absolutely right: in an ideal world, one would dispose of all the carcasses instantaneously. However, it is not possible to dispose of 1 million carcasses instantaneously. If priorities have to be set, the main priority has to be given to stopping live animals from exhaling the virus and thus infecting other animals.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend on the clarity of the information now being given. In particular I point to the clear distinction being drawn between the need to institute the 24-hour cull policy on infected farms and then the need to institute the 48-hour slaughter on the adjoining farms. Although some concerns are still being expressed about the latter priority, is it not now clear, from the information given last week by epidemiologists in a MAFF briefing available to all noble Lords, that the best guarantee of "bringing down the curve" in infection rates over the next few weeks is, as I have said, to institute the 24-hour cull policy on infected farms, followed by the 48-hour cull on adjoining farms? As the Minister has now made this point very clear, everyone should get behind that policy.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend is right. I should say to him that sometimes delays occur not through what is always referred to as bureaucracy, but because a farmer will not readily accept that animals free of symptoms need to be culled. Farmers care about their animals; they care about the dairy and beef herds that they have built up over many years. Some think that it is possible to wait and see whether the disease develops. Sadly, those animals can be free of symptoms but infectious. That is why the 48-hour cull on adjoining farms is absolutely crucial to the policy. Furthermore, that is why everyone needs to understand the scientific basis for the 48-hour cull and why the co-operation of all concerned, hard though it is, is absolutely crucial in the fight against disease.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, can I ask the noble Baroness how much money has been spent advertising the fact that the countryside is open? Would it not have been more sensible, in the effort to encourage people to go to the countryside, to try to persuade the media not to display such grotesque pictures in our national newspapers and on television?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I do not believe that those two things are mutually exclusive. Sometimes the only way to get the truth into the media is to pay for it, which is why the informative advertising campaign, which I believe has cost something over £1 million, is extremely worthwhile. It is important for people to understand that there is no single, simple, blanket message. Different circumstances do apply and the public should not be led to believe that everything is closed because certain footpaths are closed. We have welcomed the opening by the National Trust and by English Heritage of a number of major tourist attractions. For example, I understand that Stonehenge is about to reopen. Such moves transmit important signals. We need to give people clear information based on scientific and veterinary advice, and that needs to be done without interventions from the media, who sometimes prefer a good story to the boring detail. For that reason, the campaign represents money well spent.

Earl Peel

My Lords, in the Statement the Minister referred to certain farmers who have been moving stock without a licence. Regrettably, I can confirm that that is the case. I mentioned that point when we debated this matter last week. I urge the Government to take very strong action against those few bad apples that are letting the side down. I know of a case in my part of the world where precisely this has been done. To the best of my knowledge, unfortunately the farming family concerned has got away with it. It has caused a great deal of consternation in the Yorkshire Dales and, again, I urge the Minister to take action.

I should like to ask one further question on the issue of hefted flocks. So far as I know, to date we have not been given a clear directive from the Government as regards how they will cope if the disease gets into hefted flocks in the fells, the Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors. Fortunately, it has not happened yet—but I fear that the way things are going there is a real danger that it will.

I appreciate that, at the moment, most of the ewes are off the hill and on the in-by land, but when they go back on to the open fells, if there was an infection, how on earth would the Government deal with the problem? Would they introduce vaccination; would they allow the disease simply to go through the flocks; or would they instigate a mass slaughter? We need some direction from the Minister as to how she and her department would deal with such a very unfortunate situation if it were to arise.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, it is an extremely worrying situation. At the moment, when we have potential cases of this kind, we carry out a very detailed analysis to try to apply the principles of contiguous premises in circumstances which are far from the normality. It is an enormous anxiety. There is a debate about exactly the kind of options described by the noble Earl. Vaccination—perhaps not of the sheep themselves but of neighbouring cattle—would be a possibility. But any action involving vaccination would have the repercussions that we debated last week.

Earl Peel

My Lords, with the greatest respect, debate will simply not be enough. I am looking for a definitive statement from the Government informing the House of how they will deal with such a situation if it were to arise.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Earl will not get that definitive statement today. I am not going to tell him something in order to be definitive and risk it being wrong. We have not yet reached exactly the situation that the noble Earl described. I can merely reassure him that a great deal of work is going on in order that, were we to be in those circumstances, we would have done the least worst thing. I can assure the noble Earl that it will be the least worst thing rather than any ideal solution.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, the letter that was sent out today urging all livestock farmers to co-operate is entirely appropriate and is in keeping with all of the action taken so far. However, I am concerned when I hear that a very small number of farmers will resist. If this should be the case and they challenge a decision through the courts, will it be possible to prosecute such cases with great speed? Clearly time will be of the essence—I am talking hours rather than days or weeks—for the hearing of such cases for the general good of all farmers in the vicinity.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the ideal is for peer pressure and an understanding by individuals to result in co-operation with a policy that is in everyone's interest. It is possible under the Animal Health Act for action to be taken without consent. Obviously, no one wants to get into that position. It is equally possible for there to be judicial review of such a decision. Then it is up to the courts to decide whether the policy must be halted in the interim—I am grateful to see the noble Lord nodding—or whether the current policy should continue while judicial review proceedings go through. So I am afraid that, again, I cannot give a simple or absolutely certain answer.