§ 3.37 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 for Agriculture. The Statement is as follows:
"I want to update the House on the latest position with regard to the foot and mouth disease outbreak. I also want to set out how the Government are taking forward disease control measures given our increased knowledge about how the disease has spread.
"At 1 p.m. today there have been 240 confirmed cases in the United Kingdom: 205,000 animals have been condemned for destruction, of which more than three quarters have already been slaughtered. This is out of a total UK cattle, sheep and pig population of more than 55 million.
"Out of 160,000 livestock farms throughout the United Kingdom, 1,200 have been placed under restriction because of a confirmed or suspected case of the disease. We have been able to lift restrictions on over 660 of these farms, leaving less than 550 farms still restricted.
"This is a devastating disease for farming and for rural communities affected. I want to express my deepest sympathy for those farmers who have lost their herds and flocks, and to the wider farming communities who are going through a time of terrible uncertainty and distress.
"I was also sorry to learn of a confirmed case in France earlier in the week. As far as I understand it, there have been no further cases on the Continent. We have stayed in close contact with the European Commission and other European countries' veterinary authorities. They have all strongly supported the firm action taken in the UK to control the disease and prevent its spread.
"From the outset the Government have put firm disease control measures rapidly in place. Every action that has been taken is on the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer.
"Each day we have learned more about the outbreak. Epidemiological investigations—and the incubation of disease in livestock—have revealed 992 the mechanisms by which the disease has spread. As our understanding has increased, I have shared new information with the House through daily briefings.
"The disease has spread mainly through movements of sheep and subsequent mixing of animals at a small number of livestock markets. It is important to stress that the vast majority of disease spread around the country took place before 20th February when the outbreak was first discovered in Essex.
"With increased knowledge about how the disease has spread, the Government have been able to refine disease control measures. In the infected areas the Government have intensified controls. Where possible we have allowed movement, for example, to allow licensed movements to slaughter and short movements for welfare reasons.
"The Government are working to five key disease control aims: first, to keep free of disease those areas of the country that are disease free; secondly, to halt the deterioration of the disease situation in Devon; thirdly, to stop the spread of the disease in the north of England and south-west Scotland—we are increasingly seeing localised spread from sheep flock to sheep flock in Scotland and from cattle to cattle in Cumbria—fourthly, to minimise the spread of the disease from Longtown, Welshpool and Northampton markets, where it has been identified that infection has been present; and fifthly, to eliminate infection in flocks that have passed through dealers known to have handled infected flocks. And, of course, we shall keep this strategy under constant review.
"Taking each of these issues in turn, I shall set out the action the Government are taking. First, in areas that are currently disease free, we shall be establishing a new type of controlled area within which we hope eventually to allow a more normal level of activity both in agriculture and the rural community. But in the short term the priority will be to avoid the risk of importing the disease into these clean areas by movements of animals from areas where there is infection. In addition we shall be identifying any high risk movements of sheep which took place before 23rd February. These sheep will be destroyed to ensure that any possibility of infection is removed.
"Secondly, in Devon the disease has been spreading from farm to farm due to the nature of agriculture with lots of small farms, dense animal populations, movements of people and equipment. The strategy here will be to have an intensive patrol to all farms within three kilometres of the infected farm. Each farm will be visited and inspected by veterinary or trained lay staff to ensure that cases of foot and mouth disease are identified as soon as possible to prevent onward spread.
"Thirdly, the large focus on infection in the north of England and southern Scotland has been mostly concentrated in the sheep flock although there is now cattle to cattle spread in Cumbria. There are a considerable number of cases in this area with the 993 potential for rapid spread to adjacent farms and even further afield. In this case we must still ensure that infected animals are removed as quickly as possible and in order to do this it will be necessary to destroy animals within the three kilometre zones on a precautionary basis.
"Fourthly, we now have clear evidence that sheep from the markets in the Welshpool, Northampton and Longtown areas were exposed to disease and there is reason to suspect that, with the passage of time, numbers of flocks into which these sheep were imported may become infected. These flocks will be removed as dangerous contacts. Fifthly, the same approach will be taken to sheep handled during the high risk period by two major dealers who have been associated with the movements of infected sheep.
"This is a policy of safety first. We are intensifying the slaughter of animals at risk in the areas of the country—thankfully still limited—where the disease has spread. And then, provided that the other areas remain disease free, we can, over the next week to 10 days, consider modifying restrictions in the areas that have remained clean.
"We are deeply conscious of the animal welfare problems that have been posed by the movement restrictions that we have had to put in place for disease control reasons. We made arrangements last week for a number of local licensed movements, which will, I hope, have alleviated a proportion of these problems. We were not, however, then able to provide for longer distance movements of animals caught in the wrong place, for example, sheep that are "on tack" on dairy farms in England. I shall be publishing later today the principles of a scheme for moving such animals, necessarily under very tight restrictions. The general principle will be that animals can be moved within a presently controlled area, or within the currently disease free areas, or into an area of higher disease risk, but not the other way around. It is my intention that farmers will be able to apply for licences for such movement over the weekend.
"These arrangements will not, of course, be able to deal with all the welfare problems which animals are facing. Some animals will be unable to move because of their condition; others will be unable to move because they are in infected areas. Where animal welfare problems cannot be alleviated by local action, by which I mean husbandry action, we shall be putting in place arrangements for their disposal at public expense. This scheme will apply across the United Kingdom. Payments will be made for such animals, broadly on the lines of those adopted by the Government in East Anglia last autumn for the pig welfare disposal scheme.
"I should emphasise that this is a voluntary scheme. It will be for individual farmers to decide whether to offer livestock to the scheme. Acceptances will depend upon certification by a vet that a welfare problem exists or is about to emerge.
"The licence to slaughter scheme introduced on 2nd March has allowed the meat trade to begin operating again, although on a necessarily limited 994 basis. The latest estimate of the Meat and Livestock Commission is that the pig sector is back to 78 per cent of normal production, beef is at 68 per cent and lamb is at 30 per cent of normal production. Veterinary advice does not recommend the setting up a system of collection centres, although I have to tell the House that the option is being kept under review.
"The control of foot and mouth disease is a major logistical exercise. In this task we are drawing on the expertise of many public sector organisations, particularly those with field organisations or specialist knowledge and expertise including the Ministry of Defence, the Environment Agency, the Meat and Livestock Commission and my ministry's own agencies. The Ministry of Defence is deploying a logistic planning team, drawn from Land Command, to provide advice on the planning and management of my ministry's and other civil resources. We have also been offered support from a wider range of private organisations. In addition there has been international support, particularly in the provision of veterinary staff to help with the disease control programme. I am enormously grateful for all of this support.
"Disease control measures have had a major impact on non-farm businesses in rural areas, and in particular the tourism industry. Yesterday my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport explained to the House what the Government are doing to help those sectors.
"A new task force has met to take this work forward. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment will make further announcements next week. My ministry will continue to provide targeted advice and guidance from the Chief Veterinary Officer on the risks associated with a range of activities in the countryside.
"Movement control measures in place are keeping the spread of the disease to an absolute minimum. Slaughtering out of infected farms and dangerous contacts is bearing down on the disease where it exists. An intensified slaughter policy in respect of animals thought to be at risk of developing the disease will, of course, add to this effort. As further cases emerge we shall learn more about the way the outbreak has developed, and this will inform any further refinements of the control policy as necessary. And of course I shall continue to keep the House informed.
"Foot and mouth disease is a personal tragedy for those affected, and a body blow to the livestock industry as a whole. Again, I express the Government's deepest sympathy for those affected; I also want to express my support and appreciation of the State Veterinary Service, the farming organisations and all those others who are involved in combating the disease and dealing with its consequences. I continue to appeal to the public for their co-operation. It is important to remember that the key risk is contact with susceptible livestock, The 995 precautionary measures should be focused on bearing down on that risk. There is no need to bring all aspects of rural activity to a standstill. So while the disease is still with us I renew my appeal to the public to avoid unnecessary visits to livestock farms, and where visits are unavoidable, to take the precautions advised.
"I am grateful for the support of the House for the Government's actions. It is important that we set aside party politics in dealing with this outbreak. If the whole country works together and works constructively then we shall get through this".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. We should like to record our thanks for her work in the long debate on Tuesday when she listened to our many concerns and responded so well to questions that we posed. We express our gratitude to the vets, the officials, farming organisations, local authority workers and everyone who is busy working out there on the front line. We express our deepest sympathy to all farmers who are struggling and having the distressing experience of seeing their animals slaughtered. I acknowledge the difficulties being suffered by many people, other than farmers, who are living in rural areas and who have a variety of businesses facing very difficult financial circumstances at this time. We are all involved in this dreadful disaster. We support the Government in the efforts that they are making.
I have seven questions for the Minister. We are particularly pleased to hear that the Government are adopting a scheme similar to the pig welfare disposal scheme which I know will be across all species; it is not just for pigs. First, what percentage of market value is the Government estimating giving to farmers who voluntarily put their animals in for slaughter?
Secondly, on the question of burial of livestock there are conflicting views. In some areas it is possible to bury livestock, but there are some areas where the water course is at an undue high state and obviously those areas are unsuitable for burying. Is it anticipated that livestock will be buried on individual farms, or is the Ministry looking to have sites in the locality to which animals could be taken for burial in large numbers? The 1967 report recommended burial as one form of coping with the disposal of carcasses rather than burning. I would be grateful for greater clarification.
Thirdly, the Government have indicated that they are taking on extra help, particularly from the Army, in respect of slaughter and acceleration of disposal of carcasses. Is the Minister satisfied because, sadly, since the first Statement in this House the number of cases has doubled—we are up to 240? Has the Minister enough available help in whatever form, either through the Ministry or private means?
996 Fourthly, I turn to the veterinary inspection. When a vet is reasonably suspicious of a foot and mouth case does it need a MAFF vet to confirm it or can the vet on site at that moment declare it as such, and therefore slaughtering can go ahead? One or two of the criticisms have been that there has been a delay. The Minister will understand that if the vet on duty is unable to clarify that, and they wait for another vet, it does take time. Is there to be greater use of trainee vets, and I refer also to the use of hunt servants about whom we spoke previously?
Fifthly, during the debate on Tuesday the Minister mentioned that the banks and the Government were to meet yesterday. Although it is not in the Statement today, can the Minister give an up-date on any information that would give help to those farmers who have a dreadful cash flow and cannot see where they are going? Would the Government consider giving help to them in the meantime?
Sixthly, I turn to the question of movement. There is great concern among the farming community and the wider community about the movement of slaughtered animals to rendering plants. I understand the advantages of using rendering plants. It is a real concern for people out there. They are concerned that those vehicles used should be completely sealed so that there is no risk of an infected vehicle going through a non-infected area and passing on infection.
Seventhly, I turn to infectivity. I understood that Nick Brown said that infectivity could be for a longer period than two weeks. Until now we understood that infectivity was anything from three days and up to two weeks. I should be grateful for clarification on that. There are other questions that Members will want to ask. I should like to give the Minister plenty of time to answer the questions that I have posed. I thank the Minister for her hard work and the way in which she has come back to the House and kept us informed.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, from these Benches we add our sympathy to the great number of farmers who have been affected and the other rural businesses. Since our debate on Tuesday there has been the sad news of the first farming suicide directly linked to this situation. We join with the comments of appreciation for the hard work of MAFF officials, other workers and local authority staff, some of whom have been hardly sleeping. They have been working all the hours that they possibly can. We welcome the announcement by the Minister of a policy of eradicating any sheep from suspected markets. We agree thoroughly with the policy of trying to get ahead of the disease as best as it can be done. Can the Minister clarify that where there is an unconfirmed suspicion of disease on a farm there will be a decision taken to slaughter rather than to wait any longer for that negative result?
Devon is an area of very small farms. Small farmers will have less income or no income to cushion themselves from the results of this problem. Will the DSS send out guidelines to farmers to inform them of 997 their entitlements so that they do not have the burden of making what can sometimes be very lengthy inquiries? Can the DSS produce a standard form in consultation with MAFF? Has the Minister had discussions with colleagues about the use of disinfectant regarding people coming from the infected area of France to Britain? Clearly, that is an issue.
I hesitate to ask the Minister whether she feels that the Government's message to the public about visiting the countryside is clear enough. I listened carefully to what the Minister for the Environment, Michael Meacher, said when interviewed. It did not seem to me that there was a very clear message and that some disease free areas and other areas could be visited. I was in the South West yesterday and people are desperate that the public are not encouraged to visit unnecessarily. It seems to me that that message is still somewhat confused by those who are concerned about tourist attractions losing their business—and I thoroughly sympathises with those people—but the name of the game, as the Minister indicated, is to eradicate the disease. There must be a clear message of no visiting and no movement that is unnecessary. If the result of that is consequential compensation for areas heavily tourist dependent then that is something that the Government need to consider.
Finally, I thank the Minister for her tremendous commitment in answering questions in this House and for her hard work outside the House.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of both noble Baronesses, in particular for the staff who have been working tremendously long hours. For obvious reasons, they tend to be criticised if and when something goes wrong while they are doing in the main a tremendously good job under enormous pressure and changing circumstances.
I deal, first, with the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. We are working on the details of the welfare disposal scheme. We shall make them public. It is not a substitute market; it is a welfare disposal scheme. It will be broadly based on the pig welfare disposal scheme. If the noble Baroness will forgive me, I shall not cite exact numbers or proportions at this time. We shall make those available. For some people there will be commercial decisions about whether to go into the scheme.
Burial has always been an option on individual farms. It has not been taken up to the extent that it was in 1967 for two reasons. The first is the increased concern about environmental effects. Burial has to be checked with the Environment Agency in terms of the effect on water courses. The water table being so high this year has ruled out burial in some circumstances. Equally, we have been dealing with larger numbers of animals per farm than in 1967. There is a possibility of landfill sites being used rather than on-farm burial. We are investigating those urgently and hope to make an announcement about potential landfill sites for burial.
998 The Statement gave the number of organisations, civil and military, which are providing support. The noble Baroness is right that it is an enormous logistical task. We have had a great deal of help already. More is coming in all the time. I hope that the logistical support team will identify in particular where additional resources are most necessary and will free up some veterinary resource which is the most difficult to access immediately because of the need for training. The noble Baroness also asked about trainee vets We are considering the possibility of using veterinary college students in their final or penultimate year to undertake some of the work, perhaps in Devon, involving regular visiting and patrolling of farms. Other lay people could also be trained for such tasks.
I do not believe that diagnosis is being held up in relation to laboratory results. In the vast majority of cases—the Chief Veterinary Officer told me today that it is about 80 per cent—diagnosis is made when the vet on the farm telephones headquarters. If they are satisfied from the description of the clinical signs that there is disease, it is confirmed there and then without waiting for laboratory results. Arrangements are then made for slaughter on-farm at the earliest possible opportunity. All noble Lords understand why it is important that the subsequent disposal is done quickly.
When I said recently that we were meeting the banks "tomorrow" there was a slight irony in my voice; I said it just after midnight so it was already Wednesday. The meeting should have started five minutes ago. We shall have further talks with the banks after their initial response to try to make some assistance available to their farming customers.
Perhaps I may give further reassurance on the movement to rendering plants. I know that there has been concern, particularly when there has been movement through areas of the country without infection. Despite the pressure to bring rendering plants on-stream early, such movement was not started before the CVO had reassured himself that the risks had been totally minimised. That is because one is dealing with corpses rather than live animals; they will have been sprayed with disinfectant; the lorries are adequately sealed; and there is a disinfectant regime after the rendering plants. Another rendering plant in the South West has now come on-stream. We hope to announce two more in due course.
On infectivity—I note that the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, is in his place; he will tell me if I get this wrong—there are two issues. First, there is the period of time during which an animal may be infectious, some of which is before it shows clinical signs. The height of infectivity is in the early stages of clinical signs. There will be a tail-off of infectivity. That period may be about seven days. Secondly, the noble Baroness asked about the two-week period. The normal parameters for the incubation period are three to 14 days. But in the first case—the pigs were very close together and highly infected—we saw signs in 36 hours. Just as the period can be shorter, I believe that 999 it can also be longer. I understand that three to 14 days would be the text-book description of the incubation period for symptoms.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, asked me about disease and identification and the wait for negative results. I understand what she says. Those are based not only on the clinical symptoms but also on the epidemiology. The noble Baroness will understand that the veterinary judgment about a suspect case in Devon in the centre of an infected area may be speedier than that for a new, suspect case in a totally clean area when people will want to assure themselves that they are dealing with a case of foot and mouth disease—in particular if we are dealing with sheep when it could be orf or something else. But I am sure that there is no undue delay.
The noble Baroness rightly points out the need for the Department of Social Security to offer guidelines on benefits. It has already taken action on that, as has the Inland Revenue, with its local offices, in terms of the working families' tax credit. I take on board her suggestion about giving information directly to farmers and those in allied industries who are also being laid off temporarily.
Controls were put on the movements from the area of France where the disease has been identified. I take on board her point about disinfectant.
As regards advice on visiting the countryside, I agree with the noble Baroness. I think that there have been different interpretations of the veterinary risk and the advice available. We are trying to clarify that advice. I understand what the noble Baroness says about those in the South West who are desperate not to see the slightest risk of spreading disease. Equally, people in the South West who are dependent on tourism, while desperate not to spread the disease, are concerned about unnecessarily compromising wider parts of the rural economy. We are not dealing only with the rural economy. There are reports of cancellations by visitors from overseas to London. We must have a proportionate response. We can do that best by promulgating clear advice about the veterinary risks. That is one of the first tasks of the working party. I hope that it will be completed at the end of this week.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, I well remember that donkey's years ago, when I was a young boy, my father experienced an outbreak of foot and mouth in Cheshire. I warmly congratulate the Minister and her department on their rapid response to this disease. Unhappily, we now have a secondary outbreak that includes Somerset and other parts of the country. I have a more important and, I hope, helpful point for the Minister. I hope that she agrees that, disastrous though the loss of animals is for those concerned, the number involved is only a small proportion of our national stocks and herds. We hope that the outbreak 1000 will be over within a few weeks or months. We should then still have supreme confidence in the quality of our pedigree herds.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We should in no way diminish the seriousness of the outbreak, but it has affected a tiny proportion of the livestock and livestock farmers in the country—less than 1 per cent of each. Even with the significant measures we have announced today, there will be a substantial high-quality industry to rebuild in the future.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I associate myself with all the tributes that have been paid to the Minister for her work and to those who are trying to cope with this dreadful disease and all its effects. There undoubtedly have been delays and problems. We all understand that they are due mainly to the amazing geographical spread of the disease and the dreadful rapidity with which it developed. I have two points to make. First, I am grateful to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for his remarkable gift to the agricultural charities. I am sure that your Lordships want that to be recognised in this House and an expression of thanks to be conveyed to His Royal Highness. I appeal to those individuals and organisations who have it in their means to follow his example, even if not with equal generosity, by supporting the work of the charities that are doing such remarkable work at the moment helping to sustain the farming community.
The Minister has helpfully set out the Government's plans for allowing—or hoping to allow—some greater freedom of movement. I should like to press the point about farmers who have in-lamb ewes far from their farms. Many of them wish with desperate urgency to enable those ewes to come back to where the lambing needs to take place. In areas that are completely free of infection, such as west Wales or Sussex, is it not possible for movements of 20, 30 or 40 miles to be authorised with immediate effect, provided the transport is done with proper care and precaution? That very urgent need cannot wait even until next week.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I echo the comments of the right reverend Prelate on his first point and acknowledge the work that is being done by all the voluntary organisations, particularly those who are giving not only financial but emotional support and counselling to affected families. I take on board the urgency of some of the welfare movements, particularly for in-lamb ewes. The circumstances that the right reverend Prelate described would be covered by the welfare scheme that we are working out. I cannot offer him immediate implementation of part of that scheme only because we have to be certain all the time that we do not spread the disease. That means that when we implement a new scheme, particularly for long-distance movements, we have to have in place 1001 the regulations for licensing and assessment by a veterinary authority that these are the right things to do. I promise that we shall do it as speedily as we can.
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the work she has done inside and outside the House. All our sympathies go out to the wider farming community. Following on the point about pregnant ewes, is it not possible to help farmers who have to lamb in the open by providing finance for temporary buildings to reduce their losses?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, we have given advice on how to minimise loss when ewes have to lamb away from home. I shall look into the issue of financial support that my noble friend has raised.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, I declare an interest. My family has a dairy farm in west Gloucestershire with a number of outbreaks distressingly close to it. My question sounds very gloomy, particularly in view of the point that the Minister made that the percentage of the national herd so far infected is very small. However, I am frequently asked the question. I do not in any way want to call the Government's present policy of slaughter into question. But at what stage in a worst case scenario do they contemplate abandoning it? Presumably, they do not contemplate slaughtering the last but one herd in England to preserve the last herd. If the outbreaks continue to spread and we have a genuine worst case scenario, at what point does it become impossible or undesirable to maintain the slaughter policy?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I shall follow the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer, which is not to make predictions and not to deal with hypothetical situations. I assure the noble Viscount that we are looking at contingencies and adapting policy as the situation progresses. We have not yet reached the stage that he describes and I hope that we shall not do so.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the problems of deciding to move apparently healthy animals is that they can have the virus before it is clinically apparent? That is one of the great difficulties of contact between animals. If they are moved too quickly, they may move the infection before they are seen to have foot and mouth disease. Does the Minister have any new information on the origin of the present virus and how it got into this country? After this is all over—or maybe while it is still going on—can we have a method of alerting international travellers that we do not permit fresh meat and meat products to come into this country? We should make it an offence to import such products without permission, as is the case in the United States. Those of us who have visited the United States know that one has to make a declaration on the customs form. Could there be a similar declaration for visitors coming to this country?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. We have no further information on the 1002 cause of what we believe to be the initial outbreak, but there is no change in the view that the first case was at the pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall. No older incidence of the disease has been identified. The noble Lord is right to point out that we need to look closely not only at the regulatory framework, which is tightly drawn for commercial and personal imports from areas that have the disease, but at the enforcement of that framework. That work has already been commissioned and will be undertaken. We are fighting the disease.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister has taken heart from the understanding that has flowed towards her from around the House, especially from those who live in communities that are suffering dreadfully. I do not know of any man, woman or child in the whole country, including those of us who live in urban areas and do not have contact with the problem, who does not share the agony that has been suffered particularly by those who live in farming communities. Will she accept our enormous gratitude for the attitude that she and her ministerial colleagues in the Government have displayed? As far as I am concerned, taxpayers pay their taxes to deal with a national crisis. If the Minister wants reassurance that that is what is required to help to solve the problem, I am sure that the House and the whole country would be more generous in supporting her.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments. The denial of access to the countryside has made people who do not live there even more aware of how much we are one nation in this response. In terms of resources, there has certainly been no constraint on the Chief Veterinary Officer with regard to what he needs to do or what he recommends in fighting the disease.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, in thanking the Minister for all her efforts in recent weeks, I take it that everything she has said today about the regulations applies to Scotland as well as to England. Although I cannot go to my home in Dumfries, I am assured by everyone there that the area is devastated. They have put forward three key issues. They have asked, first, when they may hear something about financial help to farmers over and above the £160 million of agrimoney that they are owed anyway; secondly, when financial help will be made available for tourism, which is at an absolute full stop; and, thirdly, subject to what has happened following the Lockerbie air disaster, whether the Government propose to provide financial help to the local authority for all the most effective extra work that it is presently doing to keep the disease away from the area.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, we are well aware that local authorities are incurring extra costs as a result of the issuing of licences and the patrolling of movement restrictions. That will be borne in mind in the assessment of claims for compensation and for support and aid that are being made. As the noble 1003 Lord is aware, we have brought forward £156 million of agrimonetary compensation. Farmers are compensated in full for the value of destroyed herds. I know that, over and above that, there are still concerns about financial consequences, but I believe that the House recognises how wide they go and how difficult it is to assess where one can draw any particular line.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, anyone visiting the MAFF website will be struck by the number of cases that have arisen from two dealers. I should like to ask the Minister, first, whether the delay in tracing some of those cases has been due to ill-kept records. Every animal keeper is required to keep an animal movements book, and I know that many dealers have difficulty keeping records. Will the Minister tell us to what extent the failure to keep proper records has caused the delay?
Secondly—I regret that I have not given the Minister notice of this—it has been reported in the press that private veterinary practices are refusing to help the MAFF vets because of the fees that MAFF is offering. I observe that everybody in the farming community and in the country is making sacrifices left, right and centre. It might be helpful if the vets could also make such sacrifices.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, with regard to the latter point, I am sure that the veterinary associations will note what the noble Countess has said. We have had a very good response. The size of the State Veterinary Service has effectively doubled during the present outbreak as a result of temporary veterinary inspectors coming in to assist. I know that discussion is taking place about the level of fees.
With regard to the issue of recordkeeping, almost by definition, one cannot be aware of non-existent, or sometimes bad, recordkeeping. The main problem has occurred at markets where out-of-ring transactions have taken place. Clear records exist of transactions that take place under the auspices of auctioneers and valuers. In the case of out-of-ring transactions, although both the purchaser and the vendor may have kept their own appropriate movement records, no central list is available, which has undoubtedly created tracing difficulties.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, returning to the question of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, will my noble friend tell me a little more about the movement of pregnant ewes in infected areas? I understand what is to happen in areas that are not infected. I hate to return again to the problem in Radnor, but some farmers there cannot move their pregnant ewes one mile to a field in their own ownership, and that is causing a certain amount of stress. I should be grateful if my noble friend would assure me that there will be some flexibility in that regard.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we shall do everything possible to facilitate 1004 movements which do not increase disease risk. Until now, we have allowed very short movements in infected areas. Under the new scheme that we propose to put into effect, it may be possible to allow longer movements. The difficulty occurs in allowing any movement from an infected area into an area that is currently clean, which will be the case when some ewes need to return to west Wales, which is clean, from the South West, where there is infection. However, we should be able to solve the problems that exist in infected areas.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether she is completely convinced that her department is right in not telling the horse racing industry that horse racing should for the moment be completely banned?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am convinced that my department's responsibility is to give veterinary risk-assessment advice. We have taken very firm action to ban the highest risk; namely, the movement of susceptible livestock. We have taken action to provide veterinary advice, whether to associations of walkers, to the horse racing board or to tourism, about the risk assessment. We cannot take decisions in respect of every activity or sporting event. On veterinary advice, we have to ensure that if there is no argument for banning an event, we allow the risk-minimisation and risk-management advice to be given, on which people will take their own decisions.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I have to declare an interest as a dairy farmer in Suffolk—a county which to my knowledge, thank God, has not yet been affected. Despite the good work being done by the Minster's department, there is, as she probably knows, increasing criticism of the length of time taken to dispose of corpses. Will the Minister consider handing over that responsibility to the Army, especially to the Royal Engineers, who have the equipment, the ability and the discipline to deal with it? This morning I talked to two Cumbrian farmers who are very worried that the disease may be spread by carrion, birds, foxes and rats from corpses that may take four or five days to dispose of.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point about the importance of ensuring a speedy destruction of corpses. We shall take advice from the logistical unit of the Ministry of Defence as to the best mechanism for achieving that, whether it be by a private contractor or the Army. As I said on Tuesday, I quite understand the distress that is caused by the problem. In terms of disease control, however, the priority is the slaughter of the animals. Following slaughter, the animals cannot exhale the virus, they are sprayed with disinfectant and their decomposition changes the pH levels in the meat. The risk of transmission of the disease is therefore minimised to 1005 an insignificant level. However, we recognise that the disposal of corpses is still enormously distressing, and we want to deal with it as quickly as possible.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I believe that there is confusion in some people's minds about the contradiction between allowing stock to remain on a farm once it is dead, which the Minister told us on Tuesday was acceptable because of the minimal risk, and transporting the same stock to a rendering plant with the significantly greater protection of disinfection and containment in a sealed lorry. If stock has to go through that amount of additional protection, why is it still safe to leave it on a farm for days after its death?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, we need to understand the distances with which we are dealing and the amount of movement involved. We also need to understand that, in some cases, as has been pointed out, lorries are being taken through non-infected areas. Rightly, everyone wants to ensure that our approach in that respect is as precautionary as possible. That is why we are taking precautions in relation to lorries.
Equally, we need to ensure the rapid disposal of animals on farms, and we are doing everything that we can to speed that up. I was simply trying to explain to the House that the risks of animals remaining on farms after slaughter are much lower than those of having diseased live animals on farms. We do not want any risk at all and we are doing everything to speed up disposal.