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Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): My constituency abuts that of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). As south Devon is a peninsula, has the Minister considered asking local authorities to put matting on all roads leading into the area? Is he aware that farmers are having problems because disinfectant supplies are drying up?
Will the Minister say something not only about national parks but about the south Devon coastline, which has a heritage trail that people have continued to walk during the weekend and today? Those people, who include farmers from Norfolk, have walked on livestock farms.
Mr. Brown: As a result of the NFU president's representations to me earlier today, I have asked for inquiries to be made so that we can be certain that we have sufficient stocks of disinfectant. That is a perfectly proper point for the hon. Gentleman to raise.
It is hard to make regulations that enable people to enjoy the countryside while ensuring that they stay away from livestock and other farmed animals. However, I appeal to people to do so. The most important point is to make sure that we do not spread the disease, and then we can contain and extinguish it. As the disease is primarily spread by the movement of animals, we have halted that practice so that we can isolate and extinguish it. I appeal to people to stay away from farm animals. Although it is a more remote possibility, there is a chance that such a virulent strain of the disease will be spread by people and vehicles.
Mr. Brown: I am satisfied that the veterinary profession can identify the disease. I think it is harder for farmers to identify because we have not seen it in this country for 20 years. Nevertheless, we have a two-way method of control. In addition to our vets following up the cases that might have got the disease from contact with infected areas, we rely on farmers and their private vets to ring the Ministry and prioritise what they believe are suspicious cases. My hon. Friend is correct to say that the vulnerable animals are sometimes kept as domestic pets.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): There is a considerable sense of foreboding and anxiety in Anglesey because there is a suspected case of foot and mouth at the abattoir in Gaerwen. I understand that tests have taken place. Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the results will be available? If they confirm the first case in Wales, will that be announced by his officials or the Welsh Assembly, or will a joint statement be issued?
Does the right hon. Gentleman know about the reports of people walking in Snowdonia at the weekend, although there were requests not to do so? There will be considerable support in Wales for the temporary closure of footpaths and rights of way. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that farmers in Anglesey in particular are concerned about the operation of the over-30-months rule and the delay in taking animals to market. What hope can he give to those farmers, bearing in mind that the animals might be more than 30 months old when the restrictions are lifted?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right. Those people who are proposing to submit animals under the over-30-months rule could be caught by the restrictions on movement. As we reshape those restrictions--although that is conditional on our getting a firm grip on the outbreak of the disease--I promise to keep the over-30-months scheme and those affected by it at the forefront of my mind. I am afraid that I cannot say more than that now.
There is close co-operation between my Department and the officials who work in the agriculture section of the Welsh Assembly. There is also close communication between myself and my counterpart in the Welsh Assembly. We are trying to take a common approach to the temporary closure of public rights of access. What has happened in Snowdonia is one of the matters at the forefront of our minds as we consider this difficult issue. I am grateful to people who have taken heed of appeals not to go near farms, livestock or animals, but I am aware that not everyone has responded in that way. We must consider what else we have to do.
I know that the suspected case will be a cause of great anxiety to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. It is a tentative hope rather than anything firmer, but we do not yet have a positive finding--at least, I am not aware of it. The passage of time gives more grounds for optimism in that local case; it takes longer to confirm a negative than to confirm a positive.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): We have heard what the Minister has had to say about compensation for consequential loss, and we might want to return to the issue when we see for how long the ban on movements continues, but he could do two specific things immediately to help farmers, who are already in a difficult financial position, who suffer such loss. One of those things, for which many have asked, is to claim the agrimonetary compensation. I think that the £202 million must be claimed by the end of April, if at all. More than three quarters of it would go to the livestock sector. The Minister might point out to the Chancellor that our friends in the European Union pick up 20 per cent. of the costs of very few public spending programmes.
Secondly, when the Minister this evening meets our friends in the EU, will he suggest that farmers who are having to keep animals on their farms for longer than planned might be allowed temporarily to graze them on set-aside land in order to alleviate the problem of having to buy additional food? That was permitted during the BSE crisis. It is something for which the right hon. Gentleman could ask which would cost nothing.
Mr. Brown: I am looking at whether there are derogations that we could seek from the Commission in the management of the current outbreak that would give some help and assistance to those who are caught by it. I have a range of points, such as the one that the hon. Gentleman makes, that I want to take up informally with Commissioner Fischler before we make formal representations. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about agrimonetary compensation. I remember him as a Treasury Minister; I wonder whether he would have taken the same view of the 19 per cent. EU contribution and the domestic contribution of only 81 per cent. when he was at the Treasury.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Although the right hon. Gentleman deserves unqualified support for the measures that he has taken--he has received it from those of us on the Conservative Benches--does he accept that he would better create a mood of national unity if he treated this House with a little more respect? His answers on appearing before Parliament have been disgraceful. To suggest that we should not have a debate is quite wrong. Will he bear it in mind that, when this country was at war, Churchill constantly reported to the House? Does he remember his former colleague Lord Robertson, former Secretary of State for Defence, reporting to the House day after day when we were engaged in hostilities? The Minister's prime duty is to be answerable to the House. Will he therefore reconsider his ill-judged remarks and give a categorical undertaking that he will make regular statements at that Dispatch Box?
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I thank the Minister, his Department and the veterinary service for the very prompt response to this hideous virus. Is he aware, however, that Thirsk auction mart--and, I understand, many auction marts throughout the country--has received a very confusing briefing from the Meat and Livestock Commission? Entitled "UK Foot and Mouth Update No 1", last week's MLC briefing said that the foot and mouth export ban will be in place for six months
May I also ask the Minister to take the prompt legal action to close footpaths which he said he is considering? Confusion arises when livestock are inside and the public simply do not know that livestock are present.