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Mr. Burnett: The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. Does he agree that the habit or practice of taking animals from the north to the south of England has been going on for years?

Mr. Atkinson: That is true. There has undoubtedly been a change since 1967, as we can see from the map of the outbreak, and there is now much more movement. Abattoirs are not only big businesses; some of them are also specialised. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow may talk about the specialised abattoir in his constituency. Such specialisation is why animals are transported around the country. There is little that we can do to change that.

I shall touch briefly on the problems faced in the supply chain--for the hauliers, the auction marts and others involved in the whole process. Like all of us, I am pleased that the Minister is considering the movement of animals under licence. However, I suspect that it will be some time before that begins to solve the problems. I fear that the outbreak will be worse than we anticipated--its growth over the past 24 hours suggests that it is serious.

If the Minister is unable to license movement directly to abattoirs, I urge him to consider some assistance for the supply chain. There are at least two specialist livestock transporters in my constituency--they do nothing else. They have no work at present. They can lay off drivers and staff, but they cannot stop the financial charges on their business. They will experience great difficulty. When the crisis is over, it will be no good if such companies no longer exist.

The movement of stock directly from farm to abattoir raises the question of how to determine the price to be paid. If there is no auction mart, how can the price be assessed? That must be considered when the system is set up.

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Insurance was mentioned by the hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire. Today, a farmer in my constituency told me that his foot and mouth insurance runs out at midnight. This morning, the insurance company notified him that it would not renew his insurance--helpful as always. I hope that the farmer is contacting NFU Mutual, which might reinsure him.

Farming is in a crisis. In previous outbreaks of disease, the farming industry could fall back on its own resources to repair some of the damage, but this time the industry is so low--so broke--that it simply cannot sustain further large financial losses if the outbreak continues.

We are all grateful to the Minister and to his staff for what they are doing to try to contain the outbreak. Farmers in Northumberland, in the firing line, will also appreciate that.

6.32 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate, although I am sure that none of us would have wanted these events to occur. I welcome the Opposition motion. Earlier in the week, there was a slight spat as to whether it was right to hold the debate now and to haul Ministers back from what they were doing. However, the House is always at its best when faced with a great crisis; we can all come together. In his inimitable way, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has managed to disarm many of the critics who might have tried to pull the rug from under him. I am sure that we all agree that he has done a good job in putting people's minds at rest.

We cannot underestimate the gravity of the situation however. I do not have a specific constituency interest at present--I am extremely grateful that one of the first notifications of a possible outbreak, at Woodchester park in my constituency, turned out to be negative. Obviously, people in the constituencies of other hon. Members have not been so fortunate.

One of the difficulties is that although it is relatively easy to determine that there is an outbreak of the disease on a particular farm or holding, it takes considerably longer to confirm that a holding does not have the disease. There is an incubation period before the animals show signs of the disease and that is a dreadful waiting time for people on the holding or on surrounding farms. That is not, of course, to underestimate the impact on those who actually have to deal with the disease.

The outbreak is national. It seems to be getting worse day by day, although we are looking forward to an upturn. However, we must place animal health and animal welfare in context--I am not sure where we draw the line between the two, but veterinary science defines them separately. Within a relatively short period, this country--indeed, our continent and the world--has seen a number of animal diseases. There was the disaster of BSE and the continuing problems of bovine tuberculosis--I make no apology for mentioning them, although they are on a different scale. In my part of the world, we have been learning to live with bovine TB for some time--it is getting worse and we must find solutions. I shall say more about that later in my speech. In parts of the country, there have been outbreaks of classical swine fever. Now, there is foot and mouth disease.

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Anyone who pretends that this outbreak is a one-off event that has come completely out of the blue should look back and think harder about what is happening in animal farming. If we do not learn from that, our successors will rue the day. There is evidence that such outbreaks are becoming more complicated; they are not necessarily longer lasting, but they seem to affect more animals more quickly. That causes us even more concern.

On the plus side, I join in the plaudits to my right hon. Friend the Minister. It is clear from objective measurement of such matters that the Labour Administration have learned from some of the mistakes of the past. By that, I do not mean the previous Conservative Administration--I do not want to make party political points. Since the last serious outbreak--BSE--I am pleased that command and control structures have been quickly put in place. Although a few people thought that some of the measures were rather draconian and could have been seen to be non-libertarian--telling people not to go to the countryside is about as illiberal as we could imagine--nevertheless the speed with which the Administration have acted was right. That has been welcomed not only by the industry, but by all those who have an interest in the countryside.

I am pleased about the drawing down of the agrimonetary compensation; arguably, it is a coincidence, but it could not have come at a better time. I very much support that, although I am sure that my right hon. Friend will realise from comments on both sides of the House that this may not be the end of the story on the compensation that will be needed.

It is pleasing to see the work of the state veterinary service. Some of us have been critical of MAFF's operation in practice, but the SVS has performed at the highest possible standard. It has links with the Meat Hygiene Service and the Food Standards Agency. I make a special plea that we should remember all those who work at the local government end--trading standards or environmental health officers. Those people are sometimes forgotten, but they are very much at the forefront because they have to make the initial visits and give clear recommendations. They always tell me that they are overworked and under-resourced. They tend to see themselves as the Cinderella services in local government. Perhaps we need to examine their work and ensure that they are properly resourced, because they have to deal with a legacy of different issues--which they do with great professionalism. We must never take those people for granted.

The loss of income will have an immediate impact, but we must not try to ignore the on-going problems. The loss of income arises from the inability to sell animals, but inevitably regulations will be involved. The Select Committee on Agriculture is considering the forms used in the integrated control and administration system, and there is a general view that we need to deal with that matter with more of a soft touch. We need to consider how regulation has been geared up post-BSE.

As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), in the debate on the Phillips report, which took place just before last week's recess, we considered not necessarily less but better regulation. The belief that cutting out all regulation is the answer to all the farm industry's problems would cost us dear. There is an underlying problem that leads to a loss of confidence, and it is why people leave the industry. That is

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inevitable--people leave, as well as enter, any industry. Not many people want to enter agriculture, for obvious reasons, but we must find out who is leaving, and we always need to invest in younger people so that we can produce food for tomorrow as well as for today.

I shall not go over the ground that other hon. Members have covered in dealing with the food chain. However, we must not fail to realise that we are talking not just about an immediate impact on the raw commodity--the animals--but about the fact that we are currently incapable of exporting them. That will soon affect the whole food processing industry and will have an enormous impact on the United Kingdom.

We may have an agricultural trade deficit because we have always imported more agricultural products than we have exported, even though we could be self-sufficient, as hon. Members know--but that has been made up for by the fact that we are a major exporter of all manner of different foodstuffs. Of course, those foodstuffs will be questioned in other parts of the world. We must be very careful not to talk up that problem, but we must be realistic. The loss of those export markets needs to be carefully scrutinised and we must do all we can to deal with the disease as quickly as possible to ensure that we restore confidence in those markets. All that is known about and understood.

I wish to dwell on some other issues for a few moments, some of which hon. Members have already mentioned. The Select Committee has devoted a great deal of its time to considering the relevance of the globalisation of the food chain. That has been mentioned by Opposition and Labour Members both today and in questions on Monday's statement. I have a clear view that although globalisation may appear inevitable to some people, it would be a disservice if we did not question it. Even if no one else has had reason to question globalisation, there is much evidence that consumers have begun to look carefully at what they buy. They are asking where their food comes from--of course, labelling is relevant--and whether they can buy it locally. They want to know which farm it came from. They want to know about the attractions of organic food, even though it is not necessarily local.

All those matters are important and link with the key food chain issue--the relationship between science and the factors that are always found to be part of the communality of causation. Again, hon. Members have told us what they believe to be the cause. I am not sure that we know the cause; we certainly do not necessarily know who caused the problems. However, there is an interface between science, on which we rely so much to solve our problems, and the difficulties that we seem to cause ourselves, given the number of diseases that develop and how we deal with them.

Vaccination has been mentioned. It is interesting that my right hon. Friend the Minister has ruled out vaccination with every good reason, as most hon. Members would rightly say, because vaccination would take away our status and would seem to be nothing more than a short-term expedient. A comparison can be made with bovine TB. Those who do not like the work undertaken to find the cause and method of transmission

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of bovine TB call for vaccination. There are difficulties in trying to be consistent in how we deal with animal disease.

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