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Mr. Brown: I would like to meet farmers who are personally affected. I try to meet farmers to discuss their problems, but I must stay here and manage the disease outbreak first. However, I would like to visit farmers as soon as I can, including my hon. Friend's constituents, to hear from them at first hand. Although it is hard for the farmers who are affected, at the moment, less than 1 per cent. of all livestock farms are under restriction, or affected by the outbreak.
My officials are working now on ensuring that we can speed up the slaughter and disposal arrangements. There is a serious problem in Cumbria. I want to ensure that we have all the resources necessary to deal with what has emerged and with what we are trying to prevent from emerging.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): What financial help will the Government offer to those whose livelihoods and lives are being devastated by the consequences of foot and mouth disease? When the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has responsibility for tourism, came to the House yesterday, the best that he could do was to say that the Government would be
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has appreciated how serious the situation is now and the need to get money to those who are affected. May we have some clear indication from the Government that they recognise that many in the countryside need financial help today?
Mr. Brown: I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Prince of Wales. It was a kind and generous thing for the Prince to do. I appreciate it very much. I think that the whole House knows that he has extraordinary sympathy for and empathy with farming and the rural community. I met him yesterday and was able to thank him personally for what he has done.
I want to do what I can to help. For all the animals that the Government are purchasing for slaughter because of the need to control the disease, we will pay 100 per cent. compensation. We have drawn down the agrimonetary payments. Of course, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease has informed that. We are spending money on the welfare scheme that I have announced today. That will be at a cost--an unquantifiable cost--to the taxpayer. I am looking at what more I can do, but the hon. Gentleman should not overlook the substantial public expenditure implications of what I have announced today.
Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): Tomorrow, I shall visit the Grannox rendering plant in my constituency, which is taking thousands of slaughtered animals for disposal. Will my right hon. Friend put on record his recognition of the efforts of the work force at Grannox in dealing with the problem, which, as hon. Members can imagine, is not one of the best jobs in the world at the moment? Does he also appreciate my constituents' concerns about the transportation through my constituency of so many thousands of slaughtered animals and the environmental impact of processing the carcases? Can he give my constituents assurances on those issues?
Mr. Brown: The operation poses no danger at all to my hon. Friend's constituents. I can give him that assurance. I should also like to place on the record my thanks to the work force in his constituency. As he will know, I visited the plant a few months ago, and took the Spanish Minister with me to see it. It is a very impressive operation.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): The Minister touched on alternative strategies. Is he aware that there is very strong anecdotal evidence, but not the evidence of trials, that a homeopathic remedy called borax can protect animals from the threat of foot and mouth, that it was used extensively in the 1967 outbreak, and that 7,000 farmers are using it now? Will he undertake to conduct trials to establish whether it is effective, rather than simply relying on anecdotal evidence? Will he so instruct the chief veterinary officer? Is he aware that in the 1967 outbreak, a farmer near Chester unwittingly used borax in a feed, and that although the animals on every farm around had to be put down, that farmer's cows never
Mr. Brown: I listen to all views on the matter. The Phillips report says that Ministers should keep an open mind about alternative theories, and should not polarise debate between the professional and official view and other points of view. I shall therefore draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of the chief veterinary officer, upon whose professional advice I am relying in handling the disease outbreak.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware that six farms in my constituency in Newcastle--in the area where the infection probably began--have been affected, probably all by windborne infection. Has he discussed with his meteorological advisers the weather ahead of us, as the second two weeks in March are usually the windiest part of the year? Is there a potential extra risk because of the weather? If so, will he continue his tough measures, including keeping people out of the countryside wherever possible?
Mr. Brown: I assure my hon. Friend that windborne disease presents very little further risk to his constituents, because, of course, the animals that caused it were killed some time ago. The risk of windborne infectivity comes specifically from pigs. The disease is far more infectious in pigs than it is in cattle and sheep, and a large number of pigs can pump out enough virus for it to form an infective dose and be carried quite some distance by the wind if conditions are right--or wrong, depending on the point of view. Of course we are examining that issue, but it is specifically relevant to large concentrations of pigs. Fortunately--if there is anything fortunate in this--the main problem with which we have to cope now is predominantly, but not entirely, to do with sheep.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I am grateful for the Minister's statement on the movement of in-lamb ewes back to their home farms, which is particularly important. However, as thousands of ewes from my constituency are now in Pembrokeshire, we have huge logistical problems. One haulier told me that he had to make at least 12 journeys. Will the Minister ensure that those journeys are expedited--under Army escort if necessary? Will he also define "movement into an area of higher risk"? What does that mean? As a vast part of Powys could be covered by that classification, could ewes be moved into an infected area? If lambs are killed in an infected area, what percentage of the market price will farmers receive for them? Will he also give us some evidence--I ask this on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik)--of a link between Welshpool market and outbreaks in Cheshire and Shropshire?
Mr. Brown: We know that infectivity has been transferred through Welshpool market. There is the possibility of a link with the outbreak in Cheshire, and the veterinary authorities are looking at that now. I promise to convey the answer to the hon. Gentleman once we know it. At the moment there is a suspicion, not a confirmation.
The price for animals that the Government are slaughtering to control the disease is the animals' market value. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to give him indicative prices--and they are only indicative, because such matters can go to arbitration if there is a dispute-- I will make sure that he gets that information.
It is vital that escorted journeys are strictly controlled. Nothing would be worse for the control of the outbreak than to allow people to start moving around in an uncontrolled way animals that might be carrying the infection.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today. He is fully aware that, as of this morning, the number of cases in my constituency has risen to 32. I am sure that he will want to place on record his thanks to the local authority, which is co-ordinating all the sterling work in that area.
I have been informed by the local authority that it is taking two days to move from slaughter to burning, but I am told by farmers that it takes considerably longer than that. Those at the sharp end--the farmers--believe that we do not have this fully under control and are not operating as efficiently as possible. If we are to move to wider-area slaughter, there is a need for more resources and for personnel to carry out that work. I hope that if we undertake that, additional resources will be put into the areas.
On the disinfection of vehicles, my area is at breaking point. Everyone is doing their best, but I believe that additional resources are needed now. We need to say how quickly we will get compensation to those who have lost their livelihood by losing their stock. Some of the financial institutions are not being as helpful as I had hoped.
Finally, farmers who have been told that their stock is infected need information that is easy to understand. At present, they are having to plough through tomes of paperwork to understand the process.