Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): Farmers need precise information about the risks that they face. Concern has been expressed in my constituency--which is, in part, an infected area--about the movement of lorries from places where there is known to be infection towards livestock abattoirs that are currently operating. We need clarity about how the system works; we also need resources to deal with the strategy set out by my right hon. Friend. Thus far, there is doubt about whether such
There are at present no unlicensed movements of livestock in the country--or there should not be. I am grateful to the police for stopping livestock vehicles to check that they are licensed, and that their arrangements are not unlawful. Nothing will perpetuate this disease outbreak longer than the unauthorised movements of livestock that might be at risk.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Notwithstanding the fact that some of the countryside may be open for business, the New Forest is most definitely closed. Indeed, the district council has written to several rural businesses specifically asking them to stop their operations. Will the Minister undertake to look at the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) at the Dispatch Box yesterday for providing relief to those businesses?
Mr. Brown: The Government are doing what they can to help. We have set up a taskforce to look at the broader issues. My advice is clear. We all have a part to play in explaining this clearly. The disease risk is from the public coming into contact with farmed livestock and spreading the disease. To avoid that risk I am appealing to everyone to stay away from farmed livestock.
Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about the licensed movement of tack animals, particularly from my constituency--a matter already raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). Large numbers of sheep are there and my farmers will much welcome it. If those animals have a definite welfare problem, what price will be paid in compensation? Will it be the market price, as if they had foot and mouth, or not? Will my right hon. Friend ensure full veterinary attendance before a movement takes place? It appears that at Llanidloes abattoir something went wrong and sheep with foot and mouth ended up there and caused serious problems. Finally, my right hon. Friend mentioned that he was going to pursue with two dealers the question of what stock they had distributed around the country. Is he willing to name them?
Mr. Brown: The movements of animals that were at risk were unwitting. I am not allocating blame; I am explaining the problem and how the Government will deal with it. All current movements must be authorised by a vet. It strikes me as highly suspicious when 23 sheep showing symptoms of the disease turn up in one batch in one abattoir with a certificate from the farmer saying that they were disease free when they left.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about movements from winter holdings. These are intractable problems. The order of dealing with them is to get movement, if we can; to manage them in their geographical location, if that can be done, which requires the co-operation of the dairy farmer; and, if that cannot be done, as an act of mercy the animals have to be killed.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Will the Minister ask the Prime Minister to get a grip on the other Departments that should be helping rather than hindering him? Yesterday the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport told people that all the beaches were open. The National Trust has closed everything, including the beaches in my constituency that have no agricultural land adjoining them. People arriving at those beaches will probably go off and get access to the beaches over agricultural land. It is no good the Home Office saying that there is no need to make any changes to election arrangements. We have town council, district council and county council elections happening now. We need action and advice.
Mr. Brown: It is very important that our response to the disease outbreak is proportionate and targeted at the real actions that can spread the disease. We are all on the same side in this. It is important that we talk to each other across Government, with local authorities and across parties to ensure that advice is clear and sensible. If there is no farmed livestock on a beach, it is perfectly reasonable for people to visit it and walk along it. I understand how, when the disease broke out, people wanted to do everything that they could to help, which meant acting on the precautionary principle. I am grateful for that, but we need to make sure that the actions that we are taking now, all of which are designed to be helpful, are targeted at the real problems associated with the spread of the disease.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Will my right hon. Friend explain the criteria that are being used to select rendering plants to deal with infected carcases? Will he give some assurance to my local farmers, who are very concerned that a local rendering plant in Cheddleton will be taking infected carcases? I am delighted that he will allow farmers to bury carcases, as they did during the 1967 outbreak, so long as the water table makes that permissible.
Mr. Brown: Burial is a route of disposal that is being considered, but it would have to be used under strictly controlled conditions. I can announce that we shall make use of burial in Cumbria, because we have found a possible site. There will certainly not be a blanket presumption that that route can be used in all places. Where it can be used and where it is appropriate, it will be used, but under controlled circumstances.
Nothing that is done with rendering plants will be done in such a way as to risk the spread of the disease. Our plan is to extinguish the disease, not perpetuate it. The considerations involved in selecting plants are wide ranging. We have to look at a number of aspects, but clearly the geographical location of the plant is one factor that we are bearing in mind.
Mr. Brown: Very, very firm action has been taken by my Department to prevent the disease from leaving the United Kingdom now that we know that it is here. As for its being brought in, it is here already, and we are setting out to exterminate it. I have had the availability of disinfectant looked at closely. There is sufficient available. We have licensed for use new disinfectants that will serve our purpose in combating the disease. There were distribution problems, but I believe that the industry has overcome them.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): May I commend my right hon. Friend for his solid principle of safety first, and urge him to continue to stick to it? May I ask him about the particular position of the small businesses of contractors who are excluded from farm premises and are of necessity losing all their livelihood? Will he ensure that the process of diagnosis, slaughter and disposal is made as speedy as possible, in the interests of all?
Mr. Brown: That is exactly what I am trying to do. We are working hard to overcome the logistical difficulties. As for the consequential effect on small businesses that would normally rely on working normally, by far the best step that I can take is to get the countryside back to completely normal working as soon as possible.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I should like to make a particular point about a slaughterhouse in my constituency that sends trailers to south Wales and Devon with sides of beef for Tesco, and naturally they have to return. There is a risk or fear of contamination. What steps are taken to ensure that the vehicles are properly disinfected?
If we are to have elections on 3 May, will the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Home Secretary that an application for a postal vote be sent to all farmers on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food lists?
Mr. Brown: I am very keen to make sure that we stay together as one country and one community, that everybody is treated fairly, and that if they face difficulties, in as much as they can be helped, they should be helped. Yes, we inspect vehicles to make sure they are disinfected. That is an obligation on the industry. I cannot be certain that every vehicle is inspected, but we are in no doubt of the importance of making sure that vehicles are cleaned out properly and thoroughly disinfected.