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Mr. Brown: The taskforce led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is considering all those issues. I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's final point--about the need to get things moving again once we come through the crisis. Clearly, there is a role for marketing and for tourist promotion.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk): There is no foot and mouth in my constituency, but there are several sheep farmers whose ewes are now lambing. The lambs are dying at night because the farmers cannot move the ewes back to the lambing sheds, as they cannot get a response

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from MAFF to get licences. Will the Minister assure us that he will put more resources into the handling of those licence applications?

Mr. Brown: Yes, we are doing so as a matter of urgency.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): As the Minister rightly wants to maintain the atmosphere of national unity, which has been prevalent in the House today, will he very gently talk to the Prime Minister and suggest that he heed the advice from the political leaders of parties in local government that it is not appropriate to hold the county council elections on 3 May?

Mr. Brown: The best that I can do for the hon. Gentleman is to forward the representations that he has made.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): The Minister is absolutely right to respond to the dire situation by announcing today an enhanced, more proactive slaughter policy, but may I ask him a question somewhat the converse of that asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)? Will he assure the House that he has adequate legal cover for the extended slaughter programme as dangerous contact animals may be involved? In the interests of natural justice, will he tell the House what representations by farmers may be entertained in borderline cases? Clearly, farmers in such cases do not want to lose their stock, but, perhaps rightly, Ministry vets insist that the animals should be slaughtered.

Mr. Brown: That is a very difficult matter. I am satisfied that, on the basis of legal advice, I certainly have the powers to implement what I have announced to the House, because the overriding priority is, of course, the national interest and the Government's legal obligation to exterminate the disease. I am trying to deal as sympathetically as I can with the hard cases that inevitably occur in such circumstances, but I must tell everyone that the extermination of the disease has to be my first priority.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister recognise that where ewes are trapped a long way from their holdings, they may be not on extensive farms but on small parcels of land? They may be on bare earth or stubble; and they may have been fed on turnip or beet tops, but now probably nothing more than big-bale straw. Many of those ewes and their lambs are dying, so the welfare problem is arising now. Will he ensure that the licence applications are attended to very quickly, that farmers to do not have to use a computer--80 per cent. of them in my constituency do not have one--and that transport arrangements are facilitated, because it is literally a matter of hours as to whether they can get their flocks back in time? If they cannot do so, the slaughter will be much more extensive than anyone would like, and rotting and bloated ewes and lambs in the field is the last thing that we want as it will create yet another major disposal problem.

Mr. Brown: Everything that the right hon. Gentleman says is true, and we shall do our best, where we can, to

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get the animals moved, but--he knows what the "but" is--that must be done consistently with the overriding importance of controlling the spread of the disease. With that very important caveat, I agree with all that he has said.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): The chairman of my local NFU, Mr. Graham Clay, with whom I had a discussion this morning, is deeply concerned about the delays, which have been mentioned time and again today, especially as there is now foot and mouth in my constituency. Does the Minister accept that the delays represent one of the most critical features of the problem? They must be dealt with, and speed is of the essence in the slaughter and throughout the entire process. Does the Minister accept that there could be a problem with the importation of airline food, which is apparently now making its way commercially into the pigswill industry? Will he look into that matter because, apparently, it could be a source of further infection?

Mr. Brown: My understanding is that the food from airlines should not make its way into pigswill because there is a special regime for airline foodstuffs. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to give me chapter and verse of the allegation, I will have it looked at very quickly indeed.

I am sorry that there is foot and mouth disease in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I hope that he will pass on my sorrow and regret to his constituent. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is important that we get on top of the problem as quickly as we can. That is why I have come to the House today to announce these measures, and I know that I have the support of the House in seeing them through.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): What does the Minister say to my constituents, Ian and Katrin Thompson of Crust Cottage, Snargate in Romney Marsh, whose applications for a licence to move their lambing ewes were twice lost by his Department? Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, who were already at their wits' end, had to fill in the same forms for the same animals on three different occasions. As Mrs. Thompson says in her letter, a copy of which I forwarded to the Minister yesterday,

Mr. Brown: I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is describing licensing arrangements for which the local authority is responsible, or those for which the Ministry is responsible, but, whichever it is, I shall have the constituency case drawn to the attention of the appropriate officials and get an explanation. I cannot give him an explanation today because I am not familiar with the individual case.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The Minister will be aware of the concerns raised by veterinary surgeons in Hampshire about the inadequacy of disinfection procedures and, especially, the guidance for using them. In particular, the manufacturers of the disinfectant, Virkon, which is approved by MAFF, recommend a dilution ratio of 1:100, yet apparently MAFF's guidelines recommend a ratio of

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1:1,300--a difference of thirteen times. Clearly, there is a huge problem, so will the Minister give some clear guidance to farmers and vets on what to do?

Mr. Brown: In all this, I am acting on professional advice. I will have the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises looked at by the veterinary authorities. If there is an anomaly, I will ensure that it is corrected, but, in any event, I will write to him with the answer to the points he makes.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Following the very distressing news that, since 11 am yesterday, there is an outbreak in Cheshire, two miles from my family home in the southern part of my constituency, I have received numerous representations from farmers and all those involved in the rural community. Of course that raises the spectre and the deep fears of the 1967 outbreak, which affected the Cheshire plains so devastatingly. My constituents are desperate to know that the vets will be given the autonomy and authority to carry pistols and to shoot animals on clinical suspicion, as proved to be successful in 1967. They want to be able to bury the animals immediately, where clay lining can be found for the pits. Often clay occurs naturally near the farmhouses in the area. There are many mounds of buried animals from 1967 behind the farm houses, but no farmer in Cheshire has ever caught anything as a result of that successful interment in 1967.

Furthermore, there are many rumours and reports of vented lorries and of tarpaulins flying off the so-called sealed wagons that travel to the Widnes rendering plant along the main arterial routes in my constituency, so many farms are obviously within the airborne spread risk areas. Although I do not have the evidence and, therefore, cannot raise the matter with the Minister directly, which is how he responded previously, there are serious concerns. So, if he could urge the police to man those routes to ensure that that risk is stopped, my constituents would be given more reassurance.

If a state of emergency is necessary, may I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to be shy in discussing it with the Prime Minister so that the necessary powers can be taken if needed. I recognise that that would be dire in terms of the political firmament, but if it is necessary to help control the spread of the disease, I urge him to consider it carefully.

Mr. Brown: I have all the powers necessary to control the disease, and the Government will do whatever is necessary to bear down on it. That is what I am doing. I know that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be anxious about road movement and, therefore, the possibility of airborne disease from the lorries. The chances of that are as close to zero as anything can be.

Hon. Members should remember that the incubation period of the disease is a fortnight on average. Of course the disease is a biological phenomenon, so there may be some movement in the profile, but it cannot possibly be windborne from the lorries; it is far more likely to come from Welshpool market. The vets have the authority to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is precisely the route that has been taken with 80 per cent. of all the animals

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killed so far. We do not wait for laboratory tests; the vets can issue the instruction on clinical diagnoses--in other words, on first sight.

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