|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): My right hon. Friend may have been planning to address this point anyway, but I would be grateful if he addressed reports that Devon trading standards office has received reports of more than 200 illegal animal movements in the past few weeks. Is there any substance in those reports? If so, is that not extremely worrying?
Mr. Brown: I cannot comment on the volume. There have been reports of illegal movements of animals and where people are caught, they will be prosecuted. I beg people not to do it. There is no easier way of keeping the disease outbreak going than illegally moving the animals without licence. We all have common cause in this.
If the animal welfare problems cannot be addressed on the spot or by licensed movements, animals can be entered into a new voluntary welfare disposal scheme. Payments will be made. It is the intractable nature of the sheep sector that is causing the delay.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I questioned the Minister about this matter last Thursday. This afternoon, he has given an explanation of the delay, but he assured me last week that a voluntary animal welfare disposal scheme would be introduced within a matter of days. I cannot stress enough to the Minister how important that is; it is dreadfully important. We hope such a scheme will be introduced within 24 hours. Will he assure the House that the level of compensation will be reasonable, at market value and will reflect the many weeks in which cash has been paid out to feed animals well beyond the date at which they otherwise would have to be fed?
Mr. Brown: If I paid the market value now, I would be paying less than what I am trying to pay the farmers. Unlike the pork and beef sectors, part of the sheep sector has collapsed. There are a range of reasons for that which I am happy to discuss, but it is probably better for me to set out how I am trying to solve the problem. I am trying to solve it by getting a price for the welfare scheme that is--of necessity, to some extent--artificial. I want to set it at such a rate so that it is the best possible compensation I can get to the farmers in these appallingly difficult
If that sounds insufficient, let me say also that I am looking carefully at what can be done in the short term to help sheep farmers; they are not the only people who have been hit, but they have been hit the hardest. In the medium term, we are looking at what we can do to help the industry to get back on its feet. In the long term, we are looking at what sort of industry we want in this country; in other words, how we get the industry closer to the marketplace, how we make it more sustainable and how we make sure that the support payments impact on the farmer's income, rather than on the number of sheep.
To do that, I am looking hard at proposals for genotyping the national flock to make it resistant to scrapie and BSE. I am looking closely at the work of the hill farm taskforce to see how we deal with the medium-term questions involved in the hill farm allowance and what better use can be made of rural development regulation to underpin hill farmers' incomes. I have opened discussions, in general terms, with Franz Fischler and the Commission to examine the issues around the sheep premium review, which is due now in any event.
I am looking at whether the Government might want to do other things specifically to help those people caught by this terrible outbreak of the disease. Among those are whether we should offer extra help to those who want to take their agrimonetary payment, their premium payments--which we have managed to get protected by the Commission--and perhaps something else, as part, potentially, of something like an early retirement package for those who, frankly, have had enough and wish to retire. We will look at what we can do to help those who wish to be on-goers in the industry and at whether a restructuring of the whole support package might be the right way forward.
I will not be imposing anything from above. This will all require careful thought and discussion, not least with farmers' leaders and with individual farmers on the ground. These issues are under active consideration in Government. We are discussing what can be done now, what can be done in the medium term and, above all, what is the long-term prospect for the industry and how we best structure the support package. I intend to share those ideas with others and not impose them from the Government; I would like to get a consensus on them. We all realise that some things have to be done in the sheep sector. We would want those to be done in any case, even without this disease outbreak.
Miss Kirkbride: I thank the Minister for the way in which he is treating the House on this matter. He will have heard my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) about the sheep farmer who has 2,500 sheep in Staffordshire that he is unable to move. What can I tell the farmer about the measures that the Minister has mentioned concerning applying, on animal welfare grounds, for the sheep to be culled, with some compensation? Whom does he apply to? What time scale
Mr. Brown: I am trying to get the scheme open very quickly, and by that I mean in a matter of days. I am trying to get the price to a level that is as decent as possible, but it will not please people who refer back to what the market price was before the outbreak. I would advise the hon. Lady's constituent, if the animals are not yet infected, to look first at whether it is possible under the new licensing arrangements to move them from clean area to clean area. The second option or route would be to try and manage the problem on the site, or on a neighbouring site. However, from her description, the fact that the forage has gone means that that route is probably not possible.
The third route is intended to be the route of last resort. The Government are not offering a convenient, state-sponsored market. I must state that as firmly I can, because I know what people would really like in these circumstances, and I cannot provide it.
Mr. Townend: The drop in the number of animals going to abattoirs would lead one to expect a rise in prices, but that has not happened. Is that due to a big increase in imports? Secondly, have the Government made progress in finding the source of the outbreak? I understand that the strain of the disease indicates that it was brought in from abroad. Is not it about time that we banned imports from countries that have had any incidence of foot and mouth in the past for year or so--especially South Africa, which might be the source of the disease?
Mr. Brown: The South African bit is another red herring. In fact, we ban meat and other products that carry infectivity from all the regions around the world that have foot and mouth disease. However, it is no good for the hon. Gentleman on the one hand to call for bans on countries rather than regions, then for other hon. Members to say that they hope that I will be able regionalise the problem in the United Kingdom later. We can approach the problem in one way, or the other. I have high hopes that we will be able to regionalise the problem, as the extermination measures begin to bite.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Will my right hon. Friend clarify the question of movement of animals over distances of more than 10 km? The MAFF website invites farmers to apply for licences, but I understand that the Ministry's Leeds office has not issued any licences to farmers who want to move animals. There is an important animal welfare problem, especially for ewes in lamb and cows in calf. Those animals are going to give birth imminently, and many farmers in my constituency will have to move animals distances of up to 15 miles. They want clarification about what they can do to speed up the process.
Mr. Brown: A welfare scheme is in place that should facilitate the movement of clean animals from uninfected areas that are subject to movement restrictions but nothing else. The scheme provides for a single journey to the holding--either the animals' home farm, or elsewhere if other arrangements have been made--where they are to
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Minister has explained the difficulties with the voluntary welfare scheme with regard to sheep, but may I urge him to consider opening the scheme for pigs tomorrow? I telephoned his private office last Wednesday about the case of Mr. Richard Webber. Last Wednesday, he had 400 pigs that could not lie down. That is a very serious welfare problem. The Minister had a pig welfare scheme in place last year, and I urge him to open a similar scheme tomorrow.