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House of Commons

Wednesday 4 April 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Foot and Mouth

1. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What discussions he has had with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with regard to foot and mouth disease in Wales. [155491]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I maintain close contact with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On Sunday, I visited Anglesey, Snowdonia and Welshpool with the First Minister and the Welsh Minister responsible for agriculture. Yesterday, I accompanied the Prime Minister on his visit to the operations centre in Cardiff, and to Monmouthshire, where he met representatives of the farming and tourism industries.

Miss McIntosh: I welcome that answer. The Secretary of State will be aware of the devastating effect that the outbreak is having in Wales on the farming community and on tourism. Is he aware of the concern that infected animals are being disposed of in areas that are not presently infected? Has he had discussions with the Welsh Minister responsible for agriculture to see what precautions can be taken?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, I have. This morning, I spoke with the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs, Carwyn Jones, who is doing a first-class job. He is conscious, as we all are, of the problems of disposing of sheep and pig carcases in landfill sites. It is important for us to continue to seek solutions to these problems. We believe that we can overcome them by ensuring that the time from reporting a case to slaughter is no more than 24 hours. That is how we can control and eradicate the disease, and dependent on that is the disposal of carcases.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the proposed large-scale dumping of carcases in a landfill site at Trecatti Dowlals in my constituency? Is he further aware of the long-standing environmental health concerns about that site? Will he confirm that a notice must be served by the Assembly Secretary before any such dumping can take

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place, and that no such notice has yet been served? In the light of the serious health and environmental concerns that are felt locally, will he convey to the Assembly Secretary the strength of feeling that he should not serve such a notice?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend. His point follows on from the previous question and the significance of the disposal issues. This morning I talked with Carwyn Jones about Trecatti, and he tells me that there are no plans in the Assembly to use that tip for disposal. He agrees that it is for the Assembly to bring forward such an order. I shall certainly put to him the points that my hon. Friend has made, including the proposal of a meeting with the Assembly Minister.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): Will the Secretary of State in future ensure that MPs, National Assembly Members and county council members are informed when a decision is taken at a high level on the location of a disposal site? I refer in particular to the Eppynt site in my constituency. On Friday night, I spent eight hours negotiating with the Agriculture Minister of the National Assembly to meet representatives on that site. The lack of communication with democratically elected people is lamentable. We knew nothing about the decision. That is a disgrace. Will he ensure that, in future, people are properly informed when something of this nature occurs, and that we are not left to pick up the pieces? [Hon. Members: "Come on."] Does he agree with me--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister has got the message.

Mr. Murphy: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I think I have.

Of course it is important to ensure that democratically elected representatives of the people are informed of these matters, but the priority must be the eradication of the disease and the disposal of carcases after animals have been slaughtered. I understand the difficulties regarding that site, but it is important that we identify and use sites. It is enormously important to ensure that demonstrations are held peacefully. We cannot but abhor the violence that was used at that site over the weekend. People must understand the significance of identifying such sites if we are to stop this terrible disease.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to my constituency yesterday with the First Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The farming representatives who attended that meeting were impressed with the Prime Minister's command and concern. However, he heard from some of the farmers that there has been an unreasonable delay in the slaughter of animals on farms that are contiguous with farms where there has been an outbreak. There is particular concern about the Graig farm in Grosmont, where there has been a nine-day delay. Will my right hon. Friend look into that and give me an assurance that everyone will be able to work together to get a solution to this problem as soon as possible?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks about the meeting that was held in Usk yesterday. It was highly successful, and the Prime Minister was there for an

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hour and a half to two hours talking to representatives from the farming community and the tourism industry, especially from Monmouthshire. I accept the point that my hon. Friend made about contiguous farms. We are aiming for cases to be dealt with on such farms within 48 hours. Clearly, it is more important to ensure that the 24-hour cull is done first, and then the cull on contiguous farms.

As for my hon. Friend's constituency and local authority area, I am given to understand that an office is to be opened in the next day or two somewhere in the middle of Monmouthshire, to ensure that the co-ordination to which he referred takes place.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): Following his welcome visit to Anglesey on Sunday, the Secretary of State will be aware of the enormous concern felt by the tourism industry, whose takings are down by between 80 and 90 per cent. in Anglesey and Snowdonia.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the latest assessment by North Wales Tourism, which estimates that by the end of June the north Wales tourism industry will have lost £100 million? I am aware of the measures that have already been taken, but will the right hon. Gentleman, along with the First Minister, now seriously consider a loan scheme to help tourism operators through their cashflow crisis? If necessary, will he secure funds from the Treasury?

Mr. Murphy: I could not agree more with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the impact of the disease on rural Wales. It behoves us all to carry on saying that Wales is open for business; but there are particular problems in areas such as the hon. Gentleman's in Anglesey and, indeed, Snowdonia, which I visited not long after my visit to Anglesey.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned small-business loans yesterday, in the Welsh Assembly. I shall give him the same answer as the First Minister's: such a scheme is under consideration, and we appreciate the points that he has made.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Does my right hon. Friend agree that tourism is especially important as we approach Easter, and that we should do all that we can to promote it? My family and I will be seeing the unsurpassed beauty of west Wales at Easter. May I encourage others to visit the Welsh countryside, much of which is unaffected? We need to talk up the countryside, rather than constantly talking it down.

Mr. Murphy: I entirely agree. I would advise anyone to go to west Wales and see the great delights of that part of the country.

I remind the House that the public in Wales have been issued guidance on where they can go. They can visit towns, villages, seaside resorts, pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, markets, churches, museums, art galleries and so on. There are plenty of places to visit in Wales, and we must encourage not just those from England and Scotland but those from other countries to visit them.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The Secretary of State is absolutely right. We must all do what we can to eradicate foot and mouth, which is having appalling consequences for agriculture and tourism in Wales.

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What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with local farmers and representatives of the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales, who are concerned about the site at Eppynt? There has been little consultation about the site, which, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, is just a mile away from the Carmarthenshire border. Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire are clean areas with no foot and mouth, and people there are very concerned about the possible effect on their farming areas. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that proper consultation takes place, and that those concerns can be dealt with?

Mr. Murphy: Of course we must have proper consultation. The hon. Gentleman will know that representatives of the Sennybridge community were able to discuss their concerns with both the Prime Minister and the First Minister, but I am sure that he shares my belief that we must eradicate the disease as quickly as possible. That requires proper disposal sites, one of which is at Eppynt.

Mr. Evans: Tourism has been badly affected by foot and mouth. When will the Government produce an aid package--not a recovery package, but a survival package--for many of the small businesses throughout Wales that have suffered as a result of the crisis?

Today I spoke to Ashley Price, the owner of Dan-yr-Ogof caves, which have been open since 1912. They are the Welsh tourist board's visitor attraction of the year, and are among the world's best-known show caves. Visitor numbers have collapsed, and layoffs have already occurred. Ashley Price tells me that if no help comes within the next 10 weeks, the ventilators and pumps will be switched off and one of Wales's premier tourist attractions, which is of great historic interest and has survived two world wars, will be lost for ever. Will the Secretary of State ensure that a survival package for the tourism industry will be announced as soon as possible?

Mr. Murphy: Mr. Price was present at yesterday's meeting in Usk and made those points to the Prime Minister and to the rest of us. We understand that his case is not untypical; there are such cases throughout Wales. In the past couple of days, I have been to Anglesey, Welshpool and Monmouthshire, where people from the tourism industry were making precisely the points to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. He is aware that the National Assembly has announced a substantial package by way of rate relief and other help for rural areas. We are working on other matters, so that we can see how best to help those devastated rural communities.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): Given the effect that the foot and mouth crisis is having on Welsh tourism, can my right hon. Friend say what steps the Wales Office is taking to facilitate the reopening of footpaths?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend will know that, yesterday, the Prime Minister met leaders of local authorities in Wales. He made the point to those leaders, who were of all parties, that it is important that, where it is safe to do so--that is the caveat--footpaths should be reopened. In large parts of Wales, it is safe for footpaths to be reopened. My office and the Assembly will work closely with local authorities to ensure that that is done.

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