Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): On a serious problem that might affect arable areas, Stevadore and a grain merchant company have told me that the market in the export of grain has collapsed. There is no official embargo, but privately, people abroad have decided not to buy British grain. Will the Minister take the opportunity to make a firm statement that there is no possibility of grain being a vector of foot and mouth and that no one need be concerned about British grain? Will he do his utmost to ensure that our European partners make that clear on the continent? If the export of grain is collapsing, that could have devastating economic consequences in the eastern regions. Will he consider providing compensation for that?
Mr. Brown: I am familiar with one incident, which I hope is isolated, in which there was an argument about a grain shipment which was based on misapprehensions about foot and mouth disease. Grain is not a means of conveying the virus.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the case in south Lancashire, in my constituency. It is now almost seven weeks since it was identified, and poultry, pig, beef and sheep farming in the area faces severe welfare problems. What help can my right hon. Friend give? Can we lift the section D notices and allow the movement of animals as soon as possible, or can we ensure that the Intervention Board works more speedily? I know that it is in a period of crisis management because of the number of cases that it is dealing with, but something must be done to ease the plight of farmers in Chorley. I cannot stress enough the importance of that or of the scale of the tragedy that they face. It is not in the interests of the House that it should
Mr. Brown: I must say that I agree with all three points made by my hon. Friend. The credibility of the House is best served when we are seen to debate, in a politically non-partisan way--[Interruption]--the great issues that confront our country.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman shouts away, but he might just consider how I dealt with the Phillips report in the House. I took great care not to be party political, and I wonder whether it would have been the same if we had been in opposition and the Conservative party had been in government.
On the points made by my hon. Friend, I am allocating extra resources to the Intervention Board. He can assure his constituents that as soon as veterinary advice enables me to lift movement restrictions, even partially, I will do so.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The crisis has been going on for at least seven weeks, and the number of animals slaughtered in that time is dwarfed by the number on the welfare scheme, so it will take longer than seven weeks to put that scheme into effect. Will the Minister therefore consider allocating extra resources to get the scheme up and running, and indeed completed? Will he consider also clearing licences for animals that require them and that could go to slaughter in the zones that are not affected by the disease? That would help to ease the welfare problem.
Mr. Brown: At the moment, I cannot relax the licensing scheme even in the controlled areas, but as I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), as soon as it is possible to relax restrictions, which would have to be done on veterinary advice, I will of course do so. I am considering how practical it is to allow movement of livestock that are trapped in the infected areas to go to abattoirs in those areas and then on through the food chain. That may be possible. Of course, the priority must be to control the disease, and movement controls are vital to its extermination.
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Cornwall county council, local MAFF officials and the National Farmers Union on today opening up sections of the Cornish coastal path? Does he agree that the news, along with the opening of the Eden project and the fact that many of our gardens and all our beaches are open, means that there is much to attract visitors to Cornwall this Easter?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I congratulate local officials, public sector employees, local government and the local NFU on working together for the benefit of Cornwall, and on giving the clear impression that agriculture and tourism go hand in hand and can work together.
Mr. Brown: If animals are dangerous contacts and deemed so by the veterinary authorities, the cull is not voluntary; it is mandatory. If farmers are in the controlled zone but outside any other 3 km zone, and if they voluntarily give up their animals for a firebreak policy, as is happening in southern Cumbria, that is voluntary and not mandatory. However, the Government have the power to slaughter any animal that is deemed on veterinary advice a dangerous contact and at risk of carrying infectivity. It is not necessary for the clinical signs of the disease to be apparent, as a matter of veterinary judgment.
On the comparisons between the 1967 outbreak and the present one, I went into that issue in some detail in my previous address to the House. The two outbreaks are not directly comparable. There are various features now that are different from what happened then. The two most important are the fact that, in 1967, there was not the rapid movement of animals around the country that there is now--there was not the highway infrastructure. Also, as the hon. Lady well knows, the 1967 outbreak was predominantly in cattle and pigs and in the midland belt of England, including her constituency, whereas the outbreak now is predominantly in sheep and predominantly a phenomenon of the western part of Great Britain, with hot spots particularly in lowland Scotland, Cumbria and Devon.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): There are now 14 outbreaks of foot and mouth in Monmouthshire and the situation is extremely grave. I was speaking to farmers in the Chepstow area this morning, where it has been particularly serious. The 48-hour contiguous cull has far from been reached in that area, despite discussions that took place when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attended my constituency last Tuesday. We were assured by the Assembly Minister, Carwyn Jones, that there would be liaison officers in Monmouthshire in a day or two, but I am not aware that they have yet been appointed. I also point out to my right hon. Friend the concern of farmers in areas which border England. There may be an outbreak, say, in Herefordshire, but there may be contiguous farms in Monmouthshire. Who is responsible for notifying those farmers?
Mr. Brown: The contiguous farm policy applies even across borders pertaining to the responsibilities of different Ministers. I had an opportunity to discuss some of the issues with the Agriculture Minister for Wales this morning, and with leaders of the farmers unions in Wales, as well. We are all working together for a common purpose, but I will draw my hon. Friend's specific remarks to the attention of the Welsh Agriculture Minister.
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): The Minister will understand that farmers whose animals have had foot and mouth infections and who want to stay in the business are putting aside the compensation payments that they have
Mr. Brown: I have set out the support payments available to farmers in those circumstances, and I understand that the social security arrangements, where they obtain, have been carefully set out. The big decision for farmers who have received a compensation payment is whether to restock the farm holding or renew any tenancy arrangements that may have been interrupted, or whether to pause and think very carefully about what the future holds for them.
There is a serious discussion still to be had with the industry about the shape of support payments and in particular the future support arrangements for the sheep regime. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with some of the issues involved--the hill farm allowance, the sheep premium regime in the European Union, how far we are to make use of the second pillar of the rural development regulation, and how far we should advance our plans for genotyping the national flock to make it more scrapie resistant. These are all issues to be discussed with the industry, but our first priority must be to defeat the disease.