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Mr. Brown: I have no quarrel with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. As for the second, more targeted part about vaccination, there is a range of ways in which a vaccination strategy might be used. They all have their difficulties as well as their claimed benefits. The matter has been much discussed in public; moreover, I arranged a presentation on the issues yesterday and was pleased to observe a good attendance on the part of Members on both sides of the House. I look forward to giving evidence on the question of vaccination to the Select Committee, when the Select Committee is ready to receive me.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): As a Hertfordshire Member, a county where the disease has not yet occurred, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the remarks of the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) that to have a burial site in Hertfordshire would be "reckless"? Will my right hon. Friend take my assurance that I believe that the county should do everything that it can to play its role in helping to deal with a national crisis? Furthermore, will he assure me that there will be no limitation on movements and no other dangers involved in the policy, which I have broadly welcomed?
Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I understand that it is the Opposition's policy to advocate the burial of carcases rather than on-site burning to dispose of them. I may be wrong, and perhaps there is a different policy for Hertfordshire.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): The Minister's policy of taking potentially risky carcases across safe areas to sites where a huge pyre will be built to burn them has been much criticised by experienced vets of 1967, and runs counter to the recommendations set out in the 1969 report. The situation has been made worse by the muddle in deciding who accepts that the site is right. Sites in my constituency have been approved by the Environment Agency, but have been the subject of massive disapproval from everyone else. Other sites have been approved by
Mr. Brown: I read in the newspapers over the weekend that the hon. Gentleman thought that foot and mouth had been caused by an escaped virus from Porton Down, or a stolen virus. If he really believed that, he would have asked me about it, rather than drawing my attention to quarrels about landfill and burial sites. There will always be such quarrels. Whether it is safe environmentally to use them is, of course, a matter for the professional views of those at the Environment Agency. It is not clever to drop a lot of dead animals in the water supply. We must take these environmental considerations into account. We must take into account also the views of local people, who may agree with burial or landfill as a general proposition, but become much more sceptical about it if it is to be done near where they live.
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Is the Minister aware that his Department's guidance--urging the reopening of some public footpaths--is being ignored by a number of county councils, thereby delivering a further and entirely avoidable blow to the tourism industry in the run-up to Easter? Will he confirm that there has never been a case of foot and mouth being spread by a walker?
Mr. Brown: There are always uncertainties about the way in which foot and mouth disease is spread. It happens mostly by animal-to-animal contact or by farm-to-farm spread. Although I do not know of a case of a walker having spread foot and mouth disease, I cannot say definitively that it has never happened. However, all these issues must be dealt with in a sensitive and proportionate way. My advice remains the same: that those who enjoy the countryside should stay away from farmed livestock, but otherwise enjoy the countryside; the countryside is not closed.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Does the Minister accept that it is not only in Banbury where there are problems with the welfare disposal scheme? In Leicestershire, farmers have been quoted three weeks to a month. There are piglets trying to eat other piglets. The situation is desperate. If the right hon. Gentleman is to solve the problem, he will have to introduce a massive increase in resources now--he might have to bring in the Army--otherwise, he will never cope with the problem.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the contiguous slaughter in Leicestershire is running at 120 hours and not 48? When, finally, will he answer my questions about homeopathic borax, which has been shown in previous outbreaks to go a long way towards preventing animals from getting foot and mouth disease? Why will he not at least set in motion a trial? I have raised the matter with him on several occasions. I have tabled written questions and I have raised the matter with the Prime Minister. When will we get an answer? When will chemists get some instructions?
On the welfare disposal scheme, I have explained the substantial demand and the need for extra resources to ensure that it carries out its functions. We are also prioritising work by trying to deal with the hardest cases first. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the stratified nature of the modern pig industry and the welfare problems that movement restrictions quickly create. I shall draw the constituency case that he raised to my officials' attention and ascertain whether I can get something done about it.
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): I think that my right hon. Friend understands that the tourism industry as well as agriculture is greatly affected in Devon as well as in Cumbria. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and others, I ask him to urge his colleagues to make available an appropriate package of assistance.
On a visit by the Paymaster General at the weekend, it became clear in discussions with Mr. David Beardsley, the secretary of the Federation of Small Businesses for Devon, that we need enough good-quality business advisers on the ground to assist people who are taking the difficult business decisions that hon. Members have mentioned to make sensible decisions and to know what is already available. That was more than the people to whom we spoke realised.
Mr. Brown: As my hon. Friend knows, I am passionately committed to business advice for those whose farm-based businesses are in transition. I secured moneys last year specifically for helping smaller farmers through the period of transition. The scheme is available to all farmers, and I have managed to carry the underspend on that budget into this financial year. Clearly, the special case that can be made for Cumbria and the west country means that they will be treated as priorities when resources are allocated.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Today is the last opportunity for the Minister to come to the House before the recess. I want to call every hon. Member, but I need the assistance of those who wish to speak. Questions must be brief so that I can call every hon. Member.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Obviously, the sympathy and understanding of the tourism industry are crucial if we are to crack the problem of foot and mouth. What has happened to the taskforce? The Chief Secretary is present. Will we have a statement about the taskforce's proposals before the House rises? An announcement about the small firms loan guarantee scheme will not begin to tackle the scale of the problems. People believed that they faced a problem that would last three to six weeks. Those in the tourism sector realise that this year is almost a write-off
Mr. Brown: The question goes slightly wider than my ministerial responsibilities, but I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who chairs the taskforce. I understand that there will be no statement before the House rises; I accept that that is no comfort to the right hon. Gentleman and I shall try to provide a fuller reply that is.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in times of crisis, it is important for the Government to have a surplus, not a deficit? Do farmers who receive the compensation ever thank him for the fact that the Labour Government have a surplus in their budget, not a deficit like that lot opposite? Do they tell him that they will vote Labour this time, instead of voting for that lot who left them not only in the lurch but with BSE?