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Mr. Borrow: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Professor David King, the chief scientific adviser who is advising the Prime Minister on vaccination, made it clear that he would only support vaccination were it to be supported by the vast majority of farmers? In his scientific advice, the consent of the farming community is crucial. Is it also crucial to the hon. Gentleman's decision making?
Mr. Yeo: I find that an extraordinary way to make policy. A policy is either right or wrong. I have set out three straightforward tests by which the policy should be judged. If the Government think that those are the right tests, let them tell us what the advice is. If the tests are wrong, the Government should tell us what tests they are
Many uninfected animals are suffering as a direct result of the foot and mouth crisis. Healthy animals cannot be moved because of the movement restrictions. Lambs are in the wrong places, pigs suffer overcrowding and much distress is caused. The Minister of State will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) proposed a welfare scheme in the first debate we had on this subject, on 28 February. The Government's scheme, when it emerged some weeks later, was welcome, but the evidence is that it is not working very quickly.
I heard this week from a farmer whom I visited in November, long before the foot and mouth crisis began. That farmer is within 3 km of an infected premises and, therefore, could not move any of her pigs. In a letter she faxed to me on Monday, she described the horrifying consequences of the overcrowding among her pigs, including tail biting and fighting. She was running out of money and feed, she could not borrow any more money and she had already extended her feed credit. She had written twice to her Member of Parliament, who had not replied. She contacted me because she had entered her pigs on the welfare disposal scheme three weeks ago and, as of Monday morning when she faxed me the letter, she had not received a response. I telephoned her, because her experience is by no means an isolated one. I am glad to say that matters have been resolved, because she has had a form D imposed and her pigs will be slaughtered on the farm.
One way in which to help to unblock the logjam of welfare cases would be to give local vets a greater role in authorising movements, and I believe that the Government have now adopted that suggestion. I am concerned that the Government have still not offered compensation to farmers who are prevented from selling their cattle as they approach the age of 30 months. Through no fault of their own, those farmers suffer an irrecoverable drop in the value of their stock when cattle pass that age and they deserve to be compensated for that loss. I hope that the Minister will address that issue quickly.
The Minister for the Environment is to wind up the debate, and it was he who announced some weeks ago that an inquiry would be held into the foot and mouth disease outbreak. I hope that he will be able to tell the House this evening about the nature and form of the inquiry that he has in mind.
It is now nine weeks into the crisis. Foot and mouth disease has inflicted hideous damage on farmers, tourism and the rest of the rural economy. The taxpayer is left with a huge bill. Our environment has been disfigured. Millions of animals, many of them healthy, have been slaughtered. Many other animals have suffered.
The foot and mouth outbreak has been the most difficult issue that I have faced in 22 years as a Member of Parliament. I have more than 50 cases in my constituency, and the local tourism industry faces a crisis. Some 47,000 people in the county of Cumbria are directly or indirectly dependent on tourism. The trade is worth nearly £1 billion a year to our county. Some 20 per cent. of the total work force in Cumbria is involved in activity related to tourism. I believe that in terms of the effect on tourism, I have probably the worst affected constituency in Britain.
There has been no post-Easter recovery in my constituency. We have had a couple of good days, but we still have a real crisis. The figures that are reported to my office daily vary between a 60 per cent. and a 90 per cent. reduction in turnover, and the laundries and catering establishments in my constituency, which give me important information about the situation, report a substantial downturn in trade.
Cumbria has reacted positively. We have given evidence to the national taskforce through our own taskforce and we have called for a rural action zone. The meetings held in Kendal by the Cumbria taskforce are extremely important to Members of Parliament, and we are pressing its case for support for infrastructure costs in the future.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: I understand that the hon. Gentleman's constituency is in a similar position. The answer is the restoration of trade, but we could introduce interim measures. Cumbria Crisis Alliance, a grassroots organisation that has sprung up in my constituency,
First, there should be an extension of the hardship relief from business rates scheme, especially in the Lake district national park. The period is currently three months; that needs to be extended, and soon.
I should like the £12,000 rateable value limit on property to be lifted. Tax assessments should average profits for the tax years ending in 2000 and 2001. That would allow current losses to be reflected as early as possible in tax payments.
I do not accept the Conservative proposition that a new borrowing scheme should be set up. However, I accept the principle behind that proposal, which is that there should be subsidised interest rates. The Treasury should seriously consider setting a borrowing ceiling of £10,000. Under certain conditions that I shall describe later, subsidy should be made available to help offset interest rate costs on borrowings made through established institutions.
I should like a job retention subsidy to be introduced to help keep people in employment in the tourism industry and related sectors. Such a subsidy would apply especially to live-in staff in restaurants and hotels in the Lake district. That would make a major contribution towards helping existing businesses retain the staff who work for them, or who have done so until recent weeks. A worrying advert appeared in my local newspaper only about two weeks ago. A firm in Edinburgh was advertising in Keswick for chefs. The implications will be readily identified by the House.
I should like free--if possible--or concessionary public transport arrangements to be established throughout the Lake district national park. Dealing with the crisis calls for real measures, but not necessarily a great deal of money. I should like all car parks in the Lake district that are open at present to be free of charge. I should like there to be free access--or, failing that, access at concessionary prices--to all environmental attractions, and even to lake cruises. That would be a major help in attracting tourists back to the area.
I should like help to be made available with the insurance premiums paid by businesses in my constituency. Such help would be of great assistance to guest houses, which, as commercial premises, pay substantially higher premiums than private houses.
I should like subsidies to be introduced to cover the advertising and promotion budgets of many businesses in the Lake district national park. Such subsidies should be based on the expenditure in those businesses' last two years' accounts, which means that vast amounts of money would not be involved.
I should also like the membership subscriptions to tourist associations and the Cumbria tourist board to be paid for many of the business in difficulty in my area. We should also consider underwriting the budgets of those local associations completely, if it is felt that that would be a better way to provide support.
How can we select the people to help? We have imposed on local authorities a requirement to asses the level of hardship where it occurs. I hope that the relevant criteria will be applied to the additional arrangements that I am calling for today.
My proposals apply to the Lake district, but they would also be valid in parts of Devon and central Wales. They would not be expensive. They are highly targeted, and do not amount to compensation. Someone should put a price on the package of measures that I have set out, as my resources are too limited for such a task.
I shall be leaving the House at the next election, but another hon. Member may well make the same speech in a couple of months, because the crisis will not go away. Everyone--people in Cumbria, hon. Members, and Ministers too--is trying valiantly to overcome the difficulties, but we face a major crisis. It must be dealt with, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he winds up the debate, will accept a proposition that I made the other day. That was that the organisations in my constituency that are wrestling with the problems every day should be allowed to give evidence directly to the national taskforce. I attended a taskforce meeting two weeks ago, and I was very impressed. The taskforce, with all its multi-ministerial representation, has a vital role to play.
Finally, I want to say something about vaccination. Peter Greenhill, chairman of the Mitchell's auction company in my constituency, has given me valuable advice about herdwicks, a variety of sheep. I advise Ministers to keep in contact with him, as he has a lot to say, especially about special breeds.
I do not know what the row over vaccination is about, especially with regard to meat consumption. Most cattle are vaccinated, and there is nothing new about that. If it is suggested that there should be special labelling of vaccinated animals, does that mean that all meat should be similarly labelled if the animal that it came from has been vaccinated? If so, almost every chop and other piece of meat in this country's butchers' shops would carry a label saying that the animal had been vaccinated.
As I understand it, some 40 vaccinations are already in use, and they apply right across the board. What is the difference between the foot and mouth vaccine and any other? The argument about vaccination and the need for compensation in connection with milk is nonsense. Vaccination is already an established practice, and vaccinating for foot and mouth would not amount to any change.