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Mr. Brown: The rules have not been made especially for the hon. Member for South Suffolk. I am taking the same line with all hon. Members. Of course I will agree to requests by hon. Members with regard to visits to Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food premises for purposes that relate to their constituencies. It is right to
I turn now to vaccination. The crucial issue in determining vaccination policy is consumer acceptance of such a policy. It is the consideration of consumer acceptance that drives the views of retailers, processors and farmers. I welcome the fact that other Ministers in the European Union have taken a similar view. The question of vaccination needs to be discussed in a rational and scientifically based manner once the outbreak has been brought to a conclusion.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk asked how we are prioritising our work under the welfare scheme, and talked about the backlog. We have asked the RSPCA to help us prioritise cases so that we get to the most needy ones first. The hon. Gentleman asked about scientific advice to me. It is based on the advice of the chief scientist and chief vet. The change in emphasis on the contiguous cull results from a conference that the chief vet held last Friday, where he consulted private sector and public sector veterinarians across the regions and in particular from affected regions. It is not surprising that a disease outbreak that has moved rapidly should require rapid responses in policy to deal with it. This is the response that, after consideration, the chief vet and chief scientist are recommending to me. I am more than willing to put their formal advice and the guidance given to veterinarians locally in the public domain.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would continue to update the information on constituency cases. Yes, I will place it on an updated basis in the House of Commons Library and will endeavour to place it elsewhere, so that all those with an interest can have continuing access to it, whether or not Parliament is sitting.
This is a serious disease outbreak. It is now moving towards its conclusion, but we will have to respond to further incidents. There will be outbreaks. It is not possible to say where they will occur or how many there will be, but advice to me is that there will be further outbreaks. We have to be ready to stamp on them where they occur and cull them out quickly. We will be able to achieve that far more easily if we have public backing for our policies, in particular the backing of the livestock industry, farmers and the broader rural community. Frankly, if the House can show some unity of purpose, it will reflect better on all of us in the days to come.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend has said that the vaccination of cattle is not feasible in present conditions. What about the vaccination of Herdwick sheep and other special sheep breeds as an addition or alternative to his policy of tight biosecurity and serum testing? Could we not have both policies introduced?
Mr. Brown: This is an important issue and we have given it substantial consideration and examination. The professional advice to me from the chief vet and others who advise him is that vaccinating sheep is not an option. The advice from John Thorley is that the National Sheep Association is opposed to vaccination, and there is a range
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I thank the Minister for his statement and his usual courtesy in providing an early copy. This is welcome news and, indeed, a common-sense approach to the situation. I should like to raise a number of points.
It is still disappointing that there is no news whatever about compensation for the over-30-months scheme. That has become quite an issue. Do I take it that the Government are not intending to give compensation for that particular problem? Surely it must be one of the easiest schemes to implement.
Will the Minister look at the situation concerning pedigree animals, particularly in respect of welfare disposal? Clearly, pedigree animals are not valued highly enough if entered into the welfare disposal scheme, although they suffer the same welfare problems as other animals, their value notwithstanding.
What assessment has the Minister made in respect of the percentage of infected animals that have been part of the contiguous cull? Bearing in mind the substantial number of animals that have been killed, it would be useful to know what he believes the actual number of infected animals to have been.
Finally, on the pigswill consultations, I am sure that the Minister has received representations from those who will be substantially affected as regards whey feeding. There will be a major effect on cheese making--an important industry in many parts of the affected rural areas.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right; I have received representations about whey feeding and the proposed pigswill ban. I am looking closely at that and other issues related to the brewing industry, as part of a broader consideration--although, clearly, it is a discrete issue.
On new cases, I have already referred to the fact that we could expect sporadic outbreaks in different parts of the country. I understand that they occur for three main reasons: the movement of vehicles; the movement of people; and the movement of animals. I have placed advertisements in the farming press about biosecurity. In all my meetings with farmers, I emphasise the importance of biosecurity, farm by farm. The hon. Gentleman is right: if we are to defeat the disease, we must all work together and focus on the measures that are necessary--farm by farm--to prevent the disease from getting on to a farm and spreading from it.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the percentage of infected animals in the contiguous cull policy. The purpose of the policy is to get to the animals as quickly as possible so that the number of infected animals is relatively low. We know that if we do not get there quickly, the number of animals infected will rise
I note the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about pedigree animals. However, I have to beware of creating an alternative market for livestock through the welfare schemes. I will consider his representations--they are fair. As I said in my statement, I want to look at the other two sectors--lightweight sheep and sows--where the market is compromised, at least in part, by the export ban. The circumstances are specific and I want to discuss them further with the leadership of the farmers' unions and others with a particular interest. However, there is no easy solution. The worst thing I could do, through trying to be helpful, would be to create a false market that would, in turn, merely suck in imports and, frankly, do medium and long-term damage to the livestock industry.
I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman has been a doughty campaigner on behalf of people with over-30-months animals. I am keeping the issue under review. It is not fair to say that a conclusion has been reached, but I know that he understands the difficulties as well as the obvious merits of the case that he presents.
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. I thank him for his tireless hard work during the past few weeks. Does he agree that there is a need for better contingency planning and for an increase in contingency funding for his Department? Specifically, will the independent review, which is referred to on page 25 of the MAFF departmental plan, where there is an overview of the business planning process, incorporate the lessons that should be learned from the foot and mouth outbreak? The question is not if, but when, we shall be faced with a third outbreak, but of a different disease--whether it be BSE, foot and mouth or swine fever.
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right. The Department will need to reflect on its contingency planning arrangements, not just within the Department but across Government, in the light of this unusual, indeed unique, disease outbreak--at least the pattern that it has taken is unique. There are other things that Government can do to prevent such an occurrence happening again, and I have discussed them in my statement: the re-examination of our rules on personal food imports, on commercial food imports, on pigswill, and on the issue of the standover of animals that have been moved for commercial purposes. All this is being looked at very hard at the moment, and I hope to have something to say to the House on some of it shortly.