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Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I asked him, in a written question on 9 April, whether he would release vaccine to zoos that may need it to vaccinate endangered species that are susceptible to foot and mouth disease.
Mr. Brown: There is a vaccine strategy for zoos; I am sorry if I have not let the hon. Gentleman have a copy of it. I will ensure that he has a copy; in fact, I will send him two, so that he can give one to his zoo. The circumstances in which vaccination of animals could be permitted by Government are clearly set out, and there has been discussion with organisations representing those who operate zoological premises.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): One thing that has characterised the last two or three months has been the movement in scientific opinion, which has confused many of my constituents and, I believe, other people in the country. Members in the House and in the country recognise, against the background of that moving scientific opinion, the determined and measured way in which these issues have been addressed by my right hon. Friend, but may I raise with him the issue of information to Members of Parliament?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that decisions taken be communicated accurately? Does he have a fast-track system for dealing with questions? Most of the questions that Members are currently asking are real questions, which have been raised by constituents who have real problems, and we need real answers. Does my right hon. Friend have a fast-track system for dealing with those; if he does, could he have a faster-track system for dealing with them?
Mr. Brown: There is a fast-track system for Members of Parliament; there is an established helpline for Members of Parliament. My hon. Friend asks whether we could have an even faster track, presumably for Members for Newcastle, and of course I am very sympathetic to that--so if he has a word with me afterwards, I will sort out his problem, whatever it is.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Will the Minister clarify the advice given as to the effects of pyres on grazing land? As he is aware, this week restrictions were lifted from my constituency; but farmers are concerned about the advice which, as far as we understand it, sought to minimise the risks. There was a suggestion that any particulates and other noxious substances would quickly dissipate in a matter of months, but stock is now being moved in my constituency and farmers really want to know whether they should be putting their stock out to grass. What advice will be available, given that one of the first pyres was lit in my constituency at a time when there was quite a lot of wind and the smoke spread throughout my constituency and changed direction? What advice will be given to those on farms close to the pyre and close to the fallout of the pyre? Should stock be put out to graze, and if so, when?
Mr. Brown: The prospect of the foot and mouth disease virus being spread by the fires is very remote indeed, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): In a similar vein, I should like to ask what environmental study of the pyres and landfill sites will take place to ensure that the people who live in the surrounding areas feel safe. The long-term monitoring of landfill sites, as well as pyre sites, is very important. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take on board the importance of the Intervention Board and the fact that the farming community still has difficulties--everything seems to be going ahead, but when it comes to the final signature on the letter, things do not happen as speedily as the farmers expect. What encouragement, help and assistance can be given to the Intervention Board to ease the pain that farmers are suffering at the moment?
Finally, I believe that the Chamber was at its best when both sides worked together to try to eradicate the diseases, instead of which we are degenerating into scoring cheap political points, which does no parliamentarian any good whatever. I hope that the true credit will go to those involved in fighting the disease--those in MAFF and the armed forces, and obviously those working for the NFU who are not getting the thanks that they deserve.
Mr. Brown: The public service has received help and support from NFU officials, who have worked alongside those at our regional centres, liaising with the farming community and performing an invaluable role in this difficult situation. The Intervention Board has been given extra resources to deal with the schemes that it is administering on the Government's behalf throughout Great Britain, but the right way to deal with the animals constrained by the movement restrictions is to bear down on the disease and to find a market-oriented approach, rather than looking to emergency state schemes. Environmental monitoring will continue, and we shall bear in mind the long-term effects of the disposal routes, not just the short-term ones.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Minister has said that the backlog in Devon is now 85,000 animals--a considerable reduction and a considerable improvement. Today, and every day, many thousands of carcases are being moved to rendering plants and, probably, to landfill sites. Fortunately, there has been a significant diminution in Devon of confirmed cases in the past week. The Minister has announced a change in the contiguous cull policy. Taking all those factors together, will there be an end to the pyres and to the necessity for the huge burial grounds?
Mr. Brown: I know that it is painful, but the policy of culling out the disease must continue until we have removed the disease. There is no medicine that I can give to the animals, nor other intervention that I can take, that will get rid of the disease. Unless we stop the disease,
As the hon. Gentleman knows--he has raised the issue with me--there is no universally accepted disposal route. I understand what he says about the resistance to the pyres. They disfigure the landscape and people worry about the consequences, so I assure him that we will try to find disposal routes that are acceptable to local people, but I cannot confidently say that I am certain that we will be able to do so in all circumstances, because arguments can be made against, as well as for, each disposal route. I am afraid that that is the best I can do for the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being the calm, rational centre of the storm that has been swirling around him--unlike the cynical opportunism that we have seen from the Tory party?
Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the excessive movements of cattle, which he has mentioned? The House has been told of a farmer who was shocked to discover that a flock of sheep that he had bought had been on 11 different holdings in the past two months. In some parts of the country, it is claimed that 10 per cent. of sheep disappear. Some of them die, but we believe that some are counted several times to increase subsidies.
Can we ensure that we identify the reason for the spread of the disease, which has been far greater than in the past in this or any other country? The main reason has been the illegal movements of sheep and other animals around the country to increase subsidies.
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right to this extent: we have all been surprised at the number of sheep movements that result from the patterns of trade. There is a range of reasons for that, but they have implications for disease control. That is why I am consulting about a standstill period before sheep that have been traded can be moved again.
The implications for the current support regimes of the European Union--particularly the headage-based ones--have not been lost on anyone. I am clear in my own mind that, in future, we shall move away from headage-based schemes--for hill farmers specifically and, more generally, under the sheep premium regime--when the Commission puts its reform proposals forward. We shall move much more closely towards schemes that support farmers' incomes through a series of agreed criteria and away from supporting just the volume of livestock. That is the future of public support for the industry, and the Government need to discuss it carefully with those interested in the industry.