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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does the Minister accept that he would better create unity in the House and confidence in his policies if he allowed my hon. Friend the shadow Minister access, on behalf of the Conservative party, to vets, officials and others? The Minister's attitude on that has frankly been reprehensible.
Mr. Brown: I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on both points. I cannot deny the Opposition spokesman access to vets and I am not seeking to do so. My responsibility is for the work of the Ministry and of public officials. I want them to focus their full-time attention on eradicating the disease. As I have said very carefully, a special rule has not been devised for the Opposition spokesman; we are applying it equally and consistently to Members on both sides of the House.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the pattern of the disease has changed as it has spread, as we have borne down on it and as the number of cases has declined. Throughout, I have followed the scientific and veterinary advice available to Government and--to be candid about it--I have done more than that. I have put the advice into the public domain and, more than that, I have done what in my understanding no other Minister has done before. I have arranged presentations for hon. Members-- I understand that the hon. Gentleman attended one of them--to explain the epidemiology and to explain the case for vaccination. We have allowed the issues to be set out, so that we all could consider them. As I have said on a number of occasions--I repeat it now--whenever I make a decision based on scientific advice, I am willing to share that advice and to explain very carefully why I have arrived at the decision that I have. That is precisely what I have done today.
However, I wish to raise a livestock welfare issue of which my right hon. Friend's officials are aware. It does not seem able to be solved. My constituent, Mr. James Rotherham, runs a trout farm and, because anglers cannot get to the riverside, there is no demand for his trout to be put into rivers and lakes. Even if there were such demand, he would not be able to reach the rivers and lakes because of the travel restrictions. That means that thousands of trout on his farm are getting bigger and bigger in a very confined space. They are not suitable for selling to the retail trade and the fact that he cannot get rid of them means that a welfare issue has arisen because of the travel restrictions on the land around the area where he stocks the fish. Will my right hon. Friend consider this issue as a matter of urgency because the problem is getting desperate?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right to explain the dangers of creating a false market. Although I shall give detailed consideration to the special circumstances that he sets out to see what can be done, I cannot promise to resolve them.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The changes in the welfare scheme are sensible, but they leave farmers with cattle that have gone beyond the 30 months seriously adrift. The Minister must urgently address that problem. Is he aware that when the Government's chief scientific adviser met the Select Committee on Agriculture yesterday, he made no reference to a possible change of policy on contiguous culling? Indeed, he emphasised that
Mr. Brown: I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Veterinary consideration of how to handle the difficult issue of cattle in the contiguous cull was considered by the chief vet at his conference last Friday. He has received many representations specifically on that topic from the vets who have to do the difficult and distressing job of carrying out the policy in the regions. I know that the right hon. Gentleman understands that, in addition to policy issues, there is a range of practical difficulties to consider. However, the policy was under review well before any individual incident was reported in the papers. We would be wrong as policy makers to extrapolate public policy from individual cases that always involve very young animals such as Lucky the lamb and Phoenix the calf. I understand that they may serve as symbols, but there are special circumstances in both cases.
On the right hon. Gentleman's other concern, I understand that to be the case. However, we must not relax the policy because that will allow the disease to spread remorselessly. I take comfort from the fact that we are getting to it quickly enough for the number of animals that are showing signs of the disease to be relatively small. The crucial consideration is that things will not stay that way if we do not act firmly now.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): This is a welcome statement in difficult circumstances. In Chinese mythology, Phoenix ushers in a new age, and these provisions might at least mean that we are at a new stage. How will the change in policy affect the number of slaughtered animals that are being put into landfill sites? As livestock is now going into the food chain, will we be able to lessen the amount of carcases that go into landfill sites and therefore reduce the 111 sites that are in England at the moment?
Mr. Brown: As the number of infected premises steadily declines, the number of dangerous contacts and contiguous culls are also remorselessly declining, which means that fewer animals will have to be disposed of by the differing routes. We are considering the most appropriate route for each set of circumstances, but we are going to have to use them all for the foreseeable future. There is no perfect solution. Arguments can be made against each route, but there are even more powerful arguments against doing nothing.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that when a veterinary surgeon discovers symptoms that he or she believes to be indicative of foot and mouth disease, the procedure is that the Ministry is notified and the case is either confirmed or, on the basis of the evidence, which may be insufficient, rejected. If it is rejected, I understand that the Ministry might, quite properly, authorise a precautionary cull. If that takes place, is it correct that a post-mortem examination and blood tests are carried out in every case
Mr. Brown: I promise to let the hon. Gentleman have a detailed written answer to that because I want to be certain that my response is correct. The principle that he enunciates is right. Veterinarians are allowed to exercise clinical judgment on the site and do not have to check in with the veterinary headquarters in Page street if the situation is clear. However, it is right to remind the House that for every three cases that are reported to us as suspected foot and mouth, two turn out to be false alarms.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): I very much welcome the decision to allow farmers outside the 3 km protection zone to get their animals into the food chain. That will certainly help many of my farmers and butchers that source locally. Given the fact that the impact of foot and mouth goes far wider than the farming and agricultural communities, why is the compensation that is being allocated through Advantage West Midlands based on the percentage of the population involved in agriculture? That excludes Staffordshire, which is one of the worst affected areas outside the main hot spots.
Mr. Brown: I will have to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment to respond to my hon. Friend's second concern. The formula is a matter for him. We decided to use regional development agencies as deliverers of support because of the idea that local people would best know local circumstances and be able to respond more easily to local demands. I welcome what my hon. Friend says about getting the supply chain moving. That is crucial for the medium and long-term future of the British livestock industry.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Is the Minister aware that tests on David and Caroline Gilder's animals at Bozard farm, Woolstone, near Tewkesbury, have proved negative and hundreds of animals have been unnecessarily slaughtered? Hundreds more on surrounding farms have also been unnecessarily slaughtered, and I shall table written questions on a similar situation on a farm near Whitby in Yorkshire. In cases of genuine misdiagnosis, it is reasonable that the Government pay compensation not only for the animals slaughtered, but for all consequential losses. Will he seriously consider that?