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Mr. Brown: That is not my understanding of the situation, but I shall ensure that my hon. Friend gets a written statement on access to the fells. In Carlisle we have tried to employ those who have been displaced from their normal work because of the outbreak on disease control measures. Although I cannot give him the specific assurance for which he asks, I can say that we will do what we can to try to maintain the local employment base where that is possible.
Let me take the opportunity to express my admiration for the community that my hon. Friend represents, and the neighbouring communities, which have been resilient throughout this most terrible outbreak.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I wish to put to the Minister a question that was not asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the shadow Minister of Agriculture, who has greatly enhanced his reputation over the past 11 weeks by his sensible handling of the problem for the Opposition.
That is proceeding, but one understood when it was introduced that the expense was to be met by the national Exchequer. We now find that the areas that have been hit are being called on to meet between 5 and 25 per cent. of the cost of the hardship relief. The local authorities that have had no problems have no extra expense, whereas a quite small district council in East Devon that has had cases of foot and mouth, and where hardship relief is being provided, is faced with an extra bill of £123,000. That is something that it never expected. Surely that cost should be met by the total Exchequer. May I urge the Minister to take this matter to the Treasury and to the Prime Minister--the Minister will not decide this himself--because it stinks of Treasury control, and is not a proper and sensible relief?
Mr. Brown: There is no contributory element to the agriculture schemes for which I am responsible. I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who is responsible for the scheme to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
Mrs. Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): The policy of culling animals on contiguous premises has been successful in bringing this disease under control, but in the forest of Dean 26 premises have been served with A notices as part of the contiguous cull as a result of dangerous contact with free-roaming sheep from the statutory forest. People have objected to that on the basis that the animals can either be counted in penny numbers or are pets. Will my right hon. Friend respond to the request from me and others for a serological study in relation to the A notices, so that we can move on to the flexibility involving testing before culling that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned? Secondly, may I press the Minister to put pressure on Forest Enterprise to lift the restrictions on some areas of the statutory forest, when we have resolved the issue of the 26 outstanding A notices, so that we can rebuild the tourism that has been so badly damaged in my area?
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Is the Minister aware not only of the effects of an approach to businesses in the agricultural, tourist and retail sectors that has effectively been a sticking plaster on a haemorrhage,
Mr. Brown: I have said this before, but let me repeat it. It would be quite wrong to imply that the Government can somehow buy out all the consequential losses resulting from foot and mouth disease. That is true of agriculture and of the other rural businesses that have been so terribly affected by this disease outbreak. By far the best thing that I can do for everyone employed in the rural community is to bear down on the disease and eliminate it, and that is what I am setting out to do.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): May I raise two questions with the Minister that have been raised with me by farmers in the restricted zone on the Warwickshire-Worcestershire border? The last outbreak was nearly six weeks ago and we are now going through the process of inspections that we hope will result in the lifting of the zone restrictions. Part of that process involves the blood testing of sheep in the zone, and those blood tests all have to be analysed at the Pirbright laboratory. Is the Minister confident that there are enough resources available at Pirbright to do those tests without causing unnecessary delay?
Secondly, on the movement of healthy stock in a restricted zone for slaughter for human consumption, I understand that such stock has to be moved to an abattoir in the zone. That restriction makes it almost impossible for many people to get their animals to slaughter. Would it be possible to allow the animals to be moved to abattoirs slightly outside the restricted zone, if adequate safeguards were in place in the form of a veterinary inspection before the animals left the farm?
Mr. Brown: It may be possible for us to adopt such a scheme in future, but it is not at the moment. Although it is possible, under strictly controlled conditions, to move animals in an infected zone, we do not want to move animals from an infected zone to one that is currently clear, for obvious disease control reasons. I am not saying that it will not be possible to free up the movement restrictions as we continue to bear down on the disease, and I can see the desirability of the right hon. Gentleman's case from a trade point of view.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Minister announced that there are proposals to allow healthy stock within 3 km of an infected place to move to slaughter "after a period of time". Will he help the House and my constituents by telling us what he anticipates that period of time to be? Secondly, it was dreadfully unfair to reduce the payments under the welfare cull. That is especially true for farmers under D notices, and I detect grave misgivings in all parts of the House about that.
Finally, will the Minister tell us when Dartmoor will be reopened to the public? The tourist trade on Dartmoor remains at a standstill and it is critical that it should be reopened as soon as it is safe to do so.
Mr. Brown: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. I want to get Dartmoor opened up as soon as possible. However, that must be consistent with disease control. On the D class restrictions for people in the 3 km zones, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are continuing difficulties with movement restrictions, although I hope that what I have announced today will help. My noble Friend Baroness Hayman, the Minister of State, is meeting farmers' representatives tomorrow to discuss the welfare scheme, and I have had some discussions with farmers' leaders on how to help those categories of animals that are compromised for market reasons rather than welfare reasons.
On the hon. Gentleman's question about the period of time, that will be a matter of clinical and veterinary judgment. That judgment will vary from place to place depending on circumstances, but a veterinary judgment will say whether the animal in question is disease-free.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Minister will know that this crisis will not end on the first day that there are no new cases to announce. That is true for farmers, and also for the hundreds of thousands of other businesses that have no cash or customers and face the prospect of their summer being shot to pieces as well. Will the Minister draw the attention of the Government to the need to persuade more British visitors to come to the countryside, through advertising campaigns? In Yorkshire, £80 out of every £100 spent on tourism comes from British visitors, and the quickest way to get economic life back into the countryside is to get Britons back into visiting their own country.
Mr. Brown: I agree with both the right hon. Gentleman's points. Yes, we need to promote domestic tourism, and my right hon. Friend is setting out to do just that. The disease is not over yet, and it requires continued vigilance not only from public servants, Ministers and Members of Parliament representing their constituents, but from the farming industry as well. Any unlicensed movement of animals carried out by people who believe that we are on the home straight could cause a resurgence of the disease outbreak. We must all remain vigilant and committed to bearing down on and eliminating the disease.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): May I say that nowhere will there be more people praying that the Minister is right to be even cautiously optimistic than in Cumbria? Unfortunately, however, in south Cumbria things are not getting any better; they are still getting worse. In fact, there have been more outbreaks of the disease in my constituency in the past fortnight than in the whole of the period up until then. We have now lost at least half the irreplaceable rare breed sheep on the upland fells that play such a vital role in the ecology and look of the Lake district. Lake district tourist businesses in my constituency report that business is quieter and losses are greater now than they were before Easter.
May I press the Minister to consider taking two steps that need to be taken, as a matter of urgency? First, will he make it Government policy to ensure that rare sheep breeds such as Herdwick and rough fell are not wiped out? Will he declare today that no sheep belonging to those breeds will be wiped out unless there is specific blood-test evidence that they have the disease, and that measures will be introduced to ensure that a major ecological disaster does not take place in the coming weeks, when the last of those animals could be wiped out without MAFF's even knowing that that is what it is doing?
Secondly, will the Minister please convey a clear message to the Treasury and the rural taskforce that Cumbria is bleeding to death? Its Labour-controlled county council estimated this week that losses already amounted to £500 million in that county alone, and were escalating steadily. Businesses in my constituency and beyond need more help, and need it desperately.