Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Thank you for coming, Minister. We realise that you have a double whammy today. This is a sort of aperitif but as you know the aperitif can be a more discerning morsel. I think you would like to bring us up to date with events first of all and then we will go into normal questioning. I will leave it to both of you to decide who is the sensible person to reply to the questions put to you, unless they are addressed specifically to one of you.

  (Mr Brown) I would like to bring the Committee up to date with the present situation as at ten o'clock this morning. There were 394 confirmed cases in Great Britain and there is one case, which is now three weeks old, in Northern Ireland. As the outbreak has gone on, our response has grown as our understanding of the outbreak has grown. I think it is widely recognised that the State Veterinary Service responded with great speed and effectiveness to the outbreak. That is the view of our European Union partners, both at the Council of Ministers with whom I have discussed this issue twice now, and at the Standing Veterinary Committee which is a meeting of veterinary experts from each of the Member States. This was also the view of the Commission's mission to the United Kingdom which took place last week. In the 1967 outbreak, the Government had to slaughter some 450,000 animals over six months. We have already authorised the slaughter of 350,000 animals in four weeks. Backlogs have developed and I am determined to overcome them. It is not a question of will; it is not a question of cost; it is a question of practicality and logistics. I would like to take the Committee through some of the key issues, because I know these are what you want to ask me about. The first key issue has been the availability of vets. The State Veterinary Service normally has some 220 vets. Over the past four weeks, this has been increased from private practice, from overseas state veterinary services, to some 700 and there are more vets on their way. There have been difficulties with the speed of disease confirmation, difficulties with the speed in which we have been able to kill the animals and difficulties with disposing of the carcasses. This is particularly true of the major disease areas. It took time for it to emerge but we now know they are Cumbria, Devon and the area on the Welsh/English borders. Most critical for disease control is a narrowing of the gap between discovery of the disease in animals and the killing of the animals. This is partly a question of veterinary resource and partly other factors: access to the sites, suitability for on-site burial, the scale of the on-farm incineration pyres, environmental and local authority consents, the process of valuation and the availability of rendering capacity. All of these issues have in the past tied up veterinary manpower. We have taken a number of key steps to increase management and logistical support to free vets for disease control and veterinary management. I would like to outline to the Committee what we have done. In Cumbria and Devon we have brought in Army logistical teams to provide on-site advice for contracting and supervision of carcass disposal. In other words, they are not disposing of the carcasses themselves; they are supervising contractors. We have also put in place new senior Ministry of Agriculture directors of operations, working alongside veterinary management to handle all the non-veterinary tasks and to work closely with the stakeholders and the local media. This was both in Cumbria and south Scotland as one area and in Devon as another. In London we have the Intervention Board chief executive to coordinate the provision of slaughtering, rendering and disposal capacity across the country. We have had a meeting with the chief executive of the Intervention Board to work on precisely this problem before coming here this morning. In other words, to substantially increase the amount of rendering capacity available to the Government so that we can use that as a disposal route. We are also looking urgently with the industry at a shorter route to fair valuation. In other words, establishing a single price or a range of prices which would either be accepted or go to arbitration but take one route or the other. Our disease control strategy is as I set out to the House last Thursday. We are seeking to keep the currently disease-free area clear of foot and mouth disease. We have intensive surveillance patrols in Devon. We have the precautionary three kilometre cull of infected or exposed sheep and pigs in Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway. The Scottish authorities are working in parallel with our own. We intend to destroy those animals that are traced from the three infected markets and we are taking similar action in respect of the animals homed by the two main sheep dealers. These disease control measures and questions are at the top of our agenda but we have also tackled speedily, effectively and in close cooperation with the affected communities other issues posed by foot and mouth disease. We have tightly controlled movement of animals to slaughter for the human food chain where it has proved practical to do so. It is important to try to get the domestic market moving again where we can. We have had some success with that, particularly with cattle and pigs. We have taken precautionary but proportionate measures to limit public access to the countryside. We have introduced schemes to deal with the welfare problems posed to our animals that are caught up in restrictions and the scheme here parallels the scheme we put in place in East Anglia last summer during the classical swine fever outbreak. We have announced initial support measures for farmers through the rural task force for the rural economy. I want to make it absolutely clear to the Committee that there is more to be done on support measures for farmers. I am not in a position to make a statement today but it will cost the public money. I have in the forefront of my mind not just what is necessary to help farmers who are at present in difficulties but to make sure we have a comprehensive and workable recovery plan so that, once we are through and out the other side of this very serious disease outbreak, we can have an industry that is viable and returning a decent income to the farmers who are going to return to livestock farming.

  2. Thank you. You have covered a lot of ground which we will seek further detail on obviously. As you know, there have been rumours swirling around, and they were articulated very clearly on the radio this morning, that ministry officials, some time before the announcement of that first outbreak, had been making inquiries about the procurement of timber and materials to build fires to dispose of carcasses. This is now taking some material form. It would be helpful if you would take the opportunity now to let us know what that situation is, what substance there is to that and if you could clarify that matter.
  (Mr Brown) I was first informed about the disease on the Tuesday night of the week the outbreak in the Essex abattoir and the Essex farm was discovered. It was the week the House was in recess. That Wednesday morning, I made a speech in Cambridge about non-food crops and then came straight back to London. Of course, by the end of the day, we had the export restrictions in place. In fact, they had been in place on the day before because officials had put a hold on all export certificates. The following Thursday, I was notified of the potential cases in Northumbria. That Friday morning, it was confirmed. Early Friday afternoon, I spoke to the Prime Minister, who was in America—it would be morning, by his time—and at five o'clock that night we imposed a control zone and restrictions right across the whole of Great Britain. There are a number of urban legends doing the rounds about whether the ministry knew before. That is not true. There are legends that sheep farmers were reporting it earlier on. That is not true. There are legends that a veterinary inspector on the farm where the outbreak took place visited the farm and missed the disease. That is not true. The only thing that might have happened is that each year, as the two of you who have been Agriculture Ministers will know, there is a contingency exercise covering a whole range of circumstances and, as part of that exercise, we regularly check on supplies of materials the industry might need to take up from the private sector at short notice. It is perfectly possible that a junior official would be ringing round suppliers to check the availability of a range of materials, as we do every year, in case they need them, but it is nothing to do with the disease outbreak, apart from contingency planning.

  3. As some people who claim they have been recipients of the phone calls were on the radio this morning, I am sure if you were able to seek positive confirmation that that is what happened, it would no doubt help everybody.
  (Mr Brown) I intend to do exactly that. We will trace the people who were on the radio and ask them for the telephone number that they rang. If they can remember the name of the official, that will be fine. If they cannot, we will telephone the official. If it is one of ours, we will find out what they were enquiring about or why. I am pretty certain it will turn out to have been the regular contingency planning that is part of the routine work of the Department. I can give the Committee this assurance: we did not know of foot and mouth disease in this country at a time earlier than has been reported to Parliament. It is an important question. It has been reported overseas that there was some deliberate concealment. There was not.

  4. That is why I asked the question first of all, to give you an opportunity to set it right on the record.
  (Mr Brown) I have set out the timetable in some detail because I think it is right that it should be a matter of public record.

  5. I would like to ask you about two micro-management matters. Would you agree that perhaps some of the people worst affected by this are not farmers who have foot and mouth in their own flocks and herds but those who are caught within exclusion zones which might be, in my constituency, as far as 25 miles away from the nearest outbreak, who cannot sell stock, who cannot move stock, whose stock is now literally going past its sell-by date, which are eating capital and not producing revenue and for which there is no prospect of compensation that I am aware of?
  (Mr Brown) This is a very serious question. I cannot say that it is of a more serious order than somebody whose business is wiped out because they have foot and mouth disease directly on the farm, but it most certainly is a serious question. I have done a number of things to try to help. Where it has been possible, we have tried to get the supply chain moving again, although admittedly under very carefully controlled conditions. There are no unlicensed movements of livestock around Great Britain at the moment at all. It is an illegal act to move livestock at the moment without a permit. The purpose of the licensed scheme is to try to get the trade working normally where it can safely be done and the licensed movements are from farm holding to slaughter house. That does not pose a great risk of spreading the disease as long as it is a single journey and the animals in transit do not mix with other animals that are going to live on. The disease is dramatically reduced when the animals are dead because they are not breathing out the virus. I have opened up again a welfare scheme very similar to the one that we developed from scratch last summer in the circumstances of the classical swine fever outbreak in East Anglia. This is a voluntary scheme. The payment rates are below the market rate, partly because it is a voluntary scheme but particularly because if it was at market rate that would be opening a whole alternative market into which animals would be presented. The purpose of that is to deal with the animals that are caught by moving restrictions in quarantine areas, but also to try to ameliorate the very difficult situation that the sheep sector finds itself in, where animals are on winter tack and it is difficult to get them back to their home quarters. Our proposed order of solutions is this: firstly, where we can move animals safely and under licence for welfare reasons, we are doing that. It is a very strictly controlled scheme and we have to make sure we have eliminated the risks of infectivity in the lorries, the animals having infectivity before they move or, when they arrive, then being infected. That risk has to be reduced to as low as we can get it. If that cannot be done, our second preferred route is the management of the problem in its location, even if the location is not ideal. We are giving advice about temporary housing, about moving the shepherds to the flock rather than moving the flock to the shepherds. In some cases, this is a practical route, but not in every case. The third route is for the animals to be sold into the welfare scheme, a particularly difficult issue for the sheep sector because of the market conditions. In the other two sectors, cattle and pigs, we have a fair bit of the market, about 80 per cent, back to working, back to there being trade. I cannot say it is working normally because the licensing conditions impose pretty heavy restrictions on how things can be done but 80 per cent of volume is moving again with cattle and pigs, but not with sheep. There is a particular series of difficulties with the sheep sector.

  6. The problem is that the areas of exclusion are drawn very widely and sometimes it is quite difficult to understand why they have been drawn where they are, other than to conform to natural or major features. That means farmers 25 miles from an outbreak can be excluded but ones 15 miles away can be in a territory which is not.
  (Mr Brown) Apart from farms where the disease is directly discovered, where the animals have to be purchased and slaughtered, we have tried to deal with local anomalies by a local licensing scheme which we got up and running pretty early on during the disease outbreak. The restrictions are that it has to be in a five kilometre radius of the original holding or ten by road. It is a restricted local scheme but it is designed to help farmers move animals across roads to new pastures and from pastures to where there are sheds for the purposes of lambing in tightly controlled, local circumstances. The longer journeys of animals have absolutely to be strictly controlled because if we have the unlicensed movement of unchecked livestock around the country the risk of spreading the current disease is substantial.

  7. I appreciate that and you will equally appreciate that there are obvious cases of farmers whose cattle are now going beyond the 30 months because they cannot be moved. There is also the less obvious one of lambs which are now pushing up two teeth and therefore they will eventually be slaughtered as mutton, not as lamb. It is an analogous circumstance but a significant market loss for the farmer as well.
  (Mr Brown) I am looking at what can be done for cattle caught by the workings of the over 30 months scheme. There are not a great many animals involved. The position with sheep is rather more complex and intractable because a substantial volume of the total number of animals now confined to the United Kingdom was clearly destined for export. It is not going to be exported. There is no prospect of it being exported in the near future, even if the market was there. The animals are lightweight lambs. They are not bred for the United Kingdom market. There is no demand for them on the United Kingdom market. There are two problems. We have a product that was not destined for the United Kingdom coming on to the United Kingdom market creating an unwanted product that the market is not structured for. Also, it creates a huge surplus and that forces the price down. With sheep, we only have about a third of the normal domestic supply chain moving at the minute. There is a gap there and the problem is not directly amenable to a market orientated solution.

  8. There has been a lot of discussion as to what does the expression "under control" mean. There is probably a consensus that "under control" means that all the outbreaks can be traced back to the original, primary source. Are you confident that where we are now, about to go over the 400 threshold, every single one of those has an umbilical cord going back to the original outbreaks and, in that sense, can be still described as "under control"?
  (Mr Brown) That is essentially right. We understand what is happening but there are two uncertainties. One uncertainty is how much infectivity is out there; the other is what is incubating but has not yet shown itself. That is what I mean by "under control". I mean something else as well. In as much as we have imposed blanket movement restrictions across the whole of Great Britain, all movements are controlled. In other words, we are not spreading the disease by the movement of animals. That is also what I mean by "under control". When I am asked this question, I always try and state two caveats alongside it. There is the uncertainty as to how much infectivity has spread and the incubating of flocks and the uncertainty as to where this will emerge. I do not want to get involved in a semantic debate but that is what I mean by "under control". As the disease has emerged, we have been faced with a new range of problems in Cumbria and south Scotland, in Devon and on the Welsh/English border. There is lateral infectivity. You are right to say it can all be traced eventually back to the original outbreak but with the very latest cases there is nothing that is so anomalous as to suggest that there is some other outbreak as well as the one originally sourced back, we still believe, to the farm on Heddon-on-the-Wall. What we are now finding is that there is sheep to sheep transmission in the areas where the disease is most intensive. We are finding cattle to cattle transmission as well. The stages at which this can be traced back in the most extreme circumstances are from a fourth farm, back to a third farm, back to a second farm, back to a first farm, back to the Longtown market and then back probably to—

Mr Todd

  9. Can you explain the relative roles of MAFF and trading standards in dealing with movement controls, because the point David has already made about dealing with local movements to ensure animal welfare and to deal with lambing difficulties certainly applies in my area. I have had a number of cases raised with me where it has proved extremely difficult to obtain proper movement licenses, partly because of the processes that seem to be expected of farmers.
  (Mr Brown) The extra work that all this has necessitated has put a strain on the department and the local authorities who are part of this. They had to put new procedures into place very quickly with existing resources in the same way that we have done. The advantage that we have is that, being a Government department, we can call on the extra resources of Government that are needed to deal with a situation of this kind. It is the local authorities, the trading standards authorities, that are the licensing authorities for the purposes of the movement. The movement itself has to be certified in two ways. A vet has to give consent and the farmer has to certify that the animals are clean. In other words, that they are not showing signs of the disease. That certificate has to be signed as a daily certificate. It cannot be signed and deemed to be true a fortnight later.

  10. The difficulty that has been drawn to my attention is that, in my area, that may mean getting your vet to give a view and sending that to Nottingham, which is the local RSC for our area. That for some reason is transacted to Cambridge for a further check, sent back to Nottingham, back through the vet, back to the farmer, who has to obtain the licence from Matlock which is some distance away, who will not transact that process by fax but have to do it in person. It means that this is a task for which there are plenty of obstructions in the way. No one wishes to see casual movement control because that risks spread. In my area, we have not had an outbreak for a week or so. We are hoping and praying it will not happen and are therefore keen to see vigilance, but clearly there are difficulties in the administrative process.
  (Mr Brown) It sounds to me that there is an extra transaction there but can I check it?

  11. I would welcome a review of the way in which the paperwork moves around the various districts.
  (Mr Brown) It sounds as if it is something to do with an incompetent local authority but let me check. Perhaps I can let the Committee have a note on how these schemes operate and what the authorisations are.


  12. In my own constituency, the movement to bring ewes back home, which is not going to happen, is separate, but you apply to the regional service centre. They courier down to Leeds and back to Northallerton and send out from there.
  (Mr Brown) These are two separate areas.

  13. They illustrate the same point.
  (Mr Brown) Except that I cannot conceal from the Committee how serious the question of the longer movement of sheep is. Yes, we want to do the right thing by the animal for welfare reasons. Yes, we would like to get the industry working as close to normal as we can. However, the overriding priority has to be to protect the movement of the disease and the most likely route of spreading the disease is that animals vulnerable to the disease will carry it as they are moved. Difficult though it is, we have to be very tough minded about this. There is a substantial number of animals involved in what you describe, hundreds of thousands. To move them all, if they all need to move at the same time, also means a very substantial movement of animals and I do not want that authorised substantial movement of animals to mask the unauthorised movement of animals because the temptations are out there. I am urging people not to do it. The authorities, when they stop wagons and check licences, meaning the police—I do not want to make their job any harder, by masking the unauthorised movement of animals.

Mr Mitchell

  14. I wonder if we should not have implemented more draconian controls as soon as the outbreak was notified. The French have gone in guns blazing, slaughtering cattle and sheep just on suspicion. The Irish have cancelled all their sporting events and introduced a strict disinfecting policy, not before time, on the border. Should we have acted more quickly with more draconian controls?
  (Mr Brown) We have probably had more guns blazing than anyone else literally. Remember, the animals are shot. The movement restriction across the whole of Great Britain that Friday involved bringing the whole of the livestock sector to a standstill. That was a very dramatic thing to do. At the time, people were critical. They said that we were panicking. I was advised to do it by the chief vet. My private view is that he was absolutely right to make the recommendation that he did. I telephoned the Prime Minister in America to say what I intended to do. He accepted it as well on the same professional advice that I had received. We discussed it with colleagues in the territorial departments because it clearly impacts on Scotland and Wales; we discussed it with the authorities in Northern Ireland who felt that they could do something slightly different because of the slightly different veterinary regime in Northern Ireland and there is the land border with the south. In retrospect, I believe that was the right thing to do. I believe it was right to impose the quarantine measures around the affected holdings and to make the statement that I made last Thursday, that where the infection is continuing to spread, because of the intensity of the infection, further preemptive measures are necessary. I support what the French authorities have done. They have caught their, I hope, one outbreak, taking the most rigorous measures to confine it to that. Our problem was that on Friday we discovered that it was not a single outbreak in an abattoir in Essex and a neighbouring farm. At that stage that was all we knew about in the country. When we discovered the third case in the second region affected, we found two new things. We had a case on the border of Northumberland and Tyne and Wear at Heddon-on-the-Wall and the infectivity appeared to have been in the animals for about a fortnight. We had had the disease in pigs concentrated for about a fortnight. The potential consequences were not lost on anybody. It was confirmed on the Friday morning. By the end of that day I had spoken to the Prime Minister and the whole livestock industry in Great Britain was at a standstill. That seems to be pretty tough, decisive action, straight away. I am absolutely convinced that what we did was necessary to limit the spread of the disease. What we could never limit was what was already in the national herd. As we now know, but could not have known then, these cases were all pigs at the beginning. We know how it got there: a plume of disease from the Heddon-on-the-Wall farm across to neighbouring farms in Northumberland, into the livestock markets, a huge amount of infectivity at the Longtown market and spread by dealers throughout the country, completely unwittingly, because of the incubation period of the disease. When people see the number of cases growing, there is a tendency for it to be reported as if the cases were spreading. They are not spreading. Mostly, what we are seeing is as a result of what has already happened a fortnight earlier. The two uncertainties in this are how much of it there is—a lot more than anyone could have hoped for—and where it is. We now know the answers to that as well.

  15. There seems to be some improvisation about movement policy. You had a complete ban on 23 February. On 2 March, licensed movements for slaughter and you talked of collection points. You cancelled the collection points on the 15 March and on 16 March you allowed movements within affected areas, having suspended the drivers' hours regulations on 6 March. This seems to be increased improvisation rather than clear policy.
  (Mr Brown) I do not think that. I would have liked the collection centres to have been a workable proposition but we believe that to divert resources into managing them to make sure that there is no acceptable risk of spreading the disease is not the right priority. We will return to the proposal later. I do not think it is the right thing to do now because the risks are unacceptable. We are absolutely right to try to get as much of the livestock industry working under controlled conditions as we can. The risk of transporting clean animals on their final journey is very low. These are sheep mostly. Even if they are carrying the disease and the farmer has a signed certificate saying they are, the risk of them forming a plume that could infect other animals in the transportation on the highway is incredibly low. What would be a risk is if the animals parked up or were unloaded and reloaded and had the ability to come into contact with other animals which are going to move on. That is not acceptable. These very tight control measures are necessary. We have relaxed the rules about drivers' hours because the risk of the driver driving slightly longer than he should is much lower than the risk of the animals stopping and there being some other transaction. It is essential that the animals are inspected to ensure they are clean; they are loaded into a disinfected wagon on the farm, the lorry leaves the farm and does not stop again until it has got to the abattoir and then the animals are killed and will therefore not be breathing out the virus.

  16. The difference between sheep and pigs is that pigs spread much more quickly over a wider area so there is a case for differential treatment and differential movement.
  (Mr Brown) Fortunately, the seeding does not seem to have got into the national pig herd. If it had, people would know about it. It is a virulent disease and it is particularly devastating to pigs. They pump the virus out far more effectively than cattle or sheep, so much so that they are capable of pumping out sufficient virus to form what is called a plume above the herd and that can be wind-borne and remain in sufficient concentration to cause infectivity where it settles. That can be miles away. It is not the same with sheep or cattle. The major problem we are faced with has been a substantial spread of the virus through markets by dealers in sheep.

  17. To a layman like me, the control policy does not appear to have been changed all that much since the last outbreak in 1967 but agricultural practice seems to have changed enormously, particularly the amazing distribution because of the closure of abattoirs, the amazing movement in livestock and also the increase in the sizes of herds. To what extent have the changes in agricultural practice that have gone on since 1967 been taken into account in the control policy?
  (Mr Brown) I have asked for a review in the department of three things. Is there anything that makes our country more vulnerable to these disease outbreaks in the pattern of trade? Clearly, I am looking not just at the initial outbreak but also the way in which it is spread. Separately, I have asked do our control measures work. In other words, are our border controls to make sure this virus and indeed classical swine fever do not get into our country sufficient? I have asked for a specific report on precisely how the original outbreak happened and how far back we can trace the virus. Remember, this did not start in our country. It must have got into the European Union from some external source. I want a public debate about that before finalising the obvious consequences for policy makers. That is for the future. On disease management, the debate about the number of abattoirs is not the correct thing to focus on. This is not about abattoirs or supermarkets. It is about livestock markets and the feed practices of pigs. You are absolutely right to say that the size of herds nowadays is much larger than they were in 1967. Some of the things said about the 1967 outbreak are not applicable in the current context. For example, one of the things I heard the other day was that, in 1967, the vet would carry a pistol with him and shoot the animals there and then. If there were 40-odd animals on a farm, that was a practical proposition. We are dealing with holdings of sheep of some 10,000 and to expect the poor old vet to shoot them in an afternoon is asking too much. We are bringing in qualified slaughtermen to get the job done in a professional, manageable way.

  Mr Mitchell: I am provoked by the Euro enthusiast on my left. Since we are on the subject of varying degrees of abuse from Europe on our policies, or shall I say helpful advice, how far would it be fair to speculate that European intervention has not been helpful in the situation—one, the closure of abattoirs because they were required to have vets which caused many of them to go bankrupt; two, illegal sheep movements to top up herds because of numbers claimed; three, inability to bury animals because of European environmental regulations.

  Chairman: Could it be a rapid speculation, Minister?

Mr Mitchell

  18. But a balanced one.
  (Mr Brown) There are three separate issues here of varying validity. The number of abattoirs is not really an issue in this. There are perfectly good public policy reasons for supporting small abattoirs to do with diversity, organic farming, specialist markets, animal welfare but not to do with disease control. Once the animal is dead, it is not pumping out disease and it is not that last journey to the abattoir that is the risk of spreading the disease; it is the journey to some other holding from a holding that has infectivity to a holding that currently does not, or just travelling in a lorry that may not have been cleaned out properly on the last journey that poses a greater risk. You are on to a stronger point when you talk about the movement of animals. I think it is fair to say that the sheep sector is driven by the sheep premium under the Common Agricultural Policy and the hill farm allowances. As you know, as a matter of policy, I am trying to move away from headage payments to area based payments and, thirdly, what drives the industry is the market. The market essentially falls into three parts. There is the market for the cast ewes, for mutton, the least important part of it. There is the domestic market for lamb which is bred to the domestic requirements of the major retailers and then there are the lightweight lambs that are essentially bred as a specialist, lightweight product for export. When people have an order, it tends to be in round figures. If their flock is not quite the right number to meet the order, they will purchase extra animals to make up the package. That, at least in part, accounts for the movement of animals. One of the policy issues that we have under active consideration is as to whether, after every movement of animals, there should not be a legal requirement for the animals to pause, say, for 21 days to see if they are incubating any disease at all before they move on. That is a policy issue that will be part of the debate afterwards. On your third point, we are burying animals. They are being buried. We are in discussions with the Environment Agency about the balance of priorities between the water table and the need to get rid of the carcasses. We are looking at landfill as well as a disposal route. We are opening up extra rendering plants as a disposal route, but we are also having to use on-site burning. It is an effective way of removing the animals. It does take time to get the materials into place to start the fire. These are not small quantities of wood and coal that are needed. We have to bring in mechanical diggers to dig a trench so that the fire has something built around it. It is quite a difficult, logistical task. I am often asked why not bring in the Army. The truth is it is better to use specialist contractors if we can take them up. If we have not enough, we can call on other resources, including the Army. There is no obstacle to using the Army. I saw in the press this morning that somebody was saying we would have to pay for it. The two of you who have been ministers will know that there is no reserved budget in the Ministry of Agriculture for this. The whole cost of this control is a claim on central Government. If the Army are used, the taxpayer will be paying for the Army, but the taxpayer would be paying for the Army anyway.

Mr Jack

  19. I would like to ask Mr Scudamore about the epidemiology. It seems to be spreading with increasing numbers when, given all that the Minister has said, you might have expected to see the number of cases coming down. Could you tell us what your projection is for the way that this thing will develop? Can you tell us how the disease is spreading? Do you believe that the measures you have taken will stop it and when do you predict that will occur?
  (Mr Scudamore) We are evaluating preliminary results with three epidemiology groups. We have provided all our statistics and the information on the outbreak to a number of groups in universities and in Government to look at how it is developing and they will be producing preliminary results on predictions as to how far it will go and how long it will persist.

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