Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords. I do not believe that anyone is saying that restocking cannot start until we have no more cases nationally. As I said earlier, it may be possible to regionalise the disease if we clear areas, or if some areas do not have disease at all. There is a separate issue here about exports, which is a very different matter and is approached on a national basis. However, in terms of restocking, if we were dealing

13 Mar 2001 : Column 837

with only one case, the timetable could be quite speedy. I would not like to hold out too much optimism in that respect because if that case occurred in an infected area--we have some areas that are the very foci of infection--the fact that there was an early case would not mean that the ban could automatically be lifted. Veterinary assessment would also take into account the surrounding cases. I do not believe that there is a one-size-fits-all answer in national terms.

I should like to respond to an issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the outcome of the Northumberland committee. I understand that the UK law was amended to reflect the recommendations of the Duke of Northumberland's committee of inquiry. Since the UK joined the EU, imports of meat and meat products have been governed by EU legislation. Imports from countries where FMD is endemic are subject to the strictest of conditions; for example, only de-boned mature beef can be imported. As we know, bans can and, indeed, are imposed where outbreaks flare up, such as has happened in recent months as regards South Africa, and Argentina with the decision of the SVC today.

The issue of the treatment of pregnant ewes has been raised, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. I believe that today's reporting about a mass cull of pregnant ewes has not been helpful in terms of policy options. Obviously there are a number of alternative ways of dealing with what is a large and in some cases intractable problem. None of the answers is particularly palatable. It is certainly not a matter of talking about mass slaughter. As noble Lords pointed out, although local movements will not be of help to many people, they will be of help to some people and they will be used. In other cases, it is possible to let the ewes lamb where they are. We are giving advice and support about how that could be managed least badly, as is the RSPCA and other organisations. We are looking at a wider movement scheme. However, even if we can introduce that--earlier I mentioned some of the difficulties involved in balancing that with disease risk--it would not solve everyone's problems because it will not be possible to move pregnant ewes from infected areas into areas without disease for reasons that the whole House will appreciate.

I am terribly conscious of taking too much time. I shall deal with two or three other points as quickly as I can. I say to my noble friend Lady Mallalieu as regards the risk assessment of racing that the conditions under which the CVO felt that animal health and diseases would not be compromised were made clear. I believe that that information is published on the website. We are trying to provide as much guidance as possible for those involved with horse related activities in order for them to take sensible decisions as to the appropriateness of going ahead with activities.

I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, reminded me that I ought to pay tribute to the amount of work that councils have been involved in. LACOTS has been involved from the beginning, particularly in the issuing of licences, but there is an

13 Mar 2001 : Column 838

enormous number of other matters including movement controls that have involved a great deal of effort on the part of local authorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, mentioned. I cannot at this stage make any announcement about financial support but I am certainly conscious of the costs that have been imposed on local authorities in this area.

On the vexed question of faxed copies of documents, local authorities have the duty of issuing licences but they also have the responsibility of choosing the format. We have made clear that we prefer hard copies as we consider them more effective in terms of enforcement. The police prefer hard copies. However, in some areas authorities are willing to accept faxed copies when people face snowdrifts and terrible weather. There has been variation in that regard. As I say, the format is the responsibility of local authorities.

My noble friend Lady Mallalieu also referred to disinfectant supplies. We have been in daily contact with the trade association representing disinfectant manufacturers. Production has been stepped up enormously. We believe that overall there is enough stock of disinfectant. In the first few days of the outbreak we approved 35 new disinfectants, all of which have been tested and have been found to be efficacious in terms of countering foot and mouth disease. They are all listed on the MAFF website with a link to the manufacturers' sites which feature information on availability. Inevitably availability becomes patchy in some circumstances. However, I am assured that overall there is no shortage of supply. In the past couple of weeks reports of such problems have diminished, although they were present right at the beginning of the outbreak.

I should say something about swill. That matter was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and the noble Lords, Lord Soulsby and Lord Dixon-Smith. It would be inconceivable that we did not deal with that issue in the longer term review as a matter of principle. As has been pointed out, swill is fed to pigs in a very limited number of premises--about 1.4 per cent of the pig herd is fed on swill. Schedule 5 to the Animal Byproducts Order 1999 requires catering waste to be processed for at least 60 minutes at a temperature of not less than 100 degrees centigrade. If that is done properly, it kills off any virus that is present. I assure the House that swill plants are licensed and are inspected regularly. I understand that they are inspected twice a year. The Chief Veterinary Officer has ensured that all swill plants will be paid an extra visit. It is important again to spell out that it is illegal under any circumstances to feed to farmed animals catering waste imported into Great Britain on aeroplanes, ships or planes.

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, does MAFF give notice to those farmers who use swill before it does the checks or are there spot checks with no notice whatever?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, pass! I am writing to the noble Earl already. I shall also have to write to him on that issue.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 839

We shall have to consider two issues for the future: regulation and enforcement. Weakness can come from either side of that equation. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, spoke about enforcement. We will have a thorough look at the regulatory framework and the enforcement mechanism. If we can learn things from other countries we shall do so.

Concerns have been expressed about what has been termed profiteering by the slaughterhouses. The Minister made clear his long-held view that all members within the food chain have an interest in understanding each other's problems and co-operating for the long term, rather than seeking to take short-term advantage. That is even more pertinent at present. We do not have a normal market in meat operating at this time. Now the MLC is publishing prices again, I think that more transparency comes into the situation. There is additional risk of abattoirs being closed down because they have suspect animals in them and additional costs over and above those I have explained that the Government will meet in terms of veterinary supervision. If there is concern about profiteering, rather than reflecting additional risk, the Office of Fair Trading exists to investigate anti-competitive behaviour. It is possible for individuals or trade associations to raise issues about which they have concerns with the Office of Fair Trading.

I am enormously conscious that I have not dealt with a vast range of issues. I wanted to tell the noble Baroness about vibration and tractor seats because we have had some success there.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, was courteous enough to tell me that he would raise the issue of biofuels. I could have guessed that he would do so. We recognise the environmental benefits and the diversification opportunities. The noble Lord knows that we initiated the green fuels challenge in the Pre-Budget Report and have taken action, cutting duty by 20p a litre compared with fossil diesel. I know that he will be concerned that that was not enough. But a significant expansion of oil seed production could

13 Mar 2001 : Column 840

conflict with the Government's objective of reversing the decline in farmland bird populations. I do not state that to score a point. I simply reiterate to the House that with regard to many decisions about the structure of agriculture we have to look for laws of unintended consequences. Equally, because we are looking to the future, that involves possible long-term developments which could be sustainable and important for our countryside.

The main message I gained from today's debate was the strength of feeling about the fear and desperation but, equally, the commitment to find a way for agriculture and the livestock industry to continue. It is the Government's responsibility to do everything that we can to eradicate the disease to allow that future for the industry. The right reverend Prelate was right to remind us that it is an industry with hard economic facts behind it, but we all agree that it is more than just another industry. It is integral and crucial to our sense of ourselves environmentally and as a nation. We cannot imagine hills without livestock on them. It would be a different country if they were not there. That is why the livestock industry affects all of us, not just those involved in it, or even just those involved in the wider rural economy that is under such strain at the moment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page