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The tourist boards' information states what is open and what is not. The problem is that a large proportion of the population and foreign visitors believe that the whole of the countryside is closed. We need to correct that as facilities open, but it is intended that there should be comprehensive information on where people can and cannot go.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, coming from Surrey, a county which thankfully has not yet been affected by the disease, I can say that its rural communities are affected by what is happening across the country. This year's county show has been cancelled and I have recently cancelled a major youth event which was due to take place on Easter Monday because it is impossible to determine which footpaths are available and which are not.
I am concerned lest we believe that the only places which are in anxiety and need help are those which are directly affected. Will the Minister accept that farming and rural communities across the country are feeling the pressure and need a sense of support?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, yes. The fact that, understandably and rightly, decisions have been taken to close rights of way and restrict movement throughout the country means that many farming enterprises, industries and services throughout the country are affected by the disease, no matter how far away they may be from the nearest confirmed outbreak. Therefore, the measures which we are debating will support small businesses in rural areas and will apply to all areas which are affected by a restriction. The point I made in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was that more help will be needed in the areas of higher devastation but the facilities for help exist across the country.
Lord Walker of Worcester: My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer in Worcestershire. Is the Minister aware that over the next two weeks it is probable that 1 million ewes that are now grazing will lamb? At the moment the Ministry of Agriculture tells the farmers concerned that they cannot transport their ewes to the lambing sheds, but agrees with them that ewes lambing in the open, sodden pastures on which they are now grazing gives rise to an animal welfare issue and it is much better if the Ministry culls the sheep concerned. Therefore, we face the potential slaughter of 1 million healthy sheep because the Government say that they should not be transported to lambing sheds. The farmers have said that they will send them in sealed lorries which are sprayed before they move, on routes where there is no foot and mouth disease either side of the road, and yet they have not been given permission
Lord Whitty: My Lords, neither I nor the Government have stated that the urban population should move in areas where there is livestock, let alone infected livestock, and to say otherwise is a complete distortion of our advice. We are saying that there are places and businesses in the countryside which are open and can be used, but not in the vicinity of livestock, whether healthy or infected by the disease, or adjacent to areas affected by the disease. The task force is dealing with the impact on businesses other than agriculture.
The Government's top priority is to restrict the spread of this disease. The most obvious way in which the disease is spread is by the movement of animals. Therefore, MAFF has taken the decision to restrict the movement of animals. We recognise that in some cases that will have a fairly devastating effect on the farming community in those areas, but the top priority is to restrict the most obvious way in which the disease is carried. There may be different situations in different parts of the country and MAFF, based on the best veterinary advice, will have to take separate decisions according to the outbreak of the disease and the pattern of movement within those areas.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I welcome the Statement, but can my noble friend explain a little further the position of the leisure and tourist industries, particularly in small market towns? I think particularly of East Anglia where, thank goodness, so far there has not been an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. I am also very aware of the way that small market towns, such as my home town of Market Rasen, have been hit. Obviously the same restrictions apply there, and the people who run hotels, inns and shops are extremely worried. Can my noble friend explain how these measures will help the leisure and tourist industries in the market towns?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the measures announced today relate primarily to businesses within small rural communities, but we are looking more widely at businesses which have been affected in larger settlements. It is clear that what is happening on farms and in the countryside can have a devastating effect on businesses in both large and small towns which are based in the centre of rural areas. It is the job of the task force to look at the way in which we can relieve the pressure on the tourist industry and other businesses in those areas as well.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the exact position will depend on the geography and the nature of the movement involved. If one is within 3 kilometres of an infected area, clearly movement will be totally restricted, and there may be restrictions beyond that. Any business that is fairly close to an infected area needs to obtain veterinary advice from MAFF and the county. There will undoubtedly be serious restrictions on enterprises of that kind, and one of the points of the package announced today is to limit the financial strain to which such businesses are subject.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the British Pig Association. I also have considerable interests not only in farming but in a large number of businesses of the kind that are covered by the Statement. I should like to put two questions. First, in view of the happy consensus in this House that the first priority is to eradicate the disease as the best way to help people affected by it, when the Government come to consider whether burying rather than burning carcasses is a sensible way to address the problem in a number of cases, is there any EU restriction to prevent that, if that is what the Environment Agency decides is expedient?
Secondly, is the noble Lord content with the arrangements to police the import of food, particularly meat, into this country? At first sight, it appears that our arrangements are rather less rigorous than they are in a number of other countries, including our partners in the European Union. In view of at least the possibility that this outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the outbreak of classical swine fever in East Anglia earlier in the year, resulted from lack of controls on imported meat, is it sensible for the Government to give a little more attention to that aspect as well?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have already touched on the role of the Environment Agency. Clearly, there will be a mixture of burning and burial in disposing of carcasses. I have said that the Environment Agency must speed up its procedures. The agency must look at the total effect in the medium and long term on the particular piece of landfill; and in particular it must look at the water table. Such European regulations as apply to this area relate to the effect on the water table.
The general view of my colleagues in MAFF is that there is a fairly tight regime in operation in relation to meat imports. It is not clear where this virus originated. It is clear that, however tight the regime, there may well be areas for improvement to which the Government will give their attention.
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