§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
I should like to refer to the foot-and-mouth outbreak. Perhaps it is fortunate that this is the next subject for debate, because it was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and the Chief Secretary as one of the main items in the Supplementary Estimates with which we are dealing. The outbreak is responsible for an increased cost of £29 million to £30 million. I do not think that that will be anything like the total bill when the outbreak has ended. We could well see further Supplementary Estimates being needed, the total bill in the end running to about £50 million.
I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture here. I hope that he has recovered. I am grateful to him for 1135 coming to this debate. There is no doubt of the seriousness of the outbreak. It is the worst we have had this century. There has been a great deal of suffering, not only to those directly affected but to those on the fringes. Many thousands have suffered throughout the country.
It is not my intention to make matters more difficult for those administering the measures against the outbreak. Yesterday, when I learnt that I had been fortunate enough to gain a place in the ballot, I thought that the timing of the debate would be very good, because we had seen the graph declining. I thought that we were beginning to see an end to the outbreak. Unfortunately, this is not so. Today's figures of the new cases yesterday show a rise again, and also, unfortunately, this is taking place in my own constituency in Derbyshire and over the border in Staffordshire. Nevertheless, let us hope that we shall see an end to the outbreak soon.
Those dealing with the outbreak are having an extremely hard time, and we all pay tribute to the veterinary and administrative staff. They are doing a wonderful job. They began with an almost non-existent organisation and have had to build one up in a short period of time in order to cope with new cases of 80 a week and more. Over the 14 weeks of the outbreak so far, they have been at full stretch and have dealt with the situation in a splendid manner.
Nevertheless, there have been mistakes. Deficiencies have come to light. I do not want to go into details of particular cases on particular farms. I hope that these things will come out at the public inquiry promised by the Minister. I am concerned about the administrative framework for dealing with the outbreak and what is to happen in future. The right hon. Gentleman has been asking a great deal of his staff and of the regional veterinary officers, who are in control of areas and who have been asked to carry an almost impossible burden. They have done extremely well.
But some of the work, and the amount of it they have had to do, has in many cases been excessive. They have coped extremely well, but in many cases they have had to take decisions hurriedly. 1136 They have been overworked and tired, and it may be that some of their decisions have not been the correct ones because they were not in a position to consider them properly. But this is no fault of theirs. For example, such matters as the closing of markets and slaughterhouses and roads, which are entirely apart from such veterinary decisions as to whether or not stocks are to be slaughtered, have all been included in the decisions which regional veterinary officers have been expected to take. They have had to take decisions of administration which have been onerous and with far-reaching implications. These have included decisions on the movement of stocks on roads.
The regional veterinary officers have, of course, had co-operation from everyone, such as the local authorities and police, in their areas. Nevertheless, the decisions have always come back to them, and it has been left to them to see that they were put into practice and worked. That has been too heavy a load. Perhaps the method adopted in Derbyshire, of which the centre is in Matlock in my constituency, is worth considering. An executive sub-committee was set up by the county council with the deputy chairman of the county council as its chairman. The members included the regional veterinary officer, the deputy chief constable, the surveyor and all other interested parties, such as the secretary of the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. Naturally, the decisions had to be taken in the end by the regional veterinary officer, who was in overall charge, but once he took the decision in principle and said what must be done, the sub-committee put his decisions into practice. Thus relieving him of the exacting supervision. It is worth considering this sort of framework for future organisation. It may be that there are similar bodies in other counties. If not, the Derbyshire scheme is certainly worthy of examination.
But one of the important aspects of the debate concerns what is to happen in future. Yesterday we had four more cases, three of them in the southern part of my constituency. I do not think that we have come to the end of the outbreak yet.
I hope that the sort of committee I suggest for the future would be charged with looking into all kinds of complaints 1137 and rumours. They all have to be looked into, quite rightly, but one of the dangers is that, in such a serious epidemic, there is a colossal amount of rumour. I do not believe that, at present, there is a sufficient organisation to deal properly with rumours. The veterinary organisation has its hands full, as have the police. Something must be done and the kind of committee I have suggested might well be used for the purpose.
There have been all kinds of rumours in this epidemic. I have written to the right hon. Gentleman about some of them. I have no idea whether these were correct. My informants were constituents. I believe them, but I do not intend to refer to them now as I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into them and consider in future having an organisation to deal with this kind of thing.
As the disease wanes, one would like to know more detail about what the right hon. Gentleman mentioned on 4th December and on 21st December. What are his plans for the relaxation of control of infected areas and controlled areas and so on? This is vitally important to the farmers in those areas. No one doubts that we must not relax restrictions too soon. We do not want a recrudescence of the disease. But it is equally true, as the right hon. Gentleman recognises, that as soon as possible there should he an easing of restrictions to allow the normal flow of animals to and from the markets as much as possible.
I am glad to see that he has relaxed restrictions to a limited degree in counties far away from the infected areas, such as my old constituency in Cornwall, where markets for store stock can now be held under special licence. This is a workable relaxation. However, it is the infected area with which we are mainly concerned, and one would like to hear from the Minister how soon he envisages the controls being relaxed. How soon does he hope, after say a 28 day period free of disease, will farmers be able to re-stock? What controls will he keep? Will they be in his own hands, or will they rest with the police? How much supervision and control does he think necessary?
As to the movement of stock by vehicles, we would like to know how 1138 he envisages these controls will be relaxed and how soon stock will be allowed to move on the periphery of these areas. The right hon. Gentleman has made promises concerning the public inquiry. I accept the fact that he will set one up as soon as the virulence of the disease quietens down. I hope that he will appoint a judicial inquiry, but will not go so far as a Royal Commission. I do not want a departmental inquiry, but a judicial inquiry with some legal luminary, such as a judge as the chairman, and with the evidence taken on oath.
I appreciate the need for speed in looking into these matters and reporting. This is such a serious outbreak, and there are so many consequences flowing from it that I hope that the Minister will do as I have suggested and establish the inquiry to deal, not only with the various mistakes that have been made and the troubles that have arisen, but also to examine the fundamental basis of the policy of slaughter, which on the evidence at the moment I am convinced is right.
The inquiry would also be able to receive evidence from overseas and such countries would be prepared to give evidence to a judicial inquiry, but not so ready perhaps, to do so in the case of a departmental inquiry. Until the inquiry has reported to the House, I hone that the right hon. Gentleman will not relax the ban on imported meat. I need not go over all the arguments that have been put forward during the questions that were put to the Parliamentary Secretary during Question Time. He had a very uncomfortable time stonewalling for his right hon. hon. Friend, and he did it remarkably well.
I want to impress on the Minister how extremely important it is that we should not relax the ban until we know for certain what the cause of the outbreak was, and whether there is any connection whatever with imported meat from areas where the disease is endemic. The right hon. Gentleman has said frequently that the reason why he was imposing this ban was because he did not want to risk a new primary outbreak. May I say here how grateful I and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) are to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing us to see today how efficiently the control centre at Tolworth 1139 was operated. He knows how disastrous it would be if even at this stage there was a new fresh primary outbreak anywhere else in the country. This could happen if the right hon. Gentleman relaxed the ban too soon.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will keep the ban on for three months from the time that he made the announcement, and that would be until 4th March. I am pressing as hard as I can to keep this ban in being until the results of the inquiry are received. [Interruption.] It may be forever, as my hon. Friend has said, but in any event let us wait until the inquiry has reported.
I am grateful to have this opportunity of raising this matter. It was one of the biggest items in the Supplementary Estimates and it has caused a great deal of hardship and suffering for a lot of people who are now extremely anxious to know what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do in the future. I am sure that he will take this opportunity of informing the House and the country of how he intends to proceed.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
May I say how delighted I am to see my right hon. Friend the Minister back in his place again. A few weeks ago we had an agricultural debate which was overshadowed by the foot-and-mouth disease. It is right that we should deal with this issue exclusively tonight, since it affects not only those in the area where the disease was rampant, but a much wider area of the country. At the time of the outbreak, none of us ever imagined that it would escalate to the extent that it did.
Those of us interested in agriculture deprecate the fact that so many people travelled into the area out of sheer curiosity to see what was going on. This did not help to contain the disease. One would hope that in any future disaster steps will be taken to prevent this happening.
In the agriculture debate, I tried to draw attention to one aspect of the problems arising as a consequence of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, namely that of the workers employed in the area. I make no apology for drawing attention to this situation again tonight. Both sides of the 1140 agricultural industry in the area have been working extremely closely together, attempting to deal with the problem of labour. I want to pay tribute to the National Farmers' Union and my own county officials who have endeavoured to relieve some of the difficulties and problems that have occurred recently.
All officials are worried about the future. It is easy to talk of restocking, and I am glad to note that the support that the N.F.U. is giving in helping to restock an area when it becomes free, but there is considerable concern about whether farmers in the area will be able to secure the services of stockmen who have left the industry, or whose services were terminated as a result of the disease. Information that I have received shows that in Cheshire alone over 1,000 workers have been affected in one way or another. Some have had their employment terminated and a number of them are signing on at the employment exchange. The vast majority of them have secured employment in other occupations. I would imagine, human nature being what it is, that those who have been successful in securing employment elsewhere will be most reluctant to give up that employment and come back into farming. These are highly skilled stock people and they are not easy to replace. It is because of this that I make no apology for drawing attention to the situation which will arise.
A large percentage of the stockmen have been kept on by their employers—and I wish to pay tribute to the employers for so doing—but many have been kept on at the basic rate of pay whereas during the time they were in employment, and because their employment entailed seven days a week, these people were able to take home substantial earnings. As a result of the disease their earnings were substantially reduced, and if a person has reason to believe that his earnings will be at a given level so that his standard of living is correspondinly reduced, obviously that man and his family suffer considerably. I appreciate that many employers have retained the services of their workers, but many workers have been retained at a much lower income level with consequential hardship.
I am not seeking direct compensation for the men themselves. There might be administrative difficulties if I were to 1141 press this issue. Possibly direct compensation could not be contained within the limits of the men employed on the farm. Those whose livelihood has been affected in ancillary occupations, or occupations Mat have had to be curtailed because of the disease, would feel that they had justification for compensation. The racing element could say that because racing was stopped for many weeks those employed in stables, jockeys and so on, ought to have some compensation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must ask him to relate his observations to the Supplementary Estimates which we are discussing. He seems to be going rather wide.
§ Mr. Hazell
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to keep within the ambit of the Motion. In this matter of compensation, I recognise the difficulties so far as farm workers are concerned. I would ask if my right hon. Friend could arrange for some basis of payment to the employers so that it might be possible for them to pay wages and earnings at the rate they were paid when the stock was or the farm. I stress this because workers will be difficult to obtain if, as a continual consequence of the disease, they can receive only basic rates of pay.
Regarding rates that have been paid to men who have been engaged in clearing-up operations, I feel certain the Committee will agree that there is need for clarification of policy. So far as I understand the Minister's basis for reaching contract figures for clearing-up operations, they are county by county in accordance with the whim of regional officers. The rate paid to farm workers and others in clearing-up operations has varied considerably.
In Derby the rates of pay have been given at 7s. 6d. an hour; in Cheshire the rate paid to farm workers and others was 8s. 6d., and the same in Staffordshire. Farm workers in Salop were paid 6s. 6d. an hour for the same job. In Lincoln shire labourers were paid 6s. 6d. an hour, tractor drivers 7s. 6d., and foremen 8s. 6d. Contractors received 13s. 6d. an hour for labour charges. Who are those contractors, whether farmers or outside agricultural contractors, who were brought in to do the job? It seems there is a lack of policy in this, and in the Com- 1142 mittee of Inquiry that is to be established I hope some thought will be given to a uniform policy for guidance in this matter should such a catastrophe occur again, so that payment for work of a similar nature should not be different as between county and county and man and man.
I think the country has recognised that some form of additional compensation should be payable to those in the industry who have been so affected. In recognition of this fact, I hope the case of the workers and their hardship will not be overlooked. They are part of the industry, and it is essential that they should be retained in the industry, for without them the restocking policy cannot be successfully carried through. The level of production that we hope for will not be attained unless there is adequate manpower.
Workers in the area continually claim at the moment that they have received the wrong end of the stick, that they have had to endure hardship and that there is no possibility of their receiving compensation for the losses they have sustained.
I appreciate that I may have gone somewhat wide of the Motion but I have done this because I feel sorry for the families that I represent. I have had so many cases of hardship brought to my attention that I hope the claims that have been submitted will be sympathetically looked into. If it is not possible this time, because of administrative difficulties to make some payment to workers I hope some method will be made abundantly clear in the future so that these differences might not continue to exist in the event of another tragedy of this nature.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to something which he possibly already knows about. There is a strong feeling amongst my farmer constituents that we are going through a dangerous phase of the outbreak now when sporadic outbreaks are occurring in different parts of the affected areas. When the B.B.C. makes the announcement it says only that there have been one or two outbreaks in already infected areas. The vital thing is that the people in the immediate vicinity of that outbreak 1143 should know it has happened. I beg the right hon. Gentleman and the B.B.C., if they cannot mention the farm, at least to mention the parish so that the utmost precautions may be taken in this very dangerous period.
To restore the importation of meat from the endemic countries after the three months' ban would be the height of folly. We had only yesterday from the Chairman of the National Farmers' Union an excellent exposé of the futility and madness of doing such a thing. I beg the Minister not to restore the importation of meat from such countries because I am sure that if he did the risk which he would be taking would be absolutely unjustifiable. One has only to consider the incidence of the disease in those countries to realise that. The Minister has admitted that 56 per cent. of the outbreaks in this country since 1954 have been attributable to meat from such countries. Surely this is a vital reason why we should not resume the importation.
I turn to the veterinary angle. Only yesterday, the British Veterinary Association endorsed what the N.F.U. said on the recommendation extending the three months' ban made by the Minister on 4th December. It considers that the ban should continue until such time as an official inquiry has been held into the whole question of meat imports. It was news to me, but the Association welcomed the Order newly made by the Minister under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, prohibiting the removal from storage of all imported meat save that originating from the small number of countries where foot-and-mouth disease is unknown or which have had a long history of freedom from the disease. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will heed what the veterinary profession says.
I now wish to raise something of a more serious nature. I understand that investigating officers are moving around in the infected areas trying to discover all they can about how the earlier outbreaks took place, and that they have unearthed a matter of the utmost importance, namely, that lamb has been sold in the vicinity of my constituency which has been proved to have come from the Argentine. I say "lamb" and not "beef" because people do not nor- 1144 mally expect Argentine lamb to be sold here.
I choose my words carefully because of the utmost importance of this matter, but I am reliably informed that pressure is being brought to prevent samples of this lamb from being properly analysed. I am not making that assertion myself. I am merely saying that I am informed from a source which I believe, and have always believed, is reliable that such is the case. I wish to give the Minister an opportunity to say something about that if he feels able to do so.
If the Minister lifts the ban, I want him to admit that it will be contrary to the advice of his own veterinary officers who, I understand, are virtually unanimous in their belief that the ban should not be lifted. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am wrong, I hope that he will say so. I do not believe that I am. I hope that he will not feel it right to fly in the face of his own professional advisers and take no heed of their advice.
I hope that the Minister will accept what I have said in the spirit in which I have said it. I have not tried to make any political points or to "get at" the Minister personally. These are serious matters and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not mouthing careless rumour. Anyone in my position in the centre of all this must hear a lot of things, and many of them must be discounted. But I have every reason to believe that what I have said is founded on fact.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
I do not intend to detain the Committee long because many other Members wish to speak and there are many other subjects which no doubt we shall discuss during the long hours of the night, though this is perhaps the most important subject which we will be discussing.
This country has been passing through, and I hope that we have very nearly passed through, the most serious epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease recorded in recent times. The part of the country which I am lucky enough to represent has been fortunate in that it has escaped, but the rural community as a whole throughout the country has felt great 1145 anxiety in recent weeks, especially during the difficult weeks when the epidemic appeared to be gradually and inexorably spreading across the country.
Given the explosive nature of the onset and the particularly virulent nature of the virus in the epidemic, the picture can be seen in some ways as a remarkable success story. One or two hon. Members have mentioned the fact that a large area of the countryside has been stricken by the plague. But, when we look back at previous epidemics, and when we realise that there have been well over 2,000 outbreaks in this epidemic, the remarkable feature is how the epidemic has been contained in one part of the country.
Never before have we had an epidemic which was anything like the size of the one which has spread virtually throughout the land. The fact that the epidemic has been contained so very well is largely a vindication of the policies which have been pursued—the traditional slaughter policy and the policy of control—and an indication of the co-operation which the Ministry has received from the agricultural community and from those living in rural areas. Although some people may have needlessly travelled around the infected areas, the great bulk of the community has played a valuable part in helping to control the epidemic.
The time has come for us to feel a degree of cautious optimism. It is perhaps a mistake to look too closely at the day-to-day figures. It does not concern me much if they vary from day to day. But over each week one sees a steady decline in the epidemic. I think that it will continue. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister must not relax the restrictions and measures too quickly. Considerable pressure will be put on him in weeks to come by people who, understandably, would like to see all the measures abandoned. I ask my right hon. Friend not to relax the measures too quickly. If there is doubt, keep them on for a week or two longer.
I wish to take up a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris). There is a sensational story in today's Daily Express about meat from countries where foot-and-mouth is endemic being sold in the country when its sale was forbidden by Ministry regula- 1146 tion. I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any truth in the report or whether the matter is being investigated, because reports of this nature must caw e anxiety in the infected areas.
I wish to touch on the question of the importation of meat from countries where foot-and-mouth is endemic. It is easy to call for a total and permanent ban on imports, but if we do this we must realise that there will be some damaging consequences. There are two sides of the story. There will be a certain financial cost which will be paid by the consumer and perhaps a limitation of the choice which the consumer has grown to expect in the butchers' shops.
Another factor is the damage that might be done to our international trading position by such action. We have to remember the possible effect on our agricultural industry, because there might be repercussions on, for instance, our exports of livestock.
Too easily, some people have made a comparison with America, New Zealand and Australia—and, to a less extent, with Ireland. They have said that just because those countries ban imports from areas where foot-and-mouth is endemic they have had little trouble with the disease for a very long time. The fact is that each of those countries is geographically isolated to an extent that we are not. Whether we like it or not, we have the disease just a short distance away in northern France, and to ban imports from the countries referred to would not necessarily have the same dramatic effect that it has had in America and elsewhere.
Nevertheless, I ask my right hon. Friend to continue the present ban on the importation of raw meat until the inquiry has reported. The ban itself should be one of the items dealt with by the inquiry—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) will have observed that none of the outbreaks was anywhere near France, and I suggest that this particular outbreak has pretty well eliminated all other sources.
§ Dr. Dunwoody
That is true of the present outbreak, but we know that some outbreaks in the past have been related to causes other than the importation of 1147 meat. The cause of one outbreak some years ago was strongly suspected to have been the importation of bones from the Continent.
The inquiry should be independent and public: not a Royal Commission, but something more than the Departmental inquiry that has been the previous tradition. It is vital that the facts are not only established but seen by the whole agricultural community to have been established beyond doubt.
I believe that our present policy will be endorsed, but it should be re-examined, and the whole question of future safeguards should be considered. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us something of the nature and membership of the inquiry, and assure us that it will be set up in the near future.
It is right that we should pay tribute to the agricultural community, and to everyone in the rural communities, particularly in the affected areas, for all they have done in recent months. Special thanks are due to the veterinary surgeons, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay special tribute to those veterinary surgeons who have come from overseas to help us. Perhaps he can assure the House and, through the House, those countries overseas that have come to our help, that if ever they were faced with a similar situation we would be prepared to put our veterinary skills at their disposal in the same way.
I think that the worst is over and that final victory is in sight. That is largely due to the combined efforts of the Ministry, the industry and the rural community, and this debate enables us, on behalf of the country as a whole, to pay a tribute to them all.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
We in Staffordshire have also suffered very grievous losses, which are still continuing. I echo the hope of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) that the Minister will be not too swift in his relaxation of the general controls. I recall that during almost the whole of 1922 and 1923 there was a series of outbreaks which could be regarded almost as a general epidemic, although there were intervals in between. 1148 The Minister must eschew any false optimism at present, although the statistics are improving. We should also be very careful about the relaxation of the import ban. In the long term, for various reasons, the country has to be a meat importer, but I hope that the ban will not be lifted until the inquiry has reported.
In our last debate on the subject I suggested that during the period of the ban the Ministry should see whether it could do anything to improve veterinary controls in our main area of import—the Argentine—and I believe that the Minister then undertook to make some such inquiry. I also suggest that as an intermediate measure we should see that imported meat is imported off the bone. For a period that would have an unfortunate effect on the trade of the exporting country. In any case, I hope that the Minister will continue the ban on meat imports until the results of the inquiry are known.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I cannot join other hon. Members in their views on how all round, the outbreak has been handled by the Ministry, but, like them, I am very anxious about imported meat. In past outbreaks there have been many possible sources, but I should have thought that on this occasion the other sources of main causes were eliminated. Birds may have moved the disease within an infected area, but if they had been the source we could not have confined the outbreak as we have done, because birds cannot be confined. Had they been the source, the disease would have spread over the whole country. That being so, the source must be looked for elsewhere, but I do not see what other source there can be.
I want the Minister to consider not only the question of imported meat but the question of releasing meat that has been already imported. In Oxenden, Northants, we had an isolated outbreak on a farm next to mine. All the rumour there is that the cause was meat taken from cold storage. This was a new outbreak, and there had been no connections with any of the existing outbreaks. The outbreak has been isolated to a certain farm, but it seems to be an instance of meat released. I urge my right hon. Friend very strongly neither to import nor to release from cold storage any 1149 meat until the committee has reported. This is a very serious matter, and my right hon. Friend probably knows a great deal better than I just how anxious the farming community is.
It will impose a great hardship on the Argentine, which is our traditional source o supply, if in future we say that we shall take meat only from countries that have elminated this disease, but perhaps we might co-operate with the Argentine authorities if they were to adopt a slaughter policy, too. It is time that they did so. It is time that any meat exporting country got rid of this disease, and in the long term we might do the Argentine people a good turn, particularly if we were to assist them in the short run.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir John Foster (Northwich)
I have sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, because the agricultural part of my constituency was probably the hardest hit in England, with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris). I want first to support the plea for the ban. The Minister gave as his reason for banning the import of meat from a country where the disease is endemic that he did not want to risk another primary outbreak, but surely he cannot want to risk a primary outbreak while the inquiry is proceeding. It would be the height of folly to lift the ban while the inquiry was proceeding if there were then another primary outbreak.
Hon. Members have spoken of the anxiety of farmers that the restrictions should not be lifted too quickly and I support them in that, but I want to make a few remarks about the anxiety of farmers about the way in which they can start again. The main difficulty seen by farmers in my constituency and, I imagine, by farmers in all areas which have been affected is how they are to restock.
The difficulty is that the early sufferers from the disease were compensated at a certain price and that the price of animals has since risen. They do not see how they can restock on the same scale from the compensation which they have been given. The Minister has been pressed on this subject by many of my hon. Friends and has said that he is consulting the N.F.U. While I appreciate that his injuries, about which I commiserate with 1150 him, have probably kept him out of the running for a long time, the decision should have come by now.
In answer to several Questions he said that he was sympathetic towards the view that the price of animals had risen over the price originally given to the early sufferers, and in a letter to me from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary it was said that the Minister was hoping to arrive at an equitable solution. Surely the only equitable solution is to pay replacement value, and that decision should have been taken a long time ago.
There has been some confusion. When my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) asked the Minister whether he would introduce replacement value, the Minister said:Yes, I am sympathetic to that. The point is a real one. It was certainly put to me when I was in the areas concerned, and the local farmers presented their views to me strongly." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1967; Vol 756, c. 1484]When my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether he could reaffirm that the Government were committed to the principle of compensating at replacement value for stock lost, naturally being under that impression as the Minister had said that he was anxious to reach an equitable solution, the Parliamentary Secretary said:No, Sir. We do not pay compensation at replacement values but at market values. As the hon. Member knows, we are carrying forward the first valuation and we are making a concession there …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1968; Vol. 757, c. 381.]My hon. Friend and I have been unable to find out what the Parliamentary Secretary meant by that. Did he mean that he was carrying forward for taxation purposes, because it has been suggested that compensation should be carried forward on the basis of three years or more? But the hon. Gentleman rejects the view that the only equitable solution is replacement value and substitutes for it "carrying forward the valuation". I hope that the Minister will explain what those words mean.
When farms are infected and compensation is given, compensation is also given for feedingstuffs which are contaminated, but I have been pressing the Minister to extend that compensation, 1151 because feedingstuffs which are not contaminated are useless, first because some deteriorate quickly and, secondly, because it is impossible to get rid of those which do not. No farmer would take feeding-stuffs from an infected farm and all the feedingstuffs on a farm which has been infected are themselves useless. I hope that the Minister will see his way to extending that compensation.
The unfortunate farmers who have been affected are sometimes the victims of a lack of communication about administration. A small instance is that in Cheshire a farmer was paid 13s. 6d. for labour used to clean up the farm, being 8s. 6d. for the labourer and 5s. for the farmer to take account of overheads. On 4th December that was changed to 13s. for the farmer and 8s. 6d. for the labourer, while the amount to be paid for Sundays was reduced from double time to time and a half. Some farmers in my constituency did not hear of this. The 4th of December was a Monday and on the following Sunday farm labourers were paid at the old rate. In those cases compensation should have been paid at the same rate until communication with all the farmers in the area had been established.
There are various other small issues with which I have worried the Minister, but with which I will not worry him now. The main issue for those affected is that of taxation. In certain cases it is possible for the farmer under Section 23 of the 1953 Act to go on a herd basis, but that provision is too restrictive and applies only to productive animals and thus leaves out heifers. But there are many farmers who cannot go on a herd basis and surely the Minister has had long enough to discuss this matter with the N.F.U. Is it the Inland Revenue which is proving difficult and which will not reach a decision? I urge the Minister to give an early decision on this most important subject.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
It is not my intention to detain the House for long, but it is necessary that a slightly contrary point of view on this issue should be expressed. The whole House and the country have great sympathy with the anguish which the farming community has experienced and 1152 is experiencing in this widespread outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, but there are other interests which must be considered. I want first to refer to the ban on imported meat. We have also to consider the interests of the many people engaged in the wholesale and retail distribution of meat and, above both the farming interests and the interests of meat distributors and traders, the interests of the British consumer. Since November, last year, to 31st December, the wholesale price of meat increased by 40 per cent. That was obviously not entirely due to the ban on imported meat. There were many contributory factors and devaluation may have had some influence.
The wholesale price of meat has gone up by 40 per cent., but average prices in retail butchers' shops have not shown the same percentage increase. I understand from many contacts in the retail trade that one of the difficulties which it faces is that it is very hard to adjust one's percentage mark-up on meat at short notice, and that one has to take probably a month's trading before one can begin to adjust the mark-up to meet variations in the price of wholesale meat.
I want to remind my right hon. Friend that he is not just Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. He is also Minister of Food, and has a responsibility not only to farmers but to the community at large for the supply of food and the maintenance of a reasonable price level. I hope that he will stick to the three-month limit for the ban which has been imposed on imported meat. Certainly I hope that he does not extend the period of the ban to cover the time taken by the public inquiry, which will probably stretch over 18 months or two years from the time of convening to reporting, the Minister considering it, and making a decision. That would be against the public interest. From inquiries which I have made, there appears to be no concrete evidence that this outbreak definitely is connected with the import of foreign meat.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
Can the hon. Gentleman make any suggestion about where the outbreak could have come from, if not from imported meat?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I cannot answer that question. I am not an expert on the 1153 subject. I have made inquiries from people who have experience in these matters, and they tell me that they are not certain that there is a definite link between imported meat and this outbreak. In view of that, I believe that the Minister has to strike a balance between the need to protect our farmers from foot-and-mouth infection and the need to supply the community at large with meat at reasonable prices.
My plea to my right hon. Friend is not to extend the ban, even while waiting for the report of the public inquiry. Rather, I hope that he will relax it at the expiration of the present time limit, in the interests of the consumer. Unless he has placed before him very positive evidence linking the outbreak with imported meat, he has a clear responsibility to consumers as Minister of Food which overrides his responsibility as Minister of Agriculture.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
I want to apologise to the Minister in advance, because I suspect that he will answer this debate at an hour when I have departed to fulfil a long-standing engagement.
I turn immediately to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). He represented a very understandable and moderately argued point of view. However, I think that he is totally wrong.
Those of us who argue about the ban on the importation of meat from countries with an endemic record of foot-and-mouth disease are not protectionist lobbyists for the farming community. We are the guardians of the public purse, and it is particularly suitable that we should be arguing our case on the occasion when we are considering the revised Supplementary Estimates which show an increase of £29 million arising from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. It has been unprecedented in its intensity in the present century and certainly in its financial implications. As a result, it is only natural that we should ask where was the source of the infection and what led to the epidemic which has placed such an unpredictable burden on the public purse and on every taxpayer, be he farmer or consumer.
There is a presumption of guilt on Latin-American meat, and I quote in evidence the Gowers Report. Discussing 1154 the importation of chilled and frozen meat from the Argentine and, to a smaller extent, from Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, it said:This is thought by the Ministry of Agriculture to be responsible for more primary outbreaks in England than any other single cause.It was undoubtedly with that thinking in mind that the Minister ordered the original temporary ban. It is difficult to think of a reason why he should have done it, unless there was some presumption of guilt.
We have heard today some interesting and serious information from my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) which again casts a shadow of suspicion on the extent to which imported meat has contributed to the outbreak and spread of the epidemic in Cheshire and Shropshire.
I do not want to be accused of rumour mongering, but I want to put before the Minister one or two extracts from correspondence which I have had with a constituent of mine about the temporary ban. My constituent wrote:The temporary ban is just a joke in bad taste. It cannot affect this outbreak and will not prevent the next unless made permanent. Nor can I understand why it is still being stated publicly that the outbreak has not been traced to imported meat, when I was told on Friday afternoon by a senior member of the Ellesmere Centre (with no suggestion that it was in confidence) that Argentine lamb had been traced to the yard in which the first sow and gilt were served some five days before they went lame.I replied in what I think was a very responsible tone:I note your comments on Argentine lamb and the original outbreak. I have no doubt the Ministry will wish to make an early statement, but it is of such importance I think they will wish to make it only with the fullest available evidence.I stand by that. Of course, I do not expect any comment on the kind of rumours which inevitably develop in areas which have been so harshly affected by such an epidemic, but when farmers see the Ministry reluctant to continue the ban, are they not entitled to infer that the Ministry is satisfied that Latin-American meat has been given a clean bill of health? If the Ministry has not yet been able to assure itself that there is no breath of suspicion about Latin-American meat, surely the case for the continuance of the ban is overwhelming.
1155 I make that as my one point. The other which I had intended to make was put forward with great eloquence by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster), when he asked whether compensation is to be at replacement value or at some notional market value—and, in today's circumstances, it can only be notional.
I know that the Minister has great sympathy for those in the agricultural community who have been so harshly affected by the epidemic, and I am sure that, when he replies to the debate, he will try to clear up as many of the misunderstandings as possible. However, if he wants to do something to sustain morale among the agricultural and the taxpaying community in the affected areas, it will be if he can give us an indication either that he is convinced that there is no suspicion on Argentine lamb, or that he will continue the ban until the committee which has been set up has been able to make a full and authoritative report.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)
My constituency is often mistakenly called Burton-upon-Trent. In actual fact it is the Burton division of Staffordshire. This is an important distinction in the context of the subject of this debate. Burton-upon-Trent is obviously associated with the manufacture of refreshment in the form of beer, but a very large proportion of my division is agricultural land stretching, on the one side, to the River Dove at Ashbourne and, on the other side, almost to the Cannock Chase. Within this agricultural area are many villages and agricultural communities.
An hon. Member has said that Staffordshire has been one of the most hard-hit counties by this epidemic. Within that context again, my own division has been very sadly hit. As the graph for the country has tended to go down, the graph for Staffordshire and my own division has tended to rise.
I know that the Minister has been under great stress both from the influence of the foot-and-mouth epidemic and other domestic causes of bereavement and accident. He has my entire sympathy, being an old friend. I do not want unduly to embarrass or badger him, but this does 1156 not prevent me from bringing to light one or two points of great importance. I will deal only with two. One is the question of compensation which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster). The other is the use of emergency powers.
I will not reiterate all that has been said about compensation, because over the last two or three weeks this has been hammered well home. However, my constituents are very worried about being assessed at an early stage at a certain value and having to replace at a later stage. While the disease is so virulent in their own locality they are not to be allowed to restock, and they fear they will have to restock at a much higher price than the assessment they were given when the assessor came up. All I am asking is that the Minister, in his declared sympathy on this matter, will make a statement very soon. In his answer to me by letter he said that he hoped to make a statement soon. I hope that to allay any further anxiety on the part of a much bedevilled community he will make it very soon.
The next point concerns the use of the emergency powers which he, quite legitimately and rightly, took to himself to deal with the spread of this disease. Here I wish to make what is not only a constituency point, but a national point. The country land in my division includes a fair proportion of Duchy of Lancaster land. In that Duchy land is an historic town—I must not refer to it as a village; it is a town—Tutbury town, with Tutbury Castle and quite a big common called Tutbury Common. It was in my mind to draw to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the fact that Tutbury Common was from time to time inhabited by itinerants —tinkers. This is in an area where at that time there was a foot-and-mouth case on both sides.
I asked him, in the interests of stopping the spread of the disease, whether he would use his emergency powers to ban entry on to such land, as the itinerants came time after time and invaded the surrounding farmland—I need not go into that—and their animals in particular invaded the surrounding farmland. If ever there was a case for using emergency powers and banning entry on to such 1157 land this was it, and this must be multiplied in many places. The reason for refusing to use his emergency powers and ban entry was that on investigation it had been found that the tinkers had left voluntarily. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that tinkers come back and back and back? They have their selected spots, and this, for years, has been one of them. Therefore, I ask the Minister, in the interests of safety, even now, with the disease still in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, to apply his emergency powers to this and other like spots.
In conclusion, I join my hon. Friends in asking the right hon. Gentleman to look seriously at the extension of the ban. I will not go into the reasons. I am grateful for what he has tried to do and I am glad of this opportunity of speaking in the debate.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
Sometimes it is said that figures are meaningless, but, living in an infected area for the last three months on my own farm surrounded by this infection and luckily surviving, this figure of £30 million compensation for the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has brought home to me the tremendous strain on the farming community. I would emphasise the strain on the farming community; not just the farming community who have had the misfortune to lose their herds, but all those other members who, day in, day o it, night in, night out, have to watch their animals. On occasions when they have suspected that an animal was sick, without knowing the reasons, I am glad to say that they have reported extremely quickly to the Ministry and, therefore, the Ministry has been enabled the better to control the disease. I should like to pay real tribute to the stoicism of these farmers and farm workers. They have behaved magnificently under pressure.
When people outside the farming community say to me, "Of course, the slaughter policy is right", I wonder whether they would think that in the case of their own domestic animals. If say there was a disease among cats or dogs which necessitated the slaughter of their pets, would they take the same view about the slaughter policy being right? I rather doubt it. The slaughter policy, in my opinion, is right on this occasion, but I believe that in this modern day and age, 1158 the slaughter policy may be a policy of despair. When the inquiry is set up I think that it must look beyond the slaughter policy in this country, especially when one takes into consideration the very large units which we have in agriculture today and the fact that we live in a highly mobile community.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) mentioned consequential loss. He mentioned it particularly concerning the farm workers who unfortunately today, if they have not been displaced, have had to drop down very likely to the basic rate of pay on farms which have had the misfortune to have this disease.
There are many other forms of consequential loss. One must remember that this is an outbreak which was quite unprecedented. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has said that the figures were unprecedented. Everything to do with this outbreak is unprecedented. I understand that even the form of the virus is unprecedented. In these circumstances, there has been an alarming amount of consequential loss. We have already referred to the farm workers, but on the infected farms the consequential loss far exceeds the cost of paying for labour. Those farms, like any other business, cannot earn a profit unless they are operating in a somewhat normal manner.
In an ordinary outbreak farms can get back into business in a matter of six weeks—that is acknowledged on all sides —but in this case there are many farms in the County of Cheshire which, alas, will not get back into business properly until the autumn of this year. They just cannot do it. I doubt whether there will be any substantial restocking even by the spring of this year. Although the number of outbreaks has now dropped to a low level—I had the good fortune to go to the Ministry's Chief Control Centre at Tolworth this morning—the recent outbreaks, unfortunately, have been extremely widely spread over the whole of the infected area. When I say that the infected area is a matter of 10,000 square miles, one realises that it is a large chunk of the centre of England, and a small part of Wales.
There is, too, the consequential loss to those farmers who have managed to 1159 keep in business. I know this for my own part. It is very difficult to carry on a business when one cannot allow a private car or a lorry to come into one's yard. No stock has been going off premises except for slaughter. In other words, the main business of the livestock farmer has been clamped down on in this vast area of about 10,000 square miles.
There is also the consequential loss to those who are only remotely associated with agriculture. Racing, and a hundred and one other industries in the countryside, have been affected by this vast outbreak. I make this point to show that this figure of over £30 million is a small proportion of the total loss to the nation from this epidemic.
Many tributes have been paid to the veterinary profession. I have seen its members under great strain at regional level, and I think that I might be permitted to tell a short story about the strain on them. We happened to call in our doctor over Christmas. I asked him, "Have you had anything to do with the foot-and-mouth outbreak?". He said, "No, but I was called in to attend one of the Ministry's veterinary surgeons who broke his jaw". I said that I was sorry to hear that, and he said that it was an extremely unfortunate occurrence. The man was exhausted, and went to the local bar for a drink, but, unfortunately, before he had his drink he fell off the bar stool and broke his jaw. That illustrates the extent of the exhaustion of some of the Minister's loyal and faithful servants, and I think that we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
There are one or two factors which I would like to mention in connection with the immediate future. First, there is the question of decontrol and restocking. Anyone who has not studied the course of this epidemic closely might think that decontrolling areas is as simple as controlling them. Unfortunately, very much more difficult and delicate decisions have to be taken during the decontrolling phase than the controlling one, because, when the controls are being put on, it is clear that there is a danger in the area. During the decontrolling phase, however, nobody knows where the danger lurks. We can get recrudescence, and in the area of North Cheshire in which I am particularly 1160 interested, only last week we had three primary outbreaks which effectively sealed off the area at a time when the chief veterinary officer was hoping to decontrol it.
That is the danger of decontrol, and I offer one small piece of advice. I hope that the decontrolling will be done in fairly wide bands, and not by freeing a few parishes at a time, because if the decontrol instructions are not fairly specific and clear they will be misunderstood by the whole of the livestock industry. It is essential, when one comes to decontrol, not to run any unnecessary risks.
Another warning which I issue to the Minister is that time is not on his side with regard to the elimination of this disease. Fortunately, this epidemic has occurred during winter time, but "turning out time" is coming. The cows will go into the pastures again, and when they do the risk will increase enormously. Everything should be done now to clamp down quickly on this phase of the epidemic so that it is not still around when "turning out time" arrives.
I am wholly on the side of the Editor of the Farmer and Stockbreeder who, in his editorial on 16th January, when writing about the inquiry, said that it should be carried out immediately, while the scent is hot. He went on to say that the type of committee he would like to see would beimpartial, open-minded, scientifically judicial, endowed with a sense of urgency …I could not put it better than that. It is essential that this committee gets on with its job now. I believe that it has a job to do now. The scent is hot now. If this committee is set up later, its members will not be able to go round and see the organisation on the ground in operation, because it will be withdrawn shortly, we hope.
At the moment, one can go, as I did. and get an excellent description from the Minister's chief advisers of what is happening on the ground at Tolworth. I knew exactly what was behind the explanation, so it meant a lot to me. The members of the committee will not necessarily have lived through the epidemic, and therefore know all about it, and the situation which obtained whilst it was with us. They will not be able 1161 to judge the situation properly unless they have a chance of seeing the organisation on the ground. If the committee were set up now, and I can see no reason why it should not be, its members would have an opportunity of getting down to business almost immediately.
There is one central question which will face this committee. I think that the Government must clear this issue before the inquiry. I am referring to the continuation of the ban on imported meat from countries where the disease is endemic. The committee will, in any case have a very tough job to do, because of the mass of scientific evidence. I have recently rubbed shoulders with the scientific evidence, and I know that nothing clearcut is emerging.
Leaving the scientific evidence on one side, in my opinion there are only two courses open to the committee. It can either decide on a slaughter policy, plus a ban on imports. or it can decide on imports plus a controlled vaccination policy in this country. I do not believe that there is any other alternative. Those are the only two courses of action which it can consider, and unless it knows the Government's proposals with regard to the importation of meat, I do not believe that it will be able to produce a realistic solution.
I implore the Minister to get on with setting up this committee. He has kindly written to me saying that he will accept evidence from me—and presumably from others as well—which will be stored and fed into the committee. I do not think that this is going far enough. I ask him, in the name of the future protection of cur livestock, to set up this committee now.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has done the agricultural community, and in fact the public as a whole, a great service by raising this important topic tonight.
Having, some years ago, experienced to a much lesser extent a foot-and-mouth epidemic in Somerset, I have every sympathy with the anguish of people in the affected areas, and I thank heaven that we in Somerset have been spared—and 1162 hope that we will continue to be—from a further epidemic of this terrible disease.
I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West said about the intense strain imposed on regional veterinary officers when these things happen. It seems sensible, under emergency powers which exist, to set up some sort of executive committee, perhaps a smaller one than that suggested by my hon. Friend, because small committees are probably more efficient, and come to the right conclusions more quickly. I think that something of this nature is necessary to relieve professional officers of some of the additional strain which falls on them because of administrative duties. I am thinking particularly of such things as the control of traffic on roads, the control of sports, and so on, all of which have presented problems.
I should like, now, to ask the Minister about the activities at Pirbright. I have a high regard for the research which has been carried out in recent years. I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to the scientists who work there. But I have a feeling—perhaps I am thoroughly misinformed—that the experiments are too much in the laboratory and too little of a practical nature, in the field. Have experiments ever been carried out in controlled conditions by deliberately infecting the feet of birds, for instance, with a virus to discover how long it persists? Have they ever been carried out by deliberately infecting the wheels, chassis and bodies of motor vehicles and then seeing how best they can be decontaminated and how long the infection persists? These sort of practical experiments, if not already carried out, would be very useful.
Lastly, I implore the Minister to put into the terms of reference of the committee of inquiry the advisability or otherwise of raising the ban on imports and on release from cold storage. Let these people, who are to investigate the matter thoroughly, look into this other most important aspect and advise the Minister as they see fit. Recent evidence from our grassland research establishments shows that, with a little more effort, we could come very near filling the gaps at present filled by beef imports, many from countries where this disease is endemic. That is a risk which we cannot afford any longer for the 1163 sake of perhaps 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of our beef figures. I implore the Minister to look carefully at this. Quite apart from the disease, would it not be a good thing to produce more of our beef within the confines of our own country?
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I am glad to be able to speak on this very important subject. First, I am very glad to see that the Minister's accident was not so bad as to prevent his presence here tonight.
I want to deal with two subjects on which I know a little. The first is the valuations. The question of the principal valuations and of the increased value from the date of the outbreak, with, possibly, another increase from now until the time that the farms can be restocked, has been gone into fully. The Minister has said on several occasions that he fully appreciates this. But one point connected with the actual valuation is that the livestock auctioneers and valuers who have been doing these foot-and-mouth valuations had a meeting in London last week, which I attended. One matter which concerned them greatly was the question of big valuations in which valuers had been on farms from 8 o'clock in the morning to probably 9 o'clock at night.
One valuer, a very well-known man, was very concerned because, at about 9 p.m., he was asked for his figure for the Friesian herd. Concerned on the farm were this herd, a Lincoln herd, a sheep flock and a big herd of pigs. This valuation was passed to the chief vet in the area on the telephone. Later, the valuer was called to the phone and told that his valuations were well above the average of those settled, and that they must be wrong. A veterinary surgeon, however eminent—they are all first-class at their own job —cannot instruct a valuer about the sort of value to place on herds on an average basis. In fact, this herd was very well-known, a pedigree herd from which a lot of stock had been sold, and its value was probably well above the average. If any instruction like this has gone out from the Ministry, it should be carefully looked at again.
One other suggestion from this meeting was that, if it could be arranged, 1164 two valuers should be appointed for big valuations. The stress and strain on one man who has to decide on the values of different classes of cattle, working from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the whole farm under great stress, and having to give spot valuations without being able to check against records, makes it very difficult for a man on his own. It was suggested that it might be possible to employ two valuers in such cases who could consult.
I therefore think that we could look at valuations again and I hope that, shortly, the farmers who have suffered these losses in the early stages can be told that some additional payment will be made to them for the additional costs of replacing their stock.
The taxation angle has already been covered, but it is very important. I know that farmers doing their own valuations for tax purposes sometimes do not include as big a figure as they should for their stock. They will be compensated at full market value, and if tax has to be paid and they are left with only two-thirds of the value, out of which they must buy replacement stock, they will be in a difficult position. This is worrying many people and may force some farmers out of livestock farming altogether. I gather that the Minister is sympathetic to this attitude and I hope that he can impress his point of view on the Treasury and that the farming community's worry about this matter will be cleared up shortly.
I need not stress again the question of the import ban, but I go much further than most people. I believe that it should be made permanent. I am absolutely convinced—as the Minister knows, I am connected with sales of livestock—that, in two or three years, particularly with the additional stores which should come from Ireland, we could be nearly self-sufficient in this country. That would enable us to give the consumer wholesome, fresh meat at home without the danger of these terrific extra payments for tackling outbreaks of this kind.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said, the Gowers Committee drew attention to the fact that the major number of outbreaks, at any rate up to then, had been proved to have started from imported meat. What an opportunity we have as well to save this 1165 country extra imports at a time when our financial situation makes them undesirable.
I assume that much of the meat in cold store was imported before the first outbreak. Therefore, some of it may be infected. I do not know whether this meat can be cleared or whether we can discover whether it is infected, but to release it from cold store while there is, my chance that some may be infected is absolute madness. The wholesalers would, of course, have to be compensated.
We do not blame the Government at all for this outbreak. We think that it has been—so far as I can discover, in talking to many people from the areas concerned—handled well. The veterinary surgeons have done a wonderful job.
Many people have suffered, including livestock auctioneers—who have suffered tremendous losses from the closure of markets—transport hauliers and stockmen. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) that many stockmen will leave the industry for other jobs. The true stockman is very much attached to his stock and I am sure that, if he can return to a stockman's job, he will do so. We must do all that we can to help those who have suffered and ensure that an outbreak of this nature does not recur.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
The hon. and learned Member for Northamptan (Mr. Paget) talked about starting a slaughter policy in the Argentine. I do rot believe that such a policy could or would be enforced. The whole thing would be impracticable. Be that as it may, it would be criminal and madness to lift the ban on the import of Argentine meat, in this country, particularly at this critical stage in the battle against foot-and-mouth.
If the ban were lifted, I would find it virtually impossible to explain that to the farmers in my part of the world, who have suffered great hardship and loss in the last three months. In the area of Bircher Common, in Herefordshire, 18 small farmers lost all their stock simply because their farms adjoined the common. If the ban were lifted they would regard the sacrifice that they have made as completely meaningless.
1166 These farmers, and people in the agriculture industry would lose all confidence that it was the Minister's desire and intention to stamp out this plague. The N.F.U. headquarters has demanded that the ban be kept on, at least until after a searching inquiry has reported to the Minister. No one can blame the farmers for demanding that the ban remain. After all, in Herefordshire alone, 1 million livestock, worth more than £20 million, are at stake. The risk involved in lifting the ban is far too great.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) referred to the price of beef and I agree that it has increased. However, lately supplies of home and Irish cattle have helped to bring the price down and housewives have sensibly resisted paying through the nose for beef, and this, too, has forced down prices. Now that the fatstock markets are beginning to reopen, the position should be greatly improved. The price of beef will return to near normal, although it is bound to be somewhat higher than it was last November. The president of the butchers' organisation, Mr. Bill Brabin, is, I suggest, being far too alarmist in forecasting that beef supplies will be 30 per cent. short of requirements in two months' time.
Throughout the debate hon. Members on both sides have urged the Minister to retain the ban on the import of Argentinian meat. He must do that if he cares about the future supply of meat in this country. Not only the herd book societies and members of the N.F.U. have urged the Minister not to lift the ban, but the Country Landowners' Associations and vets have called on him not to lift it. Women's institutions throughout the Midlands have sent resolutions to their headquarters—after all, these women are the true consumers—urging the retention of the ban. I would like to see the ban permanent as long as there is a slaughter policy in this country.
The Minister must be a worried man because his special investigation unit, which has spent its entire time trying to find out the real causes of the outbreak, has unearthed some disturbing facts in the Midlands. As was exposed in today's newspapers, two firms in the Birmingham area which have been selling frozen Argentine meat up to as late as the week ending 14th January—I hope that the 1167 Minister will either confirm or deny those rumours and will reveal all the facts. I end as I began, by stressing that it would be criminal and madness to lift the ban. I hope that the Minister will get the inquiry moving as soon as humanly possible.
§ 7.36 p.m.
Mr. Emlyn boson (Montgomery)
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the debate. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place after his recent personal misfortunes. He has had a difficult winter and not his worst enemy would have wished on him the epidemic which he has had to handle. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on his handling of the matter. I have criticised him in the past and I will no doubt do so in future, but on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman and his team—and particularly his veterinary and administrative officers in the field—are to be heartily congratulated on their handling of this terrible outbreak.
Many farmers in my constituency have lived in a virtual state of seige for a considerable time. Few people can sufficiently assimilate what life has been like for these people. On the whole, the farming community has reacted extremely well at a time of what must be described as national tragedy.
Most of the points which I had intended to make have already been fully covered. That is inevitable in a debate of this kind. I will, therefore, merely reinforce some of the arguments that have been adduced. We are debating a very large Supplementary Estimate. However, £29 million is a relatively small proportion of the cost to the country of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The incidental losses to many industries have been great—to haulage contractors, merchants and so on. The farmers in the eastern part of my county have been directly affected by the outbreak and the farmers in the western part, who supply store animals, have also been badly hit because they have been unable to sell their animals, have had to buy hay and so on. Altogether, the cost to the community has been enormous.
Consumers are also taxpayers, a point eloquently made by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). Many 1168 of them accept that, on balance of probability—without going further; I suppose that little more can be said without a complete scientific inquiry—there is an overwhelming case for saying that meat from the South American countries, particularly the Argentine, is probably responsible for the outbreak. Britain could not face another bill of the amount we are discussing if there should be a subsequent outbreak. There is, therefore, a heavy duty on the Minister—and I say this without being a protectionist —to make absolutely certain that another outbreak does not occur in future, particularly from a traceable source.
All the evidence available now points in one direction. That is why it is encumbent on the Minister to extend the ban. It would be fair to the Argentine suppliers to do so because we are putting them in a difficult position. I trust that all these aspects will be closely studied by the inquiry as a matter of urgency and that an interim report will be submitted to the Minister so that he can report the facts to the House for consideration. In the light of the evidence, no responsible Minister can do other than extend the ban.
The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) referred to the difference between the original compensation and the subsequent compensation paid in respect of slaughtered animals. The Minister obviously has personal sympathy with this point. It is a source of great difficulty for the farming community. My constituency immediately abuts the area in the Oswestry constituency which is infected, and many farmers in my constituency were affected. They now see prices rising week by week and they wonder how they will be able to restock.
I appreciate that this is a difficult problem to deal with. It is not as if there were a clear-cut line between the earlier compensation and the later compensation. It is difficult for the Minister to deal with this equitably, but great hardship will be caused in certain areas, particularly to farmers who were compensated at an early date. I do not think the Minister can do other than implement the undertaking that there should be replacement value so far as possible and that some effort should be made to bring about a more equitable solution.
1169 One could carry on endlessly about the losses which have occurred because of This terrible epidemic. The consequential losses are very great. In many unsuspected areas one comes across cases in which people have been hit by the epidemic. Everyone must agree that it is the duty of this House and of the Minister to ensure as far as humanly possible that there cannot be an outbreak of this kind again from any ascertainable source. That is why it is important not only for the farming community but for the taxpayer that the ban on Argentine meat should remain for the foreseeable future.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I associate myself with other hon. Members in expressing sympathy with the Minister both for his personal bereavement and for being laid up as a result of an accident during this extremely testing time for him and his Ministry.
I add my word to hon. Members who lave appealed to him not to terminate the temporary ban on meat imports.
I appreciate only too well the considerations advanced by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). If the ban is made permanent, or if it is extended, it will do damage to international trade. We must face that. It may involve us in great complications and it may restrict the freedom of choice of consumers, and possibly raise prices. We must face that.
But may I direct the attention of the Minister to this aspect? I think I am right in saying that so far the principal r se has been in prices of beef. There is also a form of livestock which is most important in my constituency. I draw the attention of the Minister to the situation which faces the sheep industry. In these Supplementary Estimates there is an item of £1,750 million increase with a note which says:The increase is due mainly to the higher guaranteed price determined after the 1967 Annual Review and to lower market prices.It is very relevant in that context to read a brief extract from a letter I received from a constituent who is a sheep farmer on the Welsh Border. He wrote to me on 28th January:I have just sold 209 fat lambs for which I received £7 19s. Od. each. These sheep averaged 53 lbs. dead. This works out at 3s.1170per lb. This price includes any subsidy due. The guaranteed price for this week, agreed at last year's Price Review, was 3s. 5d. per lb! The Price Review is a farce!As long ago as November, 1960, I received £8 14s. 0d. each for 54 lb. lambs.It is possible that some good could come out of this terrible evil of foot-and-mouth outbreak. I should like the Minister to consider whether it would be possible in consultation with wholesalers and retailers in the meat trade for consumers and the public to be directed more to the buying of mutton and lamb from our own supplies and in that way helping the situation which the letter of my constituent reveals.
I ask the Minister not to bring the ban to an end. That would be regarded as a great injustice and also as a great illogicality. The illogicality cannot be better expressed than in the first paragraph of a resolution forwarded by Shropshire National Farmers' Union Executive to its headquarters. It says:If there was no danger from imported meat why was the ban imposed in the first place? if there is danger, why is it being lifted now? Clearly one of these decisions is wrong.That seems to be incontrovertible.
It is a misfortune that our two great primary industries, farming and coal mining, are represented almost exclusively by hon. Members on opposing sides of the House. That leads to a suspicion in this case that there may be a great political operation being conducted against the Minister. I beg the Minister not to believe that that is so. In my part of the world it is difficult to describe the indignation with which the replies to Questions on the ban last week were received. There is an extremely nonpolitical newspaper in my constituency which headed an article about this matter, in the largest type I have ever seen it use, with the words: "Beef Ban Row Boils".
I add my voice to what other hon. Members have said about the Committee of Inquiry. We shall regard as of great importance who the members of the committee are and equally what are its terms of reference. There will be great indignation if the terms of reference are not completely comprehensive, covering the past, and the future, and organisation. I have written to the Minister a number of letters about this. I apologise 1171 for having harassed him during the critical period he has been through. There has been indignation in my part of the world, not only in the worst infected area but in the area just outside it in which I live. The criticism is that the organisation, not actually on infected farms but outside them, is insufficient. People want to feel that real directions are being given.
Those outside the infected area want to be told what they should do. I have had a letter from the chairman of my county council—who lives in the middle of the infected area—in which he says:the most frequent grumble I heard is that there is lack of leadership from the top.This is not a criticism of the Minister, but he also says:A lot of people want an 'overlord' to direct the campaign against the plague.And a county alderman who lives in my immediate area and not in the worst infected area, writes:This should be treated as an operation of war. And as such a commander should be appointeI hope that in settling the terms of reference and the personnel of the committee, particular care will be taken to have prior consultation with the local authorities and the police, about which I had an undertaking in an answer given to a Question.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) spoke about the widespread ramifying and consequential losses which have been incurred. I shall not repeat what other hon. Members have said. I content myself with drawing the Minister's attention to one industry which has not been specifically mentioned. I do this particularly as it is an industry for which the right hon. Gentleman has some personal responsibility. I refer to the forestry industry. Over a considerable area of Denbighshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, the effect of this outbreak has been to bring forestry operations to an end. This has had a very serious effect on some of the forestry contractors and co-operatives on whom the industry, to a large extent, relies. I have written to the Minister about this. I hope that he will take it from me that it is a serious matter.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) very rightly expressed his 1172 concern for the agricultural workers. I endorse what he said. I want to read to the House a suggestion which has been made to me by a constituent and which I have forwarded to the Minister:One possible way of farmers employingfarm workersproductively at this time is to do building alterations and building improvements. However, improvements are frustrated by legislation that prevents work starting under a farm improvement scheme until it has been inspected and passed by a Ministry officer. Would it be possible for the duration of the foot and mouth precautions for permission to be given to start subject to subsequent inspection?The Minister was good enough to answer me by saying that the Ministry would do its best. I should be grateful if he would examine this possibility and see how far it has been possible to relax the restriction.
I add my voice to what other hon. Members have said about compensation. It was a real shock for farmers to learn that compensation was to be limited to market value. I also endorse what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) said about taxation.
Finally, as we are discussing the Supplementary Estimates, I must say that what we would most like to see in these Supplementary Estimates, if it is not already there hidden somewhere where I have not been able to find it, is a large additional provision for research. Surely we must concentrate our efforts on finding a way of eradicating this scourge. If it is necessary for the existing organisation at Pirbright to be expanded, that is one thing on which there should be no stinting of public money.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
Almost exactly two hours ago my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) initiated this debate. I have seldom listened to a debate the tone of which was so high and which was so concentrated on the points at issue. Every hon. Member who has participated in the debate has sought to be constructive and to waste as little time as possible. I shall endeavour to follow suit.
On behalf of myself and of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I want to say how much we appreciate the fact that 1173 the Minister has made the effort to be present with us tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We all know the difficulties under which the Minister has been suffering. We are glad to see him here this evening. We take his presence as n indication of his great concern over this issue.
I shall seek to concentrate my remarks on drawing together under a few short headings the points which have been made. First, I come directly to a question which was first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West and which has been touched on by many ether hon. Members, namely, the independent inquiry which the Minister promised us on 4th December that he would be setting up. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman about this matter earlier this month. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us tonight that he is setting up the inqury forthwith. There is great importance in getting the inquiry going now. As various of my lam. Friends have said, we want to get the inquiry started now while matters are still fresh in the minds of those concerned. There is no merit in delaying the inquiry. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something definite and precise tonight.
I share the view expressed by my hon. Friends that the inquiry should be independent—the Minister has said that it will be—and public. It could be argued that it will be necessary sometimes for the inquiry to go into private session. Thirdly, I think that the inquiry should Ix of a judicial nature. There have been so many issues raised in this outbreak that those who give evidence should be safeguarded in the fullest possible way. We want the inquiry to cast its net widely. All those who have felt anxious in relation to this epidemic should have the opportunity to give evidence. I have received many letters from people who feel anxious or worried. Some of these letters are highly critical. I have sent some of the letters to the Minister. In order to reassure people generally, the inquiry should be independent, as it will be, it should be public, and it should be judicial. If those three points are covered, and if the inquiry is set up at an early date, the Minister will be doing something of real value in getting things moving and securing clarification on a 1174 number of issues which have worried many people.
I come now to a question which has been raised by several of my hon. Friends and on which I have written to the Minister. I refer to the question of supplementary compensation for those who suffered damage in the early stages. My hon. Friends representing areas in Cheshire and Shropshire, where most of the outbreaks have occurred, are particularly concerned, and rightly so. The Minister has given certain reassurances. Without wishing to be critical of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I must say that some of the answers he gave last week merely served to confuse the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has written to the Minister. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a clear indication that it is replacement value which is the general criterion on which he seeks to act. We hope that the position about supplementary compensation, a matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) in particular referred, will be clarified tonight and that provision will be made for early payment.
I come next to the question of rehabilitation in the areas where the disease has made the most serious inroads. The Minister announced a £10 an acre ploughing subsidy. I am sure that he will agree that, although this could be valuable to some people, it will be of very limited value to many. I am glad that the Minister has taken steps to provide officers of the N.A.A.S. to assist with advice in these areas. I hope that they will be able, not only to give advice, but also to report back to the Minister on the need for any further assistance which may be necessary, particularly in the hard-hit areas, to get rehabilitation going. We shall be glad to hear of any further proposals the Minister has for definite assistance in rehabilitation. We all want these areas which have had such serious difficulties thrust upon them to be given the maximum help to get going again.
Practically every speaker has referred to the ban on the import of meat. Although a general degree of concern has been expressed—very reasonably and moderately—in this debate, if the Minister cannot give us some reassurance on this issue a strength of feeling will develop which will be very critical indeed. My 1175 hon. Friends who have said that, if it were right to impose the import ban at the time that the Minister imposed it, it should be kept on until the committee of inquiry has reported have an overwhelming case. What we have ascertained during this outbreak has been the extreme virulence of this strain. If this has come about as a result of meat imports—presumably the reason for banning meat imports could only be that this was thought to be likely—clearly the disease could come in again in another consignment.
I do not think that the farming community could face an outbreak of such severity again. It has been a period of strain and severe losses. Many losses have not been compensated and may not be compensated, and it would be unfair to impose this on farmers again. I hope that the Minister can tell us that he will keep the import ban on at least until the Committee has reported. That is another reason for establishing it as early as possible. We are entitled to a very firm assurance from the Minister on this. I can see no justification for relaxing the ban at this time. I did not press the Minister to put it on in the first place, but when it was put on I accepted that there could well be reasons for it. I could not now accept that the position has so changed that we can relax it.
It is only fair to take up here a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who was, I think, the only hon. Member who sought to put the contrary view about the ban. He made a perfectly fair point about the consumer's position, which the Minister must take into full consideration. But if the hon. Member could have been here—I am sure that there is good reason why he cannot—I would have asked him if he is looking at the matter in the long-term interests of the consumer. If it is shown that the meat is causing our difficulty, we could have another serious outbreak, perhaps more serious, if the ban is lifted, and it would do away with a great deal more meat in this country than we might gain by its import.
One of my hon. Friends said that if we were to allow the meat in we must revert to a vaccination policy, and I think that he was on firm ground in 1176 saying that. If we allow the meat in that means that we say that we are prepared to accept a degree of risk of infection. Is it then fair to the farmers to continue with the slaughter policy? If we are to change in that way, we should not do so until the Committee has reported.
I believe that the consumers of this country might well be safeguarded by the retention of the ban, so long as the Minister does his utmost to stimulate additional production here. The Minister may say that that will take some time, but I remind him of the figures I gave in the debate on 4th December, when I pointed out that over the past three years the annual figure of calf slaughterings had increased by more than the total number of cattle slaughtered in the epidemic. That is still true even today. If real encouragement were given we could by saving so many of those calves, save as many cattle, and within 12 months or 18 months to two years we could be producing this amount again. I hope that the Minister will give us a firm reassurance about this.
I recognise that the Minister is in a difficult position over making payment for consequential losses. But that is yet one more reason for not taking risks by allowing additional meat to come in again until we are quite sure about it following the Committee's report. Consequential losses have been heavy for many people. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) was absolutely right in what he said about this. Many cases of consequential losses have been quoted, and the Minister has had many details sent to him. As an example, I shall mention briefly the case of one of my constituents who was doing his utmost to co-operate in preventing the spread of the disease. He refused to transport food from one of his farms to another, although he was entitled to do so, and because of this he had to change his method of feeding entirely, and lost a large number of cattle as a result. He was worse off than if his cattle had caught the disease, because he received no compensation. He told me that he lost at least £2,500. The Minister told me that he could not agree to any payment because that would set a precedent, and in the present circumstances I accept that. But the inquiry must look into the question of 1177 consequential losses. We must see that there is fairness between all concerned.
I am glad that so many hon. Members have paid tribute to what has been done by the Minister's officials, vets and others in the very difficult circumstances in which they have been working. I add my tribute to their work and the way in which they have carried it out. I have never been critical of them in any sense, and I am happy to reaffirm that.
I should also like to pay tribute to those in other organisations who have cooperated so readily when called on to do so by the Minister, such as those concerned with racing, hunting, shooting and fishing. At an earlier date there was criticism of some people who had not responded in one particular aspect, but by and large people have co-operated very well and deserve every credit.
Many points arise from the debate. There is much more that I could say, but I do not want to delay because I know how many other subjects hon. Members want to raise. I have dealt with the main issues. We on this side of the House have supported the Minister throughout over the maintenance of the slaughter policy. We have done so consistently, but there are people who are critical of it. I have had many letters about it, as has the Minister, I am sure. I have always supported the retention of the policy, but we are entitled to see that the inquiry will be set up, that it will be high-powered, fiat it will look at every aspect of the matter and will report fully to the Minister and the country on the continuance of the slaughter policy. If it is shown that there are other factors arising since the Gowers Report which should lead to a change of policy, let us have a full debate. Until we receive such a report, I continue to believe that the slaughter policy is right, subject to the points I have made.
The points made in the debate are significant. Many people have suffered severe losses; the figure of £29 million is an indication of the direct expenditure involved, although, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, there has been much additional expenditure which cannot be covered by Ministry help and compensation, and which must be borne not only by the agricultural community but by all the people in rural areas.
We should recognise that, and recognise it by seeking to prevent a recurrence of 1178 this dreadful outbreak, which we hope will soon be over. We all recognise that it is not over yet and could flare up again if the restrictions are relaxed.
I repeat my congratulations to all who have worked so hard to keep the epidemic in check, and ask the Minister to give us clear answers on the points raised and to reassure us about the early setting up of the inquiry and its composition, and about meat imports, which are of great concern to all our farmers.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
First, may I thank the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and all hon. Members who have said such kind personal things to me. It is my duty to be here. This is a very important debate and it has given me pleasure because, for the reasons mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, it has achieved a high level. Hon. Members have been frank and constructive. There has been no party slanging match, and all hon. Members, whatever their beliefs, have been objective while believing passionately in their points of view. That is right, and therefore it has been a very fine debate.
I have made careful notes of every speech. I always try to do so, but I have probably made more copious notes in this debate than in any agricultural discussion—and I have attended many over a very long period. I will follow up later those points I do not answer.
Some of the points raised have been elaborated into a major argument and there has been a common theme in the debate. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) for concentrating on the major aspects. On the other hand, it is right that I should pick up some of the smaller points. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who has had to leave—I understand why—raised a question about the Oxenden outbreak. It is still under investigation and as yet we do not know the answer.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) referred to the work at Pirbright and the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) also referred to the importance of research. It is, indeed, right to stress that importance. I have on many occasions paid tribute to 1179 the work at Pirbright. It is one of the great research centres of the world and much its work provides experience for other countries which has always been welcomed. An experiment in relation to infection on birds' feet has been done at Pirbright. That is only one example of its work.
I, too, want to pay tribute to what has been done in this epidemic. I am glad that hon. Members have paid tribute to the work of my staff. Of course we have had criticisms but that is only natural. Mistakes will be made in any organisation and we must learn from them. But I add my tribute to the work of my staff and their administration and also to those involved outside the farming community. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the co-operation given by racing interests and I add my tribute to his. I also thank those interested in hunting, shooting and fishing. They have all co-operated, as has the general public.
I want also to pay tribute to the Army. On my visit, with some other hon. Members, to Chester and another centre, I was very impressed by the efficiency of our Army colleagues, as I was by that of the police and the fire brigades. I also pay tribute to those doing the contracting work and those who have had the distasteful task of slaughtering—a terrible job. I pay tribute also to my own veterinary staff and to those veterinary officers who came from abroad to help. The response has been magnificent.
Finally, I pay tribute to the farmers themselves and to the farm workers and their families, not only those affected by the disease on their own farms, but indeed the whole farming community. We have had wonderful co-operation from them.
This epidemic has involved us in substantial extra cost to the Exchequer. The epidemic is still continuing but the number of outbreaks has sharply declined from the peak of 490 in the week ended 28th November to 21 in the week ended 23rd January. So far, there have been only 15 outbreaks in the week which will end at midnight tonight. Altogether, 18 counties have been involved but seven have now been freed from infected area restrictions and three more are likely to be freed next week. To date, there have 1180 been 2,319 outbreaks, and 205,400 cattle, 98,400 sheep, 113,000 pigs and 36 goats have had to be slaughtered up to midnight last night. That shows the size of this operation. It has been a national tragedy. The compensation already authorised amounted to £25,195,000 by midnight last night. It is not yet possible to estimate the incidental expenses and the extra staff costs but these will be considerable.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of restocking, which is my main concern now. Many hon. Members have mentioned the importance of rehabilitation and restocking. I should like to say a word about getting the farms going again. I am determined that this should go as smoothly and quickly as possible. But the duration and scale of the epidemic and its concentration in such an intensive dairying area bring special problems. Hon. Members have highlighted many of them and indicated where there should be emphasis and where policy should be directed.
First, there is the need to match the supply of animals with the likely demand. This is particularly so with dairy cattle. It is being dealt with on a number of fronts. For example, there is the £10 per acre ploughing grant which I announced in December. I agree that it will not help everyone—we never thought that it would—but it will make some contribution and it was welcomed. It will help those with suitable land to spread their replacement purchases of stock over a period and in the meantime will provide both work and income from cash crops.
I have also made arrangements to establish advisory centres and to augment the staff of the Ministry's advisory services in the affected areas in order to provide a full and individual service for the farmers whose stock has been slaughtered. Advice will be given on the most effective and economic ways of bringing the farms back into production. This advice will include information regarding alternative livestock enterprises and the economics of milk production and will also help many farmers to return to dairying in a gradual and planned manner. The advisory services are also encouraging other farmers elsewhere to hold and make available, when the time 1181 comes, animals useful for restocking, such as dairy type calves and cows which could do another lactation.
The plan to create a pool of livestock for sale to the affected farmers, recently put into operation by the National Farmers' Union, should also do a very great deal to ensure adequate supplies and I want to pay tribute to the N.F.U. Its offices in the areas affected will hold lists of stock available for sale both by private treaty and at special auctions which will be arranged. My Department is doing all it can to help with this scheme. The members of my agricultural executive committees and their district committees in every county, together with the Ministry's local officers, are helping the N.F.U. to ensure that every livestock farmer not only knows of the existence of the scheme and its objectives, but also the ways in which he can contribute to it. The organisation of the machinery for this is a great task and the Ministry is helping in every possible way. For example, it is making available staff, where necessary, and its teleprinter network throughout the country is being supplied free of charge. This should help to ensure that the Union's register, which must contain up to the minute information on available stock if it is to be effective, will be amended with an absolute minimum of delay as stock are offered for sale and sold.
There are several ways in which affected farmers are being helped with the capital that they will require. There are the compensation payments made by the Ministry for the slaughtered animals. Under the Act these are based on the value of the stock at the time of slaughter and it is fair to say that on that basis they have not been ungenerous.
I know that there has been an argument about what my Parliamentary Secretary said the other day in relation to the question of compensation at replacement values and market values. He said:We do not pay compensation at replacement values but at market values. As the hon. Member knows, we are carrying forward the first valuation and we are making a concession there, but we cannot pay at replacement value.Later he said, when pressed further:I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the situation is improving.1182I repeat that there is no room for complacency yet, although we are glad that there has been this big drop in the number of cases. We cannot pay replacement value. We are carefully considering the question of the difference between the compensation paid now and that which was paid at the beginning of the outbreak."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1968; Vol. 757, c. 381–2.]I assure hon. Members that we are looking at this very carefully. But, as hon. Members will know, there are other Departments besides my own involved in this. I am looking at it and I have noted carefully what has been said by many hon. Members today.
§ Mr. Peart
Carrying forward the first valuation. He said that we are making a concession but we cannot pay replacement value. I am having discussions about this. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned this later and I give the assurance that I shall speed this up.
Some of the difficult questions about taxation, including the effect of taxation on compensation, are still under consideration, and I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly. I have also been able to make arrangements for paying grant on account under various improvement schemes. These arrangements apply to the Farm Improvement Scheme, the Hill Land Improvement Scheme, the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Schemes, the Field Drainage and Water Supply Grants, the Ploughing Grants Scheme, the Small Farms Scheme, the Grassland Renovation Scheme and to grants for orchard grubbing. In this and other ways the Ministry is encouraging farmers to take this opportunity to get on with the improvements or changes of system from which their farms can benefit. I want to pay tribute to the help that many organisations connected with farming are extending to farmers who have been hit by the disease. For example, the banks and other lending institutions have promised a sympathetic response to requests for loans. The Country Landowners' Association has asked its land-owner members to extend sympathetic treatment, where necessary, to tenants who have lost their stock. The breed societies are especially helping farmers who have lost pedigree stock to find replacements.
1183 On the question of consequential losses I can assure hon. Gentlemen that this is an extremely difficult matter. I know that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates this. I fully understand the concern expressed about the many losses incurred by large numbers of people inside and outside the livestock industry as a consequence of the epidemic. It has been suggested that the Government should pay compensation and cover loss of earnings by farmers and farm workers and losses caused by deterioration of feedingstuffs on affected farms.
I cannot accept the principle of compensation from the Exchequer for such losses. I know hon. Members have pressed me to do this, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazen) raised this matter especially in relation to farm labour. But loss of wages is another form of consequential loss, and while I have much sympathy with these people, especially with any worker whose income or job is in jeopardy, I cannot accept that we should pay compensation for such losses.
I should like to say to my hon. Friend that I am keeping in close touch with the way in which the situation is developing, and so far the evidence suggests that the problem is not as serious as some people seem to think. My latest information is that in Cheshire about 40 agricultural workers have registered with the Ministry of Labour for employment.
I do not believe—and this was raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk. South-West (Mr. Hawkins)—that the majority of the more far-sighted dairy farmers will easily accept the loss of their skilled stockmen. I fully realise that this is largely a question of having enough money available to tide them over. It must not be forgotten that farmers have received substantial sums of compensation and insurance money. In addition, the banks and other lending bodies have been extremely sympathetic. Quite apart from this, we have been doing our best to provide alternative work of one kind or another. I have mentioned the activities of the C.L.A. It has asked its landowner members to give temporary employment to people in estate work, if possible. My own Department has been employing many people on the disease control operations. Bodies like the Forestry Commission are helping with temporary 1184 employment, wherever possible. I hope that the measures will be of some help.
I want to say a word about the brucellosis scheme. This was not mentioned but this is an opportunity for farmers to restock in such a way as to allow their herds to qualify for registration under the Brucellosis Scheme with a minimum of delay. The Ministry's veterinary officers will visit farmers and advise them how best to go about this. I mention this because I wish to make it as a statement which will be given publicity. Restocking with animals blood tested at an appropriate stage may speed up the qualifying period for accredited status of individual herds. It is not possible to make Cheshire an accredited area, simply because there is not at present any reservoir of brucella-free animals for replacement.
In this and in every other way possible my Ministry will do all it can to help restore to full production farms hit by the epidemic. As hon. Members will know, I have written personally to every farmer who has lost his stock to assure him of this. I enclosed a leaflet setting out the ways in which we are helping and the ways in which he can help himself. I am anxious that he should be given all the information possible. A great cry during the difficult period of the epidemic was that we were not getting much of our information across to the individual farmer. In this period of rehabilitation and restocking it is vital that we should get information across to individual farmers.
I am sure that with patience, determination and good sense on the part of everyone, we may look forward to these farms again making their important contribution to the agricultural industry.
Many other specific points of detail were raised by hon. Members and I will deal with them before I come to the controversial subject of imports. Mention has been made of an inquiry. I think that this is important. I have announced this, but I cannot announce the composition of the body I propose. Many hon. Members have said that they hope that it will be set up quickly. The outbreak will then be fresh in their minds and they will be able to act from their experience of it. I have given the assurance that I will act speedily but, as has 1185 been mentioned, we must get a good chairman and good members.
§ Mr. Godber
This is an important point and I am a little disappointed that the Minister is not able to announce the composition now. We hope the announcement will be made as soon as possible and that the Minister will accept the three criteria I mentioned. It should be independent; it should be public and it should be judicial.
§ Mr. Peart
As to whether it is judicial, assume the right hon. Gentleman is thinking in terms of it being presided ever by a judge. I am not sure whether this would necessarily be best. I can envisage a chairman of a commission not being a judge. He would have high qualities and I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who is a lawyer himself, would agree.
On the other hand, there may well be a legal specialist such as a judge who would have the highest qualities. I would not like to commit myself to be restricted purely to a member of the legal profession. Hon. Members will probably agree with me.
I agree that it should be independent and it should have wide powers just as the Gowers Committee had. Gowers made a full coverage. It took a long time but it did make a thorough investigation. We want the best quality of men and they will want freedom to come to conclusions quite independently of the Government or any organisation. I will be looking very carefully at personnel, and I give the assurance that I will act quickly.
§ Mr. Temple
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, he has given assurances that three matters will be dealt with—taxation, valuation and the question of the inquiry. Would he give the assurance that he will not hesitate to set it up before the epidemic is finished?
§ Mr. Peart
I cannot give that assurance, but I will do my best to do it as quickly as possible. It is a question of getting the right personnel. The right hon. Gentleman, who has been a Minister, knows that often when one has a suitable person in mind it is not always possible to get him. Hon. Members 1186 must appreciate the difficulties which a Minister has.
On the question of the inquiry being in public, it may be necessary to have some of this evidence in public. Indeed, I hope members of the public will be free to give evidence, particularly those people who have had experience in the areas. Already I have given assurance to some hon. Members who have written to me. If they send material now I will see that it is kept and forwarded to the Committee of Inquiry when it is set up.
§ Mr. Peart
I cannot do so at this stage. I have been asked specifically how the members would be picked, whether it would be a judicial inquiry and whether it would be independent. I have been forthcoming on that matter. The terms of reference will be announced when I make the announcement.
I come to what, after all, has been the controversial part of the debate—the import ban. I have noted carefully what all hon. Members have said. It is true, as the right hon. Member for Grantham said, that there is a volume of opinion among people who feel that I should continue the ban beyond the period which I announced. There was one exception—my hon. Friend the Member for Frith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). I should like to take the opportunity of saying something about the ban on the importation of meat and offal from all countries except the very few countries where foot-and-mouth is unknown or which have a long history of freedom from it.
When I announced on 4th December the Government's decision to introduce this change in our import arrangements, I explained that it was a purely temporary measure—the right hon. Member for Grantham admits that he did not press me to introduce it—designed to avoid a catastrophic overstrain of our veterinary resources which would result from a new primary outbreak while we were still struggling to bring the epidemic under control. Although it had not been possible to trace the origin of the epidemic and the change did not imply that the epidemic was necessarily caused by im- 1187 ported meat, the Government considered that it was imperative to minimise the risk of any new infection from any source while the emergency was being brought under control.
The temporary changes in import arrangements then introduced have caused difficulty and disruption not only for our overseas suppliers but also for traders and consumers. But they have been accepted on the basis that they were a short-term measure justified by the emergency and would last until the epidemic was brought under control and would, in any case, be reviewed in three months. I said this and I made my announcement to the House. The Government just cannot go back on their pledges. I am prepared to listen very carefully to the arguments. I will read HANSARD tomorrow, and I will bear in mind what has been said. But I gave pledges then. I made a statement publicly to the House.
I sympathise very fully, however, with the farming community in their anxiety that we should do everything we reasonably can to ensure that we never again have to face a major epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease. This is why we decided that once we were free from the immediate preoccupation of coping with the epidemic we should set up an independent committee to examine both our policy and arrangements for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease.
§ Mr. Hooson rose—
§ Mr. Peart
I am putting the argument. I will give way in a moment.
However, to continue the present arrangements on imports until the committee had reported, as some hon. Members have pressed me to do, would be contrary to the basis on which those arrangements were introduced and accepted. It would be a new act of policy which would prejudice the questions which we shall have to consider following the committee's report.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery argues that the situation has changed since then. But he must appreciate that I made the announcement. I told the House, the farming community, the traders and other people involved that it was a temporary ban.
§ Mr. Hooson
There is nothing in what the Minister said in the House which 1188 seems to me to give pledges. What I should like him to say is whether he gave pledges to the Argentine Government and, if so, what they were.
§ Mr. Peart
To all our meat suppliers I made the same statement that I made in the House. Hon. Members are now asking me to reconsider that policy. I have said that I will look carefully at any argument that has been put forward tonight, as I must, but this is the policy of the Government, and that was our pledge.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
Will the Minister accept my suggestion of making the advisability or otherwise of continuing the ban one of the terms of reference for the inquiry?
§ Mr. Peart
I made the decision to bring in the ban because I was afraid of the strain on my veterinary service if there should be another primary outbreak. I told the House that, and I was not pressed on it by hon. Members. Indeed, I was praised for bringing in the ban. I detected no criticism. In fact, no other Governments have ever done this before. Hon. Members are now saying that we should change this policy, and I have said that I will listen carefully to their points of view and arguments. I have made a statement on policy, and that is the Government's decision.
§ Mr. Godber
This is a very serious matter. The Minister has said that he will look at what has been said: will he look at the argument, advanced by several hon. Members tonight, that if it were logical to stop imports in December it is just as logical to retain the ban until a committee has reported? We have been confronted with an epidemic the virulence of which we have not before seen. 1189 The Minister says that no other Governments have done this before, but he will realise that no other Governments have been faced with such a virulent epidemic before.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point about his pledge. In hearing him, I cannot help feeling that he has been away from the House for a week or two, because during that time we have heard from the Government of various broken pledges— [HON. MEMBERS: "Shoddy."] No, it is not shoddy, because if the right lion. Gentleman is relating his argument to a pledge, and if the pledge has already produced problems, we are entitled to ask him to look at it again.
I understood the Minister that while the ban was temporary it would continue until such time as he was reassured about the virulence of the epidemic. He cannot be reassured until he has had a report from the committee he is to set up. Will he please look at the matter? There will be the gravest indignation throughout the country if he cannot give reassurance on this. I am trying to keep my remarks temperate, but I assure the Minister that vie feel very strongly indeed about this matter.
§ Sir Clive Bossom
Can the right hon. Gentleman say who is pressing him to lift the ban? If it is the butchers, I believe that they are being much too alarmist.
§ Mr. Peart
It is not a question of anyone pressing me at all, but of the policy I announced to the House. I announced this temporary ban—and it was a temporary ban—and I said that it could be reviewed again. I mentioned a period of three months. It was announced as a temporary ban, and it was accepted. This is known outside the House—there is no question of hiding anything. But hon. Members now say that they want me to have a permanent ban—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."]—Well, some hon. Members argue that. Some want a permanent ban. There are some who say that as long as there is a risk from those countries where the disease has not been wiped out, we should keep the ban on imports, but that has never been done before.
§ Mr. More rose—
§ Mr. Peart
I have said that I will lock at the arguments carefully, but that 1190 is the Government's policy and hon. Members should know it. After all, there are important factors to be borne in mind. Of course I recognise that we have to consider the position of our own home producers. I brought in a temporary ban, but now I am being pressed to extend it. I have said that I will carefully look at the arguments, but the policy of the Government remains.