Foot and Mouth/Bluetongue
Opposition Day — [20th Allotted Day — First Part]
Jonathan R Shaw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs) and Minister for the South East), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chatham and Aylesford, Labour)
No, I will not give way; I have not got sufficient time. [ Interruption. ] I am not frit; I have got a lot of issues to get through.
We are putting in funding; we have given £31 million. If there was a priority and the people at Pirbright knew about it, they would have used part of that money to ensure that the drains were repaired. We gave them those resources. I was asked by Mr. Malins whether we would continue to fund that investment at Pirbright, and I can assure him and the House that we will continue to consider that investment.
On handling, three times a day, we had "bird tables", to which some hon. Members came along and saw DEFRA and all our partners—from industry representatives to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—working hard together for the farming community. We held regular meetings with the industry. There was good dialogue with the devolved Administrations. We made every attempt to inform Members of Parliament.
Mr. Paice mentioned animals being shot from helicopters. If he will provide us with that information, we will be very interested to see it, because my officials can find no information to that effect.
On footpaths, we followed the science at every stage in the decisions that we took, and our contingency arrangements have been agreed since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. We learned those lessons; we have the contingency arrangements, which are not just written by DEFRA, but consulted on every year and laid before the House. All the industry and its representative groups play a part in being involved in drawing up those contingency arrangements, which we follow. People were concerned about footpaths, but we followed the science. I attended public meetings in Surrey; we listened to the concerns of the local community, and we closed those footpaths.
Bill Wiggin asked what we are doing to develop a bluetongue vaccine. We have been discussing that with other European member states that have the disease, and we will work in partnership with them and the Commission to find a vaccine for it.
Hon. Members have made many points, and I will try to crack through as many of them as I can. Mr. Beith asked when hill farm payments would be made. We said that payments are scheduled to start in early November and will be subject to EU state procedures, but we want to get those payments to hill farmers as early as possible and hope to do so in November.
My hon. Friend Mr. Cawsey said that he supported the swift action taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—action that was endorsed by the British Veterinary Association. He spoke about animal welfare and the high welfare standards of the pig industry in his constituency. We will maintain our dialogue with the pig industry and work with it to find solutions.
David Maclean put his 12 charges to the Government. He said that it was all down to DEFRA all the time, but we have had our contingency arrangements since 2001, and they were drawn up after the involvement of industry and partners right across the sector.
My hon. Friend Geraldine Smith referred to Mr. Birkett, a farmer, and the Lancashire NFU. She asked for single farm payments to be made as quickly as possible. I am sure that she will appreciate the difficulties that the Rural Payments Agency has had. We want it to ensure a smooth operation and we do not want to expose it to anything that will jeopardise its full recovery, but we will get those payments to farmers as soon as we possibly can.
The hon. Member for Woking spoke about the Institute for Animal Health, Merial and his constituents. We had many conversations throughout early August. He has made his criticisms—I have heard them—but I would like to commend him on the work that he did in representing his constituents.
Mr. Jones spoke with passion on behalf of his constituents and about the difficulties that farmers are facing. We need to restore the markets so that prices increase.
Mr. Llwyd talked about hill farmers, and I have said that we want payments to get to them as soon as possible. He also mentioned bluetongue—we need to put suitable arrangements in place. We have our contingency plans and we are working with other member states to ensure that we can find a solution and a vaccine. We have spoken to supermarkets and hope that they will listen to our comments, as well as to his remarks and those of all other hon. Members—