asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the difficulties that producers are experiencing in finding food to keep pigs after the date they are due for collection for slaughter in areas affected by foot-and-mouth regulations; and what steps he is taking to meet this difficulty.
There are several known cures for foot-and-mouth disease, but herds in which animals were kept alive for treatment would remain sources of infection for many weeks. To allow farmers to adopt cures would be incompatible with the present policy, which aims at stamping out infection by the immediate slaughter of infected and contact animals.
Irrespective of the slaughtering policy, would it not be a good thing, in the interests of scientific knowledge and veterinary practice, to try out all cures which are suggested and to establish the necessary conditions of isolation for the purpose?
All suggested cures are very carefully considered. This is the kind of subject which will, no doubt, be considered by the Departmental committee which I propose to set up.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many small farmers appear to be quite ignorant of the more elementary precautions which they might take to prevent the spread of the disease? Will he impress upon them the importance of reporting to the Department's veterinary officers any unusual symptoms in their cattle?
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is adequate leadership and information in the North? Is he aware that the farmers themselves cancelled the Carlisle Show but no advice was received from the Ministry? Is he also aware that the races were held and that apparently the Langholm Common riding is in the balance?
I am glad to say that there has been a steady improvement in the position in recent weeks. There have been 29 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the first half of July as compared with 63 and 43 in the first and second half of June. Disease is still active in parts of Kent and in the Dumfriesshire and Cumberland area, and a further case has occurred in Devon this morning. With the improvement of the position in the Midlands controlled area restrictions are being removed from most of the Midland counties tonight. The southern counties of England remain subject to some risk owing to the serious position in France, where 39,000 fresh outbreaks occurred in the second half of June. Of these 5,800 were in departments immediately opposite the South Coast, and I am afraid that it will be necessary to retain controlled area restrictions in southern England for some time longer.
While recognising the unusual skill of the experts at Pirbright, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can assure us that the experiences of this very grave outbreak during the past year will lead to every possible research being made at Pirbright, including researches for suitable enclaves in the matter of inoculation?
As the southern counties must expect to be in a controlled area for some time to come, will my right hon. Friend see what restrictions on movement can be eased, because the position is very difficult among farmers at the moment in the matter of cattle breeding and similar immediate problems.
As far as comparing this problem with that of the Colorado beetle is concerned, perhaps I might explain to the House that foot-and-mouth disease is a very much more complicated subject than Colorado beetle infestation, because the beetle is very different from a highly infectious virus which may occur in a number of different forms. Infestation by beetles may be dealt with simply by spraying, but nothing like that position exists in the case of foot-and-mouth disease.
In some countries where it is endemic, various cures are adopted; in other countries where it is not endemic a slaughter policy is appropriate. May I also tell the House that the former Chief Veterinary Officer of the Ministry, Sir Thomas Dalling, is now chief veterinary consultant to the F.A.O., and is taking a very prominent part himself in discussions about the scheme.
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that whilst there is scientific consultation, he himself in a previous debate admitted that infection was being carried by birds in their flight from France, and that the foci of infection should be attacked there? If that is so, do we not need inter-Governmental action such as that embodied in the European Plant Protection Organisation?
There again I think this is one of the problems that will have to be considered by the Departmental committee, and I am bearing these questions in mind the whole time, to see whether there is any useful action that I can take.
The composition and terms of reference of this committee have not yet been settled, but every aspect of the present system of control will come under review by the committee.
I can assure the House that there will be no complacency about it but, as I said in announcing the committee, we must deal with this question of the infectious period before we ask our officers to turn to their committee work.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been cases of longer intervals than that, and while four hours may be the normal figure is he satisfied that everything is done in every case to ensure that the surrounding neighbourhood is informed of the circumstances at the earliest possible moment?
Would my right hon. Friend consider instructing his veterinary officers in every county to go to the Farmers' Union meetings and give farmers instruction about the early stages of the disease?