I am satisfied that these bodies are all very much alive to the problem facing them. I am also satisfied that in recent months they have been coming together and working along parallel lines on the same problem. In reply to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary, I will look into that point and will continue to have it under review.
Will the Minister bear in mind that there is a special agricultural sub-committee of the Strasbourg Assembly considering European agriculture, to which we are submitting a memorandum? Will the Minister see that that committee receives a memorandum from him, and suggest to them that this is the sort of practical job which they can do, instead of the rather vague things they are doing at the moment?
None, Sir. Restrictions were imposed in Somerset and other counties in southern England as a precaution, in view of the risk of introduction of infection from the Continent. The position in France is still serious and the peak of infection in northern France appears to be moving westwards. Consequently, although the position is kept continuously under review, I do not think that the time has yet come to remove the restrictions.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very considerable hardship and hindrance which this long protracted restriction is causing to many farmers in their production? Can he say when it will be possible for him to modify or lift the restrictions, at any rate over a limited area?
I cannot give any specific date, but I think my hon. Friend will agree that it may very well be that the maintenance of the controlled areas is an important reason why Somerset has kept clear. Throughout the country the farmers have co-operated in a wonderful way, and I only hope that they will complete the last lap and thus continue the great progress which has been made.
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that, under Section 12 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, owners of animals or those having charge of them in an area infected with foot-and-mouth disease, may put up a notice forbidding people to enter premises without permission; whether he is aware that these notices have been widely ignored in spite of his appeals; how many people have been prosecuted for ignoring these notices; and if he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum penalties that can be incurred by those not observing the existing law, and take power to close rights of way in infected areas.
I am not aware that the notices are being widely ignored and I have no information about the number of prosecutions, as they are undertaken by local authorities. The maximum penalty for disregarding such a notice is a fine of £50 for a first offence, which I consider to be adequate. Power already exists, under the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Infected Areas Restrictions) Order, 1938, to close any footpath or right-of-way in an infected area, and this power is exercised where necessary by my veterinary inspectors.
No, Sir, but I hope to do so in the fairly near future so that, if the present epidemic abates sufficiently, the committee will be ready to start work in the autumn.
Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we may unhappily be faced with another invasion of infection from the Continent in the early autumn and that it is important that this Departmental committee should begin to gather information about the measures which ought to be taken?
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether the Departmental committee which he proposes to set up to inquire into the prevention of foot-and-mouth disease will include representatives from Scotland.