Orders of the Day — Fowlpest (Nottinghamshire)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th January 1971.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fortescue.]

8.49 p.m.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke , Rushcliffe

I am very grateful to have this opportunity of directing the attention of the House and of the Minister to the very serious problems which face large numbers of poultry farmers in Nottinghamshire, and particularly in my constituency. I realise that in view of the time an hour and three quarters could in theory be devoted to this debate. I hasten to assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not think it will be necessary for me to take more than a reasonable proportion of that time to brng home the problems arising in Nottinghamshire. However, they should not be minimised, although I hope to contain them in a reasonable compass.

In Nottinghamshire, up to 9th January, the date of the last confirmed figures which I have, 136 cases of fowlpest were confirmed, 20 of them in the last seven days. Today the figure has risen to about 140 cases in the one county. The disease is likely to persist for some considerable time in Nottinghamshire; there seems no reasonable prospect of the outbreak coming to an end until Easter at the earliest.

The position is very serious for a large number of poultry farmers, and many members of the public do not always realise the hardship which can be caused to farmers because they believe that they are cushioned against such outbreaks. But many farmers, particularly the small and medium farmers, find that insurance against this risk is not an economic proposition. Many of them are not insured and they are carrying heavy losses entirely themselves. In some cases the losses cannot be borne and I fear that there will be bankruptcies among some poultry farmers in the county in the near future.

Some farmers believe that the public do not appreciate that they face a very severe risk from this disease and that they do not, by their behaviour, give them the sympathy which they deserve. Members of the public seem to be aware of the serious risks involved in foot-and-mouth disease when cattle suffer from it, and considerable courtesy is shown by them in their movements on farms where outbreaks have occurred. But people visiting farms and travelling about for routine purposes in affected areas show complete indifference to outbreaks of fowlpest. Whether cattle evoke greater public sympathy than chickens I do not know. Perhaps there is something about their eyes that evoke sympathy. But farmers who may not be very sentimental about their chickens are extremely concerned about the serious hazards which they run when the disease breaks out. The public, even in a county so badly affected comparatively as Nottinghamshire, remain largely indifferent and in many cases fail to take the most elementary precautions when travelling about the affected areas.

Many members of the public feel that farmers are protected, and some believe that a slaughter-and-compensate policy is applied to this disease as it is to foot-and-mouth disease. The Minister is well aware that that is not so. That policy has been abandoned for fowlpest, although I understand that for some reason it still applies in Scotland. Notwithstanding that anomaly, in England the slaughter-and-compensate policy does not apply and, therefore, losses are carried entirely by the farmers. The policy was withdrawn a few years ago on the basis, I understand, that farmers were in a position to take adequate steps to protect themselves and that there were satisfactory vaccines available with which responsible farmers could protect their poultry. Since the decision to withdraw the slaughter-and-compensate policy, compensation has not been available for affected farms.

Some farmers have brought losses upon themselves by being irresponsible and not vaccinating in good time or taking a calculated risk with the disease. They ran the risk which was anticipated by the Ministry when it withdrew the slaughter-and-compensate policy, and nothing can be done for such farmers. If their chickens have suffered from the disease, they have gambled and lost. I am concerned about responsible poultry farmers who have wished to take steps to protect their flocks and have done what they could to protect them against the disease but have still suffered disaster.

One reason for this may be the effectiveness of the vaccine, to which I will return later, but another important matter is the supply position of vaccine when the epidemic began to build up. Back in October of last year when the epidemic was in its comparatively early stages, booster vaccine was being sought by poultry farmers who had already taken steps to protect themselves; but booster vaccine was difficult to obtain in Nottinghamshire within a period of less than six weeks. Poultry farmers were receiving advice from the Ministry to vaccinate or revaccinate immediately, but supplies of vaccine were not available. I appreciate that the Ministry stepped in at quite an early stage and had discussions with the suppliers, and this brought about a considerable improvement.

At present it is possible to obtain vaccine within two to three weeks and sometimes, if a farmer is lucky, a little less than that, but that is still a long time to have to wait for supplies. Particular difficulties are, however, being suffered by some farmers. One difficulty is that suppliers and distributors are giving preference to their biggest and best customers, so that it is extremely difficult for the small poultry farmer to get supplies of the vaccine. Certainly until a few days ago it was almost impossible to obtain supplies of vaccine in quantities of less than 1,000 shots. I appreciate that it is only a very small farmer who needs less than that, but the smaller and medium sized poultry farmers are still suffering delays and having to make ingenious telephone calls around the area to get supplies.

The dead vaccine which is still being used is now to be supplanted by live vaccine, and the position will be improved. I welcome the announcement of the Ministry that live vaccine has undergone field tests which show that it is likely to be effective and that it is to be introduced. Live vaccine has come too late to be of great assistance in this epidemic, but that is no fault of the Ministry. It was essential to have field tests, and it is bad luck that the field tests on the live vaccine should have been finished at a time when a serious epidemic was already raging.

Will the Minister bear in mind the experience of the supply position of vaccine in this epidemic when he is looking to the future and considering making readily available supplies of live vaccine? I would welcome his assurance that in the event of another epidemic the suppliers and distributors of vaccine will be better placed to deal with sudden calls from farmers.

There are other reasons why it has been impossible to restrain the epidemic and why extremely prudent and responsible farmers have still found that their flocks have been struck by the disease. There is the question of the restrictions on the movement of poultry which are imposed under the regulations by the Ministry when an outbreak occurs. It has been suggested to me that one reason for the spread of the disease in the county is the short but important delay which occurs in the publicising of a case of fowl-pest between the time when it is first suspected and when it is confirmed by the Ministry's veterinary officers. When an outbreak is first suspected the Ministry is notified and certain restrictions are placed upon the farm, but nothing is done to publicise that outbreak to neighbouring farmers until the disease has been definitely diagnosed and confirmed.

I have satisfied myself of one case in which a poultry farmer trying to protect himself, knowing that a disease was in the area, remained unaware that there was suspected disease over the hedge, as it were, in an immediately adjacent farm. It was suspected and there was an interval of three or four days before that suspicion was confirmed and brought to that farmer's attention. It meant that for three or four days—and the incubation period in this disease is six days—the farmer remained oblivious of the situation on the adjacent farm and did not begin to take emergency precautions to seal off his farm from unnecessary outside callers.

Another matter to which attention should be drawn is the somewhat restricted nature of the movement orders which are imposed when outbreaks are confirmed. Movement orders tend to apply over a limited area and there is sometimes delay in extending them very much further. Again, I have satisfied myself of a case in which a movement order was imposed on a farm six days after an outbreak of fowlpest in the same village only a mile away. During that six-day period no movement order was imposed, and on many occasions such orders have not been imposed over any wider radius than that. Could my hon. Friend say in reply whether the Ministry would be justified in imposing more wide-ranging restriction in future to cover a radius of, say, five miles at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid unnecessary risks being run?

Another matter which gave rise to considerable annoyance among poultry farmers in Nottinghamshire was the fact that during the outbreak poultry markets continued to operate in Nottingham, Melton Mowbray and neighbouring areas. In fact, these markets do not even fulfil any really important function in the poultry industry in my area. They are used by the small producers, but not, I am informed, by the larger producers, principally for slaughtering. It is possible for a small producer to ring a slaughterer for a thousand birds, sell them, and not even go to the market. However, the markets continued to operate without restriction at a time when the disease was getting firmly under way and the Ministry declined to take steps to close them.

I put down a Question to the Minister on this subject on 26th November last year. I then asked the Minister whether he will seek stronger powers to close poultry markets and to restrict movements of poultry over a wide area as soon as an outbreak of bowl pest occurs in any part of the country. His reply was: To introduce large-scale restrictions of this kind where only isolated cases of the disease occur would increase unnecessarily the problems facing the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1970; Vol. 807, c. 220.] I appreciate that there would be some difficulties, but the isolated cases which were referred to in November are now no longer as isolated. Although the Minister felt at that time that it would cause difficulty for the industry, in fact the majority of poultry farmers would have welcomed those restrictions and accepted the difficulties since they were angry because restrictions were not being imposed and poultry were being allowed to circulate freely.

Having dealt with the difficulties facing poultry farmers who seek to protect themselves by getting supplies of vaccine, I hope I have drawn the attention of the House to certain matters which need looking into as a result of this outbreak and from which valuable lessons can be learnt for the future in order to avoid repetition.

I welcome the Minister's response to suggestions I have made in the past. I appreciate the steps which the Ministry has taken at various stages and, in particular, in trying to do something about the supply of vaccine. This has become a serious matter to many of my constituents and, unfortunately, more will suffer before the winter is out. It is appropriate that the House should turn its attention to the problem at this stage.

9.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

I thank the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) and the Minister for agreeing to a couple of minutes for me. It was presumed that the debate would start at 10 o'clock, but we now have ample time to discuss this serious problem.

The hon. Member for Rushcliffe should be flattered that there are six hon. Members present—unfortunately, two of them are just deciding to leave—who have felt that this was either an important subject to listen to or that they have nothing else to do at this time of night—I am not sure which. The hon. Member and the Minister are usually the only people at Adjournment debates.

The hon. Member for Rushcliffe took what was rather a gloomy view of what was happening, but I hope that we shall get a grip of this very serious disease in the present situation, and that it is not quite as bad as he thinks it is.

I should declare my interest. I was a member of the Plant Committee, which made some of the recommendations about which he spoke. I am a farmer, although I have gone out of poultry and my poultry houses are full of cattle. It is much more interesting to go home to look at a nice lot of cattle rather than hens. I remember an old farmer friend who was advised to go into poultry but said that he did not like them because they were "fleeing buggers".

The Plant Committee made a recommendation on dead vaccine, and many other recommendations, in 1962–63. I put down a Question, when this outbreak got to a fairly high stage, about how many flocks which had taken the disease had been vaccinated. I was shocked by the answer. Up to 3rd December, of 2,370 flocks which had taken the disease just over 200 had been vaccinated. It is a shocking figure, and it shows that farmers, as the hon. Gentleman has said, gambled and lost. Not only had they gambled and lost, but they had put their neighbours and friends at risk as well.

I know that I am not supposed to mention it, but in the Official Box is another member of the Plant Committee, who knows an awful lot more about this than I. Nevertheless, from my memory of the situation, flocks which are vaccinated are, if they are subjected to a severe challenge, more likely to go down than birds which have not been vaccinated and which take the disease. If that had been the challenge, then it would have been less severe than it has been for non-vaccinated flocks. From all the evidence which we took, I think that that is right. Not only were farmers gambling with their own flocks but they are gambling with those of their neighbours and friends. That is the shocking thing about it.

The hon. Gentleman welcomed the Minister's plans to experiment with live vaccine and the use of it; but live vaccine is not the complete answer. I agree that it is easy to administer, and that with dead vaccine each bird has to be caught and injected, which is a big job. The improved dead vaccines which have come since the Plant Committee reported could easily have solved this problem. But because farmers take the risk, chiefly because of the extra work, the vaccine is far more expensive.

The live vaccine is easier to use. One can put it in water, spray it, or use droplets into the nostril or eye. But it is not a complete answer because it aggravates other diseases. It aggravates coccidiosis and some of the respiratory diseases—although one can have a double vaccine to prevent that. That in itself is bad enough. However, the main problem is that once live vaccine is used the disease is endemic in the country. It means that all flocks will be susceptible, and that is a situation which those who served on the Plant Committee hoped would not arise. Farmers have taken the risk simply because for a time the disease seemed dormant. As a result, they did not vaccinate.

The door is now open to imports of fresh poultry meat. That was not possible before because of the risk of bringing in the disease. If the disease becomes endemic and our poultry flocks are not to be sadly depleted there must now be compulsory vaccination. The situation is serious, and farmers have done themselves a bad turn by being lulled into carelessness. If they had carried on vaccinating with dead vaccine, the disease would have been kept under control.

9.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Nottingham South

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke), who pointed out that people are not as concerned about fowlpest as they are about foot-and-mouth disease. I trust that my hon. Friend will note that the support from Nottinghamshire, in this case, comes from a constituency which is predominantly urban.

I have had talks with N.F.U. representatives in Nottingham and London. Clearly, many of our small poultry farmers face real hardship, and it is no exaggeration to say that many face bankruptcy because of it.

It cannot be easy to quantify how many are affected in this way. People are reluctant to talk about their financial difficulties when they are verging on bankruptcy. However it would be surprising if in Nottinghamshire alone several poultry farmers did not go out of business.

This outbreak comes at a very bad time. In any event, profit margins in the industry are small. These has been a substantial increase in foodstuff price. There is also a great dependence upon credit and the supply of money. This has presented another real problem to small poultry farmers. The banks take the view that no more credit is available. Poultry farmers face the prospect of going out of business.

This is not necessarily affecting merely the inefficient farmer. It is a measure based entirely on the present size of his bank balance. Poultry farmers, like others, must expect to take risks. I do not disagree with what has been said about those who have not taken proper precautions. However, it is fair to say that some farmers have taken precautions, have vaccinated with dead vaccine, and have still been affected by fowlpest. It is those farmers for whom one must have most sympathy at present.

I am sure that no ore, certainly not the N.F.U., expects a return to the policy of compensation. However, I suggest that the Minister might consider some kind of bridging aid for farmers who have been affected.

I hope that the Government will examine the plight of small farmers with sympathy and will per laps consider making loans, repayable over a certain period, to those small farmers who are in most desperate need. I should like to see such assistance and sympathy as this Government can give to the plight of the small farmer.

9.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark

First, I should like to apologise for having missed the beginning of the debate. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) for raising this subject tonight.

As a Member with a Nottinghamshire constituency and being very much concerned with the problem, I believe that the hon. Gentleman has done a great service by drawing th3 attention of the House and of the Minister to this subject.

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe and of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on this subject. One of the largest poultry farms in the country, if not in the world, is situated in the Newark constituency. In the 80 villages or so which I have the honour to represent there are many farmers—some of them small farmers. Therefore, I can appreciate the comments made by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe.

I have been in correspondence with the Minister on this subject for some time. Indeed, the first item which I had to raise after being elected in 1964, because of the prevalence of foot-and-mouth disease, was the policy of live or dead vaccine, which I believe is still under review. I think that we should get a determination of policy on this subject in the near future.

Another point which I put to the Minister was whether he would consider, once again, subsidising the vaccine in the early days before the vaccine then used was known and established. I believe that there is still a case for that.

I also suggested that the Minister might consider compulsory vaccination. The Minister seems to have set his face against that, probably advisedly, because it is difficult to ensure adequate inspection to see that the dosage and other precautions are applied in each case.

I should like to associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Members for Rushcliffe and Nottingham, South and also those of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) who has practical experience. We pass on to the Minister, who I am sure is already well aware, the widespread concern felt not only by Nottinghamshire farmers, but by all farmers, large and small, throughout the country.

9.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

First, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) for the constructive and highly competent way in which he has raised this subject, which is of tragic as well as topical importance.

I have not had the pleasure of hearing my hon. Friend speak before, but I thought that he presented the case of his constituents and focused the attention of the House upon this urgent subject in the most admirable way.

The fowlpest epidemic has been causing grave anxiety not only in Nottinghamshire but throughout the country. As the House may know, the numbers of outbreaks confirmed each day has increased in the past few weeks, particularly in some counties. These, I am sorry to say, included Nottinghamshire.

My hon. Friend gave certain figures. I can give him some figures which are slightly more up to date. By Tuesday of this week there had been 147 outbreaks in Nottinghamshire: 134 of them in laying and breeding stock, nine in broiler flocks and four in turkeys and other birds. While this total is not as high as that experienced in some other counties, it is a very serious matter for poultry keepers in the county and, as a farmer myself, I assure my hon. Friend that I know what it means to see one's stock go down with disease. I went throught it many years ago with pigs, and I should like to express my profound sympathy for those farmers whose flocks have been affected.

I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the general reactions of the public to this disease. It is true to say that they do not regard it with the seriousness with which they have been led to regard foot-and-mouth disease although, relatively speaking, to those who are affected by the disease it merits just as serious and sympathetic consideration.

I want first to remind the House why the present policy of vaccination against Newcastle disease was adopted. As the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, the Plant Committee, of which he was a member, and which reported in 1962, drew attention to the inadequacy of the policy of slaughter and compensation we were operating at the time. It had entailed the unnecessary slaughter of birds, because many of them would have recovered from the disease, and this had caused considerable disruption of the industry. It had been very expensive indeed, and it had placed an intolerable load on our veterinary manpower. My hon. Friend might care to be reminded that the cost to the country of operating that slaughter policy was about £20 million over a period of six or seven years, rising to a sum of £8 million in one year. It was very expensive, indeed. But, above all, it failed to control the spread of the disease, and that is why the committee decided that we should adopt a policy of control rather than one of eradication. The Government of the day accepted that recommendation and introduced a policy of voluntary vaccination by the industry in England and Wales, using an inactivated vaccine.

This policy was taken up by producers in large numbers in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, and it had the most dramatic effect. Outbreaks of fowlpest which had numbered what I regard as the sensational figure of 2,000 or more a year in the years between 1960 and 1964 fell steadily year by year until there were only 36 cases in 1969. These figures speak for themselves and show how effective the inactivated vaccine could be when taken up by the industry on a really large scale.

Unfortunately—and one has to face these facts—in 1968 and 1969, in spite of repeated warnings from the Ministry—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe referred of this—many producers eased up on their vaccination programmes, until only about 50 per cent. of the national flock was vaccinated. This was far below the level necessary for protection against the disease. There is no doubt that the extent of the present epidemic can be attributed to this, because many expert veterinarians consider that the epidemic would not have taken serious hold at all if the vaccine level had been higher.

The inactivated vaccine has been effective in protecting adult and growing birds. With very few exceptions, losses from fowlpest in flocks which were fully and properly vaccinated with the inactivated vaccine have been minimal, and when I say minimal I mean about 6 per cent. But it is always difficult to protect very young birds by vaccination. These normally rely on the protection provided by a high level of vaccination in surrounding flocks and, of course, in their own if there are older birds there, but this no longer applied in 1970. The live vaccine which we have now introduced does give marginally earlier and more effective protection to very young birds. This is one reason why, after field trials in a genuine disease situation, to ensure that, in our conditions, the side effects of the vaccine would not be worse than the disease, we decided to approve it for general use.

My hon. Friend asked why live vaccine was not approved earlier. This was a matter of delicate balance. The industry has been divided on the question of whether live vaccine should be approved. Before we could approve it, we had to be sure that the needs of the disease situation outweighed the possible disadvantages of using a live vaccine, and the adverse side effects of using a live vaccine in British conditions in a serious disease situation did not outweigh its potential advantages.

With these objects in mind, we studied the use of the vaccine in Holland, which was experiencing a similar virus, and carried out field trials in this country. Immediately these studies were sufficiently advanced to enable us to reach valid conclusions, we announced that we would approve the use of live vaccine. We tested the vaccine as soon as it was possible to give it a rigorous trial in a disease situation in the field.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked whether we would run into further troubles with this. We have found the side effects to be in no way as alarming as perhaps had been suggested. In spite of the action which we and the industry have taken, however, we are now faced with what I would admit is a devastating disease situation in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere.

No vaccine can be 100 per cent. effective, and the effectiveness of any vaccine is bound to be reduced in the face of the high level of challenge—which I could say more easily in layman's language by describing as the great weight of infection—resulting from the considerable production of virus at present taking place, particularly from unvaccinated flocks, but the only way to bring the disease under control is to raise the general level of vaccination. There should be no mistake about that.

The Ministry can control the movement of infected birds and impose restrictions on the movement of other birds. It can take action on infected farms to disinfect, to advise producers on hygiene, to see that sensible practices are adopted in slaughter houses and packing plants. All those things it can do, and maybe more, and all these things will help to slow the spread of the disease, as will the observance by producers of high standards of hygiene and management and care by producers in their use of waste food.

But I want to emphasise that all these actions can make only a very limited contribution to the control of the disease compared with vaccination. We must raise the general level of the latter, not only by the large flock owners, who generally make a real effort to vaccinate, but by every person in the business, no matter how small. Each new infected unvaccinated flock is a new source of infection, a new producer of virus.

Vaccine supplies, both live and unactivated, are available and are increasing. It is not expensive. One thousand doses cost only as much as one or two birds, and small flock owners owe it to their large neighbours as well as to themselves to vaccinate their birds against disease.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

The hon. Gentleman referred to dead and live vaccine—I prefer to call it that rather than activated and unactivated—but can he say whether one or other type can be used side by side?

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

My information on this somewhat complex problem is that it is perfectly possible to use one or other side by side. If one uses one of the vaccines before using the other, one does not get such a good result compared with using them the other way round, if the hon. Gentleman understands what I mean. Frankly, I am not certain which way round they should be used and if I went into the matter in more detail I would probably get it wrong.

I gather that if one uses the live one first, followed by the dead vaccine, the result is a good boost, whereas that is not the effect of using them the other way round. In any event, we will willingly advise farmers about this. I would sum it up by saying, "Dead after live is O.K."

It has been put to me that we should make vaccination compulsory. The Government have considered this possibility, but such a reform would be of little use unless it could be effectively enforced; and this would make impossible demands on our manpower, apart from being impracticable. It is up to producers to protect their flocks in their own interests. However, the Ministry will continue to make special efforts to persuade producers in and around infected areas to undertake vaccination as quickly and effectively as possible.

I have heard that some small producers are finding it difficult to get vaccine supplies. Eight live vaccines have been approved and considerable supplies of live and dead vaccines are now available. My hon. Friend mentioned vaccine shortages and made several points which I am willing to inquire into. However, I can assure him that we are not receiving any reports of shortages, although some people found difficulty in getting it in December.

My information is that the small flock owner should be able to obtain supplies either from his local chemists or from his veterinary surgeon. Our local inquiries in Nottingham suggest that vaccine is now readily available in both small and large packets.

We have again analysed a series of recent outbreaks to assess the extent to which infected flocks had been vaccinated. Of the 640 outbreaks—this follows the figures given in December—confirmed between Christmas Day and 7th January, only 16 per cent. of the flocks had been fully vaccinated, about 30 per cent. partly so and another 54 per cent., over half, were totally unvaccinated or vaccinated so long ago that they had lost any significant immunity.

It is disappointing news that so many flocks still remain unprotected. It may be some consolation that these flocks represent only about 10 per cent. of the total of birds in infected flocks. In other words, many of the unvaccinated flocks were small ones. But each one of these is a new potential source of infection for its neighbours. Each one should have been vaccinated. These are the brushwood that set the forest alight.

In Nottinghamshire, of the 147 flocks so far infected, only 10 were fully vaccinated, 68 had been partly so and a further 69 had not been vaccinated at all. The Nottinghamshire owners of infected flocks are, therefore, little different from the owners of infected flocks generally. I realise that some farmers in Nottinghamshire feel that the Government should do more to halt the epidemic, but the fact remains that the principal remedy, which is vaccination, lies in the hands of producers themselves.

It has been suggested that the Government should pay compensation to poultry producers, but my right hon. Friend has made it quite clear that he will not introduce compulsory slaughter with the payment of compensation. This would have the disadvantages I have already described. This policy has failed in the past to control the disease and it would take all the steam out of the present pressure to vaccinate.

Another suggestion is that we should have closed poultry markets. In fact, we asked local authorities in early December to stop licensing poultry markets, except where birds are intended for immediate slaughter. I am advised that the exception is justified because birds for slaughter do not constitute a disease risk. This is a point which I wish to consider further and make inquiries about.

It has been suggested that, where an outbreak of fowlpest is suspected, as distinct from confirmed, movement restrictions should be applied and widespread publicity undertaken. We have concluded that any further movement restrictions would not significantly reduce the possible spread of the disease. But we impose restrictions immediately the disease is confirmed and neighbouring farms are informed.

I have taken note of the example my hon. Friend gave of the interval of three to four days, which I realise may have been critical. I want to consider this point together with what he has said about movements.

It should not be necessary to issue any special publicity in the neighbourhood of suspected outbreaks. If any flock owner anywhere in the country, whether or not he is in close proximity to an outbreak, is not now taking the most stringent precautions and observing the highest standards of hygiene and management, he should do so at once, wherever he is situated. We are repeatedly issuing advice on these aspects through all the publicity media available to us.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East raised the question of imports now as a result of live vaccine. The existing veterinary controls on imports have the effect of excluding poultry and poultry carcases from most countries. Although this has not been their purpose, they have thus had the incidental effect of protecting producers in Britain from the major fluctuations in supply and prices which occur from time to time in world markets.

Once live vaccine is effectively in general use, the present veterinary controls on imports will no longer be required. The Government recognise that when that time comes it will be necessary to make arrangements to prevent the home market from being undermined by unduly low-priced imports, and the Government will be consulting domestic and overseas interests on the nature of the arrangements required.

It was also put to me that perhaps the Government should supply and subsidise the vaccine. I do not think that it should be necessary for the Government either to finance or to organise the supply of vaccine. The manufacturers and the distributors are already well organised to supply the vaccine effectively. I think that vaccination is a form of protection which producers should finance themselves.

None of these considerations is as important as the main point, which is that the principal means of controlling the disease—this is absolutely fundamental—is to raise the general level of vaccination. I strongly urge all those producers who have not already done so, in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, to undertake vaccination immediately, no matter how small their flock. The means to control this disease are available to the industry. They must be used.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Ten o'clock.