There have so far been three outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Staffordshire. The first outbreak was reported on the morning of 11th December and movement restrictions within a radius of five miles were imposed immediately. The affected animals were slaughtered later that day and an Infected Area Order was made covering a substantial part of Staffordshire and part of Shropshire.
A second outbreak occurred at Walsall on 12th December and the infected area was extended eastwards to include parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire and to cover movements through local markets.
A third outbreak within the area was confirmed on the evening of 13th December.
Both these secondary outbreaks are directly linked with the initial outbreak. All the animals on the affected premises have been slaughtered.
The Chief Veterinary Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture is now visiting the area and I am satisfied that all possible precautions are being taken. I extend my sympathy to the farmers directed affected and would urge all those in the infected area to follow the advice that has been given to them. I hope that the urgent action being taken will reduce the risk of spread of infection to the absolute minimum.
May I add my sympathy to the farmers and others affected? I am sure that this would reflect the views of the whole House. Second, may I congratulate the officers of my right hon. Friend's Ministry and the police on the great speed with which the necessary action has been taken—which is a great improvement on what we saw in 1967—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I meant nothing political by that. It is just a fact that people become aware of the problem much faster than they did. The North-umberland Report has had its effect. May I congratulate all concerned? May I ask my right hon. Friend three questions? First, is the disease so far confined entirely to pigs? Second, has there been any progress in discovering what is the virus type involved? Third, would he make even clearer the dangers of the disease to the country as a whole?
I take my right hon. Friend's first point to mean that we have benefited from the advice of the Northumberland Report, and I think that all of us, on both sides of the House, would agree with that. It was a valuable report and we are acting strictly in accordance with its recommendations. So far, the disease has been confined solely to pigs. That is a good sign, in that so far as it means that the disease has affected housed animals only, so that there is not the same risk of spread from airborne infection as with other animals. We have not yet established the type of virus but Pirbright is working urgently on this and I am watiing hourly for the latest position. We are following all possible procedures in this. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said.
The Northumberland Report endorsed the precautions that we took. I had to be responsible then for dealing with the very serious outbreak, and I had a fine professional veterinary staff, who give advice now. I am supporting the Government. The Minister will have all the support of the Opposition because I believe that he will be well advised by a good veterinary staff. I will not press him continually, as I was sometimes pressed every week in a similar matter. I will act responsibly and ask only when it is necessary for the House to have a report. How will this situation affect our exports of pedigree stock? There has been a statement by the Irish Government. Has there been any consultation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expression of support. I recognise the difficulties that he had, and I hope that this outbreak will not reach the same proportions as the previous outbreak. On his specific question about exports of pedigree stock, the Irish Republic has prohibited imports of all live animals from the United Kingdom, and exports to other clean countries like Australia, will not be possible. There is a problem here, but it is one in which the best way that we can help is by trying to clear up this outbreak as soon as we can.
It is a pity that the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) reacted as he did, remembering, as the whole House does, that he was responsible for establishing the Northumberland Committee, whose report my right hon. Friend has given as assurance he is already taking fully into account. What consultations is my right hon. Friend having with the National Farmers' Union about this matter? To emphasise the point of our right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), would the Minister undertake to give full advice to all sorts and kinds of country users, not only farmers, so as to ensure that they, too, can do their best to ensure that the spread of infection is contained?
Yes. On the first point, I mentioned in my original reply that my Chief Veterinary Officer is in the area. I instructed him before he went to make direct contact with the county chairman of the National Farmers' Union to discuss problems with him. I had already been informed that the NFU was in close touch with our local officers, but it was important to ensure this contact. As for sporting and other activities, we have issued a leaflet in the area concerned advising people of the dangers and urging their full co-operation, which I hope will be forthcoming.
In order to minimise the risk of infection spreading, have any "no movement" orders been made, or any restrictions placed on existing markets? If the Minister cannot tell us that yet, is he aware that any such orders, if thought necessary, will have the fullest possible support in the agricultural community?
I am grateful for that support. The answer is firmly, "Yes". Markets have been closed in the area and "no movement" orders have been made. In regard to the Northumberland Committee's recommendations, we have extended the area to take into account the down-wind drift which was a particular point made by the committee and which means that we have extended the area wider than usual.
The Minister and the House will be aware that during the last outbreak there was considerable anxiety regarding the spread of infection through the milk tankers of the Milk Marketing Board and other organisations. Has he impressed upon milk tanker operators the importance of operating only within their particular areas and not spreading this disease? Has he taken steps to see that the filters used last time are used once again? As for sporting activities, what guidance has the Minister given to countryside organisers of such events as ploughing matches, which take place in the countryside and are a natural gathering point for all the people in a particular area? Could he give guidance on those points?
My hon Friend is right. The Northumberland Committee said very clearly that milk distribution was one of the possible ways in which the previous outbreak was spread. One of my first actions was to question closely the position in this regard. I can give a firm assurance that filters are being used and that proper disinfectant arrangements are being made in accordance with the specific recommendations of the Committee.
Sporting activities are covered by the leaflet to which I have referred. As for gatherings of farmers for ploughing matches and so on they are being strongly advised not to gather together in this way, and I am confident that we shall have their full support.
How soon does the Minister expect to be advised by the Pirbright Research Centre, from which most advice has come? From advice which has been given previously, one knows that this virus could not have survived from any of the earlier outbreaks and therefore must have come from some other country.
This matter concerned me very much and I am waiting for reports from Pirbright. I had a report only an hour ago which said that a virus had been isolated. We are waiting for it to be defined. Once it has been defined, we can then seek to establish where it has come from.
Can I first endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said? Having spoken to the local officers of the NFU, I know that they are grateful for the co-operation which they are receiving from the Ministry. Is it known how many markets were visited by the unfortunate man on whose farm the new outbreak started? Have all the contacts been checked?
There is a problem here. We know that one market is involved. We are not certain about others, but the farmer concerned is giving full co-operation. He had sent out more than one consignment of animals, but, as I have said, this outbreak is confined to pigs. He sent out some cattle, but we have no reason to believe that they were affected. However, this is one aspect of the situation which is being followed up urgently.
Does the Minister agree that it is better to over-react than to under-react at this stage? In view of the particular importance of the livestock industry in Scotland, and the fact that there is only a limited number of routes by which livestock can be taken from England to Scotland, are any special measures being taken to restrict those movements?
We have to keep this in proportion. It is absolutely right that we should seek to isolate the outbreak. The isolation measures which have been taken are very stringent in the area concerned. It would not be right to seek to go beyond that at this stage, but we shall not hesitate to extend the area and to use the strictest measures if we think it necessary. At this stage, it is important to confine it to the area, which at present we have defined as roughly 30 miles by 40 miles.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the occasion of the last outbreak the livestock producers of Shropshire were devastated by its consequences? In these circumstances, will he give particularly sympathetic consideration to the call made yesterday by the Shropshire branch of the National Farmers' Union asking for an extension of the ban on imported meat on the bone?
The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was concerned with this on the last occasion. I believe that the restrictions which have been placed should prove adequate. Until we can decide where this contamination has come from, it would be too early to take any further measures. The important thing is to isolate the virus and then to identify it. We are trying urgently to trace where it has come from. Once we have done that, we shall certainly look at matters such as those my hon. Friend raised.