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Fowl Pest

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 8 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give detailed reasons for the increase in the Supplementary Estimate by almost 100 per cent. of the original estimate for compensation for fowl pest; and if he will make a statement.

The subhead referred to by my hon. Friend covers compensation payments to farmers for animals and birds slaughtered on account of all diseases and also covers related expenses, such as those for disinfection. The original Estimate was about £3·2 million, and this included £1 million for fowl pest compensation. The Supplementary Estimate increased the provision to about £6·2 million, of which fowl pest compensation accounted for £4·5 million. The increase in the provision for fowl pest compensation was necessary because of the continued heavy incidence of fowl pest during most of the financial year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a very authoritative source in his Department said, as recently as 1961, that £1,250,000 was normal and tolerable for such compensation? Can he confirm that in January payment of compensation for fowl pest reached almost £750,000?

In 1958–59 the total expenditure on fowl pest compensation was £1 million. It is very difficult to estimate ahead what compensation for a disease of this nature is likely to amount to during the year. Hitherto we have followed the practice of putting in what I might call a floor estimate—a figure below which we have thought it unlikely to go. As a result of a recommendation of the Estimates Committee we have now tried to make what I might call more realistic assumptions, and we are putting in for a higher figure this year.

In view of the fact that these figures show the seriousness of this disease, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that enough research has been done on the question of eradication?

The question of fowl pest has been given great attention by the Plant Committee, whose report will be published during the course of this month.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Plant Committee is taking a long time over its investigations? Is it not possible to expedite its investigations? While it has been cogitating millions of pounds have been spent. Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that many scientists believe that the present form of fowl pest is less virulent that the old form, and can be effectively dealt with by inoculation? In view of those two facts, is it not clear that a lot of money may have been wasted by the slow progress of this and many other scientific committees which are constantly being set up by Government Departments?

It is difficult to estimate what time, in a perfect world, a committee ought to take to report on any particular subject. This is a very complex matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that the Plant Committee was anxious to give as authoritative, effective and useful advice as it could to Her Majesty's Government. This it has done, and it has taken the time it thought right to do so.