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Livestock Movements

Volume 404: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2003

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What recent discussions she has had with (a) ministerial colleagues and (b) the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales on the effects of the six-day rule on agriculture, with particular reference to effects upon agricultural shows and festivals; and if she will make a statement. [109785]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular bilateral meetings with ministerial colleagues and, of course, with the First Minister. They cover a number of issues, including agriculture. The six-day rule has freed up the movement of livestock while ensuring that risks to animal health are kept to an absolute minimum.

I see from today's Order Paper that the Secretary of State is referred to as female. Perhaps I can understand the Table Office misunderstanding which party he stands for. He is new Labour here and very old Labour in Neath. However, to question his gender is another thing.

The people of Wales have been waiting for months and months for the six-day rule to be adapted. Agricultural fairs will be ruined in the coming months, and many will be cancelled. That is ruinous for agriculture, bad for the rural economy and terrible for morale. Is it no wonder that the people of rural Wales will reject Labour tomorrow?

Saying that Labour will be rejected in Wales tomorrow is about as convincing as recruiting Attila the Hun to the peace corps. However, I have sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says about the six-day rule. The veterinary advice that we have is strongly against providing additional exemptions to the rule. It is felt that adding further options would make it more complex. The six-day standstill strikes a balance between allowing industry to operate efficiently and preventing further outbreaks of the disease, and that is what we all want. However, I recognise the impact that the rule is having on small agricultural shows.

Should not the Minister disregard the manic hyperbole from Plaid Cymru and consider the reasons why foot and mouth spread in this country in a way that it did not spread in Holland, France, Ireland or Scotland? It spread because of excessive and unnecessary movements in which more than 1 million animals were in contact with foot and mouth before the disease was detected. Is it not right that non-essential movements of animals should be restricted not only to ensure that any future outbreak of foot and mouth is confined to a small area, but to guard against other animal diseases such as blue tongue virus and swine vesicular disease?

I take note of my hon. Friend's point, but I reiterate the advice that we have been given by veterinary officials. The six-day rule is appropriate and strikes a proper balance between the risks. We certainly do not want to return to the problems that we had a few months ago.

Answers to my parliamentary questions show that the ban on on-farm burial of fallen stock, which is to come in tonight, is not based on solid evidence. Given that the Government have not researched the risk assessment regarding that method, are they and the Minister willing to respond to representations from representatives of Welsh farming about the fallen stock regime that it would like to see? Can he assure us that the Government will show flexibility in the months ahead in their proposed new scheme, given the uncertainties that we all know exist?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the European Union legislation comes into force tonight and tomorrow. It will ban routine on-farm burial and the burning of animal carcases. My colleagues in the Assembly continue to work on a national fallen stock scheme, but I will certainly accept the representations to which he refers and make sure that they are passed on to colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and at the National Assembly.