Skip to main content

Animal Health Measures

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

4. What discussions he has had with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the cross-border applications of emergency animal health measures. (156153)

The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a range of issues, including on animal health measures. The recent crises in animal health and our Government’s reaction prove the seriousness with which we take such issues and that the procedures in place to deal with such sudden events are working well.

The Minister will be only too well aware of the importance of livestock farming to the economy in Wales. He will also know that Wales is designated as a low-risk area for foot and mouth disease. However, what action would be taken if a case were confirmed in Wales?

The Welsh Assembly Government and DEFRA have worked closely on this matter and, as the hon. Lady is aware, many aspects of the powers on animal health measures are devolved to Wales. I applaud the way in which the Welsh Assembly Government have responded. If there were an action, measures are already in place to respond to it, but it is good to stand here and say that we do not fall within the protection zone or need to take such measures.

On farmers, the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking European approval for a lamb welfare disposal scheme, which will be of assistance, and they are also on track to start payments under the single farm payments scheme, as soon as it opens in December.

In view of what the Minister has just said will he ensure during his discussions with the Environment Secretary that the National Assembly is fully compensated for any system of compensation to Welsh livestock farmers? That should happen not least because the foot and mouth outbreak occurred in a UK laboratory—the basis being that the polluter must pay.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that compensation is paid for the culling of livestock and in relation to machinery and equipment affected by disease. This case is different. As DEFRA has done in a different way throughout the rest of the UK, the Welsh Assembly has put in place measures of support for farmers. It is appropriate for DEFRA to do so in England, and for the Welsh Assembly Government to do so in Wales.

Last month, the Secretary of State for Wales incredibly boasted that the Government’s handling of the foot and mouth outbreak had established their reputation for competence. Given that that assertion has been shot to pieces because the outbreak was caused by the Government’s own incompetence, and that many Welsh farmers are facing financial ruin, will the Minister confirm categorically that farmers will be compensated by DEFRA to the full extent of the legal liability and that the costs will not fall on the Assembly budget? We need to know where the money is coming from for our Welsh farmers.

It may be helpful to clarify for the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman that, under the current devolution settlement, there are responsibilities for DEFRA and for the Welsh Assembly Government. I shall outline once again that the Welsh Assembly Government are putting support in place. That is not compensation, but it relates to support mechanisms, including light lambs and their disposal, and ensuring that the single farm payments are on track. That is different from what would have happened if there had been an outbreak in Wales, which currently, I am glad to say, we do not have.