Councils should prosecute anyone who ignored footpaths and rights of way closures imposed during the foot-and-mouth outbreaks, agriculture minister Nick Brown told MPs.
Christopher Gill, Conservative MP for Ludlow, said the minister was doing his best over public access, but much more needed to be done to convince the public to be strong-minded in choosing where to go at weekends. One of his constituents, a farmer on the Welsh borders, encountered people from Leicester - 90 miles away - walking in intensive sheep country.
He added: 'With the best will in the world, local authorities will be up against it to stop that sort of thing happening. The minister should say more about the subject, so the public are aware of the risk.'
Mr Brown replied: 'We have devolved power to local authorities so that they can use it. If they do so, it has the force of law. If people will not obey the law, it is perfectly permissible to call the police.
'We have not devolved that power because we expect policemen standing at the beginning of every right of way. When somebody in authority , whether it is a farmer or a public offical, says'Please do not use this footpath during the outbreak,' any sensible person will just go away.'
He said one or two people were quarrelling and asserting their rights. 'But in those circumstances I urge local authorities to take their names and addresses and prosecute them.'
Eric Pickles, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar, said Brentwood BC's chief legal officer said no government advice on closures of rights of way had been received. He asked what advice had been offered to the council on the number of footpaths that should be closed.
Mr Brown said he deliberately left the issue to the discretion of local authorities. Because they would know best local circumstances, it was for them to make an assessment of risk.
'I could divert veterinary resources into conducting a risk assessment of all rights of way, but I have got them all bearing down on the disease itself and I had hoped that I could leave the matter of footpaths to local authorities', he replied.
'Incidentally, if they want advice from me, I suggest they act on a precautionary basis. I think that most people would understand that that is a sensible way to proceed.'
Hansard 28 Feb: Column 912-960
* see LGCnet'INDEPENDENT MEAT INSPECTION ON FARMS WOULD HELP STOP FOOT AND MOUTH RISK SAYS UNION '