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The Prime Minister: I do not know whether it is practice to put copies of the rules of engagement in the Library. We are attempting to ensure that we target the extremists who are carrying out violent actions against parts of the Macedonian population. We went to war in Kosovo to protect the principle of racial tolerance and because we were against genocide. We must ensure that that applies equally, whether it is Serbs attacking Albanians or Albanians attacking Serbs.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): In the conversation to which the Prime Minister referred--of which we had a tantalising glimpse on television--did he explain to Mr. Prodi that he has 14 months of his mandate to run? Did he give Mr. Prodi an assurance that he had no intention of fighting the great national crisis that faces this country by dispensing with Parliament and governing without it for four weeks?
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): As a result of the discussions at Stockholm about the increasingly grave situation in Macedonia, has the folly of driving the Serbs out of control of Kosovo finally been brought home to the Prime Minister? That has led inevitably to the destabilisation of Macedonia, which poses a far greater threat to the whole of the Balkans than Kosovo ever did. Will he grasp that the key to stability in the Balkans is to control Albania and the Albanians?
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I disagree totally. Had we failed to take action in Kosovo, quite apart from the fact that there would have been about 1 million additional refugees going around Europe looking for a place of refuge, we would have allowed a brutal piece of racial genocide to succeed. The future for the Balkans is to eliminate that type of ethnic conflict. The situation in Serbia today is that Milosevic has gone. I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that as a step forward in the Balkans.
On the situation in Macedonia, surely our position has got to be consistent with the principles that we set out during the Kosovo conflict. We support the territorial integrity of Macedonia and we do not believe that boundaries should be changed by force. Whether it is Albanian extremists or other extremists, we should use whatever power we have to prevent them from gaining the upper hand and pushing their views on the vast majority of people who want to live in peace, if only they were allowed to do so.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): At my right hon. Friend's bilateral meetings, did any of his counterparts discuss the hazards of feeding swill to pigs? Will he confirm that, as the international marketplace expands, the dangers of foot and mouth disease and swine fever getting in to pigswill are increasing? No matter how hard we try to ensure that licence holders treat their swill effectively, no enforcement regime is watertight. Does he agree that the hazards of feeding swill to pigs are increasing and that we should consider bringing the practice to an end?
The Prime Minister: I think that the points made by my right hon. Friend are valid. Indeed, there is an increasing understanding across Europe and in this country that we must look at some of those practices and analyse them against the background of a changing market. For example, there is no doubt that one of the most difficult aspects of tracking and eliminating the disease concerns the two weeks prior to it being reported. In the modern world there is such a large number of movements, particularly of sheep, around the country, that it becomes very difficult to track the disease afterwards.
On my right hon. Friend's point about pig swill, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will have more to say about that in due course. However, I know that that point is felt strongly by many farmers in this country and others.
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): In my constituency, which has just had its first outbreak of foot and mouth confirmed, the situation facing farmers and tourism- related businesses ranges from desperate to catastrophic. Does the Prime Minister accept that, whatever he may have said at Stockholm, the time has come to set aside, for the time being, all thoughts of a general election?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): When my right hon. Friend went across to Stockholm, did he mention in formal or informal talks the fact that setting aside paying back £34 billion would not only help our economy in the
The Prime Minister: That is simply wrong. As soon as cases were reported, we took action. May I tell Opposition Members who are now criticising us that, only a few days ago, the Leader of the Opposition was saying that he broadly agreed with the policy that we were pursuing?
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Will the Prime Minister confirm that, when he came to Exeter on Saturday, he was told that the problems were not, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, problems of resources and personnel? Instead, the two main problems were the lack of places in which to dispose of carcases and the need for vets on the ground always to refer decisions to slaughter to MAFF. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those problems are now being sorted out?
The Prime Minister: Yes, and in respect of vets, we have eliminated the normal requirement that they check centrally with the Ministry of Agriculture before ordering the slaughter of animals. As I said, in most parts of the country, we should get from report to slaughter within 24 hours very quickly indeed. I understand that has already been the case in Devon for the last three days.
In respect of disposal, burial sites have been a big problem. Perhaps I should explain again to the House that normally, outside the foot and mouth epidemic, we kill about 600,000 animals a week for the food chain. That is about 30 million animals a year, normally. In the present situation, we are still killing animals for the food chain. In respect of beef and the pig market, about 70 per cent. of normal sales continue. For lamb, it is far less--just under 40 per cent. We need a certain amount of abattoir capacity to carry on normal business, so far as we are able to do so.
There is a limit to the available rendering capacity, which is one method of disposal of the animals being slaughtered as a result of foot and mouth disease. We therefore have an additional requirement for disposal by burial, and we need sites large enough for us to dispose of large numbers of animals quickly. We now have the site in Cumbria, and I know that officials are looking urgently for the right sites in Devon. However, those are difficult decisions. There are local people living near some of the sites, and there are also issues related to the Environment Agency, water tables and so on.
All these things must be done quickly. Meetings are convened and take place round the clock between the Environment Agency, those in the Ministry of Agriculture who are putting together the various aspects of the policy, and those from the Ministry of Defence who are carrying out the logistics on the ground. We are sorting out each of the problems. My hon. Friend is right to say that the two biggest inhibitions that we have faced are the shortage
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Did the Prime Minister take the opportunity to raise with President Chirac the refusal of SNCF, the French nationalised railway, to allow cross-channel freight trains to be searched at Frethun before they enter the channel tunnel, thus exposing EWS--English, Welsh and Scottish Railways--which is a British company, to huge fines imposed by the British Government for circumstances over which it has no control, and putting in peril the future of rail freight traffic through the channel tunnel?
The Prime Minister: At the Anglo-French summit at Cahors, we raised precisely those points. As a result, the French Government have agreed to legislate to change the position. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues will change their position of opposing fines on carriers bringing people illegally into the country. That is an irresponsible position for the Opposition to take, and I hope that he will use his influence and his experience as a former Home Secretary to get his colleagues to change it.