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Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to movement controls? Clearly, we must be vigilant about authorising any movements, particularly within restricted areas. However, the experience reported by my constituents, of very long distances being travelled from areas as far as the north of Scotland into my constituency for slaughter under the licence to slaughter scheme, contrasts with the extraordinary bureaucratic process that must be followed to obtain an occupational licence, with a paper chase across two regional service centres, and a vet's authorisation as well.

Mr. Brown: I understand what my hon. Friend says, but he describes two quite separate operations. No matter how long it is, there is very little risk in the final journey of the livestock to the abattoir. Such journeys cannot be interrupted, and the animals are supposed to be certified clear of the disease, but even if it is incubating in them without having yet come to fruition, they are going to an abattoir, where they will be examined by a vet and killed. They will therefore cease to breathe out the virus. There is an enormous difference between that and animals that are moved for perfectly proper reasons but will live on and risk meeting other animals, which thereby risk contracting the disease.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): The Minister is aware that the number of cases in Northumberland and County

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Durham is rising, and there is great concern about the length of time that it is taking to detect the disease and slaughter the animals. For example, in one of the last two cases discovered in my constituency, it took five days from detection to slaughter, and in the other case, the animal, which was identified on Saturday morning, had still not been slaughtered two or three hours ago. That is causing serious concern that the disease will spread. One answer would be to take responsibility for the region away from Carlisle, which is clearly overwhelmed, and set up an independent control centre in Newcastle, so that we could get the help of the Army and have a chance of beating the disease. Will the Minister also confirm that farmers selling directly to other farmers or to dealers is not illegal, and that that has more to do with saving auctioneer's commission than fiddling any EU subsidy?

Mr. Brown: I am no expert, but my understanding is that the hon. Gentleman is right about dealing outside the market. It does relate to the auctioneer's commission. If people can come to an arrangement among themselves, that in itself is not illegal. With regard to controlling the outbreak in Hexham, we are setting up a localised control headquarters in Newcastle. I cannot say with certainty whether that would embrace all his constituency, but I will check for him and make sure that he is told. He is absolutely right: we must get our response times down to 24 hours. Bringing in localised control is an effort to do that.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Was my right hon. Friend told earlier of any recommendation to ban the use of pigswill? Does he agree that it is not sufficient for Governments to take scientific advice when a crisis occurs, but that Departments should have the means to seek out and respond appropriately to scientific advice that can anticipate problems, so that pre-emptive action can be taken before they arise? Will he ensure that his Department does so?

Mr. Brown: I agree with the principle that my hon. Friend sets out and I try to work to it when carrying out my ministerial responsibilities. I have taken particular note of the Phillips report recommendations, which are guiding me in our handling of the outbreak, even though we are dealing with an animal disease. She will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) told the House regarding advice about the recycling of mammalian meat. I confirm that that assurance is correct and that the Government were acting on scientific advice, even though it related to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies rather than to viral infections.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Many farmers who are affected by this dreadful outbreak will be concerned about their position with regard to the payment of various moneys under Community livestock schemes. I understand that the Minister has had discussions about the matter with the European Commission. Will he report to the House on the progress that has been made? On the Seathwaite outbreak, can he give any indication about why the disease seems to have leapt a very long distance in a situation that he deems to be under control? Farmers in my part of Lancashire are now deeply worried that the disease can spread rapidly over long distances, and they are struggling to understand why.

Mr. Brown: I cannot give a complete answer to the right hon. Gentleman about the spread of the disease,

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except to say that it is highly unlikely to have been airborne, which narrows down the possibilities. With regard to livestock premiums, there are five separate premium schemes and I have the Commission's consent to the application of the force majeure rules. We have an agreement in principle, although one or two issues of detail still have to be sorted out in relation to inspections. However, the essential point is that the premiums will be paid and that the Commission is standing in our corner on the issue.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): When the Minister considers vaccination, on which I welcome his comments, will he think about the positive effects that could be achieved for the tourism industry if it were introduced as a double-barrelled approach to the disease? For example, it could restore confidence in the northern part of my constituency, which has no foot and mouth cases, but is an infected area, and might allow tourism to return there. Finally, has MAFF made any assessment of the effect of census enumerators on the control of foot and mouth? I understand that their visits are due to occur at the end of April.

Mr. Brown: As I understand it, the census is not yet under way, but we are keeping the matter under review, as nothing should be done that would risk spreading the disease. That includes all inappropriate movements on and off farms. We have not announced a vaccination strategy, but as I said, we are actively considering it and contingency plans are being put into place. I assured my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) that I would talk to his constituents--the people who would be most affected--before anything was done. I hope that we can restore visitors and tourist business to the countryside. People can visit all sorts of things without going near farmed livestock, so it is not vaccination itself that would turn the situation around. However, if it played a part by happenstance, that would be welcome.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): The Minister spoke about a recovery programme for abattoirs. One step that he might care to take is to allow or encourage licensed abattoirs to participate in a welfare disposal scheme. As we heard from the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), no such encouragement is currently provided. We will need these abattoirs after the epidemic is brought under control. They have spent a lot of money on their equipment and they are under-used, and proper encouragement would ensure their survival. As the over-30-months scheme allows meat for human consumption and cull meat to be dealt with in the same abattoir, why does not he take that necessary step?

Mr. Brown: We are encouraging abattoirs to participate in such a scheme, but it must be compatible with the other necessary restrictions on products that are entering the food chain. It is not intended that animals that are dealt with in the welfare scheme should proceed into the food chain, so we need to ensure separation. Do I know of any human health reason why that should be so? I must candidly tell the House that I do not.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I use this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for taking up the issue that I raised yesterday in a point of order. Members'

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briefings have now appeared in the Opposition Whips Office, but I should like to reiterate the request for an MPs' hotline to enable us to deal immediately with all the urgent matters that our constituents are raising. In addition, I asked two weeks ago whether emergency powers were needed to achieve the necessary speed in implementing the strategy that the Minister has introduced. We now read reports from No. 10 that there is an admission that Cumbrian farmers with healthy stock that needs to be culled cannot be compelled to allow that to happen and must give their consent. Will he review whether emergency powers are required? That also involves the question of vaccination as an option in the context of the contingency planning, which I welcome.

Finally, rather than just giving holding answers, will the Minister consider responding to my questions about when the inception of the disease in this country took place?

These are important issues. As I am sure the Minister agrees, they affect the epidemiology and, perhaps, the strategy that is used in treating the on-going epidemic.

Mr. Brown: I think that I answered the hon. Gentleman's last question in my statement. As for the daily report to Members, it has always been available in the Library. I had intended that Members should be able to obtain it through their party Whips Offices; I am sorry if there has been a breakdown in the process, but if there has, it results from no act of mine.

We are considering establishing a Members' hotline through the Cabinet Office communication network. I hope that an announcement can be made about that in a few days.

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