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Secure Training Centres

9. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): What plans he has to increase the number of secure training centres. [156028]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Youth Justice Board has responsibility for commissioning and purchasing places for young people in the juvenile secure estate and has recently announced a £250 million reform plan to improve youth custody arrangements. In the four-year plan, 400 new places will

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be made available in new secure units for boys and girls sentenced to custody. That will be a substantial addition to the present 130 secure training centre places.

Mr. Boswell: Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to study the excellent recent inspection report on the second secure training centre at Rainsborough in my constituency? Will he accept my own evidence from a follow-up visit that it is indeed working successfully? I notice that the Home Secretary nods. As the present ministerial team when in opposition rubbished the imaginative idea of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the then Home Secretary, and as it now appears to have had second thoughts about its merits, will the Government commit themselves to the target of 1,000 places that has been offered by the incoming Conservative Government?

Mr. Boateng: Conservative promises must be judged against the Conservatives' performance in office. They took the power to do this in 1994. It was not until this Government came into office that any were built. Again, it is all yack, yack, yack from the Conservatives. It takes a Labour Government to do anything about crime and disorder.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): The Minister will be aware that many of the young people who are likely to go into such secure units have very poor educational achievement and often a variety of other problems. Can he assure me that the units will be sufficiently well funded to provide good-quality support for those young people, meeting their education and other needs, so that they have a realistic chance of leaving the unit able to lead a law-abiding life in their community?

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Mr. Boateng: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Recently, Baroness Blackstone, the Minister for Education and Employment, and I visited one of the institutions where the link is being made between custodial experience and the importance of addressing numeracy and literacy deficits, and people's experience on release from custody. That is the objective in Medway and the other secure training centre. The Youth Justice Board is resourced precisely to achieve that objective. Those young people have a chance to improve their education; some of them have that chance for the first time. We must ensure that they do not lose it.

Police Manpower

10. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): If he will make a statement on police manpower in England. [156029]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): There were 125,537 officers in total in England and Wales on 31 January, an increase of 990 since September 2000 and of 1,367 since March 2000--the largest rise in a single year for more than a decade. On the basis of the money that we have put in, there should be 128,000 officers in total by March 2002 and, by March 2003, numbers should reach record levels, well above the 128,290 recorded in March 1993.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. However, his record in office so far is no ground for such optimism. How many additional regular constables, for example, would be required to make up for the loss since he came to office of 6,000 special constables?

Mr. Straw: The only people who are sad about the fact that police numbers are increasing are Conservative Members.

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Foot and Mouth

3.30 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): With permission, I should like to make a statement on the foot and mouth outbreak. As I have done on seven previous occasions in past weeks, I wish to update the House, before the Easter recess, on the latest position on the disease, set out the measures that the Government are taking and give right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to raise issues with me.

As of 7 pm yesterday, Sunday 8 April, there had been 1,134 confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease. As of 2 pm today, I had been informed of a further 10 cases. As of 7 pm yesterday, the number of animals authorised for slaughter was 1,366,000, of which 888,000 had been slaughtered and 478,000 awaited slaughter. About 329,000 animals remained to be disposed of. That is out of a total United Kingdom cattle, sheep and pig population of more than 55 million, and against a figure of 500,000 animals that would go for slaughter in a normal trading week.

It is still too early to predict the future course of the epidemic. Epidemiologists are constantly updating their data as the outbreak progresses, but they still cannot say with any certainty how long it will continue. Although there are some encouraging signs, this is an exceptionally serious outbreak with a long phase-out period and we cannot afford a moment's complacency.

There is considerable agreement among the four groups modelling the epidemic. In particular, all have concluded that the two key interventions in tackling the disease are, first, and the highest priority, to cull all animals susceptible to the disease--principally cattle, sheep and pigs--on infected farm holdings within 24 hours; and, secondly, to cull susceptible animals in neighbouring farms that share a boundary--the so-called contiguous cull--within 48 hours.

We appreciate that the latter is very difficult for farmers to accept, but it is vital for the overall success of our disease control policy that all potentially infected animals are culled. I urge farmers, in the strongest terms, to co-operate with us in seeing that through. Expert advice is that those premises will have been exposed to infection and need to be dealt with quickly.

I have written to all livestock farmers making three key points. I have set out advice from the chief veterinary officer on biosecurity on farm. I have urged co-operation with the necessary culling of animals on neighbouring premises to infected holdings. I have also appealed to farmers not to jeopardise their own disease status, and that of other farmers, by moving animals around without a licence. Some of the isolated cases that have appeared in recent days and weeks seem to be directly attributed to farm-to-farm transmission from infected areas to clean areas. That point was made very forcefully to me and the Prime Minister at our meeting this morning with the National Farmers Union, and we share its concerns.

Across the country, the 24-hour report-to-slaughter target is being met in almost 80 per cent. of cases. When cases are not completed within 24 hours, they are being dealt with shortly afterwards. The 48-hour target for contiguous premises is more difficult to meet because of the sheer weight of numbers, but progress is encouraging,

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with some areas achieving about 70 per cent. within deadline. It is particularly important that we hit that target in any new outbreaks away from the heavily infected areas to prevent further spread, and resources are being concentrated to that end.

In support of that strategy, we have committed more and more resources to ensuring that any possible blockages are removed. We have significantly increased the number of vets on the ground to 1,522, with more being recruited. We are employing more than 650 people as temporary animal health officers, to supplement the 200 regular officers in the state veterinary service. We have appointed 11 directors of operations in the most affected areas. The Army is deployed in all the key areas, with 1,842 troops committed to this outbreak, and I am grateful for the excellent support provided by the Army and the Ministry of Defence.

We have taken other practical steps to eliminate delay. We have introduced a generous standard tariff to speed up the valuation of animals, while at the same time safeguarding farmers' rights. We have reduced the turn-round times for vets visiting farms, wherever possible--for instance, by altering the reporting procedure for new cases.

We are very aware of the financial difficulties that many farmers are facing at this difficult time and we have addressed the problem in four ways. First, compensation for slaughtered animals is currently estimated to reach more than £247 million and is still rising. Secondly, we are paying £156 million in optional agrimonetary compensation to livestock farmers: payments begin this week. The package is worth about £2,750 to the average dairy farmer, £650 to sheep farmers, £650 to suckler cow premium claimants and £450 to beef special premium claimants.

Thirdly, we have introduced the livestock welfare disposal scheme as a last resort for livestock farmers whose animals face welfare difficulties as a result of foot and mouth disease-related movement restrictions. The tariffs for animals slaughtered under the scheme are generous. The estimated value of this optional scheme depends, of course, on take-up, but it is likely to be in excess of £200 million.

Fourthly, we have ensured that, where animals slaughtered are the subject of a current subsidy claim, subsidy entitlement will be preserved as a result of the application of EU rules on force majeure. Overall, we have committed more than £500 million to farmers so far in the course of this outbreak.

Vaccination remains an option, but it is not an easy option. There are no easy options. Hon. Members are aware of the arguments for and against vaccination. We are prepared to vaccinate if necessary--we have obtained the approval of the European Union Standing Veterinary Committee for vaccination in the UK under certain circumstances--but it would be a major step to take, with significant consequences. We are constantly reviewing the position and will continue to do so.

Many farmers are currently keeping cattle indoors, which is helping to minimise the risk of the spread of infection. We hope that it may soon be possible to release some areas from restrictions, either completely or partially. There are two aspects. First, we will consider whether we can safely reduce the size of one or two areas that currently extend beyond a 10 km radius.

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Secondly, once all the necessary veterinary inspections and blood testing have been completed we will consider lifting one or two infected areas completely where there have been no new cases for 30 days. I hope that it will be possible to start making progress on both those actions in the next week or two, but, again, disease control must remain the priority.

My ministerial colleagues in many other Departments and I are doing all that we can to promote the message that the countryside is not closed. More and more properties and visitor attractions are opening again and being publicised. We hope that over the Easter period visitors will return. We have provided updated advice to zoo owners and to royal parks, which will help them to make decisions on whether to reopen.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is today participating on my behalf in the Informal Council of European Union Agriculture Ministers in northern Sweden. She will update colleagues on the progress of the outbreak here. We are continuing to work very closely with our European Union colleagues, who remain supportive of the efforts that we are making to bring the outbreak to an end.

We will continue to channel all our efforts into ensuring that our targets of 24 hours from report to slaughter, and 48 hours to culling neighbouring farms, are met. With continued support from Members of Parliament, farming organisations and many others, together we can succeed in our aim of eradicating this disease.

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