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Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The Minister understands that the recent outbreak is a devastating blow to livestock producers in south-east Scotland. The borders is one of the principal world centres for breeding sheep, especially Cheviots. Will the Minister re-examine the position whereby local vets have discretion about the 3 km cull? Everyone understands that, if there is a suspected case on a farm, slaughter is the only option in the infected place and on the contiguous farms. However, mass prosecution of a 3 km cull dictated by MAFF in London without proper reference to local vets could decimate the local economy and the sheep industry in south-east Scotland.
Mr. Brown: Administration of those matters is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It is a matter for the Scottish Minister rather than me, although we all receive the same professional advice. I do not want to go further because there is local discretion and it is up to the Scottish Minister with responsibility for agriculture how that is exercised.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Where do we stand now in terms of collection centres? The Minister will know that, for the small producer, sending small loads to an abattoir is pretty uneconomic. A collection centre would be much more practical for that person.
Mr. Brown: The point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes is absolutely correct. As he will recall, at the beginning of the outbreak, I had hoped that it would be possible to set up collection centres specifically to help smaller farmers to assemble sufficient batches to go in commercially attractive groups into the abattoir and the food chain. So far, it has not been possible to do that, but, as soon as it is possible to bring such a system into play, I would like to do so.
Mr. Brown: I suspect that there is more to the story than that. In any event, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I can travel the same journey together in steadily liberalising the regime in east Kent.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Has the Ministry any guidelines on the siting of cremation pyres? May I draw to the Minister's attention the problem that I have in my constituency? A cremation pyre is being built in Hood lane, near Longdon in Staffordshire, within 200 yards of a village. Does he accept that, whatever the reality of the toxicity of the smoke, people are very concerned about the smells and the dirt? There are a number of people with asthma, emphysema and other breathing problems. Is there any way that the pyre can be moved before it is ignited tomorrow morning?
Mr. Brown: I do not want to intervene in the local decision-making process. There are consultations and a range of different factors is taken into account, including the wishes of local people. These are not very popular neighbours, yet it is essential to dispose of the carcases. I am afraid that I can give the hon. Gentleman no more satisfaction than that.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): May I share with the Minister the increasing sense of despair among many farmers in my constituency? Silage is running out; access to summer pastures is denied; and there is a real problem with the Intervention Board. There was also a problem with licensing from restricted areas to non-restricted areas; I accept the Minister's figures on licensing without restricted areas. Will he set targets for the welfare- to-slaughter scheme, so that we can measure progress? Does he accept that the maintenance of my party's bipartisan approach in Wales depends on the Government and the Minister meeting their own targets? There is still a gap there. Will he do more to ensure that the welfare- to-slaughter scheme can work and that we get the slaughter within 24 hours?
Mr. Brown: I have candidly set out for the House both the targets across Great Britain and the rate at which they are currently being achieved, and said that extra resources are still being brought in to ensure that we get even closer to those targets than we are doing now. As the hon. Gentleman will know, administration of the fight against the disease in Wales is, of course, a devolved matter for the Welsh Assembly. However, I promise him that there is very close co-operation and co-ordination between my Ministry, which is dealing with the outbreak in England, the Welsh Assembly, which is dealing with it in Wales, and the devolved authorities in Scotland.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): My local NFU has approached me and, I imagine, most of my colleagues in Kent about the future of the Invicta abattoir at Lamberhurst. I am sure that, like many other abattoirs, the Invicta abattoir is currently suffering from a lack of trade. However, if it closes, it will not be available to assist with culls or any other action that is needed in the future. Can the Minister reassure me that such essential abattoirs will remain open during this period?
Mr. Brown: We have tried very hard, even before this disease outbreak, to support abattoirs, and there are various public policy reasons for our wanting to do so. I am not familiar with the particular circumstances of the Lamberhurst abattoir to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but if he would like to write to me about them, I shall certainly investigate and see what I can do.
Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): West Sussex has had the good fortune not to be infected, partly because of the care taken by farmers. Some 10 days ago, two landfill sites were designated in the Horsham district council area, but I am very pleased to say that, on Friday, I was advised that MAFF had reversed the decision. Nevertheless, that risk seemed to arise initially because of a complete lack of liaison between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions--which had designated the sites--the Environment Agency, county councils, district councils and MAFF. As was reconfirmed today in a letter from MAFF, those sites could have been used for animals slaughtered in contiguous culls. Is there adequate liaison on those matters between all those who are involved in them?
Mr. Brown: Yes, there is. The difficulty, of course, is the need to consult a great many people about a range of different options and to do that as rapidly as possible. An enormous amount of work is being undertaken, but the time constraints are very short. Although that might seem like confusion to the outsider, mostly it is not--it is a lot of people working very hard to very tight deadlines. The hon. Gentleman said that he is pleased that that option will not be taken in the area that he represents and I understand why he says that. However, may I gently say to him that burial is the option being advocated to me by Opposition Front Benchers?
Mr. William Cash (Stone): The Minister will know that the first and main conclusion of the western command report, which was issued after the 1967-68 outbreak, was that standing instructions should be provided for any further foot and mouth outbreak. Will he not only tell us whether any such standing instructions exist, but ensure that they are placed in the Library so that we know exactly whether they have been followed? Secondly--as DETR Ministers are not in the Chamber--will he, please, inform his colleagues that those who live in Stafford borough council area and Newcastle-under-Lyme cannot understand why, under current rules, they do not qualify for business rate relief? Will he, also take such action as comes generally within his purview to ensure that they are put on the list?
Mr. Brown: I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's public expenditure bid to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. As for the 1967 outbreak, in my last address to
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): On bipartisanship, may I caution the Minister about relying too heavily on the words of the Conservative MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews, who was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt)? That article was written four weeks ago, when we were all a good deal less unhappy than we are now with the handling of the crisis. More substantially, the Minister will be aware that the disease seems to be growing very fast in Worcestershire and that that is a matter of considerable concern. That is probably one of the reasons why residents in the vicinity of the Throckmorton airfield site--which is being used as a mass burial site by his Department--are not objecting to the principle of burial on the site, despite the fact that there was absolutely no consultation with them before the announcement. However, could he, please, ensure that the 25 or so parliamentary questions that I have tabled on the site are answered rapidly? Could he also, either now or in writing later, give me an assurance that there will be no burning of animal carcases whatever at the site?