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Ms Quin: Thanks to the television in my office in the Ministry of Agriculture, I followed the interesting exchange on that subject earlier this week between the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who explained our approach to the welfare scheme, and particularly the reason why we introduced a new complementary scheme to allow meat to go into the food chain from infected areas. My right hon. Friend outlined various ways in which he wanted to proceed with the welfare scheme, and I know that he may well have more to say about that in the next few days.

On disposal, I should like to repeat the assurance that public safety must be our first priority. The Department of Health is leading work on the safe disposal of carcases; it is providing advice for those involved in disposal and, of course, additional guidance for the public. Last week, we announced further measures to ease farm welfare problems. I have just responded to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) regarding the movement of healthy animals from surveillance zones; those animals can now be slaughtered for human consumption. Farmers will be able to move animals in a wider range of circumstances than previously. Although the movements require licences, local veterinary inspectors can now issue those.

We are aware that the livestock welfare disposal scheme made a slow start, but we are now getting on top of the backlog and expect to clear it in the next few weeks. I believe that approximately 53,000 animals were

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disposed of under the scheme in the first week of April, but the figure rose to 150,000 last week, which is a considerable improvement, and I acknowledge the efforts of everyone involved.

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): The Minister will realise that my island constituency has been free of foot and mouth so far, and we hope to keep it that way through rigid barrier controls at our ferry ports. However, there is a problem, as it costs at least £300 to take animals from farm to abattoir, irrespective of the number taken. A collection point proposal has been put to her office but, apparently, the response was that, so far, there has been no time to consider such a proposal. Will she look at the proposal because the issue is becoming a serious problem for my farmers?

Ms Quin: I will look at that issue again and write to the hon. Gentleman. However, our earlier reservations about collection points were based largely on veterinary advice on disease control. I will check whether that advice has changed, but I am not aware that it has.

A minute ago, I said that I would like to pay tribute to those who, in many cases, are working round the clock in disease control centres. I should very much like to stress that point, partly because of the many dispiriting and negative stories that affect people on the ground. I know that bad news is news and that good news is not news but, none the less, many things have been handled well, correctly and sensitively. Often, the people who carry out that work do not get the recognition that they deserve. In a previous incarnation I had ministerial responsibility for prisons, and I remember that people who often work in difficult circumstances on rehabilitating prisoners day in, day out get little public thanks, but the minute that something goes wrong, they find themselves all over the media, which can be distressing. There are parallels with the problem that we now face.

It was good to see in one of my local newspapers recently a notice inserted by a family whose animals had been lost as a result of foot and mouth thanking Ministry staff for the way in which they had dealt with that. I was rather amused to note on a visit to the Intervention Board that someone had faxed an ode to the staff to thank them for the way that they had dealt with his application under the livestock welfare scheme.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Will my right hon. Friend accept that there have been great difficulties with the Intervention Board? I represent a Welsh area, and it is difficult to find an official who deals with Wales. I have had problems that involve one of my constituents, Mr. Barry Lewis. After two weeks, he found that his application form had been lost. Eventually he had his stock slaughtered, only to be told the next day that it would be slaughtered this coming week. There have been serious problems, so will my right hon. Friend undertake a serious review of the board's workings?

Ms Quin: What I said was said sincerely. I was not trying to disguise the fact that there have been difficulties and problems. Problems have been referred to me and to other Ministers. I am prepared to consider lessons of organisation. None the less, Ministry and Intervention Board staff have had to operate many different schemes at short notice--for example, the short-term movement

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scheme, the long-distance movement scheme and the livestock welfare disposal scheme. They have had to deal also with the slaughtering and disposal of infected animals and the problems related to contiguous farms and premises. It has been difficult to deal with those issues.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): I agree with the right hon. Lady when she pays tribute to those who are working so hard and who have answered our calls with great courtesy. However, on organisation, will she clarify the exact relationship between the Prime Minister, COBR--Cobra--the Ministry of Defence, MAFF and, above all, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which controls the Environment Agency? There seem to be conflicting claims and differences of opinion on who takes decisions.

Ms Quin: Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not find this difficult. Many Departments are involved when there is such an outbreak. He referred, for example, to health, environment, agriculture and Army issues. Given the Army's involvement, the co-ordination that COBR provides is important. Given the scale of the problem that we face, it would be astonishing if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister were not personally fully engaged.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the Minister give way?

Ms Quin: I am conscious of the need to make some progress. I will give way for the last time. If I continued to give way, I would be denying Members the chance to speak.

Mr. Heath: The right hon. Lady has been extremely generous in giving way and I am grateful to her.

The right hon. Lady knows that the Ministry has made draft proposals, which I support, for banning the feeding of swill to pigs. However, the draft orders appear to include whey feeding, which is crucial to the pig industry and the cheese-making industry. There seems to be no evidential basis for banning the feeding of whey to pigs. Can she assure me that the Ministry does not intend to crucify those industries for no good reason?

Ms Quin: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are not out to crucify the cheese-making industry. Knowing the excellence and variety of British cheeses, I am keen to see the industry expand. The consultation period on pig swill has expired, and we are considering the results. The issue that he mentioned has been raised, along with others, and an announcement will be made shortly about the results of the consultation and how we intend to proceed.

I conclude by referring to the part of the motion that concerns the need to consider long-term policies for agriculture and the rural sector. Both the motion and the Government's amendment mention long-term policies, although the official Opposition's amendment, which simply refers to immediate measures, does not. The long-term perspective is important. The Government are already active in that respect, both within the United Kingdom in terms of developing agriculture and rural policies, and in the European Union, where we are building specific alliances.

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Despite the reservations expressed in an earlier intervention, agricultural reform is gaining momentum in the European Union, partly because of changes in attitude among certain Governments in Europe, partly because of the pressure from the World Trade Organisation, partly because of the expansion of the EU to take in countries of central and eastern Europe, and partly because of the concerns of the consumer and environmental considerations.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) rightly mentioned the various aspects of agriculture. Agriculture is about food production, and we are keen to ensure that our producers identify markets and opportunities for the future. At the same time, agriculture is about stewardship of the countryside, and we believe that the countryside and environmental aspects need to be factored even more fully into policy, particularly European policy.

I am optimistic about that. We have a better chance of agricultural reform in that direction now than at any time that those of us who have been dealing in various ways with the common agricultural policy can remember. That is encouraging. I can assure the House that we will be extremely active in pursuing that debate.

I welcome today's debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture hopes to make a statement on foot and mouth disease tomorrow. I believe that we are tackling the disease, as the figures now show. I believe that we are supporting the wider rural economy and taking forward the debate on the future of agricultural and rural policies in our country. For all those reasons, I strongly commend the Government's amendment.

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