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Mr. Brown: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to ensure that he has a factual answer to the individual case, but the most likely explanation is that the animals tested negative and were taken out as dangerous contacts. [Interruption.] The presence of antibodies does not necessarily mean that the disease is present. If the animals tested negative for the disease, they would not be included as a positive case. That seems to be the most likely explanation, but I shall arrange for a formal reply to be sent to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). However, there is no question of the Government excluding positive cases from the total statistics.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The right hon. Gentleman has tried to be helpful throughout this terrible outbreak. In view of the fact that those who are suffering may shortly be deprived of parliamentary representation for a few weeks, will he set aside a day next week when he and his officials can see Members of Parliament who have particularly difficult cases, rather like the surgeries that we hold in our constituencies?
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Recently, I had a discussion with the Minister about the lack of communication between his officials and those in the devolved Administration in Cardiff. A week last Wednesday, I saw the officials in Cardiff, who sanctioned the movement of sheep within enclosed common land in several parts of my constituency on welfare grounds and because it was risk free. All they needed was the rubber stamp of the chief vet of MAFF. I was assured that those animals could be moved on Monday this week. That has still not happened. May I ask the Minister to intervene personally in the matter? It is an animal welfare problem of quite large proportions.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): The Minister will recall that he answered a question from me last week about vaccine strategy for zoos. I am grateful to the civil servants in his office, who have listened to my representations since he answered that question. He knows how important that is for Whipsnade zoo in my constituency. Is the vaccine strategy document for zoos now in the public domain? If not, when will it be? When it is, please will he ensure that Whipsnade zoo rapidly has a copy of it?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Minister has reiterated his commitment to MAFF being as open as possible about the progress of the disease. My understanding is that MAFF has been publishing the total number of outbreak cases on a constituency- by-constituency basis, but so far it has not been publishing the lists of the locations of those outbreaks, although it could easily do so because, obviously, it has those at its fingertips in order to arrive at the totals. Does he accept that it is important that that information should be published, particularly if there is a general election campaign going on, when hon. Members will not be able to question the Minister directly on the progress of the disease?
Mr. Brown: My understanding is that I continue to hold ministerial responsibilities regardless of whether a general election is called. I shall continue to treat all hon. Members who are standing for re-election with courtesy and do what I can to help with individual constituency cases.
I shall continue to publish constituency information. I had some reservations about putting the individual addresses of farmers that might be affected into the public domain. My preference was to give the parish where the outbreak had occurred, rather than the individual holding, but I found in the early days of the outbreak that the identities of the farms were appearing in all the newspapers. They were well known locally. I will examine what it is reasonable and fair to publish. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give an absolute commitment, because I have reservations which relate solely to protecting the privacy of farmers, who are going through difficult enough circumstances with the disease outbreak without putting their names into the public domain, with all the consequences of that.
Mr. Brown: One thing I cannot do is to organise the welfare disposal scheme in such a way that it acts as a substitute market. Seventy per cent. of the sheep sector is operating, admittedly under licence--under constrained circumstances--in a market-oriented way. If the hon. Gentleman drops me a note setting out the circumstances of his individual constituent, I will see what can be done to help. I am afraid that that is the best offer that I can make.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): Will the Minister put out more information to all farmers--not only those with access to the internet--about the restrictions that will apply over the next few months as they try to rebuild their businesses? I welcome the news letter that has been sent to all livestock farmers, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, it contains out-of-date figures for the welfare scheme. Does the Minister understand the frustration of farmers who submitted claims under the welfare scheme some weeks ago, but who are now told by the Intervention Board that the paperwork cannot be found? What exactly is the logic of paying farmers who have kept the animals on their farms for more and more weeks, with all the costs that that incurs, a lower figure than farmers who submitted claims a long time ago and had less costs to cover?
Mr. Brown: The answer is that I must not set up an alternative market. We are trying to enable farmers to get their livestock moving through the food chain, rather than being purchased by the state. If the rates that the state is paying compromise the rates that the market would pay, clearly, the market will be supplied by imports and the farmer will be farming a welfare scheme, rather than running a livestock business. That is the answer to the
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The Minister quite rightly said that livestock should not be moved without a licence. However, is he aware of the bureaucratic delays, hurdles and obstacles placed in the way of farmers applying locally for such a licence? Will he personally take an interest in the matter and intervene to speed up the granting of licences while we remain in the throes of this dreadful disease? Will he also consider the human rights provisions of which the Government are such a fervent supporter and explain to local farmers in the Vale of York why they will receive a lower compensation rate under the welfare disposal scheme than will those who applied before 17 April?
Mr. Brown: I have answered the welfare question on a number of occasions. The danger is that we will create a false market and that people will farm the scheme rather than the market. I think that it is right to try to get animals moving through the supply chain, and I am putting considerable effort into trying to reinforce the strict licensing schemes that we already have in place.
Tomorrow, my noble Friend Baroness Hayman will meet representatives of the farming community to discuss farms that are under form D restrictions and consider what more can be done to help them. They will also be discussing what more can be done more generally to get the market working normally and the time scale for the welfare scheme--which is, after all, supposed to be a scheme of last resort, after moving the animals in the marketplace or managing them locally has failed as a strategy. It is not, and it cannot be, an alternative market.