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Foot and Mouth

7. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): How many animals have been culled in (a) England and (b) Wales as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak; and how many of the carcases were disposed of in each country. [4674]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): In round figures, some 2.84 million animals have been slaughtered in England and almost 326,000 in Wales. Just over 2.9 million carcases were disposed of in England and 224,000 in Wales. I can provide my hon. Friend with a more precise breakdown of those figures in writing if he wishes.

Kevin Brennan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that the topographical nature of Wales and the lack of rendering facilities make it particularly difficult to dispose of large numbers of carcases within Wales? Do not the figures show the

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benefit of Wales being a devolved nation within the United Kingdom, rather than following the selfish separatist agenda of the nationalists?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right—it is one of the many areas in which the benefits of devolution are demonstrable. I entirely take his point about the different circumstances and conditions that apply in Wales and it is right that it is Welsh people and the Welsh Assembly who have been able to take the decisions in that respect.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Bearing it in mind that millions of animals were slaughtered as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak, why have the Government set their face against holding a full, independent and public inquiry into its cause and handling? Such an inquiry has been called for by every rural organisation, without exception. The outbreak has cost taxpayers almost £2 billion. Surely, they have a right to learn the truth and to be told how the Government propose to prevent infection from being reimported into the United Kingdom in the near future.

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Lady refers to a cost to the economy of almost £2 billion. That figure is correct, but it contrasts slightly with the remarks of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who suggested that the Government had not been prepared to spend any money to assist the industry.

The thrust of the hon. Lady's question, however, was about inquiries. Of course, there is a general demand for public inquiries. Whenever anybody wants an inquiry into anything, everybody always says that they want a full public inquiry. It is only very rarely, however, that people define what they mean by that term. I say to her, as I have said repeatedly in the House, that the definition is very specific, as she will know. Indeed, the arrangements for a full public inquiry are so substantial that a Prime Minister's decision is required even to establish one. That means that they tend to be extremely time consuming and costly.

The Government have proposed an inquiry structure with three separate and independent components, which means that a dedicated group of scientists will, as scientists—

Mrs. Winterton: Not good enough.

Margaret Beckett: The Royal Society, conducting a scientific investigation, is not good enough? That is absolute rubbish, and it shows the posturing and stupidity of the Opposition.

Scientists are carrying out the scientific inquiry and an independent person is carrying out the inquiry into what specifically happened in the outbreak and what can be learned for good or ill. There is a separate process, which is not clouding its discussion and decisions with consideration of what specifically happened, but looking to the future. Indeed, it is looking to the questions asked by the hon. Member for East Surrey a moment ago—the future of farming and agriculture in the United Kingdom, how can they be prosperous and how can we have a prosperous rural economy. Three separate issues are being handled separately and everyone will be acting

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independently. The whole inquiry will report long before any public inquiry would have done so. That seems much better than the Opposition's posturing.

Flood Defences (York)

8. Hugh Bayley (City of York): When the Environment Agency will complete its assessment of the November 2000 flood of the Yorkshire Ouse and the feasibility of strengthening the City of York's flood defences. [4675]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I understand that the Environment Agency's preliminary strategic review for the River Ouse catchment is due for completion early in 2002. The findings of this strategy review and others that the agency is undertaking in the Yorkshire region will inform its plans for a prioritised programme of feasibility studies and capital works. Urgent repairs to York's defences were carried out following last year's floods.

Hugh Bayley: The Environment Agency's most recent estimate of the cost of reinforcing York's flood defences is about £11 million. That will require a substantial increase in the regional flood defence committee's budget, in terms both of the Government's contribution and that of the local authority. Is my hon. Friend prepared to meet me to discuss those respective contributions, as well as the possibility of revising the rules for local authority contributions? Currently, those rules allow local authorities in upland areas to veto the raising of revenue for building vital flood defences in lowland areas, especially in the Vale of York.

Mr. Morley: There is no doubt that those who are in charge of regional flood defences must face up to their responsibilities. I accept that, in the Yorkshire region, there is a backlog of investment in relation to long-term repairs, but I can reassure my hon. Friend that a great deal of additional resources have gone into the York defences, as well as others throughout the country. An extra £11 million was made available for this year alone, in the aftermath of last year's floods, to strengthen and repair defences. One of them was the Foss barrier, which received additional expenditure.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister meet me to discuss the plight of residents who were evacuated in the vale of York and in the Rawcliffe part of the city of York? Will he press the Environment Agency to establish a pumping station? Preferably, a permanent one should be established, but at the very least a mobile station is needed to prevent the water from Blue beck and all the nasties produced by sewage treatment from coming back into those houses again this year.

Mr. Morley: As the hon. Lady knows, I am always willing to meet hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), to discuss issues of concern in their constituencies relating to flood defence. In regard to the pumping station, the hon. Lady will be aware that I have met local residents and the parish council so I understand the concerns of local people. It depends on environmental factors, cost-benefit considerations, how often the pump will be used and

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whether there are other ways in which the area can be defended. However, I am more than willing to consider all representations and to meet hon. Members.

Welfare-friendly Farming

9. Colin Burgon (Elmet): What plans she has to introduce welfare friendly farming systems. [4676]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Encouraging high animal welfare standards on farms is at the heart of Government policy. We have comprehensive legislation in place, supported by species-specific welfare codes. In addition, we run advisory campaigns for farmers on welfare issues and commit substantial sums to farm animal welfare research.

Colin Burgon: As a townie and a meat eater, I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has she any plans to meet the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to discuss its excellent 10-point sustainable welfare-friendly farming methods? Will she be discussing with the Soil Association its advocacy of the scheme to vaccinate animals rather than continue with the horrific mass slaughter of cattle that we have seen during the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease? Does she agree that even townspeople should be involved in the widespread debate that we should be having about the future of agriculture and that we should be looking for radical changes in many of the current practices in the farming industry?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend has asked me about two slightly different issues. I accept entirely his view that one does not have to be a vegetarian to care about animal welfare, or indeed to live in the countryside. I accept his points about the very good work carried out on several fronts by the RSPCA.

My hon. Friend referred to vaccination rather than slaughter. Throughout the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the Government have continually kept under review and consideration whether vaccination can play a constructive role and whether it would assist. I remind him that it does not seem to be widely reported or understood that at present it is the approach not only of the British Government but right across the European Union, including Holland, for example, that vaccination is undertaken as a prelude to slaughter and not instead of it.

These are difficult issues that must be considered. Together with the Dutch Government, we are sponsoring a conference later in the autumn to discuss these policy issues, but it is sadly not the case that there is a lovely, simple animal welfare-friendly option that would solve all the problems and would be easy to implement at any stage in any outbreak, let alone the current one.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): We welcome very much the Government's animal welfare-friendly plans, but can the Secretary of State confirm that any costs associated with such plans will not fall upon British agriculture, rendering it more uncompetitive than it already is against its European competitors?

Margaret Beckett: Yet another plea from a different quarter for more money from a party that claims to be

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concerned about the state of the economy. Of course we recognise that there may be costs associated with these measures and we do our best to make sure that what high standards require is adequately assessed, but we do not go over the top. The approach that we adopt—and I am slightly surprised to hear that it might not be the approach of the Liberal Democrats—is to seek to ensure that higher animal welfare standards are observed not only here, but across the European Union. We consider that that is the right course of action to make sure that people are competing on the same fair basis rather than going for the cheapest option and accepting the damage to animal welfare that that might involve.

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