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Alun Michael: It was good of the hon. Gentleman to do that. I am not sure on what date he did that, but I make the point again that the case was considered by the Government in terms of the impact on individual local authorities that faced an especially heavy burden, as well as providing help to all local authorities.
Mr. George Osborne: I recognise that this has been a very short debate, but I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to the points made about the livestock markets in the last two minutes of the debate. My farmers would certainly appreciate his reply.
Alun Michael: I am happy to respond on that point. I was asked why markets in England and Wales are still closed when Scottish ones have re-opened. The last case in Scotland was on 30 May. The last case in Wales was on 12 August and the last case in England was on 30 September. Veterinary and scientific advice is that markets in England and Wales should not re-open until early next year. The timing and conditions for re-opening markets are under active discussion with the Livestock Auctioneers Association. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the issue seriously.
The association has received draft conditions and has commented on them. The discussion continues with those directly involved. The association is meeting DEFRA officials again tomorrow and stakeholders have been told that market re-opening is under consideration for early in 2002. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no secret plan to do down that or any other part of the rural economy.
There are many issues on which I could wax more eloquently if I had had the time to reply that the hon. Gentleman took in his introduction, but it is only fair to say that the Government have responded positively to the demands and pressures on the rural economy. We recognise that the impact on farmers and on non-farming businesses has been devastating. That is why we have sought to respond and why we have not