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17 Oct 2002 : Column 459—continued

Animal Infections

11. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): What recent assessments she has made of the effects of the transport of animals on the spread of infection. [72355]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department has carried out preliminary veterinary and economic assessments of the 20-day standstill rule on animal movements and these are published on the Department's website. A

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comprehensive cost benefit analysis and risk assessment is now being commissioned, as recommended by the inquiries into the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Paul Flynn : Is not it true that the main reason why foot and mouth spread more rapidly here than in any other country was that between the time of infection and the time of its detection, infected animals went to at least six marts, possibly coming into contact with 1 million other animals? Is not it right that the Government encourage farmers to use other methods of selling animals, such as through the internet, videos and direct sales, as they did during the foot and mouth crisis, rather than by making journeys to market? Is not it outrageous of the Opposition, who demand better methods to ensure that foot and mouth does not return and spread and that other infections do not come to this country, to oppose the Government on a sensible moderate scheme for the 20-day rule and to support farmers who flagrantly break the rule?

Mr. Morley: I agree. The 20-day rule is an essential part of disease control strategy. It was recommended in the Anderson report and the Royal Society report. We have modified the details of the 20-day rule to take into account the real burdens on farmers in relation to the patterns of their animal movements. However, as I said to the industry, there is no going back to the situation pre-FMD. There will have to be movement controls.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency is commissioning an independent risk assessment to consider whether 20 days is appropriate or whether other amendments could be made in the light of representations. However, the rule is essential. The disease was spread by widespread animal movements and, in the case of Northern Ireland, by illegal sheep movements. So we must have tight controls. The Opposition's position on the 20-day rule in last night's debate was irresponsible. They did not recognise the real need that in order to combat disease there has to be action by all concerned. That means the Government, local authorities and agencies, but the livestock industry must play its part as well.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): What answer would the Minister give to farmers in my constituency who think it illogical to have lax controls at airports and sea ports, where few resources are committed to prevent foot and mouth entering the country, while farmers are continually hamstrung in their livestock businesses by a rigid 20-day rule, which makes their business unviable?

Mr. Morley: To be blunt, for some it is just an excuse. Controls at entry are important. We do not discount them and take them very seriously. Indeed, we have just committed an extra #1.5 million for additional checks at points of entry. We are considering all methods to ensure that we can strengthen controls at all borders and in all areas through which meat travels to enter this country. The truth is, however, that whatever we spend and whatever we do, we cannot give a 100 per cent. guarantee that some disease will not get into the country. In that respect, although we recognise that we must play our part in border controls, and we will, the livestock industry must play its part as well. Movement

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stops are an essential part of that. Those people who are not prepared to accept them put the whole livestock industry at risk. Given the fact that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill, the industry must recognise the need for it to play its part in minimising the problem.

River Avon (Water Extraction)

12. Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): What agreement she has reached on water abstraction from the upper reaches of the Hampshire Avon; and if she will make a statement. [72356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): In June this year the Environment Agency, English Nature, the Office of Water Services and

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Wessex Water agreed a programme of measures that will reduce abstractions in three areas, including the upper reaches of the Hampshire Avon.

Mr. Key : I am grateful to the Minister, his officials and all the agencies involved for coming up with a compromise solution. However, does he agree that it is not the long-term answer? The problem is replicated around the country. The simple answer is that we are all wasting far too much water. We are transporting it, abstracting it and throwing it away. Will he do all he can to ensure a public education programme to stop wasting water?

Mr. Morley: I can give the hon. Gentleman a bit more reassurance than that. He will probably be aware that it is our intention to introduce a new water Bill that will focus very much on abstraction control and statutory requirements to ensure that water is not wasted and is used properly. I am sure that he will welcome those measures and I look forward to his support when we introduce the Bill.

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House please give the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 21 October—Remaining stages of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 22 October—Opposition Day [Unallotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled XCrisis in Affordable Housing". Followed by a debate entitled XCrisis in Nuclear Power and Development of a Sustainable Energy Market". Both debates arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday 23 October—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled XThe Government's Mismanagement of the National Lottery".

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Thursday 24 October—Continuation of the debate on local government finance formula grant distribution on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Followed by a debate on control of asbestos in the workplace on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 25 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 28 October—Opposition Day [20th Allotted Day] There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 29 October—Debate on motions relating to the Modernisation Committee report on reforming the House of Commons and the Procedure Committee report on parliamentary questions.

Wednesday 30 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Enterprise Bill.

Thursday 31 October—Debate on defence in the UK on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 1 November—The House will not be sitting.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business the House will prorogue on Thursday 7 November and the new Session will begin on Wednesday 13 November.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 23 October the second meeting of the Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe will take place to consider the Third and Fourth Report of the United Kingdom representatives to the convention.

Mr. Forth: As ever, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks. As he is all too aware, as a result of the re-imposition of direct rule in Northern Ireland, a ministerial team of five is now accountable to this House for what they do in Northern Ireland. In the light of that, is the right hon.

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Gentleman prepared urgently to look at the allocation of time for parliamentary questions, particularly for Northern Ireland, but also for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, given that that Minister has an enormous range of responsibilities that are of direct interest to hon. Members and their constituents? I hope that the Leader of the House agrees that this is an urgent matter. I am sure that it could be agreed through the usual channels very rapidly, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that it is very important that the House exercise its responsibilities with regard to the ministerial team in Northern Ireland given the regrettable change of circumstances.

While I acknowledge that the Leader of the House has now given further time for the local government finance formula debate—a matter that he, and you, Mr. Speaker, know greatly exercised the House when we saw that debate shrinking—can he give us any guarantees about the length of time now available for that important debate, as there must still be a long list of Members wishing to participate in this important matter? While I do not in any way want to diminish the importance of asbestos as a subject, it might be worth reconsidering whether asbestos really should encroach on the time available to debate the local government finance formula. Is the Leader of the House prepared, even at this stage, to look at the matter again and allow more time for local government even if it is at the expense of an immediate debate on asbestos?

On 29 October, we are to have a debate on the so-called modernisation of the House. Sadly, as the Leader of the House knows, because he chairs the Modernisation Committee, this is not a matter that has been agreed by all parties, as used to be the case in the past. I understand that he is presenting a number of proposals that have not been agreed to. Is it too late, even at this stage, for further discussions? When will we see the wording of proposals arising from very controversial suggestions by the right hon. Gentleman's Committee? Will the right hon. Gentleman at the very least guarantee that when we have a debate there will be not just ample time for it but, equally important, an opportunity for votes to take place on matters that remain controversial?

May I appeal, even now, to the Leader of the House? We are very keen to discuss topical questions here, as their lordships are already able to do in the other place. Indeed, I understand that their opportunities are to be extended even further—opportunities that we have never had.

I should like more agreement to be reached than has been the case hitherto. Is it too late? When will we see the right hon. Gentleman's proposals?

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