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21 Nov 2002 : Column 770continued
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Industry organisations and individual farmers have made a number of representations about the impact of the 20-day standstill. Ministers and officials regularly meet industry representatives to discuss their views on the current movement controls.
Mr. Osborne: The 20-day standstill is causing enormous concern and hardship in the livestock industry. Mr. Gwyn Williams, a partner in Chelford livestock auction market in my constituency, recently wrote to me and said:
Mr. Morley: We have made it clear that we are commissioning independent assessments to consider the impact of the 20-day movement control on farmers. The vast majority of farmers can cope with the situation, but we accept that it does cause problems for some. We are sympathetic, but we cannot get away from the fact that the control has very strong veterinary support. It was recommended in Dr. Anderson's independent examination of the lessons to be learned and, indeed, by the Royal Society.
Hon. Members may also recall the case of the unmarked pig that had symptoms of foot and mouth disease. It has now been traced to two farmers, who have been fined for a range of offences in relation to traceability. That example shows that there is always a very real risk of spreading disease if we do not have movement controls.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Given the closeness in date of the three main west country shows, the Minister will appreciate the problem caused by the fact that the closing dates for livestock entry, specifically that for sheep, all fall from the middle to the end of March. Will he therefore explain why the publication of the results of the risk analysis on biosecurity has been delayed from the end of January to the end of April? What advice can he give to the organisers of those shows, which are, of course, so critical to the economy of the south-west?
Mr. Morley: We are regularly in touch with the industry's representatives to address those issues. It is true that the risk assessment is very complex, but it needs to be thorough so that we can get right what we do in the long-term. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, whatever decisions are taken about future movement controls, they will be taken in time and well before the spring movements start.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I know that the Minister will be stung by this week's cross-party foot and mouth inquiry, which accuses him and his colleagues of ineptitude, massive dereliction of duty and unpardonable delays in decision making. Will he make at least one quick decision on the 20-day rule? We know of the experience in Scotland, where it is applied more flexibly and exemptions are obtained more straightforwardly and more fairly. It is damaging to the industry, and it is not effective in restricting movement because farmers are forced to bend it, break it or go out of business. Will he learn that lesson? Will he take advice from the Opposition and the industry and apply the 20-day rule more flexibly for the sake of the livestock industry?
Mr. Morley: We listen very carefully to the industry, although I must inform the hon. Gentleman that the measures in place in England and Scotland are not at all dissimilar. The principal difference is that we ask that veterinary surgeons to examine farmers' biosecurity and separation arrangements. That is a very important step in ensuring that those things are done properly. Of course I have seen the report from the European temporary committee. It is a pity that it was altered by a political combination of Greens and Conservatives, who seemed to want to make political criticisms, rather than genuinely address the disease control lessons that we need to learn for the future.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): None. However, we are proposing to amend the Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991, to grant waste collection authorities powers to serve notice on businesses, requiring them to produce their waste transfer notes. That should ensure better enforcement of the duty of care requirements.
Siobhain McDonagh : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the fight against fly tipping, it is very important not only that local authorities have the power to check on small businesses and their waste removal contracts, but that they are aware of their powers?
Mr. Meacher: I absolutely agree, and I acknowledge my hon. Friend's concerns and the actions that she is taking to try to improve the situation. As I have said, we believe that the right way to act with regard to the duty of care regulations is not to give local authorities access to the waste trade agreements because such documents are confidential between the waste contractor and the business that produces the waste. However, I entirely share her aim, and I hope that we can lay the regulations before the House very shortly and bring them into force in the early new year.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Will the Minister consider amending section 34 to help to deal with the problem of abandoned cars? I realise that the Government have taken steps to make it easier for local authorities to deal with this matter, but there was an epidemic of 238,000 abandoned vehicles last year, and the problem barely existed five years ago. Will he take steps to ensure that local authorities and police in particular try to identify those responsible and prosecute them?
Mr. Meacher: We have already taken action, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, by reducing the period to 24 hours in the case of cars or vehicles that are assessed as not having value, and, in the case of those that do have value, no more than one week before enforcement action can be taken and the cars removed. As we know from Operation Cubitt in Newham and Kent, that has produced a vast reduction in the number of abandoned cars. We have also taken steps to ensure continuing registration of cars so that responsibility is placed firmly on the last owner who registers. If there is a change of ownership, and that is not registered, the last owner who did register remains responsible. We believe that those two measures will tackle what I agree is a very serious scourge of our streets.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I thank my right hon. Friend for the raft of measures that are in place, and that are being put in place. When he lays the regulations, however, will he further consider that local authorities are now frequently in a position, because of CCTV and co-operation from residents, to know when there are carriers on the road that are persistently fly tipping, although they do not have powers to deal with them? Will he consider extending to local authorities the power of street-stopping those vehicles and the power to impose fixed penalties on those that are carrying waste illegally?
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): The Minister's answer to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is regrettable, as fly tipping is an environmental scourge that blights both urban and rural Britain. It will get worse as landfill tax increases and the power to deal with the problem is divorced from the responsibility to deal with it. Why does he not have plans to invest in a single bodylocal authorities or the Environment Agencythe authority and the accountability to make the fly-tipping polluter pay for the harm that is caused to the environment, society and economy?
Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is strong on rhetoric, and I entirely share his purpose, but he was not listening to my answer. I indicated that amending section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act is not the appropriate way to proceed, as that would give local authorities access to the waste trade agreements, which, for the reason that I have given, is not appropriate. We are making the appropriate arrangements, however, which are to amend the Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991. If he listened to me, he would understand that I share his purpose. We are dealing with the matter in the right way, and not in the wrong way that he suggests.