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Foot and Mouth

16. Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What costs her Department has incurred in legal fees defending actions brought by contractors in pursuit of claims for work during the foot and mouth outbreak; how much it has paid as a result of judgments against it; and what provision has been made to meet costs arising from future cases. [222455]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Department has incurred legal fees of £4 million defending the actions to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. We have paid £2.654 million as a result of judgments against us, and £2.6 million has been set aside to meet future legal costs. To date, by questioning these claims, we have already saved the taxpayer £63 million. In general, the actions of DEFRA officials in respect of foot and mouth disease have saved the taxpayer almost £800 million.

Mr. Curry: It is entirely understandable that, given the extraordinary incompetence of the campaign to combat foot and mouth disease and the decision to hurl money at it almost without limit in order to secure farmer co-operation, the Minister is now absolutely desperate to show that the Department has some concerns about the expenditure of public funds. Will he assure me that he will not start hurling good money after bad? How many of these cases is he actually winning, and is it not time to recognise that if contracts were signed, even if they were not very good contracts, now is the time to close the book on the matter and concentrate on ensuring that the next food-related outbreak is more efficiently combated?

Mr. Bradshaw: Certainly, in terms of the money that we are saving for the taxpayer compared with what we are spending, we are winning enormously. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that foot and mouth was an emergency. Let me give him just one example of some of the claims that we are dealing with. A director of a company was queried as to why he had been charging DEFRA 75p per hour, for 12 hours a day for seven days a week for a fortnight, when he was actually on holiday in Spain.
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Sugar Regime

17. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): What recent representations she has received from representatives of sugar beet farmers about reform of the sugar regime. [222456]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): Following her speech to the National Farmers Union annual conference on 21 February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took questions from a number of sugar beet growers seeking assurances that there would be fair treatment for the UK industry in any reform decisions.

Mr. Luff: Does the Minister accept that almost everyone agrees that we need urgent reform of the sugar regime, but that it must be done sensitively so as not to disadvantage British sugar beet growers and accidentally advantage the wrong overseas growers? Does he agree that there is a real risk, for example, that insensitive reform could lead to wholesale loss of the rain forest in Brazil and a massive expansion of sugar production there?

Alun Michael: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that we need sensible reform. The new European Union Agriculture Commissioner made it clear in her speech to the NFU conference on 21 February that there is now wide agreement on the Agriculture Council that the status quo on sugar is not sustainable and that the regime must be brought into line with other reformed common agricultural policy sectors. We have made it clear that we want that reform to be sensible. We have made clear our negotiating stance, but as I recently said to the European Scrutiny Committee, we cannot deal with the details of the proposals until the Commission provides us with them. We hope to see them in the near future; that will be the point at which we shall need to address precisely the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.


Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Appropriation Act 2005

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 22 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

It may assist the House if I confirm that the Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 24 March. The Bill and the accompanying explanatory notes will therefore be available to Members before the Easter recess.

Wednesday 23 March—Second Reading of the Disability Discrimination Bill [Lords].

Thursday 24 March—Motion on the Easter recess Adjournment.

Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after the Easter recess will be:

Monday 4 April—Second Reading of the Public Service Ombudsman (Wales) Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 5 April—Second Reading of the Equality Bill.

Wednesday 6 April—Opposition Day [6th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 April—A debate on defence in the United Kingdom on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 8 April—Private Members' Bills.

The details of the business are available on my office website— That is for technologically advanced Members of the House, which excludes several of those on the Opposition Benches.

Before I close, I want to thank a number of staff in the House for their hard work during the proceedings on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill last week, particularly the dedicated staff of Hansard, who are often here long after proceedings have finished, the Refreshment Department, the Doorkeepers, the security staff, the Public Bill Office, the Vote Office, the Journal Office and the Clerks of the House. I also thank parliamentary counsel who, in their usual way, did an outstanding job.

Mr. Heald: I join the Leader of the House in congratulating the House of Commons staff on their work. He may have seen early-day motion 907 in my name, which adds to the points that he has made.

[That this House expresses its gratitude for the tireless commitment, hard work and assistance when the House of Commons sits long hours of its attendants, cleaning and maintenance services, clerks and assistants, doorkeepers, police, fire and security services, Hansard reporters, the Vote Office, the Table Office, the Library, office keepers,
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Press Gallery reporters, the Post Office, the Refreshment Department, the Serjeant at Arms Department, the Speaker's Office and all support staff; recognises the considerable demands placed upon them; and praises such professionalism which is a vital part of the Parliamentary process and without which honourable Members could not operate effectively.]

This will certainly not be as exciting a period as many have speculated. Does the Leader of the House have the date for the Second Reading of the Finance Bill?

Can we have a statement about the disclosure of farmers' grants under the common agricultural policy on Monday, given the National Farmers Union's concerns about the lack of notice to farmers and the intrusion into their businesses, and to explain why they have been singled out in this way?

Can we have a statement about violent crime so that we can probe the Police Minister's statement that the crime picture in Nottingham is "pretty good"? Does not that show the naivety of the Minister and the Government at a time when the chief constable has said:

Would not Nottingham be better off with the 740 extra police whom a Conservative Government would provide?

Finally, has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 945?

[That this House expresses its concern that the House of Lords is having to take on more and more of the work of scrutiny of Bills now that the Government refuses through its guillotining of Bills to give the necessary time to do it in this House; notes that since the Queen's Speech, 32 groups of clauses and amendments have not been debated on the report stage of Bills in this House and in addition, in committee, 45 groups of amendments and 117 clauses and schedules have not been debated; considers that the outcome of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was a victory for Parliament; and calls on the Government not to seek to reduce the powers of the House of Lords, but instead to give adequate time for debate in this House.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the anger and concern in the House that we are not given time properly to debate important Bills? More than 40 per cent. of the groups of amendments listed for debate on Report and many Standing Committee amendments, new clauses and schedules have not been debated because of severe guillotines—so-called programme motions. Important legislation should not be treated in that cavalier fashion.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement accepting the Procedure Committee's proposals for fair programming and accept that he and the Prime Minister cannot expect Bills that have not been properly debated to become law just because the Prime Minister chooses to have an early election? Does he accept that we are only one third of the way through the parliamentary year and that many Bills are simply not ready to be passed? The Prime Minister may want this place to act like a rubber stamp, but if we are made to nod through bad law, then as with the Budget the country will be left to pay the price later.
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