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Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Cheshire is one of the top three cattle counties in the United Kingdom. Between 9 am and 1 pm today, 240 cattle belonging to my constituent Anthony Dale were shot on Shirdfold farm in Adlington. They were shot before the existence of foot and mouth disease had been confirmed: indeed, it still has not been confirmed. This was a pre-emptive cull, very much along the lines advocated by the Minister.

My farmers are experiencing problems in dealing with MAFF and the MAFF vet at Stafford--in getting hold of people, and in being given decisions. Following the shooting of 240 cattle, the immediate problem is disposal. Those on the farm want to bury them there, and people and equipment are available to enable that to be done. Will the Minister ensure that those responsible have the ability to make a decision?

Mr. Brown: Those responsible do have that ability. I will ensure that the individual case raised by the hon. Gentleman is examined as a matter of urgency. There is no ideological reason not to allow on-farm burial, but there may be other reasons that I do not know about. The most obvious is the water table; I do not know what the position is in that regard.

It is because there may be reasons that I do not know about that we have Environment Agency officials in our control centres--there is a new one in Stafford, as the hon. Gentleman said--looking into the issue. In the case of cattle aged over 30 months, there is also the question

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of BSE prions. A range of matters must be taken into account. This is not just bureaucratic delay; we have to worry about all those matters.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Minister accept that farmers genuinely want to co-operate with culls, but are enormously frustrated by, on occasion, not being part of the consultation loop for local cull plans? Will he commit himself to reviewing the procedures, in order to help farmers--including those in mid-Wales--to be as co-operative as they can?

Will the Minister also address himself to the specific issue of the Rogers pig farm, which has 2,000 head of pigs? That means the infectivity equivalent of 6 million cattle, in the heart of an infected area. I fear that it represents a time bomb for mid-Wales, and also for the west midlands. Will the Minister please ask his staff to review the issue, and to proceed with a cull as soon as possible--preferably tomorrow?

Mr. Brown: These are incredibly difficult issues. Enormous risks are associated with intensive pig farming. I think that a farm in Wales would fall within the competence of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Secretary in the Welsh Assembly; I expect to talk to him on the telephone later, and I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's question to his attention.

As for communications, representatives of the National Farmers Union are working with officials from my Ministry in Carlisle and Devon, which helps. There are also regular meetings with representatives of local farmers, a practice that I would like to see replicated more generally.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): The Minister has rightly expressed concern about infection caused by illegally imported meat. According to the chairman of the East Anglian branch of the National Pig Association, the Minister was informed in a letter dated 20 May last year from Mr. Clive Lawrence of Ciel Logistics that gross abuses were involved in illegal imports of meat for personal use from African countries through Heathrow. There were, apparently, examples of baggage leaking, and of rotting deer and monkey carcases. What did the Minister do about that, when he was informed? Have there been further such incidents? What checks can put in place to reassure the House?

Mr. Brown: I think that the material to which the right hon. Lady referred was seized by the authorities--in this case, Customs and Excise. However, I shall look at the specific complaint that she has raised.

The right hon. Lady is right that there are more general issues that relate to the importation of surprisingly large quantities of meat for personal use and to the use of container transportation to bring meat that is not always accurately described into the country. Both those matters need to be looked at, with regard not only to the effectiveness of the law--I do not think that that is the problem--but to the effectiveness of the inspection regime. We must ensure that the intervention powers are adequate in the current circumstances, and they may well

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not be. If they are not, I shall come back to the House, and I expect that I should get all-party support in dealing with the problem.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman has announced a consultation on the 20-day standstill. That might be a very sensible thing to do. Will he, however, approach the consultation with a genuinely open mind? He will appreciate that he does not have to come to an immediate conclusion on the 20-day standstill. He will also appreciate that the advice that he is receiving on the matter comes from a fairly narrow source. I make no criticism of that, but the source is narrow. He will appreciate further that such a proposal would interfere with legitimate business. Finally, is he aware that it might constitute a barrier to the free trade in goods that is an EU requirement?

Mr. Brown: The right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point was a fair one. They were all fair points, but the last one was particularly so. On that point, I want to assert the disease control imperative over the more general rule of the free movement of goods and services. After all, the 20-day standstill rule would apply to everyone; it would not be discriminatory. I shall approach the consultation with an open mind, and when he examines the consultation document, he will see that--certainly as far as cattle are concerned--because of the traceability scheme in this country, there are options. I genuinely welcome views on all the options.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): May I turn the Minister's attention to the suspect cases at Uffington referred to by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser)? Is the Minister aware that a number of my constituents have animals--lambing ewes and cattle approaching the 30-month threshold--on land in the vicinity of Uffington? Will he at least tell local vets and farmers who believe that those suspect cases were not confirmed whether they are right in that belief? If they are right, will he explain to them why licences previously granted to them have been revoked, and why they cannot now move their animals?

Mr. Brown: I do not want to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an answer here and now, because I do not have sufficient knowledge of the case. I shall write to him setting out my formal response, and I promise to examine the letter personally before it is sent to him.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister has been answering questions for more than an hour. I think that we must now move on.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Previous Speakers, when faced with a difficult situation such as this, involving many hon. Members trying to speak, have said that either they or their secretary would very kindly keep a list of those who failed to get in, so that next time there was a statement,

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they might be given priority. Several hon. Members have been trying for some time to ask questions without being called.

Mr. Speaker: That goes without saying. In fact, the hon. Gentleman might have noticed that in the early stages I called hon. Members who were not called at the previous statement, some of whom are still present.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I request that those of us who were not called on the previous three occasions could call for an Adjournment debate at the earliest convenience?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady can apply; I do not make any promises.


Local Elections (Free Delivery of Election Addresses)

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, supported by Dr. Norman A. Godman, Mr. Dennis Skinner and Mr. Eric Illsley, presented a Bill to provide for the free delivery of one election address to each household from each candidate in the local government elections to be held in May 2001: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March, and to be printed [Bill 72].

Representation of Gibraltar at Westminster and in the European Union

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, supported by Dr. Norman A. Godman, Mr. Eric Illsley and Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, presented a Bill to provide for representation of Gibraltar by a Member of Parliament, subject to limitations, in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; for the inclusion of Gibraltar in a European parliamentary constituency; for the right of the chief minister to petition the House of Commons at the bar of the House; and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 73].

Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, supported by Dr. Norman A. Godman, Mr. Harry Barnes, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Tony Benn and Mr. Eric Illsley, presented a Bill to provide for the granting of pardons to soldiers of the British Empire Forces executed during the Great War of 1914 to 1919 following conviction for offences of cowardice, desertion or attempted desertion, disobedience, quitting post, violence, sleeping at post, throwing away arms or striking a superior officer; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 74].

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