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Mr. Brown: I cannot announce an alteration to the compensation arrangements. However, I will consider the individual case of the hon. Gentleman's constituents if he refers it to me. I am not certain of all the circumstances involved and it would be unwise to go further, other than to make the general point that it is incredibly hard for the farming community--in particular, individual farmers--to have their animals taken, especially under the contiguous cull policy. Of the animals that seem healthy, some might be healthy, some might be incubating the disease and many will almost certainly be dangerous contacts. The policy is for the general good, but the individual farmer always hopes that it will not be applied to him and wants us to wait and see. The hard truth is that
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and inform him, with some relief, that we have not had an additional outbreak in Monmouthshire for more than two weeks. However, the 17 cases in my constituency have had a devastating effect. Does he agree that among the lessons to be learned are those relating to the long-term transportation of livestock, the practices of some livestock dealers and the need for sub-regional abattoirs? When he meets his colleagues in the European Council, will he assure them that some farmers will not want to get back into farming? They need an early retirement package and progress must be made on that.
Mr. Brown: I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says. On the unresolved issues--in particular, whether more can be done to help those who have decided to retire from the industry--I am giving further thought to what can be done in these special circumstances.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The Minister will be aware that although we have not had an outbreak in my constituency, we have been badly affected by the restrictions on animal movements. He announced that from Monday 23 April, some restricted livestock has been allowed to enter the food chain. Is he aware that as of Thursday last week, no information had been provided to trading standards, so no movements can be made? Can he assure that House that that hurdle has been passed and the system is working smoothly?
The Minister also announced changes to the welfare disposal system. Is he aware of the severe consternation that the system is causing to pig producers in the Vale of York, especially since he gave a commitment that the original payments would run for eight weeks from 23 March? The cut in payments to £37, or probably less, for clean animals will cause grief to those producers.
Mr. Brown: I understand the second point that the hon. Lady makes, which is of course fair. However, I have to weigh up the danger of continuing with rates that I am advised risk creating an artificial market that is more attractive than the actual operation of the supply chain. If we did that, we would remorselessly suck imports into the food chain and perhaps permanently displace British products, which would not be in the interests of the livestock industry. In addition, the state, rather than the consumer, would be the purchaser of a great deal of livestock--much more livestock than we should purchase. That was a hard decision, but I believe it to be right. I gave an assurance that the scheme would continue to run; I gave no assurance about adjustments of the rates. Although the situation is tough, we would do far more harm than good by trying to keep the rates artificially high.
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that contrary to what the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) keeps saying, if the current downward trend continues, this outbreak will have been
How much truth is there in the reports that my local rendering plant in Exeter has been working at only 60 per cent. of capacity? Given the terrible problems that we have had with carcase disposal, surely that is totally unacceptable.
Mr. Brown: I do not think that the situation is exactly as my hon. Friend describes it, although I am aware of the reports. I have asked that the situation be examined, and if the plant is able to handle more work, which of course we have, we will send it to them. I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the comparison of the current outbreak with that of 1967.
There will be a time to reflect when we have exterminated foot and mouth disease in this country. People will want to consider the way in which the two outbreaks were handled, but the 1967 outbreak had many different features and there was a point at which there were 90 new infected premises a day. We have not even got beyond half that rate.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Minister may know that half of my constituency was declared an infected area because there was a suspected case over the border in Powys. That was six weeks ago. The case proved to be negative, but the infected area status still applies to half of my constituency. I understand that there will be movement on that within 24 hours. Will the Minister assure me that there will be better liaison between his officials and those of the devolved Administration in Cardiff? Will he assure me also that Intervention Board officials will have a better working relationship with officials of the devolved Administration, because these matters are very important?
Mr. Brown: The Intervention Board is of course shared between myself, acting as the Minister for England rather more than for the UK, and the Ministers in Wales and in Scotland, so it serves Wales just as it serves England and Scotland. The working relationships at ministerial and official levels between my Department and the devolved authorities have been very good, or at least that is my perception. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to consider a specific issue of communication or another matter, I will willingly do so, but I have to say that the implementation of the policy is wholly devolved and is a matter for my colleague the Secretary for Rural Affairs in the Welsh Assembly, not for me.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that at business questions before the Easter recess, I drew to the attention of the House the fact that Members were using written questions to seek information about other Members' constituencies when one could not clearly identify a reason for the question to be asked. I named the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who had engaged in that practice. Since then, it has been drawn to my attention that the hon. Gentleman--I gave him notice that I intended to name him--has tabled no fewer than nine questions to nine Departments about my constituency. So probing and wide-reaching are those questions that one Department has had to draw up an answer of four pages.
The cost to the public of answering such questions is enormous. Surely they are an abuse of parliamentary privilege by Members. As there is an election coming and these questions are clearly asked purely for party political purposes and the production of election literature, I wonder whether this is a matter in which you could intervene, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's concerns. There is nothing in the rules of the House to prevent Members submitting questions that relate to another Member's constituency. However, if Members choose to ask such questions, I expect them as a matter of courtesy to give notice in advance to the colleague whose constituency is the subject of the question. If a question of that nature has been submitted without notification, I deprecate that. More generally, I hope that Members who are contemplating such action will consider carefully whether it sits well with the purpose and spirit of parliamentary questions and answers.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I crave your indulgence briefly to make two separate points of order. The first is simply a matter of the record. Today, in relation to oral Question 9 to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, which was about specialist schools, I, in a perhaps somewhat feline fashion, inserted the phrase "selective schools". The Secretary of State chose to suggest to the House that it was a Freudian slip. I gather that he now accepts that I meant what I said.
The second point of order is much more serious because it involves people's livelihoods. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that this morning there was news of approximately 1,000 redundancies at the British works of Timken, manufacturers of bearings and related products, in Northampton. That will have a considerable effect because almost all those jobs will be lost by people in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) and in my constituency, where there is also a small Timken facility. That is a major blow to the economy of our area and severs a long-standing relationship with a well-respected United States-sourced firm. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any representations from Ministers to make a statement on the