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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 06:34 GMT
Brown faces grilling over disease
A vet in a field near to the village of Unthank in Cumbria
The cull of healthy animals is proving controversial
The government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis will be put under the microscope when Agriculture Minister Nick Brown goes before MPs on Wednesday.

Chief vet Jim Scudamore will join Mr Brown before the House of Commons agriculture select committee to answer a series of questions.

The grilling comes on the same day as the first cull of healthy sheep in south-west Scotland is planned, although it may be delayed because of a backlog in dealing with confirmed cases.

Crisis continues
394 confirmed cases
223,564 animals slaughtered
95,872 awaiting slaughter
159,874 carcasses destroyed
The move is part of the government's attempt to stem the growing number of cases, which currently stands at 394 after the biggest day yet for outbreaks on Tuesday.

Tory Leader William Hague has already attacked the government's response to the crisis and urged ministers to consider postponing local elections, due on 3 May, in those areas worst affected.

But the government has made clear that it does not intend to delay the vote.

It has announced a series of measures to ease hardship in communities hit by foot-and-mouth.

The head of the rural task force, Michael Meacher, told the Commons that measures were being put in place to revitalise rural tourism where safe.

Negotiations with banks

He announced that affected small businesses in badly-hit rural areas would benefit from relief on business rates and temporary revaluations while customers stayed away.

Mr Meacher told the Commons his negotiations with major banks had shown there was a prospect of extended lines of credit and repayment holidays for rural customers hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He said the government was considering raising central government contributions to rate relief for affected small businesses from 75% to 95%.

The measures were announced as the army started work in Devon and Cumbria to help co-ordinate the destruction of diseased livestock.

Soldiers from the Wiltshire-based 43rd Wessex Brigade
Soldiers from the 43rd Wessex Brigade will help in Devon
Up to 130 soldiers, military police and army logistics experts are supervising the disposal of culled animals in flocks infected by foot-and-mouth in Devon, while another 80 are on their way to Cumbria.

Soldiers will not carry out the slaughter or burning of animals.

The Tory MP for Mid Sussex and a former armed forces and agriculture minister, Nicholas Soames, argued that the Army's input should be much greater.

He said he believed that financial considerations were preventing that from happening.

"I suspect the Treasury have said you are not to use the Army, it's just too expensive," said Mr Soames.

A spokesman for the Treasury dismissed his claims as "completely wrong and completely untrue".

Charity call

Meanwhile, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called for congregations across the country to support communities affected by foot-and-mouth, by holding collections on Mothering Sunday.

Dr George Carey and Dr David Hope have also approved special prayers for services and have set up an ecumenical fund to offer financial support.

"At this time when farming and other communities are feeling deeply isolated and under great stress, it is important that we stand together with them in thought, word and deed," they said in a statement.

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See also:

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US tourists shun Britain
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Elections still planned for May
19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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20 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack over foot-and-mouth
20 Mar 01 | Business
UK economy to ride out farm crisis
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