Select Committee on Agriculture Ninth Special Report


The Agriculture Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

The Committee has received the following memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, constituting the Government's Reply to the Sixth Report from the Committee of the 2000-01 Session, The UK Pig Industry, made to the House on 27 February 2001.

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The Government welcomes this report and the Committee's work in examining what has been a hard­pressed sector of British agriculture. The Committee's report highlights the need for close co­operation with the European Commission; this sits well with the Government's determination to play a central role in Europe.

The Government understands why the Committee thought it necessary to comment on the time it has taken to introduce the restructuring scheme. To some extent, the Government shares the Committee's frustration. The scheme's design took account of earlier schemes that had received clearance and included elements to which the Commission were believed to be favourably disposed. On the basis of this, it was hoped that clearance would be forthcoming relatively quickly. As it turned out, clearance of the Pig Industry Restructuring Scheme was still achieved in 9 months; considerably less than the average time of 18 months that it takes the Commission to clear restructuring schemes.

The Government's response to the specific recommendations made in the report is set out below.

The Pig Industry Restructuring Scheme


We recommend that the Treasury and MAFF reach a decision in principle that the £26 million allocated for this year may be spent in 2001­02 if necessary and that the Minister make an early official statement to this effect, to end the speculation in the pig industry and ensure that producers are able to plan on the availability of money which they have been promised (paragraph 5).


Due to difficulties in gaining State Aid approval for the scheme, the £26m secured for the year 2000­01 will not be used on PIRS. In fact, most of it was spent on dealing with the classical swine fever outbreak in East Anglia. However, an agreement on end-year flexibility has allowed the remaining £3.9m to be carried forward to 2001­02. This, together with the £20 million that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agreed to bring forward from the 2002/03 financial year, will mean that almost £44 million is available to the scheme (including Outgoers 2) in the next financial year. The Government is determined to ensure that the scheme achieves its objectives.


We welcome the Government's positive response to the Better Regulation Task Force report and recommend that MAFF put in place mechanisms to ensure that it explores every opportunity for reducing the time span between announcements and EU approval of schemes (paragraph 6).


The Government continues work to implement the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force in all aspects of public service. MAFF will continue to explore ways to work more effectively with Commission officials in Brussels and with colleagues in other Member States.


We recommend that all announcements of new schemes or funding packages for the agriculture industry should include details of the decision­making mechanisms through which the proposal must pass before it can be realised, together with a realistic timetable for the completion of the process (paragraph 7).


The procedures that have to be followed in order to deliver the result are invariably made known by the Government at the time of any announcement. However, in some instances, it can be more difficult to prepare a realistic timetable as this could depend on a number of unquantifiable factors.

The classical swine fever outbreak


We believe that specific 'wargames' aimed at controlling classical swine fever should have been carried out following the Dutch outbreak. The absence of such contingency planning shows a failure to learn from experience in other Member States and to apply those lessons for the benefit of our own industry and consumers (paragraph 8).


As was made clear to the Committee in MAFF's supplementary memorandum, the principles of animal disease control are similar whether it is foot and mouth disease, swine fever or other exotic disease for which the Government has a slaughter and compensation policy. As part of the process of training its staff and in order to inform the emergency planning process, the SVS carries out animal disease simulation exercises on a regular basis. From 1994 to 1999 it carried out 84 simulation exercises. In addition, MAFF headquarters has a nominated emergency team which carries out regular exercises on HQ procedures including the designation and drawing up of infected areas.

The State Veterinary Service has also published a set of instructions, which their staff follow in the event of outbreaks. These instructions cover all aspects of swine fever from reporting cases, right through to lifting restrictions on a premises that has been compulsorily slaughtered out. The SVS also has emergency plans for such an outbreak and these detail the procedures to be followed at the national centre, the local centre and the local Animal Health Office.

The efficacy of these instructions is shown by the success in limiting the outbreak of this highly contagious disease in one of the most highly populated pig production areas in the UK to 16 incidents.

Since the Committee's report was received we have of course been faced with an unprecedentedly severe outbreak of foot and mouth disease, affecting cattle and sheep as well as pigs. Ministers have made clear that there will be further lessons to be learned from both this outbreak as well as the earlier CSF outbreak, but it is too early to say how this will affect MAFF's contingency planning for exotic animal disease outbreaks in the future.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

April 2001

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