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Mrs. Ann Winterton: I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. He seemed to think that it was impossible to do anything about illegal imports of meat, drugs or whatever. One cannot guarantee anything in life,
Mr. Martlew: If the hon. Lady had been a Minister four years ago, she would have said that our policy obviously works, as we have not had an outbreak. Of course we must consider measures to tighten up on imports, but there is no panacea to stop illegal asylum seekers or drugs coming in, so we must always assume that imported meat will come in illegally.
I come now to a problem that was mentioned by several hon. Members, although I do not think that any of them offered a solution. At the beginning of the outbreak we were hampered in Cumbria and everywhere else by the small number of vets. We all know that the size of the veterinary investigation service was reduced by the previous Government. There may have been a good reason for that. The changes that had occurred may have meant that the vets did not have much work, and they would not have stayed if that was the case. Perhaps we should consider introducing the equivalent of the Territorial Army for veterinaries and the possibility of establishing a reserve on which we can call when a crisis occurs.
Mr. Martlew: I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to make a serious point. If he wants to make party political points, that is fine, but when he has been in the House longer, he will learn when to intervene and when not to.
I have sought an Adjournment debate on Lord Haskins's report. It is a very good report and I have a lot more to say about it, but I point out now that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary must deal with pet animals. There is no doubt that much of the anguish that was caused to individuals in the crisis related to pets. In my constituency, someone rang me anonymously, in case I contacted MAFF, to say that he was concerned about two pet goats. He asked me what to do. I said, "Hide them." Of course, I also told him to have good biosecurity. He never got back in touch. I hope that he took my advice.
The situation was a real problem and a public relations disaster for the Government. That is where I disagree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). We should not run our approach on scientific grounds alone. If we had culled Phoenix the calfI am sure that it would have been done only for scientific reasonspublic support for Government policy on culling would have disappeared. That would have had more effect on getting on top of the disease than saving one calf.
Mrs. Browning: Constituents of mine also owned two goats that were saved. Much as I sympathised with the fact that they were pets and lovely animals, I believed that it was right for them to be subjected to a blood test. If they had tested positive, they would have been just as
I shall support the Bill's Second Reading, as the alternative is not to give the Government powers to vaccinate compulsorily and to grant compensation. That will be the way forward in any future outbreak.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who made by far the best speech in favour of the Bill that we have heard tonight, although I am sure that the Under-Secretary will make up for that. He was right to point out that the Bill gives powers for vaccination that the Minister does not currently have, and powers for a cull following vaccination that are not currently in place. The scenario might, therefore, be less optimistic than he and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) hope.
My party and I oppose the Bill not on principle, because we have much sympathy with what the Government are trying to do, but on the practicalities of the way in which it was put together. It is poorly drafted and badly thought out. A lack of consultation with the farming industry and the devolved Assemblies and Parliament in the United Kingdom is obvious. The Secretary of State's attempts to spin the matter and say that there would be plenty of consultation on the secondary legislation have been undermined by the fact that the Government are seeking to impose a guillotine on consideration of the Bill. Not only is it being rushed through Second Reading, but we are also to have a programme motion on the rest of its passage. If the Government were serious about the process of consultation, we would not impose such a motion on the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading, but allow the Bill a natural progression through the House with plenty of time for the debate that the Government say they want.
Another matter is relevant in questioning why the Bill has been introduced so quickly. In the past, the House has been told many times about contingency plans for foot and mouth. We were told about the buying up of supplies, including wood, railway sleepers and so on. The Government said, "Of course these things happen, because they are contingency plans." We were told that regular contingency planning occurred. We accepted it, as it was the right way forward: such planning should occur. However, why has that planning, which has occurred under Labour and Conservative Governments since 1981, failed to identify any weakness in legislation? If the contingency planning was proper and thoroughsome speakers have suggested that it may not have beenany weaknesses in legislation would have been revealed and we could have dealt with the matter at our leisure.
Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister for making that point. I partly accept it, but surely it reinforces the view that there was a need at least to consider the results of his own three inquiries before introducing the legislation. Perhaps a full public inquiry would take too much time, but his inquiry on the lessons to be learned should have been reported first and foremost, before such legislation was introduced.
In that context, it has been very disappointing not to have the opportunity fully to consult the National Assembly for Wales, which was partially responsible for dealing with the outbreak in Wales, or the other devolved institutions. The farming unions have not yet been consulted fully on the matter. The handling of foot and mouth in Wales revealed defects in the way in which animal health was dealt with there and a need to tighten up the regime. I regret to say, however, that the Bill does not remedy those defects. The handling of foot and mouth in Wales was characterised by confusion. The National Assembly for Wales is, of course, responsible for agriculture in Wales, but DEFRA has responsibility for animal health, as MAFF did previously. However, the matter is still not clear, as some sections of the Animal Health Act 1981especially section 86are devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, which looks after animal health in relation to brucellosis and tuberculosis.
We therefore have a mismatch and must deal with the confusion that arises from it. Some of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlisle and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) with regard to the lack of local decision making were exacerbated in Wales by the fact that there were two decision-making processesone in the National Assembly for Wales and one in the Ministry. Very often, neither knew what the other was doing and there was disagreement about how the process should be conducted in Wales. Hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies will know that that is the case from having received phone calls about confusion in the farming community and a lack of clear planning on how to take the matter forward.
It is also wrong to introduce the Bill without the House having had the full benefit at least of the three separate strands that the Government have established, even if not of a public inquiry. I and my party remain convinced that we need an independent public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak and into how we can learn from it. The Under-Secretary's statement in his intervention that the outbreak was probably the worst in the world underlined the need for such an inquiry; nevertheless, in the meantime, we certainly need to see what the Government themselves have to say.
Before we consider introducing any further legislation, we need to consider the real lessons of foot and mouth disease, such as those that are known to us already without the benefit of a public inquiry, and, indeed, without any other inquiry having reported.
First, it has been stated forcefully, especially by Professor Mark Woolhouse in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that if the Government had acted more quickly and there had been no three-day delay in banning animal movements, the scale of the epidemic would have been lessened by between a third and a half. He estimates that we could have saved £1 billion, and 3 million animals would not have been slaughtered. I accept that that is only one person's scientific view, but it is interesting to note that the need to ban animal movements immediately is the first or second recommendation of the Devon inquiry.
The Government are not necessarily to blame for the delay because there was confusion on all sides at the time of the outbreak. However, if they want more powers to enforce biosecurity, it is right for us and the farming community to ask them to take further administrative steps to ensure that they do not repeat their mistakes. The question of whether to pay farmers' compensation in the light of poor biosecurity can be turned on its head: what would the Government do if they dithered in the unfortunate case of any future outbreak of foot and mouth?
The buck cannot be passed to the farming community. There is blame on all sides. The Bill covers the few farmers whose biosecurity may have been poor and the few who may even have flouted the regulations. A series of draconian measures are based on that. I am unconvinced about whether we need them. We can make a similar link with imports, which many hon. Members have mentioned. I shall not reiterate their points.
Secondly, let us consider vaccination and the cull policy. We were told again tonight that the Government always had an open mind on vaccinationbut they never acted. When the chief veterinary officer, Jim Scudamore, gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this week, he said that the policy on vaccination was "certainly not a success". He also pointed out that the Dutch had used vaccination.
Has culling worked? The Under-Secretary revealed that of the 103 farms that legally challenged the cull, foot and mouth had developed on only eight. I am sure that that is eight more than the Under-Secretary wants, but the figures show that many farmers had a genuine reason for challenging the cull on their farms. More than 90 farmers were right to do that, yet the Bill will remove the right to challenge.
In a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on 7 November at column 299 of Hansard, the number of infected premises in Wales was given as 107. We were told that 94 premises were tested, of which 54 tested positive. That suggests that approximately half did not carry foot and mouth disease. Yet, 304,847 sheep were slaughtered in Wales. We must therefore ask whether culling worked and whether enough consideration was given to vaccination.
A convincing case has been made that, economically, vaccination would have been more effective for farming: whether it would have been more effective against foot and mouth remains an open question, which I hope the Under-Secretary will answer, if not later tonight, then after the conference that he mentioned.