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Mr. Todd: The long list of organisations with which DEFRA is consulting highlights one of the difficulties of dealing with this subject. There are many hands involved and, in a typically English style, we do not co-ordinate them very well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) put the issues in perspective. When one looks at the contiguous cull, which is a disease-control measure, there must be a balance in relation to the associated risks. We took special cases into account in the contiguous cull under the present arrangements, with appeals to the district veterinary managers. There is no reason why we cannot do that in future, and no reason why we cannot strengthen the procedures and make them clearer to understand. We can consult on that.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred to the gap between policy and application, and identified problems of local decision making that did not fit into the national context. The Government set up the joint co-ordinating committee to bring together all the different agencies and organisations, as well as having the COBRA committee which met weekly. However, we are not saying that mistakes were not made or that improvements cannot be made for the future. Those matters will be addressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) warned me about taking advice from officials; when it comes to advice, I always listen carefully to what he has to say. Understandably, he was concerned about the culling of pet farm animals and susceptible animals such as llamas. Pet farm animals such as goats, llamas or pigs can get the disease. In that respect, we must have measures that apply to all animals that can spread the diseases. I recognise that there are sensitivities about pets and sanctuaries. We will take those into account in the guidance that we give our district veterinary managers and in drawing up potential exemptions. However, that will have to be based on veterinary advice in relation to disease control. We cannot give automatic exemptions.
The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) referred to the speed of response, and to the interesting idea of taking a second opinion of available vets in relation to an appeal. I am happy to look at that proposal in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) supported the Bill, but was cautious. I understand the points that he made and I am sure that they can be addressed. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) mentioned the need for flexibility and a pragmatic approach. She also mentioned vaccinationa point that will be addressedand emphasised the need to be guided by good science. I absolutely accept that. She asked what measures would be taken about sheep's milk should BSE be detected. BSE in sheep would spread via different pathways from BSE in cattle. That is why a sub-committee of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee expressed concern. I will write to her about that in further detail.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): The Minister rightly talks about good science. Will he confirm that Sir Brian Follett's inquiry at the Royal Society will examine the possible effects of vaccination on foot and mouth disease?
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) raised local problems as a Cumbrian Member. I want to put on record my thanks for the major role that he played in identifying problems in the area. He brought them to the Government's attention so that action could be taken to rectify them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) gave a clear example of how the contiguous cull can be effective, and was so in his constituency. Of course there were practical problems, as he said. He sought an assurance that we would not rule out a "vaccinate to live" policy. I am happy to give him that. We will almost certainly consider pursuing such a policy. He, too, asked about pet farm animals and sanctuaries. I repeat that we will be sensitive about that. He asked whether such animals could be vaccinated, and of course we can consider that.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) asked about not ruling out any particular option. Again, I am happy to give him an assurance on that. He also spoke about a scrapie timetable. That is an important point. We have had discussions with the sheep organisations.
Malcolm Bruce: The Minister is being very reasonable and saying that he can deal with all the issues that have been raised, but the Bill is to go through the House in three weeks. Can he honestly say that all those issues can be dealt with in that time scale? Is that reasonable?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke about the many myths that have appeared during the outbreak and about the role of dealers. He also made the important point that, of course, many things went wrongmost of them have been highlighted in this debatebut that many things went right as well. We should not forget that in relation to lessons learned. He also spoke about bovine TB, which I accept is an important issue.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) was concerned about some of the details regarding bush meat. To my knowledge, we are the first Government who have arrested and jailed people for importing bush meat. We take these issues seriously.
Much of the debate has been about the principle of culling. Let me make it clear that the Bill is about more than that. Ideally, nobody wants animals ever again to be culled here on the scale that has been necessary in this outbreak. That is all the more reason why, if we are to have culling, it must be done speedily and effectively.
In response to points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and others, of course we are all concerned about culling animals. The Government want to minimise the number of animals culled. The measures in the Bill mean that, by taking quicker and more effective action, fewer animals will be affected.
We have consulted on the scrapie proposals in some detail. I discussed the matter with a stakeholder group last Friday and we had a good response to our attempts to deal with what is a serious issue. We will consult on the biosecurity assessments and there is no reason why we cannot do so in parallel with the Bill. Many hon. Members have raised the issue of the contiguous culling procedures, and we can consult on those. We can also consult in parallel with the Bill on the details of the local appeals, how they can be made and what exemptions will exist. We also have a timetable for the scrapie plan, which we have already started to discuss with the National Sheep Association and the NFU.
Mr. Morley: We will look at how the National Assembly for Wales deals with these measures. We have worked closely and effectively with the National Assembly and it has had much autonomy in its handling of the outbreak. We will look to learn the lessons from that for all the devolution arrangements for disease control handling, and I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.
We need to seek consensus whenever possible, and I accept that in relation to the points that hon. Members have made. However, many people who oppose the measures in the Bill actually oppose the whole principle of contiguous culling, despite the fact that two independent scientific reports demonstrate how important it is, and despite the experience of the Brecon Beacons. Until contiguous culling was started, we were just chasing the disease. The programme of taking blood samples, waiting for the results and then moving on did not work until the contiguous cull was introduced. I do not want widespread culling and we can and will look for alternatives, but I am convinced that contiguous culling worked and all the evidence supports that.
There will always be a minority who refuse to co-operate because they do not accept the need for culling. There have been organised campaigns to try to resist the cull, but our vets are convinced that the disease has spread further because of the delay caused by appeals. Culling is not the only issue. On serology, we have had farmers refusing to allow staff on to farms to take blood samples so that restrictions on certain areas can be lifted. For example, there was a 14-day delay in Devon, and delays in other parts of the country happened because people refused to co-operate. The measures would mean speedier arrangements for blood testing and, should we introduce it, vaccination.
A minority of farmers were involved in poor biosecurity and subsequent spread of disease, but after all the publicity about the need for good biosecurity, I was disappointed that 400 people in the Thirsk blue box were cautioned. Speed of decision making is important in culling programmes and I accept that DEFRA has issues to address on that point as well. The problem is not only the people who resist the cull.
Hon. Members mentioned local vets who worked for DEFRA as veterinary inspectors, and we much appreciated their input and comments. However, speed of culling is essential. Some 45 per cent. of all outbreaks in the disease were within 1 to 2 km of the initial outbreak and 60 per cent. of all outbreaks were within 1 to 3 km. We want not a penalty for farmers who do not have good biosecurity but an incentive for all farmers to ensure that they concentrate on their actions in the future. I accept the need for the measures to be proportionate, reasonable, fair and transparent. I also accept the need to