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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman asked me so many questions that I am not entirely sure that I can reply to every single one—[Interruption.] Let us not get into a master class on how to be in opposition. He asked me first about the issue of spot checks. I do not recall his precise wording, but I think that he was referring to personal imports and checks at airports. I am not sure that his figures were correct, but even if they were, they were not, if I may say so, particularly relevant.

The hon. Gentleman will find when he has a chance to study the report at more length—I fully appreciate that neither he nor other hon. Members will have had the opportunity to do so—that Dr. Anderson makes plain that it is widely believed that, in so far as an illegal import might have been the source of the original material that caused the disease to enter this country, that is most unlikely because of the chance of its coming into contact with animals. The source is much more likely to have been some commercial import. Of course, very thorough and very many more checks are carried out on commercial imports—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members squawking about what they think; I suggest that they look at the report. Dr. Anderson makes it very plain that there are thorough checks, and details the nature of those checks and what they uncover.

Secondly, it is total nonsense to talk about us wrangling with Customs and Excise. We are in fact in close communication with the range of other officials who have the responsibilities in the field. We are awaiting the outcome of the risk assessment on the handling of imports, and we anticipate that when it comes in it will give us some recommendations on how we can even more improve our contacts.

The hon. Gentleman then talked about reviewing the contingency plans. He quoted rather selectively—inevitably, I suppose. He said, quite correctly, that Dr. Anderson stated that he and his team did not find comprehensive contingency plans in place. However, Dr. Anderson went on to point out that the contingency plans that were in place

Opposition Members have frequently alleged that there were no contingency plans. That is nonsense; there were contingency plans. They were not adequate to deal with the outbreak that hit us, but then nobody thought that they would have been.

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The hon. Gentleman talked about why concerns expressed by the chief veterinary officer were not followed up. If the hon. Gentleman has been following that issue in the report, he must know that those concerns were shared internally in the veterinary service but not communicated to Ministers or the permanent secretary. I do not say that as any criticism. Although the issue was of concern, there were a range of other concerns and priorities on the mind of the state veterinary service at that time. I think not least of the outbreak that we had just had of classical swine fever, which tied up 80 per cent. of the resources of the veterinary service only a matter of weeks before the immediate crisis hit us.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we did not impose a ban on day one. I have explained that, had we done so, it might have made some difference to the degree to which the disease spread—although no one could quantify that. I deliberately shared with the House Dr. Anderson's specific wording in identifying—the facts very clearly show—that there is no question whatever but that the disease had spread so far before the first case was spotted, never mind confirmed, that such a ban would have made no difference in the end to the fact that Britain was bound to face a dramatic and terrible outbreak.

The hon. Gentleman asked about responsibility for management information. Of course Ministers accept—it is why I said this in my response to the report—responsibility for management information. We also accept that there is a need for much improved IT and services in the Department. I bid for that in the recent comprehensive spending round, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that it was not something that anybody found when they took over the Department in 1997. So let us have a little less lecturing about the state of the Government machine from those who were in charge of it for 20 years. Indeed, with regard to the scientific outcome, Sir Brian Follett talks in his report about the problems that have been caused and suggests that significantly increased funding of research is needed to restore some of the cuts of the past 20 years.

The hon. Gentleman made three particular points to which I should now like to turn. First, on the Army, there is one thing that Opposition Members may not have had the chance to take on board and which I would like to make plain to them: Dr. Anderson considers with care the suggestions so often repeated, not least in this House, that anybody who looked at the Northumberland report would have known that the Army had to be brought in straight away. That is not true; what the Northumberland report says—indeed, I have pointed this out to Opposition Members before—is that when the capacity of civilian labour to dig the holes and make other preparations is exhausted, it will be time to call in the Army. The Army made it plain—I think that there were some colourful quotes from Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle—that one can get from the Yellow Pages people who can do such things. What the Army of today can provide is the logistical support and expertise in providing such support on the ground, especially to deal with carcases.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman made a remark—again, I accept that he cannot know that he has, to some extent, given the House a quotation that does not apply in the way in which he sought to use it—about the wording that Dr. Anderson used with regard to a sense of panic breaking out. Those are Dr. Anderson's words. I was slightly surprised to hear that, because that was not my

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impression and it has not been confirmed to me by any of the observations that I have heard, from people at a range of levels in dealing with the crisis, related to the centre. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) will contain himself, I can say that I have asked Dr. Anderson what he means, and he has told me that, on the ground, he encountered junior officials, people in the control centres and so on—[Interruption.] I am not blaming anybody; hon. Members should contain themselves. I am simply explaining what Dr. Anderson meant—so he tells me and hon. Members are free to ask him—in making the comment that the hon. Gentleman quoted. I can understand his making the assumption that Dr. Anderson wanted it to apply to the centre, but that is not what Dr. Anderson is saying. He is saying that on the ground, as the scale and scope of the disease became apparent, there were considerable difficulties and indeed problems.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman drew attention to what he believed was the key issue: the electoral impact and the reason for the decisions that the Government made. I should like to refer the House to what Dr. Anderson explicitly says on page 102 of his report, in paragraph 11.2:

Again, I quote:

[Interruption.] I have not finished the quote:

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Lessons must be learned and this time they must be learned well, not because of the scandalous waste of public money or even the unnecessary culling of so many perfectly healthy animals, but because of the human misery that we all saw throughout the country. Farmers committed suicide, families were broken up, small businesses were lost and people suffered the emotional trauma of seeing their life's work destroyed before their very eyes.

It has to be said that the crisis had its genesis not very recently, but in the 1980s, when complacency set in. The state veterinary service was run down, MAFF offices were closed and valuable research projects were cancelled. But many mistakes were made last year and, although the Secretary of State cherry-picked some of the quotations in her statement, the overall thrust of the report is one of considerable criticism of many of the shortcomings that it exposes. It will require considered reading by those inside and outside the House to ensure that this time the lessons are truly learned. Will the Secretary of State ensure that this time those lessons are not eroded by the passage of time and that no complacency sets in?

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that contingency plans are robust and that resources are made available, not only now, but next year and in the coming years? Will she ensure that those plans are properly rehearsed and constantly updated to reflect changes in risk, because it is clear that risk factors changed enormously and that the plans failed to keep up to date? Will she make those final contingency plans available to Parliament and ask Dr. Anderson to provide an overview so that we may

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have the benefit of his experience and expertise? None of us wishes ever again to experience a crisis on the scale of last year, nor to see in our constituencies the human misery that was experienced by so many people, and for which so many are still paying the cost.

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