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6 Nov 2002 : Column 289—continued

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman asked how long we thought the study on vaccination would take. I believe that Sir Brian Follett thought that it would be at least 18 months before we could get an assessment of what progress we could make. As to how that relates to the new directive, I have already sent Commissioner Byrne a copy of the Government's response, and drawn to his attention this particular aspect of it so as to encourage discussion of the matter in the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the freedom of local decision making. I accept that concerns were raised about that in some circumstances, although it is not my recollection that it was a major concern. We believe that the process of discussion and trial of the contingency plans that we are now developing will clarify some of those issues and help us to resolve them, so as to obtain the best balance between consistent decision making, which will tackle disease, and decision making where it is most effective.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about how much of the document is devoted to communications; I remind him that a lot of the inquiry report is devoted to communications. That relates, in part at least, to his point about freedom of local decision, which is regarded as a key issue that the Government should address.

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The hon. Gentleman suggests that what the Government have done so far is belated and has made little difference. I take his point about the fact that travellers coming to and through the UK, particularly returning British travellers, perhaps do not all see some of the evidence, but I can tell him from my own observations that it is certainly the case that there is a great deal more publicity today than hitherto. It is also the case that, over the summer, the Government ran a publicity campaign entitled XDon't bring back more than you bargained for", and there is action through our embassies to ensure that people who apply for visas are given advice.

I have already mentioned our lobbying of the Commission to ensure that bringing in personal imports is now prohibited, and we have increased and are increasing funding at a number of ports to try to encourage enforcement as well as much more effective intelligence sharing on those issues. However, may I remind the hon. Gentleman that, if I recall correctly, the Select Committee suggested that it was reasonably impressed by the speed with which the Government acted on that front?

The hon. Gentleman also talked about movements, but I am not entirely sure what is his position and that of his party. I accept that there is a delicate balance to be struck, so I am not being entirely critical, although he is rather asking for it. The fact is that the inquiry reports both said that the 20-day rule should stay in place unless and until the Government have a detailed risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. I accept that everybody would like to have them the day after tomorrow, but, if they are to be detailed, thorough and pertinent, we have—[Interruption.] We commissioned the work immediately, contrary to the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We must carry out a proper assessment.

I understand that Sir Brian Follett, for example, said as late as yesterday evening that there is a need for quarantine stops. I know that this is a matter of concern to the industry—I understand and accept that—and we did and we shall consider it as sympathetically as we can, but we cannot ignore either the scientific and veterinary advice or, indeed, the advice of both reports on which I am replying to the House.

There is a working party on valuation and disease insurance, which is discussing those matters with the industry, although it is in its early stages. Exactly the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised on the balance between a more standard approach to valuation, which has been the subject of some criticism, and recognising the needs of particular herds and flocks are being considered.

Andrew George (St. Ives): I, too, am grateful for the courtesy of having advance notice of the statement and the background document. We regret the Government's failure to hold a public inquiry, as they may have found it a good opportunity to test for the existence of a human disease that was running in parallel with foot and mouth. I refer, of course, to benefit of hindsight disease, the symptoms of which are brass neck and short-term memory loss. It is important that we move forward and consider ways of learning lessons from what was a tragic experience for the countryside.

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On that basis, I welcome the Government's concession on meat import controls and their acceptance, finally, of the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Animal Health Bill. However, what efforts will the Department make to ensure that the chances of illegal meat importation are measurably reduced? A number of questions have been asked already, but how do we measure those changes and improvements that the Government have committed themselves to achieving?

The Secretary of State said that the Government accept virtually all the Anderson report's detailed recommendations, but can she present the House with a timetable for implementing those recommendations? It is great to have the acceptance, but we need a clear indication of how long implementation will take. What action will she take to address the view expressed by Dr. Iain Anderson that

benefit the climate of decision taking?

What discussions has the Department had with the farming industry about the proposed review of the 20-day rule on movement restrictions? It would be good if the review was completed as quickly as possible. As the Secretary of State probably knows, anxiety is growing in the farming communities.

If the Department is considering farm insurance schemes to share the costs of any possible future outbreaks of animal disease, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the insurance industry? Is the proposal still under active consideration?

I note that the Secretary of State's friend Lord Haskins has been making his customary attacks on farmers. Will she tell us whether her Department has a genuine joined-up policy on food from plough to plate, given that farmers are receiving a decreasing proportion of the final consumer price? She must know that the British countryside will be turned over to prairie and ranch if Lord Haskins is let loose on the farming community. How many more thousands of farmers will be forced out of business before she and Lord Haskins are satisfied?

Margaret Beckett: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I was not sure what he meant by his first point, however. I must confess with deep sorrow that I do not precisely recall the detail of all the Liberal Democrat amendments to the Animal Health Bill, but if what the hon. Gentleman said about meat import controls related to imports for personal use, I must tell him that this is not a Government concession. We have discussed it, and have pressed the European Union to adopt it as an EU rule. We are delighted that the Commissioner has agreed that the present practice should stop.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the timetable for implementation. As he probably recalls, there are about 100 recommendations, and I cannot give a timetable for all of them. I can tell him, however, that when he has a chance to look through the detailed schedule containing the various recommendations and responses, he will gain an impression of where the balance lies. I can also tell him that the Department intends to establish a work

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programme to show how we are dealing with the different issues, some of which require international action and consultation.

The hon. Gentleman asked about reappraisal of attitudes and behaviours in the Department. A substantial programme of change is under way in DEFRA, and we are consulting other Government agencies such as the Office of Public Service Reform. That has been proceeding for some time.

We are indeed discussing the issue of animal movements with the farming industry. As I have said, we hope and expect to receive some interim indications by the end of the month. We will not have the full report before the new year, but we hope we shall have it in time to look at what the overall regime should be.

I cannot add much to what I have already said about insurance, but we should bear in mind that Lord Haskins is a farmer himself. I think he would strongly reject the notion that either of us wants to see British farming as a series of featureless prairies. I agree, however, that we must try to find ways of enabling the British farming community to secure a greater share of the wealth that accrues from the produce that they rear or grow. That is dealt with in the Curry report and in our response to it.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): As my right hon. Friend knows, the situation was dealt with much more quickly north of the border. That is because local authorities went into action speedily with emergency planning procedures. I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about local authorities; I hope she will impress on them the need for regular updates on contingency plans, and desktop exercises in relation to such procedures.

There is heavy emphasis on illegal imports. That problem worries us all, but Conservative Members seem to be suffering from selective amnesia. There was a combination of factors: there was an illegal import, but there was also a farmer who did not prepare swill properly. That should never be forgotten. May I also say that there has been a significant cost, not only in terms of heartbreak, but in terms of finance. We need to look at insurance. This is about plough to plate and the food chain. It is not about hobby farming, which cost us significantly in terms of compensation to many farmers.

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