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6 Nov 2002 : Column 295—continued

Mr. James Paice (South-West Cambridgeshire): May I congratulate the Minister on her statement that it is impossible to guarantee that any situation is 100 per cent. risk free? I hope that that heralds a change in attitude for the whole Government because it would

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save the House a tremendous amount of time legislating. Given that that is the case, as she rightly says, may I emphasise to her that whether there are labels on carousels in terminal 2 is actually a small point, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) was right to make it? However, countless travellers, including myself and some of her hon. Friends, who flew into Heathrow direct from central Africa about three weeks ago not only did not see any notice, but did not even see a Customs officer when we went through Customs control. There was no way that anyone would have been able to stop or deal with us if one of us had been transgressing. May I also repeat the point that was made earlier—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal) : Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to be brief?

Mr. Paice : Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I simply want to reinforce the point about the number of officers required to police our efforts: #1.5 million is very welcome, but the right hon. Lady knows that it is not a large number when translated into people. We need to match what other countries have in terms of the number people policing imports into our country.

Margaret Beckett : The hon. Gentleman may not have seen the information or the warnings, but I reiterate that our embassies and consulates have been giving out warnings, particularly to people applying for visas. We have been pressing the airlines to use some of the material that we are producing. Very recently, I received an e-mail from west Africa from someone saying, XCongratulations. I have just come through the airport"—wherever it was—Xand seen the right kind of warnings. It is about time, and it never happened before."

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question about why he did not see any Customs officers when he last came through the airport, but may I observe, without prejudice, that, of course, the fact that he could not see them does not mean that they could not see him?

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Secretary of State has made it clear that, in the event of a major outbreak, there will be no blanket closure of footpaths. Is not one of the important lessons to be learned the value of visitors to the countryside in terms of their contribution to the local rural economy? Against that background, will she quicken her efforts to switch payments to farmers from subsidises on production to payments to farmers who lift the landscape, enhance the environment and encourage visitors into the countryside?

Margaret Beckett : My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the fact that the outbreak brought home to people the value of access to the countryside and the contribution that visitors make to the countryside, but it brought home to a lot of people just how much they valued their access, and there was a welcome resurgence of visits to the English countryside and tourism spots in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asks whether I can quicken the process. I do not know about that, but I assure him that we are pursuing CAP reform with all the vigour at

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our command. Although I have not seen the assessment on which the figure is based, I recently heard the chief executive of the Environment Agency observe that, in her judgment, it was possible that farmers were contributing environmental benefit and improvement to our economy to the tune of some #900 million, and that they were not being reimbursed for it.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): What is the Secretary of State doing about Dr. Anderson's recommendation that there should be research into compensation for communities where mass burial has taken place? What is she doing to dispel the impression that, although the authorities could find Widdrington in my constituency pretty quickly when they had more than 100,000 carcases to bury, they are not sure where it is now?

Margaret Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that Dr. Anderson suggested that we research the issue of compensation, although I believe that that was in international context. Some work on that is being undertaken.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): As a fellow Derbyshire MP, my right hon. Friend will know that High Peak escaped the direct effects of foot and mouth, but that there were indirect effects on farming and tourism. As a result, the measures that she has announced today, especially those to do with rights of way, will be welcome. I talk to my farmers regularly. They have expressed concerns about the 20-day standstill, but I believe that they know in their hearts why that is necessary, and why the industry is being asked to play its part.

However, other hon. Members will recognise the message that my farmers give to me, which is that the restrictions on imports—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get to the point of his question.

Mr. Levitt : Is there not a political imperative to ensure that imports are controlled—and seen to be so—as well as to put in place the practical imperatives that my right hon. Friend has described?

Margaret Beckett : I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend expresses. It will be interesting to see what the risk assessment on this issue produces, although I am pretty confident that it will say that illegal imports pose a risk. However, we shall have to see what balance should be struck between personal imports and bulk imports made illegally. One feels a natural revulsion at many of the personal imports that one hears about, and the introduction of the new procedures has increased protection. However, there are questions about how easy it is for a personal import of that sort to get so far that it is likely to be in contact with a susceptible animal. Illegal bulk imports are perhaps a greater risk, but I have not seen the result of the risk assessment, and that is exactly the sort of issue that it must address.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Given the comments made by Sir Brian Follett to the Select Committee, will the Secretary of State say what work is to be done to

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improve understanding of the pathways of disease spread for diseases such as foot and mouth? That understanding is needed if we are to develop better on-farm biosecurity measures. Also, what is the right hon. Lady doing to deal with the fact that Britain still faces a threat from diseases such as West Isle fever, another problem pointed out by Sir Brian? What is being done to counter other major threats of animal disease?

Margaret Beckett : First, consideration of such matters is very much part of the animal health strategy. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I must say that I had no idea of the range of diseases to which animals are prone until I had the good fortune to occupy this post. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned Sir Brian Follett's recommendations about studies of disease, a matter that I touched on in my opening remarks. Our new chief scientific adviser, with the assistance of the new board appointed to support him, is undertaking a thorough review of all the Department's work. That will involve a thorough reassessment of priorities, and the right hon. Gentleman has identified exactly the sort of matter that will be looked at.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): The Secretary of State will know that the independent inquiries held in Cumbria and Northumberland made some important recommendations based on experience on the front line. Why will she not give a formal response to those reports?

Margaret Beckett: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, we gave a broad general response. Certainly those reports were fed in and enlightened the course of the other inquiries. It is just not possible to go through all the inquiries in the degree of detail that would be required.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the assessment that she is making of the 20-day rule for animal movements? Will that assessment take into account alternative strategies, particularly, for example, thorough animal movement recording as an alternative to the 20-day rule, which is very injurious to farmers in my constituency in west Wales?

Buried in the back of the document is a reference to the Government's response to lessons learned no. 37 in which the right hon. Lady says that she is in discussion with the National Assembly for Wales regarding the devolution of further powers on animals to the National Assembly. Will she support such moves if they prove to be equally or more efficacious than the present situation?

Margaret Beckett: On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, all I can say is that the discussion continues, but it is a very cordial one. On the 20-day rule, I am not carrying out the assessment—it is being carried out by the relevant bodies which are considering what alternatives could provide reassurance.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Can the Secretary of State give the House regular updates on vaccination? I think that she said that it may be at least 18 months

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before a vaccination is available, but we would like to know what progress is being made on testing the vaccines.

On the 20-day standstill period, notwithstanding what she has said and what the two reports recommended, she will know that there will be huge disappointment among livestock farmers that there appears to be no progress on this. When will the risk analysis and the cost-benefit analysis be concluded? Livestock farmers need some certainty because they have to plan their businesses too.

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