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6 Nov 2002 : Column 324—continued

Mr. Wiggin: I am in a quandary because I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). I welcome the Lords amendment to a part of the Bill that initially gave the Minister the right to slaughter anything he felt like slaughtering. Indeed, the Minister defended that admirably in Committee, despite our protestations. However, the current emphasis on Xvaccinate to live" is the right line to take. Vaccination is right. Unfortunately, the Government's amendment does not seem to put a strong emphasis on vaccination to live. Instead, they revert to previous arguments about what they would do to prevent the spread of disease. I have no objection to the Government wanting to prevent the spread of disease; that is entirely laudable and their right. However, they have missed the point of the Lords amendment: the vaccination policy puts the emphasis on the right to live.

The provision would make a difference because the vaccinate-to-live policy would apply to animals that were not infected or that had not been in contact with infected animals. The Lords amendment is sensible and helpful. The Government's proposals fail to incorporate the laudable parts of the Lords amendment, which is a great shame. Last year, there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the state of Rio Grande du Sol in Brazil and all bovine animals in the region were vaccinated. Thirty days after completion of the programme, the European Commission lifted its previous ban on meat imports from the area.

Vaccination is getting better and better. It is laudable and offers the right way forward. The Government's proposals miss the point of a helpful amendment from the other place. I hope that the Minister will stop living in the nightmare of the past and that he will grasp the potential for more and better vaccination to live.

Mr. Drew : One point that has not yet been made is that one reason for keeping animals alive is to sell them.

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I am worried about whether there would be a market for vaccinated animals. As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) pointed out, if we do not carry out prophylactic vaccination, there will be unvaccinated animals. Might not that problem undermine the proposal?

Mr. Wiggin: That is not a problem. We face problems with vaccination in our own lives every day. I have a one-year-old daughter and I am going through the MMR vaccine dilemma. We all have to live with such things. We are constantly told that the technology is improving. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but there is no problem because foot and mouth disease would not pass into the food chain through vaccinated animals.

I hope that the Minister will bear my comments in mind and that, if the technology exists, he will implement the positive sentiment that he expressed in his speech and that the Government will not retreat behind a policy of slaughtering to prevent the spread of disease when they could be vaccinating against a threat from abroad, even if there was no threat in this country.

A vaccinate-to-live policy offers huge opportunities, and the Government are failing to grasp that helpful olive branch.

Mr. Morley: I welcome the hon. Members for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and for St. Ives (Andrew George) to their new roles and responsibilities for their respective parties. There have been some useful and thoughtful contributions to the debate. Several Members spoke with some authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) was a strong and consistent advocate of vaccination throughout the recent outbreak. Like many Members who spoke, he had firsthand experience of it. He pointed out that the Government's changing response was significant in dealing with some of the problems that arose during the outbreak, especially in Cumbria.

One claim that has come up time and again is that the Bill is all about culling. It is not. My hon. Friend is right to point that out. During the last outbreak, a minority of people objected strongly to the contiguous cull and there were many appeals to the district veterinary manager, many hundreds of which were upheld, according to circumstances.

If we moved to emergency vaccination, however, there would also be a minority of people who would not wave flags when they saw the vaccination teams coming down the road. A minority would vociferously resist vaccination for all sorts of reasons. My hon. Friend is right about that.

Mr. Drew: As I pointed out earlier, I am worried about how far it will be possible or practical to build a consensus. The farming industry is so differentiated that some people will vaccinate come what may, while others will do everything possible to avoid vaccination. What strategy does my hon. Friend anticipate to cope with those different forces?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) referred to the disagreement about the vaccination strategy. That must be resolved both by addressing

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some of the technical issues that were raised by hon. Members and by engaging the food and livestock industries in the debate. Many of the problems can be resolved, but we must do so at present while we are developing animal health strategies and reviewing our contingency plans. We should deal with the issues in a cool and calculated way rather than in the middle of an epidemic.

Mr. Martlew: Are those negotiations taking place? Are the Government talking to the NFU and the food industry? Have there been any discussions about compensation if the value of meat and milk from vaccinated animals is less than it would be from those that had not been vaccinated?

Mr. Morley: We are talking to industry groups about all the issues: We set up a stakeholder group that was active throughout the epidemic and successfully gave all interested parties in the livestock industry the opportunity to discuss the issues with Ministers, the chief vet and Government scientists. My hon. Friend's last point is difficult for the Government to address, not least because it has been agreed to use vaccination in a range of cases. There is no reason that the vaccinated product should not go into the food chain. That was certainly agreed by the Food Standards Agency during the outbreak.

6 pm

Paul Flynn : Is not the objection to eating meat that has been subject to vaccination an irrational and unscientific one? The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said that he had had a bumper bundle of vaccines. The difference is that no one is planning to eat him; even in the Conservative party, cannibalism has been ruled out. However, there is a feeling that many shoppers might object. During the foot and mouth epidemic, the result of the virtual collapse of the flow of meat from British farms was that more meat, much of which had already been vaccinated, was sucked in from overseas? Will the Department campaign to ensure that the fear of vaccinated meat is removed?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. It is ironic that when vaccination was being considered during the epidemic, some of the product that came into this country to make up the shortfall was vaccinated. Consumers are not concerned about vaccination as long as it has been demonstrated to be safe, and as long as bodies such as the Food Standards Agency have looked into it in some detail.

Mr. Drew: Is my hon. Friend talking to the milk industry about the impact of vaccinating cattle for other diseases, as we may be faced with the same question in relation to bovine TB? Will he say something about that matter, as it will become an issue in addition to whether people eat the meat?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. We are trying to develop a vaccine against TB and I hope that we make the breakthrough. We are committing resources to that and it is one of the criteria within the terms of reference of the independent scientific group. He is right that if we

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use vaccination, we must reassure people that its use is safe. That will be part of the vaccine development and I have no doubt that the issue will be addressed.

Mr. Wiggin: At the moment, TB vaccine is about 60 per cent. effective. What target is he looking for before the vaccine is introduced? I believe that #60 million has gone into TB research, of which #1.6 million has gone into bovine TB. What will the target be?

Mr. Morley: The vaccine certainly will need to be a lot more effective but a considerable amount of work is yet to be done. Scientists are confident that it is possible to develop a vaccine for bovine TB. The difficulty is the time scale. However, a vaccine is our avowed objective and we are proceeding with it.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said that balance was important in terms of vaccination. That is where amendment No. 1 from the other place and the Liberal Democrat amendment are flawed, as they restrict the Government and are open to arguments of interpretation. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) wondered who would interpret and decide on these matters, but his answer was a little vague. That is exactly where one can start to get into difficulties.

I understood the point raised by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon about Sir Brian Follett. We have set up a scientific advisory group chaired by the Department's new chief scientist. That gives us an opportunity to bring in a range of opinions on taking things forward. There should be periodic reports on progress, as we want to be as open and transparent as possible.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon and the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) are right that there are still issues to be resolved. The issue of vaccination is not simple and a range of criteria must be taken into account. They referred to hill sheep and the problem of getting them down and vaccinating them. There is also the risk of stress for the animals, which can have all sorts of problems.

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