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6 Nov 2002 : Column 396—continued

Mr. Hayes: The Minister says that he is committed to a national contingency plan, but, without being ungenerous, I must point out that there would not have been a provision for a national contingency plan, or an import clause or a biosecurity clause, in the Bill, were it not for the amendments tabled by Conservative—in particular—and Liberal Democrat peers during the course of the Bill through the other place and in Committee. If the Minister looks sceptical about that, I shall remind him that it was my noble Friend Baroness Byford who tabled a strategy amendment in Committee, thus facilitating those elements.

It is also important to point out, when considering the contingency plan, the nature of the plan that was in place when we endured the catastrophe of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. That plan had gaps, and it had not been shared or rehearsed outside the state veterinary service. Neither had it been tested. It was described by the Government's own report on the issue as follows:

Yet the Government's memo to the inquiry stated that

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The inquiry, however,

It found the plans to be limited in scope, out of date and not integrated into a national programme of rehearsal and testing. It also stated:

Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, who led the Army's handling of last year's outbreak, said that

That is what the soldier who led the exercise said, so it is right and proper that the Government have concluded, albeit belatedly, that we need a properly co-ordinated, cohesive national plan to deal with such outbreaks.

10.30 pm

The contingency plan for last year's outbreak was inadequate, but such planning is surely essential to limit the scale of animal disease outbreaks. The Lords are merely emphasising that and aiming for an extension in scope. That scope needs to be broad because, as the Minister has acknowledged, disease can be introduced to this country from other places.

Many diseases are rife. For example, we know that blue tongue disease is well established in the United States and other diseases are well established in parts of Europe. We need to be aware of them, as they could be introduced to this country. We certainly need a European and worldwide perspective on the incidence of those diseases; the likelihood of this country being affected by them; and how we would respond. The Lords simply ask for a three-yearly review of the worldwide incidence of each disease referred to in the measure, which I think the whole House would acknowledge is appropriate, and that that review be debated.

Members might argue that the review should be undertaken more frequently than every three years; I would certainly not want it to occur less frequently. Neither would I want, as the Minister suggested, to rely on existing practice rather than support what the Lords are trying to achieve, which is a more holistic perspective than that which the Government seem willing to adopt.

That is particularly important given what we have said about the volume and nature of illegal meat imports, which, in themselves, are potential sources of disease, and because more people are travelling. There is enormous growth in the number of visitors to this country and there are all sorts of increased risks of disease being introduced. The Anderson report says that we should be producing

Rather, we should put

That comment, which was referred to by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), lies at the heart of the need to draw up, implement and test an effective contingency plan.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I am sure he agrees that one

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problem when the foot and mouth outbreak hit was that so many people did not know what to do. One advantage to the Lords amendment is that the plan would have to be circulated to all the parties that could possibly help. That means that many more people would know exactly what to do, which would make the Government's job a lot easier.

Mr. Hayes: Part of such a national plan must be the dissemination of information in an easily accessible and comprehensible form. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that such information needs to be spread not just to those directly affected—people in the industry—but to all those who may have contact with livestock during their work or leisure activities. The more knowledge we can spread on risk and its avoidance, the more likely we are to avoid a catastrophe of the proportions that we unfortunately suffered in 2001.

It seems to me, however, that we need to go further even than my hon. Friend suggests. We need to expand training, education and public awareness. We certainly need to support research and animal disease diagnostics. We need to reinforce the links between the Government, local government, other agencies and the industry to deliver a co-ordinated response. We need to strengthen that network to deliver a co-ordinated approach and we need to develop and, perhaps most importantly, test emergency preparation and disaster recovery plans.

Part of the problem from which we suffered while enduring that disease and that epidemic was the inadequate testing of the plans that were in place. A disaster recovery plan needs to be not only tested, but dynamic and flexible enough to be changed and applied in ways appropriate to the local conditions, the particular nature of the disease and its progress.

The Government seem to have belatedly concluded that we need a contingency plan. They seem to have taken on board a number of suggestions made in Committee and in the other place. But they have yet to grasp fully the need for a wide-ranging contingency plan that will take full account of all the diseases that may affect our farmers and their livestock.

I believe that, in respect of both the international dimension and the dissemination of information, the Lords amendments are useful and helpful additions to the plan. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting them and rejecting the Minister's objections to them.

Mr. Morley: The part of Lords amendment No. 47 that we want to delete has been dealt with by our commitment in the Bill—approved by the House—in relation to vaccination.

We accept, and I have conceded, that our existing contingency plan was not adequate in the circumstances, but it is not true that it was not tested. One of the many myths that were circulated was that the Government were aware of the disease before it was reported. It started because one of our divisional officers was ringing around checking the prices of such things as timber, as part of a contingency exercise. Moreover, the plan was reviewed as recently as 2000 in connection with the European Union review. We accept, however, that all those reviews and tests were not adequate. We are therefore approaching the matter in a much more sophisticated way.

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We also accept that all contingency planning must be made public. Some Conservative Members were very critical of the Government when we made public our contingency plan for BSE in sheep. One or two of them said that it was a disgrace that we had put our plans into the public domain, because it might affect sheepmeat sales and upset the industry and consumers. [Interruption.] I have a long memory, and I assure Conservative Members that there was a great deal of criticism when we made the plan public. That is, however, the right thing to do. We also recently made public our contingency plan for blue tongue virus, so that people could comment, and we are committed to doing the same in regard to such issues in future.

Mr. Drew: Obviously, a national contingency plan is only as good as what can be done within the nation. I know that the point of such plans is the need to consider what is happening abroad, and I know about the OIE process of recognising diseases that are prevalent elsewhere, but this is all to do with intelligence, and I wonder about the extent to which we would share that openly. We must have some certainty that we can act before people do things that we would not want them to do.

Mr. Morley: I entirely agree. That is another aspect of the Lords' amendments to which I object. To be fair, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) recognised that a three-yearly review might not be appropriate—that the period might be too long. In fact, I have made it clear that in many cases it would be irrelevant. Legislation should not contain elements that, although well-meaning, are irrelevant and already covered by our responses—our response in the Bill, our commitment to making contingency plans public for consultation and our detailed response to independent inquiries, which we have also made public and made available to the House. In that respect, we accept the thrust of the arguments. We do not disagree with the comments that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made in relation to contingency planning and contingency arrangements, but they contradict his earlier point that contingency plans must be dynamic documents. We need to be able to respond and update them. In that sense, it is not appropriate to write contingency arrangements into the Bill as that makes it difficult to update and modernise them. When making primary legislation, it is important to be clear about its objectives, functions and role. Proper detailed contingency plans and arrangements can be made without writing them into the Bill because of the need for updating and flexibility, for involving people and for ensuring that there is proper contribution and comment.

For those reasons, I do not think that there is a great deal of disagreement among hon. Members. We all agree on the need for proper, detailed contingency planning. That commitment will be clear in the Bill, which has been amended during its passage through the House. I ask the House not to include in the Bill irrelevant, unworkable measures that cannot react to changing circumstances. That is not good legislation, nor was it the intention of the movers of the amendment,

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who I am sure were well-motivated. I therefore urge the House to reject it and to support the Government amendment.

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 164.

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