Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. Did you get any evidence besides the, one presumes, cause which you confirm, of the illegality which was initially involved, which obviously resulted in a court case? Did you get a feel for other aspects of illegality of what was going on certainly during the early period of time of the foot and mouth outbreak?
  (Dr Anderson) The illegality you refer to, Sir, is?

  21. Principally to do with animal movements and possibly deliberate spreading of foot and mouth once compensation schemes were locked into place.
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, we have had quite a number of representations made to us about that. We note in our report that in the very early hours—and I mean hours—of the declaration of the arrival of foot and mouth there was an unprecedented movement of animals. I guess that is one of the things you are referring to. You may also be referring to what we have learned is called "bed and breakfasting" and we have looked at that with great care because it was brought to our attention by many people as one of the contributory factors. I think it is clear that there is an incidence of that activity but our conclusion was, after a lot of thought and analysis, it was unlikely to have been a major source that contributed to the spread of the disease. That is the issue of bed and breakfasting. The illegal movements, of course, made a significant contribution in the very unusual circumstances of 2001 to the spread of the disease.

  22. Any evidence of deliberate spreading of the disease?
  (Dr Anderson) I have got none of deliberate spreading. We have been given a lot of anecdotes. Can I say on so many subjects we have been exposed to anecdotal accounts of improper behaviour of all kinds. I tried, and really tried meticulously, and many of the transcripts will reveal this to you should you decide to plough through them, and said, "These are very serious allegations you are making, if you have anything whatsoever other than what you are saying to me now that you can let me have, anything, I would be very pleased to receive it and use it and follow it through very carefully." I repeated that countless times around the country when faced with these anecdotal charges and on no single occasion has anybody written to me afterwards and sent me anything.

Diana Organ

  23. One of the results of the foot and mouth outbreak was the huge detrimental impact to the rural economy and particularly tourism, and one of the triggers for that was the blanket closure of footpaths so people physically could not go out into the country. You talked about the quality of information from outside the centre being poor, about decisions being made and nobody really knowing who was making the decision, and communications between people, and I wonder if we could talk a little bit about the decisions and what happened with the footpaths. You have said on page 64 of your report that there were meetings between the NFU and other stakeholders and dialogues between MAFF and Number 10. I wonder if you could tell me if those stakeholders at those meetings were people like representatives from Forest Enterprise, the National Parks, the National Trust, the Ramblers Association, the Countryside Agency, the tourist boards, the tourist industry and indeed from the Minister of Tourism, because that is in another department, the CMS? Were any of those stakeholders involved in those discussions about the blanket closure of footpaths?
  (Dr Anderson) I need to use my memory here and if necessary I will check our records on that, if you wish, to be absolutely precise on this important point. My memory is that those present were taking farming—
  (Mr Evans) If I may add, most of the people at those meetings were from MAFF and the decisions were taken by MAFF ministers. As you have observed, the department responsible for tourism and the department responsible for rural affairs were not present at those meetings.
  (Dr Anderson) That is what I was trying to say with more clarity.

  24. But the NFU were there.
  (Dr Anderson) The NFU was the primary external input at that time. They had a very high profile on that particular issue, as you know.

  25. So on that very important issue which led to millions being lost out of the rural economy and particularly the tourist economy, the decision was made essentially with pressure from the NFU and MAFF, not the other stakeholders who actually know about the tourist and rural economy and its dynamics?
  (Dr Anderson) I would like to comment on that, if I may, in two ways. One is that, as Alun Evans has just confirmed, that is a matter of fact as far as these discussions are concerned, however we have found nobody who had an interest in the wider countryside at that date, 27 February, who was arguing against the closure of footpaths. Indeed many—

  26. But did not the Countryside Agency make a statement on 2 March that there was going to be a huge impact on the rural economy? The Ramblers were saying to people not to go for walks but since they were not in the discussion about closure, the stakeholders' view was not really brought forward. What we had here was a view being put fairly strongly by the NFU and, as we know, many farmers do not like people walking along the footpaths across their land anyway.
  (Dr Anderson) I understand what you are getting at but may I take the example of the National Trust? They took their own initiative, they spoke strongly in support of this action and then later—and they discussed this with us when they came and they submitted written evidence—and it was after their support, after the closure, they realised the implications of this step and notwithstanding the fact they were advocating and acting in that way at the time, they have now very openly said to us they believe that was a mistake.

  27. What scientific and veterinary advice was taken by MAFF on this decision? With hindsight now many people say that the impact on the rural economy, the tourist economy, was so much greater than on the livestock economy, they would never do this again and it was a mistake to have the blanket closure of the footpaths. But to come to this decision, to take this draconian step, what scientific and veterinary advice was communicated on the decision?
  (Dr Anderson) I do not believe that scientific advice was taken into account in making that decision. I think there was an element of speculation here based on all the evidence I have that a large group of people, deeply concerned at the time, were basing their judgments on intuition, what they saw as commonsense, driven by fear of the unknown, supported pretty well by everybody and a decision taken. Two things happened with the passage of time and the consequences became clearer and clearer and time allowed for reflection on the scientific input and advice and later, as we know, a few weeks later in the course of the epidemic, it was then possible to bring to bear that scientific advice, which was in general that outside of infected areas there was not a risk to have people walking in the hillsides.

  28. Many of your submissions said afterwards, as you rightly pointed out, it was a mistake to have a blanket closure, but you did not put that as one of your recommendations and lesson to be learned. Why was that?
  (Dr Anderson) The lesson to be learned was, do not have a blanket closure.

  29. But you did not put that in your recommendations.
  (Dr Anderson) May I just remind myself what we said?

  30. What you said was from day one there should be provision and record of all decisions and actions to be taken; you said that stakeholders felt the blanket closure was a mistake. I could be wrong here, but having looked through the recommendations in Chapter 4, on pages 16, 17, 18, 19, there is not a recommendation from you, from Lessons to be Learned, that a blanket closure of footpaths should be avoided in future.
  (Dr Anderson) I have actually tried quite hard to avoid making overly specific, context-dependent recommendations, because it is very, very hard to capture the generic possibilities. What I have said, which bears upon your point and which is absolutely to the heart of your point, and I deeply believe this is important, in Lessons to be Learned is, base policy decisions on the best available science, et cetera, et cetera. I think that covers the point you are making, without anticipating the very specific and inevitably unique circumstances that prevailed.

Paddy Tipping

  31. Dr Anderson, you told us earlier on that in the middle of March the army brought leadership and management to the crisis when it became clear that MAFF had not got the resources to deal with the issue. I was struck by your foreword to the report. In your foreword—and you call this your personal observations—the bit which caught my eye and rang out a lot of bells with me was the penultimate paragraph, where you say, "Within MAFF, and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision taking by committee with an associated fear of personal risk taking." This has implications not just for the handling of the outbreak but how DEFRA operates as a body. What you are telling us, and you will tell us yourself I am sure in a minute, is that the management atmosphere, the management skills, is very risk-averse and not very entrepreneurial.
  (Dr Anderson) That is what I am trying to say. I believe, prompted by all this experience we are discussing this morning—and that is my prompt and you may have other prompts but my prompt is that—a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours would be worthwhile. I believe that to be so.

  32. Over the years you have got a lot of management skills, what would you do to resolve this problem?
  (Dr Anderson) That is a long subject to discuss, I must say.

  33. Give us three pointers to management skills. What would you be saying?
  (Dr Anderson) One thing which I believe is needed and should be assessed now is to what extent the department, now DEFRA, should foster abilities in operational management and project management. Much of the life I have learned through this inquiry of the many officials in MAFF has been concerned with policy work and a very large amount of that work with a European dimension, at which it is top-flight. Different skills are needed for operational management and project management, and different skills in turn are needed when operations and project management have to be conducted in crisis mode. I believe that is an appraisal which should be made, to what extent should that be fostered, how does one then go about that, what are the budget implications of that. One last point just to make on budget implications, I do not have a sense it would take more people, but they could take people trained in a different way, maybe some different people with different skills and experience, and I think that could make a telling difference.

  34. Your involvement with the Department has been over perhaps a year?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.

  35. Do you see signs of improvement? Do you feel the management atmosphere and management skills have improved during that period of time?
  (Dr Anderson) I cannot say that, I do not have any information on which to base that.

Mr Todd

  36. I am glad Paddy drew attention to that paragraph because I and others had also noted it. Many of us would disagree with the positive remarks incidentally on the policy aspects which you passed on and said were top-flight.
  (Dr Anderson) I have not enquired into that.

  37. Exactly and we have.
  (Dr Anderson) I was making an assumption.

  38. I would not necessarily agree with you. I remember making a speech nearly a year ago now in which I said I thought MAFF at that time had an abysmal track record in strategy, appalling communication skills and was deeply introverted, in other words it was an organisation which did not look outwards either to its stakeholders or to other partners when resolving issues, and displayed very few leadership skills and competences which would help in a crisis. Do you think that looks like—you are nodding and sharing much of that?
  (Dr Anderson) I understand where you are going. I think the leadership skills issue has a disproportionate impact at times of crisis, and so should be husbanded and treasured and developed. In routine, they are always important; in crises they are absolutely essential. There is one thing, if I may, which I would like to pursue, from not only your remark but also Mr Tipping's remarks, and that is the importance for a department such as MAFF was, and DEFRA is, to be guided by very penetrating contact with its customer group. I have come to the view as a result of all my readings and exposures and discussions that it would be beneficial for such a department to really lock on to its customer group. I think it is now particularly pertinent and appropriate, and I hope there will be a chance to discuss this this morning as we move on, that in the context of DEFRA, not MAFF, the customer group is the total rural economy, and to really get out and about and engage with that. I have made some particular recommendations in the context of the state veterinary service but in the light of this discussion I could perhaps broaden it a little bit to try to relocate some of the efforts of the Department to be more deeply engaged in the regions.

  39. Was not one of the critical factors—and I referred to this introverted culture—a difficulty in understanding that others needed to be engaged, others both in terms of the rural stakeholders with whom actually MAFF dealt with habitually all the time, they are constantly filling in their forms and so on but engaged in a more effective way, but also with other ministries? MAFF had long ploughed its own furrow, it had its own regional structure which you referred to, it was not integrated with the rest of government, and was singularly unable to communicate its problems, or even to understand it had a problem sometimes, to other people. To me that seemed to be the heart of this, that poor preparation, which you have analysed, and once the problem arose it did not understand what the problem was and how quickly it was moving, and it was not able to communicate with the outside world effectively to cry for help or feel it needed help.
  (Dr Anderson) My personal experience is that under crisis groups of individuals and groups of people resort to type and fall back into what they are, and a crisis is no moment to reflect on changing behavioural needs. The depth of attention needed to change behaviour is only possible, if I may continue to use this military analogy because I think it is appropriate, in peacetime. Peacetime is the moment when these things need to be embedded and under crisis then these are the qualities that would emerge, and I do believe that we are seeing some of that. I think, again from my experience, in order to acknowledge the need for help and to engage with others who may know more than I know requires a certain confidence. It is not a behaviour that one will normally find in a defensive stance. I think and hope that in the context of a whole new construction which I think is absolutely right for the times, DEFRA versus MAFF, that that may provide a climate and a context within which some of these more fundamental things can be addressed.


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