Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
20. You mentioned just a second ago that, in
some way, this legislation did not preempt the inquiries nor give
some indication as to the future, so why now, as foot and mouth
thankfully appears to be coming to an end, have you decided to
introduce this Bill? When was it drafted?
(Mr Morley) It was drafted in late August through
to late September. The reason why we are bringing it forward now
is that, as the outbreak proceeded, of course with the experience
of handling the outbreak, we do learn lessons and of course we
changed what we were doing throughout the outbreak in relation
to the lessons learned and it became clear that some of these
measures would be useful in relation to dealing with the outbreak.
As far as the outbreak is concerned, it is true that we have not
had any cases for over a month now and I am very glad about that,
but what I must point out to the Committee as I suspect you are
aware is that, in 1967-8, there was a similar long period with
no cases and then the outbreak started again and continued for
three months. I hope we do not get into that situation but we
are not complacent about where we are. The risks of recurrence
remain very high at the present time, particularly with the animal
movements. Also, the other part of the Bill is dealing with sheep
TSEs. You will be aware that the Food Standards Agency have asked
us to accelerate the national screening plan and that is contained
within this Bill. The other issue is that, there are three former
Ministers on your Committee and, as former Ministers, you will
know that slots for legislation are not easy to come across and
that when there is the possibility of doing that and when you
have issues which I think are important in relation to the range
of options, that we have a disease control, if you have the chance
of legislation, then of course it is important that you take that
chance if you have a bill that is ready to go. I appreciate that
that compacts it and that it is not the ideal situation, I would
much rather have the detailed scrutiny and I very much welcome
coming before the Committee today to talk about this and explain
it, but the fact is that even moving forward with the Bill now,
it will be in the early part of 2002 before this becomes law.
It is a time consuming process and some of these measures are
very important and I would really like to have them available
as quickly as possible.
21. Do you not think that it is a bit of a slap
in the face to Professor Anderson's work that, all of a sudden,
this Bill is parachuted in before there has been some opportunity
to have a comprehensive overview of the way in which the foot
and mouth disease outbreak was handled and that the lessons were
learned? You said that this Bill was drafted in legal terms in
August; when did you first get the advice from officials recommending
this? I presume that you did not wake up one morning and think,
we need this?
(Mr Morley) No.
22. Somebody in your department said, "Minister,
we think you should be legislating this." When did the bright
spark first come up with the idea?
(Mr Morley) This would have come up on numerous occasions.
There were weekly meetings of the COBRA Committee throughout the
outbreak discussing the issues of handling and report backs from
our senior vets and reports from our vets on the ground that,
throughout the outbreak, it became obvious that there were these
kind of problems arising. They were brought to our department
by our field vets in relation to the difficulties they were faced.
So, that happened throughout the outbreak in relation to discussions
about what the difficulties were and the reasons for delays. Our
objective was to meet the target in relation to the 24 hour/48
hour cull and there are details for the Committee which show on
three graphs about how important it was to actually follow those
targets and the three graphs demonstrate that, on the worst case
scenario which would have been if we had just applied a culling
programme, then it would have been a catastrophic, even worse
situation than we have now. I think that 50 per cent of all the
farm animals in this country would have been affected. There is
no doubt from the independent scientific advice that the contiguous
cull has made a big difference and there is also the experience
on the ground in relation to the Brecon Beacons, for example,
where the original decision was takenand I am not particularly
objecting to this because I think it was worth tryingthat,
rather than go for a contiguous cull, which was opposed by the
commoners, there would be blood testing of the contiguous flocks.
That did not work and my colleagues in Wales could not get on
top of the disease; they were behind the disease all the time
and they did not get on top of the disease in the Brecon Beacons
until they started to implement the contiguous cull policy. That
is just an example, a practical example, it is almost like an
experiment if you like, about how the contiguous cull policy did
work in terms of bringing the disease under control faster.
23. You could argue that you are a little late
(Mr Morley) With the Bill?
24. Yes, closing the stable door after the foot
and mouth has well and truly gone.
(Mr Morley) No country has experienced an outbreak
on this scale. This is the world's biggest outbreak of foot and
mouth disease. If we had had this Bill at the beginning, it would
have been helpful and I do not deny that, but of course the reasons
for the Bill have come from the experience of an outbreak of this
type and this scale.
25. The beef producers on Farmers' Weekly interactive
call for consultation, the National Sheep Association, in respect
of their part of the Bill, want more time, they do not seem to
be much enamoured. Why did you not bother to consult even for
a brief period or did you do it quietly behind closed doors so
that they never knew about it?
(Mr Morley) Certainly I did discuss this with the
stakeholder group we have from the industry which meets regularly
bi-weekly and, at the meeting this Friday, we will talking in
some detail about this Bill, but I would like to emphasise that
the sheep TSE side of this Bill has been consulted in some detail,
so there has been consultation on that. In the consultation, it
was always stated that it was our intention to make it compulsory
at some stage. There is nothing new about that. As far as the
NSA are concerned, we can meet their requirements because we are
not going to rush out in relation to the compulsory elements of
the sheep TSEs right away. We will be sitting down with the NSA
and other industry stakeholders to talk about the timescale and
we will do that in consultation with them. There are other aspects
of this Bill which are key aspects. For example, the details in
relation to the bio-security and the penalties. What we will have
to do on that is agree a checklist, a kind of procedure, about
how we apply that. We will sit down with the industry and involve
them in how we do that, so there is still a fair amount of consultation
to do on this Bill and we can do that with the industry and we
will do that with the industry.
26. When will we get the orders because this
Bill, as is most legislation nowadays is going to be followed
by orders, then we will have the opportunity to look in some detail
at some of the orders.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
27. The devil lies in the detail of many of
these things as you will recognise.
(Mr Morley) Can I also say that one of the other reasons
for bringing forward the Bill is that we are in a post-Phillips
environment and Phillips does say to us that we need to act on
lessons learned and to prepare contingencies and take opportunities
to do that. So, we are doing that, and, as I say, there is still
quite a lot of consultation to do in relation to how these measures
are going to work. We are not going to rush into this, we will
do it properly and thoroughly with the industry and I can say
that some of the measures come in by order and there will be full
scrutiny of developments.
28. If you had to rank the list of possible
problems that led to this outbreak in order, would you not regard
dealing with the apparent loopholes on importation of suspect
meat products into this country as being perhaps of higher significance
than some of the issues that appear in this Bill?
(Mr Morley) I am not so sure. That is a serious issue
and we do take it seriously.
29. So seriously that the action to date has
been to put up some notices at an airport telling people not to
(Mr Morley) The legal imports were never responsible
for this outbreak. We do not really know what has been responsible
for the outbreak, but it was probably some form of illegal import.
You can step up and tighten your procedures at ports and indeed
there is a case to look at our procedures and I absolutely accept
that but, if you are dealing with illegal activity, whatever it
is, you cannot guarantee that you can stop that completely, no
matter how much you spend and no matter what you do. So, in that
respect, although that is important, I think the most important
question to be learnedand perhaps I should not prejudge
the inquiriesis the rate of spread and notice and how we
can make sure that, if we do get outbreaks of virus in this country,
we can limit rates of spread.
30. That is certainly true and our discussion
last week indicated that there were steps that could have been
taken at various points to reduce the rate of spread, but the
reason we are focussing on import controls are two: (1) while
accepting your point that one can never eliminate risk, you can
certainly reduce it and the evidence is that the system is full
of holes; (2) to win the confidence of your stakeholders and by
pursuing a strategy that emphasises this particular approach while
apparently ignoring a matter of concern to them does not seem
the best way of proceeding consensually.
(Mr Morley) We are not ignoring the question of imports,
far from it, Chairman. In fact, there has been action to tackle
this and we are looking at ways we can do this but of course it
is a matter for Customs & Excise, Trading Standards and a
range of other organisations and involvements. We are actually
doing that at the present time and of course we are taking immediate
31. Some of those would require legislative
(Mr Morley) I am not sure in this case because this
is not necessarily a DEFRA issue, so I am not sure whether they
would require legislation or not. I would remind the Committee
that we took immediate action to ban swill, for example, because
it is clear that while we do not know how the virus got into the
country, we certainly know where it started and the farm in question
is subject to legal action at the present time and I cannot say
any more about that at this stage. Yes, imports are an issue and
we take them seriously, but to actually say that it is the most
important issue in this outbreak and therefore everything should
be concentrated on it I think would be a mistake. I think there
is a range of important issues.
32. I have not said that.
(Mr Morley) But there are some people who do say that
and there is always a tendency by some sections to look for scapegoats
and to look for blame and this is a complicated outbreak and there
are a variety of issues that we want to look at and I for one
am not looking to `scapegoat' people or blame people.
33. The Secretary of State is before this Committee
in eight days' time and I am sure we would want to pursue this
line. If she were able to let us have a note in advance of what
has actually happened about imports because everybody talks about
something being done but no one actually spells out what it is,
that would be very helpful.
(Mr Morley) I am sure that could be arranged for you,
34. Just to be absolutely clear, Minister, you
have stated that the Bill is needed now as soon as possible.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
35. Or the legislation and the orders are needed
as soon as possible to deal with the current epidemic.
(Mr Morley) Ideally.
36. Or the possible tail-end of it if that appears,
so that statement is clear, but are you also clear that lessons
learned in the Anderson Inquiry and other investigations that
have not yet been done may lead to the need for amendment, for
further legislation or other change and that none of that process
that we do not know about yet but anticipate will in any way be
incompatible with what the Government are going ahead with now
with regard to the Bill?
(Mr Morley) No, absolutely not. As I emphasised from
the very beginning, people should not take what this Bill is saying
as our definite response to foot and mouth or indeed any other
disease outbreak because this Bill does cover all animal diseases.
What I would like to stress again is that it does not preempt
the findings of the inquiries because what we are doing here is
putting in place options and I am quite sure that those inquiries,
the lessons learned inquiry and the scientific inquiry, may well
come up with a series of recommendations in terms of handling
strategy and in terms of options and of course there is a great
deal more that we need to do, a great deal more research that
we need to do. We have a conference next month on vaccination;
there is a great deal more work that we are doing in relation
to better tests in relation to a disease; all these developments
can of course influence the various ways that you deal with outbreaks,
so all this does is deal with a range of issues in relation to
options that we might want to apply but I think that in any kind
of disease outbreak, certainly in future foot and mouth outbreaks,
it is inevitable that there would be an element of cull. I think
it would be very difficult to get away from that. I come back
to the point that we want to cull the minimum number of animals
that we possibly can and, if we are going to do it, we want to
do it as quickly as we possibly can and these measures help us
37. I hope that, when we do hear from these
inquiries and the Government consider the possible action that
is needed there, perhaps we will have more opportunity to look
at the proposals in draft form and scrutinise them a little more
thoroughly than we have the opportunity to do so in this particular
(Mr Morley) I think, talking hypothetically, that
if the various inquiries come up with different strategies, suggestions
or new ideas, hopefully we will not be in the midst of an epidemic.
We are not in an epidemic now but I do stress that we are not
complacent about it. We think that the risks for a further outbreak
remain high, very high, so therefore we are not at all complacent,
but that will be a situation where there will be more time to
consider these things and of course consult on them.
38. Can I follow up the point that resisting
culling could have spread the disease, a point made to us by several
of our correspondents on e-mail in pretty identical terms. I just
have one, Alayne Addy, the Exeter based solicitor "who assisted
two hundred farmers to resist the contiguous cull, has confirmed
that none of these subsequently developed the disease and that
all have since been cleared by" laboratory test. In the submissions
of Pat Innocent, "The cases on Burgess Salmon's books were
also all negative." A further point made Alan and Rosie Beat
that you yourself had alleged on World at One "that
farmers resisting the cull had increased the spread of disease
and that this had resulted in more slaughter overall" and
they said, "We know of no such instance, whereas in contrast,
there are literally hundreds of premises where the cull was resisted
and whose livestock have remained uninfected, such as those examples
given above." Therefore, they argue that to make contiguous
cull a compulsion is "unscientific, immoral, cruel to animals
and their owners, and highly counter-productive in terms of disease
control by diverting resources away from the crucial task of culling
infected animals as quickly as possible." How do you answer
(Mr Morley) They are people who refused to accept
that the contiguous cull has had any role to play within this
outbreak. I have demonstrated to you in terms of independent epidemiological
advice that a contiguous cull was essential in terms of bringing
this disease under control and therefore if you have large numbers
of people who are resisting contiguous cull, you will have more
outbreaks, you will have more spread and more animals will need
to be culled.
39. But in Devon that was not the case.
(Mr Morley) What I have been saying in relation to
some of the complaints by the Devon NFU is that you should not
look at this Bill from a parochial point of view. This is a national
policy. It is dealing with a national disease outbreak and a national
crisis and it does not take away the right of appeal in relation
to the divisional veterinary manager and in fact I would like
to see that clarified with perhaps a new protocol dealing with
things like pets, dealing with things like sanctuaries, rare breeds
and cattle. That can be done; that can be put in place so that
an appeal and a handling procedure can be installed alongside
the measures in this Bill, so it would be wrong to say that there
would never be any consideration or never any kind of appeal in
that respect. I have already given you the example of the Brecons.
My Welsh colleagues were extremely fearful that the Brecon situation
was going to spread south into other sheep flocks. They felt that
while they were not doing a contiguous cull and of course they
had the threat of legal action initially about that, that they
were running behind the disease and that it was in danger of spreading
out of control and of course they had to kill an awful lot of
sheep on the Brecons. That could have been reduced if they had
implemented contiguous cull from the very beginning. So it is
not right to say that appealing against the contiguous culls actually
meant that fewer animals were killed, there was no evidence for
that. I am not aware of 200 legal cases in Devon; I suspect that
they are mainly appeals to our divisional veterinary manager and
that situation remains the same. There will be appeal procedures
within the Bill and we do not have to kill every animal, we do
not have to kill every contiguous farm, it depends on the veterinary
situation on the ground.