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The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): Vaccination has always been an option that we have kept under constant review. The European Union Standing Veterinary Committee agreed that emergency vaccination of cattle in Cumbria and Devon could be carried out if the Government concluded that it was necessary as an additional disease-control measure.
Mr. Flynn: The disappointing thing about yesterday's seminar was its failure to provide us with a rational cost-benefit analysis of the present policies compared with the alternatives of partial or full vaccination. We know that the costs are immense--possibly £9 billion--to protect an industry that will be worth nothing for the next three years, but was worth about a third of a billion pounds at best. The cost in human and animal suffering is enormous. When the outbreak is over, in a year or two, foot and mouth is likely to return spontaneously, by accident or, most likely, by the deliberate act of a person or organisation. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will then take fully into account what
Mr. Morley: I can assure my hon. Friend that we have considered the experience of countries that have used vaccination extensively, and there were problems in every case. Vaccination is an option, and we have contingency plans, as is right and proper. Sometimes it is right also to challenge conventional thinking about the way to deal with issues, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are not afraid to do so.
Vaccines are not a panacea and there are problems with them. There is resistance to the idea within farming, and there is no consensus of approach on their use, which would be important if they were to be used. There are also problems with trade, identification and potential consumer resistance. Nevertheless, we need to consider these matters carefully and keep them under review.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that ring vaccination around the worst-affected areas would have a dramatic advantage over the present policy at this time? Has he seen the excellent work done by the Elm Farm research centre, the admirable letter in The Times this morning from Fiona Reynolds, the director-general of the National Trust, or the work of Toby and Emma Tennant in the borders, all of whom urge that that step be taken? Of course it is a bold step, but this is a moment for bold action.
Mr. Morley: Yes, I have seen the views of Fiona Reynolds and others, and I take them very seriously. The use of ring vaccination has been considered, including as a method of damping down the disease. At present, the view is that it would not give us the same benefits as the present policy of 24-48 hours. As the House has heard, there are indications that the policy is beginning to bite into the outbreak, and we must take that into account. We are keeping our options open and we are trying to evaluate the best way of using vaccines and non-vaccine approaches.
Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): Has there been any consideration of the use of vaccination in urban farms and zoos? My hon. Friend will appreciate that they are in special circumstances, and they are experiencing great difficulties at this time.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right to say that there are special circumstances in zoos with exotic animals and rare breeds. The EU Standing Veterinary Committee discussed the matter yesterday. Its report was submitted to the Ministry today and we will consider its recommendations to see whether there is a role for vaccination in those circumstances.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister accept that the constant public musings about whether or not to vaccinate, which were started by the Prime Minister and have continued this morning, merely add confusion, and that the job of Government is to make up their mind? While they are not doing so, it is inevitable that people will increasingly ask that vaccination be used.
Mr. Morley: I am surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's uncharacteristic suggestion that we should rule something out and that we should not have a debate on whether there is a role for vaccination. I stress that vaccination is not a panacea: there are severe downsides to its use. It is not the majority view in the veterinary or scientific world, although there is, of course, a minority view to the contrary. It is right and proper that we hold the option open, but it is most important that we control and eradicate the disease. The current policy appears to be bearing down on it, so it has to be the priority; vaccination is currently of secondary importance.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The new Narey indictable-only procedures that came into force on 15 January this year abolished committal proceedings for the most serious cases. Instead, following a single, brief magistrates court appearance, defendants charged with offences such as murder, rape and serious firearms or drug offences appear before a Crown court judge slightly more than a week after charge. Early indications suggest that there has been a tremendous change of culture, with some defendants in such cases wishing to indicate a guilty plea at the first Crown court hearing. In that way, even in cases such as armed robbery, sentences are being passed only nine days after charge.
Shona McIsaac: How will the Narey reforms specifically benefit the victims of serious crime or the families who are left behind? All too often, victims perceive that it takes far too long for cases to come to court; they feel neglected and that they do not know what is happening. The justice system is designed to deal with crooks and criminals, and victims often feel that crooks and criminals have more rights than they do.
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Obviously, the early completion of serious cases removes the upset caused to victims, witnesses and relatives and so reduces the stress and anxiety that they might otherwise feel. There is also an advantage for defendants: if they plead early, there are quite considerable sentencing discounts. The Labour Government inherited a system under which it took about 12 weeks to get such cases
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I welcome the Minister's answer. I recall the changes that took place in 1967, when I was a serving police officer; they, too, speeded up the system. The line that he is taking is the right one. Further to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), does he agree that that accelerated process now provides a golden opportunity to ensure that every victim has a Crown Prosecution Service official as a specific contact point in the handling of their case?
The Solicitor-General: That is very much our policy. As I have said on previous occasions, we are introducing a system whereby the CPS will be the first point of contact with victims. We have just received an evaluation report on the pilots and we are considering it, but later this year we will roll out exactly the sort of system that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
The Solicitor-General: The representations that I have received suggest that Crown prosecutors and the courts have matched up very well to the demand that has so far been placed on them by the Human Rights Act. There has not been the chaos in the criminal justice system that some predicted. Crown prosecutors were well trained and prepared for the coming into force of the Act, and they are applying the principles of the convention with increasing confidence both during the prosecution review process and when meeting challenges based on convention rights in court--
Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that very full reply. Can he provide an estimate of the cost of rearranging courts so that prisoners and accused people are no longer seen in handcuffs? Is he in a position today to make a commitment to repay to the CPS the full cost of the introduction of the Human Rights Act?
The Solicitor-General: A certain amount of money was set aside to deal with the implementation of the Human Rights Act, but most of it has not been required. Cases have not been delayed. Magistrates certainly have
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Should not we all be satisfied that Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have continued to present their cases to court responsibly? Has that not largely contributed to the absence of horror stories in the media, which no doubt some editors had hoped to publish?
The Solicitor-General: That is certainly the case. In a range of cases, whether involving reverse onus provisions, privilege against self-incrimination or evidence from entrapment situations, defence challenges have not been upheld by the Court of Appeal. Although some Opposition Members have the mentality that the sky will fall in, that has not been the case.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Does the Solicitor-General agree that the pernicious consequences of plea bargaining include innocent people pleading guilty to offences that they did not commit and the guilty getting off far too lightly? Does he agree that plea bargaining is contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Human Rights Act? What instructions on plea bargaining does he give the Crown Prosecution Service?
The Solicitor-General: I do not accept the premise that a breach of the Human Rights Act is involved. Clear rules are set out in various Court of Appeal decisions and guidance that the Attorney-General issued late last year on plea bargaining. Plea bargaining behind doors cannot occur, but in some cases defendants who want to plead guilty will give an indication to that effect. Provided that the matter is dealt with transparently and openly, those pleas will be accepted.
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. As a result of the Human Rights Act, the CPS is much more conscious of the rights of defendants. As I said, in most cases the challenges have not proved to be successful. I do have concerns; some courts are looking at cases of delay, regarding them as a breach of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which, frankly, I do not accept. As I have said on a number of occasions in the House, we are trying to change the culture so that all public institutions will be much more conscious of the rights of ordinary people. I should have thought that Opposition Members would support that aim.