Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 11 DECEMBER 2000
40. The future of this scheme is one that intrigues
me. Have you got any reason to doubt the Government's intention
to wind it up after the outbreak? I think in your evidence you
said in paragraph 2.5: "Finally it"that is you"was
concerned that the scheme would be used as an excuse for the government
to offload its current responsibilities, and to avoid argument
as to its responsibilities in the future." Can you explain
that for me so I can get a better understanding of your reservations
and also to have the benefit of your views as to what you think
the Government are going to do when the scheme has done its job.
(Mr Sheldon) We remain extremely wary about what the
Government's attitude will be to this scheme after the swine fever
problem is resolved. We have received assurances that it is not
the Government's intention to use it as a way of absolving itself
of any responsibility, but we remain wary. In particular, they
remain dogmatic that funding any of the cost of movement restrictions
is not the responsibility of government and we fear that the next
time movement restrictions are imposed, for whatever reason, yes,
they will merely indicate our scheme and say, "It is nothing
to do with us and you have your development scheme to take care
of these costs." That remains a fear and I dare say it will
until such time as their actions demonstrate otherwise.
41. This is maybe a naive question, but why
do you think the Government should be responsible for funding
movement schemes? Obviously you had to negotiate on the basis
that something was better than nothing, but the sense I get is
that you feel that the responsibility stops with government.
(Mr Sheldon) Our belief is that the quickest, surest
and cheapest way of resolving an outbreak of a notifiable disease
such as swine fever is for the Government to take immediate action
to destroy the animals that need to be destroyed and to absolve
the producers of any direct cost. The argument for that is not
necessarily that the producers deserve compensation or anything
like that. It is quite simply that faced with oblivion or carrying
on, some producers will carry on and thereby the risk of the spread
of disease might be increased. Our argument is that it is the
cheapest way of doing it and we said that right from the start.
42. Do you think there was a worry in the Government's
mind that they were getting involved financially in potentially
quite a big way, as they would see it, in a sector of agriculture
that is basically non-subsidised? In other words, it is an area
that does not merit any kind of subsidy schemes for the regular
part of its activity under the CAP and here is part of the industry
which hit a real crisis. Do you think they were worried about
(Mr Black) I believe they were worried about where
this scheme may fit in relation to the total European context
and potential state aid implications if they were to turn round
and get involved. At least, that was partly what we were being
told in the early daysthat in the past in outbreaks like
this in Europe aid was only ever paid if the outbreak was large,
and they felt that this outbreak was small by context.
43. If I have understood it, if it had not been
contained it could have become catastrophic?
(Mr Black) Yes.
(Mr Houston) Which is precisely Mike's point.
(Mr Godfrey) I would also like to draw your attention
to our point in 2.2 where it says that the "... United Kingdom
authorities"this is what they said with the Northern
Ireland situation"do not accept that the sudden total
inability of a producer to sell a product in his usual market
at any price, owing to circumstances unrelated to the market situation
without any change in levels of consumer demand, coupled with
the almost total inability to transport this produce for sale
at any price in other markets"which applied in classical
swine fever"due to restrictions on animal movements,
can be considered to fall within the normal parameters of entrepreneurial
risk." So the Government do now accept, because they applied
for a state aid application on that, and they appeared to accept
then that if you could not move pigs because of outside problems,
it was not a "normal entrepreneurial risk". I think
that is a very important point.
44. You have had to tread that very difficult
path as a representative body in advocating members' wishes combined
with your much more natural anger to say to the Government that
they are being a bit nit-picky and a bit mean. Did you feel at
the time that they were being unfairly or unnecessarily harsh
on you at a time when your industry was facing yet another straw
that could break the proverbial camel's back?
(Mr Godfrey) Yes.
45. In some other evidence that was sent to
us by Mr Philip Richardson he reminds the Committee about the
way the Dutch approach it. He tells us: "Instead, they have
arranged a facility from the Banks, which allows a large sum of
money to be available for disease control while the mechanism
for repayment can be set up." Was that type of mechanism
something you discussed with MAFF in this context or not?
(Mr Houston) This may come at a later stage but that
mechanism is later and after the Dutch swine fever problem. We
have a problem of getting cash to producers now. There is a group
chaired by Neil Thornton which will address those sort of problems
and the NPA has an input into that group.
46. In terms of cash, just refresh my memory,
you have not yet had any money from this scheme?
(Mr Black) The Government's proportion of the pay-out
has been paid, but the top-up payment which will come as a result
of the producer levy has not yet been paid.
47. Has that money gone to pig producers, individual
(Mr Black) It has. There was a question mark over
some parts of that funding because the Government have progressively
upped the amount that they paid and the early payments were made
at the lower rate. There was a question mark as to whether all
producers from the early stage had received their top-up to the
Government limit. Our problem the whole way through this has been
that the Government could, if they had wished, turned round and
paid the money on day one and sorted out the arguments within
Europe later on. We believe that some of our competitor countries
would have seen that scenario where their governments would have
made the payments in the early stages and sorted out the bureaucracy
of the issue later.
48. Do you have a precedent to support that
(Mr Black) I believe that that was what took place
in Holland in the initial stages.
49. Could I just ask when the last outbreak
of this disease was in the United Kingdom?
(Mr Houston) There was a very small outbreak in 1986
and the previous recognition of the disease was in the late 1960s
when it was eradicated.
50. 1986 was the last outbreak?
(Mr Houston) That was very small.
51. What was the precedent there? Was it done
there as you are asking now?
(Mr Black) No, because it was in a different part
of the country where the pig population was not as intense as
it is in East Anglia.
52. So you were in unprecedented country in
arguing your case?
(Mr Black) Yes.
53. I am trying to understand the cause of this
because one of the things that caused a lot of concern in East
Anglia was not just the fact that there was an outbreak, but a
whole set of them, and as soon as they were able to get freedom
to move then another outbreak occurred and many of the same people
were caught. You were arguing that the whole thing arose from
an import of disease. What about all the further outbreaks that
really caused so much problem? If it had been limited to the first
oneand your paper argues perhaps more robust measures were
requiredwhy did it spread?
(Mr Black) It appears that it was due to a certain
amount of lateral spread from units that were not initially part
of the outbreak. So initially there was one herd in Quidenham
which had been infected and pigs had been moved from there to
a number of other herds before the disease had been discovered
and, therefore, we started off with five cases initially and most
of the rest of the outbreaks are linked to those original five
cases either by movement of vehicles or by movement of stock or
54. You have asked for a review of the handling
of the outbreaks by the Government. Is there a case for extending
that to look and see how the industry was behaving? Do you think
there are measures that possibly need to be addressed there as
(Mr Black) We welcome the opportunity to look more
closely after the eradication.
55. What are the main issues you have suggested
the Government should look at in its behaviour and response to
(Mr Houston) Mike is a member of Neil Thornton's group.
(Mr Sheldon) Right the way through the period we have
sought to improve the processes of making payments, the processes
of communication. We have sought to increase the level of aggression
with which the State Veterinary Service has acted in terms of
killing out animals at risk of the disease. We have done that
and the State Veterinary Service have made a number of moves based
on those discussions. At this stage we are at a point where we
are saying we know we are going to have a review of how it was
handled (to everybody's advantage we hope) and we will wait until
that is appropriate.
56. How did the Dutch outbreak compare in scale
to the one we had in East Anglia?
(Mr Sheldon) The Dutch outbreak was much much bigger.
There were hundreds of cases. I do not recall how many exactly.
57. Is it completely obvious that there were
lessons which necessarily carried across from handling a very
big outbreak to a modest one? Are you sure there were lessons
to be learned which were not?
(Mr Sheldon) The one major one we tried to carry forward
was to initiate 3 km kill-out zones from the outset.
58. Yes, you make that point in your memorandum.
(Mr Sheldon) The post mortem of the issue will show
what difference that would have made.
59. You very kindly, I think, used words which
talk about "poor communication". One correspondent said:
"The past 11 weeks have been a roller coaster of misinformation
and lack of communication, resulting in immense stress and strain
on our whole farming operation." Have you collectively made
a summary of what the experience was of your members in terms
of information flow or the lack of it?
(Mr Black) We are in the process of putting that together
and it will be part of the submission that we make when