Examination of witnesses (Questions 280-299)|
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
(Mr Brown) But I think by and large we have avoided
that in the way in which we have deployed the armed services with
very specific tasks which they have rolled their sleeves up and
got on with and worked very well with the veterinary advisers
and civilian staff.
281. Offering the valuation scales was an attempt
to cut down the delays to slaughter. Has it worked?
(Mr Brown) By and large, yes. I have asked for figures
region by region on the use that is made of the tables and I understand
that although some farmers wish to bring in valuers and argue
for higher valuation, the rates were set in such a way as to make
the table itself attractive and some have said generous. There
is a real effort to try to help people in very difficult circumstances.
About 75 per cent of the cases, that is my understanding, across
England have settled on the table and, therefore, the procedure
has been speeded up because of it. It is not a perfect mechanism.
I have asked for this region by region analysis of the rates that
are being paid and if there are any particular factors that are
forcing the rates upwards and I am then looking at what I should
do about it. What I will do, if the Committee has a real interest
in this, is when I have the figures available I will put them
in the public domain so other people can see what has happened
282. You will be aware that the scales have
caused some difficulty among farmers who were compensated before
they were brought in because in some instances they offer rates
which are significantly higher, and I have drawn this to your
attention before with suckler cows, than the rates that were offered
by valuers early on in the crisis.
(Mr Brown) The rates were offered by independent valuers.
283. Indeed so.
(Mr Brown) Admittedly they are paid for by the Government
but they are acting in a professional capacity and there is a
system for appeal if people dispute the valuation. What I think
is more likely to be the case, although it is fair to say that
the rates were set in an effort to be generous and an effort to
encourage settlement, is that as the disease outbreak has progressed
clearly the replacement value, or the assessment the valuer has
made, is also likely to have moved with time. It is to take a
hard look at that and also the justifications for it, that I have
asked for work to be done within the Department. I am expecting
that within a day or so.
284. What would you say to the farmer who accepted
the valuation offered, say, on 7 March whose 14 day appeal period
had then run out and found shortly after that 14 day period that
the scales offered a rather better rate and he was down by some
tens of thousands of pounds?
(Mr Brown) I know it is a hard thing to say but it
does not mean that the valuation that he was given was incorrect.
The rates were deliberately set at a generous level, in other
words above what we assumed a valuer would assess, partly because
we realised that in circumstances like this the valuations tend
to rise over time until the outbreak is brought to an end; partly
because we wanted to encourage early settlement for disease control
reasons; and also because we wanted to be generous to people in
very difficult circumstances. I think all three of those reasons
are justifiable, but it does not mean that the earlier valuation
was somehow wrong or less than it should have been.
285. It does mean that those particular individuals
feel very aggrieved because they have ended up being compensated
substantially less than someone who had exactly the same affliction
put on them some week or two weeks later.
(Mr Brown) The law refers to the market value of the
286. Which the Government has intervened in
by producing a set of scales instead, for very good reasons.
(Mr Brown) For perfectly good reasons, but that does
not mean that every judgment ever made before then is necessarily
wrong. I do not want to make a definitive statement on this because
clearly people have got appeals pending and have also asked for
their own cases to be reconsidered and I do not want to say the
Government has formed a judgment on all of that because we have
not. I do not think that there should be an automatic assumption
that whatever the most generous possible settlement going should
automatically be the one that applies.
287. I want to talk about information and briefly
about on-farm precautions. First of all, why did some of the information
from the Ministry website disappear, for example on the numbers
slaughtered and the numbers awaiting slaughter?
(Mr Brown) Throughout this I made it very clear at
the very beginning I wanted to be very candid with everyone and
put the information in the public domain and that is what I have
set out to do. It rapidly became clear that some of the statistics,
although each true of themselves, were not being compiled to the
same time line. I gave the Committee the example of the authorisation
for slaughter and the disposal figures. Each of them accurate
but, of course, the gap between them not presenting the true picture
at all. Because it was a matter of contention we have tried to
produce statistics that are comparable with each other, in other
words each taken at the same point in time. Once that exercise
had been carried out we got the information restored. There is
not much point in putting information in the public domain if
it is going to produce a misleading picture. The figures that
you are asking for are all there and I have always been careful
to include them in my statements to the House.
288. Okay. Accepting that point for now, within
those figures are you taking off as confirmed cases those which
eventually show a negative test whenever the results come back
from the lab?
(Mr Brown) No.
289. Or are they left in as confirmed cases?
(Mr Brown) A confirmed case would be a confirmed case
is my understanding.
(Mr Scudamore) They are confirmed on clinical grounds.
If they are confirmed on a clinical picture and a report by a
vet and that is accepted as positive, that is positive. As I mentioned
earlier, you can send samples off to a laboratory and if you do
not take the right samples or they get damaged in transit or something
happens in the laboratory then you can get negative results.
290. This is a concern to farmers because it
means the figures are possibly false. Paul Kitching on the Channel
4 News said that he thought that so much of the resources
were actually consumed in tracings and slaughter that very little
epidemiology was actually undertaken and, therefore, the intervention
required was not available. In other words, he is saying that
kind of thing is making it more difficult for farmers to trust
the information because in their judgment a number of cases are
being included in the graphs that we have been looking at which
actually turn out to be negative. What would you say to those
people? Do they trust the clinical assessment by the vet or do
they trust the laboratory assessment? If one cannot trust the
laboratory assessment, how does anyone trust that information
(Mr Brown) There is going to be a time delay, is there
not? Sorry, Jim, you answer it.
(Mr Scudamore) They trust the clinical assessment
by the vet. I think we are in a position where we are dealing
with a rapidly spreading disease and if a vet believes there is
foot and mouth disease we have to deal with this as such. We have
put in place a mechanism for slaughter on suspicion where we can
just remove that particular herd or flock pending the laboratory
results. If the vet rings up and says he is on a farm and there
is clinical foot and mouth disease then we will confirm it and
that is a clinically confirmed case.
291. For absolute clarity here, the clinical
assessment on the farm by the vet takes priority even if the laboratory
tests prove otherwise, is that right?
(Mr Brown) You would not get it back quickly enough,
292. In which case why are you doing laboratory
tests at all?
(Mr Scudamore) We are doing the laboratory tests because
we need to know what is happening out in the field. We are refining
the laboratory test. As we get the information we will change
the type of material that we require so, for example, from sheep
we will require tissues plus blood and we will try and isolate
the virus and look for blood samples. I think it is very important
that wherever possible we do take laboratory material for confirming
the disease. As I say, with cattle and pigs a very high percentage
is confirmed, the problem lies particularly with sheep where the
clinical condition can look obviously like foot and mouth disease
and if you do not take the right sample you get a negative result.
293. Would it be possible to move those lab
tests into the field if the resources were available so that you
could bring them much closer together? I have no idea how long
it takes to develop the culture.
(Mr Scudamore) We are looking into that but, in fact,
we can get results quite quickly from the laboratory, the problem
arises when they are not clear cut results. If, for example, we
take tissue for virus isolation, there is a very fast test that
can give you a result in 24 hours, but if that is negative we
then put the material up on culture that can sometimes take up
to five to seven days to get a result. Equally, with the blood
tests we can do a very fast test but if that gives a positive
result we would have to do another test which can take five days
to confirm it. Many of these tests require confirmatory tests
which can be done in the specialist laboratory.
294. Can you assure me that once you have done
all those other tests you do get a definitive confirmation of
whether a particular sample is infected or not?
(Mr Scudamore) Not necessarily. If you take, for example,
tissue from an old lesion in a sheep you could very well not isolate
the virus from it but it could still have had foot and mouth disease.
295. Thank you.
(Mr Scudamore) I am afraid.
296. Moving on then, other elements of information
procedure have really bothered farmers. Mr Scudamore's explanation
of the protocol leading to a cull with a contiguous cull and so
forth, that is the first time I have heard it in such a clear,
definitive way. Could I ask that you consider sharing that protocol
with farmers because there is a great deal of uncertainty about
what to expect when there is a suspected case in the area.
(Mr Brown) I am more than happy to do that, anything
that would help. The bottom line is that there is not any way
of eliminating this disease that avoids culling. There is no medicine
I can give the animals, there is no other intervention that we
can make now with the animals that would prevent the need for
culling the disease out. That is a very hard thing to say and
for the individual farmers that are affected because their animals
are suspected of having the disease it is very hard indeed. Let
me repeat again, it is necessary.
297. I am not questioning that, it is really
the information. There is a huge stress that is caused by not
knowing what to expect, so I would be grateful if that information
could be spread.
(Mr Brown) You can have my assurance that we will
298. Thank you. Next, the concern I have is
about information with regard to compensation. Farmers simply
do not understand why they are not getting money for all the animals
that were alive at the point when they were applying, for example,
for a welfare cull, they are only being paid out for the animals
that are still alive when the cull finally takes place even though
livestock has died while they have been waiting. Is there any
way that you can provide the rationale for that particular judgment?
Perhaps it has just been an oversight and you are now going to
tell us that you will pay from the point of application rather
than the point of cull?
(Mr Brown) That does not sound right to me. If you
want to refer me to an individual case where that has happened
I am more than happy to look at it.
299. I will take that up separately, thank you.
I am sorry, you were going to say something?
(Mr Brown) If you want to give me an individual case
where that has happened, where the animals have died before being
taken away, then I will most certainly look into it.