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Members on both sides of the House will agree that at this time we need to have in our thoughts and sympathies those thousands of people whose livelihoods were either threatened or completely ruined by the devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease last year. Although the report makes some trenchant criticisms of the Government, to which I shall allude in a little while, it is also right for the Opposition to make clear our appreciation of the work done by those many officials and veterinary surgeons, both in the right hon. Lady's Department and outside, working in the field and in London, who gave their all, often under impossible pressures and with inadequate support, to try to bring this dreadful epidemic under control.
The right hon. Lady drew attention to a number of the recommendations for the future in both the Anderson report and the Royal Society's report. We welcome the fact that she, like us, has been persuaded by the Royal Society's report of the need to incorporate emergency vaccination as part of a future strategy for containing further outbreaks of the disease.
Although I welcome, too, the Secretary of State's emphasis on the need to strengthen controls of illegal meat imports, can she confirm that 10 months after the end of the epidemic and three months after the publication of her Department's action plan, there have been only three spot checks on aircraft at our ports and that her Department is still wrangling with Customs and Excise over who exactly is in charge of those import controls? Is not it a disgrace that the Department should show such a lack of urgency in the wake of the devastation last year?
I hope that the Government will, as early as possible in the autumn, make time for a full parliamentary debate on the reports and that they will also make time for parliamentary scrutiny and debate of the contingency plan that they are draftingas recommended in the Royal Society and Anderson reports. Will the Secretary of State use her best offices with her colleagues to ensure that those opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny are given to us?
The report amounts to a shocking catalogue of incompetence and confusion. Although the Secretary of State sprinkled her statement with the word "hindsight", is it not clear from any reading of Dr. Anderson's report today that many grievous mistakes were made, which ought to have been avoided on the basis of the evidence that the Government had available to them at that time?
Why did the Government ignore the warnings of the European Union's foot and mouth disease conference committee and of their own scientists in 2000 that a virulent new strain of the virus was spreading through Asia, the middle east and into Europe? Why was no effective action taken in the wake of the outbreaks of classical swine fever in the Netherlands in 1997 and in this country in 2000?
Will the Secretary of State explain why there should be such a contrast between the inaction shown on this side of the channel and the reaction of the Dutch Government, who reviewed their contingency plans in the wake of classical swine fever, tested their contingency plan, agreed it with stakeholders and had it approved by that country's Parliament?
Why were Ministers, right up until and even during the proceedings of the Anderson inquiry, refusing to admit to the failure of their contingency planning? Has the Secretary of State seen the passage in the Anderson report where Dr. Anderson states that Government Ministers told the inquiry that
Does the right hon. Lady agree that knowledge of the Government's failures to implement their declared policies effectively was a key factor in undermining public confidence in the Government's policy to stamp out the disease? How much confidence can we now have that she and her colleagues can put things right when the Select Committee reported only last week that her Department had no strategy on information technology and that key financial data are either omitted from its annual report or given in an inaccurate form?
Does not all that add weight to the widespread suspicion that the Government were allowing concerns about the election date and their election plans to take precedence over effective measures to control and stamp out the disease? Nowhere was that more obvious than in the Government's delay in calling in the Army. It was hardly as if there was a shortage of people asking for that course of action. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) called for that action, their proposal was rubbished by the same Ministers who say that, with hindsight, they ought to have called in the Army earlier. Does the Secretary of State endorse the comments of her permanent secretary to the Public Accounts Committee on 3 July that the delay in calling in the Army was due to difficulty in getting approval from senior Ministers? Does not that verdict from her most senior civil servant suggest once again that we are right to say that concerns about presentation and electoral prospects counted for most with Ministers?
The Government's response to the epidemic is best summed up in a statement given not by the right hon. Lady but by the Prime Minister himself to Dr. Anderson on 22 January this year. When asked about the failures of Government policy, the Prime Minister responded: