Examination of Witness (Questions 100
MONDAY 11 DECEMBER 2000
100. What have you done to make the scheme simple
to operate? It has all the shades, I seem to recall, of the fishing
vessel decommissioning scheme in terms of the structure and approach.
That was reasonably effective because as time went on some of
the bids became very competitive indeed. Have you designed it
with a view to it being simple to operate?
(Ms Quin) We have designed it in consultation with
the industry, so we hope that they will have a good understanding
of it. Obviously both the Government and the industry itself can
communicate the details to pig farmers. I understand that the
leaflets describing this scheme, if they have not reached you
already, are being sent to the Committee. We have tried to work
with the industry in implementing it. We certainly feel that it
has got a good chance of success. Obviously, as in all these schemes,
we will need to monitor its implementation and see how it is working
in practice. If we feel that somehow or other it is not working
or there is a need to discuss modifications, we will try that,
even though we know that since it has to go through the Commission
that in itself is not particularly straightforward and easy, therefore
we would much prefer it if it does work in its current form.
101. What have you got pencilled in as the split
between the outgoers and the ongoers as far as the £66 million
(Ms Quin) Originally we were thinking, more or less,
in a half and half term. It will depend, to a certain extent,
on the level of interest in the outgoers in this first year. Certainly
we thought that the first year of the scheme, which we hoped would
be the £26 million in this financial year, would be largely
for outgoers and the bulk of the rest would be ongoers.
102. We have had many representations which
are quite scathing about MAFF's initial response to the outbreak
of swine fever. I have one quote made from Easton Estates which
says, "In the past eleven weeks there has been a roller-coaster
of misinformation and lack of communication, resulting in immense
stress and strain on our whole farming operation". Others
tell us that your web pages were three days out of date, more
out of date than the representatives of the pig industry itself.
Would you accept that MAFF were initially slow in responding and,
perhaps, a poor communicator in the early days of this outbreak?
(Ms Quin) On the whole, no. I believe that both officials
and ministers worked very speedily in August, which is probably
not the ideal time, but nonetheless officials and ministers did
work very, very quickly in addressing the problems of classical
swine fever. I do feel that there were some communication failures
in the very initial phase, but, nonetheless, I believe that was
quickly sorted out with the establishment of the helpline, which
was well used, and efforts were quickly made to bring the information
up to date. There certainly were a number of visits of the Chief
Veterinary Officer and others to the area. There was a lot of
extra veterinary support drafted into the area and I feel that
actually a lot of people are to be congratulated for the effort
which they put into this.
103. We have already noted and have been told
that you did in fact divert resources from the bovine TB project
to cover the outbreak. That does indicate that in fact MAFF is
not quick to handle this sort of emergency problem.
(Ms Quin) No, I do not think so. We also brought in
some veterinary help from other parts of the country and there
was also some help from abroad as well. MAFF does have contingency
arrangements and has had experience of dealing with a number of
different animal disease outbreaks. It is true that it is some
14 years since the previous outbreak of classical swine fever
and it is also true that the regulations governing that situation
have changed in the meantime, that now there are European rules
in place whereas I think in 1986 it was done under domestic legislation.
104. They changed in 1990 I think.
(Ms Quin) I believe actually MAFF is well-organised
for that. That is not to say that we cannot learn anything from
this particular outbreak, obviously we do need to look at the
experience. Indeed devising the pig welfare disposal scheme was
something which had not been done before, and I am also very glad
that as a result of what has happened the Government and the broader
farming industry are discussing how issues of, say, insurance
and of trying to mitigate the economic consequences of the losses
due to animal health problems can be tackled in future. So there
are things we can learn from it but, nonetheless, I can understand
people, particularly in the early days when suddenly this problem
arose, being very worried about it. Any attempt to get information
which was not immediately answered would seem to be indicative
of a problem, but I actually do believe that some of the problems
were exaggerated and actually MAFF did act very speedily.
105. You would accept that there is a very big
difference in the views we are hearing from the industry and what
you are saying. I am pleased to hear you say that there may be
lessons to learn, the industry has already said that they want
to see a proper review of what the Government did and I think
we would welcome that being wider with how the industry responded
as well. What is the initial response of MAFF to that suggestion
of the industry? Are you are going to accept there is some work
to be done and, if so, will it be done on a suitable timescale
and will it be published in the public domain?
(Ms Quin) In terms of the work we are doing with the
industry on the wider insurance issues and the economic issues
raised by this, we want the study to be complete by the end of
106. Will it be published?
(Ms Quin) I am not sure a decision has been made on
that but we would certainly want to inform people of the outcome.
I cannot imagine we would want to keep the conclusions secret,
particularly since they were negotiated and drawn up by the Government
with industry. I would very much doubt, even if one would want
such a thing to be secret, one would be able to keep it secret.
I am sure it will be published.
107. I am sure if we were to invite you to share
it with us, you would find that an irresistible invitation.
(Ms Quin) Absolutely, yes.
108. Clearly the situation with communications
did leave people fraught, and that must be quoted in that review.
(Ms Quin) Well, the review is particularly looking
at the insurance issues. Parallel to that process, we have also
said we will look at what lessons we can learn from the administrative
handling of the CSFclassical swine feveroutbreak
and we will certainly do that. The suggestions of the industry
to us about ways to improve in the future will also be looked
at as well.
109. One of the other heart-felt cries which
we had representations about was what was seen as a volte face
by the Government in its position on full compensation. We were
told by at least two submissions from East Anglia that the Government
had in fact in the Pig Meat Management Committee meetings routinely
and regularly been supporting a policy which would in fact have
seen full compensation being paid, and it is being said to usand
I am not sure I have read the necessary documents directlythat
in fact there is a difference in the Government's position from
what it had been arguing throughout 1997 and 1998 in terms of
there being full compensation.
(Ms Quin) I am not sure whether you mean full compensation
to infected premises or whether you are talking about compensation
in the surveillance zones.
110. What is being said to us is both. Baldly
put, if I may quote from the memorandum from the East Anglian
Pig Advisers Association, "In 1997 and 1998 the policy of
this government was to support full market value compensation
for the disposal of pigs locked in surveillance and protection
(Ms Quin) I do not think that is correct. As far as
I knowand I have to say I am not the Animal Health Minister
so in that sense I have not been in the forefront of discussions,
so if I need to correct myself I shall do soI am not aware
that the Government has changed policy. I thought it was the policy
of both this Government and indeed the previous Government to
pay compensation for slaughtered animals in protection zones but
not to pay compensation for animals in the wider surveillance
zones. This Government has changed that in terms of bringing forward
the pig welfare disposal scheme.
Dr Turner: It might be helpful, Chairman, if
we could have something in writing, because something different
is baldly stated in at least two of the memorandum.
111. Perhaps the Minister would do that?
(Ms Quin) Yes. I certainly do not want to mislead
the Committee. I am explaining the situation as I understand it.
112. Logically, Minister, what was put to me
by people in the industry at the time was that if you had a pig
with the illness you got compensated, and that seemed to be clear-cut
and not argued about, but if you had a healthy pig and you could
not do anything about it, you could not move the pig, you were
arguing like mad to try and get fair compensation. We have already
been through the steps there were which did lead to substantial
improvements when the first angry farmer picked up his phone to
me, certainly, but it does not seem very logical, does it, that
we have to almost encourage the disease to be on your farm to
get compensated? It does seem perverse that those who do not have
the illness are almost encouraged to get it. There were hot tempers
around at the time, and I would not think some of the things being
said at the time were properly intended, but it was being said
loosely that some people were going to want to get this disease
on their farm because then they will get properly compensated
rather than being left in serious financial problems. Does the
present rule book in Europe not seem perverse?
(Ms Quin) This goes back slightly to the question
I answered from Mr Drew earlier on when we described that the
formal Government position, and I think the previous Government's
position, was to offer full compensation for the infected animals
which were slaughtered. In terms of those in the containment zones,
the restricted zones, we responded to the very concerns that you
have put forward by bringing in the pig welfare disposal scheme.
In terms of incentives, it is obviously important to have an incentive
for farmers to report incidents of the disease when it occurs,
and the present rules certainly do that. I think farmers are also
well aware that we are talking here about a highly contagious
disease and anything which would spread that contagion in the
end risks undermining the whole of the industry. Farmers I believe
are responsible in their attitude, and in recognition of that
responsibility and also in recognition of the welfare problems
that some of the farmers in the restricted zones are having to
cope with, we then brought in the pig welfare disposal scheme.
113. The industry said to us that they were
giving you advice to be more draconian in terms of your response,
in particular a proposal there should be within 3 km a complete
killing policy, and they argued that there seemed to be some delay
in their advice being taken and indeed lessons being learnt from
the Continent. I am wondering if you could respond to that?
(Ms Quin) I do not feel that is a fair comment on
the situation. In fact, looking at it now and, hopefully, the
restrictions on the remaining two areas can be lifted very shortlyI
think it is fair to say we would hope to make progress with the
one entirely in Suffolk possibly even by the end of this week
and the other zone hopefully before the end of December or perhaps
at the latest the first week in JanuaryI think the success
in dealing with the outbreak and getting a phased lifting of the
restrictions across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex has actually been
114. Why did you decide that the felicitously
entitled "Pig Industry Development Scheme for Disease Risk
Management" was necessary? Were there alternatives?
(Ms Quin) This was agreed after discussions with the
industry as a way of arranging a top-up to the pig welfare disposal
scheme. We looked at various ways of facilitating this. The only
way which it could be seen to be done was by bringing in an Order
to permit the levy to be raised, and that of course does take
up some time because there is a consultation process first and
then a parliamentary procedure to be gone through, but it was
the outcome of discussions with the industry and we believe that
given the actual amount that the levy is going to mean for pig
producers there is a good chance of the consultation being successful.
115. The industry is obviously a bit concerned
in case this is seen as a precedent for future action, where the
Government might say, "This is a jolly good wheeze, we can
offload our own responsibility." Are you prepared to say
that this scheme will not continue beyond its present purposes,
that it is specific and will come to an end?
(Ms Quin) At this stage the Government is simply wishing
to facilitate the scheme. We would then discuss with the industry
as to what their experience of operating the scheme was, how valuable
they felt it was, whether it could provide a role in the future.
But let me say we are not trying to offload, so in terms of the
thought behind your question it is not some kind of new policy
which has been devised, it is simply a way of looking at all the
different possibilities for helping the sector at this time. But
we would not then say, "Now the Government has no responsibility
at all in this area." Not at all, far from it.
116. Given the number of people who have voiced
a concern, that reassurance is helpful. As you know, there is
a real cash flow problem, is there any way in which you can provide
temporary payments, payments in advance, as it were, on account,
to cover the period before the top-up scheme is in operationthe
industry refers to it as a bridgebecause there is a real
fear of the immediate financial crisis? Is there a way in which
you can help address that cash flow problem?
(Ms Quin) Very difficult in fact. Obviously if the
scheme depends on parliamentary approval, to give money in advance
of parliamentary approval would simply seem to be pre-empting
the decision of Parliament, and that is not procedurally a correct
way to go. The other thing is, in terms of public accounting rules
this would be felt to be improper, you would actually be giving
money for which there was no absolute guarantee it was going to
be recouped. So on those two counts, I think it is not a viable
117. It is the statutory consultation, which
is the problem, I guess.
(Ms Quin) It is the consultation and the fact that
you have to have an Order passed in this House and also in the
Scottish Parliament. So although we believe that the Orders would
pass in both places, we cannot assume they are going to pass in
advance, and that is what would make the payment in advance improper.
118. So you cannot make the Order until the
consultation process is finished?
(Ms Quin) We are getting legal advice as to whether
it could possibly be done concurrently, but I would not like to
raise hopes at this stage. Obviously we cannot act contrary to
parliamentary procedure. Another possibility which has been raised
is the possibility of accessing some of the Aujeszky's Disease
money. That is an avenue we are looking at but it would need consultation
with the people who manage that particular fund.
119. But the conclusion we draw is that you
are aware of the problem and are actively looking to see if it
is possible to find a way to address it. Would that be fair?
(Ms Quin) That would be a fair summary, yes.