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8.40 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): It is obvious that the Bill is in need of some friends, and I shall try to be one, but I make no apology for criticising some aspects of it, as it is our duty as Members of Parliament to scrutinise and recommend. My hon. Friend the Minister also seems to be in need of some friends; he will be pleased to know that my regional newspaper has referred to him as "Stalin". I am sure that all hon. Members share my feeling that I cannot think of anyone less like Stalin than him—the only similarity is that he once had whiskers.

The exaggerated comment on the subject that we are discussing sometimes misses the point about what we need to do. The Bill could be referred to as the Benefit of Hindsight Bill; as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) said, we could all do with 20:20 hindsight, but now we need to learn and to take things forward.

I support the need for legislation, but I hope that when the Bill reaches the Standing Committee, it will not be only the animals that are slaughtered, because some changes and improvements are needed. If I am selected for the Committee, I hope to make some suggestions.

It is not only the Government who have lived in denial; some of the stories about foot and mouth are, in essence, about the fact that all concerned have lived in denial. The outbreak has taught us about two key factors. First, we learned how many animals were kept on holdings with insufficient biosecurity, which meant that the outbreak would be far worse than that in 1967, and worse than other outbreaks of disease, notwithstanding the existence of BSE, which is a rather different type of disease.

Secondly, some 30 years on, we know that the significant difference between now and the previous outbreak is the unacceptable speed and frequency with which animals are moved round the country. Whatever we think about some of the details in the Bill, it is a matter of simple necessity that we introduce some movement controls now. That idea was first discussed at the height of the outbreak, and it was not well received by many farmers, but if one talks to them quietly now, they accept the need for controls.

I have raised this subject so often that people will be sick of hearing me talk about it, but I make no apology for repeating my opinion that the role of dealers in the

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market place, and the way in which they can determine how animal movements take place, is unjustified. We have learned, to our cost, about the role that dealers play in our methods of buying and selling animals—and we must do something about it. I am not sure whether the Bill quite does that, and that is one of the improvements that I hope to see.

There are many myths about vaccination. At the outset, I was favourably disposed to vaccination, and to firebreak vaccination; I still am. The Government, through my hon. Friend the Minister, have said candidly several times that they can see its benefits. Again with the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that, with co-operation from some elements in the farming community, vaccination could have been used.

The problem is that vaccination is not a cure. It is useful in some respects, but there is no evidence that prophylactic vaccination works. The simple fact is that the economics do not stack up. I know that we are talking not about economics but animal welfare and consumer perceptions. However, we cannot continue to vaccinate animals if it effectively costs more than they are worth in the marketplace. There are many examples of vaccines not being available, not working or not being detectable in animals that have been vaccinated or that carry antibodies. I always bow to the superior knowledge of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who made those points. All the evidence that we took in the Select Committee tended to clarify—to the disappointment of those who want simple solutions—the fact that vaccination is not the answer to all the problems, at least not for the moment. Perhaps it will be in years to come, when smart vaccines are available.

Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I support a public inquiry, but not a full judicial tribunal of evidence inquiry. As I tried to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State some weeks ago at Question Time, the BSE inquiry, which was long in evidence, was fine for paying lawyers' wages but taught us next to nothing. We already knew most of what came out of the inquiry, which was sad, because I should have thought that there was something to be learned. There is always something to be learned from the minutiae, but we are still looking for scientific evidence on overall causation and transmission. As many Members have said, if we do not obtain sufficient evidence from the mini-inquiries, we can still call for a public inquiry. But we need the right sort of public inquiry: the evidence must be considered quickly and the results made known as soon as possible.

If we ask the right questions, we might get the right answers. It worries me that people are trying to fit up the Government; they say, "The Government are guilty and here is the evidence." Let us not beat around the bush—the Government made mistakes. But this was a huge outbreak, against which every other outbreak pales into insignificance. It was different from the one in 1967, affecting different types of animal. Contrary to what many Conservative Members said, the Army did not come to the rescue then in the same way as it did this time. We approached this outbreak differently, because we had to. Epidemiologists were much more prominent than vets.

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There are arguments in the scientific community about who did what and why, but we must face up to the fact that things have been different in this outbreak.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Why was the epidemic so quickly contained in the four counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire in the 1967–68 outbreak? Are there not lessons to be learned?

Mr. Drew: I take that to be a rhetorical question because that is my point. The outbreak was different this time because of different features in various parts of the country. We were able to localise the problem in the 1967-68 outbreak which meant that we could pour resources into those areas. My county was not the worst affected this time. Even so, significant resources were poured into it to cope with the outbreak.

I hope that we can take several of those points on board, not necessarily in the Bill but through the change in mindset that must follow it. It is not just a question of what we do but of how we do it. We must look at the checks and balances provided by different organisations. I have made great play of the role of local government and central Government. In Gloucestershire, after some initial hiccups, both functioned amazingly well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) said, we must give credit where it is due—in this case, to the officials, who worked very hard. We must learn from what they did well and apply that knowledge in the Bill. I fear that rather than spreading good practice and tightening legislation, we are focusing on the negative. However, despite the criticism that I have voiced and will continue to voice, I believe that there is a need for legislation. Although I do not believe that the Government acted illegally, they were hamstrung.

We have talked about the dilemma faced by farmers who did not want their animals killed. Those who earn their bread and butter from farming made it absolutely clear that they understood from the outset why their animals had to be culled, and quickly. Opposition to the cull came mostly from those who are not completely dependent on farming. That is a harsh judgment, and Conservative Members may look askance, but that was the case in my constituency, and it was probably replicated in many others. Those whose animals were slaughtered made that sacrifice because they wanted the disease to be eradicated. They felt that it was wrong for others to suffer and they knew that the sooner the disease was brought under control, the earlier they could begin to participate again, with dignity, in an industry that would sustain them.

Mr. Breed: Farmers felt that they were participating voluntarily, along with their neighbours. Might not their attitude have been different if Stalin and his jackbooted crew had forced them to participate?

Mr. Drew: There is some validity in the hon. Gentleman's argument. As he knows, notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister, the Stalin of the Front Bench, is muttering away, the evidence from the Select Committee and the pre-legislative scrutiny is that the success of the 24-hour and 48-hour contiguous culls relied on taking out animals quickly. We cannot have it both ways. The evidence shows that if we had waited, the disease would have gathered momentum. We have to

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persuade people to comply, but we must have power to back us up. Sometimes individuals make sacrifices because they see that it is right to do so. I wish that people would not claim that science can prove things that are unprovable; we all know that science is imprecise, and in these matters we are pushing back the boundaries of knowledge.

I want to make a couple of observations to which I hope the Minister will respond. Like other hon. Members, I think that there is a lacuna in the Bill because it lacks a strategy for controlling imports. Such a strategy must be linked to the measures in the Food Labelling Bill. I make no apology for the fact that I am a supporter of that Bill, which is promoted by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). I know that these matters are ones in which we must relate to Europe, and I shall say no more about that, but we need to tighten controls. Anything that can be done in Committee can only be of benefit.

I turn now to the carrot and stick approach represented by the 75-25 per cent. arrangement. I am not sure whether the figures are right, and I am not sure whether it is the most appropriate way to handle the issue. The Government must come up with a more rigorous defence of that scheme.

I have already mentioned dealers, and we need to tackle their part in the operation of the livestock markets; otherwise, the biggest losers will be the auction marts to which the dealers are seeking to return. We will be doomed unless we prevent the problems that occurred in the past.

My hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that the problems of BSE, foot and mouth and classical swine fever notwithstanding, some of us who represent certain parts of the country experience the continual crisis of bovine TB. What will be the impact on that disease when slaughter policies come into play? I am sure that on one side of that battle people will say, "Jolly good. Now we can take out all the badgers, because the Government have finally cottoned on to the fact that they need to be dealt with." On the other side, people will oppose doing anything of the sort.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said that Labour Members were treading on egg shells, but my hon. Friend the Minister will be walking in a minefield on the issue of bovine TB. I leave him with those helpful remarks and look forward—hopefully—to serving on the Committee.

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