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Mr. Morley: I am happy to explain why there are problems with the new clause. I am not against the principle behind it, as I said in Committee. It is desirable to have targets for disposal, as the new clause suggests, but the question is whether circumstances could arise in which those targets could be met, and what the implications of that might be.
I shall explain that in a moment, but first I want to correct some of the statements that have been made. The first has to do with calling in the Army. I think that the independent inquiries will show that the Army was put on alert at the very beginning of the outbreak.
I have been in my post for some time, so I was around at the beginning of the outbreakand perhaps that is an indication of my own performance. I remember that the Conservatives were calling for the Army to dispose of and remove carcases. That was never really an issuethere was no shortage of civil contractors to do that. The Army played an important role in the logistics and organisation, in making sure that the right thing was in the right place at the right time. As the epidemic spread, it was important to have that support, which was brought in when it was needed.
On the new clause, it is a case of not being able to win either way. During the epidemic, the Government were under pressure to kill animals as quickly as possible. That pressure came from farmers desperate to see the disease being stopped from spreading and those who did not have the disease but wanted to make sure that it was stopped from coming down the valley or moving down the county. Once an animal is killed, it stops producing the virus. The changes in the pH in the animal's body quickly neutralise the virus, and when the animals were killed they were also sprayed with disinfectant.
There was also enormous pressure to take the bodies away as quickly as possible. That is an understandable and reasonable reaction from people facing the epidemic. However, there were logistical problems, given that this
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) is right that people keep mentioning the Northumberland report, which recommended burial. It did, but things have moved on since then. Issues relating to the water table in Devon, in particular, meant that on-farm burial was often not an option, as was also the case in Cumbria. In addition, the BSE outbreak in the cattle herd since the Northumberland report was published led to a restriction on burying cattle over 30 months and they had to be burned or, preferably, rendered. However, we did not have the rendering capacity to deal with the number of animals affected.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave me some helpful support. I always appreciate a bit of encouragement. The right hon. Gentleman knows all about the procedures, given his long experience in Government. I suspect that some of the people who advise me advised him. They are probably giving me the same advice, on occasion. However, the reason I cannot accept the new clause is not that I disagree with the principles behind it. It is desirable to set a target. There are valid arguments for setting such indicators, and we may be able to look at that in the future.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) mentioned vaccination as an alternative. I have always been keen on vaccination and on a range of other options, which is why I strongly support the Bill. It will give us as wide a range of options as we need in dealing with all circumstances. We should not forget that the Bill also deals with vaccination, sampling and blood testingall the criteria that should be applied to any type of disease control.
I am keen on getting these measures in place as quickly as possible. It can be argued that we are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but this was an outbreak like no other. We have to learn from that. I believe that we can learn lessons from the inquiries. I also genuinely believe that the structure of the inquiries is the right one. I am fairly relaxed about structure. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal mentioned a public inquiry; he had experience of the Phillips inquiry, which was a useful investigation which provided some useful information, but it took nearly three years.
Mr. Morley: I accept that. It cost between £30 million and £40 millionabout £10 million was spent on lawyers' fees. I am not altogether keen on that approach. I am much keener on an open process that is in the public domain and deals with the issues. I believe that our approach is the right one.
Mr. Wiggin: Does the Minister agree that, given the speed of policy changesincluding EU policyand the fact that none of the three inquiries has reported, he should not legislate until at least one of those inquiries has reported?
Mr. Morley: No, because time is of the essence. I repeatthat the Bill contains nothing that pre-empts any recommendation from the inquiries. Indeed, nothing in the Bill should be taken as the Government's definitive future policy for dealing with any disease outbreak.
The hon. Member for Leominster is a strong advocate of vaccination, but some of the points that he made about new tests are not yet fully validated. The information is not yet available to us. I must correct him on one point: the culling programme was designed not to deal with trade issues, but to stop the spread of disease.
Mr. Breed: Does the Minister agree that the Phillips report was lengthy and costly because it related to BSEa disease that was new to usbut that we know all about foot and mouth? There is not much more that we need to know about the disease; we need to concentrate on how it was effectively controlled and eradicated. That would take far less time and would cost much less.
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman makes my case for inquiries that are short and to the pointexactly like those that have been set up. A full-blown judicial inquiry will go on for several years, so I much prefer the approach that we are taking. Nothing in the format of the inquiries is different from the Northumberland inquirythere is no difference at all. People sometimes get hung up on definitions when they are talking about inquiries. I think we have chosen the right way: it will put all the information in the public domain, and will show us the lessons learned from the management of the epidemic, in the Anderson report, and the scientific questionsnot only those relating to foot and mouththat will be addressed by the Royal Society.
Mr. Gummer: The Minister is trying to help the House, but the matter is not new, and the inquiry need not be as complicated as the Phillips inquiry, so surely it would be possible to set up a single, more public inquiry with a clear date line and the resources to produce a report within that period. It would have been quite possible to do that. The reason why the Government failed to set up such an inquiry continues to escape me. Everyone would have been much happier because its workings and results would have been openas the proceedings of the Government's inquiries do not seem to be, at least to the public.
Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman should wait and see how the inquiries are set up. I understand that Dr. Anderson will shortly announce how he intends to proceed. The right hon. Gentleman will find that the process is more open and transparent than he thinks and that people will have the opportunity both to make their case and to see the outcomeit will all be in the public domain. Of course, we can argue over these points, but I believe that our approach is the right way to obtain the answers that we need as quickly as possible.
The reason why I cannot accept the new clause is that if we set up such a target, with all the unknowns and variables that I have described, it could have the perverse effectcertainly not intended by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson)of discouraging rapid slaughter in some cases. If there is a target of 48 hours and
Mr. Keith Simpson: We have held an interesting, short debate. My hon. Friends and I and Liberal Democrat Members are not especially convinced by the Minister's argument. In fact, I am not even sure that many Members on either side of the House are convinced of the general arguments in favour of the Bill. The Minister is a fair man, who is frequently left by his ministerial colleagues to bat alone, and he is only too aware that there is silence about the measureat bestand some criticism. It is always difficult for Government supporters to criticise their own Government.
The debate has shown, first, that the Minister accepts that, in principle, he believes there should be a 48-hour target and, secondly, despite what the Minister has said, that most hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it would have been possible to have had a short, open and public debate on the lessons learned. Rather than looking for scapegoats, we are looking for practical lessons to learn.