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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will not have had time to go through the report. I understand and sympathise with the concern that leads him to talk about the unnecessary culling of so many healthy animals, but he will find when he looks at the report with more care that Dr. Anderson does not find that masses of unnecessary culling was carried out. As regards the contiguous cullwhich he says was highly controversialhe identifies the reasons for that being carried out and considers whether the Government may need to have greater powers during another outbreak in different circumstances. One of the points that he makes is that one must never expect precisely the same circumstances to be repeated. He discusses the possibility that on another occasion a pre-emptive cull could halt the disease in its tracks. I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes his point, but it is important that hon. Members do not get the impression that Dr. Anderson says that there was masses of unnecessary killing. He identifies mistakes and says that one can argue about what might have happened in the way of culling if we had had at an earlier stage the information to tackle the disease in the way that was ultimately required. He certainly does not suggest that it could all have been all right and that there was an easy solutionfor example, that we could just have vaccinated and did not need to kill.
I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it is important for us to publish contingency plansalthough they are not secret; they are on our websiteand to encourage people, especially in the industry, to study them, take them on board, and carry out more trial and rehearsal. That is a point that Dr. Anderson makes in general, not only about this particular episode. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting suggestion about inviting Dr. Anderson to comment on the plans, and I will bear that in mind.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the report is criticalcoming from Cumbria, I cannot see how it could be anything elsethe Government got it right by setting up three separate inquiries, as less than 12 months since the outbreak finished, we have the results? Does she also agree that the Anderson report is not a whitewash, as Opposition Members said that it would be?
Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right. No doubt a great deal will be said today about how we should have listened to Opposition Members. If we had done so and waited to set up a public inquiry, experts with much more experience than I say that it would just about be setting up its secretariat. We should recognise not only the merits of having those three reports, each of which is demonstrably independent, but the importance of allowing each of them to concentrate on a specific sphere of the matters that needed to be considered. If we had set up one inquiry to examine all
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): May I welcome the Secretary of State's frank admission that some mistakes were made in the handling of this crisis? She also said, however, that better information systems would have been necessary to know that the Army was required at an earlier stage. May I ask her to concede that many of us in the House called repeatedly for the deployment of the Army, using only the time-honoured information systems of listening to our constituents and walking round with our eyes open during the administrative chaos that had descended on our constituencies? Looking to the future, will she lay the contingency plans not only on the website but before Parliament, and arrange for us to have a full debate on them, so that those of us who witnessed an economic catastrophe in our constituencies last year can influence those plans in public with a full debate?
The Secretary of State rightly undertook to look at the 20-day movement restriction. To ensure that it is rigorous but practical, will she consider aligning the rules in England more closely with those now prevailing in Scotland, so that they can be safely and efficiently applied before the beginning of the upland livestock sales, which are crucial to the economies of places such as Wensleydale and Swaledale in my constituency?
Margaret Beckett: I shall begin where the right hon. Gentleman ended, with the 20-day rule. We shall look with very great care at that issue, and we are already consulting with the industry on it. I am conscious of the difficulties that movement restrictions are causing to the industry, but both the reports give grave warnings about the implications of handling that issue. The right hon. Gentleman says that we heard much in the House about the ArmyI sat through much of it, at the side of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown)but what we heard was the Conservatives telling us to do as the Northumberland report said and call in the Army. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that is not what the Northumberland report said, and that, when the Army felt able to come in and was ready and able to contribute, it was to play a very different role, in a very different context, from the one that it had played in the past.
As for saying that we should listen to what is said by right hon. and hon. Members, of course we do. We paid great attention not least to the right hon. Gentleman when he warned farmers on 5 June 2001, not in the House, for obvious reasons, but through the pages of the Daily Mail, that
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing in the report contradicts the fact that the cause of the outbreak was two illegal acts: one a failure to heat pig swill to the temperature at which disease would have been eradicated, the other a failure to notify the disease of foot and mouth, which was the disease that farmers and those in the countryside rightly dreaded most?
Finally, I endorse the tributes that my right hon. Friend paid to the many people who worked tirelessly during the outbreak. Although mistakes were made and there are lessons to be learned, there are none the less many unsung heroes who deserve to be recognised.
Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and pay tribute to the work that she did, along with the rest of the ministerial team in which she served, in helping to deal with the terrible consequences of the outbreak.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the need for a memorandum of understanding. One thing that emerges very clearly from Dr. Anderson's consideration of how crises of this kind can be handled is the need for better flows of information and communication, and for rehearsal and crisis planning. He obviously thinks we should be giving much more attention to that.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague): I forgot to respond to his request for a debate. While I recognise, as always, that the way in which business is scheduled is not a matter for me, I am well aware that Members want to explore these matters in more depth than is generally possible on occasions such as this.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that, whatever the origin of the specific source of infection, illegal acts were undoubtedly committed at the outset. That is something that none of us should overlook.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): If the Secretary of State is so confident that Dr. Anderson has cleared No. 10 of interfering and preventing the Army from coming in, why does she not ask him to publish tapes and full transcripts of the interviews with Ministers, so that the House can at least know the questions that were asked and the replies that were given?