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Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend said about contingency plans and the need to review continually from now on. I was also delighted to learn of the genuine recognition that mistakes were made.
As for the question of bringing in the armed forces, it will not surprise my right hon. Friend to learn that the situation was dealt with better in Scotland. In fact, the Secretary of State for Scotland offered to bring in the forces six days before the local authority accepted that kind offer.
One issue that was not raised in the report, perhaps because it was not appropriate to do so, is that of not just the personal but the financial costs incurred by many people. May I suggest that when we debate this matteras I hope we shallwe consider financial costs, and look seriously at the possibility of insurance, especially for farmers wishing to deal with rare breeds and pedigree stock?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the whole issue of financial costs and the way in which we can encourage and provide incentives for good practice in the industry. As he says, many peoplenot least, I suspect, members of the Select Committeewill want to consider all those matters.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Dr. Anderson has written a clear, crisp and clinical report. He has judged the events against five criteria. He mentions planning, and asks whether the contingency plan was comprehensive, up to date and detailed. He mentions the speed of response, the provision of first-rate intelligence and information systems showing what was happening on the ground, the effective mobilisation of the wider resources of Government, and the establishment of trust and the communication between all players. He concludes that the Government fell down on all five criteria.
What is even more alarming, howeverbecause this applied to a BSE incident as wellis the evidence, highlighted by Dr. Anderson, of a silo mentality and an aversion to risk in the Department. Senior people were concerned about the state of preparedness and about whether the Department could respond to an outbreak in terms of resources and mobilisation, but they did not communicate that to the most senior level of management or to Ministers. Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear to her Department not just that machinery should exist to enable people's concerns to reach the top, but that people should be not merely encouraged but obliged to communicate those concerns to the top, so that we can hold to account those who must ultimately take political responsibility?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a fair-minded person. Inevitably, many of these things have an element of hindsight. I accept that, when it was thought that there was less than adequate resourcing in, say, the state veterinary service for the scale of problems that it was conceived might at some stage come along, that should have been communicated further up the Department, but those who were expressing those concerns at that time had foot and mouth disease as a relatively low priority on their agenda. Much more immediate issues had hit them.
In his report, Dr. Anderson identifies, for example, that the resources available to the veterinary service were very much what were thought to be adequate in the face of a severe outbreak of foot and mouth disease. What is clearly the case is that no one ever envisaged an outbreak of the severity and precise nature of the one that this country faced.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I have not yet read the Anderson reportI will save it for the beach because anything is better than Frederick Forsythbut my right hon. Friend does not have to be defensive. It was not Ministers who went round creating foot and mouth disease. How many million pound cheques were issued to the farming community in terms of compensation? Who will apologise for the slaughter of all those millions of animals, many of which were totally unaffected by foot and mouth disease?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to identify that there were substantial costs associated with the disease. I cannot give him offhand the figures that he seeks, but he probably will find them in Hansard. If not, I am sure we can supply them. He is right to mention the terrible impact on the farming community, not least the animal population. One of the things that he will probably welcome in the report is Dr. Anderson's identification of the effects of the disease. I spoke about Dr. Anderson dismissing many of the myths. One that he dismisses is the often made assertion that foot and mouth disease is not a big problem and that it is like having a common cold. He identifies clearly that it causes considerable suffering to animals, although it is usually only fatal perhaps to very young animals. In consequence, as well as its economic impact, it is not a disease that any country should wish to let go unchecked.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the right hon. Lady accept that in view of the nature of international trade it is likely that there will be future outbreaks of foot and mouth and other animal diseases? Does she accept that one of the problems that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food experienced was an absence of sufficient numbers of policy makers? Against that, will she give an undertaking that if there be future outbreaks she will draft in policy makers urgently? With regard to contingency plans, if they are not to become
Margaret Beckett: One of the recommendations that Dr. Anderson makes, which I have made clear, I hope, the Government accept, is for regular review and indeed regular rehearsal of contingency plans as a way of keeping them fresh. With his previous ministerial experience, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the Northumberland report recommended that contingency plans should be reviewed regularly. At that time, foot and mouth disease had been so endemic in the country that the recommendation was that they should be reviewed, particularly if there had not been an outbreak for a couple of years. Of course, it was some 30 years before we had another major outbreak; there was a small one in the Isle of Wight under different circumstances.
As I have identified already, we all have to recognise that there is no such thing as zero risk. One of the instruments of policy development on which my Department is now diverting much work is improvement in our methods of risk assessment as well as risk management. That will inform the future work and the reform of the Department.
On the number of policy makers, the key point that comes through clearly from the tone and tenor of Dr. Anderson's remarks is that he feels that Government as a whole should rehearse more and get better at knowing when the trigger is to move things up a stage and involve local authorities, other Departments and so on. That is precisely why we have set up the civil contingencies unit, and we will study its work in the light of these reports.
Tony Cunningham (Workington): I welcome the report. As a Cumbrian Member, I fully appreciate the suffering not only of the farmers who had foot and mouth but of those who did not but lived in affected areas and were subject to the restrictions. Yet another group who suffered were people in the tourism industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that we cannot again allow the widespread closure of footpaths, which had a devastating effect on tourism in many parts of my constituency?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. With hindsight, we may note that some local authorities resisted the lifting of the footpaths ban. We need to examine Dr. Anderson's recommendations in this respect more carefully. It is true that the farmers who were not hit by the disease but suffered the economic impact when they could not move their animals were in perhaps the worst position of all. I accept that those were very difficult circumstances. I note that the report says that the disease was thoroughly seeded in Cumbria before the first case was ever identified.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): As well as accepting the criticisms in the report that are relevant to people in Northumberland, which was devastated in farming, tourism and other businesses, will the Secretary of State accept the specific suggestion in recommendation 45 that she should conduct research into compensation for communities affected by mass burials, bearing in mind the fact that not one penny of compensation has gone to
Margaret Beckett: Dr. Anderson does indeed suggest that we research the issue, although he recognises that it is fraught with legal and other complications. I accept entirely the right hon. Gentleman's concerns for his constituents, but he will know that a great deal of investment has already had to be made to mitigate the impact of what had to be done. Certainly, the issue of how one handles something on this scale pervades the report, and Dr. Anderson has a great deal of value to say on it.