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Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a really excellent statement. Does she recall that her predecessor was also rightly praised for his skilful handling of the outbreak, by the National Farmers Union, the vets and even the Oppositionunderstandably, because he was following the advice of the National Farmers Union, the vets and, in some cases, even the Oppositionand that things changed only when the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) realised that he could make party political gain out of the situation in the run-up to the general election?
As the report is called "Lessons to be Learned", I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has read the article in the Glasgow Herald today, suggesting that there may be infected meat imported from China, and what action she intends to take.
Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend is kind enough to compliment both me and my distinguished predecessor. He is right to say that there was much in the latter's handling of an unprecedented and dreadful set of events that was worthy of praise, and indeed it received it in the House. It comes through clearly in Dr. Anderson's account of the dreadful situation that my predecessor and his ministerial team and officials did their utmost in the face of a situation in which they were not getting the information that they needed to deal with the crisis as effectively as they would wish.
I fear that I have not yet read today's edition of The Herald, but my right hon. Friend puts his finger on a point that was made a moment ago by a Conservative Memberperhaps it was the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies)who said that there is no such thing as zero risk. There will always be risks, and it is important to maintain surveillance, and to ensure that we identify and obstruct imports; however, that is just the very first step. Even if disease enters this country, there is much more to be done to prevent it from coming into contact with the animal community andshould that happento prevent it from spreading. Great emphasis is sometimes placed on the role of imports, but one of the most important lessons in the report is that if disease comes in, we must also address issues such as handling.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Although nobody would impugn the integrity of her predecessor, does the right hon. Lady accept that this report is such a damning indictment of the Government's handling of the outbreakand such a vindication of the many who offered criticism at the time by calling for vaccination,
Margaret Beckett: I am really quite shocked at the hon. Gentleman, not least because he is a long-serving and normally sensible Member of this House. It is not true that the report bears out all the criticisms that were made of the use of vaccination; nor is it true that it, or the scientific report, says that vaccination offers an easy answer. Indeed, both reports make it plain that much work is still required before vaccination could be a tool to replace culling. I particularly deplore the hon. Gentleman's remarks because, as a regular and assiduous attender of this House, he was present when my right hon. Friend presented the Phillips inquiry report, and absolutely and adamantly refused to attribute blame to any of those involved, or to call for their resignation. In the light of that, the hon. Gentleman's comments are wrong and quite disgraceful.
Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): I welcome my right hon. Friend's straightforward and honest response to the report; indeed, that was the approach taken by her predecessor during the crisis. However, can she assure me that she will implement all the recommendations, and not just those that she mentioned in passing in her statement? The burning of animals on mass pyres should not be used as a strategy for disposal. It caused not only great distress but considerable damage to the rural economyparticularly to tourismthrough the images that were seen on television and in the newspapers. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that, should we ever have to go down this route again, other methods of disposal will be at hand?
Margaret Beckett: I anticipate that we will accept almost all the recommendationsindeed, we may be able to accept them allbut there are some to which we will need to give further consideration. My hon. Friend will know the perils of saying never in politics, or in life in general. I accept that Dr. Anderson suggests that we should rule out the method to which she refers. If we can follow his other recommendationssuch as developing a hierarchy and getting much more information on the capacity to use rendering, along with his various other suggestions concerning the disposal of carcasesit might not be necessary to proceed to such steps, should a similar event occur in future. That is certainly highly desirable, but I am cautious at this stage about saying never. Nevertheless, we will examine that recommendation with great care, along with the others.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The Royal Society's report makes it clear that, in the past 15 years, animal diseases have cost this country £15 billion. Has the Secretary of State considered establishing a national centre of excellence to look into all aspects of animal disease? What work is planned to provide a better understanding of how foot and mouth disease spreads? It was the reaction to the disease, and our perhaps inadequate knowledge of how it spreads, that led to much of the countryside being closed down.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Secretary of State has already accepted one of the lessons to be learned from this tragic episode, which is the value of visitors to the countryside. When the footpaths were closed and local authorities such as Lincolnshire were hesitant and reluctant to open them, it was the pub, the local shop and the broader rural economy that suffered. Given that, will she move quickly with her already established policy to switch payments to farmers from subsidies for production to payments for creating a landscape and environment that people will want to visit?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is correct to say that one of the clear lessons from the outbreak was the impact on the wider rural economy, and Dr. Anderson makes it clear that we should take that into account in future planning. On my hon. Friend's final point, the Government will do as much as they can in present circumstances, but he will know that some element of common agricultural policy reform would be of great assistance in that change and that is why we are pursuing it.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I preface my question by expressing the hope that the Secretary of State will find at least two full days for debating this important subject when the House returns in the autumn. Does she understand that the people of Throckmorton are still learning daily the lessons of foot and mouth, with continuing concerns about the environment, the health impact and the total inability to sell houses and rebuild their shattered lives? In the light of recommendation 45, will she look again at the question of compensation? Will she also launch a proper investigation of their concerns about the health and environmental impact of the foot and mouth disease landfill burial site that is located on their doorstep?
Margaret Beckett: I am conscious of the difficulties that have been experienced by the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I am also aware that he has constituency cases in which the issue that was raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) concerning compensation particularly arise. I cannot say
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend will know about the significant impact of the disease in north Yorkshire, especially the moorland areas. I pay tribute to the former ministerial team, the officials and the vets, especially for what happened in the hefted areas of the moorland. The BBC, the trading standards people and the national parks people all played an important part in disseminating information. In the light of the lessons learned about biosecurity measures, as outlined in the report, what training will be provided for people in agriculture and vets and what measures will be taken to improve information dissemination in remote areas in future?