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6 Nov 2002 : Column 306—continued

Single European Language

Mr. Peter Viggers accordingly presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make proposals to the European Council for the establishment of one language as the official language of the European Union; to provide for the development of a single European language; and to establish a date by which the language will become the official language of the United Kingdom: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 207].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order (28 June 2001),

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Animal Health Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 5, 7, 11, 45, 47 and 49, which are to be considered today. If the House agrees to these Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 1

Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 3, at end insert—
X( ) In the Animal Health Act 1981 (c.22) (in this Act referred to as the 1981 Act)
before paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 insert—
X(2A) The Secretary of State shall give priority to a Xvaccinate to live" policy prior to causing to be slaughtered animals on premises where no infection has been detected.""

4.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Government amendment (a) in lieu and sub-amendment (i).

Mr. Morley: The House has discussed the Bill in detail. I said that as a result of pertinent points raised in Committee we would give further consideration to amendments, especially in the other place.

Significant changes have been made to the Bill. We accepted some of them as a result of discussions in the course of the parliamentary process, and I want to pay tribute to my colleague, Lord Whitty, who did a good job in dealing with the Bill in the House of Lords. Other changes result from commitments that we gave in Committee to consider certain aspects in further detail so that we could be more transparent. We also wanted to reassure hon. Members and reflect their reasonable concerns.

Amendment No. 1 deals with vaccination. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in her statement that we accept the recommendations of the Anderson and Follett reports that vaccination should have a more prominent role in the decision-tree process of the measures that we would apply to combat any disease outbreak. That commitment has been given. It is also recognised in our revised interim contingency plan, which is being made public today. It is part of a developing contingency plan arising from discussions with the industry.

Although we understand the reason behind the amendment, we cannot accept it. As we made clear in our response to the reports, we will, ideally, want to use a vaccinate-to-live strategy if emergency vaccination

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is used. There may, however, be scenarios in which, following the appropriate veterinary and scientific advice, culling of non-infected premises is deemed more appropriate than vaccination. We do not want that advice to be restricted artificially in terms of the most appropriate disease control methods that could be applied.

It is also important to stress that European Union legislation requires slaughter of livestock on premises that have an epidemiological link to infected premises. For example, in some circumstances slaughter will not be the last resort, and we would want to stamp out an immediate outbreak by culling, as identified in the Royal Society and Anderson reports. The amendment therefore runs contrary to EU law. It is unworkable and we cannot accept it, even though we are not necessarily against the reason behind it.

We have offered a Government amendment in lieu. It has been carefully drafted to address concerns about the role of vaccination in future disease outbreaks. It sets out explicitly on the face of the Bill that the Secretary of State must consider

In particular, the Secretary of State must consider whether vaccination is more appropriate in the circumstances. It is not entirely dissimilar to the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats. I hope they recognise that we understand the reasoning behind their amendment. Although our amendment reflects concerns about restrictions, we are not against the general principle of recognising the changes in the Government's response and our acceptance of the recommendations in the Follett and Anderson reports. We want to emphasise that by putting it on the face of the Bill. Our approach also reflects the inquiry reports and recent European developments, which have underlined the need for vaccination to play a higher profile in future disease outbreaks. The Government response to the inquiry sets out our strategy for taking those recommendations forward.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the Minister explain the difference between what he now proposes to put on the face of the Bill and what de facto took place during the foot and mouth debacle? Back Benchers understood that Ministers were considering vaccination at various points.

Mr. Morley : That is true. We were considering vaccination at a number of points. Traditional methods of dealing with an outbreak on that scale, which were based on the inquiry into the 1967 outbreak, were based on mass culling. What is different about our response to the Anderson and Royal Society reports is that vaccination, which was on the periphery of the responses—we had not resolved many of the issues within the food industry or the agricultural, food and livestock sectors—had not been pushed up the order of priority as regards decision making. It was a specialist application, to be used in certain circumstances, and was considered on a number of occasions, as the hon. Gentleman rightly states.

The Anderson and Royal Society reports made it clear that stamping out should be the initial response, but that vaccination should go further up the agenda:

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it should be considered right away, in the appropriate circumstances and the appropriate way, as a tool for controlling disease outbreaks. It is a different response, compared with previous contingency plans. That is reflected in our revised contingency plan and in what I am saying today about accepting the concerns about vaccination by putting it on the face of the Bill, which will allow us to take into account a range of options for what method is applied. Vaccination will, however, be more prominent in the decision-making process.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Is it not true that in April 2001 the Government's advisers said that a large number of cattle in the north of England should be vaccinated, but the National Farmers Union, in the shape of Ben Gill, wrecked that decision? He insisted on laying down impossible conditions that could not be met. If the Bill becomes an Act, will it withstand any future wrecking tactics of the NFU?

Mr. Morley : In Cumbria, our scientific advisory group made a unanimous recommendation that vaccination should be used on cattle, more in relation to disposal than as a disease-control measure. Due to the nature and spread of the disease, the advantage of vaccination would have been to reduce the number of cattle killed and, therefore, the need to dispose of them. There is no denying that there was significant disagreement within the farming sector; concerns were also expressed in the food industry. We are trying to look forward rather than back. What is clear to me, as I have said, is that it is difficult to decide the role of vaccination, where to use it and the priority that it should have in disease-control strategies and response in the midst of one of the world's biggest epidemics. It is difficult to get that agreement. It is much better to debate that matter now, have proper contingency arrangements and reflect the change both in the Government's response to the independent inquiries and on the face of the Bill.

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