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6 Nov 2002 : Column 309—continued

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Does my hon. Friend accept that part of the problem is that there has to be some consensus about the actions that have to be taken? We all know what went wrong last time—there was a great deal of disagreement over policy and actions among farmers. How does he anticipate that we shall be able to reach a stage at which we at least share an understanding of the policy options? As he says, that cannot be done in the midst of an outbreak; it has to be done now, and we have to build that consensus. Is that what the Government are talking about?

Mr. Morley: I do not want to go into great detail about the various strategies, as that would divert attention from the amendments. However, I am happy to answer interventions from hon. Members on that point. There are still many issues in relation to vaccination that need to be resolved. It is not a simple matter. There are issues such as tests and acceptance by the livestock industry and the food and farming industry, but we want to engage all the stakeholders in discussions on the matter. There is a recommendation from the independent reports that vaccination be considered more prominently as a response. We are not being asked to use vaccination as a response in all

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circumstances. One of the problems with amendment No. 1 is that we need some flexibility, but we accept that vaccination must move up the agenda and that we must address and resolve a range of issues.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems during the epidemic was that there were announcements by the Government, but a long period elapsed before anything happened in the countryside to implement the announcements? There was a great deal of doubt and public agonising by the Government about which course of action to take. Professor Sir Brian Follett said that the contingency plan should outline clearly to all the stakeholders the various options and actions, but should culminate in parliamentary approval of a contingency plan. Would not that be the way of answering the point made by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), who seems to have disappeared? Farmers should know what the various scenarios are and the responses to them. It is not good enough to put the contingency plan on the website. We need to have sight of it and debate it publicly.

Mr. Morley: I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Part of our interim contingency plan is a decision tree, as it is called. One can see clearly the various circumstances and the decisions that one might take about whether or not to vaccinate and what sort of vaccination one might use—suppressive, preventive or ring vaccination. A range of issues and applications is clearly laid out in a decision tree.

We are still in the process of engaging stakeholders in the development of interim strategies, so that we can have a proper contingency plan in place, probably early in the new year. We very much welcome the scrutiny of bodies such as the Select Committee in the development of a plan, so that it is open and transparent and people understand the reasoning behind it and the options available.

We are, of course, developing a whole animal health strategy. We are discussing foot and mouth, but the Bill deals with animal health. Inevitably, a great deal of attention will be focused on foot and mouth, but we must think ahead as well. We need adequate contingency plans for a range of exotic diseases, some of which may represent an increased threat because of changes in climate and the spread of insect vectors, for example. The Bill is designed to cope with that and give us the flexibility that we will need in future.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am grateful to the Minister, and apologise for the fact that I was not present when he started speaking. Does he recall that he told us in Committee:

and went on to explain how he preferred the option of vaccinating animals so that they could continue to live? Is that still his view, and will it influence the outcome of the consultations to which he referred?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady played a prominent part in Committee and she is welcome to intervene. The Secretary of State made it clear in her statement today

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that, generally speaking, if we are going to use emergency vaccination our preference would be a vaccinate-to-live policy. There may be circumstances in which a vaccinate-to-kill-later policy was necessary. That is dealt with in the Bill in relation to compensation, for example, and we accepted some amendments on that. However, I can confirm categorically to the hon. Lady that our preference is for a policy of vaccinate to live.

I have made it clear why we cannot accept the point made in the Liberal Democrat amendments. However, I am sure that we are not very far apart in our reasoning. We have given an important commitment and I hope that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) will accept that.

5 pm

We accept Lords amendment No. 3, which deals with the use of the word Ximmaterial". We are happy to accept the clarification that it provides. The provision in question enables the Secretary of State, where it is necessary to do so, to use a power to limit the spread of an outbreak and deal with it quickly. Our aim will be to use that power where we believe that it would reduce the total number—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the Minister that the Lords amendment to which he is speaking is in a separate group. At the moment, we are discussing Lords amendment No. 1, Government motion to disagree thereto and Government amendment (a) in lieu, and sub-amendment (i).

Mr. Morley: Thank you for that guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am used to dealing with amendments together in Committee and on Report. I do have much more to add.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I think that I was the only Labour Back Bencher who spoke in favour of the Bill on Second Reading. One of the reasons why I contributed was that it was vague as to whether the Government had the right compulsorily to vaccinate. Does the Bill before us clear that issue up?

Mr. Morley: The Bill makes the situation clear: the right to vaccinate always existed under the Animal Health Act 1981, but the Bill makes it easier to apply vaccination, as well as culling and serology, more quickly and efficiently.

There has been much concentration on the Bill in terms of culling—we had the same discussion in Committee—but the issues remain the same. The Bill does not focus entirely on culling. It is designed also to give the powers necessary for speedy entry into and application of vaccination and serology. Those powers are equally important in any application of disease control measures. Indeed, the different emphasis might mean that they become more important, which is a very strong argument for the Bill.

Andrew George (St. Ives): I seek the Minister's advice on the consumption of vaccinated meat. What

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assessment has his Department and the Food Standards Agency made of that issue? Is the Department clear about how much, if any, vaccinated meat is coming into the country?

Mr. Morley: We are certainly aware that some vaccinated meat is coming into the country, but vaccines are used in the livestock industry for all sorts of things. As is made clear in the Government's formal written response to the independent inquiries, we certainly believe that there is no reason why vaccinated meat, in this case in relation to foot and mouth disease, should not be placed on the market. There is no safety reason why that should not happen.

I ask the House to disagree with the amendment, but I hope that it will accept that we have recognised the arguments behind it and tried to give some reassurance by allowing in the Bill for the fact that the issue of vaccination will certainly be considered more prominently in future, along with a range of options, bearing in mind the proper scientific and veterinary advice and the fact that there are still some issues to resolve before we can successfully use it on a large scale.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I welcome the fact that the Minister has been ready to listen to all the discussions that occurred in Committee, in the House and during the progress of the Bill in the other place. His tabling of an amendment in lieu of the Lords amendment demonstrates that the Government are ready to listen. I understand the Minister's confusion about speaking to the other groups of amendments, but in those, too, the Government have demonstrated that they are ready to listen to the arguments that have been put forward here, in Committee and, particularly, in the other place, by granting a number of concessions on some of the important matters that were raised.

I understand much of what the Minister said about Lords amendment No. 1. None the less, we shall argue the case in favour of the amendment. The first groups of amendments—including those relating to slaughter, to which the Minister referred a moment ago—bring us to the heart of all that we found wrong with the Bill when it left the House of Commons. Its name is the Animal Health Bill, but as my noble Friend Baroness Byford so memorably said on Second Reading, it would have been better to call it the XAnimal Death Bill".

The Bill was originally introduced to allow the Government to kill animals, whether or not there was a real need to do so and whether or not farmers were prepared to allow it to happen, and to give those farmers unfair compensation for the cull once it had happened. The groups of amendments in this first, one-and-a-half hour debate are designed to correct the Bill's asymmetrical imbalance in favour of death, and to create a Bill that is, wherever possible, in favour of life—a true Animal Health Bill. This remains a bad Bill, but, thanks to these amendments and to the others that we shall debate later, it is a slightly less bad Bill than it was when it left here. We therefore welcome the Government's readiness to accept their Lordships' amendments, which, if time allows, we shall debate later.

The amendments in the first group relate to the vaccinate-to-live policy. Rather than accepting them, the Government are seeking to water them down. The

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Minister justified that by suggesting that, under EU law, vaccination on farms that had epidemiological connections with farms that were being culled out could not be allowed. I am certain that that is true, and I would not for a second question the Minister's understanding of EU law; I am sure that he is a great expert on it. However, many of the contiguous culls that took place during the crisis two years ago did not involve farms that were epidemiologically connected with farms being culled out. Rather, those farms simply happened to be next door to them. According to my understanding of the matter—I am ready to be corrected—EU law would allow vaccination on neighbouring farms.

What animal lover could have failed to be affected by the devastating images of the pyres of perfectly healthy animals, just two years ago? Who would not wish to find a way of avoiding that happening again? The unamended Lords amendment offers a means of doing exactly that. The Royal Society's report, which was published in July and to which the Government have rushed out their response today, acknowledges that fact. I remind the House that the report states:

On short-term planning, it states:

The Royal Society is, therefore, perfectly clear on the matter. In the National Farmers' Union's response to that report, its president, Mr. Ben Gill, said:

The Royal Society, the Follett report and the NFU support the principle of vaccination becoming part of the hierarchy of weapons at the Secretary of State's disposal in the event of another outbreak.

It might be informative to glance at the way in which Uruguay tackled foot and mouth disease in 2001, to see what can be done using vaccination without subsequent slaughter. Uruguay vaccinated 10 million cattle and eradicated the disease within 15 weeks. Only 7,000 animals were slaughtered, compared with the millions that were culled here, and the human impact was therefore absolutely minimal. The Minister might be keen to hear that the total cost to the Uruguay Government—vaccines, disinfection and compensation to farmers—totalled some $13.6 million, which is a tiny amount compared with what we had to spend here. So, there is a huge amount to be said for vaccination.

Of course I accept that scientists have begun to understand some of the questions surrounding the effectiveness of vaccination only in the past few months. For that reason, I pay particular tribute to Cross-Bencher Lord Moran, whose determined efforts ensured that the Bill's over-hasty progress through the other place was delayed so that it could be informed by the Royal Society and other reports as well as by those

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scientific advances. It is curious to think back to the Minister and his colleagues in the other place arguing that the Bill must go through terribly quickly as it was terribly important. Here we are, discussing their response to the Royal Society report on the same day as we consider Lords amendments to the Bill.

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