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6 Nov 2002 : Column 314—continued

Mr. Martlew : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his party opposed the Royal Society report and wanted a public inquiry, whose results we would not have had for at least three years?

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is not quite right. We were certainly not opposed to the Royal Society report or the Follett report. We would indeed have welcomed a public inquiry in addition to the Royal Society report, although we understand that the Government did not want that—plainly, it would have been extremely embarrassing for them—and that they used their self-defence mechanism to avoid such an inquiry. However, to suggest that a public inquiry was an alternative to the Royal Society report is quite wrong.

It is curious to think of the Government trying to rush the Bill through the House and the other place, despite the fact that they knew that these two vital reports were due in the summer. The Government wanted the Bill to become law in advance of the reports becoming known.

Mr. Morley rose—

Mr. Gray: The Minister wants to correct me.

Mr. Morley: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When we introduced the Bill, the epidemic had only recently stopped. In all honesty, many people, including us, thought it likely that there would be further outbreaks, and it was important that we had a range of measures to deal with that. Of course, one can never tell when an outbreak might occur. I am glad that there have been no further outbreaks, but we cannot be complacent. I have to say, however, that the hon. Gentleman sounds very complacent.

Mr. Gray: I am astonished to hear the Minister suggest that my remarks are complacent. I would like to think that his Department had contingency plans in place and that, had there been another small outbreak during that period, it could have dealt with that a great deal more effectively than last time, which was an absolute shambles. Let us hope that the Department has learned a few lessons without any new legislation. I am also astonished that he thought it very likely that there would be more outbreaks. I heard no public announcement from the Department that further outbreaks were very likely, but the Minister has now said that.

Paul Flynn rose—

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is keen to intervene.

Paul Flynn: The disease was contained in Uruguay, France, the Netherlands and Ireland, but not here. That was because of the excessive number of animal movements following the first infection. More than 1

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million animals were exposed, as animals travelled to at least six markets. Is it not vital that the Bill is passed as quickly as possible, so that the farming industry is protected not just from another foot and mouth outbreak, but from the possible outbreak of many other diseases such as blue tongue virus, vesicular stomatitis and swine vesicular disease? The limitations on animal movements are crucial.

Mr. Gray: I entirely sympathise with the point about animal movements, and I think that Members on both sides of the House would seek always to restrict animal movements as much as possible, and find ways to use local abattoirs and to sell meat locally, but the truth is that the large buyers of meat buy from across the nation. Of course, a religious cull for certain purposes was the biggest single reason for the movement of elderly ewes that occurred immediately before the main outbreak.

I have heard the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Murphy) several times on the issue. Of course we agree—[Interruption.] Halal meat is the answer. Most of the old ewes that were brought down to Devon from the north were used for halal meat in Birmingham. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is making squeaking noises from a sedentary position, but halal meat was the main reason.

If I may, I shall return to the main point of today's discussion—Lords amendment No. 1, which has the specific purpose of dealing with vaccination. It would not be right for me to allow hon. Members to ramble on about other matters, as it is important to focus on the particular issue. I was making the point that the Government tried to rush the Bill through the House—it was introduced to this place 12 months ago—and that I am glad of the delay, which has allowed us to consider the outcome of the two reports. The science on vaccination is developing all the time.

For example, tests to differentiate between vaccinated animals and those that are infected are now fully available to us. That allowed the OIE—the Office Internationale d'Epizootic—to reduce the time for a return to disease-free status from 12 months to six. It happened very recently, and it allowed the EU temporary committee's draft report in September to advocate emergency vaccination as a tool of first resort.

5.15 pm

I presume that the EU foot and mouth disease directive, due to be published shortly, will also endorse emergency vaccination as the primary means of control, but if there is no similar presumption in favour of vaccination in the United Kingdom we will be at an immediate competitive disadvantage compared with EU countries where vaccination is preferred. Both the EU report and the directive will doubtless recognise the advances and validation of NSP-free vaccines and the differential tests, and make provision to deal with FMD in line with the new OIE ruling. As the Minister has acknowledged, and as was acknowledged in the earlier statement, the Department is also moving towards being broadly in favour of a degree of vaccination. I welcome that.

We all accept that there are potential problems with vaccination. An obvious practical difficulty with mass vaccination is the large number of animals involved. The

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views of the international community, especially on meat exports from a vaccinated country, need further clarification and will doubtless also need further negotiation. At present, vaccination cannot be carried out very easily, which is a great worry. We must ensure that we preserve our disease-free status and the ability to export around the world.

As the Royal Society report notes, the effectiveness and durability of vaccines require much more work. The costs associated with mass vaccination should also be considered, although they are nothing in comparison with the costs of an extensive cull. I accept that there are downsides to vaccination, but at least the amendment offers the Government the opportunity to use it in the event of another outbreak.

The Minister seemed to suggest that the amendment would require the Government to use vaccination. It does not; it merely requires them to make it a priority—to put it at the top of their tree. Of course a contiguous cull would still be allowed. What we are saying is that, whereas in the old days the cull was the presumption, we want vaccination—at the very least, ring-fenced vaccination—to become the presumption.

Problems would be involved in moving to the next stage and making vaccination a more permanent prophylactic, but it should not be beyond the wit of man or the expertise of science to demonstrate to the world that vaccinating to live guarantees a disease-free herd. It is possible to differentiate between animals carrying antibodies as a result of infection and those carrying them as result of vaccination. I personally have been vaccinated against yellow fever, smallpox, measles and, no doubt, a variety of other diseases. That does not make me a global health pariah; on the contrary, it allows me to travel abroad with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and other such useful organisations. Surely the same principle can apply to vaccinated animals.

Moreover, as the Minister mentioned, the meat that we eat today comes from animals that have been vaccinated against all kinds of disease. The notion of vaccination is not necessarily a bad thing. The Food Safety Agency could quite reasonably reach an early conclusion on whether FMD-vaccinated beef is as good as non-vaccinated beef.

We believe that vaccination against FMD, both as a firebreak and potentially, in the longer term, as a more general prophylactic, has real possibilities for the future, although we accept that more work is needed on many aspects. The Lords amendment moves our thinking towards vaccination and away from slaughter in a way that we do not think is achieved by the Government's much weaker amendment to it. We are glad that the Government have moved some way in our direction, but we are disappointed that they cannot accept the Lords amendment. We believe that it truly changes an animal death Bill into what we all want it to be, an animal health Bill.

Mr. Martlew : It is a year since I spoke in the Second Reading debate. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) keeps talking about the outbreak being two years ago, but I remind the House that the week before we introduced the Bill a flock of sheep was killed in south Cumbria on suspicion of being infected, and that

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was just over a year ago. We must not forget how devastating the outbreak was—the millions of animals that were killed, the devastation on the farms, the crippling of the tourist industry in many parts of the country and the fact that we spent billions of pounds that could have been spent elsewhere. I am sure that we can all think of how we could have spent the money. To prove how serious it was, we should remember that the general election was postponed because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. So the politics of having another outbreak have to be taken into consideration.

In Cumbria, I was right in the middle of the argument about vaccination. The farmers were in favour of vaccination, but the National Farmers Union and the food industry were against it. The milk factory where I worked for 20 years was threatened with closure if we vaccinated. I do not accept the idea that if we have another outbreak and introduce a policy of vaccinate to live, we will not have these arguments again. We will still have a problem with the food industry as it will be frightened that consumers will be turned off a particular product if we have a policy of vaccinate to live.

A policy of vaccinate to kill is absolute nonsense. In December, the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and I attended a conference in Brussels and listened to the Dutch agriculture Minister, who was still shell-shocked by the anger of the people of Holland having found out that 750,000 pigs there had been vaccinated and then all killed. The idea that we should have a policy of vaccinate to kill is nonsensical. An emergency policy of vaccinate to live still raises great worries, as we will have the same arguments with the farmers and the food industry. The way to go is to introduce routine vaccination that becomes part of the culture of farming, rather than being introduced in a crisis. The consumers will accept it. It must be a Europe-wide policy. In animal welfare terms, the benefits will be tremendous, but the spin off to other industries, including the tourist industries, of knowing that we can never go back to the devastation of last year will also be valuable.

When I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during her statement, she gave me some assurance that the matter was being looked at, but if European Governments do not show real commitment to routine vaccination, industry will not spend billions of pounds on developing a vaccine, particularly if EU politics are not committed to using it.

We need guidance from the Government. I believe that a vaccine is not far away. When the Select Committee questioned members of the Follett committee, they expressed the same view. I remind the Minister that Britain persuaded the rest of the EU to stop the routine vaccination of animals, so it was done in the past.

I believe that false information has been disseminated about carrying animals. There is no evidence that an animal that has had the disease and recovered passes that disease on to other animals. If we look at the history of foot and mouth disease in this country, some animals who had had the disease must have escaped the cull and survived, but fortunately we have had no more outbreaks this year. I supported the Bill on Second Reading because it gave us the option of vaccination. I was quite impressed by the response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I would warn the

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Minister that the idea that in a crisis we can introduce a policy of vaccination to live will be fraught with the same dangers that we faced last time.

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