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6 Nov 2002 : Column 318—continued

Mr. Curry : I understand the reasons why the Government introduced a Bill so rapidly after the epidemic, but it had a very punitive air, and its measures were draconian. The pause has helped, and it is now much more balanced. On vaccination, the Government have got the balance about right. The other place has gone too far—it has run a little ahead of the science. We must ensure that the Government retain the flexibility to apply measures appropriate to particular circumstances—probably a range of measures—without necessarily being predisposed towards a particular set of measures.

As far as vaccination is concerned, there are three crucial factors. First, we must have a vaccine that is polyvalent—that can deal with all the strains of foot and mouth disease. Secondly, there should be a field test to distinguish vaccinated animals from those that are genuinely infected. In the circumstances of an outbreak, there is no point in sending samples to laboratories and having to wait three days or so for the results. Finally, there is the requirement that international trade rules should deliver the acceptability of vaccinated product and, indeed, that the various people in the industry should accept it.

5.30 pm

Interestingly, in Holland—the Dutch experience did involve vaccination—all vaccinated animal product was destroyed: none of it went into the food chain. The National Farmers Union may have had concerns about vaccination and the possibility of a two-tier market opening up, but as the Minister said, the food industry also had hesitations about the acceptability of vaccinated product. It is all very well saying that all animals have been vaccinated and various steps have been taken—we know that that is so—but as certain other episodes have shown, consumer reaction does not necessarily follow what we would describe as logic. It is entirely for consumers to decide what they wish to buy.

Mr. Drew : As always, the right hon. Gentleman talks eminent good sense. Does he accept that one problem with having a vaccination policy in the midst of an outbreak is that, in effect, there would not be one policy? One might well choose ring-vaccination, but to ensure the most effective policy—and to ensure that animals were being vaccinated to live—it would almost certainly have to be linked to the prophylactic vaccination of virtually all other stock. What are the right hon. Gentleman's views on mixing policies during an outbreak?

Mr. Curry: There would inevitably be a mix. A great deal depends on how rapidly one gets to an outbreak before significant movement occurs. If such movement does occur, a vaccination strategy becomes difficult to apply because of the sheer problems of tracing. I am very doubtful about prophylactic vaccination. There have been instances right across the uplands of trying to count animals for the purpose of making claims on the support systems. It is very difficult indeed to get hold of

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every single sheep, so the answer is, XFirst, find your sheep." If it were felt that even just a handful of animals had not been caught by prophylactic vaccination, significant difficulties would arise in terms of regulation and marketing.

Why does not the Minister ask Sir Brian Follett to keep a watching brief on this issue? Why is not Sir Brian asked to make an annual report to the Department, and to Parliament, on where the science has taken us? The Department could then add an annexe, stating the policy implications of where we are in terms of vaccines. Very few Members are scientists, and we need someone to translate the science into sensible terms. Sir Brian did an outstanding job in the report; he has credibility, and he would be a good person to take on that task. That, combined with the policy implications and comments from the Food Standards Agency, would be an example of the joined-up government of which we hear a great deal, but see a good deal less.

The Liberal Democrat amendment adds a little in declamatory terms, but absolutely nothing of substance, and I hope that they will not press it to a vote. The sensible thing is for the House to accept the amendment as formulated by the Government—it strikes a sensible balance according to the current state of our knowledge—provided that they set in motion the machinery to ensure regular updating of knowledge, and that they draw the conclusions publicly, for us all to see.

Andrew George : I suppose that I should move amendment (i) in the name of my right hon. Friends and myself.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman may speak to the amendment; it will be moved formally later.

Andrew George : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for clarifying the issue, and I apologise for being out of order.

I welcome the efforts made by their lordships in amending the Bill. Some significant and comprehensive work was done in Committee and on Report in the House of Lords, and the Bill, as amended, is considerably better than when the Commons sent it to their lordships. I welcome the opportunity for their lordships to demonstrate that they can be an effective revising Chamber.

I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted some of the amendments originally tabled by my noble Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches in the House of Lords—for example, that on an annual report in respect of meat imports and the related regulations and surveillance. I also welcome the fact that the Government have shifted their position and are prepared to open their eyes to the opportunity of introducing an amendment that would at least allow a vaccination policy to be used if an outbreak occurs in future.

However, perhaps harping back to today's statement, some lessons should be learned, one of which is that the Government should not attempt to rush through such

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Bills and that they must provide themselves with a greater opportunity to request reports, such as the two on which we have just considered the Government response, before introducing legislation.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does my hon. Friend agree that if ever a Bill would have benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny, this was it?

Andrew George : Absolutely. Although the Select Committee considered aspects of the foot and mouth outbreak and proposals in the Bill, the fact is that a number of important factors were not taken into account. The Bill has benefited from the delay as a result of considering the Anderson and Follett reports, and even the Government could not deny that. Among the lessons that need to be learned generally is the fact the Government need to reflect on the way in which they treat the industry. It is fundamentally important that the Government recognise that they must build a climate of trust between themselves and the industry in any future legislation or action that they take in relation to any future outbreak. What worries me about several of the Government's proposals is that the Bill is based on a lack of trust and forcing the Government's will on farmers.

I welcome the Minister's statement at the commencement of the debate that he is not against the general principle of our amendment, although he did not go on to argue specifically against the practice of our amendment. Is it a question of priority, or does he accept the principle that a vaccinate-to-live policy should be applied wherever possible and that wholesale farm slaughter should be used as a policy of last resort? If he fundamentally agrees with the principle that that policy should be applied, why will he not agree to its inclusion in the Bill? He did not answer that question.

Mr. Morley rose—

Andrew George : I will happily give way to the Minister—perhaps he will have an answer.

Mr. Morley: First, amendment No. 1 is unnecessary, as the Government have tabled amendments to respond to the problem. Secondly, it states that vaccination should be the option of first resort, but EU law covering infected premises and dangerous contacts places on us an obligation to slaughter. The amendment is therefore technically flawed. It would enable a person to mount a legal challenge against the Government for implementing normal disease control methods.

Andrew George : I am grateful for that clarification. However, the amendment would not undermine the Government's ability to demonstrate that they had looked at a vaccinate-to-live policy properly. Government amendment (a) in lieu states that the Secretary of State

The Secretary of State might consider that problem, but dismiss very quickly employing treatment with serum or vaccine. That decision cannot be challenged at present. The aim of the amendment is to require the

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Government to be more specific. Despite claims to the contrary, it does not commit the Government to a vaccinate-to-live policy. It would require the Government to make every effort to ensure that the option had been considered properly. It would also require them to be able to show that they had considered the matter before another approach was adopted.

Mr. Drew : Who would decide whether the Government had made an appropriate evaluation of a vaccination or serum policy? Would it be the courts, or would an independent agency be established to make that adjudication? I am genuinely confused about how the proposal would work.

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