Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. Is someone making sure that the evidence is shared because certainly from my postbag, where a new report on the implications of foot and mouth on the future of farming arrives every day pretty well, there is certainly a lot of literature to digest and it would be a pity if all of these activities performed their functions separately without having the opportunity to look at each other's conclusions and look at some of the literature which has been made available to one group but perhaps not to another.
  (Margaret Beckett) I think everybody is doing their utmost to keep in touch with, as you quite rightly said, DEFRA on the information, ideas and advice that are coming forward. Certainly as a ministerial team we work very hard at the spread of mutual information and try to keep on top of the different developments that have taken place.

  41. You have not chosen to suggest that perhaps there are a few too many hands in this particular pot?
  (Margaret Beckett) Far be it from me to suggest that people ought not to be contributing their opinions. In fact, to go back to what I said earlier on to Mr Breed that, given the very real need to think carefully and long term about the future of agriculture and the future of the rural community, it is very encouraging that so many people are taking an interest and are actively engaged in the debate. I think it might even be unprecedented.

  42. It certainly is a growth industry and I would not wish to discourage people from making a contribution. I have done it myself so I would not want to put anyone else off. However, it does seem strange to have various arms of government pursuing parallel, overlapping, in some cases virtually identical briefs with different people leading them. There seems a danger at least of producing rather incoherent responses from this process, so who is the person who is pulling all these strands together to produce a coherent picture?
  (Margaret Beckett) I think it is a mixture of officials and ministers.

  43. There is no-one owning that task?
  (Margaret Beckett) For example, superficially you could say that there is a duplication between some of the work that Chris Haskins has been looking at and some of the work that the Rural Task Force has been doing, but he was asked to look specifically with a Cumbrian focus. They were looking at the overall picture. On the whole I think there is not duplication and hopefully there will not be when it is completed.

  44. Although his actual brief was to look at Cumbria certainly it was also to consider what lessons would be applicable to the other areas that have been particularly affected by the impact of foot and mouth. I am sure, having met him on a number of occasions, he is not going to restrain himself and will give his thoughts on the broader brief as well.
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes. I am sure he will not mind my saying that restraint is not one of the qualities for which he is known. Yes, of course, some of what he says will have wider resonance.

Diana Organ

  45. Can I go back to some of the comments that David Borrow was making about the rural recovery? One of the good things that did come out of the Rural Task Force of course was the grants that were offered to businesses that had been hit by the effects of foot and mouth and they were grants of up to £15,000. Can I ask you one or two things for you to look at over that? In my area the majority of grants were given to people that were in tourist and other allied businesses. Because the landscape was opened at the end of July they then spent all of August and the beginning of September trying to make some hay while the sun shone during the school holidays, but the closing date for these grants was 30 September. I suggest to you that that shows little understanding of how those businesses were operating during the closure and then the re-opening of their businesses. It was only at the end of September that they had the opportunity to think about how they could then look at applying for a grant. Do you not consider that the deadline was a little short and rather difficult for small businesses to put in an application before being cut off?
  (Margaret Beckett) I take the point that you make. I think it is difficult. No government is ever in a position simply to have open ended schemes and there does always have to be a framework there, there does always have to be an end date. I do not think it is lack of understanding. It is that one can only approach these things step by step but yes, I am conscious, as I said earlier in response to the Chairman, of those who have not been assisted or for whom assistance perhaps has not come at quite the right time. Sadly, one cannot tackle all of those problems but I do take on board the point you make.

  46. Quite a few businesses, I know from the Small Business Service in my area, missed the deadline. Most of their budget of £120,000 for the poorest people has been spent. Is there anybody looking at the possibility of having a second extension of the grant because the demand is so great?
  (Margaret Beckett) That case has been made and obviously we will not simply reject it. I simply repeat that even before the events of 11 September (or the economic consequences of those) it is not always possible for a government to do all the things that it is clearly desirable to do but yes, you are right. The point that you make has been made to us and we are conscious of it.

  47. With all those areas of the rural economy that suffer, undoubtedly agriculture is one of them but I would suggest to you that other areas of the economy suffered greatly, in fact possibly more so than agriculture; it does not matter whether it was the village shop or the garage or tourism or bed and breakfast. The Council for the Protection of Rural England said that your response has been more economically damaging than the disease itself. Are you not concerned about the fact that in the wider rural economy tourism is not within your remit? Although your department is rather large, tourism is still within CMS when it is a very integral part of the rural economy and agriculture?
  (Margaret Beckett) Again I entirely take your point and it is a point which has been made before but, as I am sure you will appreciate, not only are there those who suggest that tourism ought to be within the remit of my department but there are also those who think that transport ought to be in, planning ought to be in. I am very touched by this desire to load an even greater range of problems in my direction but I think on balance we have probably got enough of them. You have underlined a very serious point and, as you know, we did take steps earlier on in the year to bring forward and to accelerate some of the moves that were in th pipeline particularly for sole shops in villages, accelerating the mandatory rate relief scheme. We did substantially expand the market towns initiative so some steps were taken in response to exactly the concerns you express. With regard to the CPRE's remarks, yes, I do recall them. I cannot quite remember off hand what the basis was on which they made their rather sweeping statement, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is great that there are so many people who could solve all these problems much more easily and I just wish they had come forward at an earlier stage with their advice.

  48. Since your department does cover the whole area of rural economies and you obviously have concern for delivering sustainable and thriving countryside, Mark Todd was looking at the various reports that were coming and the views that were coming in about the implications of foot and mouth and what is happening in the rural economy. Would you not say that it is up to you in your department to have a very clear leadership and to be the person that has the leading role in the strategy for developing a thriving and sustainable rural economy?
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes, I think that is very much part of the role that is envisaged for my department and that we all wish to see succeed. As the pressure on the department hopefully eases, the pressure of having to deal with the disease outbreak, one of the very important priorities will be to pursue the work of the Rural White Paper. I personally—and I feel I am entitled to say this because I had no part whatsoever in bringing it out so I am not singing my own praises—feel that the Rural White Paper is an excellent piece of work and one of the most important things that any government has produced with regard to the rural economy for a very long time. If we are able to deliver on these core themes of improved standards for rural services and the market towns initiatives, it is one of those ideas that is such a brilliant idea that you wonder why on earth no previous government of whatever political shade had not spotted it before. If we are able to work along those lines then we should hopefully be able to do something that can begin to transform the rural economy and that would be enormously worthwhile.

Mr Breed

  49. While we are still on the rural economy, I think the Government announced a package of £300 million for funding the rural recovery programme. Can you tell us roughly how much of that has so far been committed and allocated?
  (Margaret Beckett) I have not got the most up to date figures. Again, I can send them to you. From memory, most of what was envisaged with regard to rate relief and so on has in fact been committed. There has not been much in the way of take-up for the small firms loan guarantee scheme because people have found other means, clearly. I understand that with deferring tax, VAT and national insurance, for example, about £158 million has been disbursed; I think £51 million, the business recovery fund. From grant approvals that have been issued I think £20 million of that has been paid. I have not got detailed up to date figures for the other aspects of the scheme but clearly substantial sums of money have already been disbursed.

Phil Sawford

  50. Sticking with the financial aspects of it, what are the estimated costs of the outbreak to the taxpayer overall and what mechanisms are in place to monitor control of those costs, and is there a limit?
  (Margaret Beckett) First of all, estimated costs. As I said right at the beginning, there is a range of different aspects of the costs. Something over a billion pounds has been disbursed directly in compensation. We identified a moment or two ago the very substantial part, perhaps £100 million, £200 million, something like that, of the money that was being made available for rural recoveries. That has certainly gone out. As to the other costs and the impact, I think it will be substantial; there is no doubt about that, but I cannot give you a figure off the top of my head. Again, if there was something reliable to tell the Committee I would certainly do so. As to mechanisms for monitoring the control, we do seek to keep continually under review how schemes are working out, whether costs in any way need to be re-assessed and we all know, going back to the point I made earlier to Mark Todd, that there have been changes in the various schemes that have been in place from time to time as it has been felt that the way they have developed has changed. There is a process of continual review and monitoring and control. Yes, there has to be a limit. There is always a limit to what one can afford.

  51. Can I also raise this issue of reports of fraudulent claims? There were numerous items in the media where it was suggested that valuers and farmers had inflated the value of their animals and there was reference to farmers as subsidy seekers. I understand from reports in the press through the summer period that ministers were to have an inquiry into these allegations. There were cartoons with farmers driving Rolls-Royces. It seems to have gone quiet but what happened? Did you find any?
  (Margaret Beckett) There were, as you say, a number of reports. Let us not get the two things mixed up. On the one hand, and again it goes back to the point I made earlier to Mark Todd and that which I made a moment ago, the position changes and evolves. Initially, if I recall correctly, and Jim will correct me if I get this wrong, there was quite a careful but time-consuming process of valuation. Because the scale of the disease that caused problems people came under pressure (perfectly understandably) for a more automatic system and that indeed was introduced. At first that seemed to work reasonably okay and then, as time went on, there began to be a feeling, although I do not know whether it was more than that, that instinctively people were starting to regard that as a floor and were looking at valuations above that rather than taking that as a broad, not ungenerous average on approach. When that was thought to be beginning to happen the Government did make changes correspondingly to the scheme, but all the time the impact of how valuation was working was changing because the pattern of the disease was changing. That I think is an understandable process of human operation of a system. One may say maybe the controls should have been tighter. I am sure some people were saying maybe it should have been earlier, but that kind of thing happens in ordinary human life. Quite separately from that there were allegations that there were people who were specifically seeking to be fraudulent and one does get these allegations. I am not aware that there was much in the way of heavy evidence, and certainly our priority has been to make sure that the schemes were working as intended, that they were giving the support that they should be giving in the way that they should give it and that they were not being misused and that was a priority. Obviously, if, as such schemes are run, evidence emerges of what looks like deliberate fraud, then that is a matter for the prosecuting authorities. My impression is that that has not been my experience, if indeed it has occurred at all.

  52. Can we be clear on that, that as far as we are aware through your department and other departments, we are not aware that there is any substance to these allegations that has been proved, because there were also claims of wild variations in the clean-up costs afterwards? There was also a suggestion of double indemnity where some farmers had collected insurance payments and also compensation from the Government. To be absolutely clear, is it your contention that there is absolutely no evidence that we are aware of and no prosecutions to date?
  (Margaret Beckett) I am not saying there is no evidence. I am saying I am not aware that there is any widespread evidence of problems. I do not know off hand—I do not know whether you know, Jim—whether there are any prosecutions in the pipeline along these lines. What we have tried to do, and you asked earlier about the context of monitoring and control, is to maintain a system of monitoring and control such that things do not get so out of hand that we actually reach the stage where people are successfully behaving fraudulently. I would be an idiot to say that it has never happened in any case but all I can say to you is that I am not aware of such cases or of evidence that is as strong as the implications there have been sometimes in various reports.

David Burnside

  53. Mark and other members of the Committee have referred to the number of inquiries that have taken place, the three announced by Downing Street at the end of August. There appears, if you look on the dark side, to be a regular mish-mash of inquiries here. The Government and the executive have resisted the calls from early summer for a full public inquiry with all the powers that that type of inquiry would have, including calling witnesses. The Secretary of State will be aware of the pressure from the farming community through Farming Weekly for instance which had a big petition calling for a public inquiry and, although farmers are small in numbers nowadays, I think that is significant coming from the farming community. Would she not reconsider bringing the inquiries under the one auspice of a full public inquiry? If I can throw in my supplementary which I raised in the House before the summer recess, I believe from my part of the world that the terms of reference that have been set by both the Agriculture Committee, similar to this Committee in the Stormont Assembly, and by the Department of Agriculture in Stormont, are better than those of your three inquiries that were announced in August. She said that she would listen and learn and liaise. I wondered: has she taken any lessons from the better handling of foot and mouth in the Province than has existed in England? Also I would point out that our Department of Agriculture in Stormont uses the word "agriculture" which I hoped she might use instead for her department in the future.
  (Margaret Beckett) Can I first say that if we only had one case then we would probably could have handled it a little better. That is without any disrespect. I do not in any way dissent from what you said about the way things have been handled in Northern Ireland, but they were in rather a different position. With regard to the whole general issue of the inquiry, yes, of course I accept that. To me it is one of the developments that has taken place generally in political life of recent years. There are some moves that in some way become fashionable and the demand to have a full public inquiry is heard almost every week—sometimes I get the impression it is every day—into anything that has gone wrong. That is not in any way to denigrate or undermine the very serious consideration that obviously had to be given to what was the proper form of inquiry for this very devastating event. I simply say to you that there is a sense in which no-one any more says, "We should have an inquiry". They always say, "We should have a full public inquiry", and I think many of the people who say we should have a full public inquiry into whatever it is perhaps have not fully taken on board that there is a very specific legal identity for what is properly called a full public inquiry which involves very substantial amounts of time, very substantial amounts of public money, and very often people are not as satisfied with the outcome as they thought they would be when they called for a public inquiry because it takes longer than they had hoped and it is not as conclusive as they had hoped and so on. What the Government sought to do was to identify an inquiry process that would meet what we felt was the underlying need that lay behind that understandable and justifiable call for a full public inquiry, namely that people wanted a full investigation of what had happened, a full examination of what had happened and to have as much light as is possible cast on all the implications of the outbreak. We have talked about three inquiries. We regard this as one inquiry process with three elements. I personally think, and I hope this may be a view that will in time catch on, that this is a better and more effective way to approach the inquiries into the aftermath of this particular disease outbreak than the alternative of a single inquiry would have been. Instead of asking one group of people to look at every single aspect of all the different issues, what we now have are three completely independent groups, one of whom is looking specifically at this particular outbreak and what actually happened and what are the lessons that we can learn about what was handled well and what was not handled so well. Separately the Royal Society are looking at the whole issue of disease outbreaks and epidemiology and so on among animals because, as you will appreciate, we have had a range now of outbreaks of animal disease. Nobody is better fitted surely to do that on an independent basis than the Royal Society, just looking at the science and the epidemiology and not distracting themselves with anything else about did somebody give the right advice here and so on. Then, again separately, there is the other aspect which, without any discredit to those first two, I regard in some ways as the most important fundamental, which is a group of people who are charged again, not with distracting themselves about what exactly happened in March or exactly happened in June, but looking at what should the future be in trying to answer the questions that Colin Breed and others have put, and indeed that many people in the farming community are putting. Because they are separate parts of the one process they will all be able to operate faster than they conceivably could have done, it seems to me, if they had tried to roll it all into one, and hopefully they will be able to give people information, advice and perhaps some answers a lot earlier than could otherwise possibly have been the case. It is of course not up to me. It is a matter for the Prime Minister. Only a Prime Minister can appoint a full public inquiry which again emphasises what is supposed to be the very specific nature of that inquiry process. What I hope and believe is that the independent process that we have put in place will actually give people what they want more speedily and effectively than the alternative would have done.

  54. What is the timing? Just update the Committee on the timing of the three inquiries.
  (Margaret Beckett) The Policy Commission are hoping for a report by Christmas. Dr Anderson has already started to read himself in and so on, but he will really begin his work when the information and advice and input he is seeking will not impede the handling of the disease. That is a little bit of a fluid situation but he certainly hopes to complete his work in six months from when he is in a position to be able to begin it. The Royal Society I have a feeling will be in the spring. Again, that is a matter for them. The Chair and the timing are all in the hands of those independent bodies. None of them is on this year's timescale.

Mr Todd

  55. What people who felt there should be a full public inquiry wanted was an opportunity to have their say and to see some of the key players in the handling of the outbreak cross-examined and taken to task where errors were seen to be made. I do not think the three inquiries give those people that scope.
  (Margaret Beckett) First of all let us take the issue of getting their point of view known. I entirely accept that and I think that is not only legitimate and valid but actually genuinely valuable, so I very much hope that all of those bodies—as I say, because they are independently chaired and run, my officials are not secretariat to those bodies; we are not chairing them; it is in the hands of the inquiries how they operate—will do as much as they can to give people a chance to make their point of view known and to give expression to their experience or indeed their opinions. You talked about people wanting to see people being cross-examined and taken to task. I hope, Chairman, I can say this because, although I have clearly had a role which has been a later and perhaps more minor role, I have some concerns . It goes back in a sense to what I was saying about the prevailing culture. It is enormously important that we learn the lessons of how the outbreak was handled. If you look, for example, at comparisons between this outbreak and the 1967 outbreak, the effort that was put in was absolutely heroic and it has been a dramatically terrible outbreak and people have slaved their guts out for hours and days and weeks and months on end to try to do their best. Inevitably there will have been errors and mistakes but there was also a lot of genuine goodwill and a lot of people trying to do their utmost to deliver a service to the public in really horrendous conditions. While of course it is right that if mistakes were made we should learn from that, it seems to me that there is a growing modern culture that if anything goes wrong somebody must be to blame and one of the things you have to do is find the person who is to blame and pillory that person. I have to say that life has always suggested to me that just a lot of things happen as a result of chance and bad luck and often there is not anybody actually to blame and most people most of the time are doing their best.

Mr Martlew

  56. I think, if we are talking about blame, somebody could well go to the farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall. If we can go from that, the point about the inquiry is that I welcome the three inquiries. Two of the Chairmen have given a guarantee that they will come up and take evidence in Cumbria. If, however, we are not satisfied with that then there will continue to be a call for a public inquiry. If I can go back to the early days of the outbreak, when you were not in post, Secretary of State, and in fact your department was not in being, there is a feeling in Cumbria, and obviously as a Cumbrian MP I share that feeling, that there were undue delays in implementing the slaughter policy in the early days and that had the effect of spreading the disease, and also that there was a breakdown of communication between the headquarters of MAFF here in London and Cumbria. In fact, the full scale of the problem in Cumbria did not become known until March, until Joyce Quin, the Minister, actually came up to my constituency. What were the reasons for those delays?
  (Margaret Beckett) To a certain extent, as you clearly recognise, you are asking me to speculate. It will be a matter for the inquiry to assess whether there was indeed undue delay and whether there were communications difficulties. I am not in a position to dispute that that was the case. One thing I would say to you just from the perspective of what I have heard and know myself is that the sheer scale of the problem that faced people, particularly in Cumbria and also elsewhere, has to be a factor and has to be respected as raising very real difficulties. I cannot immediately recall but I think it is something like four times the amount of animals being killed, or maybe it is even more than that, than there were at the peak of the 1967 outbreak. There were very substantial difficulties and very substantial numbers of animals needing to be dealt with. I think the thing that has run consistently through the whole period of the disease and everybody has always acknowledged is that the key to eradication is the time to slaughter and people have striven with might or main to meet those targets of 24 hours for the initial case and 48 hours for contiguous premises and so on. People have really tried desperately hard to meet those targets but it has not always been easy. There has been a variety of reasons, not all of them in the control of my department. I go back to something we discussed earlier on. When there were arguments about valuation, that in some cases slowed down action being taken. There were people who, absolutely understandably, resisted the policy of slaughter, either because they did not think it was justified or they simply wished to resist and took legal action, for example, against the department. All of those things did have an impact on whether or not we could meet those targets and did, sadly, have an impact upon the spread of the disease. All of those are things that will have to be taken into account. I again go back to the issue of the breakdown in communications. I think the sheer scale of the difficulties did cause very great problems early on. I do not dispute that. I do not know quite what to hope for from the inquiry, strangely enough. I am not quite sure whether I hope that they will say that given the speed and impact with which the problems hit everybody they could not have done any more, or whether I hope that they will be able to devise some wonderful answers that we will all be able to use should, God forbid, such an event ever take place again.

  57. I would agree with you, Secretary of State, in saying that the people on the ground worked very hard from various departments, including the MAFF staff. Indeed they are still working very hard because we are still not out of the wood yet. The policy of slaughter I hope is seen to have worked now that we are getting to the end of the campaign because I actually believe that the policy was wrong. I think it is well known that I am in favour of vaccination. It seemed to me that what we were trying to do was to concentrate totally on the agriculture side of it and we forgot the damage that was done to the rural economy in Cumbria. The area that has been very badly damaged is the tourist industry. Will your department be taking a more rounded view of issues like this? It seems that for MAFF that was their brief, to concentrate on that, and they were the lead department. I have to tell you that if you were to try and implement a slaughter policy again next year, it would not be acceptable to the people of Cumbria. You would not be able to implement it because we would never want to live through that again.
  (Margaret Beckett) I completely understand that, and I understand that as a reaction. It is difficult to sustain the argument that the policy has not worked because, for example, the feeling is that we probably had 11 separate outbreaks basically, but if you look, for example, in Cumbria, before we had this run of 16 days without a case anywhere in the country we had quite a pattern in Cumbria of five days with nothing and then one case, three days and then a case, three days. We had quite a pattern of much more isolated outbreaks but, because we still had the odd case coming up elsewhere in the country, that did not show through in the overall national pattern quite as quickly as it might have. What I would suggest to you, with respect, is that the policy of slaughter has brought down the numbers of cases dramatically although, for reasons that I have already said to the Committee, we fully recognise that it is by no means necessarily over and that the need for precautions and high level bio-security will continue for a considerable period of time, and we hope that everybody will be mindful of that. We have also all the way through thought that no-one had a closed mind on the issue of vaccination and of course it will come up in discussion afresh and of course it will be considered afresh, but I go back to what the Chairman asked me right at the very beginning, which is that, given the circumstances of this outbreak, what could vaccination have contributed? You are saying that slaughter would not be acceptable. In the Netherlands it has repeatedly been reported that we should have done what the Dutch did and vaccinated instead of slaughtering. The Dutch did not vaccinate instead of slaughter. The Dutch vaccinated first, as I am sure you are well aware, and then they slaughtered, and there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that because vaccinating first caused delay, although we all understand why they did it; I am not criticising them for doing it, the delay that was caused by them vaccinating first and then slaughtering did mean that they had to kill more animals per outbreak, substantially more, than we did. I think the estimate is something like they killed 10,000 for every 2,000 that we killed per outbreak. It is not a simple issue. I have not read anything at all from anywhere that says that, for example, ring vaccination would have worked in the circumstances in which we found ourselves on having this disease that was spread so hugely and so extensively across the country before ever it was detected. The Chief Scientific Adviser published an article in The Daily Telegraph earlier in the year about the limitations of vaccination. You know, because it is in the public domain, that vaccination was considered at one point in Cumbria because it was thought that it might contribute to slowing down the disease and protecting some animals, but (a) there was very substantial resistance at that time, and (b) events then moved on and it became clear that the disease was already there where the hope had been that vaccination might give some degree of protection. The most information that I have had a chance to look at is in the 1967 report where they go in some depth into the issue of whether ring vaccination would work or not, and say in terms that ring vaccination would be of no use in dealing with an outbreak that had already begun. They also say, by the way, that slaughter is essential, whatever policy is adopted, which is about as firm a statement as one could get, but they say that emergency ring vaccination would contribute little towards control. They looked of course at the different wider issue of general vaccination, but we are talking about unprecedented circumstances and an unprecedented or unique kind of outbreak and it is not clear to me—although it would be nice to think that there is a policy of vaccination that would mean that there would never be any disease out there so people would never need to kill anything, it would be perfectly acceptable and people would be able to market those animals and eat those animals—that that has been the position during this outbreak. Maybe it has become the position now in Cumbria. It is still not clear to me, the evidence is not there, as to whether that is the case everywhere.


  58. Secretary of State, could I just put a proposition to you? Had foot and mouth disease got into the pig herds in South Yorkshire we could not have slaughtered, could we, because you have units of 30,000 breeding sows, contiguous units of 30,000 sows? The Ministry did not have the capacity to slaughter at that pace. We would have had to vaccinate, if only to buy time. Is that a correct proposition? The Chief Veterinary Officer is nodding.
  (Mr Scudamore) When we got the outbreaks in Thirsk we did prepare a plan to assess whether we needed to vaccinate in Humberside to protect Humberside from the disease coming down from Thirsk, and the conclusion was that a vaccination programme would help in the disposal problem but that it would not actually control the disease because the difficulty with pigs is that you have a rapidly changing population from the new to susceptible to infected. The view we took was that we would take steps to prevent the disease getting into Humberside by putting on the blue boxes and the red boxes and all the rest of the controls.
  (Margaret Beckett) Which worked.
  (Mr Scudamore) Which worked, but there was a serious look at whether there was a benefit in vaccinating in Humberside and Yorkshire to prevent the disease getting in, as a preventive measure. As I say, the conclusion was that whilst it would have helped with the disposal issues, it would not have controlled the disease and we would have ended up circulating the disease. There was an added problem in that the way the pig industry is structured pigs could go from Humberside down to East Anglia as part of the breeding pyramids, and then if we vaccinated one part of the country we would then stop all those movements and so we would have created even more of a problem. The question then is: should we have vaccinated the whole of East Anglia and the whole of Humberside and Lincolnshire? We looked at it very seriously and the conclusion, on the advice of our epidemiologists, was that the measures on bio-security and strict controls in the Thirsk area were preferable to considering vaccination as a preventive measure in the Humberside area.
  (Margaret Beckett) No-one is saying that there is not a role for vaccination. No-one is saying that this is not going to be looked again in spades. What I would say though—and I am not suggesting you are saying this, Eric, and I am not suggesting your farming community is saying it—is that there is a kind of view that somehow vaccination is an alternative to solving the problems, and it is not clear to me that that is the case.

Mr Martlew

  59. I am sorry; I may not have explained myself very well, Secretary of State. What I am saying is that in the broader context, not just the farming context, the loss to tourism has been probably four, five times the amount of the loss to agriculture. Foot and mouth is an economic disease for the farming industry. We have made other parts of the rural industry suffer very greatly because of that. We had the fires, we had devastation, we had all the footpaths closed and still a lot of the footpaths are closed in the country and in Cumbria. The idea that we go through that again would not find any general support, perhaps with the exception of some of the farming community, in my county. If I can go now to vaccination, if we are going to look at vaccination, do we need to discuss that at a European level? It would be no good we in the United Kingdom deciding to do it. It would need a change of policy in the EU. Would that be the case?
  (Margaret Beckett) I think everybody, not just in the EU. One of the reasons we had enormous international co-operation: vets and veterinary students from all over the world coming in—and I am very thankful for it—was for them to gain experience that they realised was going to be unique. Right across the world, and certainly within the EU, people are looking at and considering these issues and there will undoubtedly be the most thorough discussion and examination of what took place, including the role of vaccination. Of course I take the point that there is the wider community to consider and that there is a reaction there too. Again, I simply say that while I completely understand that reaction and we will never have this again, etc, etc, one of the reasons that the disease spread in the way that it did was because we were not able always to meet the 24 and 48 hour targets. One of the reasons we were not able to do so was because of resistance in various forms, and I am not saying that that was illegitimate. You could have exactly the same problem with vaccination. It remains a divisive issue. You tell me how you are going to vaccinate the herds of a farmer who is utterly resistant to the thought that his herd should be vaccinated and I would be very interested to listen.
  (Mr Scudamore) There is an important observation that the Secretary of State has made. It is an international question that we deal in trade and therefore if a country is going to use vaccination then it needs to be on an internationally agreed system. Going back very quickly to Cumbria, we are now beginning to finish a lot of the epidemiological work on what happened at the beginning of this outbreak. There is no question that at least 26 primary foci existed in Cumbria before we knew we had the disease. We started off from an absolutely catastrophic situation, that we know that at least 26 infected animals had gone on to farms in Cumbria before we even started. It could well be a lot more than that, so we started off from a very difficult position. In dealing with vaccination, there is actually a philosophical question, and that is: are you aiming to eradicate the disease, in which case you slaughter and you might use vaccination to assist that, or are you going to live with the disease? With foot and mouth disease and with mass vaccination I do not believe you would eliminate the virus. There is a question that is a world question, not just a UK question: do we eradicate disease and use vaccine to help, or do we vaccinate generally and accept that we probably have to live with the disease with the vaccines we currently have available?

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