WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER 2001 __________ Members present: Mr David Curry, in the Chair Mr Colin Breed David Burnside Mr David Drew Patrick Hall Mr David Lepper Mr Eric Martlew Mr Austin Mitchell Diana Organ Phil Sawford David Taylor Mr Mark Todd __________ THE RT HON MARGARET BECKETT, a Member of the House, (Secretary of State), and MR JIM SCUDAMORE, Chief Veterinary Officer, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, examined. Chairman 1. Secretary of State, I think The Sunday Times had you as one of "The Magnificent Seven". I hope you will not mind my saying that I think you are the doyenne of the Magnificent Seven. (Margaret Beckett) The eldest, certainly, I think, yes. 2. We only have a Magnificent One, in the shape of Diana here. We are quite sure she will hold her own, worthy of seven. I am sorry we have got a rather crowded room. I am allergic to the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House because the witnesses are so far from the Committee that you need Semaphore in order to communicate, and rooms 15 and 16 are being used for storage at the moment, so I apologise for the discomfort of the surroundings, but good political advice is always crammed into a smaller room rather than have empty seats in a big room. That is not a reference to my party's recent congress. Welcome to Jim Scudamore, as well. We are delighted to see you both. I think we may get to see each other relatively frequently and that will be, I have no doubt, a pleasure for both of us. If it is not we will have to get by without it being a pleasure. May I ask two or three general points to begin with, Secretary of State. We have now had over 2,000 cases of foot and mouth disease. When we began with this epidemic the policy of slaughter was justified on the grounds that we had to maintain the disease-free status of the United Kingdom. There was never any real costing put upon the value of disease- free status in comparison with the cost of the slaughter policy in terms of the compensation paid, on the one hand, and, on the other, the dislocation of businesses for farmers who did not have the disease but who were caught by the restrictions and, of course, perhaps biggest of all, the dislocation of other businesses which were deprived of customers. In the light of that, do you think the policy has been worth it? (Margaret Beckett) Obviously it is going to be very difficult, and I am sure lots of people will try to cost all of these different implications. I think my principal reaction, Mr Chairman, to your question is "What is the alternative?" Without wishing to pre-empt any of the results of the various inquiries which are taking place, it is not clear to me that there was much of an alternative in treating the outbreak of a disease of this nature. So, basically, I am sure that will be one of the things that is given extensive consideration, and when it is people will have to look at the costs of any alternatives. Given the arguments about the efficacy, for example, of trying to pursue a vaccination policy, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves when it was first realised how it had begun, I do not think there was much else that anyone could have done differently, in the circumstances. 3. Getting back to normal is going to depend heavily upon the progress of the blood testing, which vets call "bleeding". Could you give us a report on when that process will be finished, so that normality can be restored? Is there anything you can say to businesses - which next week have the school half-term and the last opportunity, perhaps, to be able to earn a little before winter sets in - about their prospects? (Margaret Beckett) I will ask Jim, if I may, in a moment to give us the latest indication. I think it is an indication of the success of the scale of the action that has been taken to try and tackle this disease the extent to which testing has been racked up. I believe when the outbreak began the normal capacity to conduct tests was something like 400 a week, but we are now just over 170,000 and I believe we hope to have a capacity of 200,000 by November. So I think what has been done and the hours that people have been prepared to put in have been quite remarkable and very much worthy of praise. I will ask Jim in a second just to say where he thinks we are at in terms of timescale for finishing. It is also worth saying, because when the wide scale testing begun there was concern it would reveal the disease was endemic in parts of the country, and that has not turned out to be the case. The latest figures, I think, are just under 400 positive tests out of something like 700,000 or thereabouts. So that is reassuring. As to the issue of normality, of course we have now got 92 per cent of footpaths in England re-opened. That is 109,000 miles out of a total of 118,200. We have continued to say to people throughout the period, once the initial stage of assessment had passed, that provided that people moved with caution and are cautious about contact with susceptible livestock there is no reason why people should not use the countryside in the normal way. I think that has broadly got across. I understand that in many areas there has been more of a recovery from what had been anticipated in business over the summer, but I share your view. We are having, mercifully, some mild weather and I hope people are recognising, and do recognise, that not only is this an opportunity for them to enjoy themselves in the English countryside but, also, an opportunity to help those who have suffered very seriously from the tackling of this disease. 4. Before the Chief Vet replies, may I ask a supplementary which you may wish to embrace as well? As you say, you are finding relatively little incidence of whole disease or residual disease. Of course, if we are seeking disease-free status to be restored, how do we demonstrate there is no disease - residual disease? (Margaret Beckett) As you say, it is something he may want to address, but in terms of disease-free status where we are at present is that 104 counties are now classed as foot and mouth disease free. In Scotland all 23 counties are classed as free and 21, of course, never had an outbreak of any kind. Only two counties, Cumbria and Northumberland, have had outbreaks in the past four weeks, and we have not had a case, as of this morning, for 16 consecutive days. Having said that, I think it is only right to say immediately that, of course, we all fully recognise - and I know all this Committee will recognise - particularly given the fact that we have had to licence some autumn movement, although trying to take account of the balance of risk that is very, very clearly there - it would be a miracle if we get through the period when autumn movement is taking place without seeing a resurgence. Certainly there must be that very real danger, but where we are at the moment is certainly better than one might have feared. 5. You may have just written a headline. (Mr Scudamore) On the serology we have done around about 1.6 million tests now. As the Secretary of State said, about 700,000 of those have been in protection zones, and we have had around about 400 positives. Of the 1.6 million that have been done in protection zones, we have had ---- 6. The protection zones are 3 kilometres outside an infected ---- (Mr Scudamore) The 3-kilometre zone around an infected premises. We have done 700,000 of those. In the surveillance zones, which is between 3 and 10 kilometres, where we do not test all the flocks but test a statistical number of the flocks, we have tested about 460,000 and we have had 0.02 per cent of the animals positive. The remainder of the tests have been done for epidemiological diagnosis. To give you the overall result, in the protection zones, for example, we have tested 9,950 flocks and we have had 28 positives. 7. Twenty-eight positive flocks? (Mr Scudamore) With evidence of antibodies. Of those 28 we found no evidence of virus in 26 of them, so of the 28 that were antibody-positive only two had virus present, which indicates that the flocks have been exposed to the disease but there was no longer any active disease in those flocks. In the surveillance zone we have tested 6,658 flocks as at 15th and four of those were positive on antibodies but had no evidence of any virus. So we are working through this testing and we are not getting a high proportion of the flocks positive. What we are seeing is evidence of old disease in a number of flocks, and it is possible there might still be one or two flocks out there with active virus in them. So that comes on to the second question and that is how will we know when it is all over? I think we are going to have to set criteria to say that it is all over. The first thing is we can say we have no disease in a lot of the counties and we can say that when we have had no disease in the country for three months that is a good indication that it is all over. When we have converted all the counties to free counties - that means we have completed all the serological work in those counties - that will be another indication. But we still remain with the problem of how do we finally clear it and say we have got no virus present in the country? The way do that is, I think, that as we get test results in we will have to analyse them and see what they mean and what they show, and then we might have to do more testing in some areas to demonstrate there is no virus left in the national flock. 8. I am going to ask David Drew to come in in a minute, but I have one final question from me, Secretary of State. I think perhaps one of the most common criticisms levelled during the course of this outbreak - and obviously my constituents have been seriously affected - has been the dislocation in the process of decisions taken in London and implementation locally, as far as movements are concerned. This goes right back to the original welfare scheme, various licensing schemes and the most recent autumn movement scheme. The trading standards office in Northallerton was wholly unable to deal with requests because the DETRA computer collapsed on them. I have been told the DETRA computer was programmed to deal with 8,000 hits a day and it collapsed at 2,000 a day. In every single case, a week after the chiefs had announced something in London the Indians in the constituencies have been saying "Can we have a few arrow heads?" "We have not got detailed instructions." "We do not know how to carry this out". Do you think that is a valid criticism, and what do you think can be done to make sure that when instructions or initiatives are taken in London that they are capable of being implemented efficiently and without dislocation? (Margaret Beckett) I think the Committee is aware and, indeed, my predecessor spoke to the Committee before about some of the earlier problems with the issue of licensing. I think we did have a particular problem with licensing movement, and I am not going to pretend that there have not been very, very real problems on the ground. We are extremely conscious of that and we do not attempt to conceal it for a second. I would like to take the opportunity to pay very real tribute to the local authorities because they did a magnificent job. Part of our anxiety at the beginning when we were trying to put this system in place was that the local authorities would find it difficult to start up and put the procedures in place actually to do their end. I have to say they have been magnificent. They have certainly carried out their role and there is not any doubt whatsoever that, as you have identified in the example you gave, we have had very, very real problems with the programme. It has been extremely difficult to do. It was a very difficult exercise to devise a good programme for. While the work was being undertaken to develop arrangements and to develop the software and so on, the Hexham outbreak occurred, which completely changed the background against which the planning had been undertaken and made everybody even more risk-averse and even more conscious of the problems we would need to address, and we had, as you say, very real problems. However, I understand and indeed hope that those problems have now been resolved and something like 26,000 licences have been issued and another 8,000 have been processed and we hope will be issued very shortly. Mr Drew 9. If I can just look at the issue of autumn licensing in a little bit more detail, is there a need to look at the system? You quite rightly paid tribute to local authority officers but there is inevitably going to be some conflict where you have got people in DEFRA offices saying one thing to farmers and then they go to local authorities for the licences to be issued and it does not seem to happen very efficiently. Are you actually looking at that system now? (Margaret Beckett) Yes, we are because, as I say, we are conscious that we have had very real problems. Obviously human error does occur, but I would have thought that anyone who contacted DEFRA would have been told that, first of all, when we announced the scheme we made it absolutely evident that it would take time to build up, that it would be extremely difficult and complex and that we were very, very mindful of the fact that if everybody came along on day one it could not possibly cope. All the way through we have been very cautious about saying "This is what we are trying to do, it is going to be difficult, we are going to have to build up to it slowly" and that was even before we understood the scale of the problems we were having with the computer systems. I would hope that any of our staff have been somewhat cautious but saying "This is what we are trying to do, this is how you go about it and we are doing our best to satisfy demand". 10. Notwithstanding that we obviously have got to make a guesstimate of when foot and mouth will end and given that you do that, is licensing here to stay or is it very much connected to the foot and mouth outbreak? (Margaret Beckett) I think you will be aware that there was some discussion about whether we do want to control movement and there has been some consultation, which received what I can only describe as an unfavourable response. Clearly, again, these are exactly the kinds of issues that people will have to look at in the aftermath of this particular outbreak. This outbreak does seem to have very much been linked to animal movement. The question we will all have to consider is whether that is always likely to be the case in the circumstances in which farming operates today or whether it is much more to do with anybody knowing there was an outbreak. So all of these things we will have to thrash out. 11. Surely the way forward is traceability of sheep? That must be your prime concern, at the moment. I know the Department is working on that. I was a bit surprised to hear a couple of days ago that if and when you introduce this you may have to do it with a paper-based system rather than using information technology. Could you perhaps say where you are with regard to that? (Margaret Beckett) There is still a great deal of work to be done on it, and I think it is a consequence of the problems we were talking about with the autumn movement system; people are concerned as to security and actually having accurate records. People have not been able, because of the range of other things that are taking place, to develop what would be, I agree, desirable in the long-term, which is good IT to maintain these records. The principles, in fact, that underlie the whole autumn movement regime are three-fold: the principle of all movement having to be licensed, the principle of that having to be linked to some form of inspection and then there is variation of degree depending on the severity of the problem, and then thirdly, of course, identification. I think that for a whole variety of reasons, not just to do with foot and mouth but to do even with marketing, people are talking more and more about whether we can get greater individual identification and whether we can get greater traceability. Really, everybody is talking about flocks rather than individual beasts. Mr Todd 12. Why was there a three-week gap between the announcement of the autumn movement scheme and the announcement of the Sole Occupancy Licence Scheme? (Margaret Beckett) Simply a matter of being able to get agreement on what the criteria should be, given the changing situation, and actually beginning to implement the scheme. 13. Had this Sole Occupancy Licence Scheme been conceived of as part of the autumn movement scheme process, or was it an after-thought, after people said "Well, this is not going to work in the way you are suggesting, here is another way which will make something function effectively"? (Margaret Beckett) I am not sure I would say it was an after-thought. (Mr Scudamore) We have been trying to develop a movement scheme that balances the risks and it is quite a complicated scheme. It is continually changing as the risks alter and the scheme has been looked at, so we are constantly looking and still looking at whether pigs can move separately to the way cattle can and have different rules on how sheep are moved. So the scheme was devised to allow movements where there was minimal risk. We have also had to try to devise a scheme where we have got the capacity in terms of serology to do the testing. One of the issues we were looking at, as the number of cases was declining and as they were being limited to Cumbria and Northumberland, was whether we could allow movements within 20 kilometres with a sole movement licence to allow people to move the premises within same ownership. At the same time we were having regular meeting with all the stakeholders, so we had regular meetings with all the people with an interest and there was an intensive set of meetings during this period with the Farmers' Union, LACOS and others to try and devise a system which would minimise the risk and which would match the resources we had and allow movements. It is an on-going development. 14. Yes, but it certainly gave the impression of confusion, because I was rung by several local farmers who had seen the autumn movement licence announcement and recognised that that simply would not work in their circumstances. They pointed out the fact that they had fields in ownership within a radius of, say, four to five miles, and why could they not move their stock between them? When I inquired, of course, it became clear that another scheme - which we now have - was being worked on at that time. That communication had not got through into the farming community and a lot of them were wasting time both ringing me (and, of course, that is part of my job) and, also, ringing up trading standards, DEFRA and so on, to try and find out what was going on and how they could carry on their business. You nod. (Mr Scudamore) Yes, I agree that communications is an area that we have to look at. However, in this particular case there were a lot of intensive meetings with the Farmers' Union and with LACOS and all those with interest to try and get a scheme which would allow this sort of movement to take place and, at the same time, give us an assurance that the disease ---- 15. The puzzle is why it was not conceived at the start as part of the original announcement and instead was added as an after action. (Margaret Beckett) There is always creative tension. One makes proposals and then people look at them and say "Wait a minute, could we not tweak the scheme here or make some changes there", and then say "Are you being consistent?" I think if people want policies to be adopted and schemes to exist that are responsive to the concerns that they express then they have to recognise that that means there will be change. The second thing I would say is that leaving all of that aside, the underlying concern all the way through has been - going back to what I said to the Chairman some little time ago - the acceptance of the very real fear of the risks that we were running. So it is not that people have no awareness of some of these difficulties; it has been a very cautious, step-by-step move to look at different relaxations because there is such an unease and concern about the very real risks that allowing any movement presents. That, again, is something that underpins all the steps. So, in those circumstances too, what you are bound to get is a degree of gradual evolution rather than a perfect scheme coming right at the very beginning. Mr Drew 16. If we could, again, look in some kind of detail at the responses to the 20-day standstill consultation, you have already alluded to the fact that it has not gone down very well. What are you going to do to try and alleviate some of the fears? (Margaret Beckett) I think this goes back to the point Jim made about communication. Everybody is going to have to take a step back and look at the full range of experience of this whole outbreak and look at it against what has happened elsewhere, what has happened in the past and then consider whether we have had a complete one-off. As I understand it - and Jim will correct me if I am wrong, I am sure - it is unprecedented for an outbreak to have taken place and to have run for so long without it becoming known that an outbreak had taken place. Does that mean that this is something that we should never expect to happen again? I suspect not, actually. I think it is against that background that people will have to look at all of these issues, including traceability and licensing. I am sure the Committee is aware, Chairman, that the Dutch Government is sponsoring a conference in December which is going to look at a range of issues, and I will be quite surprised if those issues do not come up. 17. What are you going to do about the dealers? (Margaret Beckett) I am not entirely sure what you are suggesting. 18. I could say, if you wish. (Margaret Beckett) The role of the dealers is something that has evolved alongside the whole issue of movement. I am not sure which came first, whether it was the greater use of dealers that came first or whether it was greater movement. It has clearly played a very major role in the movement of animals, and that has on this occasion contributed to the disease. So, again, I go back to what I said earlier that I think to some extent how people look at the pattern of farming and the pattern of marketing and sale will depend on the degree to which they think this is something which could happen again in a similar sort of way. 19. Does that mean that the Government has a key role to intervene to set the parameters? At the moment you almost get the worst of both worlds. It is not a free market but, at the same time, the Government has got limited powers to really be able to intervene. Is this something where you have got to look very carefully at much more intervention and actually almost say what movements and when - which is effectively what you are doing with licensing anyway? (Margaret Beckett) As I say, this is all part of the conversation and discussion that British people are having on the back of that consultation about which you were told earlier. If you have uncovered someone who actually thought it was a good idea to have that control I would be very interested to hear it. (Mr Scudamore) There is a comment, and that is we have had to have a 21-day standstill in the pig industry since 1974, so there already has been a precedent set in the pig industry, where following swine and sickling disease (?) and other problems there was a 21-day standstill on pigs. However, that standstill was then relaxed in certain circumstances. If the pigs were in a period and they moved a certain way where there was no disease risk then there were exemptions to the 21-day standstill. This is a question, really, for pigs and other sheep and cattle. 20. If I can move on, finally, then to the issue of livestock markets, my nearest market, Gloucester, is seeking to relocate. What advice would you give them on whether that is going to be a sensible move? (Margaret Beckett) Far be it for me to give advice to some individual market. It is not clear to me, from what you are saying, David, whether or not they were seeking to relocate anyway because of their long-term plans or whether they were relocating as a consequence of ---- 21. I think what I was asking, Secretary of State, was: is there a future for livestock markets? (Margaret Beckett) That, too, is part of the general discussion that people will have. It is hard to envisage that there will not be some form of future for livestock markets. I am reluctant to speculate, but certainly these are issues that people will have to discuss. If you look, for example, at the early suggestions that one of the areas that caused difficulty was the recording of sales outside markets, that suggests that the recording and the tracing facility that they offer has some value. Again, the degree to which livestock markets have developed and are developing is related to the underlying position of animal movement and that is related to farming methods and the approach to farming. Some people would argue that goes back to the nature of the CAP regime, which, as you know, we would like to see changed. Mr Mitchell 22. I want to talk about exports, but can I just, first of all, Chairman, go back to something Jim Scudamore said? You said that on investigation, I think, four flocks in one category and two flocks in another category were found to have been infected but to have developed antibodies. Was that antibodies to the present infection or to something that was earlier endemic? Do we know? (Mr Scudamore) The evidence we have got is that it was linked to the present outbreak. So the flocks we have looked at - 28 in the protection zones and 4 in the surveillance zones - where we found the presence of antibodies, all the indications are that those antibodies are as a result of contact with foot and mouth disease virus in the last five or six months, since February. 23. If flocks were curing themselves, as it were, on that kind of scale, does it not indicate we went in for excessive over-kill, you might say, and a degree of panic which was not justified? (Mr Scudamore) As I said, two of the flocks we did get virus back from. The other problem we have with sheep is that if susceptible sheep move into a flock, or if the management structure of the flock is such that the virus may move slowly round the flock, the virus can stay within flocks. Most of the flocks that have had disease we have killed out because we have identified them. These are flocks that either had a low level of disease or they have had disease which has not been noticed, and they appear not to have antibody virus in them at the moment. The difficulty is that there might still be one or two flocks that have been through that process and where the virus is still circulating in that flock. So the difficulty we have with these flocks is knowing whether they are clear or whether they have still got virus in them. We cannot take that risk. 24. So it was still precautionary. (Mr Scudamore) Yes, it is precautionary, but as I say the difficulty with this disease is if there is virus still in a flock and you put in some more susceptible animals the disease can flare up again. In fact, in some of the flocks we have looked at, we have looked at various management groups to a flock and we have had different stages of disease in different groups. So in one group they are all positive, in another group in a different field some of them are positive and they have virus in them. The concern we would have is that if we left these flocks we would never know whether we still had the virus or whether the virus was circulating. Then if animals moved out of those flocks we could be back where we started. 25. Thank you. Now exports. Exports to Northern Ireland resumed on 1 July. When do you intend to seek permission for exports from areas within England which have been declared free? (Margaret Beckett) At the moment we are not remotely in that position, although we have, as I am sure you know, got permission to move pig meat now. It is a matter for the European Union to look at and to assess what the position is. At the present time, given that we have autumn movements and that that is a very clear risk, and given that it is only 16 days so far (which is very welcome) that we have been without new cases of the disease, I think we are some distance away from being in a position to make that application. 26. Are you going to leave it to them rather than push? (Margaret Beckett) I did not say we are going to leave it to them, I simply said we are not in that position yet. 27. The Scottish Executive is already making its case in Brussels for the resumption of Scottish exports. Were you consulted on that? What consultation has there been about that unilateral attempt? (Margaret Beckett) Of course we were consulted and we keep in touch about the different positions and about the circumstances of a particular area. I completely understand the position of the Scottish Executive, given that Scotland has a wide area that has been disease-free. 28. So the UK Government, as a whole, supports the case for resuming exports from Scotland? (Margaret Beckett) It is for the Scottish Executive to make their case, but we are not opposing them or trying to impede their making their case. Mr Mitchell: A good example of devolution. Thank you. Chairman 29. Policing internal boundaries is actually quite a big job, is it not? (Margaret Beckett) All of these things present considerable difficulties. 30. You expect that the authorisation which has been given on pig meat will take effect and we are in a position to be able to deliver on that? (Margaret Beckett) We certainly hope so, yes. Mr Breed 31. Could we turn to look at restocking? Many farmers are trying to rebuild their lives, rebuild their livelihoods and are undertaking some restocking. How successful will they be, and how will they know whether they are doing the right thing in terms of what they are going to restock their farms with and to what extent, if they do not have an understanding of what the Government's overarching strategy for British agriculture is? In fact, a strategy for the whole rural economy. How will they know that what they are now reinvesting this money in is going to ultimately produce for them a profitable business and part of a successful agricultural industry for the country? (Margaret Beckett) Where we are in terms of restocking is that of the 9,556 premises where compulsory slaughter took place some 686 are now eligible for restocking, because restrictions have been lifted. As to the issue of what the overarching strategy is, of course, this is why when we set up the inquiry process, which has three separate but independent strands, in some ways I think the most (without disrespect to the other strands) important part from the point of view of the farmer is the Policy Commission. Obviously, they have a very major and serious job to do and that is why we have asked them to try and report by the end of the year because we are very mindful of the fact that within days of being in this post farmers were beginning to say to me "When this is over we hope we will be getting a better picture of what the Government sees the future of British agriculture as being". These are the ones who had not fallen into a pitiful despair and thought there was not a future and that the Government had deliberately set out to destroy British agriculture. They were saying to us, "You will have a clearer picture of where you think farming is heading and, indeed, the wider rural economy." As I say, that is why we set up a Policy Commission. Also, of course, over the summer in a variety of contexts we have been highlighting both that we wish to see CAP reform in general and, also, the framework of reform that we would like to see as a Government, indicating, for example, that we would like to see a separation between production and payment. We would also like to see much more substantial, not just modulation, but money going in a much more flexible and easy-to-use way so that we can look at things like rural development. This is partly related to the nature of farming, the capacity and scope of farming in the future, and it is also partly related to diversification. So we are beginning to sketch out some themes of the approach that we see, but also seeking to foster a national debate and get some input about assessing this whole picture. 32. Thank you for that. Over the summer there was a series of seminars and advice sessions for farmers to come along and gain some understanding of what they think the Government's thinking is on this. What would be a success rate in terms of the numbers of people coming to those seminars and being able to understand where they are going to run their businesses from? It appears not to have been very well attended, at least initially, and 686 out of 9,500 is still a relatively small proportion. The vast majority have still yet to come. As they are now contemplating themselves, they are going to have to wait until the Policy Commission has come forward, then the Government has got to look at it. Are we talking about, perhaps, another six, nine or twelve months before people really have an understanding of what they are going to do in terms of restocking their businesses? (Margaret Beckett) No, I hope not. As I say, we have deliberately asked the Policy Commission to report by the end of the year so that people can get a flavour of the approach that is being adopted. With regard to the advice sessions, I am afraid I do not have up-to-date information on that, but I will be happy, if I may, to let the Committee have it. The one thing I will certainly say, from a little earlier in the summer, is that I do know that a very disappointingly small number of people have been coming forward to take advantage of business advice. I know that people have been encouraged to do so and I very much hope they will because, as you have rightly identified, many farmers recognise that we are now in a changing situation for the environment and for agriculture, and not just in the United Kingdom but certainly across the European Union and more widely. For people to not want to come forward for discussion and advice, or not to have thought of doing so, suggests that perhaps they are not thinking as clearly as they should be about things which are changing and they may not return to what was before. 33. Of course, very often farmers only know what they have been doing, and they are almost bound, in the absence of anything else, to return directly to what they have been doing in the very hope that they will be able to get back to the sort of business that they had prior to foot and mouth. Finally on the blood testing, do I understand it that blood testing is going to continue in some form for quite some time to come, first of all, to provide early notice of any future problems and, secondly, to maintain direct evidence that we have got, hopefully, the disease-free status that we need? (Mr Scudamore) That is right. First of all, we have to have a disease-free status so we have to demonstrate a virus-free status. The question of how we can demonstrate a virus-free status would fall to a number of different ways. One is to continue blood testing on farms so we are absolutely sure that statistically we have a very low probability of virus being present, but there are alternative methods of undertaking surveillance. One of those is doing it through abattoirs, so we collect samples in abattoirs for batches of animals and we can look at those samples to ensure they are all negative. What we are doing at the moment is finishing off this surveillance zone and protection zone work, we are reassessing a number of the counties to see whether we need to do any more work, and then we are going to have to look statistically to see whether there is any more routine surveillance we need to do for another year or so. There are a number of ways of doing it. One is to do it on farms, another is to do through abattoirs, collecting samples and screening those. (Margaret Beckett) Can I just say, in answer very briefly to the point you made, Mr Breed, about people hoping they can get back to where they were before, first of all, farming has changed dramatically over recent years and decades, so it is not an industry that is without change. Also, I am extremely conscious of the fact that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with where they were, and I do not think anybody would say the farming community was a happy bunch of bunnies before foot and mouth broke out. So I think a beneficial change would be good for everybody. Chairman: My intervention was that the description of farmers as a bunch of bunnies is not that of this Committee, but one we will no doubt ---- Mr Drew: A very quick point on the progress of advice. Can you look again at the way in which you are very restrictive in who can go on farms to offer that advice? It has been reported to me that through Business Links they have got people willing to go out and advise farmers but they are being told they are not allowed to go into holdings. With the best will in the world you cannot advise a farmer unless you can see literally what that farmer possesses and what they do. Would you look at that as a matter of urgency? Chairman 34. Secretary of State, it is true, is it not, that farmers who have had foot and mouth on their premises have received compensation for the compulsory slaughter, which I think most people agree has been relatively generous. For the older ones, perhaps, that gives them a more honourable, almost, exit from the industry than perhaps they might have had in the prevailing economic circumstances to which you have alluded. It also allows those who are staying in the industry to, perhaps, farm in a different way. Would you give some thought to the farmers who have not had foot and mouth disease and are desperately trying to keep going? They are the ones with the least options of being able to change and just get by in circumstances where the business is under pressure, the land is under pressure and the animals are under pressure. They are the ones for whom it has been against all their economic interests not to get foot and mouth disease and they are the ones who have a desperate struggle ahead of them. (Margaret Beckett) I am, I think, more conscious of that than almost any other aspect of this appalling situation. I am very mindful indeed of the people who are affected and, as you quite rightly say, in farming it is true just as it is true in the wider world, of the people who are affected but who the consequences of dealing with the disease do not assist. There is a limit to what we can do to help them but we do continually try to think whether there are things that can be done that will ease their position at all. Mr Borrow 35. Moving on to what we have just touched on, you asked the wrong question, Chairman, about the effect on the wider rural economy. The Prime Minister set up the Rural Task Force seven months ago this week to look into the implications of foot and mouth disease for the wider rural economy. What conclusions have been reached so far on the scale of the impact of foot and mouth disease on the rural economy? (Margaret Beckett) I do not want to anticipate the report on the work of the Rural Task Force but certainly someone said earlier on - I cannot recall who it was - that there may be some opportunities that come out of what has been a terrible situation, and I think the focus on the wider rural economy and the harsh necessity to re-assess that economy and the place of farming within it will in the very long term perhaps be seen as something beneficial that has come out of this terrible crisis. As to the scale, I think there will be as many different estimates of the scale of the impact as there are people looking at it, but I do not think anybody is in any doubt that the impact has been quite dramatic, whether on the parts of the rural community that are directly related to farming or indeed very indirectly related. In some areas I think it has brought people together in recognising their mutual dependence, perhaps in a way that was not quite there before. That too will form part of the backdrop to the enquiries that are being undertaken and to the ideas that people will have to look at for the future. 36. As I understand it, the Rural Task Force is not just looking at the impact of the disease but is also coming forward with recommendations as to what needs to be done to make the rural economy stable and sustainable in the future. Have you any idea when that report with those recommendations is likely to be published, and would it be right to assume that that report will also include perhaps some of the statistics that you are not able to give at the moment in relation to the scale of the impact of the disease on the rural economy as part of the backdrop to those recommendations? (Margaret Beckett) I think this report will be published quite soon and yes, I think they have tried to give as good an assessment as they can of the state of the rural economy. 37. A couple of months ago the Prime Minister appointed Lord Haskins as the Rural Recovery Co-ordinator. I think the assumption was that he would be looking at the effect of the disease in Cumbria and to see if there were lessons to be learned from the Cumbrian experience both for the future and in terms of recovery in all parts of the United Kingdom. I think the assumption was that he would be reporting to Alun Michael by the end of September. On the assumption that he has done so are you in a position to find out what he has reported to Alun Michael and whether those or any recommendations that he has made to your colleague will be acted upon and when they will be acted upon? (Margaret Beckett) Lord Haskins was asked to look at these issues particularly in Cumbria and in the context of Cumbria because that was, as I understand it, a request made from Cumbria where the disease hit so very hard. Eric is nodding so I think I must have that about right. I understand that he has let it be known that he hopes to published his report on Thursday. Chairman: I was noting, Secretary of State, that, having threatened a large number of your colleagues to go and listen to the Prime Minister at the Labour Party meeting, you are doing a very good job of maintaining a much better alternative here. Mr Todd 38. Is there anyone co-ordinating all the studies and task forces that are currently taking place into the implications of foot and mouth on the rural economy, on farming, because we have three inquiries that were set up to look at the implications of the disease? We have the Rural Task Force which was in being already, supposedly examining at least parallel subjects. We have Lord Haskins who, although he has a focus on Cumbria, nevertheless was invited to give his opinions on the broader implications for everywhere else. Is someone pulling all these strands together? (Margaret Beckett) Yes. 39. If so, who? (Margaret Beckett) It is within the department. Yes, Lord Haskins has reported to Alun Michael and to the Prime Minister throughout. So too has the Rural Task Force. A lot of that work is being co-ordinated in that way. Obviously it is a separate set of people. 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 œ15,000. 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 œ120,000 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 œ300 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 œ158 million has been disbursed; I think œ51 million, the business recovery fund. From grant approvals that have been issued I think œ20 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 œ100 million, œ200 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 tot he 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. Chairman 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 do 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 flow signs 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? Mr Borrow 60. I think, Secretary of State, you have probably half answered the question already. During the spring and early summer on a number of occasions MAFF were seriously considering using vaccination in particular local circumstances. Certainly the Committee at that time was given clear indications from the department that one of the restraining factors in whether or not a vaccination programme went ahead was the reluctance of the NFU to support it. I think in some ways it was seen as if the NFU or the farmers in that area did not support vaccination, whatever the advice of the vets and scientists may be. It was not something that could go ahead because it would not be successful. Is that still the position of the department, that without the support of the farming community in an area limited use of vaccination would still be impractical? (Margaret Beckett) Again, these are all issues. We did say all the time, both my predecessor and I and indeed all our colleagues, that the idea of using vaccination was kept continually under review, and it was. Certainly it was looked at every week and possibly more frequently than that at times, at what it could contribute and what the implications were. Yes, the NFU is a membership organisation. There is no doubt, particularly early on in the outbreak, that farmers were utterly resistant to vaccination and many I understand remain so. There is a very real practical difficulty, both with regard to what powers anybody has to overcome that and also with regard to the sheer practicality of actually doing it. That is just reality. We have to accept that that is the case. That will all have to form part of the discussion and the consideration that we shall have to give to these issues. Patrick Hall 61. I am very pleased that we will have the opportunity to explore in a month's time the wider issues about the new department and the ethos and culture. I think it would be a shame not to touch on that today at our first evidence session. I would like to draw some attention to that. I have noticed that, Secretary of State, you have made a lot of comment about the concept of sustainability being at the centre of this department. That is a goal that is very ambitious and it is claimed across all government departments. Therefore I do understand that no one department can do the work of all the other departments in pursuing sustainability, but could I ask you if you would begin at least to explain your understanding of sustainability as it applies to this department? It has been touched on earlier but in particular do you think that the department may be weakened in seeking to pursue sustainability in the rural areas when it does not have control and possibly not much influence over issues related to transport and town and country planning, for example? I understand that there is no requirement for local authorities to consult the department on major planning issues, for example. (Margaret Beckett) First of all, what I understand by sustainability is that you have to try to balance economic, social and environmental issues so that you are able to proceed in a way which is sustainable. There is a farming definition which I hope I can remember and get right, which goes back a very long way, so I am told, which is that you should live as though you are going to die tomorrow and farm as though you will live forever. That seems to me to be quite a good definition. What do I mean by sustainability? As it applies to the department I think it is for us a matter of balancing that different range of issues that come under the ambit of my department. Yes, of course I accept that it is an indirect influence through government as a whole that we would be able to exercise over, say, transport or planning, but it is part of our goal as a government to spread an understanding of sustainability throughout departments so that it is not a matter of one department pursuing it while everybody else gets in the way. I would simply say that there will always need to be boundaries. You can have this discussion in any field of policy. I remember when I was Shadow Minister for Health and being pressed because of the interface between health and social services that health ought to be a matter for local authorities and not central government. What you have to do is to get the right mechanisms to get co-operation and to get consideration of all the relevant factors, whatever the boundaries. I also say to you that sometimes boundaries do arise even within departments that have to be overcome. 62. My point is that if we are to pursue sustainability, and I am talking about the new department, it is very important that the department has credibility in that area. That is perhaps particularly so if the department (and you yourself) is to pursue sustainability, for example, in CAP reform. Also, will the department be contributing on behalf of the Government to the World Summit on Sustainable Development which is due to be held in Southern Africa next year? (Margaret Beckett) Indeed we will, yes. You are right to identify one of the things which we said in the earliest days of Parliament being set up, which is that we have to pursue sustainable agriculture, and it seems to me that CAP reform has to be key to that. People have been talking about CAP reform ever since I have been in politics. I remember us saying that it was hopeless. There are a number of very strong reasons why this is a good time to be pursuing these issues without presuming that we can have success. Certainly the issue of enlargement raises very starkly the question of CAP reform. So do the discussions that are taking place under the World Trade Organisation where there was an agreement to look at agricultural issues at about this time, so there are a number of what I might call external drivers which have CAP reform very much on the agenda and that is quite apart from the fact that within the EU itself we are committed to beginning the process. We have had some improvements in the Agenda 21 and then we are committed to review of the CAP. I entirely share your view that it does mean that this has to be a very high priority for my department, and it is. So too is the World Summit. Obviously we know that against all the odds, and certainly against expectations, we were successful in reaching agreement in Bonn. We do wish to take forward and to pursue the issues with regard to ratification and bringing into force of the Kyoto Protocol, not least, I would hope - I do not know whether this will be achievable; we have a meeting soon in Marrakesh - in making progress before we get to Johannesburg because the focus that I would want to see us have in Johannesburg is on poverty and on the desperate vicious circle that arises from poverty and environmental degradation. To me one of the most interesting passages in the speech that the Prime Minister made recently at our congress was where he was talking about the implications of, for example, the Africa initiative. I think all of that is hugely important for the future of the world and I think it is also a very important opportunity to take that agenda forward at Johannesburg and certainly that is what the South African Government want and want to be the focus of the discussions in Johannesburg. 63. Finally, again on the theme of sustainability and pursuing and exploring it, the new department must have adopted the public service agreements and targets from the former MAFF and the former relevant bits of DETR. Has the department had time, given the obvious but necessary distraction of foot and mouth, to look at those targets and agreements and see whether or not they need to be added to or amended? Is there a programme or an action plan for the new department to pursue its targets with the theme of sustainability being at the centre of them? Will we be able to see that programme? (Margaret Beckett) First of all, yes, the nearest we could come to getting everything together was simply to adopt, as you quite rightly say, the targets from the previous departments and put them together. That means that we have too many targets. Yes, we are undertaking the process of looking at them and seeing if we can refine them and come up with something which is more rounded and reflects the shape of the new department. That work is being undertaken, it is at a slightly early stage. It will take some little time to do it because, as you rightly say, people are involved heavily on other issues, but we are very mindful of the need to do that. We certainly do not intend just to say that we have those targets and those targets. We are not going to do anything in a hurry as before. We will re-assess them to see what are the targets for the new department. Patrick Hall: So that might be something that we might want to look at some point in the future. Diana Organ 64. Obviously it is a new department. It is the first time that you have linked together culture and the environment and rural affairs. You have said that the department is naturally going to be outward facing and inclusive in the way that you work with your partners and stakeholders. I wonder if you could give us some idea of who you identify as your major partners and stakeholders and where in that priority are the stakeholders that come from the agricultural sector? Only the major ones. (Margaret Beckett) First of all, what you are quoting from is our draft aims and objectives. Of course one of the ways in which we are seeking to be outward facing is that we have put that into circulation, not just in the department but also among our range of stakeholders in order to try to get people's input as to whether they think we are getting our approach to our aims and priorities right. Who are our major partners and stakeholders? My heart sinks with the thought of trying to draw up a list. There seem to be an awful lot of them. Chairman: Your heart sinks at the thought of missing one out, I should think. Diana Organ 65. So that we do not leave out the important guest at the party, where in that are the stakeholders that come from the agricultural sector? (Margaret Beckett) Obviously they have a very key role not only in their own right as an important part of the economy and of our society, but also because of the very important need to get sustainable agriculture. That makes it a very key part of the work of the department and the fact that CAP reform, alongside implementing the Kyoto Protocol are both on the agenda of my department I think is a clear indication of the balance. Perhaps I can give a brief example as to why my heart sank slightly when you invited me to identify them. My diary secretary tells me that in the first week after the election she received 400 requests urgently to meet the Secretary of State, absolutely necessary before the summer recess. Chairman: You should sell them, Secretary of State, introduce a market. You are a public/private sector marketplace. You may be able to make a bob or two as well. Mr Lepper 66. Diana has in a way covered the question I was going to ask. I know there was some concern expressed by the farming community when DEFRA first published its first thoughts. I think Farming Weekly commented that farming came somewhere like halfway down the list of key tasks for the department. I just wonder whether in the two or three months since that list was published and consultation has been going on with many of those unnamed stakeholders those concerns have perhaps begun to disappear a bit on the part of the farming community. (Margaret Beckett) Far be it from me to suggest that anybody's concerns ever disappear. One thing I would say is that it is not exactly a list and it is certainly not in a kind of order of priority, but it is a framework of approach to sustainability which has to contain all the elements of the department's work of which, as I say, farming is a hugely important area. Some of that concern early on, and I understand it completely, was because we did not have the word "farming" or indeed the word "fisheries" in the department's title. I know that many people in the world of agriculture actually have recently been moving more and more towards discussion of the food chain and farming's role within that. That again is also part of the work of my department. It is partly a first stab at an attempt to give expression to the nature of the different relationships with which my department is trying to deal and grapple. Mr Todd 67. The words "outward facing" were chosen. Are those in deliberate contrast to the record of MAFF? (Margaret Beckett) I am simply saying that I think they were identified as a highly desirable goal, which is not always to achieve. Mr Drew 68. Have you decided to draw down the agri-monetary compensation decision which has to be made, I gather, by the end of this month? (Margaret Beckett) The decision does have to be made by the end of this month. It is an important decision. I am conscious of the concerns of that sector of the farming community. I am also conscious, as I have to be and as I know you will be, of the fact that while it is an important element and it is always referred to as kind of free good, it is of course something which involves a heavy call on the Treasury of the United Kingdom. Mr Borrow: You mentioned, Secretary of State, the issue of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and those issues. I understand that there is some responsibility in that area that is undertaken by the Deputy Prime Minister and some responsibility by your department and ministers within your department. Is it possible to briefly explain how that fits together? I am sure this is an issue which we are going to return to. Chairman 69. Without hesitation, deviation or repetition. (Margaret Beckett) The policy lead obviously is with the department and it was I who led the delegation involved where, incidentally, some of you will be surprised and some of you will not but there was an enormously profitable role played, in fact I would say absolutely crucial, key role played, by the EU delegation as a whole, operating as a whole with all their different interests and so on, and it was critical to the success in Bonn, one of the most exciting things that I have taken part in in its final stages. The Deputy Prime Minister obviously has played a very major role in these issues, not least in the Kyoto Protocol, and retains a very keen interest in it, and of course does from time to time operate on behalf of the Prime Minister upon these issues. Obviously he has both an interest and a role and can contribute very helpfully to the policy direction that we as a government wish to pursue. Chairman 70. Secretary of State, can I ask you one final question? You will be aware that the Food Standards Agency is looking at the issue of BSE in sheep. None of us wants to create another catastrophe. Could you give us some idea of what happens from that point onwards in terms of that particular debate and the ministry's preparations for this? (Margaret Beckett) the Food Standards Agency obviously - and I am not telling you anything you do not know but let me remind you for the record - is an independent agency and in so far as it reports to and liaises with a government department it is the Department of Health. They will be meeting early next week. I genuinely do not know and cannot tell you what they are likely to say. They did make some observations, I think in early August, from memory, and they will probably return to some of these issues. There have been some work and some experiments under way and they have reported to the Agency and they will come to their own views. 71. You are conscious that this could either remain the size of a man's fist or it could become something quite difficult to handle. (Margaret Beckett) I am, as ever, conscious of the range of interesting issues for which my department is responsible. Chairman: Secretary of State, thank you very much. Ministerial evidence is normally published on the Internet as soon as we can get it on. I take it my Committee agrees with that principle. Thank you very much indeed for coming. You have been our inaugural guest in this session. I think you will be one of our regular interlocutories. We are going to see Jim Scudamore, I think, quite shortly on some of those more detailed questions of the management of the disease. Thank you very much indeed for the answers you have given today. We look forward very much indeed to our relationship.