Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—

    ``(1B)In applying sub paragraph (1A)(c) above, there must be provision for the disposal of the carcasses within 48 hours of slaughter or in accordance with the requirements of the National Contingency Plan.''

The Chairman: With this is will be convenient to take amendment No. 23, in page 2, line 4, after `of,' insert `infectious'.

Mr. Wiggin: I shall begin by painting a nightmare scenario. Let us imagine that in a few years time—one day, perhaps—I am the Minister—[Interruption.] It gets worse: there is an outbreak of foot and mouth in Scunthorpe. ``What should I do?'' I ask, holding up my hands up in despair to my civil servants. ``Oh, don't worry, Mr. Wiggin'' they reply, ``You can slaughter just about everything.'' I say, ``Oh, thank you very much. I remember when that Bill was passed—what luck! Is there anything else I can do?'' They say, ``It would be a mistake to hesitate when speed is so important in handling this type of outbreak.'' And I reply, ``Of course, it would. Start killing at once.''

For a balance of rights and compassion to be struck, we must build in brakes and a method of slowing down the decision-making process so that someone who has not been here today would not react in the way that I might by beginning to cull immediately. The reason why the two amendments are so important is that they give the Minister the opportunity to pause for thought and consider his options besides culling, such as vaccination. We need to see more amendments that provide for the option of vaccination, which was one of the Minister's considerations when he drafted the Bill. Labour Members will have been looking forward to the opportunity to vaccinate, so that we may not need to begin the culling process at all.

I am sure we all remember that the foot and mouth crisis got worse and worse until the Army was brought in, which is why the 48-hour window in the amendment is crucial. Unless we take steps, such as those in the amendment, we will again see lorries dripping with blood and gore trundling down country lanes, transporting carcases and spreading the disease. If we can amend the Bill so that that scenario is never on our televisions in future, we shall have done our job well. None of us enjoyed seeing huge numbers of carcases put in landfill sites, and we all felt horror at the sight of great JCB machines dropping dead cows into holes and the subsequent burning carcases. In Bromyard in my constituency, many residents complained about the smell of burning flesh.

Anything that we can do to give the Minister pause for thought before beginning a cull of such magnitude again is worthy of inclusion in the Bill. In Winferton in my constituency, carcases lay rotting in the farmyard for nine days. Earlier, the Minister and I crossed swords on the spread of the virus, and I was grateful for his words of wisdom about the fact that the virus ceases to be spread provided that no bone marrow is present once the animal is dead. However, it is possible for carcases in which bone marrow is present to be nibbled at by foxes and crows and for the disease to spread.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that carcases should be disposed of within 48 hours of slaughter or that there should be a plan on the disposal of carcases in 48 hours?

Mr. Wiggin: The most important thing is that slaughter does not begin unless the carcases can be disposed of in 48 hours, or a comprehensive plan can be put together. There must not be a motorway of time.

Diana Organ: There are many lessons to be learned from the outbreak of foot and mouth during the spring and summer, but we know that the quickest way to eradicate the disease is early slaughter. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that there should not be slaughter unless carcases can be disposed of within 48 hours. We all regretted the build-up of carcases lying around for nine days, but we were aiming for as quick a slaughter as possible from the time of either diagnosis or the start of the contiguous cull—within either 24 or 48 hours. I am concerned that his slightly different proposal would delay slaughter and therefore might aid spread of the disease. Can he clarify that?

Mr. Wiggin: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that matter to the forefront of the argument, because that is exactly what we are not talking about.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): It is what the hon. Gentleman just said.

Mr. Wiggin: Well, I appreciate that, so I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify.

When the current outbreak began, culling was the only option. Technology has moved on considerably since then. It is now possible to blood-test almost on farm and have the results immediately. The Bill will not be fundamental to the complete eradication of the disease at the moment—it is in abeyance now. In the future, we must use the technology available, as it comes out, and not react, as the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) said, by culling immediately. That is what I am getting at.

If we stick exactly to the Bill as worded, we will have to cull whether or not the technology to vaccinate exists. Not to do so would be to fail to take advantage of the legitimate process that has been made available, and that might not be the speediest and most effective way of dealing with the disease. However, we want to build in an amendment that allows the Minister to think first before culling—the Bill is fundamentally about thinking. If there is an opportunity to explore vaccination, it does not have to take 48 hours or even half an hour. But if we do not allow that to be part of the thinking process, we will not have done our job.

Diana Organ: The hon. Gentleman suggests that there may be other methods of eradicating the disease. Culling has always been the policy here and elsewhere. Does he agree that considering vaccination moves us on to a completely different argument, because the country would lose its disease-free status? Vaccination does not stop the disease; it only masks it and allows it to carry on.

Mr. Wiggin: It is vital that we clarify the point. I agree that the value of our export market is a factor and that, historically, culling has worked. However, it has not worked especially well. Five million animals is not a small number; it is an horrendous statistic. Eradication of the disease worked considerably better in Holland, where they did vaccinate. It is wrong simply to say, ``Culling works, so it is what we must do and there is no alternative.'' That is definitely not the case, as the Dutch case shows.

Mr. Drew: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall pick him up on that matter and then go on to the point that I wanted to raise.

The Dutch taught us something about vaccination. There were particular reasons why they vaccinated, but after independent, careful consideration, they subsequently decided to cull. The vaccination was, in a sense, irrelevant. It was a firebreak.

My main point is to ask the hon. Gentleman to define what he means by a national contingency plan, because I am confused about it. The recent crisis was a series of localised outbreaks rather than one national outbreak.

Mr. Wiggin: Let me deal first with the Dutch situation. Isolating the case and following that by vaccination and then by slaughter struck me as a more effective and humane way in which to deal with this kind of outbreak. That method was impossible in this country because of the widespread nature of the viral outbreaks. However, that does not mean that we should not explore the Dutch method in future.

Mrs. Winterton: Does my hon. Friend recall the big conference in Downing street at which, we are reliably informed, the Government had decided to go down the vaccination route? Even Lord Haskins, who advises the Government on agricultural matters in another place, said that as far as he was concerned they were going to go out and vaccinate. That was stopped because of meat exports and the National Farmers Union, which did not agree with the policy. Thus the Government were about to introduce a policy of vaccination and then backed away from it. They are sponsoring a conference in Belgium next week, but they do not have a policy if the situation arose again.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but I should like to return to the national contingency plan, which is something that every Government have on every contingency. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions explained the position on Railtrack by stating that his contingency plan was in place in August. As a new and trusting Member, I am sure that the Government have a contingency plan for any future outbreak of foot and mouth. A fortnight ago at Prime Minister's Question Time, the Deputy Prime Minister was at great pains to point out that the Government are the Government, and the Opposition do not have to answer the questions. He took a great deal of trouble to explain the size of the Government's election victory. On that basis, I do not have to explain the national contingency plan. Hopefully, one day I shall be elected as a Government Member. [Interruption.] Unlike my predecessor, I shall not change sides.

Mr. Breed: Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman will be here tomorrow to support the Age Equality Commission Bill to ensure that he will not be moved out because of his age?

The Chairman: Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is far too young.

Mr. Wiggin: I am more likely to be culled.

Every effort was made to cull our way back into our valuable export market. The amendment would mean that we could cut down on television images of dead cows and sheep. We could help our market rather than knocking it, which would help us sell our meat abroad. Nobody who was hoping to sell food abroad welcomed the horrendous sights on the television. I wonder whether the Northumberland report is propping open a door somewhere in a Ministry.

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