HL Deb 06 November 2002 vol 640 cc744-58
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend Margaret Beckett on the Government's response to the FMD inquiry reports. The Statement is as follows:

"I wish to make a Statement on the Government's response to the foot and mouth disease inquiry reports. That response is being published today.

"When the inquiry reports were published in July I told the House that I accepted that mistakes had been made and that I was determined to learn the lessons of what happened in 2001. The independent inquiry process that concluded in July has enabled us to do that, and to move forward quickly to implement their recommendations. We are indebted to Sir Brian Follett and Dr fain Anderson, and I pay tribute again to them and to their teams for producing such thorough and useful reports so quickly. The Government accept virtually all the detailed recommendations of the Lessons to be Learned report, and firmly endorse the lessons which Dr Anderson draws. The recommendations made by the Royal Society will also play a major role in shaping the Government's work in this area. A separate report from the NAO is currently under consideration by the PAC.

"The Government's response to the inquiries contains a wide range of commitments and actions, including a stronger general framework for emergency preparedness, with special emphasis on response and disease control in an outbreak of animal disease, and work on strengthening disease prevention. Alongside publication of this response today, the latest version of our contingency plans is available on our website for comment and consultation.

"Inevitably some of this considerable body of work is work in progress, and much requires further development and an open and transparent process of consultation with a wide range of players including the farming industry, the wider rural community and other key players such as the local authorities.

"Dr Anderson identified three key areas for handling any outbreak: systems, speed of response and the necessity for good science as the basis of that response.

"As the House may recall from my July Statement, some steps, such as the establishment of a civil contingencies secretariat, have already been taken. From next year it will be supplemented by dedicated contingency planning teams in every region, based in the government offices.

Plans are being developed for training and rehearsal of contingency plans together with other players, such as local authorities. In addition, procedures are being drawn up to ramp up organisation, should this be required, including the maintenance of a register of staff willing to serve in an emergency, and their competences and skills.

"Both inquiries called for a body to provide advice to DEFRA's Chief Scientific Adviser in emergencies and for a review of priorities in animal health research. A science advisory group has been set up, some additional funding for veterinary teaching and research has been identified and the review of priorities is under way. The Government are committed to funding necessary research into animal disease and to increasing spending on that.

"Work is also under way on how to identify and manage risks as part of DEFRA's own development plans. In particular, a risk assessment report on illegal imports is in preparation and I hope to receive it before the turn of the year. In the meantime, we have secured the agreement of Commissioner Byrne to a ban on personal imports of meat. We have put resources into detection and enforcement, including piloting the use of detector dogs. I can announce today that the Government have agreed that responsibility for anti-smuggling checks on animals, fish, plants and their products, including meat, should be placed under one body—Her Majesty's Customs and Excise—as soon as that can be achieved.

"However, no import controls can ever be 100 per cent effective. That is why both inquiries emphasised the role that animal movement controls can play in checking the spread of disease. The Government have accepted the advice that the 20-day standstill rules should remain in place until a detailed risk assessment and wide-ranging cost-benefit analysis have been completed.

"We have commissioned the necessary economic and modelling studies from experts outside DEFRA with the aim of deciding on a proportionate level of controls and, in particular, on whether a movement standstill of 20 days strikes the right balance between the disease-control benefits and the costs on the industry and livestock markets. Emerging findings from those studies should be available at the end of this month to feed into decisions on the shape of movement controls to apply from next February. We expect full and final results in the first half of next year. As the inquiry reports recognise, the farming industry, too, shares responsibility for minimising disease risks and has a crucial role to play, particularly with regard to biosecurity. We shall work closely with the industry in following up the inquiries' recommendations in this area.

"We also intend to work closely with the industry in developing a comprehensive animal health and welfare strategy, which has been called for by both inquiries and the policy commission. It is important that we share an agreed vision, which must cover protection of public health, animal disease prevention and control, and animal welfare. Informal discussions with stakeholders are already taking place before the launch of a public consultation exercise later in the year across the breadth of the stakeholder community. The strategy will draw on the inquiry reports and will provide a vehicle for implementing many recommendations.

"We shall also use the consultation on the strategy as a means to discuss with stakeholders the best mechanism to provide regular reports on animal disease preparedness so that the lessons learned as a result of the 2001 outbreak and the recommendations of the inquiries are implemented and help to ensure that the experience of 2001 is never repeated.

"But the House will want to know what else would be different in any future outbreak of foot and mouth disease. A national movement ban would be put in place as soon as the first case was confirmed, as my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary announced in the summer when our interim contingency plan was published. Restricted infected areas—blue boxes—would be declared from the start in a minimum 10-kilometre radius around infected farms. But public rights of way would need to be restricted only in a 3-kilometre radius from those farms.

"International and EU rules are based on the need to eradicate what is an unpleasant as well as a highly infectious disease. Hence, the basic strategy in all FMD-free countries is that, as a first step, animals infected with foot and mouth disease and animals which have been in contact with them have to be culled. But what both inquiries say, and what the Government accept, is that, in some circumstances, additional action may be needed to control an outbreak. In that case, emergency vaccination will form part of the control strategy from the start. That would be emergency vaccination to live, provided of course that scientific and veterinary advice was that that would be the most effective course.

"The inquiries themselves point out that the use of emergency vaccination to live raises a number of very difficult issues—scientific, logistical and economic. But the Government are committed to tackling those issues, in consultation with interested parties, with the aim of being in a position to trigger an emergency vaccination campaign should the need arise. But the issues are substantial and this process will take some time to complete.

"That does not mean that wider culling strategies will never again be needed. We must maintain a full armodury of weapons to tackle these diseases; hence our insistence on the flexibility proposed in the Animal Health Bill and in the Lessons to be Learned report to allow for pre-emptive culling so as to enable us to deal with an outbreak more quickly with fewer losses of animals and least disruption to the rural economy.

"The Government are consulting on a 'decision tree' on FMD control which would set out the factors to be taken into account in deciding the best disease-control strategy for different circumstances. But we have to remember that each outbreak is unique, and we cannot prescribe in detail in advance how best to meet it. There will still be a need for scientific and veterinary judgment at the time.

"For the longer term, the Royal Society recommended that research was needed on a vaccine that could be used routinely rather than just in an emergency against all strains of FMD and for all species. The Government recognise that that would be desirable as a long-term goal and will encourage international collaboration to that end. But the House will appreciate that we are some considerable way from achieving that.

"In short, a mere three months after publication of the inquiry reports, the Government are today able not only to respond formally to those reports but to identify a massive programme of work and reform which is under way. Nothing can ever erase the horrors and the tragedies of the 2001 epidemic of foot and mouth disease in the UK. But we can all resolve to establish more effective safeguards and, should those safeguards fail, an even more effective response". My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.46 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend earlier today. However, I have to ask why the Statement has been delayed until now. Are the Government so totally inept that they were unaware that, until last Monday, your Lordships were still debating the Animal Health Bill on which these reports and their responses directly impinge? Is it not ironic that the Animal Health Bill has passed through its final stage in this House and needs the approval of another place today before it can be passed? Or are the Government totally unscrupulous in holding back necessary information until it is too late for your Lordships to take it into account in considering the Bill that has been before us?

Whether the Government have been inept, ironic or unscrupulous, I find the timing totally unacceptable. This House knows and appreciates the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He is always courteous, patient and accommodating. It is not him that I am speaking about but the department, which, I believe, has failed this House very badly.

I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. There is much in it that we welcome. We on these Benches accept many of the central suggestions and recommendations that have been made. In particular, we also want to record our thanks to Professor lain Anderson and Sir Brian Follett for their very thorough work.

Perhaps I may highlight the question that has been challenging us throughout the passage of the Animal Health Bill—that is, the question of vaccination and of vaccination to live. Having received the booklet today, I looked back to see what was said. Recommendation 10 states that emergency vaccination should he considered as part of the control strategy from the start of any foot and mouth outbreak. The Minister confirmed that today and we are grateful for that. Recommendation 28 lays aside one of the difficulties that we have been facing--that is, it will be possible to distinguish vaccinated from vaccinated-infected animals. I hope that puts to rest that particular issue.

We also welcome mention in the Statement that a civil contingencies secretariat will be established. We welcome, in particular, the fact that it will be based in every region and that local input will be taken into account. I hope that designated decisions can he taken at that level. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that in his response. Presumably local decisions will be made locally and will not have to be taken back to the centre.

We also welcome the appointment of one body which will be responsible for anti-smuggling checks on imported animals, fish, plants and their products, including meat. As was said, that has been allocated to Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. I understand from the Statement that that body will be set up as soon as possible. Again, perhaps we may be given an indication as to when it will kick in.

We also note that a science advisory group has been established. How much will the funding cost; what period will the initial funding cover; and to how many centres will the money be given?

We welcome the explanation of the 20-day standstill rules. That will be reported on by February next year, but most noble Lords bitterly regret that that issue was not addressed before the Animal Health Bill passed through this House.

I believe that all noble Lords will be particularly pleased with section nine in the booklet of responses, to which the noble Lord referred. It states that in the future there will be no more mass pyres. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that as it is hugely important.

We on these Benches, and I suspect those from other parts of the House, are keen to have proper disease controls in place. We worked so hard on the Animal Health Bill to ensure that they are robust. Perhaps in recent debates on the Bill we have fallen out with the Government because we feel that the provisions have bones but not enough flesh, and we have tried to add more flesh to the arguments.

I draw the attention of the Minister to compensation. In the past it has been borne by the public purse. One finds on page 46 confirmation of rumours of what we knew would happen that the Government are to move away from public purse compensation towards requiring an animal disease insurance to cope with problems that may occur in future. I understand that a group has met three times to discuss animal disease compensation and animal disease levy and insurance options. Can the Minister tell the House more about that?

The Statement mentions imports, particularly illegal imports. We have expressed extreme concern about legal imports to this country from countries that have disease, particularly foot and mouth disease. Further explanation of that by the Minister would be welcome.

As I said fairly sharply at the beginning, I am tired of having to respond to matters that have been produced a day late, as in the case of the Animal Health Bill. We were awaiting government amendments so that we could proceed. I believe on all sides of the House that noble Lords want to ensure that the new legislation is robust and workable. It would have been so much better to have had this document available, even a week ago. I question why it has taken three months to produce. Could it not have taken two months and three weeks to produce so that we had a chance?

4.53 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I thank the Minister who has worked hard in relation to aspects of the Statement. I also thank Sir Brian Follett and Dr Iain Anderson and their teams for their work on the reports that we are discussing.

I too find the timing astonishing. I was used to responding to Welsh Statements in the other place with half-an-hour's notice, but to try to respond to this with little notice will be rather more complex. The publication of this document is important. Section 2 mentions the setting up of a civil contingencies secretariat which is extremely important because it was obvious from the start of the outbreak in 2001 that contingency plans were not in place. This will right that wrong.

Dr Iain Anderson said in his report that there were three key areas: systems, the speed of response, and good science. I want to comment on the systems to which he referred for tackling the outbreak mentioned in the Lessons to be Learned report. Being hands-on in terms of farming, I mention the farming systems. I believe that the farming systems took DEFRA by surprise. DEFRA appeared surprised that they have moved on so much in the past 20 years or so, including the activities of dealers. One needs to study such matters well—perhaps not in the way in which Mao Tse-Tung did by putting bureaucrats on farms, a comment which I see the Minister appreciates—and more in-depth knowledge of farming and farming systems would help a great deal. When a body is appointed to look at the situation, I sincerely hope that there will be adequate input from those with practical farming backgrounds, so that the matter will be treated with in-depth knowledge and so that it can head off certain misunderstandings that have occurred in the middle of outbreaks.

There is a section on funding for animal health research and on teaching and research. The Minister knows that we took great care to bring that forward in debates on the Animal Health Bill. I am also concerned about the State Veterinary Service and, in my view, the inadequate number of state vets. Had more such vets been in place at the start of the outbreak, matters may have progressed better. In welcoming the increased funding of, in particular, research, I remind the Minister that in 1983 Pirbright had 13 vets, but by 2001 it had only four. I hope that all those wrongs will be put right to ensure that in future we shall have a proper contingency plan for Pirbright so that it can function properly immediately an outbreak occurs.

I want to refer to a number of other issues. The Statement addresses the issue of imports which is particularly welcome to me. I thank the Minister for appearing to have accepted the amendment on imports and the methods of dealing with it that are in the Bill. I am grateful to him for that.

Clearly if Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is to be the overall organisation, we need to know what extra resources will be required to ensure that it is an effective organisation with personnel and technology that can tackle the matter. As far as I can see, at the moment there is one video and two dogs tackling the problem. I am sure that that will be put right by the organisation, but speed is necessary. That is an important point.

There is also the vexed matter of animal movement controls that we exhaustively debated on Monday under the 20-day standstill rules. If new rules are to come into effect in February—16 months after the last case of foot and mouth disease—that is a matter for criticism. We need to know whether the Government, as they say in the Statement, will use other methods of movement control following a reduction of the 20 days and it is important to know what kind of controls they will be.

I know of one case where animals arrive on one farm that is 25 miles from another farm owned by the same farmer, but standstill occurs also on the farm 25 miles away. That kind of situation is a nonsense and at the moment makes farming almost impossible.

The animal welfare situation is important. The majority of farmers adhere strongly to animal welfare. But I wish that to be pursued in the case of the rotten eggs in the bottom of the barrel, and there are one or two. The whole farming industry should not be criticised for them.

I am particularly anxious that the National Assembly for Wales and the Farmers Union of Wales are consulted fully on these matters. In terms of the national movement ban, which is immediate when an outbreak occurs—and I welcome that as being Sensible—I should like to know what the strategy will be. I would like to know what the parameters will be for example, a 10-kilometre radius around infected farms—and the whole issue of European Union rules and what impact they may have on this particular Statement.

I believe that there is a necessary sharing of burdens regarding this matter. In particular, there has to be a sharing between the Government in terms of DEFRA, the scientific community and the farmers. At the moment, the farmers shoulder nearly all the burden. I am sure that the Minister will enlighten us and demonstrate how this can be evened out in the future so that we all share our responsibilities.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords opposite for their comments. I have five minutes in which to reply. As regards vaccination, there is a significant change in approach. People have to understand that it will not replace the culling of diseased animals, animals on the premises and dangerous contacts, which were a significant proportion of the animals killed last time. It is following that that we look at emergency vaccination as a tool. That will require clearing some of the difficulties before we can fully implement it.

The noble Baroness asked about devolution of decisions. The general strategy will be determined centrally but implemented locally. With a range of tactics available, some decisions will be taken locally. The noble Baroness also asked about Customs and Excise taking over the range of responsibilities for control of illegal imports. Some details need to be sorted out but it is intended that that will take place as rapidly as possible next year.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked about resources. In addition to the resources already allocated for personnel and the experiments to which he referred, the spending review has allocated a total over three years of £25 million. The exact division has yet to be determined, but the bulk will be on control of illegal imports.

The noble Lord referred to farming systems and the need to engage farmers in the whole process. That was one of the difficulties last time. There has never been a rehearsal involving all the public authorities, let alone farmers. The intention is to bring farmers into that process so that they are familiar with it and so that we are familiar with farming practices.

As regards the noble Lord's questions about the State Veterinary Service, we will provide adequate funding. The other benefit will be a single line of command with vets, as far as possible, co-located with others. So there would be clear co-ordination of all functions at the regional level.

In relation to the 20-day standstill, which both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord continue to be somewhat critical of—no doubt we shall return to this matter later in the week—the issue of how we have changed the 20-day standstill has not remained the same. We have adapted, in particular, to the autumn standstill. But in order to move to a permanent regime we need the full evidence required of us by the Royal Society and Anderson reports. That will be available in outline by the end of the month—in time, therefore, for us to take some decisions on the next big batch of movements in February next year.

The noble Baroness spoke about pyres. We shall have a different hierarchy of disposal. Mass pyres will not form part of our disposal, whatever the level of culling.

As regards research, the noble Baroness asked about the cost of the science advisory group. That is not a significant cost of itself because it consists of key personnel brought together to advise. The substantial expenditure referred to on research is riot for the science advisory group. That will be spent in a number of different locations. The science advisory group will primarily be something that can be plugged into the whole control of the disease, but it will be there on a continuous basis before any disease hits us.

The noble Baroness referred to what she said was the delay in this report. In fact the report has been brought forward to ensure that it can be considered in this Session of Parliament. The reports were made in July. Those noble Lords who demanded a full-scale legalistic public inquiry will recognise that we would not have received the results of that inquiry by now, let alone the government response to that inquiry. We are therefore somewhat ahead of where many noble Lords were urging me to be only a few months ago. We have a detailed inquiry, plus government commitments on organisational change and on resources, plus a whole new approach to the Government's relationship with the farming and other interests involved should we ever be faced with this dreadful disease again.

Lord Carter

My Lords, can the Minister say more about vaccination? The Statement talks about the proposal to trigger an emergency vaccination campaign should the need arise. It refers to the recommendation of the Royal Society that research would lead to a vaccine—presumably a single vaccine—that could be used routinely rather than just in an emergency against all strains of FMD and for all species. I understand that it is called a polyvalent vaccine. How long would it take to produce such a vaccine? To return to the emergency situation, is the intention to have a stock of vaccines available for all the major strains of FMD that might occur in order for the emergency vaccination scheme to work?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Royal Society recommendation, which we accept, was that we should help initiate an international effort to try and find a single "polyvariant"—I think is the term—vaccine. We need to pursue that in the EU and the 01E. There is no such vaccine at the moment. I cannot give any indication of how soon science will produce one.

As regards the immediate situation and having vaccine on standby or available for an emergency situation, it is the intention that we would cover what I understand are the seven main strains of foot and mouth most likely theoretically to break out. That position should be achieved in the time needed to clear up the other difficulties in setting up a vaccine option. That is already under way.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned that at the back of the book the Government say that they will expect farmers to insure against foot and mouth rather than get compensation. No doubt before the Government contemplated this they discussed the matter with the insurance companies. What is their attitude to a risk which is largely determined by government action and not by individual farmers whom they would be insuring? Are the insurance companies happy about this?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the last part of the main part of the report refers to discussions which are ongoing between the Government and the insurance industry as to whether some sharing of the risk of the cost of compensation should be established, either in an insurance form or on a levy-based form. There are no final conclusions. It would be right to say that at this point the insurance industry is unlikely to be prepared to take anything like the full risk. We are therefore looking more thoroughly at a levy-based system which could be phased in with the Government still taking the main responsibility in the early years of such a system. Final decisions have yet to be taken.

Lord Williamson of Horton

My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised if I intervene on that point. My first request is that he should keep the Royal Society report under his pillow every night, as it deals with the key issue of how we avoid a mass slaughter of animals, if there is another serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It goes without saying that slaughter is the right policy for the infective animals and direct contacts, but it also goes without saying that we must plan for and achieve the necessity of vaccination-to-live beyond that.

The report makes some direct references to what we should do, and I shall pose two questions to the Minister about that. The report states categorically that, Important advances have taken place within the last year, both technically and in public attitudes, which would allow emergency vaccination to develop into a prime control strategy because we can distinguish vaccinated from vaccinated-infected animals". The report also says: With significant effort by DEFRA, this should be possible by the end of 2003". That is to say that we can achieve the things necessary to put ourselves into that position. I have made that point before, but I make it again, for it is most important.

I was a little disappointed to hear the Minister say in his Statement that the Follett report should "play a major role". That sounds like the sort of drafting that I did, when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We do not want the report to "play a major role": we want it to be carried into action by the end of 2003. Will the Minister make it clear that the Government intend to carry through the recommendations for specific action set out in paragraph 29 of the report, so that we do not have again the terrible circumstances that we had before? I am convinced that we can avoid such circumstances in the future and that only preparatory action is needed to achieve that.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, with regard to the feasibility of introducing vaccination, the Government are confident that the problems can be resolved. However, there are still problems. We are confident that the technical advances mean that we can now distinguish between vaccinated animals and diseased animals. That must be strictly validated, but it would be within the timescale.

There is still some public concern, but we do not see that there is any reason why vaccinated meat should not get into the food chain, subject to the usual rules. Therefore, the anxieties of the trade, which were said to reflect consumer anxieties, should not prevent us from using vaccination in some future outbreak. My noble friend—call him "my noble friend"; I beg his pardon—the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, says that we are avoiding a mass cull. We are, of course, attempting to use all measures to limit the number of animals killed, but it is important to recognise that the categories to which he refers and to which the Royal Society and I have referred represent a significant number of animals in the kind of epidemic that occurred last time.

I hope that the other measures in the report will limit the initial cull problem with diseased premises and direct contacts. After that, vaccination would play a major role, but there may need to be other strategies as well, including the use of extensive, pre-emptive cull, as recommended by the Anderson report. The combination of that and greater emphasis on vaccination at that point will, undoubtedly, limit the number of animals killed.

The noble Lord said that I should sleep on the Royal Society report. I have done that for several months now, and I think I have absorbed most of its lessons. The Government have accepted some lessons in principle, if not necessarily entirely in detail, but we certainly accept the general strategy of the Royal Society report, including its views on vaccination.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I share with my noble friend Lady Byford the view that we should welcome many of the points made in the report, although there has been little time to study the response in detail. There are one or two points that we should identify. One important issue is the national identification of livestock, so that we know where animals are and where they are going. The other, which has been mentioned in several debates, is the importation of meat and. meat products. That is an important issue in the prevention of future outbreaks of disease—not only foot and mouth disease but many others.

I am slightly puzzled about the "blue box" area restriction on the movement of animals for 10 kilometres around infected premises. Public rights of way are to be restricted for only three kilometres. I know that several committees have said that the dangers are minimal, but it would seem to be more sensible to have, initially, a ban on all movements—on footpaths and of livestock—within 10 kilometres.That could then, perhaps, be reduced to three kilometres in due course, once the local outbreak was under control and was no longer an immediate danger.

I welcome the report's clarification of the position with regard to infected premises, the cull of in-contact animals and the cull of contiguous animals. There is an important difference. In the past few months, people have been confused about in-contact animals and contiguous animals. Now, a contiguous cull will be restricted to in-contact animals, and vaccination will be used, something that we all welcome. However, if we are to get to the desired position with regard to vaccination, we will need a vaccine that produces prolonged immunity and can differentiate between vaccinated animals and infected animals. We can do that experimentally, at present, but we cannot do it on a wide scale. The vaccine must cover several of the main strains. It should he a polyvalent—the word that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, sought—vaccine.

It would not, of course, be realistic to try to produce a vaccine against all the strains of foot and mouth disease in the world. However, we know the main strains and where they come from. It will take a lot of effort, and we have, at Pirbright, a centre that is world-class in research into foot and mouth disease and other viral diseases. I hope that the Government will immediately provide the extra funding for that work, so that we are not left unprepared. Over the years, Pirbright has lost some good people through retirement, and there is a need to recruit good scientists immediately.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend realises that questions to the Minister on a Statement should be fairly short and to the point. Other noble Lords may wish to intervene.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I am coming to my question.

The £25 million that has been promised will last only five years. It must be for longer than that. Will the Minister assure the House that such funding for veterinary research and teaching will continue beyond the five years?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it takes me all my time to get the Chancellor to agree to any funding beyond the normal three-year cycle. We have got to five years, so I am doing well. However, I cannot imagine, given the disaster that we faced, that any Minister of Agriculture would think that research funding would be adequate at anything significantly different from that level.

I agree with the noble Lord about livestock identification. It is important, although it will take some time to get a full system in place, particularly for sheep.

The blue box movement restrictions were primarily directed at animal and vehicle movements and the movements of people who had been handling animals. They proved effective in the latter stages, when we were able to impose them on the last of the outbreaks. There is no equivalent evidence that any walker or rambler spread the disease in the last outbreak or any equivalent outbreak elsewhere.

The noble Lord and the House have to realise that the impact of closing down significant parts of the countryside during that epidemic not only on non-farming business and tourism but also on some farming business was devastating— in our judgment an unnecessary effect of the measures brought in at that point, which, with hindsight, we would not repeat.

The noble Lord rightly refers to clarification of different categories of animal. He possibly overstates the fact that we would always use vaccination in relation to extensive and pre-emptive culling. We would have the full armoury of weapons but vaccination would play a more major role in our strategy than was the case until we received these reports.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for making the Statement. Has he had any feedback from his honourable friend Mr Elliot Morley in another place about a meeting at the Royal Society last night at which his honourable friend spoke? Sir Brian Follett gave a good quick breakdown of his report. He stressed vaccination to live and biosecurity over and over again. We have not spoken much about biosecurity. Does the Minister agree that it is vitally important that information on biosecurity is dispersed as widely as possible?

The president of the National Farmers' Union also spoke last night. He stressed the importance—to which I had not given much thought—of biosecurity information being tailored to the geographic and demographic situations that apply across the country, because they are all different. Will the Minister bear that in mind when drawing up protocols?

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, mentioned tracing and animal movements. I notice that in their response the Government have agreed to a livestock identification programme with electronic identification of individual cattle, sheep and, if necessary, pigs. I am sure that goats will be included as well, because goats are extremely difficult to identify with tags.

How far is that programme progressing? It is highly important. The hedges of Britain are festooned with cattle ear-tags and sheep ear-tags. There is a welfare problem with animals' ears being nicked: when the tags come out, the ears become infected. If we can have electronic tagging and reading as soon as possible, that would be very helpful with the tracing of livestock movements. Will the Minister also tell us what is happening with tracing out-of-ring sales at markets?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, my honourable friend Elliot Morley has reported back to us on the Royal Society discussions. He felt that there was a reasonable consensus between Sir Brian Follett, the NFU and himself on the importance of both biosecurity and vaccination strategies in any future disease control.

Biosecurity is important; it needs to be tailored a little but there are some essential principles. That is one of the reasons why we and the farming sector need to draw closer together in terms of how we observe and enforce biosecurity. There is a large responsibility on the farming industry as well as government in ensuring that that happens. It is not just a few rotten apples in the farming industry who need to tighten up on their biosecurity; a great deal of mainstream farming needs to observe better biosecurity.

We are making progress as rapidly as possible on the tracing system. It is a huge system, particularly where the entire sheep flock is engaged, and we need to get it right. The EID will be used for other purposes as well as disease control, so there is also a European dimension. I cannot give the noble Countess a timetable as to when we will reach a comprehensive system, but we are moving as rapidly as possible, in part in concert with our European colleagues. I agree that it is important we achieve that.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, I pose two questions on the lack of urgency which many of us feel characterised the Government's response. We welcome much of it greatly and warmly. The ban on personal imports is excellent, as is the responsibility for anti-smuggling going to Customs and Excise and the immediate national movement ban. But is any progress being made on the pilot project with dogs? This has been going on for some time. We were told that there were two; we need at least 2,000.

Will the Minister give more prominence to two excellent pieces of news in the report, which are not in the Statement and which should be made more publicly known and celebrated? They are the immediate alerting of the Armed Forces in the case of another outbreak and the completely different hierarchy of disposal. It would be excellent if the Government made those two provisions better known; they would be greatly welcomed by an anxious public.

I return wearisomely to vaccination. The Royal Society recommends that emergency vaccination should be seen as a major tool of first resort. The policy should be to vaccinate to live. That necessitates an acceptance that meat and meat products from vaccinated animals should enter the food chain normally. Are the Government doing anything to educate the public to accept animals vaccinated against foot and mouth disease as they readily accept animals vaccinated against many other diseases? There is no mention of that matter in the Statement, or even, so far as I know, in the response document.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, acceptance into the food chain is necessary. That is partly an issue for the public, but also for the people who claim to interpret the public's views: the retailers and the trade. That process will be going on in parallel with solving the technical problems of preparing a vaccination strategy.

The experiment with dogs is a pilot study that will be eventually taken over by Customs and Excise, which has responsibility in other areas. It started in September after a previous false start in which we were hoping to obtain New Zealand dogs. We are now using Metropolitan Police dogs. The pilot should be completed within a couple of months. We will then draw conclusions as to whether we can expand it and whether we need 200 dogs, or however many. A pilot study is a pilot study but the total number will be determined in part by the outcome.

The Armed Forces provision is one aspect of what we would do immediately if a case was alerted. I apologise. I have gone over my allowed 20 minutes.