New Clause 1 — Annual report on animal diseases
Orders of the Day — Animal Health Bill
Mrs Ann Winterton (Congleton, Conservative)
My hon. Friend is right. He is very enthusiastic, and so he should be. The Government's inaction will have been noted by people in the country. They look to the Government to do something to help the situation, instead of doing nothing. I am not sure whether Ministers are prepared to take the necessary action to protect the United Kingdom from a scourge similar to the recent foot and mouth epidemic.
We may never discover the precise cause of the outbreak, mainly because the Government have refused point-blank to hold a full, independent public inquiry. At least the Devon inquiry undertaken by the county council, and to which my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning referred, points us in the right direction and recommends that prevention of disease through importation should be given the highest priority.
Many organisations involved in the rearing of livestock have commented on the present unsatisfactory arrangements. In December 2000 the National Pig Association forwarded comments as evidence to the then Select Committee on Agriculture regarding the Government's handling of the classical swine fever outbreak in August last year. Those comments included criticism of the lack of speed of Government action, and went on:
"The NPA fears that . . . UK pig producers are unreasonably exposed to a repeat outbreak of a disease such as Classical Swine Fever, due to the Government inaction on effective control of the import of contaminated meat."
The association continued with an analysis of the lack of a governmental contingency plan:
"The NPA fears that the Government will wash its hands of the consequent problems, in the event of such an outbreak."
As a result of the classical swine fever outbreak, the NPA had clearly understood the Government's irresponsible attitude to the amount of food imports entering the country, which remains as big a risk today as it was last year or in February 2001.